‘Asman Pari’s Daughter’ is a famous folk tale (Ishlogh) of Khowar folk literature across the Chitral valley of northern Pakistan. I have been listening to this since my childhood from reputed story tellers of the village. The story has a thrill, interesting twists, and suspense with useful socio-cultural messages. The characters in the translation are what they are in the original story.
The purpose is to preserve the valuable non-material heritage of the Kho culture and transmit it to the coming generations and reaching out to international readers.
Long, long ago in a faraway land lived a king who had an extensive family and ruled a vast kingdom. He had two wives, liked his second wife, and disliked the first one. He had one son, Khanjar Shah, from his first wife. He was a well-mannered and brave prince adored by everyone throughout the kingdom. The king had two other sons, Doghon and Bachar, from his second wife. They were cowardly and insincere characters harboring consistent jealousies. Their mother, too, was no different; she used to poison the king’s ear against Khanjar Shah and his mother as she always cherished the idea of her sons ascending the throne after the King.
One day, the king saw the good-looking daughter of Asman Pari (literally means Heavenly Fairy) in his dream and fell for her unmatched beauty. He then summoned all of his three sons and commanded: “Sons, I have a mission set for you that will be a test of your gallantry and entitle the successful one as the possible heir to the throne after me.” The three princes listened intently as the king went on adding to what he had previously said: “I have seen a fairy of exceptional beauty whose fascination is beyond description and that I have not seen such charm in my entire life. So, I want all my sons to go in search of that fairy and find her for me. The one of you who will brings her will be rewarded with the status as the crown prince.” The king then instructed his sons to leave immediately for the long and arduous adventure with good preparation.
That night the two shrewd princes—Doghon and Bachara—and their mother came together to hatch a plan aimed at foiling Khanjar Shah’s participation in the adventure. The queen said: “we have to somehow make sure he doesn’t go on the mission with you as in his presence you hardly stand a chance of success and will possibly lose the throne.”
That same night the wicked queen went to the king’s room and said: “oh my love! Everyone in the kingdom including us know about Khanjar Shah’s bravery as he has proven this on many occasions. Now if he goes with his young brothers, he will surely prevail and diminish their only chance to show their worth to you and to the people of the kingdom. So, I request to your majesty to keep him out of this mission and let his young brothers prove themselves by successfully completing the assignment.” The trick worked and the king ordered Khanjar Shah to pull out of the caravan.
Crest-fallen by his exclusion from the undertaking, Khanjar Shah approached the king personally and said with his head in bow: “Father, I want to be part of this mission not because I want the throne or overshadow my brothers but my love for you and to bring all the things you want is what matters the most. I just want to make sure that you get what you desire.” Touched by his son’s emotional words, the king granted him permission and the next day the three princes set off on the important yet dangerous adventure.
Charged with positive emotions and chances of success, the three princes began their travel from the royal palace amidst celebration and witnessed by huge crowd gathered to see them off. They walked through valleys, forests, and deserts for days in scorching heat with full determination to complete the task in hand. One day, they reached a point where the road bifurcated into two different directions. The signboard on one direction inscribed with: “ if you go this way you can come back”, whereas the inscription on the other read: “if you go this way you will never come back.” Khanjar Shah being the elder and responsible brother, sent his younger brothers along the first way and went the other way himself.
As a brave man, he thought it deep down about the dangerous consequences of this grave undertaking but considering the fact that he himself insisted on embracing the mission, there was no turning back and he mustered enough courage to carry on his journey along the deathly route all alone.
As light of the day faded away and darkness enveloped the surrounding, Khanjar Shah heard strange voices of agony and suppression spelling ill omen and imminent dangers for him. As he moved on and saw a well-dressed delicate fairy (guardian angel) in distance sitting by the side of a fire, cooking something. He approached and addressed the fairy in a pleading tone: “O mother fairy! I surrender to thy power and seek refuge with you; give me shelter in the name of your motherhood for the night.” (it was a mandatory custom in those times for human being to request for shelter and safe crossing in areas of supernatural, and plead them for protection, refuge, support, and safe passage).
