The sandalwood maiden
Adapted by George F. Schultz

In the forest near Nha Trang there once lived a poor couple who managed to keep body and soul together by gathering firewood and selling it in the village. Although the couple often sacrificed to the gods and constantly prayed for their favors, they had remained childless. But one evening, as he was returning home, the woodcutter came upon a small girl who had been abandoned in the forest. He took her into his arms and carried her home to his wife.

The good woman was overjoyed to have a child to love and cherish at last. In spite of their abject poverty, the couple gave the little girl every care and attention. They saw to it that she wanted for nothing and let her have her own way in everything. Sometimes it seemed to them that their daughter had very strange desires.

As the years passed by, the little girl turned into a beautiful young maiden. One day, she brought home a piece of sandalwood from which a very special aroma seemed to come forth; it was much more fragrant than any other variety of sandalwood. The maiden took very good care of her new possession and no one else was permitted to touch it.

Since their daughter was very well-behaved, the parents did not deny her this strange pleasure. A day came, however, when she informed them that she had been commanded to go to the Court of the Emperor of China, where she would marry his son, The woodcutter and his wife forbade their daughter to undertake this journey. But she continued to offer new proofs of Heaven's Will and pleaded incessantly for their permission.

Finally, wearied by the young woman's pleas, the parents offered no more opposition to her plans and with heavy hearts agreed to let her depart. The maiden said farewell and went immediately to the seacoast, where she threw her piece of sandalwood into the water. Borne northwards by the current, it reached the shores of China. As for the maiden, she vanished without a trace.

Shortly thereafter, on the China coast, a fisherman found a wonderful piece of sandalwood in his net. He realized that it must be of great value and at once took it to the Imperial Palace.

When the Emperor's son gazed on the piece of sandalwood, he was seized with an overwhelming desire to own the costly object. He begged his father so insistently that the latter finally let him have it. The crown prince then wrapped the sandalwood in a silken cloth and kept it near him in the palace.

During the night the silken cloth was seen to move. The crown prince looked at it wonderingly and then remove it. From beneath the cloth appeared a beautiful maiden. The prince's heart was filled with such love for her that he went at once to his father and begged permission to marry her. The Emperor gave his consent and the wedding of the woodcutter's daughter and the son of the Emperor of China was celebrated with all the customary pomp.

The young couple were very happy in their first weeks of wedded life. Then, one day, the young wife told her husband that she had promised to visit her foster parents and requested his permission to make the journey to her old home.

The prince did not want his beautiful wife to be away from his side for a single day, however, and refused to grant her permission to leave. Prayers and tears availed her nothing. The young woman then went to the seashore with her piece of sandalwood and hurled it into the water. Before her husband's very eyes, she immediately vanished into thin air.

A few days later, the woodcutter found a piece of sandalwood on the beach of Nha Trang. It was a sad remembrance of his lost daughter. But when he returned home and found that she herself was present there, joy reigned again in the little household.

The crown prince was furious at his wife's disappearance. He equipped a fleet and sailed south with it in order to search for her. Unfortunately for the prince, his mistrust had angered Ngoc Hoang, the Emperor of Jade, who rules Heaven and Earth. As soon as the prince's ship entered the harbor of Nha Trang, it was changed into a rock.

The sandalwood maiden remained in Nha Trang and did many good deeds in helping the sick and the poor. When she died, a temple was erected in her honor and all the people of the city, both Cham and Vietnamese, venerate her as their patroness.

Note: The "sandalwood maiden" of this legend is the goddess Po Ino Nagar(or simply Po Nagar), the Cham counterpart of the Hindu goddess Uma (or Parvati), Siva's sak-ti. Po Nagar is said to have created the Earth, rice and sandalwood.

The mention of Ngoc Hoang, the Jade Emperor, supreme divinity of Taoism, would make it appear that the version given here is of Taoist inspiration.