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With over 1000 different languages, the Indian subcontinent is one of the most culturally rich and diverse areas in the world. As with most regions, it has its own folktales and myths, with many being passed down through storytelling and oral traditions. In the last century, more of these stories are being written down and translated to English.
This particular Bengali story is a short adaption of Life’s Secret from Folk-tales of Bengal by Lal Behari Dey, which features the prince Dalim Kumar. A Bangladeshi version of Dalim Kumar’s story depicts the prince as a warrior that flew on a large winged horse.
Follow along his journey, then learn more about Bengali arts and craft forms in our activity sheets below!
There was once a Raja (king) who had two Ranees (queens), Duo and Suo. Suo had a handsome and well-mannered son, Dalim Kumar, who was blessed to his parents by a holy man. However, there was a secret to Dalim Kumar’s life that only his mother knew.
Dalim Kumar had a fondness for playing with pigeons. He enjoyed feeding them and chasing them around the courtyard. One day, he chased them all the way to the living quarters of Duo. His mother Suo had warned Dalim not to go near Duo, but the prince wanted his pigeons back and so approached the Ranee.
Duo, while beautiful, was not a kind person. She had grown jealous of Suo, who was now the king’s favourite after giving birth to Dalim Kumar. Duo had heard rumours about Dalim Kumar’s secret, and wanted to know what it was. When the prince wandered into Duo’s quarters to retrieve the pigeons, the Ranee stopped him and said, “Dalim Kumar, I will return your pigeons. But first, you must tell me the secret about your life.”
The prince, still young, looked at Duo in confusion. “Secret? My life has no secret.”
“Maybe you should ask your mother. If you find out the secret and tell me, I will return these pigeons to you,” Duo persuaded him. Dalim Kumar agreed and left to seek out his mother.
When asked, Suo was surprised but could not deny her son the truth. As Dalim Kumar was born through a special blessing, his life was tied to a golden necklace that lay in the stomach of the boal fish swimming in the pond within the palace courtyard.
The prince immediately ran to tell Duo this secret, eager to get his pigeons back. The Ranee gladly let his birds go after hearing this, immediately thinking about how she could get her hands on that necklace. She decided to ask one of her loyal servants to retrieve the fish in secret during the night and bring it to her once morning came.
Once Duo got a hold of the fish, she immediately sliced open its stomach and retrieved the glittering gold necklace, holding it triumphantly in her hands. At that moment, Dalim Kumar, who was having breakfast with the Raja and Ranee Suo in the dining area, suddenly felt weak, dropping the fruit he was holding while his face drained of colour.
When Duo put on the necklace, Dalim Kumar fainted and stopped breathing. His parents, shocked, immediately called upon physicians to revive their son. The prince was assumed to have died, causing great pain and grief to the Raja and Ranee Suo. In shock and denial, the Raja refused to have his son cremated, and instead ordered that his body be moved into an empty house away from the palace grounds.
After this incident, the Raja could not bear the sight of Suo as she reminded him too much of his son. He began to spend more time with Duo. The wicked Ranee was pleased with this, but also afraid that the Raja would find out the truth. So, Duo took off the gold necklace at night and kept it in a jewelry box hidden away from sight.
Whenever Duo took off her necklace, Dalim Kumar would awake from his deep slumber in his new house. At first, he was shocked and confused. He wanted to find his parents to tell them about how Duo convinced him to tell her his secret. However, the house and its garden were surrounded by high walls and a tall gate locked from the outside. He soon grew to accept his new life and survived by eating the fruits and leaves from the garden’s many trees.
Several years passed, and Dalim Kumar grew up to be a fine young man. One night, while out in his garden, he saw a figure who had broken through the gate. As he looked closer, he saw a young woman that was most beautiful, and fell in love with her at first sight. The woman, named Surai Bai, also fell in love with the handsome prince.
As it turns out, the couple was fated to meet. Surai Bai was sent away by her mother, who was warned that her daughter would have a bridegroom that was “both dead and alive”. Frightened, Surai Bai’s mother sent her away as soon as she was of marrying age, hoping that this ill prophecy would not come true. When the couple exchanged their stories, they knew they were meant to be and soon after, they wed in a sacred ceremony.
A few more years passed. Dalim Kumar and Surai Bai now had two sons, and the family survived on the food that Surai Bai foraged from the woods outside their home. Dalim Kumar continued to faint during daytime whenever Duo put on the necklace. While the family was happy at first, soon, they grew weary of this strange and lonely life. One night, Dalim Kumar and Surai Bai started to plan about how they could get the gold necklace back so that they could have a normal life.
Since Duo had never met Surai Bai before, the couple decided that she should pose as a hairdresser and offer her services to Duo. The young woman succeeded in doing so, slowly gaining the trust of Duo, who continued to wear the gold necklace, only taking it off whenever Surai Bai came to do her hair.
After several months, when Duo had grown to trust Surai Bai, the young woman started to bring her eldest son with her to the Ranee’s home. One day, her son managed to get a hold of the gold necklace while his mother was doing Duo’s hair. When it was time for mother and son to leave, the young boy started crying and wailing, refusing to let go or leave without the necklace.
Surai Bai quickly apologised to Duo, begging her to let them bring the necklace home and return it the following day. Although the Ranee was unsure, she decided to let them go as it had been many years since the prince’s body was brought away, and she was convinced that he was dead.
Surai Bai and her son left hurriedly and returned to their home, happily placing the necklace around Dalim Kumar’s neck and restoring the prince’s life forever. The family quickly made their way back to the palace. When they reached the palace courtyard, Duo was the first to see them and nearly fainted. She realised that she had been tricked and decided to flee the palace before she could be caught and punished.
Outside the palace, Suo and the Raja were happily greeting their son and his new family, rejoicing in their reunion and thanking the heavens for Dalim Kumar’s miraculous revival.
Illustrations by: Shekinah Prisca