A Bride inside a casket

A Bride inside a casket

On the outskirts of a town stood an old temple. A day did not pass without hundreds of devotees visiting it, heaping offerings of fruits, sweetmeats and coins before the deity.

A young man who thought himself very clever grew a tender beard and donned ochre clothes and took residence in a hut close by the temple. He sat with his eyes shut as if lost in meditation. But he took care to be seen by all the visitors to the temple. He rarely spoke.

“Must be a holy man!” thought the devotees. By and by it became a custom with them to look him up after they had worshipped the deity. They bowed to him and placed before him gifts of food and money. The false hermit smiled at them and often placed his palm on their heads, as if he was holy enough to bless them. They were pleased, for who would not like to be blessed by a holy man!

The fellow prospered. With the money the devotees offered he built a fine house near the temple and lived happily. Soon half a dozen vagabonds collected around him. They pretended to be his disciples; he pretended to be their guru.

One day a wealthy merchant paid a visit to the temple. He was accompanied by his wife and their daughter. As they entered the gateway, their hands folded in devotion, the false hermit watched them from his room in the upper floor of his new house. The merchant’s daughter was extremely beautiful.

“This is the kind of girl who deserves to marry me!” he thought and sent for the merchant as soon as the latter came out of the shrine. “I wish to see him alone,” he instructed his messenger. And when the merchant came alone, he received him with many kind words.

The merchant was pleasantly surprised, for he knew that the holy man rarely spoke.

” Gentleman, who does not know that I hardly care to talk to ordinary mortals. It

is out of sheer compassion for you that I decided to take a break in my vow of silence. I have, naturally, the power to see the shape of things to come. I am sorry to say that before long a great misfortune is to befall-you.”

The merchant grew ashen pale. “My ship is abroad at sea. I have spent all I had to stack it with valuable merchandise. My luck depends on the ship’s safe return,” he said, a moan escaping his lips.

“Precisely,” said the hermit. “For your information, your luck seems rather bleak. Your ship is encountering a violent storm right now! I will, to be sure, do my best to save it from total wreckage. But how long can I battle against your ill luck if its very cause is nurtured by yourself?”

The merchant fell at the hermit’s feet. “I have no doubt that you are speaking a fat lot of sense, though I don’t understand a grain of it. Please help me to root out the cause of my ill luck, I beg of you,” he cried out.

“You alone can do that, old chap! I can only guide you in that regard. Listen. Do not lose heart. The cause of your ill luck is your daughter! No power on earth or in heaven can protect you as long as she is by your side. You must give her up immediately’ said the hermit.

“But, am I not her father? How can I give her up?” asked the perplexed merchant.

“Easily,” answered the hermit. “Shut her up in a casket and float the casket in the river! You alone can do it. I can’t do it for you! Do it tonight by all means and do not forget to place a lamp on the casket.”

“Sir! Pardon me. I cannot do away with my child in that manner. That would be worse than losing my ship,” stammered out the merchant, violently shaking his head.

The hermit laughed; He planted an affectionate slap on the merchant’s cheek. “You naive old chap, don’t I see your daughter’s future too in the mirror of my finger-nails? It is so written in her destiny that she would be rescued by a wonderful young man who would also be pleased to marry her. You cannot dream of a better bridegroom than he in the whole town, nay, in the whole kingdom.”

“Oh, say that!” The merchant sighed with relief. After some further reassurances from the hermit, he agreed to abide by his advice and took leave of him. He was also told about the exact time of the night when he should launch her sleeping daughter into her unknown destiny.

Although the merchant was left in no doubt about the bright future of his daughter, it proved very painful for him to put the innocent girl to deep slumber through some sedative and then to put her in a casket and float it down the river, with a lamp on it.

The false hermit, with some of his trusted disciples, waited impatiently on the desolate river-bank, his heart running pit-a-pat. Around midnight, he spotted a faint flicker in mid-stream. He was delighted.-At his order a pair of his disciples swam into the river and drew the floating casket ashore.

It was with great difficulty that the hermit suppressed his glee at the smooth success of his scheme. He could have straightaway proposed to marry the merchant’s daughter. But he was not sure if the merchant would welcome the proposal and, even if he did, if the girl would. Now, he felt sure, while the merchant would be thankful to him for being saved from a devastating misfortune, the girl should be grateful to him for being rescued from certain death. He ordered his disciples to carry the casket into his bedroom. He then dismissed them and, as excited as a rat at the sight of cheese, took the lid off the casket.

Alack the experience that awaited him! No sooner had the lid been removed than he received a sharp slap in the face. Horrified, he tried to take a closer look at what emerged from the casket, but received an instant scratch in the eye.

As he covered his eyes with his palms, a savage bite took away a chunk of his bright nose.

He shrieked and rushed out of his room, but not before the strange creature that hopped out of the casket had pulled his beard and planted a heavy spank on his cheek. Then it jumped out of the window, leapt onto a tree and disappeared.

The holy man ran for his life, at a total loss to understand how a beautiful girl could have changed into a dreadful monster.

“A witch, a witch!” he shrieked while running, but all that came out of his throat was confused gurgle.

He never returned. That was wise or him, for his disciples could have hardly known him after what the monkey had done to his face!

But as for the merchant’s daughter, she did no doubt get the best bridegroom in the kingdom. It so happened that before the false hermit had seen the casket, it had been discovered by the prince of the land who was returning by boat from a hunting spree in the forest. Attracted by the lamp, he had brought the casket aboard his boat and opened it, only to discover the sleeping beauty. He had captured a ferocious monkey in the forest. Under a whim he substituted the beast for the beauty and set the casket adrift again. He did not even forget to put the lamp back in its place.

In the morning the prince led the girl to her father. The merchant, though delighted, was not surprised. In fact, he expected such a miracle to happen. Had the holy man not prophesied about the girl getting the best bridegroom in the kingdom?

He told the prince that he ought to marry her, for that was in her destiny!

The prince blushed. Never could he have hoped for a more beautiful bride!

"Biswasha Ra Bhitti": A Talk by Shri Manoj Das at Puri

About Manoj Das

For thousands of men, women and children of the past two or three generations, Manoj Das has been the very synonym of light and delight, whose writings in Odia and English inspire in his countless readers faith in the purpose of life and also open up concealed horizons of confidence and compassion in humanity a dire need today.