Myth Monday: The Cat Who Became a Queen (Indian Fairy Tale)
By Kara Newcastle
Once upon a time, the king of Kashmir was desperate for a son. He waited many years for an heir to succeed him, and he became so desperate that he threatened all of his wives with banishment to the most wild parts of the continent if they did not produce the long sought for child within a year. The wives were frightened; they didn’t know the world beyond the city where they lived, and if they were banished, they would have no one to protect them from the wild creatures.
They also knew that they couldn’t produce his son, though through no fault of their own; the issue lay with the king, but of course, everyone was too afraid to tell him that. The women banded together, promising to help each other find a way to produce an heir. All efforts failed, and not one of the royal wives was able to become pregnant by the king. The king became more impatient with every passing day, raging at his wives.
At long last, just as the year was drawing to a close, a messenger was sent from the harem to the king with great news: a member of the harem was pregnant! The king was beside himself with joy, and would have visited the blessed mother-to-be immediately, but the messenger gently warned the king that the future mother was in delicate health, and it would be best to let her rest. The king, not wanting to jeopardize his expectant wife or their unborn child, readily agreed to the wife’s privacy.
When the harem women heard the king’s answer, they all sighed with relief. As it turned out, a member of the harem was indeed pregnant, but it was not any one of the wives: it was one of their beloved cats! In desperation, and afraid to lie that one of them was with child, the wives cleverly thought of a ruse to buy them more time. After all … it was partly true.
In due time, the mother cat gave birth to a single kitten, a beautiful female with a golden-brown coat with tiger-like stripes across her back. The women sent their messenger back to the king, reporting that a child had indeed been born, though, regrettably, it was a daughter, and not the son he had wanted. To their amazement, the king was overjoyed to have any child at all, and, even without seeing his “daughter,” was prouder than any man alive at that moment. He wanted to see his child, but the messenger warned him that the Brahmans had decreed that the little princess must not be seen by her father until the day she was to marry. The king was momentarily disappointed, but soon declared that he would marry his cherished daughter to a worthy prince. The king stopped badgering his wives for a child, and all the women saw the small kitten as their savior. They fell in love with her, and, in truth, treated her like she was indeed a daughter. They named her Rohini.
Every day the king would inquire about his new daughter, and every day a messenger would be sent back from the harem with a new story. If the kitten Rohini pranced about, the king would be told, “Your daughter is so graceful.” If Rohini boldly stood her ground against the bigger cats, the king was told, “Your daughter is very brave.” If Rohini caught a mouse and released it unharmed, the king was told, “Your daughter is so gentle and kind.” When Rohini learned to open doors, the king was told, “Your daughter is exceedingly clever.” When the kitten became a cat, the king was told, “Your daughter is the fairest of all in the land,” and she was.
After many years, the king decided that his daughter was old enough to marry. He carefully considered all of the eligible suitors and chose Amulya, the son of a neighboring king. This prince was known for his kindness, bravery and intelligence, and the king felt that the young man was the best fit for his unseen daughter.
Hearing the king’s decision sent the royal wives into a panic; what would they do now? They had carried on the ruse for far too long, how would they be able to solve this problem?
Fortunately, the foreign prince was famous for his compassion, so when Amulya arrived at their palace, one of the wives led him into a private chamber to view his betrothed. She said nothing until the prince was inside, and she shut the door firmly behind him. Gesturing for him to stay where he was, the royal wife slipped into an adjoining room, and returned a moment later, carrying the cat in her arms.
Prince Amulya smiled at the beautiful cat. “She is very lovely. Does she belong to your daughter?”
The wife hesitated. “This cat … she is my daughter.”
Stunned, the prince stared at the royal wife, speechless. As he opened his mouth to protest, the wife held up her hand. “Please listen to me, Your Highness. Our king had demanded that we give him an heir, or he would severely punish us. We weren’t able to produce our own child, but one of our cats gave birth to this beautiful creature you see here. We passed her off as his daughter—the king doesn’t know, and he mustn’t ever know. We no longer fear for ourselves, but we fear what the king may do to our Rohini if he finds out. Please, have pity on her—you don’t need to do anything, just … no one can know …”
Pitying the woman, Prince Amulya smiled gently and inclined his head. “My lady,” he said, “I see how much you love this cat. It would hurt me as well if anything should happen to her. I will keep your secret. I will take her back to my palace and keep her in my chambers, where she will be safe. Not even my mother or father will know the truth.”
With that, the prince went to his future father-in-law and reported that “Princess Rohini” was all that he dreamed of. The king was beside himself with delight, and immediately ordered for a grand wedding to be held. Amulya played his part, smiling knowingly at the harem wives throughout the ceremony. The princess cat was kept hidden inside a covered palanquin so know one could see her, and once the festivities were concluded, Prince Amulya announced that he wished to bring his new bride home as quickly as possible. He ordered two of his men to carry the palanquin while he rode beside it, leaving the king of Kashmir and his many wives behind with tears in their eyes.
Upon returning to his kingdom, Prince Amulya ordered for the palanquin to be brought straight to his room, and he ordered all of his servants and guards out. After making sure the doors were securely locked, the prince opened the palanquin and drew beautiful Rohini out. At first, she was confused and frightened by her new surroundings, but the prince was gentle and smiled kindly at her. When he was in his chambers, he petted and played with the lovely cat, brought her treats and trinkets. Prince Amulya grew to adore Rohini and, very soon, Rohini fell in love with the handsome prince.
