Princess Pari, the Cast-off Daughter

retold by Heinz Insu Fenkl

Long ago, in ancient times, there was a young king named Ogu. He was only a boy of fourteen when a fortune-teller advised him that he would have a fine heir if he married the Lady Kildae. So he assented and after much ritual and deliberation an auspicious date was selected. The King was warned to abide by the Law of Heaven, but he was young, and in his impatience to marry, he made Kildae his queen one day early.

Misfortunes followed one after the other. The Queen bore six daughters in a row, and though his advisors tried to comfort him and reassure him that the next child would surely be a son, the King brooded in a foul humor. Meanwhile, the Queen had a taemong, a birth dream por- tending that her next child would be an exile from the Heavenly Kingdom, the daughter of the immortal named Sŏwangmo, the guardian of the elixir of life.

But the next child—the seventh—was also a daugh- ter, and King Ogu, in his anger, disowned her and commanded that she be cast out to die. Before the eyes of her weeping mother, the infant was sealed inside a stone chest, which was then taken out to sea in a boat and thrown overboard into the deepest part of the ocean.

The stone chest sank into the waves, but how could Heaven countenance such cruelty to an innocent? By command of the Dragon King, the stone chest floated back to the surface. Carried in the currents and rocked by waves, it eventually came to shore at the feet of a kindly old Buddhist priest. He recognized the King’s seal, and thinking it contained a great treasure, he took it to the local temple, where it was carefully opened.

But to the horror of the old priest and the monks, there was a baby girl inside. They had all heard the story of King Ogu’s seventh daughter, and they were well aware of the penalty they might suffer. But they were holy men, and they could not let her come to harm, and so the old monk hid her in the temple and raised her as his own. Since she had been thrown away, he called her “Pari,” which is short for parideggie, meaning “little abandoned one.”

As Pari grew, she showed great intelligence and signs of divine favor. When she was old enough to ask about her parentage, the old monk told her, “Your father is the sprit of the bamboo and your mother is the paulownia,”* and so she paid her respects to the spirits of those plants, as if they were her ancestors.

One day a shaman came to the temple looking for the King’s seventh daughter. “The King is gravely ill,” she said to the priest, “and he will die unless his missing daughter is found.”

“We fear King Ogu’s anger,” said the priest. “He commanded that his daughter be put to death. How will our temple fare if she is discovered here? How do we know this is not a ruse to find her and kill her?”

“You need not fear the King now. His six daughters have all failed him, and he now seeks his seventh out of desperation and a change of heart.”

And so it was revealed to Pari that she was the King’s missing daughter, and she returned to the royal palace to much rejoicing. But the joy of reunion with her parents was short lived, for the King lay gravely ill. The only remedy for him was that a child of his blood find a medicine that lay in the distant west, in a heavenly land beyond India. His six other daughters had feared to make such a long and perilous journey, but Pari agreed.

She set off to Sochon Soyukguk, that mythic land. She traveled the long and dangerous road, across the wide plains, over the high mountains, fording great rivers and wending through thick forests. She traveled through this world and through the underworld, enduring great hard- ships and performing great labors until she reached that place; and finally, by marrying a celestial being and bear- ing his sons, she obtained the magical potion to heal her father.

After seven long years, she made her return through the underworld, praying for the wandering spirits of the unjustly deceased. She emerged once again into this world and cured the King, who forgave her for marrying with- out his consent.

It is said that Pari herself became the spirit who hears the death rites, which are called ogu after the name of the King. And because she was the unjustly abandoned daughter who yet remained faithful and returned to heal her father—that is why the women shamans of Korea, who commune with the spirits of the dead in their healing rituals, trace their lineage back to Princess Pari. And in her honor, in funeral processions to this day, men carry a bamboo pole and women a pole cut from the paulownia tree.

reproduced courtesy of Heinz Insu Fenkl and Bo-Leaf Books

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