The Magic Shoes and Staff, Translated by S. M.
from the Sanskrit
Far, far away in a town of India called Chinchini, where in days
long gone by the ancient gods in whom the people believed are said
sometimes to have appeared to those who called upon them for help,
there lived three brothers of noble birth, who had never known what
it was to want for food, or clothes, or a house to live in. Each
was married to a wife he loved, and for many years they were all
as happy as the day was long. Presently however a great misfortune
in which they all shared befell their native country. There was no
rain for many, many weeks; and this is a very serious thing in a hot
country like India, because, when it does not rain for a long time,
the ground becomes so parched and hard that nothing can grow in
it. The sun is very much stronger in India than it is in England;
and it sent forth its burning rays, drying up all the water in the
tanks and changing what had been, a beautiful country, covered with
green crops good for food, into a dreary desert, where neither men nor
animals could get anything to eat. The result of this was that there
was a terrible famine, in which hundreds of people and animals died,
little children being the first to suffer.
Now the three brothers, who had none of them any children, got
frightened at the state of things, and thought to themselves, "If we
do not escape from this dreadful land, we shall die." They said to
each other: "Let us flee away from here, and go somewhere where we
are sure of being able to get plenty to eat and drink. We will not
take our wives with us; they would only make things worse for us;
let us leave them to look after themselves."
1. What do you think of the behaviour of the three brothers? Was
there any excuse for their leaving their wives behind them?
2. Do you think the wives themselves can have been to blame in any
way in the matter?
So the three wives were deserted, and had to manage as best they
could without their husbands, who did not even trouble to wish them
goodbye. The wives were at first very sad and lonely, but presently a
great joy came to one of them which made the other two very happy as
well. This joy was the birth of a little boy, whose two aunts loved
him almost as much as his mother did. The story does not tell how
they all got food whilst the famine was going on, though it is very
evident that they were not starved, for the baby boy grew fast and
was a strong healthy little fellow.
One night all the three wives had the same dream, a very wonderful one,
in which the god Siva, who is very much honoured in India, appeared to
them. He told them that, looking down from Heaven, he had noticed how
tenderly they cared for the new-born baby, and that he wished them to
call him Putraka. Besides this he astonished them by adding that, as
a reward for the unselfish way in which they had behaved, they would
find one hundred thousand gold pieces under the little child's pillow
every morning, and that one day that little child would be a king.
3. Do you think the three women wanted to be rewarded for loving
4. Is it a good thing to have a great deal of money?
The wonderful dream was fulfilled, and the mother and aunts called
the boy Putraka. Every morning they found the gold pieces under his
pillow, and they took care of the money for him, so that when he grew
up he was the very richest man in the whole country. He had a happy
childhood and boyhood, his only trouble being that he did not like
having never seen his father. His mother told him about the famine
before he was born, and how his father and uncles had gone away and
never come back. He often said, "When I am a man I will find my father
and bring him home again." He used his money to help others, and one
of the best things he did was to irrigate the land; that is to say,
he made canals into which water was made to flow in times when there
was plenty of rain, so that there was no danger of there being another
famine, such as that which had driven his father and uncles away. The
country in which he lived became very fruitful; everybody had enough
to eat and drink; and Putraka was very much loved, especially by
the poor and unhappy. When the king who ruled over the land died,
everybody wanted Putraka to take his place, and he was chosen at once.
5. Will you describe the kind of man you think Putraka was?
6. Do you know of any other country besides India in which everything
depends on irrigation?
One of the other wise things Putraka did, when he became king, was to
make great friends with his Brahman subjects. Brahmans are always very
fond of travelling, and Putraka thought, if he were good and generous
to them, they would talk about him wherever they went, and that perhaps
through them his father and uncles would hear about him. He felt sure
that, if they knew he was now a king ruling over their native land,
they would want to come back. He gave the Brahmans plenty of money,
and told them to try and find his father and uncles. If they did,
they were to say how anxious he was to see them, and promise them
everything they wanted, if only they would return.
7. Do you think it was wise of Putraka to be so anxious to get his
father and uncles back, when he knew how selfish they had been in
leaving his mother and aunts behind them?