The fairy granted him shelter for the night and he spent it in peace. The next morning, thanking the fairy he carried on with his journey crossing villages after villages and deserts after deserts along the route to interact with another fairy to accommodate him by the night. He again repeated the custom of getting shelter and spent the night in peace. He continued his journey the next day and walked for many hours before reaching in front of a big palace.
In the meantime, his stepbrothers whom he had sent the other way reached a village. They were welcomed by the villagers who not only gave them food and shelter but also provided them with new and clean cloths. Doghon told the head of the village about their plans of returning home with the daughter of Asman Pari. The head of the village warned the two brothers not to go any further from there because the people in the next village were cruel, and the likelihood of being captured and selling into slavery was quite high. The two brothers didn’t take the warnings seriously and insisted on going their way. They thanked the village head for his hospitality and moved on.
It was not long before they reached the new village and took shelter under a tree. The warning of the previous villagers came to reality when they were captured by the new villagers. This came as a surprise and before they could realize anything they were put in a cage and sold into slavery.
On the other hand, Khanjar Shah inquired about the big palace and came to know it was home to a monster named Masiq—the notorious man-eating ghost. As he was further investigating, he eavesdropped on horrible sounds of agony and suppression coming from within the palace. Upon inquiring he was told that the strange sounds were that of Masiq’s kids being attacked by Kanu Nahang, the infamous blind giant. With his sword ready in hand, Khanjar Shah ran into the palace to stop Kanu Nahang chasing the children of Masiq everywhere. He approached the giant and finished him with a single swing of his sword.
The petrified children of Masiq came rushing to Khanjar Shah and thanked him for saving their lives in the absence of their mother. The children then exchanged worried glances and said: “our mother is a man eater; she loves human flesh and she could be here any moment.” They hid him in the castle and waited for their mother. Masiq arrived in the castle, smelled human aura, and asked: “o my dear children! I smell human flesh, did someone come here before my arrival?” The children hesitantly said yes and told her that how in her absence this kind and brave human saved them from a certain death.
Masiq thanked Khanjar Shah for his bravery and asked him: “what is the reason that brought you to this wretched land?” To this he told her about how his father sent them on the adventure for bringing the daughter of Asman Pari to him. With that mission in mind, he came across the castle and helped her children.Masiq pointed towards a huge mountain and said: “the castle of Asman Pari is on the peak of that mountain but you cannot reach there on your own, no human can. But since you saved my children, I owe their life to you and will help you reach there.” She then instructed him to collect as much food as possible in a sack to feed her during the climb to the top of the mountain with him (Khanjar Shah) on her shoulder. She also warned if his food will run out before reaching the top, both would fall and face certain death.
Khanjar Shah collected everything he could find throughout the day and packed them in a huge sack. They started their climb with Khanjar Shah on Masiq’s shoulder offering her (Masiq) morsel after morsel amidst climbing. As they were about to hit the summit, the food he had brought finished. Out of food and with no other options in hand, Khanjar Shah offered his left arm to Masiq which she ate, and they reached the top. Masiq inquired that the meat offered towards the end was very delicious. Why? Khanjar Shah showed her his arm that was offered in morsel because the food had exhausted before reaching the top. Masiq licked his arm and miraculously it grew back.
Masiq then said: “from here onward you have to go alone but I must warn you that Asman Pari is a very obstinate and arrogant fairy, who has locked her daughter and her belongings in a room and if you want to defeat her, first you have to get full control over her. Masiq then gave him her hair and said: “burn this hair, you will find me anytime, anywhere to help you.” Khanjar thanked her and Masiq took leave.
Upon reaching the castle on the mountaintop, Khanjar quietly observed cruelties perpetrated by Asman Pari. To begin with, he came across two gardens, one was completely dried due to water shortage, the other had grown marshy because of over water supply. Then he came to a stable and dog-shed to see that horses were served with bones and dogs were offered with grasses. Further into the castle, he noticed two doors, one wide open the other permanently closed. (All these scenes reflected irrational, merciless, and poor management skills of Asman Pari).
Khanjar Shah diverted the water to the dried and deserted garden, put the grasses in front of the horses and served the dogs with bones. He also opened the closed door and closed the open one.
When he reached the center of the castle, he saw Asman Pari sitting on her throne. He thought about how to overwhelm her (Asman Pari) effectively without being spotted. He devised a plan to catch her hair from behind and tie them to a nearby post. This took Asman Pari by surprise and she was pinned down helplessly on her throne.
