Once upon a time there lived a king who earned fame for his brevity and skills as a warrior. His only vice was that, he was fond of hunting. Hundreds of innocent animals were killed during his hunting expeditions. The poor animals did not know how to save themselves from the sharp arrows of the king. All they could do was pray to God for protection.
One afternoon the king and his companions were returning home through the forest after a hunting expedition. Suddenly they saw a huge Rakshasa (ogre) standing in their way. Most of the king’s men were terrified at the sight of the ferocious Rakshasa, but the king was brave enough to face him.
“Who are you and why are you guarding our way?” asked the king.
“I am Kalasura,” boomed the Rakshasa. “I am hungry. Hence I have come to eat you and your men.”
“But you cannot harm my men without defeating me,” said the king lifting his bow.
“I’m impressed by your courage,” said Kalasura. “But you cannot defeat me as I am protected by Lord Brahma’s boon. No ordinary weapon can harm me.”
The king aimed his sharpest shafts at Kalasura but none of them could even make a scratch on his body. Exhausted, the king folded his palms and said, “You cannot be an ordinary Rakshasa. Are you a celestial god in disguise? Please enlighten me about your real identity.”
“O king,” said the Rakshasa. “You are brave and courageous. Hence I am giving you a chance to save yourself. Leave your men here and return to your palace.”
“The lives of my subjects are far more important than my own life,” replied the king. “Tell me how can I save these men?”
“I can see that you are a good king who cares for his subjects,” said Kalasura. “I will give you a chance to save their lives. Follow the road leading to the north. After travelling for a day or so you will come across a big river named Narayani. Cross the river and walk about five miles in the north to reach the kingdom of Libra. There lives the Feather Light Princess. Bring her to me and I’ll let your men go free. But if you don’t return within a year then consider these men to be dead. Hence don’t waste time and hurry. Your men will stay with me until your return.”
The king took leave of his men and mounted his horse. He travelled northward till evening and spent the night beside a lake under a banyan tree. In the morning he went to the lake to take a bath. Suddenly his eyes fell on a small ant struggling in the water to survive. The king felt pity for the helpless ant and gently sailed a banyan leaf towards it. The ant slowly climbed up on the leaf and tried to dry itself. The king brought the leaf towards the shore with the help of a stick and left it on the grass, thus saving the ant from getting drowned. The grateful ant bowed before the king and said, “Thank you for saving my life. Should you ever need me just utter, ‘Pipilika, I need you’ thrice, and I’ll reach there before you.”
The king resumed his journey again. After travelling for the whole day he reached the shores of the river Narayani. It was evening. The king decided to spend the night under a banyan tree and cross the river in the morning. He untied his horse to let it graze in the field. Then he laid down tiredly on the soft grass and immediately fell asleep.
The king woke up in the early hours of dawn hearing the sound of voices coming from the tree above. It appeared that a couple were talking among themselves.
Male voice: “We are indeed unlucky. Otherwise why should our son be born blind?”
Female voice: “The holy hermit said that he can get back his eyesight if a king or a prince donates a few drops of his royal blood on his eyes.”
Male voice: “Yes, but where shall we find such a big-hearted person? We have travelled to so many places but no king or prince agreed to donate a few drops of blood to our poor son.”
Female voice: “You’re right. We’re indeed unlucky.”
The king could not keep his silence any longer.
“Who’s talking up there?” asked he. “I’m a king and I will help you.”
Two huge birds flew down from the tree. These were the famous talking birds Byangoma and Byangomi. They were extremely happy to hear that the king would donate his royal blood to restore their son’s eyesight.
True to the holy hermit’s words, Baby Byangoma’s eyesight was restored when the king cut his thumb and let a few drops of blood fall on his eyes. The overjoyed parents thanked the king for his kindness.
Before leaving Byangoma said,
“Should you ever need my service just call my name thrice and I’ll be there to help you.”
The following morning the king looked for a boatman to ferry him and his horse across the Narayani river. But he found no one apart from a very old man, who, it seemed, also wanted to cross the river. When the king asked him about the boatman he said, “There is no ferry service in this river. You and your horse will have to swim as is the only way to cross it. I am too old and weak to swim. Hence I am waiting for a kind man who would carry me on his back and help me cross the river.”