8. Can you suggest anything else Putraka might have done in the matter?
Just what the young king hoped came to pass. Wherever the Brahmans
went they talked about the country they came from and the wonderful
young king who ruled over it. Putraka's father and uncles, who were
after all not so very far off, heard the stories about him, and
asked the Brahmans many questions. The answers made them very eager
to see Putraka, but they did not at first realize that he was closely
related to them. Only when they heard the name of his mother did they
guess the truth. Putraka's father knew, when he deserted his wife,
that God was going to give her a child soon; which made it even more
wicked of him to leave her. Now, however, he forgot all about that,
only thinking how he could make as much use as possible of the son
who had become a king. He wanted to go back at once alone, but the
uncles were not going to allow that. They meant to get all they could
out of Putraka too; and the three selfish men, who were now quite old,
set off together for the land they had left so long ago.
They arrived safely, and made their way to the palace, where they were
received, with great rejoicings. None of the wives, said a word of
reproach to, the husbands who had deserted them; and as for Putraka,
he was so overjoyed at having his father back, that he gave him a
beautiful house to live in and a great deal of money. He was very
good to his uncles too, and felt that he had now really nothing left
to wish for.
9. Do you think Putraka showed strength or weakness of character in
the way he received the travellers?
10. How do you think the king ought to have behaved to his father
The three wives very soon had good reason to wish their husbands had
stayed away. Instead of being grateful for all Putraka's generosity,
they were very unkind and exacting, never pleased with anything;
and whatever they had given them, they were always trying to get
more. In fact, they were silly as well as wicked; for they did not
realize that this was not the way to make the king love them or wish
to keep them with him. Presently they became jealous of Putraka,
and began to wish to get rid of him. His father hated to feel that
his son was king, whilst he was only one of that king's subjects;
and he made up his mind to kill him, hoping that if he could only get
rid of him he might rule over the country in his stead. He thought
and thought how best to manage this, and did not at first mean to
tell his brothers anything about it; but in the end he decided he
had better have them on his side. So he invited them to go with him
to a secret place to talk the matter over.
11. What qualities did Putraka's father show in this plot against
12. Was there any other way in which the king's father could have
gained a share in governing the land?
After many meetings the three wicked men decided that they would
pay some one to kill the king, first making the murderer they chose
swear that he would never tell who had ordered him to do the terrible
deed. It was not very difficult to find a man bad enough to take money
for such an evil purpose, and the next thing to do was to decide
where and when the deed was to be done. Putraka had been very well
brought up by his mother, and he often went to a beautiful temple near
his palace to pray alone. He would sometimes stop there a long time,
winning fresh wisdom and strength to do the work he was trusted with,
and praying not only for himself, but for his father, his mother,
his aunts and uncles, and for the people he loved so much.
The murderer was told to wait in this temple, and when the young king
was absorbed in prayer, to fall suddenly upon him and kill him. Then,
when Putraka was dead, he was to take his body and bury it far away
in the depths of the forest where it could never be found. At first it
seemed likely that this cruel plot would succeed. To make quite sure,
the murderer got two other men as wicked as himself to come and help
him, promising to give them a share in the reward. But the god who
had taken care of Putraka ever since he was born, did not forget him
now. As the young king prayed, forgetting everything in his earnest
pleading for those he loved, he did not see or hear the evil men
drawing stealthily close to him. Their arms were uplifted to slay him,
and the gleam of the weapons in the light that was always kept burning
flashed upon him, when suddenly the heavenly guardian of the temple,
who never left it day or night, but was generally invisible, appeared
and cast a spell upon the wicked men, whose hands were arrested in
the very act to strike.
What a wonderful sight that must have been, when Putraka, disturbed in
his prayers, looked round and saw the men who had come to kill him,
with the shadowy form of the guardian threatening them! He knew at
once that he had been saved from a dreadful death by a messenger from
the god he had been worshipping. As he gazed at the men, the guardian
faded away and he was left alone with them. Slowly the spell cast on
them was broken, and they dropped their weapons, prostrated themselves,
and clasped their hands in an appeal for mercy to the man they had
meant to destroy. Putraka looked at them quietly and sadly. He felt
no anger against them, only a great thankfulness for his escape. He
spoke to the men very sternly, asking them why they wished to harm him;
and the chief murderer told him who had sent them.
