Princess Who Becomes a Man

This droll story is of Hindu extraction, and in much the same form is still current in Southern India. In the “Exposition” prefixed to the Dubois’ French translation of the Tamil version of the Panchatantra, p. 15, it is given with a few unimportant variations: The name of the king is Nihla-Keton, his country is called Anga-Dessa, and his capital, Barty-Poura. His wife was long sterile, and after many vows and prayers she at length gave birth to daughters only. Enraged at this, the king tells his Prime minister, Vahaca, that he purposes divorcing his wife and taking another, and Vahaca tries to dissuade him “from such a course.” When the queen is again pregnant the minister offers to take her to his own house and treat her with every care, to which the king consents. The queen once more gives birth to a girl, and the prime minister announces it as a boy, greatly to the king’s delight. He fixes the twelfth day for the nama-cama (name-giving) and intimates his intention of being present at the ceremony. But the minister bribes the ptihorita, or royal astrologer, to tell the king that in consequence of the unfavorable aspect of his horoscope ‘he must not see this child or allow it to be produced in public until it is grown up and married, otherwise dire calamities threaten both king and country’. During 16 years the king must have his child educated at a distance from the palace, and this is under- taken by the prime minister. When the child is 15 the minister tells the king that a wife must be sought out for “him,” and, taking the girl with him, he leads an army against the city of Pattaly-Poura, and there demands the king’s daughter as wife to the ” son” of King Nihla-Keton, the marriage to take place in five days. These terms are accepted. — Meanwhile a giant- Brahman {un geant Brahme), whose abode is in a large tree in the vicinity of the invading army, falls in love with the young princess, and demands her of the prime minister, but Vahaca explains that she is already betrothed, and therefore cannot be given to him. He then tells the giant the whole story of the girl’s birth, the concealment of her sex, and so forth, imploring his aid, and suggesting that he should give the girl his sex and take hers for five or six nights, till the wedding and its festivities be over. The good-natured giant consents and exchanges sexes with the princess. The marriage is duly celebrated, soon after which the minister, the metamorphosed prince, and the real princess set out to return home. On the way they visit the giant, and the minister asks him to resume his proper sex. But he replies that “a neighboring genie” had fallen in love with him, as a woman — and so on, as in our story.

Here, it will be seen on comparing the two versions, the chief differences are : the minister takes the place of the mother in deceiving the king as to the sex of the child ; the foreign king is compelled to give his daughter in fear of an invading army ; the minister prevails with the “giant” to exchange sexes with the princess, who does not, as in our story, go into the forest with the intention of destroying herself from shame. But in respect of this last incident, we shall find that our tale adheres more closely to the original than the Tamil version. The story occurs in the “Udyoga Parva” (Effort Book— the fifth) of the Mahdhhdrata, sections cxc-cxciii :


The first and best beloved wife of King Drupada had never borne him a child, and the king paid his adorations to Siva for years, in order to obtain the boon of a son. He practised the most austere penances, saying: “Let a son, and not a daughter, be born unto me, O Mahadeva ! I desire a son, that I may revenge myself on Bhishma.” At length the great deity said to him: “Thou shalt have a child who shall be female and male. Desist, O king ! It will not be otherwise.” Returning to his wife, he informed her of this decision of the great Siva— that his child should be first female and afterwards become male. In due time the wife of Drupada gave birth to a daughter, in accordance with the decree of Destiny, and she gave out that the child was a son. Then Drupada caused all the rites for a male child to be performed in respect of that concealed daughter as if she were really a son, and the child was named Sikhandin. And no man in all Kampilya, save Drupada himself, knew the real sex of the child. Drupada bestowed great pains on the education of his child, teaching her writing, and painting, and the like arts. And in arrows and weapons the child became a disciple of Drona.

Then that royal couple fixed upon the daughter of Hiranya- varman, the king of the Dasarnas for wife to Sikhandin. And he gave his daughter to Sikhandin, who, after the marriage, re- turned to Kampilya. The daughter of Hiranyavarman soon came to know that Sikhandin was a woman like herself, and bashfully informed her nurses and companions of the fact. Then the nurses sent to the king and represented to him everything about the imposture, upon which the king was filled with wrath. He was a powerful monarch, with a great army, not easily to be overcome. And he despatched a messenger to Drupada, who, taking the king aside, said to him: “The king of the Dasarnas, O monarch, deceived by thee and wroth at the insult that thou hast offered him, hath said these words unto thee: ‘ Thou hast humiliated me ! Without doubt, it was not wisely done by thee. Thou didst, from folly, solicit my daughter for thy daughter! O wicked one, reap now the consequence of that act of deception! I will now slay thee, with all thy relatives and advisers!’ “Thus addressed, Drupada, like a thief caught in a net, could not at first speak. At length he sent a sweet speech, saying: “This is not so,” in order to pacify the king of the Dasarnas. But he was not thus to be pacified; and, after consulting with his ministers, he again sent an envoy to Drupada, saying: “I will slay thee!” Now King Drupada was not naturally courageous, and the consciousness of his offence filled him with fear. He took counsel with his wife as to how they might best escape the wrath of the king of the Dasarnas, for he was already on the march against him with a large army.

