Goblins: The Girl, Her Husband and Her Brother

This story is part of the Twenty-Two Goblins unit. Story source: Twenty-Two Goblins, translated by Arthur W. Ryder, with illustrations by Perham W. Nahl (1917).

The Girl who transposed the Heads
of her Husband and Brother.
Which combination of head and body is her husband?

Then the king went back to the sissoo tree, put the goblin on his shoulder as before, and started in silence toward the monk.

And the goblin said to him: "O King, you are wise and good, so I am pleased with you. To amuse you, therefore, I will tell you another story with a puzzle in it. Listen."

~ ~ ~

Long ago there was a king named Glory-banner in the world. His city was named Beautiful. And in this city was a splendid temple to the goddess Gauri. And to the right of the temple was a lake called Bath of Gauri. And on a certain day in each year, a great crowd of people came there on a pilgrimage from all directions to bathe.

One day a laundryman named White came there from another village to bathe. And the youth saw a maiden who had also come there to bathe. Her name was Lovely, and her father's name was Clean-cloth. She robbed the moon of its beauty and White of his heart. So he inquired about her name and family and went home lovesick.

When he got there, he was ill and could not eat without her. And when his mother asked him, he told her what was in his heart, but did not change his habits. But she went and told her husband, whose name was Spotless.

So Spotless went and saw how his son was acting and said: "My son, why should you be downcast? Your desire is not hard to obtain. For if I ask Clean-cloth, he will surely give you his daughter. We are not inferior to him in birth, wealth, or social position. I know him and he knows me. So there is no difficulty about it."

Thus Spotless comforted his son, made him eat and take care of himself, went with him the next day to Clean-cloth's house, and asked that the girl might be given to his son White. And Clean-cloth graciously promised to give her to him.

Then when the time came, Clean-cloth gave White his charming daughter, a wife worthy of him. And when he was married, White went happily to his father's house with his sweet bride.

Now as he lived there happily, Lovely's brother came to visit. And when they had all asked him about his health and his sister had greeted him with a kiss, and after he had rested, he said: "My father sent me to invite Lovely and White to a festival in our house." And all the relatives said it was a good plan and entertained him that day with appropriate things to drink and eat.

The next morning White set out for his father-in-law's house, together with his brother-in-law and Lovely. And when he came to the city Beautiful, he saw the great temple of Gauri. And he said to Lovely and her brother: "We will see this goddess. I will go first and you two stay here."

So White went in to see the goddess. He entered the temple and bowed before the goddess whose eighteen arms had killed the horrible demons and whose lotus-feet were set upon a giant that she had crushed.

And when he had worshipped her, an idea suddenly came to him. "People honour this goddess with all kinds of living sacrifices. Why should I not win her favour by sacrificing myself?" And he fetched a sword from a deserted inner room, cut off his own head, and let it fall on the floor.

Presently his brother-in-law entered the temple to see why he delayed so long. And when he saw his brother-in-law with his head cut off, he went mad with grief and cut off his own head in the same way with the same sword.

Then when he failed to come out, Lovely was alarmed and entered the temple. And when she saw her husband and her brother in that condition, she cried: "Alas! This is the end of me!" and fell weeping to the floor.

But presently she rose, lamenting for the pair so unexpectedly dead, and thought: "What is my life good for now?"

Before killing herself, she prayed to the goddess: "O Goddess! One only deity of happiness and character! Partaker of the life of Shiva! Refuge of all women-folk! Destroyer of grief! Why have you killed my husband and my brother at one fell swoop? It was not right, for I was always devoted to you. Then be my refuge when I pray to you, and hear my one pitiful prayer. I shall leave this wretched body of mine on this spot, but in every future life of mine, O Goddess, may I have the same husband and brother."

Thus she prayed, praised, and worshipped the goddess, and then tied a rope to an ashoka tree which grew there.

But while she was arranging the rope about her neck, a voice from heaven cried: "Do nothing rash, my daughter. Leave the rope alone. Though you are young, I am pleased with your unusual goodness. Place the two heads on the two bodies and they shall rise up again and live through my favour."

So Lovely left the rope alone and joyfully went to the bodies. But in her great hurry and confusion she made a mistake. She put her husband's head on her brother's body and her brother's head on her husband's body. Then they arose, sound and well, like men awaking from a dream. And they were all delighted to hear one another's adventures, worshipped the goddess, and went on their way.

Now as she walked along, Lovely noticed that she had made a mistake in their heads. And she was troubled and did not know what to do.

~ ~ ~

When the goblin had told this story, he asked the king: "O King, when they were mingled in this way, which should be her husband? If you know and do not tell, then the curse I spoke of will be fulfilled."

And the king said to the goblin: "The body with the husband's head on it is her husband. For the head is the most important member. It is by the head that we recognize people."

Then the goblin slipped from the king's shoulder as before and quickly disappeared. And the king went back, determined to catch him.

(1100 words)