The knowledge that his father wished to kill him shocked and grieved
the young long terribly, but he controlled himself even when he learnt
the sad truth. He told the men that he forgave them, for they were
not the most to blame; and he made them promise never to betray who
had bribed them to kill him. He then gave them some money and told
them to leave him.
13. What do you think the most beautiful incident in this account of
the scene in the temple?
14. What do you suppose were the thoughts of the murderers when they
left the temple after Putraka forgave them?
When Putraka was alone, he threw himself upon the ground and wept very
bitterly. He felt that he could never be happy again, never trust
anyone again. He had so loved his father and uncles. It had been
such a joy to him to give them pleasure, and yet they hated him and
wished to kill him. He wondered whether he was himself to blame for
what had happened, and began to think he was not worthy to be king,
if he could make such a mistake as he now feared he had made in being
so generous to those who could have such hard thoughts of him as
to want to take his life. Perhaps after all it would be better for
his country to have another king. He did not feel as if he could go
back to his palace and meet his father and uncles again. "What shall
I do? What shall I do?" he cried, his sobs choking his voice. Never
in all his life had he thought it possible to be so miserable as he
was now. Everything seemed changed and he felt as if he were himself
a different person. The only thing that comforted him at all was the
thought of his mother, whose love had never failed him; but even that
was spoiled by the remembrance that it was her husband who had wished
to kill him. She must never know that, for it would break her heart:
yet how could he keep it from her? Then the idea came to him that
the best thing he could do would be to go away and never see his own
15. What do you think was wrong in Putraka's way of looking at
16. Was his idea of leaving his country and his people a sign of
weakness or of strength?
In the end the poor young king decided that he would go right away
as his father and uncles had done; and his mind being made up,
he became more cheerful and began to think he might meet with some
interesting adventures in a new country, where nobody knew anything
about him. As soon as it was light, he wandered off into the forest,
feeling, it is true, very lonely, but at the same time taking a
certain pleasure in being entirely his own master; which a king can
never really be, because he has to consider so many other people and
to keep so many rules.
After all Putraka did not find the forest so very lonely; for he
had not gone far in it before his sad thoughts were broken in upon
by his coming suddenly to a little clearing, where the trees had
been cut down and two strong-looking men were wrestling together,
the king watched them for a little while, wondering what they were
fighting about. Then he called out, "What are you doing here? What
are you quarrelling about?"
The men were greatly surprised to hear Putraka's voice, for they
thought that they were quite alone. They stopped fighting for a minute
or two, and one of them said: "We are fighting for three very precious
things which were left behind him by our father."
"What are those things?" asked Putraka.
"A bowl, a stick and a pair of shoes," was the reply. "Whoever wins
the fight will get them all. There they lie on the ground."
"Well, I never!" cried the king, laughing as he looked at the things,
which seemed to him worth very little. "I shouldn't trouble to fight
about such trifles, if I were you."
"Trifles!" exclaimed one of the men angrily. "You don't know what
you are talking about. They are worth more than their weight in
gold. Whoever gets the bowl will find plenty of food in it whenever he
wants it; the owner of the stick has only to write his wishes on the
ground with it and he will get them; and whoever puts on the shoes
can fly through the air in them to any distance."
17. Which of these things would you rather have had?
18. What lesson do you learn from what the men said about the things
on the ground?
When Putraka heard the wonders which, could be done with what he had
thought not worth having, he determined to get possession of the three
treasures for himself; not considering that it would he very wrong to
take what did not belong to him. "It seems a pity to fight," he said,
"why don't you race for the things, and let whichever wins the race
have them? That banyan tree over there would make a good winning post
and I will be the umpire."
Instead of guessing what Putraka had in his mind, the brothers, who
were very simple fellows, said at once: "All right. We won't fight,
we'll race instead, and you can give us the start." Putraka agreed,
and directly they were off he lost not a moment, but picked up the
bowl and the staff, put on the shoes, and flew straight up into the
air with the treasures. When the brothers came back, disputing about
which of them had won, there was not a sign of Putraka, the bowl,
the stick, or the shoes. They guessed at once what had happened;
and after staring up in the air for a long time, they went home,
feeling very much enraged with the man who had cheated them, and
ashamed of having been so stupid as to trust him.