Khanjar Shah then went to the room where Asman Pari had locked away her daughter, released her and started to leave the castle with her. As he was on the way to exit, Asman Pari called out her dogs: “o my faithful dogs hunt him down for me” to which the dogs replied: “why would we do that, you nearly starved us to death and he fed us with bones.” She then ordered the doors to remain closed and not let them leave” to which the doors replied: “why should we listen to you, you kept me open for no apparent reason and closed the other one permanently with no justification. You are a cruel queen and we won’t follow your orders”. She turned to the gardens: “o my beautiful gardens help me catch them” to which they replied: “why would we do that, you never treated us the way this human did and we won’t help you. Asman Pari yelled in agony as Khanjar Shah left the castle with her daughter.
As Khanjar and the daughter of Asman Pari reached the cliff, he burnt the hair and Masiq appeared immediately and descended the steep mountain with the two persons on her shoulder. They reached the ground, thanked Masiq and continued their journey back home.
The two walked for days and reached another kingdom. Strangely, everyone in that kingdom was crying the day they arrived there. Khanjar grew suspicious and asked one person why was everyone crying and what was the reason for the tragedy? The person replied: “every month a giant come to our village asking for three humans in ransom whom he takes with him and eat. If we do not surrender, he would destroy the entire kingdom. Today it’s the turn of the king’s daughters that’s why everyone is crying.” Khanjar approached the king’s court and requested: “o kind king! May I rid you and your kingdom from that monster.” The king agreed and Khanjar asked to be alerted about the devil’s arrival.
Suddenly thunderstorm struck with lightning illuminating the ground, Khanjar knew it was time for the devil’s appearance. As the frightening creature was about to put his hands on the three princesses, Khanjar finished his life with a single swing of his sword. The spectator including the king, the three princesses along with courtiers couldn’t believe what had unfolded before their eyes.
The king offered his three daughters’ hands to Khanjar in marriage which he accepted, and the king ordered a country-wide celebration. He took his leave from the king who assembled a large caravan with treasures to accompany his daughters and son-in-law and they left the kingdom.
They continued their tiring journey across mountains, deserts, and forests for months. One day they reached the point where Khanjar and his stepbrothers had parted ways. Suddenly he halted the caravan there, advised them to wait there for him whilst he went on searching for his brothers. He then turned and went along the way where his brother had gone and reached the village where they had stayed. He inquired about them and left for the next village to find them. When he reached the village, he came to know that his brothers were sold into slavery and were engaged in work with the person who had bought them. Khanjar went to that person, paid double the price, and got his brothers freed from slavery. They were in wretched condition with ungainly hair and overgrown nails. He trimmed his brothers’ hair and nails, bought them new cloths, scented them, and left the village to join his caravan.
By the time, the three brothers joined the caravan, it was almost dark, so they decided to spend the night there and move on the next morning. That night the two brothers again came together to plot against Khanjar. Doghon said: “if we will reach the kingdom like this, Khanjar will surely be declared as the crown prince and eventual successor to the throne.” So, they came with a wicked plan to oust him once and for all. That midnight they tied his feet together with a sharp steel rod. After that they suddenly started shouting: “look another caravan! another caravan!”. Khanjar abruptly tried to spring to his feet and the sharp steel rod pierced through his feet and he was left there severely injured and laming. The two brothers left him there, took control of his caravan and proceeded towards their father’s kingdom.
Khanjar laid there helplessly for hours before two boys of his age showed up. They were two brothers; one was lame, the other was blind. The blind had the lame brother on his back who was telling him the directions of the travel. When they reached nearby, the lame brother told his blind brother about Khanjar and they helped him on his feet, took him to their home.
On the other side, the two brothers reached the kingdom and claimed that Khanjar failed and died during the adventure whilst they prevailed and brought the daughter of Asman Pari to their father. The king very happily announced that his both younger sons will rule together after him. Country-wide celebrations were kicked off and everyone seemed to enjoy except for the Asman Pari’s daughter, the three princesses and people who knew the reality. They did not eat and drink anything and were seemingly very unhappy.
