I wanted to name the main character “Aadhaya” because in Hindi it means “first power.” In the story, she demonstrates both physical power over the men who cross her and mental fortitude during her trying moments.
I also wanted to weave in elements of the caste system because it unfortunately still prevails in villages today; the caste system is a class hierarchy that Indian people are born into that dictated their job. At the very top were the Brahmins, or the priests. They lived in simplicity despite their high social esteem because they wanted to be close to god. The second highest were the Kshatriyas, who were warriors and lived in extravagant wealth. At the bottom were the Sudras, who were servants and farmers, and the “untouchables” who were toilet and street cleaners.
I wanted to name Aadhaya’s ultimate love interest “Bhadrayu” because it means “living a good life.” Though Bhadrayu is an untouchable (meaning that he literally cannot make physical contact with someone of a higher caste), he does not complain about his social and economic state and appreciates what little he has. I then named the Prince of Hyderabad “Sahib” because it means “master.” He exerts his power and sovereignty over his horsemen and over Aadhaya throughout the novel. He thinks that because he is a prince, everything in the world must go his way.
The story is a radical one from both a marxist and feminist point of view. Aadhaya proves both fearless and intelligent, and goes after what she wants. Though to a much lesser degree, even today’s India generally refuses to recognize the mental and physical power that a woman can possess. She does not worry about customs and social mores, as shown in her courage to speak out against the Prince and her ability to ask him to be a gharjamai (which is extremely frowned upon even today) and her love for Bhadrayu, an untouchable. Also, she doesn’t hold her tongue the way a proper young lady should; rather, she exercises her ability to advocate for her rights and undermine the gender hierarchy that she is supposed to abide by.
The tale is definitely intended for the young adult. To me, though the sexual element of the story is very brief, it aligns more closely with the original fairy tales by Perrault and Grimm, rather than their more child-friendly adaptations.
Obviously, the sword is a phallic symbol that represents male strength. The reason why Aadhaya uses the sword in the end without training is to prove that the power that comes with fighting isn’t all that immense. Though fighting is considered a pursuit that is best left to the pros, Aadhaya proves that anyone can do it, and therefore, the Prince’s male power is quite fragile.
Though Bhadrayu doesn’t have many speaking roles, he does prove to be the best fit for Aadhaya because they have known each other for their entire lives. Rather than falling in love with someone after knowing them a day, like in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, the love between Aadhaya and Bhadrayu works because they love each other for their personality and care for each other.
Payal1: golden anklets Kurta2: a tunic Beta3: daughter Gharjamai4: A husband who lives with his wife’s family Kshatrya5: Of the Kshatrya caste; a warrior or ruler Bhaiyya6: a term used to address unknown men; is Hindi for “brother”
“Coming, Father!” Princess Aadhaya of Amritsar exclaimed before lifting her petticoat to her ankles and hurrying through the corridor. As her payal1 jingled, she, too, shook with merriment, for today was her eighteenth birthday. And today, as her father had promised when she was young, she would learn to fight.
But when she finally reached her father, she stopped dead in her tracks. Standing before the king was a broad-shouldered man decked in a silk kurta2 and golden shoes. Behind the decorated boy stood several elderly men and women. His family. Aadhaya’s father had arranged her marriage to the Prince of Hyderabad.
Aadhaya, with a long and solemn face, took the Prince and bid goodbye to each of the forty-seven servants in her castle. The Prince, standing beside Aadhaya, scoffed with every embrace she gave. When Aadhaya finally stood before Bhadrayu, her personal cleaner, she broke down into waterfalls of tears. Bhadrayu and Aadhaya had been the closest of friends since childhood. Weeping on Bhadrayu’s shoulder, Aadhaya knew she could not leave him forever. She loved him. And, now, she would never learn that he loved her, too.
“Father, I don’t see why I have to give up the castle. Or my friends. Or you! The palace is surely big enough for my husband and even his family. Why must I journey all the way to Hyderabad and leave you?” cried Aadhaya. The Prince’s family passed incensed glances and fervent whispers.
“What are you saying, Beta3? You know that the Prince cannot become a gharjamai4! I raised you better than that! I am very sorry, Prince Sahib” The Prince scoffed again before taking Aadhaya by the arm and exiting the castle.
Aadhaya cried before she boarded the carriage and sat in misery beside her new family. Halfway into the journey, the Prince looked at Aadhaya with brute anger and scolded “How could you embrace those servants of yours? How could you touch that untouchable? You called those sudras your friends? How does that make your husband look? And asking me to be a gharjamai. I ought to leave you here and find a new bride.” With every word, his voice got louder and angrier and the veins in his muscles began to bulge. A Kshatrya5, just like Aadhaya, the Prince had obviously been in battle before.
“Fine! Find yourself a new bride. Leave me here. You might need servants and riches to survive, but I’ll make it here in the forest. Please, bhaiyya6, stop the carriage.” But as she stood tall to dismount the carriage, the Prince grabbed her and pushed her back onto the seat. They finished their journey in heated silence.
Princess Aadhaya cried every night for three years as she lived in Prince Sahib’s castle.
At galas, she was never addressed to personally. At parliament meetings, she was not to speak. All of the power and clout that she had under her father’s roof was gone. And, no one ever taught her to fight.
