Village Folk-tales of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), vol. 1-3

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “the glass princess” is gathered from oral sources sources, tracing its origin to ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). These tales are often found to contain similarities from stories from Buddhism and Hinduism. This is the story nr. 4 from the collection “stories told by the cultivating caste and vaeddas”.

IN a certain country there are seven Princes, the sons of a King. When the seven persons had grown up, messengers were sent to find the places where there were seven Princesses to be taken in marriage by them. They obtained intelligence that there was a kingdom where they were to be met with.

After that, the seven portraits of the seven Princes having been painted, two or three ministers were summoned, and sent with the instructions,

“Go to that kingdom, and observe if the seven Princesses are there. If they are there, take the portraits of the seven Princesses and come back with them.”

The ministers having gone there and looked, found that seven Princesses were there. So they went to the King, the father of the Princesses. After they had come, the King having given quarters to the ministers, and having given them food and drink, asked,

“Where are you going ?”

Then the ministers said,

“On account of news that you have seven Princesses, as there are seven Princes of the King of our country we have come, bringing the portraits of the seven Princes to show you, in order to marry the Princesses to those seven.”

The King and the Princesses having looked at the portraits were pleased with them.

Afterwards, a suitable occasion for the marriage having been appointed, the portraits of the Princesses were painted, and given into the hands of the ministers, and they were sent away with them.

The party having brought them, showed them to the King and the seven Princes. The King and the seven Princes being pleased with those persons after they had shown the portraits, the King of that city, on the very day appointed as the date for setting out for the marriage, having decorated an elephant for the King and Queen, and both of them having mounted on it, and having decorated seven other elephants for the seven Princes, the party made ready to go.

Then the youngest Prince of all, having placed his sword on the back of the elephant, and made obeisance to his father, said,

“I will not go. Should the Princess come after being married to the sword, let her come. If not, let her simply stop there.”

Having said this he did not go; he sent only the elephant, and the elephant and all the other persons went.

Having gone there the six Princes were married to the six Princesses. Then the King whose Princesses they were, asked,

“Is there not a Prince for the youngest Princess ?”

When he asked this, the King whose son was the Prince replied,

“There is my youngest Prince. He has not come. If she will come after being married to the sword placed on the back of this elephant, he said she is to come; if not, he said that she is to remain here.”

The King whose Princess she was, was not satisfied with that. What of that ? The youngest Princess was contented, and said,

“Even a deaf man or a lame man would be good enough for me. Therefore I must be married.”

So having been married to the sword she came away with the others.

The Prince who did not go, but stayed at home, knew that there was a pool on the way, and that there was also a Cobra which had charge of that pool. The Prince was well aware that if the people who went to the marriage came there, and being thirsty drank the water, that Cobra would ask for a human offering. How was that ? A deity came to the Prince in a dream and told him. Having learnt this, the Prince went, and at the time when they were coming hid himself near the pool, and remained there.

Then all the party having come there drank the water. Having drunk it, when they were setting out to come away, a large Cobra which had been in a rock cave near by, came out, and said,

“Because you drank water from my pool one person must remain here as an offering to me. If not, I shall not permit even one of you to go.”

After that, the youngest Prince who had gone near and hidden himself came forward,"and saying,

“I will stay as the human offering; go you away,”

he started off all that marriage party, and sent them to their village. He said to the Princess who had come after being married to his sword,

“Until whatever time it may be when I return, go and stay at the palace of mine which is there. There are servants at it. Set the party of them to work, and eat and drink in great contentment just as though I were there.”

After he had said this, the party returned to the city, and the youngest Prince went with the Cobra to the cave.

After they had gone there, the Cobra said to the Prince,

“There is an ulcer on my forehead. You may go after curing the ulcer. Because of your curing it I shall not require a human offering.”

The Prince said,

“It is good,”

and continuing to eat the things for which it provided the expenses, stayed there. Twice a day he washed and washed the ulcer, while applying medicine to it, but it did not heal.

Afterwards the Cobra said,

“There is a certain daughter of the King of a city, called the Glass Princess. The Princess takes any disguise she likes and goes through the sky, supported by her power of flying through the air. The Princess knows a medicine by which, if it should be applied by her own hand, my ulcer will become healed; otherwise it will not heal, and there will be no going to your village for you.”

