Once upon a time, there lived a little girl named Punkhu Maicha whose mother had died when she was very young. Her father remarried and his wife gave birth to a daughter. Punkhu Maicha’s step-mother was wicked, jealous woman. She never gave the elder girl good food, but she prepared the best possible food for her own daughter. The elder daughter had to attend to all the household duties. She also had to graze the family’s nanny-goat, Dhon Cholecha, to whom she was very attached. In spite of all the heavy work and poor food, Punkhu Maicha was always healthy and happy. Her step-mother became curious as to why Punkhu Maicha was healthier than her own daughter, whom she fed and pampered so well.
When Punkhu Maicha finished her daily routine of household jobs, she would take Dhon Cholecha to the jungle for grazing. One day the step-mother told her daughter to follow her half-sister and find out what she did in the grazing land. Punkhu Maicha used to be very careful with Dhon Cholecha. never letting her out of her sight. The nanny-goat also loved Punkhu Maicha very much and as soon as they reached a secluded spot, the goat would spit out a good hot meal which she had saved for Punkhu Maicha. On this day, Punkhu Maicha was as usual enjoying the hot meal given by the goat when her suspicious half-sister saw her and asked her what she was eating. Punkhu Maicha asked her half-sister not to tell their mother. and gave her some of her own meal.
When they came home, the jealous half-sister told her mother the whole story of how Dhon Cholecha fed Punkhu Maicha with delicious food every day. This was, of course, why she was so healthy. The step-mother made a plan to kill the nanny-goat so that Punkhu Maicha would no longer get any good food. Learning that her beloved goat was to be killed Punkhu Maicha cried bitterly. Dhon Cholecha couldn’t tolerate her friend’s grief and bleated in her ear, “Whatever has to happen will happen. Don’t worry. Bury my bones in the garden, and there will spring up a big tree which will yield you lots of ‘yomari’, (a sweet rice-dumpling). (This “yomari” bearing tree may be a kind of fig tree whose fruits are very similar in shape to “yomari”).
The step-mother killed the goat and prepared a feast, but Punkhu Maicha spent all the time crying in her room. Her step-mother kept asking her to come and partake of the feast, but she refused constantly. complaining that she had a headache, stomach ache and so on. When the feast was over, Punkhu Maicha collected every single bone and buried them in the garden. As Dhon Cholecha- had predicted. a big tree grew which produced “Yomari” sweets.
One day, while Punkhu Maicha was perched on the top branch enjoying the fruit of the tree, a couple of “lakhe” (demons) passed by and asked her to throw them down some sweets. Kind hearted Punkhu Maicha did so, but they landed on the ground. The “lakhe” refused to pick up the “yomari” from the ground and asked her to come down from the tree and hand the sweets to them. When she did so, the couple tricked her into going with them. They arrived at the “lakhe’s” house. They asked her to prepare “chatamari” ( a very thin round papery bread made of rice) while they bathed in the river. When the innocent Punkhu Maicha was cooking, a mouse appeared and said, “If you give me a piece of bread, I’ll give you a piece of advice.” Generous Punkhu Maicha threw it some bread, but again the mouse repeated the same request. Without any annoyance, she threw it some more bread. The third time Punkhu Maicha threw it some bread the mouse finally gave her some important advice. It said, “Don’t stay long in this house. The people who brought you here are demons. At this very moment they are sharpening their knives to kill you.
“Before they come, gather up all their treasures of precious stones, gold and silver, and run back home.” The mouse further advised her to spit on each step of the staircase, as well as putting charcoal on each one. (The exact significance of putting charcoal on each step is not clear, but the process is most dramatic and strongly affected the teller when he heard the story at an early age).
The demons returned anticipating the delicious meal of a young and tender child. They knocked at the door and called out, “Punkhu Maicha, Punkhu Maicha!” but every time the spittle in each step called out,’Wait a minute, wait a minute!” When the door still wasn’t opened. the impatient demons broke it down and were furious to discover both the girl and their fortune gone.
Punkhu Maicha arrived home and knocked at the door, but nobody, neither her father or step-mother nor step-sister, was ready to open the door for her. When she called out, “Come and help me I have been carrying this heavy fortune a long distance !”. The step-mother eagerly opened the door. Every member of the family was surprised to see more wealth and treasure than they had ever seen before. The step-mother was immediately very curious how Punkhu Maicha had obtained such a fortune. When Punkhu Maicha narrated the whole story from beginning to end, the greedy stepmother decided to send her own daughter to wait for the demons at the tree.
As expected, the same “lakhe” couple came by and asked for “yomari” sweets. As she was instructed, the girl let herself be carried away by them. She was also asked to prepare food while the “lakhe” went off to bathe. As she had planned, when the mouse came and asked for bread in return for advice, she gave it a piece of bread. When the mouse again asked a second time, she threw it some crumbs. But when the mouse asked a third time, the girl lost her temper and beat it to death with a red hot poker. Eventually, the “lakhe” returned home, and after dining, they all retired to bed. The girl slept between the two demons, who had yet to feast on their true dinner. In the middle of the night the male demon took out his sharp knife and cut a big piece of flesh from the young girl. She cried out in pain and the female demon exclaimed. “How naughty he is, pinching you like that. Come over to my side.” But she, in turn, cut another big piece of flesh from the young girl. Finally the demons ate all the girl’s flesh. picked up the bones and brought them back to the “yomar” tree.
The next morning the step-mother was eagerly expecting her daughter to come home with a vast fortune. and was happily combing her hair on the balcony. A big crow perched nearby and cawed, “The mother is combing her hair while her daughter is nothing but bones.” As she heard this her heart stopped. When she looked out she saw the bones of her daughter beneath the “yomari” tree. Beating her chest she cried bitterly for a long time. Nobody came to console her. not even her husband. who had by now taken Punkhu Maicha’s side. The cruel step-mother no longer had any power. and lived in the house like a maid until her death.
Every Newar family in Kathmandu Valley knows this story. It is especially popular among children. It is one of the few Nepalese folktales with a rigid structure. It is told without any variation and has definite title. This is one of the many folktales which present the step-mother as a wicked and jealous person. On the other hand, the step-daughter is presented as sweet and innocent. Surprisingly, a very close counterpart of this story called “Teja Teji” is found in the Assam region of India. The principal plot and narrative are almost identical. The source is evidently the same, but one cannot say if it originated in India or in Kathmandu. The narrator of this story, sixty-nine-year-old Herman Singh, claims that this is the single most important and earliest story which he heard from his grandparents when he was a child. His grandparents, in turn, remembered it as the oldest story they could recall. On the other hand, the step-daughter is presented as sweet and innocent. The sequence of events definitely has a touch of genuine Newar customs and manners.