From the moment the prince and his cat-bride returned to his palace, his father the king and mother the queen insisted on meeting their new daughter-in-law. The prince refused them, politely at first, more fiercely as his mother began to pry. The queen was especially worried about her son’s behavior; he had never been so abrupt with her or anyone before. What had changed him? Was his new bride so beautiful that it caused the prince to become possessive and jealous, so much so that he wouldn’t even let the servants inside his quarters?
As time went on, the queen began to feel more and more pity for her daughter-in-law, sadden that the princess was locked up like a criminal day and night. One day, while Prince Amulya went out to attend to his duties, the queen approached his locked chamber doors and knocked on them.
“Daughter-in-law,” the queen said, hoping the princess inside could hear her. “I am so sorry that my son keeps you locked away like a prisoner. It must be so dull for you! I do not know what’s come over him, but I do hope you know that we all care for you. I have told all the servants and guards to stay away from these chambers and gardens so that you may come out if you’d like. You may come out without fear of seeing anyone at all. Would you like that? I wish you would come out. I just want you to be happy.”
The queen’s kind words broke the cat’s heart, and Rohini bowed her head, weeping as a human woman would. She did not like being shut away, she missed her mothers, but above all, she was devastated that she could never love the prince the way she wanted to. She knew that she would die here, unfulfilled and miserable.
The cat’s sobbing carried through the air, wafting up until it reached the ears of the radiant Parvati, the goddess of love. Parvati looked down to the palace, heard the Rohini’s weeping and saw the tears streaming down her little face. Heartbroken for the beautiful creature, Parvati at once went to her husband, the mighty god of war Shiva, and told him of what was happening below on Earth.
“Is there anything we can do?” gentle Parvati pleaded. “This poor cat should not have to suffer this way, used as a tool, kept prisoner, and then denied the love she feels for the prince.”
For all his ferocity, Shiva was not an unfeeling god, and the plight of the cat moved him. “Indeed, there is a way to help her. Go to the cat, Parvati, and tell her to rub oil onto her fur, and it will turn her into a human woman. She will find the bottle in the prince’s chambers.”
Overjoyed, Parvati rushed down to earth, appearing before the disconsolate Rohini. The merciful goddess bent down and stroked the top of the cat’s head, wiping the tears away from her whiskers. “You don’t need to shed another tear, darling,” she said, smiling as Rohini’s gold eyes widened in awe. “My lord Shiva has instructed me to tell you that if you rub oil onto your fur, then you will be turned into a human woman. The oil you need is there, on the table.”
Seeing where the goddess pointed to, Rohini managed to contain her excitement enough to gratefully wind her body around Parvati’s golden ankles before racing to the bottle, set on a low table. Easily springing up, the cat swatted the bottle over, then, working both paws around the top, wriggled the stopper free. Scooping up the oil in her paws, Rohini quickly rubbed the liquid into her fur. Before her very eyes, she saw the striped fur melting away on her arms, her paws turning into hands. She splashed the oil on her face, feeling the whiskers evaporate, her pink nose reshaping, her ears shrinking. The cat worked the oil all over her body, changing her back paws into feet, turning the fur atop her head into hair, and making her tail vanish. In the end, the cat was no more; in her place stood a beautiful human woman.
Of course, Rohini was just as clever as her human mothers claimed her to be; fearing that her beloved prince would not recognize her in her new form, she left a small patch of her fur remaining behind one shoulder, to prove to him who she was.
That evening, Prince Amulya returned, unlocked his doors and entered his chambers. He opened his mouth to call for his dear cat, but choked, leaping in fright when his eyes fell upon the loveliest woman he had ever seen sitting on the foot of his bed, waiting for him.
“Who are you?” he shouted. His fists tightening, he scanned the bedchamber rapidly. “Where is Rohini? My cat, what did you do with her?”
“Prince Amulya, please, be calm.” Smiling nervously, the woman stood up. “I am Rohini. Gracious Parvati came down from heaven and showed me how to turn myself into a woman … because I love you.”
Amulya’s narrowed, but before he could speak another word, the newly transformed Rohini turned around, so he back was to the prince. Pulling her luxurious black hair away, she revealed the patch of fur she had left behind her shoulder. “See, Your Highness? That is what remains of my fur.”
Astounded, for a moment all Prince Amulya could do was stare open-mouthed at the fur, recognizing the golden-brown and black tiger-stripe pattern. As he stepped closer for a better look, Rohini turned and gazed at him, with the same expression she had shown him every day and every night since he brought her back to his palace.
Prince Amulya’s heart skipped a beat. “I know you … I know your eyes. You are Rohini.”
Rohini’s smile grew brighter, and Amulya laughed, pulling her into his arms, instantly falling in love with his cat-bride.
Once their excitement was contained, Prince Amulya was more than happy to introduce his wife, Princess Rohini, to his parents, alleviating their fears and bringing them great joy. The couple returned to Rohini’s kingdom, where she was properly introduced to her would-be father. The king was beside himself with pride at having so beautiful and intelligent a daughter and, seeing how happy she was with her husband, knew that he made the right choice. In time, Rohini and Amulya inherited her father’s kingdom of Kashmir, and they ruled together as two of the most illustrious and loving monarchs the world had ever seen.