19. What do you think of Putraka's behaviour in this matter?
20. If you could have had one of the three things Putraka stole,
which would you have chosen?
On and on flew Putraka, full of eager delight in the new power of
flight. How he loved rushing through the air, cleaving it like a bird
on the wing! All he wanted to make him perfectly happy was someone
to enjoy his new powers with him. Presently he found himself above
a beautiful city with towers and pinnacles and minarets gleaming in
the sunshine. "Ah!" he thought, "that is the place for me. I will go
down there, and see if I can find a nice house to live in, and some
people to make friends with, who will not try to kill me or to cheat
me, but love me and be grateful to me for any kindness I show them."
As Putraka was hovering in the air above the town to which he had
taken such a fancy, he noticed a little house which rather pleased
him; for though it was poor-looking, there was something cheerful and
home-like about it. Down he sped and alighted at the door. Only one
poor old woman lived in the house, and when Putraka knocked and asked
if he might come in, she said "Yes" at once. He gave her some money,
and told her he would like to live with her, if she would let him
do so. She was only too glad to consent, for she was very lonely;
and the two lived happily together for a long time.
21. Do you think that if Putraka had flown home on his wonderful
shoes, taking his staff and bowl with him, his, father and uncles
would still have tried to kill him?
22. How could Putraka have prevented them from doing him harm if he
had returned to his home?
The old woman grew very fond of Putraka, caring for him and waiting
on him as if he had been her own son. She was so anxious that he
should be happy that she became afraid he would become tired of
living alone with her. So she said to him one day: "My dear adopted
son, you ought to have a wife to keep you company. I know the very
one for you, the only one really worthy of you. She is a princess,
and her name is Patala. She is so very lovely that every man who sees
her falls in love with her and wants to carry her off. So she is most
carefully guarded in the top rooms of a great palace, as high as
the summits of the loftiest mountains." When Putraka heard this he
was all eagerness to see the princess, and at once determined to go
forth to seek her. He was more than ever glad now that he had stolen
the shoes, because he knew that they would carry him even to the top
of the highest mountains.
23. What qualities did the old woman show when she told Putraka about
24. What faults of character did the young king show when he decided
at once to leave the old woman who had been so good to him?
The very evening of the day when Putraka heard about the princess,
he started on his journey, taking with him his bowl and staff. The old
woman gave him very careful instructions which way to go, and begged
him to come back to tell her how he had got on. He promised he would,
thanked her for all she had done for him, and flew away in a great
state of excitement. She watched him till he was quite out of sight,
and then went sadly into her lonely home, wondering if she would ever
see him again.
It was not long before Putraka came in sight of the palace. It was a
beautiful night, and the moon was shining full upon the room in which
the princess was asleep. It was a very big one, with costly furniture
and priceless tapestry hung round the walls, and there were doors
behind the tapestry leading to other apartments, in some of which the
attendants on Patala slept, whilst others kept watch lest anyone should
intrude upon their mistress. No one thought of guarding the windows,
for they were so high up that only a bird could reach them.
The young king alighted on the ledge of the window of the princess'
room, and looked in. There, on a golden bed, amongst soft cushions
and embroidered coverings, lay the most lovely creature he had ever
beheld, so lovely that he fell in love with her at once and gave
a loud cry of delight. This woke the princess, who started up and
was about to scream out aloud in her terror at seeing a man looking
in at the window, when Putraka with the aid of his magic staff made
himself invisible. Then, thinking she had been dreaming, Patala lay
down again, and the king began talking to her in a low voice, telling
her he had heard of her beauty and had flown from far away to see
her. He begged her to allow him to show himself to her, and added:
"I will go away again directly afterwards if you wish it."
Putraka's voice was so gentle, and it seemed to Patala so wonderful
that a man could fly and make himself invisible, that she was full
of curiosity to see him and find out all about him. So she gave her
consent, and immediately afterwards the young king stood within the
room, looking so noble and so handsome that she too fell in love at
first sight. Putraka told her all about his life and adventures, which
interested her very much. She was glad, she said, that he was a king;
but she would have loved him just as well, whoever he might have been.
After a long talk, Patala begged him to leave her for fear her
attendants should discover him and tell her father about him. "My
father would never let me marry you," she declared, "unless you were
to come with many followers as a king to ask my hand; and how can
you do that when you are only a wandering exile?"
