Note: Contains violence. Once upon a time, in Mumbai, there lived "a gôsanvi (an aescetic who goes about begging,smeared with ashes) with a wife and six daughters." For many years he had been begging in his own neighborhood, receiving each day barely enough rice to keep them all alive. It happened one day that a cruel woman answered the beggar's plea by pouring "rice, boiling hot from the cauldron" into his hands, blistering his thumb. When he got home that night, he begged his wife to pierce it with a needle. Yet each time she tried, a tiny voice cried out,"Father, if you break it, break it carefully." With the tenderest of care, his wife cut the blister open, and "a little girl comes out and walks about." But the gôsanvi felt more grief at the thought of another mouth to feed than joy for the new life. One night, he came home and asks his wife to make some polê. or special rice cakes. But his wife said it would be too much bother, since the six girls would surely gobble the cakes without either parent getting a bite. Yet he pestered her until she complied. Meanwhile, he shut the six daughters into the cellar, and locked the door. But when the girls smelled the rice cakes cooking, the littlest called out an excuse to step out for a moment. Her father let her out, and quick as a wink! She ran to the kitchen and ate one of the cakes. Now each girl in turn cries to be let out for a moment, and each one runs and grabs a cake. Their father is furious, and declares that he will take them away for good. Telling the children that he will take them to "visit their maternal uncle" and his wife that he will leave them in the forest, the family sets off. Deeper and deeper into the woods they go, until, in the blackest part of the woods, during the darkest part of the night, the father tells the children to lie down and go to sleep. They do so, and for some hours lie peacefully with their father nearby. But "the youngest child, who came out of the blister, is in the habit of sucking her father's thumb while she sleeps, and wakens when it is removed." So he cuts off his thumb and leaves it in her mouth so that he will not wake her. In the morning, the girls discover that they are alone. Furthermore, finding the bloody thumb in their sister's mouth, they accuse her of having eaten him, and call her Bápkádi, "literally eater of the father". They conspire to run away from her, but she follows behind. Soon they come to a deserted mansion, which has seven bedrooms. Each girl, including Bápkádi, chooses one. Each girl finds that it contains all she needs to live: food, fresh water, fine clothing, and a soft bed. Bápkádi's "is the best, containing clothes and furniture and having a stable attached." She does not allow her sisters to discover her fine room or clothes, and continues to wear her old rags. When Sunday come, the girls ask her if she will go to church with them, and she refuses. But when they are gone, she puts on a rich dress and golden slippers, then mounts a horse and rides to church. The king's son is there, and gazes at her the whole time. As soon as the service is over, she rides quickly home and changes clothes. When her sisters come in, they mock her, telling her of the beautiful lady who came to church, and what a sight she missed by staying home. The following Sunday, the scenario is repeated, and again, Bápkádi runs away. But the king's son finds her shoe, and falls into a deathly grief at the memory of the girl who wore it. Eventually, the king is forced to summon all of the maidens in his kingdom to try the shoe on. Thus, Bápkádi is found, and the prince regains his health. They are married, and for awhile, joy reigns over all. But the six sisters, though they still hate Bápkádi, have been ordered to serve her as maids. When she finds that she is with child, the prince is elated. As he is leaving on a journey, he casts a spell, declaring that "should a son be born to him, a shower of gold will fall on his ship, and should a daughter be born, a shower of silver will fall." The months pass, and a boy is born to the princess. Overjoyed by the shower of gold that pours down, the prince rewards his crew with sugar and wine. But the sisters bind Bápkádi's eyes, and take her child away. They substitute a rock, and when she wakes, tell her that he child has died. When her husband returns he is desolate, grieving for his lost son. He departs after some days at home, and in nine months, another son is born to the princess. Again a shower of gold falls on his father's ship, and again, his six aunts steal the child and give Bápkádi a stone. Once again, the prince returns home to sad tidings, and once again departs. A year later the princess is delivered of a daughter. Silver showers onto her father's ship, but she is soon stolen away. Returning home to find that his third child has died, he casts Bápkádi into the dungeon. Then he takes all six of her sisters for his wives. For three years, Bápkádi languishes, living on kitchen rubbish "Meanwhile, the hand of the Almighty has saved her children, and they grow to be from ten to fifteen years old. They live by begging." One day, a trio of beggars passes by outside the palace. They sing a strange song. "The king of the country is mad; he married seven wives; he is our father." When the king hears this, he demands that the beggars be brought in to explain themselves. They insist on singing the song over and over again. Now the king commands each of his six wives to give them rice. But the beggars refuse to take it. They demand instead that the king "Let your seventh wife, who is in the dungeon, come out. Place seven curtains between her and us, and watch what happens. Then you will come to know everything." So the king follows these unusual instructions and calls for Bápkádi to be brought. Now "three streams of milk fall from her breasts, and penetrating the seven curtains, run into the children's mouths." Now the prince knows that his wife had no part in the plot against the children, and orders that they all be bathed and dressed in finery. As for the sisters, the prince has "their hair and noses cut off and they are seated on donkeys and banished from the country." They are never heard from again, but Bápkádi and the prince and their children live happily ever after.
From Cox, M.R. (1893/2011) Story #219 p. 260
Notes: This story has some very bizarre imagery. No comment on the symbolism of the severed thumb. It is eerie how certain elements (the vengeful sisters who steal the newborn babes, the redemption of the princess when the deception of her sisters is discovered, etc.) are nearly identical to European versions of the tale.
Montessori Elementary Connection: World Cutlures/Legends and Mythology of India
1. Read this story and notice how it is alike, and different, from other Cinderella's you have read.
2. Read more traditional Indian myths and legends:Folktales from India (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) or The Drum: A Folktale from India (Story Cove: a World of Stories) or The Merchant and the Thief: A Folktale from India
3. Read some of the Ramayana: Ramayana for Children or The Ramayana for Children or Illustrated Ramayana for Children or Rama and the Demon King: An Ancient Tale from India