A long time ago, there lived a merchant with his two wives. His second wife was much dearer to him than the first one. Actually, the second wife had two tufts of hair on her head, while the first wife had just one. Although the two wives resented each other, they had no choice but to stay under the same roof.Β 

One day, the merchant left for a remote town to get some stuff. The younger one, being the pampered woman in the house, ill-treated her adversary. She forced her to do all the household chores, verbally abused her, and did not even allow her to eat a complete meal.

On one such day, the second wife asked the other wife to remove lice from her hair. While at it, the first wife accidentally pulled out a lock of hair. Incensed at this impudence, the second wife pulled the only tuft of hair on her adversary’s head, making her go bald. Still not satisfied, she chased the older wife out of the house.

The hairless wife went into the nearby forest. Feeling dishonored, she wanted to fast unto death. ‘It would be even better if some wild beast were to devour me,’ she thought.

On her way, she happened to walk past a cotton plant. She picked up some sticks from around her and made a broom with them. She then swept the place clean. Pleased with her selfless service, the cotton plant blessed her.

Next, she stumbled upon a plantain tree. Again, she swept the place around the plantain tree, getting the tree’s blessings. As she went on her way, she spotted a shed that housed a Brahmani bull. With her broom, she swept the shed clean and also cleaned the dirty animal. Pleased with her work, the bull blessed her.

Similarly, she came across a tulsi plant. She cleaned the place around the tulsi and bowed before the sacred plant. Pleased with her piousness and selflessness, the tulsi plant gave her its blessings.

In the woods, she found a hut made of branches and tree leaves. There, she saw a devout man in deep meditation. She stood behind, waiting for and watching the sanyasi.

Sensing her presence, the sanyasi asked her to show herself. Trembling with fear, the woman stood before the sanyasi with folded hands. The sanyasi asked her what she wanted. The woman explained how her husband hated her and his second wife abused her. She also told him how the younger wife had caused her to go bald and even kicked her out of the house.

The sanyasi asked her to take one dip in the water tank there and come back. She did as was asked of her. To her sheer delight, her looks had undergone a complete change! She had long, black hair, her complexion was fairer, and she looked younger.

The overjoyed woman bowed before the sanyasi to seek his blessings. The sanyasi blessed her and asked her to go into the hut and fetch a wicker basket from in there. The woman went inside and brought the most modest-looking wicker basket. The sanyasi asked her to open the basket. When she opened it, the woman found the basket full of precious stones, pearls and gems. The sanyasi told her that the basket would never go empty. Once again, the woman bowed before him to show her respect before walking back home.

On her way home, she stopped by the tulsi plant, which blessed her with the affection and warmth of her husband. The Brahmani bull blessed her with two shell ornaments that she could wear on her wrists. Shaking them would get her more ornaments. The plantain tree blessed her with a banana leaf. Whenever she would move the leaf, it will serve her delicious food and plantains. Likewise, the cotton plant blessed her with a branch that would give her cotton-and-silk clothes upon being shaken. After putting on the silk clothes and adorning her wrists with the shell ornaments, she walked home with the basket, leaf and cotton branch.

The second wife could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the woman she had ousted from the house. However, even more surprising was the fact that the first wife treated her kindly and shared all her newly acquired possessions with her. This incensed the second wife even more. Feeling jealous of her, the second wife decided to go into the woods and meet the sanyasi herself.

On her way to the sanyasi, the second wife went past the cotton plant, the plantain tree, the Brahmani bull and the tulsi plant. However, she simply walked away without caring to stop and pray to them. Soon, she was at the sanyasi’s hut. Again, the sanyasi asked her to take one dip in the water dip.

As had happened with the first wife, one dip in the tank transformed the second wife into a beautiful woman. Overcome by the greed to become even prettier than her rival, she took another dip in the water. This turned her into a bald, ugly woman.

Angry at this disrespectful conduct, the sanyasi chased her away, cursing her for not having followed his command. Grief-stricken, she went back home.

When the merchant returned from his trip, he was surprised to see the unbelievable transformation of his first wife. He showered her with his love. As for the second wife, she spent the remainder of her days slaving away like a maid.

…now that you’re here

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Kalai Selvi, Folk Tale writer at Ameya

Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at kalai.muse@gmail.com to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from The Project Gutenberg.