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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

Durdana Chelmard

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

A King, along with his ministers and his servants goes off for a hunting adventure. On their way, the King feels thirsty, so the party sets off to find a fresh water source nearby. In their quest, the King sees a woman, sitting all on her own in the wilderness. He doesn’t want to surprise or scare her, so he orders two of his servants to come along. As they get closer to approaching her, the King sees that she is a beautiful young maiden, rather young in her age. A young woman wandering alone in the wild was rather unusual, so the King walks to her on his own. Rather than asking her for water, he asks, “Where are your parents?”

“My father has gone to reunite mud with mud,” she says.

“And your mother?” the King inquires.

“My mother has gone to separate clay from clay,” she answers.

The conversation leaves the King confused. He decides to return to the palace. He can’t seem to put the girl and her words out of his head.

“What did she even mean?” He keeps wondering all night.

“Perhaps there is good reason for her answers,” he assumes, “I fail to understand them on my own though, I will invite all the scholars in the city to court tomorrow. I need to find out what she meant.” he thinks to himself.

The next morning, when all the men of learning appear at the darbar, he says, “I will speak two sentences for you. You must tell me what they mean.”

The men nod understandingly, as the King continues. “What does it mean to reunite mud with mud?”

A danishwar says, “Allah has made us humans out of mud, we are formed from the soil. Reuniting mud with mud could mean a burial.”

“Now tell me, what does separating clay from clay mean?” asks the King.

Another danishwar puts forward his opinion. “To separate clay from clay could mean bringing a new life into this world, the process of birthing a child, is essentially that.”

The King realises that the girl’s father, worked as a gravedigger, while her mother was a midwife.

Not only was the young maiden extremely stunning in her looks, but her intelligence also had the King floored. He realised he was in love with her and had to marry her. After finding out where she lived, the King goes to meet her father.

When the King asks her father for her hand, her parents are taken by surprise. They also become very worried. The class difference was obvious but not their only concern to turn down the proposal at first. It was also the fact that their daughter was their only child, and they loved her to bits, so they had decided a long time ago to not marry her off to any man who had a wife already. They voice their concerns to the King, who already had two wives and multiple children.

The King, however, remains adamant. He assures them that she would be well taken care of, and he would guarantee that her being poor would never be a concern. In a difficult position, the girl, Durdana’s father, decides to make some conditions.

“You will give me your word that you will never make my daughter feel anything about her past, and that she was raised to the stature of a Queen from poverty,” he says. “You shall also promise me that you will never differentiate between your wives.” he continues.

The King agrees, and Durdana is married to him. The couple lives happily after their marriage. However, the King’s previous two wives, are upset. One of them was a daughter of a King herself, whilst the other one was a noblewoman, a statesman and minister’s daughter. They are unhappy about the stature being granted to a woman picked off the streets at court. Between them, they decide to plot against her. They try again and again, not only to provoke Durdana, or whisper into the King’s ear about how she’s worthless and untrustworthy. All their efforts go in vain, for the King realises that they aren’t fond of her, and are rather jealous.

Some time passes by, and famine hits the kingdom. The wives blame Durdana once again, for bringing misfortune to the palace with her.

The King, along with his three wives, makes a plan to escape, and find refuge in the neighbouring kingdom. His first two wives however have other plans. They swear to themselves to get rid of Durdana on the trip.

The following morning, as they leave the palace, travel a considerable distance out of the city and set up camp around dusk. After nightfall, the wives continue their plotting. Durdana is in the same tent, and although she hears every word of it, pretends to be asleep. They wake their husband, the King up, and successfully convince him into believing their stories of superstitions around misfortune, and what ill-fated women can bring upon their husbands after marriage. Faced with the decision, the King falls for their words, and leaves Durdana asleep, in the middle of nowhere, with his first two wives.

