From Many Lands
A curriculum for middle elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2019 Dan Harper
6. Story: The Raja’s Son
There once was a raja, a Hindu king, who married a woman who was a Sikh. When she became the rani, or queen, this woman stayed in touch with the Sikhs who lived in the kingdom, and who had their dharamsala, or place of worship, just below the palace where the raja and rani lived. The Sikhs were well known for their beautiful hymns and their beautiful singing, and the raja came to enjoy listening to the hymns that were sung during kirtan, that is, during the Sikh worship service.
One day, the rani said to the raja, “Do you not wish that we had a child?”
“Oh yes,” said the raja. “I would love for us to have a child. I wish we could have a little boy.” For in the raja’s kingdom, it had always been men who had ruled the kingdom, and the raja hoped for a song that would rule his kingdom after him.
The rani said, “Let us go down to the dharamsala, and ask the sangat for a child.” The sangat was the gathered community of Sikhs, and it was thought that Guru Nanak, the founder of the Skih religion, was present in the sangat, even though he had died long ago.
The raja agreed to do this. A large congregation of Sikhs had gathered for Ekadasi, a Hindu lunar celebration. Even though Sikhs did not celebrate Hindu holidays, the Guru Arjan had said:
On Ekadasi, see God by your side,
Control your desires, and listen to God’s praise,
Let heart be content, and be kind to all beings.
The raja and rani presented their wish for a son as a hymn was being sung. “Speaking to the congregation, the raja and rani said: “You come together for Guru Nanak, and so whatever wish is asked of you will be granted. We ask that the Guru would give us a son.”
Those who were in the sangat said, “Trust in the Guru, he will grant you a son.”
Not long thereafter, the raja’s wife told the raja that she was pregnant. “Guru Nanak was right,” they said to each other, “and soon we will have a son.” When the baby was born, the baby’s body looked like a girl’s body, but the raja and his wife were confident that Guru Nanak had correctly foreseen that their child would be a son.
The raja and his wife gave the baby a name that was usually given to a boy, and then waited to see what would happen. And when their baby grew enough to begin to walk and talk and run around, it became clear that the child knew he was a boy. So what Guru Nanak had said did indeed come true: the raja and his wife had a son.
The boy grew quickly, and became a fine young man. Although he had a young woman’s body, nobody in the raja’s palace thought much about it, and the young man did everything that all the other young men did. Then one day, his father called him to the throne room.
“My son,” said the raja, “it is time you married. I would like you to marry –” and he named the daughter of a neighboring raja.
The young man thought he liked this daughter of the neighboring raja, and he also thought that she liked him, so he did not disagree with his father’s idea. But he asked, “Why is it that you want me to get married now, father?”
“I have received a marriage proposal from the young woman’s father,” said the raja. “And besides, I would like to see you married, and I would like you to have children, so that my grandchildren will continue to rule this kingdom.”
The young man looked thoughtful. “Of course I would like to have children,” he said, “but as you know, even though I’m a man, remember that I do have a woman’s body….”
His father waved this away. “Do not worry,” said the raja. “I trust in the Guru. He said that your mother and I would have a child, and we did. He said that your mother and I would have a boy, and we did.”
So the marriage proposal was accepted. The raja instructed his Hindu pandit to carry out the ceremonies to prepare for the marriage. But there were those who whispered, “The young man has a woman’s body. If he marries a woman, how can the two of them have children? The old raja will bring disgrace on us all.” But the old raja didn’t listen to these whispers; he trusted in Guru Nanak, and he knew that his son was indeed a man.
Before long the day of the wedding arrived. The young man got on his horse and, accompanied by a large party of well-wishers, rode to the neighboring raja where the wedding would take place. Suddenly a golden deer appeared in front of the party, and the raja’s son boldly spurred his horse and gave chase to this magnificent animal.
The golden deer ran from the raja’s son, leading him away from the others, until at last the deer jumped into a garden. The raja’s son followed, but when was inside the garden he found, not the golden deer that he had expected, but the Exalted One, Guru Nanak himself.
The raja’s son bowed down before the Exalted One. The Guru said to him, “My child, the Guru will fulfill your wish.”
The rest of the party had been following the raja’s son, and just then they arrived in the garden. Upon seeing Guru Nanak, the raja walked around him, then prostrated himself and laid at the feet of the Guru. “I am truly blessed, to see you, Baba Nanak!” said the raja. “You granted my wish to have a son. No human mouth can praise you enough, for you are beyond all praise!”
