Long, long ago, in a town of India called Chinchini, three brothers lived each married to a wife he loved. Once there was a terrible famine in which many people and animals died. The three brothers got frightened at the state of things and fled away from the dreadful land in search of food leaving behind their wives to look after themselves. The three wives were initially sad and lonely, but later their lives were filled with joy when one of them gave birth to a little boy. All of them loved and looked after the boy very well.
One night, the God Shiva appeared in their dream and appreciated how tenderly and unselfish way they looked after the little boy. He asked them to call the boy by the name "Putraka". Besides, He blessed them that 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.
The wonderful dream of the mother and the aunts was fulfilled. Putraka grew as the richest man in the country and when the king died, he was made the king. He always helped the poor and needy, loved all and made his kingdom prosperous. He turned out to be a noble king.
When Putraka's father learnt about his son's glory, he decided to come back. 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.
Unfortunately, Putraka's 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 and his brothers decided that they would pay some one to kill the king. They asked the murderer to kill the king in temple during prayer. 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.
When Putraka, disturbed in his prayers, looked round and saw the men who had come to kill him, he knew at once that he had been saved from a dreadful death by a messenger from the god he had been worshipping.
The knowledge that his father wished to kill him shocked and grieved the young terribly. 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. Then the idea came to him that the best thing he could do would be to go away and never see his own people again.
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.
While wandering in the forest, he saw two men wrestling to decide as to who will take possession of three magical objects - a bowl, a
staff(stick) and a pair of shoes. 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. Knowing about the wonders that can be performed, Putraka determined to get possession of the three treasures for himself. He asked the two men to race instead of wrestling to decide about the winner and offered himself to act as umpire. As soon as they started running, he picked up the bowl and the stick, put on the shoes, and flew straight up into the air with the treasures.
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. While hovering in the air above a town, 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.
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 (Patali). She is so lovely that every man who sees her falls in love with her and wants to marry her off. So she is most carefully guarded in the top rooms of a great palace." When Putraka heard this he was all eagerness to see the princess, and at once determined to go forth to seek her.
Putraka made himself invisible and reached the palace. He met the princess and talked to her about his desire to marry her. His 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. The young king looked 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.
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?"
Putraka continued to visit the palace and meet Patala daily. The matter was reported to the king who was very angry and ordered to catch hold of him. He was finally caught and 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 stick 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.
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 as possible.
"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 river Ganga, the grand and beautiful river which the people of India love and worship, calling it 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 marvelous staick, 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.
This is the abridged version of the story
Magic Shoes and Staff from the book Hindu
Tales from the Sanskrit
by S. M. Mitra and Nancy Bell.