THE PRINCE OF LANKA: Lanka Kumaraya
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Legends of Ceylon
In a certain far-off country which memory loves to recall, there once lived a great King and gracious Queen. The country they ruled over was so beautiful that poets sang of its loveliness in all parts of the world.
It was always springtime in Lanka, as this beautiful country was called. Neither the biting cold of winter nor the scorching heat of summer, ever visited the land.
The men were strong and brave, the women kind and gentle, and one and all loved their dear King and Queen.
They had one common sorrow, the King, the Queen, and their people. The Royal Palace was empty of children.
The Queen longed for a baby; the King wanted a son, who would grow tall and strong and brave; the people wanted an heir to the throne.
One day when the Queen was alone in her garden waiting for the King's return, she watched two birds at play.
At least, she thought they were at play, till she discovered that one was a very tiny bird and that the bigger one was teasing it.
The bigger bird pecked at the little bird and chased it all over the Queen's rose garden, till at last the poor little bird fell exhausted into the basin of a fountain, and would have been drowned had the Queen not rescued it.
Poor little bird, it was very wet and cold, so the Queen tried to dry its feathers with her soft handkerchief.
She was stroking it softly when she heard a tiny voice say:
"Gracious Lady, thank you kindly,
You've saved in sooth a fairy's life;
For your kindness I'll reward you,
For your sweetness I applaud you
Gracious Lady, thank you kindly."
Imagine the Queen's surprise when she discovered that she held a tiny little bird-fairy in her hand, and that the little fairy had just spoken to her.
How was it she had not noticed that it was a fairy she had rescued?
Underneath the brown bird's wings were the softest pair of white downy fairy wings, and underneath the little bird's head was the sweetest little laughing face that ever fairy possessed, and tucked away behind the brown bird's legs were the daintiest pair of fairy feet.
"Oh! You dear little fairy," exclaimed the Queen, delighted. " You must stay with me always, and be my little daughter! Are you really a fairy ? I can hardly believe my eyes! "
"I can prove to you that I am a fairy, gracious Queen, by granting you your dearest wish," said the little bird-fairy, laughing.
And then she grew very grave and told the Queen that it was a cruel witch disguised as a bird that had chased her round the rose-garden. The poor little fairy trembled with fright when she remembered her wicked tormentor. She would probably have been turned into an ugly old frog in the fountain, had the Queen not saved her from such a fate. But now she felt sure she could fly safely back to fairy-land, for the old witch believed she had been turned into a frog.
And the Queen was to have her dearest wish granted.
I am sure you can guess what it was the Queen wished for.
Not long after this a dear little baby Prince was born in the palace. How the King and Queen rejoiced, and the people all over the country in every town and village, far and near, celebrated the birth of their Prince with feasting and rejoicing and pilgrimages to their temples, to which they took thank-offerings of flowers and jewels, fruit and rice.
All night long the tom-toms beat throughout the island of Lanka.
Near the Royal Palace was a beautifil lake with a stone bund running round it, and that night, and for many nights afterwards, thousands of tiny coconut-oil lamps, placed in the niches on the bund, glittered and cast dancing reflections on the still waters, till the whole place looked like Fairy-land.
The feasting and rejoicing were kept up till the ceremony of presenting at the Temple was performed, to which the good Queen did not forget to invite her little fairy friend the brown-bird fairy.
The tiny brown-bird fairy came to the ceremony, and gave the little baby Prince of Lanka a priceless fairy gift.
It was the greatest of all things anyone could possess.
And it was called Charity.
Days and weeks and months passed by very quickly in the happy land of Lanka.
And the young Prince grew in strength and beauty.
Oh! how his mother and father loved him!
His mother had a beautiful nursery built for him, opening into her dear old rose garden, and here the Prince and his mother spent the happiest hours of their lives.
He was never alone, this happy little Prince, for the King himself accompanied his little son if ever he went beyond the Palace gates.
And all sad or ugly sights were hidden from him; for as the little Prince grew into a sturdy romping little scamp, his parents noticed how all his fun and laughter stopped at the sight of anything sad or ugly.
He would grow very quiet, or, nestling close to his mother or father, would put the strangest of questions.
Soon the Prince grew from boyhood into manhood.
Strong and brave and kind the Prince became, and was loved throughout the land.
He was a strange Prince, however; for he would not go hunting with his father-he thought it cruel to hurt any living creature.
Yet he did not seem to mind very much getting hurt himself.
One day when the King and his son were returning to the Palace, a poor old beggar waylaid them, and, exposing his infirmities, begged for alms.
The Prince gave him all the money he had on his person, and walked sadly back to the Palace with his father.
The King was vexed that this should have happened; for since the birth of the Prince he had hidden all sad sights from him, and he noticed how the memory of the poor beggar-man still troubled the Prince.
To help him to forget the beggar-man the King got up a great tournament.
Feats of extraordinary skill, prowess and valour were performed throughout the week. Princes from all the neighbouring states and countries entering into competition with the Prince of Lanka, who entered as wholeheartedly himself as his father could have wished.
The throwing of korre-pol, or hard coconuts, opened the tournament on the first day, and was won by the Prince of Lanka. The games of unkeliya and pol-keliya and the climbing of the greasy-pole, called kalpa-rukeagalia, were open to all, and rewarded with knighthood or a chieftainship.
On the last day at the close of the tournament in the palace gardens, a Beauty competition was held.
The ladies of the land competed with Princesses and the ladies of other neighbouring lands.
Four Princes were to judge, while the Prince of Lanka was to give the casting vote, and a throatlet of emeralds to the successful competitor.
The beautiful Princess who won the emerald throatlet also won the Prince of Lanka's heart; for she was as good as she was beautiful.
The King was delighted, for he felt sure that in his happiness the Prince would forget the lesson the poor beggar-man had taught him-that there were sin and suffering even in as beautiful a country as Lanka.
Soon the marriage-day was fixed-a lucky-day in which the Prince's star was supposed to shine brightest in the heavens---and in due time the Prince of Lanka married his beautiful Princess.
The Prince, however, had not forgotten the beggar-man.
One day the Prince was not to be found either in the palace or the palace grounds.
They went everywhere in search of him; but he was nowhere to be found.
Days passed by, time lengthened into weeks; but the Prince did not return.
The beautiful Princess, the King and the Queen and the people of Lanka were very sad; for they loved their Prince dearly and longed for his return.
When a great many years had passed by, news was brought one day to the King of a great teacher who was in the land, teaching the people to bear with one another, helping those who suffered.
The King rejoiced at the news. Had he not suffered the loss of a loved son ?
Surely this great teacher would have pity on him, and would perhaps help him to find his son; for the King felt sure the Prince was not dead.
At last the great teacher came to the palace. There were a great many people who needed help in Lanka, and the teacher had been very busy helping them, so that he was not able to come to the King immediately the King's message reached him.
In the throne-room they waited for him; the King, the Queen, and the beautiful Princess. The teacher was very poorly dressed, his head was shaved and bare; bare were his hands and feet. He wore no jewels; a clean linen robe was all he was clad in; but when the beautiful Princess saw the teacher she left her throne, and, running up to him, she threw her arms round him and wept for joy.
The great teacher was no other than her long-lost husband, the Prince of Lanka.
You may he sure the King and Queen rejoiced when they recognized their son.
The teacher had indeed helped them to find the Prince of Lanka.
He also taught them to remember the poor and suffering in the land; the poor for whom he had left his home and his happiness for so many years.
And a brighter, wiser rule dawned for Lanka after the great teacher's return than it had ever known before.
||Aline van Dort |
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