Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Princess and the Cat: A Tale from India

I have mentioned that there are few tales in which cats are true villains to be found in Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World. The following tale is a rare exception.

While that in itself makes the tale of particular interest, the fascination grows with the story's usage of elements that usually appear in ATU 510B: Peau d’Asne (Donkeyskin), one of the tales in the vast Cinderella Cycle of folktales. The tale deals with abuse and fear with elements that become quite modern--a stalker, the heroine escaping her stalker in disguise with name changing, for example--but has a happy ending.

I decided to share this story in full since it is so very interesting. It also represents the wide range of tales to be found in Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World.

The Princess and the Cat


THERE was once a King who had an only daughter, whom he loved exceedingly. One day she went into the bazar and saw a man selling a kitten, which she bought and took home. She was very fond of it, and took such care of it that it became an enormous cat.

When the time came for the Princess to be married the cat was very angry and jealous. He asked her if it was true that she was going to be married. She said nothing, and hung down her head for shame. When the procession arrived the cat again asked her if she was going away. Again she made no answer. When the bridegroom’s people came the cat jumped upon them and began to scratch and tear them until they were obliged to run away to save their lives.

When the King heard this he was astonished; but what could they do because the cat threatened to kill them all. The Princess was so afraid of him that she was obliged to be kind to him.

One day the cat said to her: “I am going out hunting.”

While he was away the Princess took the chance of escaping and went off to the house of a Chamar. She got the Chamar to make her a covering of skin so that the cat should not know her, and when her skin-coat was ready she put it on and started on her travels. On her way she met the cat, and when she saw him coming she sprinkled some barley on the ground and began to pick it up.

The cat asked her who she was, and she answered: “I am Chamni (the skin-woman), and I live by picking up the grains that fall on the ground.”

The cat went back to the palace and searched everywhere for her, but he could not find her.

At last the Princess reached the land of the Prince, her husband, and came begging at the palace door. Her mother-in-law saw her, and taking pity on her, gave her service in the kitchen. But as her skin-coat gave a foul smell no one would let her sit near them, and she had to remain apart.

One day the man who grazed the elephants fell sick and there was no one to tend them; so Chamni was sent out with them. When she was alone in the jungle she used to take off her coat of skin, and she made a swing in which she used to lie and sing while the Fairies from Indrasan came and sang, and sported with her. This so pleased the elephants that they stood round her and listened to the music.

As they would not graze they became so lean that the Prince could not understand the reason, and one day the Prince went himself to inspect them, and when he saw Chamni in her real form he was fascinated with her beauty. When she came back he sent for her, and when he had made her take off her coat of skin and heard her story, he accepted her as his wife. She told him about the cat, but he said: “Do not fear. When he comes I will kill him.”

Meanwhile the cat had traced out the Princess, and taking the form of bangle-seller (Churiharin) arrived at the palace. She stood outside crying: “Bangles to sell. Who wants bangles?”

The Princess called her in and was having a set of bangles fitted on, when the bangle-seller suddenly sprang upon the Prince, and would have torn him to pieces had not the servants come to his aid. The cat escaped, but some days later as the Prince and Princess were in their room, he made a hole in the roof and was just about to spring upon them when the Princess, who was awake, saw him and called to her husband. He seized his sword and cut off the cat’s head; after which they lived in the utmost happiness.


A folktale told by Mazhar Husen, of Mitzapur.

Source: Husen, Mazhar. “The Princess and the Cat.” North Indian Notes and Queries. Oct. 1893, p. 121-122.

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