Sat Sri Akal, Travellers! Our tale today is “Baingan Bádsháhzádi,” meaning the Aubergine Princess. It is a Punjabi tale collected by Flora Annie Steel in her book, “Tales of the Punjab: told by the People.” Steel admits to changing parts of the oral tales in order to fit the scientific guidelines laid out by the Folklore Society. Another version is in the 1880 volume 9 of the Indian Antiquary, a journal focusing on the archeology, philosophy, folktales and history of India. It is a retelling of the story with notes from Richard Carnac Temple and reference to an old storyteller near Lahor. Scroll down for all our sources.
The Poor Childless Couple
Once there was a poor Brahman- or religious man- and his wife. They were so poor that they often had to scour the wilderness to find herbs and plants to eat. While on one of these trips, the poor man found a young aubergine. Thinking it would make a nice meal when ripened, he uprooted it and planted it tenderly in his garden. Even after it had a bright purple fruit, he could not bear to pick it, so he continued to care for it.
They held off eating it until they were desperate, and the Brahman’s wife began peeling the fruit. However, as she started chopping, she heard a low moan and a cry from within. Perplexed, she carefully cut open the fruit and jumped back in bewilderment when a tiny maiden stepped out.
She was the most beautiful creature they had ever seen, and they adopted her at once. They named her Princess Aubergine because even if she had not been born with the title, she was so charming that she earned the title in their eyes.
The Wicked Queen
Folktales of Bengal by Warwick Goble, 1912
Now over time, the maiden only grew more beautiful, and it wasn’t long until she came to the attention of the Queen. One day a handmaiden went to Brahman’s hut to get some light. She spied the lovely Princess and ran away to inform her vain Queen of the news!
Despite having seven healthy sons, the Queen constantly feared losing her powerful position. She was a great sorceress and had always been the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom, but she knew that if the King saw Princess Aubergine, he would forget his wife.
So she plotted. All she needed was a way to get the Princess to the palace, and she would be able to dispose of her. She sent a note to the Brahman’s hut declaring that the Royal Family had heard of their daughter’s beauty, and the Queen wanted to see it for herself.
For all her charm and beauty, the Princess was just as vain as the Queen and went at once to prove herself.
Warwick Goble, 1912
As soon as she arrived, the Queen realized her foe was a fairy and had to change her plan. She declared that Princess Aubergine must become her sister and should reside with her. Keep your enemies close and all that jazz.
The two women shared their veils and drank milk from the same cup, as was the custom when people declared themselves sisters.
The Sleeping Princess
That night, the Queen went to the sleeping Princess and worked her spell carefully. She asked the sleeping girl what the secret to her life was, and Princess Aubergine murmured that her life rested with the life of the eldest Prince. If he died, then she would die as well.
The Queen hurried to her son’s room and killed him with her own hands.
The next day she screamed in rage when she saw the Princess awake and alive. For the next six nights, the Queen continued her wicked project. She used curse after curse to find the Princess’ life source, and every night she killed another one of her sons. Every morning she woke up to the Princess’ disgustingly beautiful face.
The Queen wept in rage at killing her sons for naught and easily lied to her husband that their sons passed of infectious diseases.
Book Cover: Magic Has No Borders Anthology of South Asian Tales
The Nine Lakh Necklace
Finally, on the eighth night, Princess Aubergine could not fight the magic anymore and had to answer truthfully. She told the Queen about a red and green fish that lived in a faraway river. Inside the fish, there was a bumble bee. Inside the bumble bee was a locked box which contained the greatest treasure- a 9-lakh necklace. That was where her soul rested.
The Queen acted at once and went to her husband in tears. She begged him to find her the magic necklace. It was the only item that would help her in her grief over losing all of their sons. She would die without it.
The King, a kind man who would do anything to help his wife, ordered every fisherman to fish day and night until they found the specific fish.
When she heard about the King’s orders, Princess Aubergine knew that the Queen would prevail. She returned home and begged her parents not to burn or bury her when she died. Instead, they needed to lay her to rest on her bed and take her out to the wilderness. They should build a high wall around her and scatter flowers over her. The poor couple wept but agreed.
It didn’t take long. As soon as the sorceress had her greedy hands on the necklace, she put it on, and as she did, the Princess collapsed onto the floor. Her parents cried bitterly but could do nothing else, so they took her to the Northern Forest and lay her in her finest dress on the bed of flowers.