25. Was there any reason to fear that Putraka would be discovered
when he could make himself invisible at any moment?
26. What do you think would have been the right thing for Putraka
and Patala to do when they found out that they loved each other?
It was very difficult to persuade Putraka to go, but at last he
flew away. Every night after that, however, he came to see Patala,
spending the days sometimes in one place, sometimes in another, and
using his magic bowl to supply himself with food. Alas, he forgot
all about the dear old woman to whom he owed all his happiness,
and she slowly gave up hope of ever seeing him again. He might quite
easily have flown to her cottage and cheered her with his presence;
but he was so wrapped up in his love for Patala that everything else
went out of his head. This selfishness on his part presently got him
into serious trouble, for he became careless about making himself
invisible when he flew up to the princess' window. So that one night
he was discovered by a guardian of the palace. The matter was at once
reported to the king, who could not at first believe such a thing
was possible. The man must have seen a big bird, that was all. The
king, however, ordered one of his daughter's ladies to keep watch
every night in an ante-room, leaving the door open with the tapestry,
in which there was a slit, drawn carefully over it, and to come and
tell him in the morning if she had seen or heard anything unusual.
Now the lady chosen loved the princess, and, like many of her
fellow-attendants, thought it was very cruel of the king to punish his
own child for being so beautiful, by shutting her up as he did. It
so happened that the very first night she was on guard, Putraka had
flown a very, very long way, not noticing where he was going, because
he was thinking so earnestly of Patala. When at last he flew in at
her window, he was so weary that he sank down on a couch and fell
fast asleep. The princess too was tired, because she had lain awake
talking to her lover so many nights running that she had had hardly
any rest. So when the lady peeped through the slit in the tapestry,
there, by the light of the night lamp, she saw the young king lying
unconscious, whilst the princess also was asleep.
Very cautiously the attendant crept to the side of Putraka, and took a
long, long look at him. She noticed how handsome he was, and that he
was dressed in beautiful clothes. She especially remarked the turban
he wore, because in India the rank to which men belong is shown by
the kind of turbans they wear. "This is no common man," she thought,
"but a prince or king in disguise. What shall I do now? I will not
raise an alarm which might lead to this beautiful young lover being
killed and the heart of my dear mistress broken."
27. If you had been the lady who found Putraka in Patala's room,
what would you have done?
28. What could Putraka have done to guard against being discovered?
After hesitating a long time, the lady made up her mind that she would
only put some mark in the turban of Putraka, so that he could be known
again, and let him escape that night at least. So she stole back to
her room, fetched a tiny, brooch, and fastened it in the folds of the
turban, where the wearer was not likely to notice it himself. This
done, she went back to listen at the door.
It was nearly morning when Putraka woke up, very much surprised at
finding himself lying on the couch, for he did not remember throwing
himself down on it. Starting up, he woke Patala, who was terribly
frightened, for she expected her ladies to come in any minute to help
her to dress. She entreated Putraka to make himself invisible and fly
away at once. He did so; and, as usual, wandered about until the time
should come to go back to the palace. But he still felt too tired to
fly, and instead walked about in the town belonging to Patala's father.
The lady who had been on guard had half a mind to tell her mistress
that her secret was discovered. But before she could get a chance to
do so, she was sent for by the king, who asked her if she had seen
or heard anything during the night. She tried very hard to escape
from betraying Patala; but she hesitated so much in her answers
that the king guessed there was something she wanted to hide, and
told her, if she did not reveal the whole truth, he would have her
head shaved and send her to prison. So she told how she had found
a handsome man, beautifully dressed, fast asleep in Patala's room;
but she did not believe her mistress knew anything about it, because
she too was asleep.
The king was of course in a terrible rage, and the lady was afraid
he would order her to be punished; but he only went on questioning
her angrily about what the man was like, so that he might be found
and brought before him. Then the lady confessed that she had put
the brooch in the turban, comforting herself with the thought that,
when the king saw Putraka and knew that Patala loved him, he might
perhaps relent and let them be married.