Poor Durdana had nothing with her, sans a duffel bag with some dry rations, and an extra pair of her and her husband’s clothes. Realising that she would be in less danger dressed as a man, than as a woman, on her own, she disguises herself in the King’s clothes, and makes her way as fast as she can, to the King’s darbar of the neighbouring kingdom.

She introduces herself as Chilmark. Her male alias literally means “forty men”, and so, she claims that she has the strength of forty men, thus asks to be paid equal to forty men. The King agrees, and life continues as normal. Housed in the fighter’s quarters, Chelmard quickly becomes the best swordsman. Her archery skills were impeccable since her childhood days, as a girl raised in the wild.

One day, a balaa attacks the kingdom. All the soldiers and many of the king’s finest fighters are put to the task of fighting the monster, but the monster makes a quick meal out of them. The King is advised to put Chelmard to the task, as he claimed to have the strength of forty men.

When Chelmard, Durdana, is summoned to fight the bloody man-eating monster, terror grips at her tender heart.

However, she puts on a brave face and tells the King that it is an honour for her. Her eyes betray her brave face when she is face to face with the monster, but her tongue and her lips only utter one thing: “Allah Hu Akbar.”

As she recites “God is Great!” Over and over, she finds courage in her belief that Allah will come to her aid, she charges at the monster, jumps, and with one stroke of her sword, beheads the monster.

Appreciation is showered on her, she gains newfound respect, as well as a lot of monetary benefits.

A few days later, the Queen comes to the King with a rather petty request. She has a piece of very fine cloth in her hand. She tells him that an old woman had brought it to the palace with her wares. She made one dress out of it but loves it so much that she would like another one. At a loss for what to do, the old woman is tracked and summoned. The woman recognises it immediately. She says, “Yes, I did bring it to sell a few months ago, for I believe my finest wares are only fit for my Queen. However, this cloth isn’t local to our country. It was imported from another country. Not only is the country far, on the other side of the mountains and the desert, but the way is infested with demons and monsters. Also, there is news of the Supreme Balaa, the king of all Monsters, attacking the Kingdom. The country is beyond dangerous, it is not possible to visit unless someone agrees.”

Everyone is frightened to hear this. Nor are there any volunteers, nor does anyone want to face the wrath of the King and the discontentment of the Queen. The King is advised to put Chelmard up to the task once again. Durdana is summoned once again. Upon hearing the task, Durdana finds her heart in her throat. However, with little choice, other than to obey, she takes the directions to the country, to find the cloth, and which paths to take to avoid monsters.

As she packs her bags, she is sure that she will not return. The journey is a death sentence. She sets off anyway and kills as many demons and monsters as she sees and encounters on her way, with her most important asset: her bow and arrow, and finally arrives at her destination.

As she crosses the border into the kingdom, just outside the capital’s walls, she sees a young girl tied up to a tree. She is bawling her eyes out, and a huge pile of food, and fresh fruit lies in front of her.

Durdana walked up to her, and asked, “What happened dearie? Why are you tied up? What is all this?”

The girl sobs. “I’m the Princess, the King’s daughter. The Supreme Monster is given a peace offering every day, food, and a person. It only leaves the city alone if the offering is made. There was increasing discontentment and anger among the public, on the King’s decision to make the offering. They are upset at being sacrificed and think that the King and nobility should also offer themselves or their families to keep the Balaa at bay. Thus today, it is my turn. It is today that I meet my fate.”

Durdana unties her. “Leave. I will sit here.” Chelmard tells her.

“No! Please don’t. People are upset. They might react to my father. I don’t want anything to happen to him.” cries the Princess as she resists, despite the tears streaming down her cheeks, and her heart heavy with the weight of her words.

“You are like my younger sister Princess. I will protect you.” Chelmard assures her. “Let me handle it.”

The Princess begins to leave but stops in her tracks. “Listen.” she turns around.

“Yes?” Chelmard raises an eyebrow.

“Beware. When you feel an earthquake, it means the Balaa is on it’s way to the tree.” the Princess says.

