THE KING AND THE MAIDEN

Once upon a time, there lived a king whose passion was hunting. He loved to go into the jungle frequently along with his best young men.

One day, while looking for something to hunt, he spotted a beautiful maiden wearing floral ornaments, sitting under a tree and singing in a melodious voice. The king fell in love with her at first sight and decided to marry her. So a grand wedding was arranged and the maiden thus became a queen. She started residing in the king's palace.

However, the maiden in reality was the daughter of a farmer, who earned his living from the fields and brought wheat and millet into his home, and his children would even have them raw. They grew to like their food that way. So, one day when the queen saw some fields, she asked for some wheat and millet and started chewing them happily. The king saw her from a distance- he was curious, but could not approach her instantly as he was out on business. Later when he met her, he asked what she had been eating. Now the queen hid her real identity and told everyone that she was a princess and thus was used to a grand way of life. So, she told her husband that she had been chewing pearls and rubies, which she had brought from her home. The king was very impressed and asked her to show him the pearls and rubies. The queen then managed to make some excuses for the time being and quickly ran to the temple of Mother Goddess. There she lay flat before the deity. The goddess asked her about her problem. The queen, with tears in her eyes narrated her sorrowful tale to Mother Goddess. The goddess looked sternly at her and told her that lying always landed people in trouble, but since she had already done penance by staying at the temple for so long without food and water, and had also prayed with a true heart, she would be rewarded, and said, "Go my child, and take your husband to the very tree in the jungle under which he saw you for the first time."

The queen obeyed, and a few days later, she, along with her husband, started on the visit to the kingdom of her father. On reaching there, they all looked stunned at the grand palaces, houses, roads, gardens and fountains-even the king was mesmerized! The whole convey received a very warm and cordial reception. When it was time for them to leave, the king bade farewell to all the grand people of that kingdom.

They had only traveled a little distance when the king realised that he had left behind his 'dhoti' (a loose type of lower garment worn by Indian men) drying out in the backyard of the palace. The dhoti being an expensive one, he sent his horsemen to fetch it. They obeyed and went back to the place where the kingdom was. But to their surprise, they could not find anything except an old tree amidst a big dense forest. So they came back to their king and with bewildered expressions and narrated the whole story. The queen nervously confessed her mistake to the king. The surprised king asked her " Then tell me, O queen, who gave us such a warm reception." She replied: "All that you saw, my lord, was conjured up by Devi Durga, to whom I had prayed after having lied to you." The king then said: "Really, my queen, does Devi Durga bestow such abundance on those who pray to her?" He continued, "You, whom Devi Durga has blessed, really are a very pure person for she listens to those who are good at heart. Now, let me order my subjects to pray to the goddess every six months for nine days, before the commencement of every winter and summer."

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