The kind king agreed to carry the old man across the river. But he was in for a shock! The old man was quite light when the king put him on his back. But he went on gaining weight as the depth of the river increased. By the time the king reached mid-river the old man became so heavy that it became difficult for him to stay afloat. Once he was tempted to throw the heavy man off his back and save himself from getting drowned. But then he controlled himself and felt ashamed of having such thoughts. He put in every bit of effort and managed to reach the other side of the river. Surprisingly, the old man became light again as the king swam towards the shore. He got off the king’s back and appreciated him for the successful completion of his difficult task.
“Many men have tried to carry me across the river but none of them could withstand my weight. They threw me into the river and I turned them into stone statues for their unkindness and inhumanity. But you are a kind man and have passed the test successfully. You deserve a reward. My name is Madhusudan. I have certain magical powers that can save you from any danger. Should you ever need me just utter my name thrice and I’ll come to help you.”
The king travelled for another day before he reached the kingdom of Libra. But he did not know anyone in that kingdom. He aimlessly wandered in the market wondering how he would reach the Feather Light Princess. Suddenly his attention was drawn towards a small crowd that gathered round a couple of women. An elderly woman, whom everyone addressed as Malini Mausi, was screaming at a young maiden carrying a big basket of flowers.
“Are those all you could collect?” yelled Malini Mausi. “How many garlands can you make from those handful of flowers? I’m sure that one of these days your negligence will cost me my job in the palace.”
The young woman tried to give some excuses but her feeble voice was lost under Malini Mausi’s torrent of words. From her words the king gathered that the old woman supplied flowers and garlands in the palace. She lived all alone in a small hut near the royal palace. She had no one in this world except a nephew who was lost in a fair decades ago.
The king had seen and heard enough. He left his horse at the care of a paid stable and got down to work. He bought some ordinary clothes from the market and spent the night in an inn.
The following morning the king dressed up like a commoner and went to meet Malini Mausi. He showered her with many costly gifts and introduced himself as her lost nephew Ramesh. The gifts, along with the king’s sweet words and handsome looks easily convinced the lonely old woman and she welcomed her ‘nephew’ with open arms. She happiness increased when ‘Ramesh’ said that he would stay with her for some time.
Soon Ramesh became quite popular in the neighborhood. He helped Malini Mausi in her work and chatted with her during her free time. From her he learnt a lot about the Feather Light Princess. Mausi said that the princess got her name from her feather light weight. She was very beautiful and kind as well. A hermit once said that she would gain weight if she saw a man before her wedding except her father, the king. Since then the princess had been kept hidden from the world of men. Only selective women had access to her palace. Malini Mausi was one among them as the princess was very fond of flowers. Every afternoon Malini Mausi visited her chamber with designer garlands but it was very difficult to please her.
One day Malini Mausi caught cold and was running with fever. She felt too weak to make garlands for the princess. Ramesh gave her some herbal medicines and asked her to sleep. Then he made a few garlands for the princess. In the afternoon Malini Mausi felt better and decided to go to the palace to deliver the garlands to the princess.
That day the princess was very impressed with the garlands.
“Love these garlands Mausi. You made them?”
“No you Highness,” replied Malini Mausi. “I had fever. My nephew Ramesh made the garlands today.”
“Tell him that I liked them very much,” said the princess.
From that day the princess often requested Malini Mausi to ask Ramesh to make her garlands. This continued for a few months. Then suddenly one day Ramesh announced that he would be leaving after three days. He sent a letter to the princess through Malini Mausi requesting her to meet him once before he left. The princess thought for a while and agreed.
That evening Ramesh dressed up as a woman and accompanied Malini Mausi to the princess’ chamber. Upon reaching there he removed his disguise. He was the second man the princess met after her father. His handsome appearance and polished behaviour made a great impact on her. Ramesh was also mesmerized by her beauty. They mostly looked at each other and talked very little.
After this meeting the princess had a slight weight gain.