Meanwhile Sikhandin, filled with grief, and saying to herself that it was solely on her account that her parents were now in such tribulation, resolved on putting an end to her own life. Having formed this determination, she left home, full of heavy sorrow, and went into a dense and solitary forest which was the haunt of a very powerful Yaksha, called Sthunakarna. From fear of that Yaksha*, no man never went into that forest.

(*Yakshas, in the Hindu mythology, are a species of jinn, who are ruled over by Kuvera, the god of wealth.)

And within it stood a mansion with high walls and a gateway, plastered over with powdered earth, and rich with smoke bearing the fragrance of fried paddy. Entering that mansion, Sikhandin, the daughter of Drupada, began to reduce herself by foregoing all food for many days. Thereupon the Yaksha, who was endued with kindness, showed himself unto her. And he enquired of her, saying: ” For what object is this endeavor of thine? I will accomplish it — tell me without delay.” Thus asked, the maiden answered him, repeatedly saying : “Thou art unable to accomplish it.” The Yaksha, however, rejoined: “I am a follower of the Lord of Treasures. I can grant boons, O princess ! I will grant thee even that which cannot be given! Tell me what thou hast to say.” Thus assured, Sikhandin represented, in detail, everything that had happened, unto that chief of Yakshas called Sthunakarna. And she answered: “My father, O Yaksha, will soon meet with destruction. The ruler of the Dasarnas marcheth against him in rage. That king cased in golden mail is endued with great might and great courage. Therefore, O Yaksha, save me, my mother, and my father ! Indeed, thou hast already pledged thyself to relieve my distress. Through thy grace, O Yaksha, I would become a perfect man ! As long as that king may not depart from my city, so long, O great Yaksha, show me grace !”

Hearing these words of Sikhandin, that Yaksha, afflicted by Destiny, said, after reflection: “Blessed lady, I will certainly do what thou wishest. Listen, however, to the condition I make: For a certain period I will give thee my manhood. Thou must, however, come back to me in due time. Pledge thyself to do so. Possessed of immense power, I am a ranger of the skies, wandering at pleasure, and capable of accomplishing whatever I wish. Through my grace, save thy city and thy kinsmen wholly! I will bear thy womanhood, O princess! Pledge thy troth to me, and I will do what is agreeable to thee.” Sikhandin answered: “O holy one of excellent vows ! I will give thee back thy manhood. O wanderer of the night, bear thou my womanhood for a short time. After the ruler of the Dasarnas has departed from my city, I will once more become a maiden and thou wilt become a man.” Then they both made a covenant, and imparted into each other’s body their sexes. And the Yaksha became a female, while Sikhandin obtained the blazing form of the Yaksha.

Then Sikhandin, having obtained manhood, entered his city in great joy and approached his father, to whom he represented everything that had happened ; and Drupada became exceed- ingly glad, and, along with his wife, recollected the words of the great Siva. And he forthwith sent a messenger to the ruler of the Dasarnas, saying: “This my child is a male. Let it be believed by thee.” Meanwhile the ruler of the Dasarnas had arrived at Kampilya, and Drupada sent a messenger who was well versed in the Vedas. But Hiranyavarman addressed the envoy in these words: “Say unto that worst of kings: O thou wicked of understanding, having selected my daughter for the wife of thy daughter, thou shalt to-day, without doubt, be- hold the fruit of that deception.” When the envoy returned and delivered this message to Drupada, he despatched another Brahman learned in the Vedas to the ruler of the Dasarnas, who said to him: “Hear, O king, the words of the ruler of the Panchalas: This my child is really a male. Let it be made clear by means of witnesses.” Then the king of the Dasarnas sent a number of young ladies of great beauty to ascertain whether Sikhandin was really a male or a female. And those ladies, having ascertained the truth, joyfully told the king of the Dasarnas that Sikhandin was a powerful person of the masculine sex. Hearing this testimony, Hiranyavarman was filled with joy, and going to his brother Drupada passed a few days with him in gladness. And the king, rejoiced as he was, gave Sikhandin much wealth, many elephants, steeds, and kine. And, worshipped by Drupada as long as he stayed, the Dasarna king then departed, having rebuked his daughter. And after Hiranyavarman had departed in joy and with his anger quelled, Sikhandin began to rejoice exceedingly.