In the meanwhile, Khanjar was happy with his new-found family, two brothers and one sister. They adopted him as their third brother. The three brothers used to go out daily to collect wood as their sister remained in the house to prepare food for them. Khanjar one day advised his sister: “never turn away a hungry cat and don’t ever let the fire burn out on the stove.”
One day, the sister was arranging fuel woods outside, when a cat came in meowing which frustrated her, and she kicked the poor creature away. After the cat left, she remembered his brother’s advice and ran to the kitchen to find the cat had put off the fire on the stove with her tail.
The fire was extinguished, and she set out to find fire as she was desperate to prepare food for her brothers, who were out in search of fuel wood. She reached the house of Halmasti (literally means a gluttonous frightening ghost) asking for some live ambers. She was given the ambers on the condition that she would ensure leaving behind a trail of ashes on the way to her home. She agreed without even thinking about the consequences as she was in desperate need of fire.
She fanned the amber into fire and prepared food for her brothers but before their arrival, Halmasti came and ate all the foods and threatened her with severe consequences if she would tell the story to her brothers. Extremely terrified, she again prepared food for his brothers and didn’t tell them about the incident.
From then onward it became a routine; she had to make two meals, one for Halmasti and one for her brothers. She grew weaker by the constant hard work and less food consumption. Khanjar noticed it and asked if there was something going wrong to which she replied that everything was fine. Khanjar remained suspicious and promised himself to find out.
He told his blind brother to hide in the “Nakh” (bedding side of the house) and find out if anything was going wrong with their sister. The blind brother fell asleep before Halmasti’s arrival and didn’t wake up when he consumed the entire food and left the house. The mystery remained unresolved. He then tasked the other brother to find out the fact, but he, too, slept and missed the ghost.
With no other option left, Khanjar volunteered for the task and hid himself in the waiting. Halmasti appeared demanding for food from the girl and it took no time for Khanjar to find out the matter. He then jumped out of the bed with sword in his hand and was about to strike Halmasti when he pleaded for mercy. Khanjar addressed him: “why should I not kill you straightaway?” To which he replied: “I can heal you and your two brothers.”
Khanjar thought for a moment and then said: “fine if you do it I will not kill you but if you couldn’t deliver the promise as you claim then I will chop off your head.” Halmasti agreed and added: “there is a danger in the process. I will put you one by one in my mouth and my saliva will heal you but if you don’t make it out on time then you will end up ingested and digested in my stomach. Khanjar accepted the challenge and called his brothers.
First, he put the blind brother in his mouth and after sometimes said: its time, take him out. Khanjar punched Halmasti on his back and the blind brother came out of the mouth healed and recovered. Then the lame brother was put in his mouth and when time came the back of the ghost was again punched with enormous force and he spitted out the brother who also completely recovered.
Now it was Khanjar’s turn, but Halmasti refused and said: “you are way too strong, and your brothers won’t be able to get you out and you will be ingested”. Khanjar said: “do it and I have faith in my brothers, they will get me out.”
Hesitantly, Halmasti put Khanjar in his mouth and waited. As the time approached, he said to get him out. The brothers punched Halmasti’s back, but they were less powerful, so nothing happened. They tried again but in vain. Halmasti started yelling that he was going down, he was going down, do something before it was too late and he would ingest. With time slipping away the two brothers and the sister all punched the monster’s back in desperation, but this time luck was on their side and Khanjar managed to get out fully healed and recovered. They thanked Halmasti, let him leave and then triumphantly embraced each other with eyes full of tears. Khanjar then decided that it was to go to his father and mother. He left for his home with his two new brothers and one sister.
In the kingdom, Khanjar’s mother was put behind the bars on false charges and the two princes and their mother were in firm control of the king. The daughter of Asman Pari, the three princesses and the rest of the caravan were still unhappy. So were the public of the kingdom who dearly wanted Khanjar to be their king. When he entered the castle and everyone including the caravan who had accompanied him and were stolen by his brothers, rejoiced in happiness. Khanjar approached the king and told him about the truth of the journey which was verified by Asman Pari’s daughter. The king got furious and ordered the imprisonment of his two young sons along with their mother which was carried out immediately. He then freed his first wife from imprisonment and pleaded for forgiveness and retired to the royal palace with her and making Khanjar the new king. Celebrations started across the kingdom and they all lived happily ever after.