I have selected the story, ‘Story of Prince Sobur’, from the book, ‘Folk-Tales of Bengal’ by Lal Behari Dey. But the title didn’t do justice to the brave and rebellious woman on whose life the story is based. Hence, I changed the title to ‘Woman who lived by her fortune,’ which also resonates with her first act of self -determination, and resilience. One can read the original story here.
The story begins the prosperous merchant asking his seven daughters as to on whose fortune do you live, i.e., who provides them with all the amenities and luxuries of life. All except the younger one replied that they enjoy the goodies of life because of their father.
The younger one replied that it’s her fate/destiny/ effort is responsible for her life and she is not dependent on her father for the same.
Now you can imagine, how angry and upset the father became. His darling daughter now shows sign of rebel and protest.
He asks the daughter to move out of his house immediately with not a dime in her pocket. He tells her to prove herself without the support of her father. The old nanny of the girl also accompanies her to the forest. Old nanny symbolizes wisdom and innate courage.
In the middle of the dark and dense forest, the poor girl who was mere fourteen, along with the old woman was trembling with fear. The trees and shrubs around took pity on the two and advised them to protect themselves at night from the wild animals.
The young girl said they have nowhere to go at this hour of the night. The big old tree offered to help them by splitting his trunk into two pieces and asked them to hide inside it. The two women went inside the hollow and at once tree resumed its natural shape.
One can see here how the old tree becomes a powerful and protecting ally in the time of distress. This symbolizes the symbiotic relationship between trees and human beings.
At the darkest hour of the night, they could hear the animals growling and scratching the tree. Animals could smell the human scent, but there was no way to see the two women.
In the morning, when the animals tired by the relentless night search went back, the two women came out of the tree. They were shocked to see the damage done to the tree by the wild animals. The girl smeared mud at the damaged places on the tree for healing.
As they only had five paise, the tree asked them to go the nearby village and get some lia or Khai (a kind of puffed rice with a coating of jaggery). The tree asked them to take a little for themselves and spread rest of it near the water tank.
They were astounded to see hundreds of peacocks with beautiful feathers merrily eating the Khai. See the beauty of our culture, nothing goes waste, and there is plenty for everyone. In our culture, everything is seen as of great significance whether it is a tree, bird or an animal. Feeding the needy, underprivileged, birds and animals is of great religious and spiritual importance. It also shows the concept of oneness.
The peacocks shed a few of their beautiful feathers and went back. The two women collected beautiful feathers and made a gorgeous fan. Soon, they received a lot of money by selling those beautiful fans. The tree asked them to make a house for themselves with that money.
It also shows how woman and nature share a special connection and bonding where women create wealth which is based on sustainability, eco-friendly knowledge in partnership with nature.
On the other side, her merchant father lost all his wealth due to a business deal went sour. He supported his wife and six daughters by doing manual labor. When he heard of a young woman looking for laborers in the middle of the forest, he readily agreed to take on the work.
When the young girl saw her father, working in her gardens as a laborer, she called him inside and gave him money to restart his life. Both father and daughter wept and exchanged their stories. The father realized that the daughter was right when she said that she lived upon her hard work and fortune and not on that of her father.
The merchant father before embarking on the sea journey to restart his business, sent a messenger to ask his daughter what to get for her from the seaside city.
The daughter asked the messenger, ‘sobur’ meaning to wait. But the messenger misunderstood it and told the merchant father that his daughter wanted sobur.
Father searched for ‘sobur’ at every port but could not find one. A son of the king named Sobur heard that a man was looking for sobur. He gave a small wooden box containing a magical fan with a looking-glass in it and said that this is sobur which your daughter wishes to have.
When the daughter opened her present, she shook the fan. She was amazed as a young and handsome prince Sobur appeared before her. Both fell in love and decided to get married. The other six daughters of the merchant got enraged with envy seeing the good luck of their younger sister. They plotted to kill the prince by placing the powdered glass on his bed on the wedding night. The moment Prince lied down on the couch the fine glass seeped into every pore of his skin. The poor prince shrieked and cried with piercing pain. There was no way local doctors, could ascertain the cause of his misery. King and the queen took the prince back to their kingdom.
The young wife was determined to take care of her newly wedded husband, went in search of her husband and his kingdom. She put on the garb of a sanyasi (monk) and went from one city to the other. While on her way, she was resting under a tree. On the top of the tree, laid a nest of the divine bird Bihangama and Bihangami. They were not in their nest at the time, but two of their young ones were in it. Suddenly the young ones on the top of the tree screamed with fear, which alerted the tired and half sleepy merchant’s daughter.
She saw a huge snake, climbing the tree. She killed the snake and saved the lives of two young birds. When their parents arrived, their children narrated how the young sanyasi saved them from the snake. They decided to help the young sanyasi in return for protecting their offspring. The bihangama bird told the young woman that if their dung is hardened and reduced to powder and applied to the body of the prince after bathing him seven times with seven jars of water and seven jars of milk, Prince Sobur will undoubtedly get well. They even offered to take the young woman to the palace of Prince Sobur on their back.
The birds and animals are not separate from the human realm in Indian arts, crafts, culture, and mythology and present an image of an inclusive world where we all share this planet earth. Our lives are often intertwined with those of birds and animals around who are bestowed with special powers for our protection. It also points out and reiterates the fundamental fact the whole universe comes together if we are determined and want to achieve something.
The young girl, who was now a sanyasi reached the palace and requested King to treat the Prince. After some deliberation, King allowed the sanyasi to meet the prince. The young sanyasi did exactly as told by the birds. In no time, the prince got well. While King wanted to give lots of presents to the Sanyasi, but she refused and only took the ring that the Prince was wearing.
She came back to her home riding on the back of the divine bird. After coming back, she again shook the magical fan, and Prince Sobur appeared before her. She showed him the ring and told him how she cured him. The prince Sobur was immensely surprised and became happy and took her back to his kingdom and they lived happily for many many years.