Long ago, there lived a king. He had three sons and a daughter. Every single strand of the daughter’s hair was golden, so she was called the ‘Golden-Haired Princess’.
Quite remarkably, the people of the kingdom also knew the number of strands in the daughter’s hair. One day, while she was taking bath in the river, the Princess lost a hair. On hearing of the loss, her mother declared, “Whoever finds the hair will marry the Princess.” People tried their best to find it, and it was the Princess’ second brother who found the hair.
Arrangements for the marriage started. The Princess was shocked, for it was going to be an unnatural marriage. She went to the garden and sat, forlorn and dejected.
A crow flew by, and said to the Princess, “Do not be sad, Princess. Take a kernel from the burr-flower tree, and plant it in the soil. Once it grows a little, climb upon the tree. Sitting atop the tree, say, “Grow fast, little Kadamba; grow fast!” It will grow very high and take you beyond people’s reach.”
As advised by the crow, the Princess took a burr-flower seed and went towards the river. As soon as she had planted the seed, it grew into a tree. She sat upon it and said, “Grow fast, little Kadamba; grow fast!” The tree grew and almost touched the sky; atop it was the Princess, beyond anyone’s reach.
It was time for the wedding. All went out to look for the Princess, and no one came upon her. Ultimately, her father discovered her sitting atop a tree on the riverbank.
“Come down, my Princess! The auspicious hour of wedding is waning!”
“I would, but you are no longer my father. You are now my father-in-law.”
The king was shocked by his daughter’s words. He cursed himself for being such an unfortunate father, and jumped into the river, killing himself.
Next, the mother, and one of the elder brothers did the same. She charged them of being mother-in-law and husband’s brother respectively. They also jumped into the river and died.
Finally, her second brother and the would-be husband came and roared, “Will you come down, or I should fell the tree from the bottom?”
To him the Princess said, “I would, but you came as my husband, and not as my brother.”
He regretted his fate, and considered it worthwhile to die rather than to live as his own sister’s husband.
Last of all was her younger brother, who said, “Sister! Take me up too; I want to come with you!”
“You will feel hungry, thirsty, and sleepy, and in that case, I will be helpless here. Rather, go home, honey!”
The brother did not move. Ultimately, the sister dropped a thread from the top and advised, “Hold on to the thread and climb slowly.” Soon the brother was in the lap of the Princess.
The next day, the brother said, “Sister, I am hungry!”
She gave the sesame and rice seeds she had with her, and said, “Eat them, and take care not to drop a single seed.” As the brother tried, many seeds fell on the ground.
After a while, he said again, “Sister, I am thirsty!”
The Princess used the sickle in her hand, and gave a blow on the main branch of the tree. Water oozed, and the brother drank it. After a while, the brother fell asleep, and the maiden let him lie on her lap.
When the brother woke up, he was surprised to see a large herd of cattle—cows and buffaloes—grazing on the river bank, underneath. He asked his sister how they came there. She said, “The seeds you dropped have changed into those cattle. The sesame became the buffaloes, and rice seeds the cows. The cattle are ours now.”
“Then let’s go and run a ranch with these cattle,” the brother suggested.
The sister loved the suggestion. So, they came down and gathered all the cattle, and goaded them homeward.
Every day, the brother would go to herd the cattle. The sister cleaned the animal dropping and managed the feed. Before leaving, the brother would tell her every day, “Do make the fodder and the tethers ready!” She honestly followed the instructions.
One day, the Princess disappeared all of a sudden. When the brother returned with the cattle, neither fodder nor the tethers were ready. He shouted, “Sister! Sister!” and moved all around, asking everyone in the neighborhood if they had any information. But none could tell him of her whereabouts.
In the meantime, an old cow with brown hair came from the shed and said, “Do not cry; honey! Leave it. Come; climb on my back, and start counting the number of hairs on my body. I will take you to your sister while you do that.”
The boy mounted the cow and started counting the number of hair-strands. The cow slowly took him towards an unknown direction. By the time the boy had counted a large portion of the hairs, the cow dropped him in front of a large palace.
The boy climbed down the cow’s back, but there was no means he could find his sister. He was in a fix. So he sat on the threshold of the mansion, vacantly.
In the meantime, a comb fell from the window upstairs and dropped in front of the boy. He heard a girl say, “If my brother was here, he would certainly pick the comb for me.”
He took no time to recognize that it was his sister’s voice. He picked the comb and ran upstairs.
Seeing her brother by her side, the Princess shrieked with joy. Then she asked, “How did you come hither?”
The brother outlined every single detail. The Princess had reached the palace with a prince; she decided to keep the brother with her in the same palace. And then they lived happily ever after.
[Collected and Translated by Mahesh Paudyal]