The Prince replied,

“It is good. I will go and bring the Glass Princess.”

Having said this, he set off to go to the city where the Glass Princess lived. Having hurried along the road which led in that direction, there was a river to which he went. When he looked up the river he saw some rats coming floating in the water. Then what does he do ? He seizes all those few rats, and goes and places them on the bank.

After he had put them there the rats said,

“Ane! O Lord, if Your Majesty should require any assistance, be pleased to think of us; then we will come and stay with you, and assist you.”

The Prince said,

“It is good,”

and went to the city in which the Glass Princess dwelt.

Having come there, being without a place to stay at he went to the spot where a widow-mother was stopping, and said,

“Ane ! Mother, give me a mat to sleep on.”

The widow-mother said,

“It is good, son. Remain here. I am alone here, therefore it will be good for me also.”

Then the Prince said,

“If so, mother, cook and give me a little rice. Having obtained some money to-morrow, I will bring it and give you it.”

The old woman having heard his words, cooked and gave him a little rice.

When she had given it and he had eaten, the Prince asked that old woman,

“Mother, what are the new things that are happening at this city ?”

The old woman replied,

“What! Son, the new matters at this city are like those of other cities indeed; but there is one new affair at this city. If so, what is it ? The daughter, called the Glass Princess, of the King of this city remains an [unwedded] Princess.

The Princess, creating any disguise she wants, can go through the sky sustained by her power of flight through the air. Through the beauty of her figure she is a very celebrated person. Because of that, many royal Princes have come to ask to marry the Princess. Having come, they are asked,

‘What have you come for?’

When they have said,

‘We have come to take this Princess in marriage,’

the King puts on the hearth a very great cauldron of water, and having made it boil tells them to bathe in it without making the water lukewarm. There is a large iron tree in the open space in front of the palace.

Having bathed in the water, he tells them to saw the iron tree in two. If they do not bathe in the water and cut it in two, he does not permit the Princes to go away ; he beheads them there and then, and casts them out.”

The Prince asked the old woman,

“Mother, can no one go to the place where the Glass Princess is staying ?”

The old woman said,

“Ane! Son, even a bird which passes along in the air above cannot go to the place where the Glass Princess is.”

Then the Prince asked,

“Mother, why do they say that the Princess is the Glass Princess ?”

The old woman said,

“O son, they call her the Glass Princess. The bed on which the Princess sleeps is a bed of glass throughout. Glass is fixed all round the bed in such a manner that even the wind cannot get to her.[1] Because of that, they say that she is the Glass Princess.”

The Prince asked,

“Mother, at what time does the Princess eat rice at night ?”

The old woman said,

“O son, at night water for bathing, and cooked rice, having gone there for the Princess, they are placed in the upper story where the Princess sleeps alone. When the Princess has been sleeping at night, at about eight she awakes, and after bathing in the water eats rice. Before that she does not get up.”

Then the Prince, after listening to all these words, asked for a mat, and went off to sleep at the travellers’ shed which was in front of the old woman’s house.

Having gone there, while he was lying down he thought,

“Ane ! O Gods, in any case you must grant me an opportunity of going to the place where that Princess is.”

Then while he was thinking,

“Ane ! Will even those rats that I took up that day out of the river and placed on the bank, become of assistance to me in this matter ?”

he fell asleep.

After that, those rats, collecting thousands of rats besides, came there before the Prince awoke, and having come near the Prince while he was sleeping, waited until he awoke. When the Prince awoke and looked about, he saw that rats, thousands in number, had come and were there.

The rats asked the Prince :

“O Lord, what assistance does Your Majesty want us to give ?”

The Prince said,

“ I want you to excavate a tunnel, of a size so that a man can go along it erect, to the upper story of the house in which the Glass Princess is staying, and to hand it over without completing it, leaving a very little unfinished. It was on account of this that I thought of', you.”

Then the rats went, and having dug it out that night, finished it and handed it over, and went away.

The Prince having been in the travellers’ shed until it became light, took the mat and went to the widow-mother. He gave her one masurama and said,

“Here, mother, this is given for the articles I obtained. Bring things for you and me, and in order that I may go and get something today also, quickly cook and give me a little rice.”

The old woman speedily cooked and gave it. The Prince having eaten it, during the whole day walked round about the city.

