Two youthful and sport loving princesses of the royal family of Chirakkal (a place in Kerala, in southern India) had gone to have a bath in the river that flowed close to their palace complex. The complex consisted of eighteen nalukettus (traditional houses with a central courtyard open to the sky and having four attached ‘halls’) and lay in the valley of the hill called Ezhimala situated close to the Arabian Sea. The palace complex was surrounded by the houses of the traditional Nair warrior clans and by the residences of rich traders and also of people belonging to Muslim community.
The two princesses who were sisters and were young and full of energy sported in the water for long. They raced each other swimming across the river and held diving contests to see who could hold their breath under water longer. Their maids and attendants too joined in the revelry but soon all except the two sisters had tired and after their bath were sitting on the steps of the secluded royal ghat and watching the sisters’ water sports. Soon, the younger princess said she was tired and swam to the banks. When she turned around, she saw that her sister had swum to the middle of the river and growing tired as she had now been in the water long, was being swept downstream by the strong current.
She hollered loudly attracting the attention of the maids who had started to leave. All the women began shouting frantically for help. The princess was being swept away rapidly and none of the others dared venture into the water as they knew they would not be able to help as they were all very tired. But their shouts and screams drew the attention of a good looking Muslim youth who was having a bath at the public ghat some distance away from the royal ghat. At once he jumped into the water after tying his new upper cloth securely around his waist.
Being a fine swimmer and a young warrior he was able to reach the princess soon. He caught hold of her right hand with his right hand and dragged her to the bank and to safety. But the princess, though terrified and bone tired, continued to remain neck deep in water. The youth immediately understood the reason for this and untying the new but now wet upper cloth from his waist handed it to the princess. Then he swam away from the group.
The princess now climbed up to the bank. She had lost her clothes to the current while she was being swept away and that was the reason why she had continued to remain neck deep in water. She now came out wrapping herself in the upper cloth the Muslim youth had thrown her. Hugely relieved that the princess had been saved, the royal group went back to the palace.
The news of the incident spread like wildfire and reached the ears of the reigning monarch. He soon sent out his people to find out who was the brave Muslim youth who had saved his niece from certain death. The king’s officials soon came back with the young soldier himself. The king rewarded him with many bags of gold and grants of land. He was doubly delighted to find out that the young man was a soldier in his army and made arrangements to grant him promotions and sent the young man home.
When the king came down to lunch at the central palace, there was a hush among the womenfolk. He asked his sister, the queen, what the matter was. She told him that the elder princess whose life had been saved was refusing to get into the palace as she believed she had now become an outcast since a Muslim man had touched her. Those were the days when caste rules were followed strictly. The princess said that not only had the Muslim youth touched her, he had held her right hand in his and to top it all had given her a piece of new cloth and thus she was now wedded to him. (The marriage ceremony consisted of these two rituals where the groom would hold the right hand of the bride in his right hand and would later give her a piece of new cloth.)
No matter what the king or the queen or the other members of the household said, the princess remained adamant in her conviction and would not get inside the palace. So the king instructed his men to build a new palace for the princess and the officials got busy right away. Meanwhile, the princess stayed in a makeshift thatched structure that had been hastily erected for her within the palace grounds. The king consulted with his ministers to find a solution to this problem. His ministers suggested that he call an assembly of scholars well versed in the shastras (the books containing rules as prescribed by the ancients) from all over the kingdom to find out if the princess could be taken back into the caste and if there was any atonement prescribed for the ‘sin’ she had committed.
Scholars from across the land came to meet the king. They all agreed that the princess could be taken back into the caste again if certain elaborate rituals were performed. They quoted all the well-known texts and ancient sages and they were all eloquent and brilliant. The king noticed that all the rituals prescribed would result in the scholars gaining a considerable amount of wealth. Their intentions became clear – take advantage of the king’s great affection for his niece and make a small fortune for themselves. The king saw through their ruse but kept his own counsel. He praised their scholarship, commended their erudition, said he was humbled by their eloquence and dazzled by their brilliance and arranged an elaborate feast for them all. At the feast he thanked them for taking the trouble to come to the palace and sent them all home. He did not give them even a measly copper coin.
The next day he announced in open court that he would marry his niece to the Muslim youth according to Islamic rituals. The ceremony was conducted with great pomp and splendour. The king gave the youth large tracts of land and also sanctioned a separate palace for his niece and her husband. This was the custom of the royal family. Whoever wed a princess from the family would be given lands; the taxes from which would be sufficient for the upkeep of his family in royal style.
From that time on, the princess came to be known as the Arackal Beevi.
As the kingdom followed the matrilineal system, Arackal Beevi became a monarch in her own right and ruled over her land with great efficiency. Soon, her little kingdom, the only Muslim kingdom in Kerala, was so prosperous that it became famous the world over.
For more interesting folklore visit the folk tales section of this blog.