In Part 1 of her Guest Post for our current theme of Children and their Grandparents, author Swapna Dutta described the importance to Bengali children of the tales collected by Dakshinaranjan Mitra-Mazumdar. Here in Part 2, Swapna retells one of those stories for us. It comes from perhaps the most famous of Mitra-Mazumdar’s books, Thakurmar Jhuli (Paternal Grandma’s Bag of Stories):
Saat Bhai Champa / Seven Champak Brothers
LONG, long ago there lived a king who had seven queens but no children. So he was delighted when he came to know that the seventh queen was going to have a baby.
The queen had octuplets: seven little boys and a little girl. But the other six queens were terribly jealous. They stole the babies while the seventh queen was still unconscious and buried them in the ash-heap. Then they told her that she had given birth to crabs and showed her some. The queen was too heartbroken to protest and thought that someone had cursed her with such a terrible fate. The news reached the king. “The seventh queen must be a witch.” He said, “Throw her out of the kingdom!”
Something strange happened soon after. The birds stopped singing. The flowers stopped blooming. And what was worst, there were no flowers to worship the deity in the royal temple. Everyone scoured the kingdom for flowers. Finally someone discovered seven champaks and a camellia blooming on the ash-heap. “Get them!” said the king, “And I’ll reward you.”
But it proved to be an impossible task. As soon as anyone tried to pick them they shot up higher, out of reach, and sang in a sweet chorus:
“You can’t touch us –
Oh no, oh no!
Let the first queen come.
To her, we’ll go!”
The king sent for the first queen. She turned pale and remembered what she had done at the ash-heap. The flowers shot up higher and asked for the second queen. The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth queens all came and went. None of them could touch the flowers. The flowers now asked for the king. But he could not get them either. The flowers shot up even higher and sang,
“You can’t touch us–
Oh no, oh no!
Let the seventh queen come.
And to HER, we’ll go!”
“Find the seventh queen!” ordered the king. “Find her at any cost!”
The king’s men scattered far and wide, searching for the queen and found her in the forest, lonely and miserable. They took her back to the palace and to the ash-heap. As soon as the flowers saw her, the seven champaks and the camellia tumbled down from the tree top, crying, “Mother! Mother!” as they fell into her arms.
But they were flowers no longer. The seven champaks had turned into seven handsome princes and the camellia into a beautiful princess. The king soon heard the story and punished the six guilty queens by banishing them from the kingdom. Suddenly the entire garden was full of flowers again. And the birds started singing. And every one lived happily ever after.
Retold by Swapna Dutta
You will also find a longer retelling of Seven Champaks to read/listen to in Begali with an English translation alongside, at Galpo Boli Shono, a fun website for children to immerse themselves in Bengali stories, puzzles and songs. We’re grateful to Galpo Boli Shono for their permission to reproduce some of their gorgeous illustrations by Tarit Bhattacharjee here, to accompany Swapna’s retelling of the story.