A man tells us of an ancient love story between a Prince and a young, poor girl named Kumudha. The Prince and his family have isolated themselves within their palace hoping to escape the arid, cruel outside world where Kumudha lives meagerly with her older sister and elderly mother. Her family works hard daily in the fields, struggling to feed themselves. In a moment of despair, Kumudha discovers that she has the magic gift of being able to turn herself into a flowering tree. Wanting to give comfort and support to her suffering mother, she asks her sister to help her perform a ceremony that will transform her body into a tree covered with blossoms. The sister gathers up the flowers of the tree and Kumudha returns to her human form. They then successfully sell all of the flowers in the town marketplace and give the money without explanation to their mother. They decide to repeat this ceremony often but keep it a secret.
The young Prince, daring to venture outside one day, stumbles upon Kumudha’s hiding place for her secret ritual. He hides and spies on Kumudha, witnessing one of the transformations. Enchanted and troubled by both her beauty and her magic abilities, he demands of his father, the King, that Kumudha be brought to the palace so that he can marry her.
On the night after their wedding, Kumudha enters the bridal chamber only to find the Prince silent and sullen. Several nights pass without him speaking to her or touching her. Finally he makes his demand: she must do her transformation for him. Kumudha, ashamed, resists, but finally relents and performs the ceremony in the bedroom. In the wake of her transformation, the couple consummates their marriage enraptured by the fragrance of the flowers…
The Prince’s jealous sister, suspicious of Kumudha, hides in the royal bedroom and sees a ceremony and transformation take place. The next day, while the Prince is away, she taunts Kumudha and commands her to perform the ritual for her and a group of her wealthy young friends outside. Kumudha reluctantly assents, but the bored young people lose interest, mock her, rip apart her flowering branches and leave her in the midst of her transformation, not having completed her return to her human form.
Kumudha, now a hideous freak--a stump of a body, half tree and half human--crawls into a gutter, where she is eventually found by a roving band of minstrels.
The Prince does not know what has happened to his young wife. He assumes his arrogance has made her leave the court forever. He leaves the palace, and becomes a beggar—wandering aimlessly through the country.
Time passes. The Prince, haggard and blind with madness, comes to the palace courtyard of a distant city. The new Queen of this city is his sibling, the jealous sister who had once taunted Kumudha. In shock, the Queen recognizes her brother, brings him into the palace and bathes and feeds him. The Prince will not utter a word and remains vacant and lifeless. In the town marketplace, several of the queen’s maids see the minstrel troupe and hear the beautiful singing of a freakish thing with neither hands nor feet. They bring this strange and misshapen torso to the palace and suggest that its beautiful singing might revive the Prince. Not knowing that this is Kumudha, the Queen orders her to be bathed and covered with scented oils and brought to the Prince.
Alone, Kumudha and Prince finally recognize one another. With water, the Prince is able to start the ceremony. Kumudha completes her transformation and returns to her human form…
--John Adams, edited by James Darrah