The Hermit's Daughter, Translated by S. M. Mitra
Near a town in India called Ikshumati, on a beautiful wide river,
with trees belonging to a great forest near its banks, there dwelt
a holy man named Mana Kanaka, who spent a great part of his life
praying to God. He had lost his wife when his only child, a lovely
girl called Kadali-Garbha, was only a few months old. Kadali-Garbha
was a very happy girl, with many friends in the woods round her home,
not children like herself, but wild creatures, who knew she would
not do them any harm. They loved her and she loved them. The birds
were so tame that they would eat out of her hand, and the deer used
to follow her about in the hope of getting the bread she carried in
her pocket for them. Her father taught her all she knew, and that was
a great deal; for she could read quite learned books in the ancient
language of her native land. Better even than what she found out in
those books was what Mana Kanaka told her about the loving God of all
gods who rules the world and all that live in it. Kadali-Garbha also
learnt a great deal through her friendship with wild animals. She knew
where the birds built their nests, where the baby deer were born,
where the squirrels hid their nuts, and what food all the dwellers
in the forest liked best. She helped her father to work in their
garden in which all their own food was grown; and she loved to cook
the fruit and vegetables for Mana Kanaka and herself. Her clothes
were made of the bark of the trees in the forest, which she herself
wove into thin soft material suitable for wearing in a hot climate.
1. What do you think it was which made the animals trust Kadali-Garbha?
2. Could you have been happy in the forest with no other children to
Kadali-Garbha never even thought about other children, because she had
not been used to having them with her. She was just as happy as the
day was long, and never wished for any change. But when she was about
sixteen something happened which quite altered her whole life. One
day her father had gone into the forest to cut wood, and had left
her alone. She had finished tidying the house, and got everything
ready for the midday meal, and was sitting at the door of her home,
reading to herself, with birds fluttering about her head and a pet
doe lying beside her, when she heard the noise of a horse's feet
approaching. She looked up, and there on the other side of the fence
was a very handsome young man seated on a great black horse, which he
had reined up when he caught sight of her. He looked at her without
speaking, and she looked back at him with her big black eyes full
of surprise at his sudden appearance. She made a beautiful picture,
with the green creepers covering the hut behind her, and the doe,
which had started up in fear of the horse, pressing against her.
The man was the king of the country, whose name was Dridha-Varman. He
had been hunting and had got separated from his attendants. He was very
much surprised to find anyone living in the very depths of the forest,
and was going to ask the young girl who she was, when Kadali-Garbha
saw her father coming along the path leading to his home. Jumping up,
she ran to meet him, glad that he had come; for she had never before
seen a young man and was as shy as any of the wild creatures of the
woods. Now that Mana Kanaka was with her, she got over her fright,
and felt quite safe, clinging to his arm as he and the king talked
3. Can you describe just how Kadali-Garbha felt when she saw the king?
4. Do you think it would have been a good or a bad thing for her to
live all the rest of her life in the forest?
Mana Kanaka knew at once that the man on the horse was the king; and
a great fear entered his heart when he saw how Dridha-Varman looked
at his beloved only child.
"Who are you, and who is that lovely girl?" asked the king. And Mana
Kanaka answered, "I am only a humble woodcutter; and this is my only
child, whose mother has long been dead."
"Her mother must have been a very lovely woman, if her daughter is like
her," said the king. "Never before have I seen such perfect beauty."
"Her mother," replied Mana Kanaka, "was indeed what you say; and her
soul was as beautiful as the body in which it dwelt all too short
"I would have your daughter for my wife," said the king; "and if you
will give her to me, she shall have no wish ungratified. She shall have
servants to wait on her and other young girls to be her companions;
beautiful clothes to wear, the best of food to eat, horses and
carriages as many as she will, and no work to do with her own hands."
5. If you had been Kadali-Garbha, what would you have said when you
heard all these promises?
6. Of all the things the king said she should have, which would you
have liked best?
What Kadali-Garbha did was to cling closely to her father, hiding
her face on his arm and whispering, "I will not leave you: do not
send me away from you, dear father."