When the Queen heard that the Princess was neither burnt nor buried, she was unsatisfied but could do nothing else. All she did was warn her husband against hunting in the north.
Lying Dead in the Forest
The King had noticed a change in his wife, and it is hard to say if he was under a spell, but combined with the death of his seven sons, he was deep in his grief. He spent all his time hunting and eventually had been to every inch of her Kingdom except the northern forests. One day while hunting, The King accidentally wandered over toward the northern woodlands. He stumbled across a high wall in the middle of the forest and climbed over curiously. When he got to the top, he froze in shock.
Thorn Rose by Errol Le Cain
Below, he saw a beautiful maiden lying on a bed. She looked as if she was sleeping and not dead. So, day after day, he returned to her and kept watch, hoping she would wake up. Her body never decomposed, and she always looked radiant and beautiful. He wondered if she was a fairy or cursed. So he prayed.
The Magical Baby
He kept this up for a year. One day when he came for his daily visit, he saw a baby lying next to the Princess. He was as beautiful as his mother, and the King tenderly cared for the baby during the day. When the child could talk, the King asked him who he was and if his mother was dead.
The little boy responded that his mother was alive and well. She would wake up at night and care for him. Astonished, the King asked how this could be!
The boy responded that his mother’s soul lay in the necklace the Queen wore around her neck. Every night when she took it off, Princess Aubergine would wake up. The King was puzzled to hear that his wife was involved somehow and begged the boy to ask his mother more questions.
Miniature of Indian Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal
The next day he eagerly returned to the little boy, who relayed how the Queen cursed Princess Aubergine. The little boy was a gift to the King to help him grieve the loss of his seven sons.
Anyway, the King wanted to know how he could help, and the little boy replied that only the son of Princess Aubergine could rescue the necklace. So the King brought the child to the palace and declared him the new heir.
The vicious Queen grew wild with rage at the thought of her husband cheating! She was furious and decided to poison the boy.
The Queen’s Punishment
Putting on a sickly sweet smile, The Queen tried tempting the boy with sweets and pastries, but the little boy refused to eat anything until he could play with the glittering necklace. The Queen, blind with greed, handed over the 9 lakh necklace- but as soon as she did, the little boy ran as quickly as the wind back to his mother, Princess Aubergine. The King followed and arrived just in time to see the Princess wake up.
He begged her to return to the palace, but she refused. She told the King about his wife’s cruelty and how she had murdered her seven sons. She would only leave the forest if she could walk over the Queen’s grave on the way.
Princess Aubergine directed the King to dig a hole and fill it with scorpions and snakes before tossing the Queen in. The King had the trench dug and tried to lure the Queen down, but she refused. It was futile. The guards restrained the wicked woman and threw her into the hole before burying her alive.
As for Princess Aubergine and her son, they walked over the grave and lived happily in the palace ever after.
1. Soul Jar
In stories, death is often not as permanent as in real life. Sometimes characters can extend their life through magic or come back from the beyond through supernatural means. In rare cases, characters, usually villains, may go to extremes to ensure they continue existing by tying their souls to an object. These objects are known as Soul Jars.
For characters with soul jars to die, usually, one must destroy both the physical body and the soul jar. But sometimes, (simply) eliminating the soul jar is enough to get the job done. If one kills the physical body, but the soul jar is left alone, either the body will regenerate, or the soul will return to the soul jar and find another way to regain a body.
As a result, characters with soul jars go to great lengths to ensure that their soul jar is either well-protected or unbreakable. Since they are hard to get to and destroy, this can lead to more unique challenges for our heroes as they rely more on their smarts than trying to outmuscle the villain.
Another example from modern media is the Horcruxes from the Harry Potter series. Voldemort splits his soul into eight pieces and places each into items of significance to him.
Similarly, beings called liches from the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, are evil undead spell casters that have gone to great lengths to create soul jars known as phylactery. While Voldemort only has to kill a single soul for each Horcrux he makes, Liches kill one would to begin the process but then need to continue to feed their phylactery’s souls to sustain it.
After thinking of these two examples, it makes me wonder what our princess went through to make that necklace to be her soul jar. Of course, this also could have been something that just happened to her. Like in Dragonheart, Draco became Einon’s soul jar to save the young prince’s life. Though, Einon ended up also being a bad guy. So maybe that’s not the best example.