At night he went along the tunnel to the upper story where the Princess was. Having gone there, when he thought of looking in the direction of the Princess he could not through diffidence, it is said. The Princess was asleep on the glass bed ; a lamp shone brightly.

After that, the Prince having rubbed soap in the water which was ready for the Glass Princess, and washed in it, and eaten half the rice that was set on the table, and having eaten a mouthful of betel that was in the betel box, left the room without speaking, and went away after closing the opening through which he had come.

The Princess arose at about eight, and having gone to bathe in the water, when she looked at it saw that soap had been rubbed in the water, and some one had washed in it. Then she went to the table on which was the rice, and when she looked half the rice had been eaten.

So the Princess having returned without eating the rice, lay down and thought,

“A much cleverer person than I, indeed, has done this work. Except a deity, no man can come to the place where I am staying. I shall seize that thief to-morrow.”

Having thought that, she went to sleep.

The Prince having come away, and having been asleep in the travellers’ shed, in the day-time went to the old woman and ate. Then having returned to the tunnel and slept there, he went that night also, and washed in the water and ate, and came away. That night, also, the Princess being asleep was unable to seize him.

The Prince came back, and having slept that night, also, at the travellers’ shed, in the day time asked the old woman for rice and ate it. Then he returned to the tunnel, and after sleeping in it, at about twelve went and washed in the water, and ate the rice. After eating betel he came away. The Princess being asleep on that night also, was unable to seize him.

After that, what does the Princess do ? At night, pricking her finger with a needle, and rubbing lime-juice in the -place, she remained awake blowing it [on account of the smarting]. That night, also, the Prince went. The Princess having seen the Prince enter, took a sword in her hand, after awaking as though she had been asleep. Having seen that the figure of the Prince was beautiful, and being pleased with it, she closed her eyelids, pretending to be asleep.

The Prince knew very well that the Princess was awake. Now, as on other nights, he went looking on the ground, and having soaped himself, washed himself in the water. Then having come to the table, he ate the rice.

While he was eating it, the Princess, taking the sword, arose, and having come towards him, asked,

“Who are you ?”

The Prince asked,

“Who are you ?”

The Princess said,

“I am she whom they call the Glass Princess.”

Then the Prince also said,

“I am he whom they call the youngest Prince of the King of such and such a city.”

After that, the Prince and Princess ate the food, and having talked much, the Princess asked,

“For what purpose have you come ?”

The Prince replied,

“I have not come for anything else but to take you away.”

The Princess said,

“ Our hiding and going off would not be proper. Here, put away this jewelled ring and lock of hair. To-morrow morning, having gone to our father the King, say,

‘I have come to marry your Princess.’

“Then saying, ‘It is good,’ he will boil a cauldron of water and give you it, and tell you to bathe in it. And he will show you an iron tree, and tell you to saw it. When he has given you the water, put this jewelled ring in the water and bathe ; it will be like cold water.

When he has shown you the iron tree, pull this lock of hair across it; then it will saw it in two. After that, we two having been married, let us go to your city.”

Then taking the ring and the lock of hair, the Prince went back to the travellers’ shed.

Next day, the Prince in the very manner the Princess told him, came and spoke to the King. The King said,

“It is good,”

and gave him those two tasks. The Prince performed both the tasks.

After that, the King, being pleased, publicly notified the celebration of their marriage, and said,

“If you wish to live here, stay here ; if you wish to go, summon the Princess [to accompany you] and go.”

Afterwards, having performed the marriage ceremony, he called the Princess, and went to the place where that Cobra was staying.

There she applied the medicine to the Cobra’s ulcer, and it healed. The Cobra, being pleased, gave the two persons a hidden treasure consisting of gold, silver, pearls, and gems. After that, they went to the Prince’s city.

Thus, by bringing this Princess the Prince had two Princesses. The King, the Prince’s father, was pleased because the Prince who went as the offering and the Princess had got married, and had returned. Having eaten the marriage feast they remained there.

When those six elder brothers looked they saw that their Princesses were not so beautiful as the Glass Princess. Because of it, the six persons spoke together about killing the youngest Prince and taking the Glass Princess ; and they tried to kill the Prince. The Glass Princess, knowing of it, told that Prince, and the two Princesses and the Prince set off to go to another King.