Mana Kanaka stroked her hair, and said in a gentle voice:
"But, dear child, your father is old, and must leave you soon. It is
a great honour for his little girl to be chosen by the king for his
bride. Do not be afraid, but look at him and see how handsome he is
and how kind he looks."
Then Kadali-Garbha looked at the king, who smiled at her and looked
so charming that her fear began to leave her. She still clung to
her father, but no longer hid her face; and Mana Kanaka begged
Kadali-Garbha to let him send her away, so that he might talk with
the king alone about the wish he had expressed to marry her. The king
consented to this, and Kadali-Garbha gladly ran away. But when she
reached the door of her home, she looked back, and knew in her heart
that she already loved the king and did not want him to go away.
It did not take long for the matter of the marriage to be settled. For
Mana Kanaka, sad though he was to lose his dear only child, was glad
that she should be a queen, and have some one to take care of her when
he was gone. After this first visit to the little house in the forest
the king came every day to see Kadali-Garbha, bringing all kinds of
presents for her. She learnt to love him so much that she became as
eager as he was for the wedding to be soon. When the day was fixed,
the king sent several ladies of his court to dress the bride in
clothes more beautiful that she had ever dreamt of; and in them she
looked more lovely even than the first day her lover had seen her.
Now amongst these ladies was a very wise woman who could see what
was going to happen; and she knew that there would be troubles for
the young queen in the palace, because many would be jealous of her
happiness. She was very much taken with the beautiful innocent girl,
and wanted to help her so much that she managed to get her alone
for a few minutes, when she said to her: "I want you to promise me
something. It is to take this packet of mustard seeds, hide it in the
bosom of your dress, and when you ride to the palace with your husband,
strew the seed along the path as you go. You know how quickly mustard
grows. Well, it will spring up soon; and if you want to come home
again, you can easily find the way by following the green shoots. Alas,
I fear they will not have time to wither before you need their help!"
Kadali-Garbha laughed when the wise woman talked about trouble coming
to her. She was so happy, she could not believe she would want to
come home again so soon. "My father can come to me when I want him,"
she said. "I need only tell my dear husband to send for him." But
for all that she took the packet of seeds and hid it in her dress.
7. Would you have done as the wise woman told you if you had been
8. Ought Kadali-Garbha to have told the king about the mustard seed?
After the wedding was over, the king mounted his beautiful horse,
and bending down, took his young wife up before him. Holding her
close to him with his right arm, he held the reins in his left hand;
and away they went, soon leaving all the attendants far behind them,
the queen scattering the mustard seed as she had promised to do. When
they arrived at the palace there were great rejoicings, and everybody
seemed charmed with the queen, who was full of eager interest in all
that she saw.
For several weeks there was nobody in the wide world so happy and
light-hearted as the bride. The king spent many hours a day with her,
and was never tired of listening to all she had to tell him about
her life in the forest with her father. Every day he gave her some
fresh proof of his love, and he never refused to do anything she
asked him to do. But presently a change came. Amongst the ladies
of the court there was a beautiful woman, who had hoped to be queen
herself, and hated Kadali-Garbha so much that she made up her mind
to get her into disgrace with the king. She asked first one powerful
person and then another to help her; but everybody loved the queen,
and the wicked woman began to be afraid that those she had told about
her wish to harm her would warn the king. So she sought about for some
one who did not know Kadali-Garbha, and suddenly remembered a wise
woman named Asoka-Mala, who lived in a cave not far from the town,
to whom many people used to go for advice in their difficulties. She
went to this woman one night, and told her a long story in which there
was not one word of truth. The young queen, she said, did not really
love the king; and with the help of her father, who was a magician,
she meant to poison him. How could this terrible thing be prevented,
she asked; and she promised that if only Asoka-Mala would help to
save Dridha-Varman, she would give her a great deal of money.
Asoka-Mala guessed at once that the story was not true, and that it
was only because the woman was jealous of the beautiful young queen
that she wished to hurt her. But she loved money very much. Instead
therefore of at once refusing to have anything to do with the matter,
she said: "Bring me fifty gold pieces now, and promise me another
fifty when the queen is sent away from the palace, and I will tell
you what to do."