Chelmard nods. The Princess runs away as fast as her little legs carry her and doesn’t look back, with her heart ripped apart, drowning in a sea of relief, guilt, and terror.

Soon, Chelmard feels the earthquake-like movements and keeps the bow and arrow at the ready. As the Balaa approaches the tree, Chelmard sends an arrow flying straight into the monster’s eye. Half blinded, the Balaa growls and lunges forward. Chelmard shoots another arrow, aiming for the monster’s other eye. Bam! The monster was now blind. It was also writhing in pain, and as unstable as it was raging. Taking the chance, Chelmard beheads the Balaa. The howling monster falls to the ground, and the entire city is shaken from the impact.

The King and the people of the Sultanate are beyond relieved. Their happiness knows no bounds. This mysterious man who appeared out of nowhere, and ended their nightmare, is invited to the palace. The King offers the Princess as a bride to Chelmard. However, as a woman in disguise, Durdana politely declines. However, she does promise the King, “The Princess is like my sister, oh King. If you ever need any service, it shall be my honour.”

The King is mildly surprised but agrees. Chelmard is asked about the purpose of his visit, and he tells the King how the Queen of the country he serves wanted some cloth found in this Kingdom. The King orders not only the cloth, but also orders camels, laden with coins, jewels, and companions to be sent back with Chelmard.

As Chelmard returns, the King is mildly surprised to see him. “He left alone, with nothing but his sword, bow and arrow, a duffel bag, and his mare. This is quite the party coming back?” the King wonders.

Chelmard is asked to explain. Upon narrating the story, the King as well as his advisors feel happy to have him, and relieved to see him alive and well. Everyone is proud of Chelmard. Everyone is talking about Chelmard. There seems to be only one name echoing in the Kingdom: Chelmard’s name.

A few days later, as Durdana is in her private quarters, granted to her after her encounter with the Supreme Monster in the faraway Kingdom, she spots a word down man, accompanied by two women, in the palace grounds.

Chelmard orders the servants to keep them in the special guest rooms and to take special care of them. The King asks Chelmard for an explanation, for which Chelmard says, “Oh King! I was going to inform you myself, but I was told you are resting. Can I please make a request first?”

The King nods.

“Please have them present before you ask me to explain.”

The three guests are summoned to the palace quarters.

“They are runaways. This man in front of you, your highness, was a King. When a famine befell his Kingdom, he left his people in peril to save his own skin. He married a young woman he met during one of his hunts, only to betray and abandon her on his journey, later on, when he was on his way to seek refuge when his throne and his life were at stake.” Chelmard narrates.

The King and his men are taken by surprise. The guests are too shocked to speak, they just stare at Chelmard, tongue-tied.

“How do you know all this?” the King asks Chelmard.

Chelmard throws away his cap

and reveals himself. “I am no man. I am a woman. I know because I am that girl. I am Durdana.”

The King goes into a rage. “They should be punished,” he says decisively.

“No, please. Return them to their Kingdom, with enough to sustain them and to help their people.” pleads Durdana.

Her disgraced former husband and his two wives beg her for forgiveness, she forgives them, and they are sent on their way.

The King agrees, and declares Durdana as his daughter, offering her a place at court. Durdana makes him a promise. “You have called me your daughter. I ask that you think of me as one, and I shall lay my services and my life at your feet should you ever need me to do so, just as I would do for my father.”

“However, I would as to be allowed to return to my parents, if my King is in agreement.” She bows her head, and the King grants her the request. Durdana returns home with the respect she earned for herself, the coins, jewels and camels gifted to her by the other King, as well as countless presents from this king.


Notes on translation:

Balaa: a wicked, female, shapeshifting man-eating paranormal creature in Pakistani folklore.

Danishwar: men of knowledge, thought to be wise

Chelmard: "Chehel" is Balochi for the number forty, and "mard" translates to man. There is a chance that Chehelmard was shortened to Chelmard.

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