While they were going in the midst of a forest, the Vaedda King who dwelt in that forest saw this Glass Princess. In order to take possession of the Princess, he seized the three persons, and having put them in a house, prepared to kill the Prince.

So the Glass Princess, knowing this, became a mare, and placing the Prince on her back, and telling the other Princess to hang by her tail, went through the sky, and descended near another city. Having gone to the city and taken labourers, they engaged in rice cultivation. When they had been there a little while the King of the city died.

After his death they decorated the royal tusk elephant, and set off with it in search of a new King. While they were going along taking it through the streets, the elephant went and knelt near this Prince. Then all the men having made obeisance, and caused the Prince to bathe, placing the Prince and the two Queens on the back of the elephant, went and stopped at the palace, and he became King.

When he had been ruling a little time, there was no rain at the city of the King the Prince’s father, and that country became abandoned. Those six Princes and their six Queens, and his father the King, and his mother, all these persons, being reduced to poverty, came to an almshouse which this King had established, bringing firewood to sell.

There this King having seen them, recognising them, came back after summoning his father the King, and his mother, to the palace. He told them,

“Because those six elder brothers and their six Queens tried to kill me in order that my elder brothers might seize and carry off the Glass Princess, I came away from the city, and was seized by a Vaedda King, but I escaped and came here.”

Then saying,

“There is the place where I was cultivating rice. Go there, and cultivate rice and eat,”

he sent the brothers to that place. Having sent them, he gave them this advice :

“For the crime that you tried to commit by killing me, that has befallen you. Therefore behave well now.”

After that, his father the King, his mother the Queen, the King and the two Queens, those five persons, remained at the palace.

North-central Province.



Although the whole story apparently has not been found in India, several of the incidents in it occur in Indian folk-tales.

I have not met with the marriage to the sword in them, but in The Indian Antiquary, vol. xx, p. 423, it is stated by Mr. Prendergast that in southern India, among two Telugu castes,

“ the custom of sending a sword to represent an unavoidably absent bridegroom at a wedding is not uncommon. It is considered allowable among other Hindus also.”

In The Story of Maaana Kama Raja (called by the translator, Pandita Natesha Sastri, The Dravidian Nights), p. 43, the Kings of Mathurapuri and Vijayanagaram caused the portraits of their respective son and daughter to be painted, and sent envoys with them in search of royal persons resembling them. The envoys met at a river, exchanged pictures there, and returned to their masters, who were satisfied with the portraits, and caused the wedding of the Prince and Princess to be celebrated at the latter’s home, Vijayanagaram.

In the same work, p. 12, a Prince in the form of a parrot, which was confined in a cage in the sleeping apartment of a Princess, on two successive nights resumed his human form, and smeared sandal and scent over the Princess while she slept, and then became a parrot once more. On the third night she was awake, and he told her his history.

At page 103, also, the King of Udayagiri, father of a Prince who had run off when about to be beheaded, having been deprived of his kingdom by the King of the Otta country, was reduced to selling firewood for a living, together with his wife and six sons. They came for this purpose to the city over which the Prince had become sovereign, and were discovered by him and provided for.

In the Katha Sarit Sagara (Tawney), vol. ii, p. 93, a thief gained access to the bedroom of a Princess by means of a tunnel.

In Indian Fairy Tales (Thornhill), p. 122 ff., a Prince, riding a magical wooden horse, visited a Princess nightly while she was asleep, and pricking his arm each night, wrote “I love you,” in blood on her handkerchief. Although she tried to keep awake, for six nights after the first one she was asleep when he came. On the next night she scratched her finger with a needle and rubbed salt into the wound, so that the pain might keep her awake. When he entered the room she started up and inquired who he was, and how and why he had come.

In Indian Fairy Tales, Ganges Valley (Stokes), p. 163, the cutting of the tree trunk with the hair of the Princess occurs.

In the Panchatantra (Dubois), an elephant released rats when caught and imprisoned in earthen pots, and the rats in their turn served him by filling up with earth the pit in which he had fallen.

In the Katha Sarit Sagara, p. 360 ff., a Rakshasa King gave three tasks to the Prince who wished to marry his daughter. She assisted him by means of her magical powers, and he accomplished them successfully.

Footnotes and references:


The narrator understood this to mean that large upright sheets of glass were fixed round the bed.

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