The wicked woman promised all this at once. The very next night she
brought the first fifty pieces of gold to the cave, and Asoka-Mala
told her that she must get the barber, who saw the king alone every
day, to tell him he had found out a secret about the queen. "You must
tell the barber all you have already told me. But be very careful to
give some proof of your story. For if you do not do so, you will only
have wasted the fifty gold pieces you have already given to me; and,
more than that, you will be terribly punished for trying to hurt the
queen, whom everybody loves."
9. Do you think this plot against Kadali-Garbha was likely to succeed?
10. Can you think of any way in which the wise woman might have helped
the queen and also have gained a reward for herself?
The wicked woman went back to the palace, thinking all the way to
herself, "How can I get a proof of what is not true?" At last an
idea came into her head. She knew that the queen loved to wander
in the forest, and that she was not afraid of the wild creatures,
but seemed to understand their language. She would tell the barber
that Kadali-Garbha was a witch and knew the secrets of the woods;
that she had been seen gathering wild herbs, some of them poisonous,
and had been heard muttering strange words to herself as she did so.
Early the next morning the cruel woman went to see the barber, and
promised him a reward if he would tell the king what she had found
out about his wife. "He won't believe you at first," she said; "but
you must go on telling him till he does. You are clever, enough,"
she added, "to make up something he will believe if what I have
thought of is no good."
The barber, who had served the king for many years, would not at first
agree to help to make him unhappy. But he too liked money very much,
and in the end he promised to see what he could do if he was well
paid for it. He was, as the wicked woman had said, clever enough;
and he knew from long experience just how to talk to his master. He
began by asking the king if he had heard of the lovely woman who was
sometimes seen by the woodmen wandering about alone in the forest,
with wild creatures following her. Remembering how he had first seen
Kadali-Garbha, Dridha-Varman at once guessed that she was the lovely
woman. But he did not tell the barber so; for he was so proud of his
dear wife's beauty that he liked to hear her praised, and wanted the
man to go on talking about her. He just said: "What is she like? Is
she tall or short, fair or dark?" The barber answered the questions
readily. Then he went on to say that it was easy to see that the lady
was as clever as she was beautiful; for she knew not only all about
animals but also about plants. "Every day," he said, "she gathers
quantities of herbs, and I have been told she makes healing medicines
of them. Some even go so far as to say she also makes poisons. But,
for my part, I do not believe that; she is too beautiful to be wicked."
The king listened, and a tiny little doubt crept into his mind about
his wife. She had never told him about the herbs she gathered, although
she often chattered about her friends in the forest. Perhaps after
all it was not Kadali-Garbha the barber was talking about. He would
ask her if she knew anything about making medicines from herbs. He did
so when they were alone together, and she said at once, "Oh, yes! My
father taught me. But I have never made any since I was married."
"Are you sure?" asked the king; and she answered laughing, "Of course,
I am: how could I be anything but sure? I have no need to think of
medicine-making, now I am the queen."
Dridha-Varman said no more at the time. But he was troubled; and
when the barber came again, he began at once to ask about the woman
who had been seen in the woods. The wicked man was delighted, and
made up a long story. He said one of the waiting women had told him
of what she had seen. The woman, he said, had followed the lady home
one day, and that home was not far from the palace. She had seen her
bending over a fire above which hung a great sauce-pan full of water,
into which she flung some of the herbs she had gathered, singing as
she did so, in a strange language.
"Could it possibly be," thought the king, "that Kadali-Garbha had
deceived him? Was she perhaps a witch after all?" He remembered that he
really did not know who she was, or who her father was. He had loved
her directly he saw her, just because she was so beautiful. What was
he to do now? He was quite sure, from the description the barber had
given of the woman in the forest, that she was his wife. He would
watch her himself in future, and say nothing to her that would make
her think he was doing so.