“Go in peace,” said Guru Nanak. “I will be with you wherever you go. Wherever you sing my hymns or offer praise to me, there you shall find me.”
The raja and all those in the wedding party became Sikhs from this moment. They continued on their journey, all chanting, “Guru, Guru!” The raja’s son was duly married to the daughter of the neighboring raja, and all was well.
Above: Guru Nanak, as imagined by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906). Public domain image.
SESSION SIX: “The Raja’s Son”
Top-level educational goals:
(1) Have fun and build community;
(2) Increase religious literacy;
(3) Build skills associated with liberal religion, e.g., interpersonal skills, introspection, basic leadership, being in front of a group of people, etc.
Educational objectives for this session:
(1) Get to know other people in the class;
(2) Hear a story from this religious tradition;
(3) Be able to talk about one or more incidents or themes from the story, e.g., if parents ask what happened in Sunday school today.
If you decide to do the art project or the craft project, print out a copy of each of the six illustrations on card stock or heavy paper. If you decide to “act out” the story using card stock characters, again print out copies.
Raja and Rani (PDF)
Raja’s Son (facing 2 directions) (PDF)
Guru Nank and the Golden Deer (PDF)
If you are making the mobile, you will need:
wire (such as coat hanger wire)
clear sticky tape
pliers (to help bend wire)
small stepladder (so you can hang the mobile from the ceiling)
blue painter’s tape to tape the mobile to the ceiling
Light chalice with these words and the associated hand motions: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism: the church of the open mind, the helping hands, and the loving heart.”
Check-in: Go around circle. Each child and adult says his or her name, and then may say one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week (anyone may pass).
II/ Read the story “The Raja’s Son.”
III/ Act out the story.
(A) Acting out the story using your bodies:
Ask: “Who are the characters in this story?” Major characters include: the raja and the rani, the raja’s son, the Golden Deer who is also Guru Nanak. Crowds of characters include: members of the sangat (a sangat is like a congregation), the wedding party and well-wishers who accompany the raja’s son.
Determine where the stage area will be; you will sit facing the stage. There are only a few major characters to act out. But everyone in the audience also becomes one of the crowds of characters (the sangat, the wedding party), so really everyone gets to act.
The lead teacher reads the story, prompting actors as needed to act out their parts. Actors do not have to repeat dialogue, although some of them will want to do so. The lead teacher may wish to simplify the story on the fly, to make it easier to act out; with this story, the lead teacher may want to turn several of the characters into women.
(B) Acting out the story using paper representations of the characters:
Print out the illustrations of the story on card stock. Now act out the story on a table top using the printed cards. (Note that there are two versions of the Raja’s son, one facing left and one facing right — you may need both during the course of the story.)
Ask: “Who are the characters in this story?” Show the printed characters as the children name them: the raja and the rani, the raja’s son, the Golden Deer who is also Guru Nanak. There are also crowds of characters — members of the sangat (a sangat is like a congregation), and the wedding party and well-wishers who accompany the raja’s son — and say that we’ll just imagine those characters.
Sit around a table and invite some of the children sitting beside of you to manipulate one or more of the characters. (For now, the other children can watch.) The lead teacher reads the story, prompting the children with the appropriate cards to act out their parts. As usual, children do not have to repeat dialogue, although some of them may want to do so.
Other children may wish to try manipulating the cards as you read the story, so give them a chance to try. You may even have to do this again, depending on how many children you have. The lead teacher may wish to shorten or simplify the story on the fly, so this doesn’t take too long.
IV/ Conversation about the story
Sit back down in a group. Go over the story to make sure the children understand it.
Now ask some general questions: “What was the best part of the story? Who was your favorite character? Who was your least favorite character?” — or questions you come up with on your own.
Next ask the children some questions about how true the story is. “Do you think Guru Nanak turned into a Golden Deer so he could attract the attention of the raja’s son?” The children will probably say this sounds like a fairy tale. “Do you think there was a raja who had a child who was a boy, but with a girl’s body?” At least some of the children will probably say that this might actually have happened. The point here is to show the children that there might be parts of the story that are true, and other parts of the story that are fictional.
One final question: “What was your favorite part of the story?” To conclude, you might want to tell them that Guru Nanak taught that all humans are equal, because all people are the children of one God — this is somewhat like what Unitarian Universalists teach: that all people are worthy of love.
(A) Art project: Invite the children to illustrate one of the episodes from the story. Id you like, you can show the children the illustrations of the Raja, the Rani, the Raja’s son, Guru Nanak, and the Golden Deer — so they can get a sense of what kind of clothing the humans might wear, and what a golden deer might look like (note that the Golden Deer is a mythical species, not an actual species of deer, so you can really imagine it any way you’d like).