One night, when the lights were off and her husband and family were in slumber, she tiptoed into the dining hall. Hanging on one of the walls was a giant sword with a golden and bejeweled handle. She quietly took the sword off of the wall and made her way out of the castle.
With only her sword in hand, she ventured into the woods to mark the beginning of her journey back to her home. Hopping on the backs of the wagons of merchants, she had travelled a considerable amount. But, the Prince had set out to go after her and it was only a matter of time before he was to find her. Riding on his horse, he travelled much faster than Aadhaya did, and eventually found her asleep under a tree. Feeling vengeful, he lay down beside her and nearly began to defile her before Aadhaya woke up and pinned the sword to his neck.
“How did you wake up?” he cried.
“Not everyone sleeps like a log. Like you.” Aadhaya smirked. “And why didn’t you bring a weapon with you?”
“I didn’t think I needed one.” the Prince replied with an oafish frown. “How was I to know that you would use my own sword against me?” As Aadhaya pushed the sword slightly further into the Prince’s neck, he let out a high-pitched squeal and begged her to release him. But once she did, he rode back to his palace to devise another plan to exact his revenge.
Days and nights passed, and Aadhaya advanced further. Meanwhile, the Prince had called upon his army to find her. Walking near a farmer’s market, Aadhaya saw seventeen of the Prince’s horsemen stopping for food. In order to disguise herself, she cut her hair to just below her ears and stole a burlap kurta from one of the stalls in the market. She then took off, not bothering to hide from the army.
A few nights later, Aadhaya finally stood before the city of Amritsar. With the stars of the night illuminating her way, she made her first step into the city. Immediately, Bhadrayu woke from his slumber and felt a pang in his heart. He did not know it, but his heart could sense that Aadhaya was nearby.
The night progressed, and Aadhaya had finally entered the castle. Eager to see Bhadrayu and the king, she entered her father’s chamber, only to find him wide awake, with a dagger in his hand.
“Who the hell are you?” bellowed the king. “And what are you doing in my castle?”
“It’s me, father! It’s Aadhaya. I’ve run away! I’ve come back to live with you!”
“A filthy trespasser and a liar. What do you take me for? My Aadhaya is a feast for the eyes. You’re an ugly peasant.” He glanced at the dirt on her face and her ragged clothes. “You’re dark and dirty. A common sudra. Go back to where you came from. I don’t know why you’re here, but if I catch you in this palace again, I will have my horsemen off your head.”
With a heavy heart, Aadhaya left her father’s chamber. But, instead of leaving the castle, she went to see Bhadrayu.
“Aadhaya!” Bhadrayu cried with joy before wrapping his arms around her in an amorous embrace.
“You recognized me?” asked Aadhaya.
“But, of course.” Bhadrayu replied. Aadhaya leaned in for a kiss, but Bhadrayu recoiled. “What are you doing? I’m an untouchable!”
“Look at me. No longer am I a princess. I’m free to love you,” she answered joyfully and kissed him.
They spent the night together and married the next day. Living in Bhadrayu’s hut near the castle, Aadhaya finally felt safe. But Prince Sahib had not given up. His horsemen could not capture her, so he set out to do it himself, this time, with a silvery, sharpened sword at his side.
Riding on his steed, he reached Amritsar in no time. When he came upon the hut, he saw Aadhaya and Bhadrayu. With arrogance in his every step, he marched to the couple.
“Ha! Look at you now, Aadhaya. You left me and now have received your karma7. The only one who wants you now is an untouchable. But… come with me! I can make you beautiful again! I can shower you with gold jewelry and silk saris. You can have your old life back! ”
“Yes, indeed. I have received my karma. I successfully ran away from your prison. I rescued myself. And now, I’m finally with the man I love. Keep your saris.”
“That was not a request. It was an order. You board my carriage right now!” He waited for Aadhaya to come to his side. “No? Very well. You still have my sword don’t you? Hand it over to your little lover.” Turning over to Bhadrayu, he shouted “I challenge you to fight me for her! The winner gets to keep her!”
Aadhaya rushed inside the hut to retrieve the golden sword. She came out and trudged toward the two men with her head facing the ground. She walked slowly and passively until she stood before the Prince. She stood for a minute, her head still down, and then snapped the sword at the Prince, commencing a duel.
“Aadhaya! No one ever taught you how to fight!” The Prince gasped while waving his sword in her direction.
“Please, you imbecile. It’s just a sword. It’s not that powerful. Anyone can use it.” She laughed.
They battled each other until sundown, when Aadhaya saw her opportunity to win the duel once and for all. “Maybe I should just go with you,” she conceded. Prince Sahib, elated by her surrender, brought down his sword. Aadhaya sliced her sword through the air and pinned him to the ground.
“Now, get out of here! Away with you! Back to Hyderabad you go! That’s an order!” She hollered. The Prince obsequiously complied and rode away on his horse.
Aadhaya turned back to find Bhadrayu frozen in sheer awe.
Karma7: The Hindu belief that God punishes or rewards a person for their every action.
“Aadhaya! That was incredible!” He exclaimed with wide eyes and a broad grin. Then, his face hardened. “I’m sorry that I didn’t help. I’m sorry that I only stood in place.”
“Don’t worry. I had it taken care of,” she smiled. They embraced, and merrily strolled back into their hut, where they lived happily ever after.