11. What should the king have done when he heard the barber's story?
12. Can you really love anybody truly whom you do not trust?
Although the king said nothing to his wife about what the barber had
told him, he could not treat her exactly as he did before he heard it,
and she very soon began to wonder what she had done to vex him. The
first thing she noticed was that one of the ladies of the court always
followed her when she went into the forest. She did not like this;
because she so dearly loved to be alone with the wild creatures,
and they did not come to her when any one else was near. She told
the lady to go away, and she pretended to do so; but she only kept
a little further off. And though the queen could no longer see her,
she knew she was there, and so did the birds and the deer. This went
on for a little time; and then Kadali-Garbha asked her husband to
tell every one that she was not to be disturbed when she went to see
her friends in the forest.
"I am afraid," said the king, "that some harm will come to you. There
are wild beasts in the depths of the wood who might hurt you. And
what should I do if any harm came to my dear one?"
Kadali-Garbha was grieved when Dridha-Varman said this, for she knew
it was not true; and she looked at him so sadly that he felt ashamed
of having doubted her. All would perhaps have been well even now,
if he had told her of the story he had heard about her, because then
she could have proved that it was not true. But he did not do that;
he only said, "I cannot let you be alone so far from home. Why not
be content with the lovely gardens all round the palace? If you still
wish to go to the woods, I will send one of the game-keepers with you
instead of the lady who has been watching you. Then he can protect
you if any harmful creature should approach."
"If my lord does not wish me to be alone in the forest," answered the
queen, "I will be content with the gardens. For no birds or animals
would come near me if one of their enemies were with me. But," she
added, as her eyes filled with tears, "will not my lord tell me why
he no longer trusts his wife, who loves him with all her heart?"
The king was very much touched by what Kadali-Garbha said, but still
could not make up his mind to tell her the truth. So he only embraced
her fondly, and said she was a good little wife to be so ready to
obey him. The queen went away very sadly, wondering to herself what
she could do to prove to her dear lord that she loved him as much as
ever. She took care never to go outside the palace gardens, but she
longed very much for her old freedom, and began to grow pale and thin.
The wicked woman who had tried to do her harm was very much
disappointed that she had only succeeded in making her unhappy; so
she went again to Asoka-Mala, and promised her more money if only she
would think of some plan to get the king to send his wife away. The
wise woman considered a long time, and then she said: "You must use
the barber again. He goes from house to house, and he must tell the
king that the beautiful woman, who used to roam about in the forest
collecting herbs, has been seen there again in the dead of the night,
when she could be sure no one would find out what she was doing."
Now it so happened that Kadali-Garbha was often unable to sleep because
of her grief that the king did not love her so much as he used to
do. One night she got so tired of lying awake that she got up very
quietly, so as not to disturb her husband, and putting on her sari,
she went out into the gardens, hoping that the fresh air might help
her to sleep. Presently the king too woke up, and finding that his
wife was no longer beside him, he became very uneasy, and was about to
go and seek her, when she came back. He asked her where she had been;
and she told him exactly what had happened, but she did not explain
why she could not sleep.
13. What mistake did the queen make in her treatment of the king?
14. Do you think it is more hurtful to yourself and to others to talk
too much or too little?
When the barber was shaving the king the next morning, he told him he
had heard that people were saying the beautiful woman had been seen
again one night, gathering herbs and muttering to herself. "They talk,
my lord," said the man, "of your own name having been on her lips;
and those who love and honour you are anxious for your safety. Maybe
the woman is indeed a witch, who for some reason of her own will try
to poison you."
Now Dridha-Varman remembered that Kadali-Garbha had left him the
night before, "and perhaps," he thought, "at other times when I was
asleep." He could scarcely wait until the barber had finished shaving
him, so eager was he to find out the truth. He hurried to his wife's
private room, but she was not there; and her ladies told him she had
not been seen by them that day. This troubled him terribly, and he
roused the whole palace to seek her. Messengers were soon hurrying
to and fro, but not a trace of her could be found. Dridha-Varman
was now quite sure that the woman the barber had talked about was
Kadali-Garbha, the wife he had so loved and trusted. "Perhaps," he
thought, "she has left poison in my food, and has gone away so as
not to see me die." He would neither eat nor drink, and he ordered
all the ladies whose duty it was to wait on the queen to be locked
up till she was found. Amongst them was the wicked woman who had done
all the mischief because of her jealousy of the beautiful young queen,
and very much she wished she had never tried to harm her.