(B) Craft project: Make a simple mobile as follows.
1. Print the illustrations on card stock or heavy paper.
2. Have the children cut the card stock with scissors so that the characters are in big ovals (see phots below). Some children may wish to cut carefully around the exact outlines of the characters — that will take a long time, so you as teacher will have to decide if you have enough time.
3. While the children are cutting out the characters, cut a piece of wire about 24 inches long, and another piece of wire about 18 inches long. Bend over the ends so no one pokes themselves on the sharp ends of wire. Look at the photos.
4. Next, have some children tape Guru Nanak back-to-back with the Golden Deer (because Guru Nanak turns into the Golden Deer). Tape the Raja and the Rani back-to-back. And tape the two versions of the Raja’s son back-to-back.
5. Using tape, help the children attach the Raja’s son to one end of the short wire — make sure he’s facing the other end of the wire. Then tape Guru Nanak / Golden Deer to the other end of the wire, so that Guru Nanak is facing the Raja’s son (because they talk to one another in the story), and the Golden Deer is facing away from the Raja’s son (because the deer flees from the son in the story).
6. While the children are taping characters to the shorter wire, one of the teachers should tie a string to one end of the longer wire, then tape the Raja and Rani to that string (see photo). Also tie a long string with which to hang the mobile to the long wire, about two thirds of the length of the wire AWAY from the Raja and Rani — you’ll want this string tight enough to hold firmly, but you’ll want to be able to slide it along the wire so you can adjust the balance of the mobile.
7. Assemble the two parts — tie one end of a string to the middle of the short wire, and the other end to the free end of the long wire, then adjust the balance point along the long wire so that the mobile hangs more or less level. Finally, one of the adults climbs up the stepladder and tapes the mobile to the ceiling.
Above: Two views of the completed mobile, showing how to attach the various pieces together, and which direction the characters are meant to face.
VI/ Free play
If you decide not to do the art project or the craft project, have some free play time. Free play can help the class meet the first educational goal, having fun and building community. Ideas for free play: free drawing; “Duck, Duck, Goose”; play with Legos; walk to playground or labyrinth (if time); etc.
VII/ Closing circle
Before leaving, have the children stand in a circle by touching toes, or touching elbows.
When the children are in a circle, ask them what they did today, and prompt them with questions and answers, e.g.: “What did we do today? We heard a story, right? Anyone remember what the story was about? It was about Guru Nanak, right?” You’re not trying to put any one child on the spot, but rather drawing on the wisdom of the group as a whole. If any parents have come to pick up their children, invite them to join the circle (so they can know what it is their children learned about this week).
Say the closing words together — either these words, or others you choose:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the fainthearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.
Then tell the children how you enjoyed seeing them (if that’s true), and that you look forward to seeing them again next week.
Source: Adapted from story 49b, “A raja’s daughter turned into a boy,” in The B40 Janam-Sakhi: An English translation with introduction and commentary of the India Office Gurmukhi Manuscript Panj. B40, a janam-sakhi of Guru Nanak compiled in A.D. 1733 by Daya Ram Abrol, ed. W. H. McLeod (Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev Univeristy, n.d. ), pp. 206-208.
The excerpt from the Guru Granth Sahib combines translations from Bhai Manmohan Singh, Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa, and the online Sikh Encyclopedia.
Illustrations are adapted from prints made in India of Guru Nanak, a Raja and a Rani, and a Golden Deer. The original images are all now in the public domain; my adaptations are copyrighted.
You can find Sikh coloring pages online at the Little Sikhs Web site. Look for the coloring page that has the Punjabi word for “sangat,” with the English word below it (direct link). Also applicable to this lesson is the coloring page “We Are One.”
Notes about the story
In the English translation of the story, the raja comes across as deluding himself that his child is, in fact, a girl, not a boy. But since nowhere does the raja’s child express any discomfort with identifying as male though he is biologically female, I chose to interpret the raja’s child as himself identifying as male. Using the term “transgendered” would be anachronistic, but the story as I retell it assumes the raja’s child did indeed identify as a man; and this is consistent with an assumption that there have been what we Westerners would call transgendered people across cultures and throughout time.
There are also stories from the Western religious traditions that present transgendered persons (e.g., queer theologians who argue that Jesus had non-binary gender, etc.), but this story is more interesting because it tells about a child growing up into an adult.