Meanwhile [some time after the exchange of sexes had taken place] Kuvera, the protector of all the treasures, in the course of a journey came to the house of Sthuna, the Yaksha, and admir- ing the garlands of flowers with which it was bedecked, he asked his followers why it was that Sthuna did not come out to greet him. And they told him how Sthuna had given his own manhood to the daughter of Drupada, taking her womanhood in exchange, and therefore he was ashamed to approach him. Hearing this, Kuvera caused Sthuna to be brought before him ; and Sthuna, wearing a feminine form, came thither, and stood before him in shame. And Kuvera said: “Since, humiliating all the Yakshas, thou hast, O thou of sinful deeds, given away thy own sex to Sikhandin and taken from her, O thou wicked of understanding, her womanhood — since, O wicked wretch, thou hast done what hath never been done before by any- body; — therefore, from this day, thou shalt remain a woman and she shall remain a man !” At these words all the Yakshas attempted to mollify Kuvera for the sake of Sthuna, saying : “Set a limit to thy curse!” Then the lord of the Yakshas said: “After Sikhandin’s death, Sthuna will regain his own form. Therefore let this high-souled Yaksha be freed from his anxiety.” Having said this, Kuvera departed with his followers.

And Sthuna, with that curse denounced on him, continued to live there; and when the time arrived, Sikhandin, without losing a moment, came to that wanderer of the night. And approaching his presence he said : “I have come to thee, O holy one!” Sthuna then repeatedly said unto him: “I am pleased with thee !” Indeed, beholding that prince return to him without guile, Sthuna told Sikhandin everything that had happened, adding : “O son of a king, for thee have I been cursed by Kuvera. Go now, and live happily amongst men, as thou choosest. Thy coming hither and the arrival of Pulastya’s soni.e. Kuvera] were, I think, both ordained from beforehand.

And this was incapable of being prevented.” Sikhandin then returned to his city filled with joy.
It is evident that the Persian and the Tamil versions were not derived directly from the story in the Mahdlihdrata, but from some modern adaptation, since in both the good-natured div has a very different reason from that of the Yaksha Sthuna for retaining his adopted sex. The chief features of the Sanskrit original are, however, reproduced in the two variants, if we except the actual marriage of the princess, the discovery- of her sex, and her father’s cognisance of the whole affair from the first, which do not appear in them. — The story is so singular that I think it must be orally current in different countries of India, as well as exist in collections in many of the vernacular languages; and it would be interesting to see what farther modifications it has undergone, especially in passing by word of mouth to successive generations and from place to place.

In M. Dozon’s Contes Albanais No. 14 presents some analog}’ to the story of the Exchange of Sexes. Here a man with three daughters and no sons is called to the wars ; he is old, and has no one to take his place. The first and second daughters express their wish to be married — probably, though it is not expressly stated, in order that one of their husbands should go as the substitute for their aged father. But the youngest assumes a man’s dress and goes to the wars in place of him, and slays a lamia that had long made a feast on the people once every year, for which she receives in reward a wonderful talking horse, through whose cleverness she accomplishes a feat by which she wins a king’s daughter in marriage. The princess, as in the Sanskrit story and in the well-known Arabian tale, complains to her parents of the coldness of her “husband,” and the king lays various snares in hopes of causing the destruction of the disguised heroine, but her horse saves her from all of them. At last the king sends her to “the church {sic) full of serpents,” to demand payment of their arrears of tribute, hoping they would kill the objectionable spouse of his daughter. The money is paid, however, but the serpents, enraged at having to part with so much treasure, cry out : “If thou art a girl, become a boy; if thou art a boy, become a girl,” and there and then the heroine found herself actually changed into a man; so the serpents thus did her a good turn, instead of the evil one they intended.

  1. Dozon, in his rapprochements, cites No. 58 of Hahn’s collection of Greek popular tales, in which a man is first changed to a girl, and afterwards, by a giant, back to a man again.

Abridged from Protap Chandra Roy’s translation of the liTahdbhdrata, fasciculus xxxiv, pp. 543-353. Accessed on the Internet on 30 May 2015
The Princess and the Div who exchanged Sexes — p. 279.

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