15. Where do you suppose the queen had gone?
16. What mistake did the king make when he heard the queen was missing?
In her trouble about the loss of the king's love Kadali-Garbha longed
for her father, for she felt sure he would be able to help her. So
she determined to go to him. With the aid of the wise woman who
had given her the packet of mustard seed, and who had been her best
friend at court, she disguised herself as a messenger, and, mounted
on a strong little pony, she sped along the path marked out by the
young shoots of mustard, reaching her old home in the forest before
the night fell. Great indeed was the joy of Mana Kanaka at the sight
of his beloved child, and very soon she had poured out all her sorrow
to him. The hermit was at first very much enraged with his son-in-law
for the way in which he had treated Kadali-Garbha, and declared that
he would use all the powers he had to punish him. "Never," he said,
"shall he see your dear face again; but I will go to him and call
down on him all manner of misfortunes. You know not, dear child,
I have never wished you to know, that I am a magician and can make
the very beasts of the field and the winds of heaven obey me. I know
full well who has made this mischief between you and your husband,
and I will see that punishment overtakes them."
"No, no, father," cried Kadali-Garbha; "I will not have any harm done
to my dear one, for I love him with all my heart. All I ask of you
is to prove to him that I am innocent of whatever fault he thinks I
have committed, and to make him love and trust me again."
It was hard work to persuade Mana Kanaka to promise not to harm the
king, but in the end he yielded. Together the father and daughter
rode back to the palace, and together they were brought before
Dridha-Varman, who, in spite of the anger he had felt against his
wife, was overjoyed to see her. When he looked at her clinging to Mana
Kanaka's arm, as she had done the first time they met, all his old
love returned, and he would have taken her in his arms and told her so
before the whole court, if she had not drawn back. It was Mana Kanaka
who was the first to speak. Drawing himself up to his full height,
and pointing to the king, he charged him with having broken his vow
to love and protect his wife. "You have listened to lying tongues,"
he said, "and I will tell you to whom those tongues belong, that
justice may be done to them."
Once more Kadali-Garbha interfered. "No, father," she said; "let
their names be forgotten: only prove to my lord that I am his loving
faithful wife, and I will be content."
"I need no proof," cried Dridha-Varman; "but lest others should follow
their evil example, I will have vengeance on the slanderers. Name them,
and their doom shall be indeed a terrible one."
Then Mana Kanaka told the king the whole sad story; and when it was
ended the wicked woman who had first thought of injuring the queen,
and the barber who had helped her, were sent for to hear their doom,
which wasó-to be shut up for the rest of their lives in prison. This
was changed to two years only, because Kadali-Garbha was generous
enough to plead for them. As for the third person in the plot, the
old witch of the cave, not a word was said about her by anybody. Mana
Kanaka knew well enough what her share in the matter had been; but
magicians and witches are careful not to make enemies of each other,
and so he held his peace.
Dridha-Varman was so grateful to his father-in-law for bringing his
wife back to him, that he wanted him to stop at court, and said he
would give him a very high position there. But Mana Kanaka refused
every reward, declaring that he loved his little home in the forest
better than the grand rooms he might have had in the palace. "All I
wish for," he said, "is my dear child's happiness. I hope you will
never again listen to stories against your wife. If you do, you may
be very sure that I shall hear of it; and next time I know that you
have been unkind to her I will punish you as you deserve."
The king was obliged to let Mana Kanaka go, but after this he took
Kadali-Garbha to see her father in the forest very often. Later, when
the queen had some children of her own, their greatest treat was to
go to the little home, in the depths of the wood. They too learnt to
love animals, and had a great many pets, but none of those pets were
kept in cages.
17. What is the chief lesson to be learnt from this story?
18. Which of all the people in this tale do you like best?
19. What do you think is the greatest power in all the world?
20. If you had been Kadali-Garbha would you have forgiven those who
tried to do you harm?