When the king heard about the brooch, he was greatly pleased; and
instead of ordering the lady to be punished, he told her that, when
the man who had dared to approach his daughter was found, he would
give her a great reward. He then sent forth hundreds of spies to
hunt for the man with a brooch in his turban, and Putraka was very
soon found, strolling quietly about in the market-place. He was so
taken by surprise that, though he had his staff in his hand and his
shoes and bowl in the pocket of his robes, he had no time to write
his wishes with the staff, or to put on the shoes, so he was obliged
to submit to be dragged to the palace. He did all he could to persuade
those who had found him to let him go, telling them he was a king and
would reward them well. They only laughed at him and dragged him along
with them to the palace, where he was at once taken before the king,
who was sitting on his throne, surrounded by his court, in a great hall
lined with soldiers. The big windows were wide open; and noticing this,
Putraka did not feel at all afraid, for he knew he had only to slip on
his shoes and fly out of one of the windows, if he could not persuade
the king to let him marry Patala. So he stood quietly at the foot of
the throne, and looked bravely into the face of his dear one's father.
This only made the king more angry, and he began calling Putraka all
manner of names and asking him how he dared to enter the room of his
daughter. Putraka answered quietly that he loved Patala and wished
to marry her. He was himself a king, and would give her all she had
been used to. But it was all no good, for it only made the king more
angry. He rose from his throne, and stretching out his hand, he cried:
"Let him be scourged and placed in close confinement!"
Then Putraka with his staff wrote rapidly on the ground his wish that
no one should be able to touch him, and stooping down slipped on his
magic shoes. The king, the courtiers and the soldiers all remained
exactly as they were, staring at him in astonishment, as he rose up in
the air and flew out of one of the windows. Straight away he sped to
the palace of Patala and into her room, where she was pacing to and fro
in an agony of anxiety about him; for she had heard of his having been
taken prisoner and feared that her father would order him to be killed.
29. What do you think would have been the best thing for the king to
do when Putraka was brought before him?
30. If Putraka had not had his shoes with him, how could he have
escaped from the king's palace?
Great indeed was the delight of Patala when her beloved Putraka once
more flew in at her window; but she was still trembling with fear
for him and begged him to go away back to his own land as quickly
"I will not go without you," replied Putraka. "Wrap yourself up warmly,
for it is cold flying through the air, and we will go away together,
and your cruel father shall never see you again."
Patala wept at hearing this, for it seemed terrible to her to have to
choose between the father she loved and Putraka. But in the end her
lover got his own way, and just as those who were seeking him were
heard approaching, he seized his dear one in his arms and flew off
with her. He did not return to his own land even then, but directed
his course to the Ganges, the grand and beautiful river which the
people of India love and worship, calling it their Mother Ganga. By
the banks of the sacred stream the lovers rested, and with the aid of
his magic bowl Putraka soon had a good and delicious meal ready, which
they both enjoyed very much. As they ate, they consulted together
what they had better do now, and Patala, who was as clever as she
was beautiful, said:
"Would it not be a good thing to build a new city in this lovely
place? You could do it with your marvellous staff, could you not?"
"Why, of course, I could," said Putraka laughing. "Why didn't I think
of it myself?" Very soon a wonderful town rose up, which the young
king wished to be as much as possible like the home he had left,
only larger and fuller of fine buildings than it. When the town was
made, he wished it to be full of happy inhabitants, with temples
in which they might worship, priests to teach them how to be good,
markets in which food and all that was needed could be bought, tanks
and rivulets full of pure water, soldiers and officers to defend the
gates, elephants on which he and his wife could ride, everything in
fact that the heart of man or woman could desire.
The first thing Putraka and Patala did after the rise of their own
town, which they named Patali-Putra  after themselves, was to get
married in accordance with the rites of their religion; and for many,
many years they reigned wisely over their people, who loved them and
their children with all their hearts. Amongst the attendants on those
children was the old woman who had shown kindness to Putraka in his
loneliness and trouble. For when he told Patala the story of his life,
she reproached him for his neglect of one to whom he owed so much. She
made him feel quite ashamed of himself, and he flew away and brought
the dear old lady back with him, to her very great delight.
31. Which of the people in this story do you like best?
32. Do you think Putraka deserved all the happiness which came to
him through stealing the wand, the shoes and the bowl?
33. Can you suggest any way in which he could have atoned for the
wrong he did to the brothers whose property he took?
34. What is the chief lesson to be learnt from this story?