Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Vasumati. She was the daughter of King Dadhivähan and Queen Dhärini of the city of Champäpuri in the state of Bihar, India.
One day, a war broke out between King Dadhivähan and King Shatänik of the nearby city of Kaushämbi. King Dadhivähan was defeated in the war and he had to run away in despair. When princess Vasumati and Queen Dhärini learned that they had lost the war, they decided to escape. While they were running away from the palace, a soldier from the enemy’s army spotted and captured them. Princess Vasumati and her mother were scared. They did not know what the soldier would do to them. He told the queen that he would marry her and sell Vasumati. Upon hearing this, the queen went into shock and died. He then took Vasumati to Kaushämbi to sell her.
When it was Vasumati’s turn to be sold in the slave market, a merchant named Dhanävah happened to be passing by. He saw Vasumati being sold and looking at her noble face, he realized that she was not an ordinary slave girl. He thought she might have been separated from her parents and if she were sold as a slave, what would her fate be? Therefore, out of compassion Dhanävah bought Vasumati and took her home. On the way, he asked her, “Who are you and what has happened to your parents?” Vasumati did not reply. Dhanävah then told her not to be afraid and that he would treat her as his daughter.
When they reached home, the merchant told his wife, Moolä, about Vasumati. “My dear,” he said, “I have brought this girl home. She has not said anything about her past. Please treat her like our daughter.” Vasumati was relieved. She thanked the merchant and his wife with respect. The merchant’s family was very happy with her. They named her Chandanbälä since she would not tell anyone her real name. While staying at the merchant’s house, Chandanbälä’s attitude was like that of a daughter. This made the merchant very happy. Moolä, on the other hand, started wondering what her husband would do with Chandanbälä. She thought that he may marry her because of her beauty. Therefore, Moolä was getting uncomfortable with the idea of having Chandanbälä around.
One day, when the merchant came home from work, the servant who usually washed his feet was not there. Chandanbälä noticed this and was delighted to have a chance to wash his feet for all the fatherly love he had given her. While she was busy washing the merchant’s feet, her hair slipped out of the hairpin. The merchant saw this and felt that her beautiful long hair might get dirty, so he lifted her hair and clipped it back. Moolä saw this and was outraged. She felt that her doubts about Chandanbälä were true. Moolä decided to get rid of Chandanbälä as soon as possible.
When Dhanävah went on a three-day business trip, his wife used this opportunity to get rid of Chandanbälä. She called a barber right away to shave off Chandanbälä’s beautiful hair. Then she tied Chandanbälä’s legs with heavy shackles and locked her in a room away from the main area of the house. She told the other servants not to tell Dhanävah where Chandanbälä was or she would do the same to them. Then Moolä left and went to her parent’s house.
When Dhanävah returned from his trip he did not see Moolä or Chandanbälä. He asked the servants about them. The servants told him that Moolä was at her parent’s house, but they did not tell him where Chandanbälä was because they were scared of Moolä. He asked the servants in a worried tone, “Where is my daughter Chandanbälä? Please speak up and tell the truth.” Still nobody said a word. He was very upset and did not know what to do. After a few minutes an older servant thought, “I am an old woman and will soon die anyway. What is the worst thing Moolä can do to me?” So out of compassion for Chandanbälä and sympathy for the merchant she told him everything that Moolä had done to Chandanbälä.
She took the merchant to the room where Chandanbälä was locked up. Dhanävah unlocked the door and saw Chandanbälä. He was shocked when he saw her. He told Chandanbälä, “My dear daughter, I will get you out of here. You must be hungry. Let me find some food for you.” He went to the kitchen to find food for her. He found that there was no food left except for some boiled lentils in a pan. The merchant took the pan of lentils to Chandanbälä. He told her that he was going to get a blacksmith to cut the heavy shackles and left.