2. Found in Fruit
When you think of fairy tales, you probably aren’t thinking about science fiction, but there is some intersection between the two. One of the earliest examples of Science Fiction is the tale of Princess Kaguya, which we covered during our first year of the podcast! If you haven’t heard the story be sure to check it out, but the main reason why people call it science fiction is the fact that Kaguya is a princess from the moon. She was sent to Earth as a punishment. They send her down, and she is ‘born,’ so to say, inside a bamboo stalk where an old bamboo cutter finds her.
This leads us to the “Born from Plants” trope! These protagonists are often tiny and born from plants. Not to be confused with plant people who are plants or are plant-people hybrids, these characters are often found in some kinda fruit. For example, we have Momotarō (the Peach boy), Timun Mas (a girl born from a golden cucumber), and the Pomegranate Princess.
There are also stories of humans being sculpted or created from plants. According to Norse Mythology, Vili, Vé, and Odin created the first humans, Ask and Embla, from trees. This is similar to Filipino beliefs that the race of man came from bamboo trees. The Filipino creation story is wild, so that is definitely on our list of tales to recount!
3. Keep Your Friends Close
The queen in today’s tale invited the princess to live with her as her sister. Even though it seems strange that she would want to be around someone she hated, this was a tactical decision to keep a close eye on her and find her weakness. As Fox said, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” It got me thinking of that classic phrase and where it comes from.
It turns out that this phrase is accredited to Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist from the 6th century BC. It’s hard to say if he said this word for word. But he is very one of the earliest written sources of this idea. Similarly, the concept and phrase are attributed to Machiavelli, who very much explored this idea when writing The Prince.
But neither of these historical figures clearly stated this phrase verbatim. That credit goes to a little-known 1974 film called The Godfather Part II. Sometimes going down rabbit holes gives me unexpected answers from history. So yeah, the direct phrase is quite literally a movie quote.
“My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
Michael Corleone/Al Pacino, Godfather Part II, Mario Puzo
4. Offing the Offspring
Evil Stepmothers often have no qualms about killing their stepchildren, shapeshifting them, mutilating them, abandoning them…the list truly goes on. However, it is rare to see a biological mother commit the same crimes against their own children- that is when the mother is allowed to live past the first few lines of the story. Evil mothers are often bowdlerized to make the work more moral for children. For example, in the early version of Snow White, her own mother tries to have her killed.
One place to go if you want to look for people killing their kids is Greek myths; for example, Queen Procne of Thracia kills her son and feeds it to her husband as revenge for him raping and mutilating her sister. In Euripides‘ Medea, she kills her children by Jason before fleeing after learning that he is planning to leave her. Clytemnestra has Electra locked away in a cave to starve.
In more modern stories, we still see more fathers going after their offspring, like Fire lord Ozai to Zuko, Hiroshi Sato to Asami, and Maui’s mother throwing him into the ocean in Disney’s Moana. There are also books like Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ and Agatha Christie’s ‘The Chocolate Box.’ In Comics, Mystique tries to have both her sons killed and succeeds with one. In fact, the MC and DC universes have many, many, many instances of offing the offspring.
5. Ancient Eggplant Usage
Princess Aubergine is named after the plant that she came out of. And after my revelation that eggplants were both a fruit and a vegetable, I started wondering what other secrets this mysterious purple plant was hiding.
As it turns out, eggplants originate from India and have been cultivated there for over 1500 years. But it has deep roots in China as well. The plant was a dye for clothing and to stain ladies’ teeth so they would gleam like metal.
And in Italy, the word for eggplant is melanzane which means mad apple. This was because there was a belief that eating them made people angry or insane. While this isn’t accurate, it is, in turn, that they are part of the nightshade family, like potatoes and tomatoes. While they all contain good nutrients and taste great in a ratatouille, they also have alkaloid solanine, which can be highly toxic when concentrated.
Tales of the Punjab : told by the people by Flora Annie Webster Steel
Indian fairy tales by Sunity Devee, Maharani of Cooch Behar (The Dead Prince variant)
Folktales from Northern India by By William Crooke and Pandit Ram Gharib Chaube (Anar Shahzadi by M. Karam-ud-din Ahmad of Mirzapur)
“Baingan Bádsháhzádí – Prince Aubergine“. In: Indian antiquary v. 9, 1880. p. 302 (Note 1).