They again met on the following evening. This time the invitation came from the princess. They talked a lot and the princess gained a bit more weight. This went on for a week.
Soon the princess’ weight gain caught the attention of the queen. She reported this to the king and upon weight measurement it was discovered that the princess had gained almost six kilos in the past week. The king suspected foul play and decided to keep a secret watch on her.
That evening Ramesh was caught red handed when he came to meet the princess in the guise of a woman.
It was time to reveal the truth now. Ramesh, or the king revealed his identity and offered to marry the princess.
The king of Libra said that the king or prince who wished to marry his daughter must pass the three tests set up by him. So far nobody had been able to pass these tests. The king accepted the challenge.
The first test was held on the following night. The king was asked to sit in a dark room near a small mound of rice and pulses, all mixed together and heaped on the floor.
“You have to separate the two types of grains within this night,” said the king of Libra. “This is your first test.”
Then he left, leaving the king all alone inside the dark room.
The king was at a loss. He did not know how to perform this impossible task. Suddenly he remembered his friend Pipilika, the ant he had saved.
“Pipilika, I need you,” he uttered three times and the ant appeared before him. The king told him everything and asked for his help.
Pipilika thought for a while and then called his other friends. Thousands of ants appeared in no time at all.
“Don’t worry and go to sleep,” said Pipilika, “Your work will be completed before morning.”
Next morning when the king awoke, he saw that the rice and pulses were lying in two neat heaps on the floor. There was no trace of a single ant. The king silently thanked Pipilika and waited for the king of Libra.
“You have done an impossible job,” exclaimed the king of Libra. “I must say I’m impressed. Tonight you shall have your second test.”
That night the king was brought in the backyard of the Libra palace. A large fire had been made on which was placed a huge wok filled with of boiling oil.
“You have to swim in that boiling oil and come out of it unscathed,” said the king of Libra. “That will be your second test.”
The king was shocked. He wondered if the king of Libra wanted an alien or a Superman for his daughter. Then he remembered the old man Madhusudan whom he had helped to cross the river Narayani.
“Madhusudan, I need you,” said he thrice and the old man magically appeared before him. He touched the king with his forefinger and said, “I have made you heat proof. Now you can swim in that boiling oil. Nothing will happen to you.”
The king believed what Madhusudan said. He jumped into the wok, swam in the boiling oil and came out unscathed.
“Unbelievable!” cried the king of Libra. “I have never seen anything like this before. Anyway, congratulations! You have qualified for the third and final test which will take place tomorrow night. If you pass it my daughter becomes your queen.”
The king spent the night in Malini Mausi’s hut and returned to the palace on the following evening.
“Fifty miles away there is an old temple of Devi Durga,” said the king of Libra. “You must go to that temple, worship the goddess and ask for her blessings. Then you return with her blessed sindoor (vermillion), apply it on my daughter’s hair and make her your wife. But remember, you have to do all this within the span of this night, before sunrise.”
The king remembered his friend, the Byangoma bird, and called him thrice. He appeared within minutes. The king told him about his mission and asked for his help. Byangoma speedily carried him to the Durga temple. The king worshipped Goddess Durga and asked for her blessings. Then he returned to the kingdom of Libra just before sunrise and applied the blessed sindoor on the princess’ hair.
Thus the king passed all the three tests and married the Feather Light Princess.
Two weeks later the king and his newly wed wife returned to the forest where Kalasura was waiting for them. To his great surprise the Rakshasa changed into a handsome man the moment his eyes fell on the princess. He thanked the king and said,
“I am the forest god. Once I insulted a hermit and he cursed me to become a Rakshasa. I asked for his forgiveness and he said that the sight of the Feather Light Princess would turn me back into my former self. Today you and your queen helped me to get rid of my curse. In return I set your men free. You are a good king who care for his subjects. I request you to develop the same feelings towards the helpless animals who too are your subjects. May God bless you.”
The forest god vanished. The king returned to his kingdom with his queen and men. He realised his mistake and banned hunting of animals in his kingdom.

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Rini Basu
Author, singer, photographer, English teacher, nature lover. Published 5 books so far. Winner of Literati 2019 award for South Asian micro fiction.
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