Ladakh News

Tale of the carpenter Chandan and the rotating rooftop chamber

By Kazim Phagspa, Stawa 01-20


Once upon a time, a powerful king ruled over Kargil with his capital in Chiktan. He decided to build a grand palace and chose Shingkhan (carpenter) Chandan of Skardo for it. He wanted to have a Dub-Da-Bayrr (rotating rooftop chamber) on the palace and knew that only Chandan would be able to build it.

Chandan was summoned and he arrived in Chiktan within a few days along with his son, Yousuf. Chandan greeted the king, "We are at your service, your majesty. What can we do for your kind-self?"

The king said, "I want to build a grand palace with a unique Dub-Da-Bayrr. Can you make it?" Chandan replied, "Of course, your majesty. But it will take a while and I will need some helpers. If you arrange that, I will start working tomorrow." The king agreed, "You will get whatever you want. You will be paid to your heart's content. This orphan child, Zuhoor will be your domestic help." Chandan and Yousuf then took leave from the king.

As they left, a minister spoke, "Your majesty, may I say something?" The king replied, "What is it, minister?" The minister hesitated, "Your majesty, what if he makes another Dub-Da-Bayrr elsewhere? Then, you palace will no longer be unique." The king thought this over and said, "You are right! How can we prevent it?" Another minister replied, "Your majesty, we should consult our advisers. It will raise their morale and we will derive some benefits from those lazy bones." The king was happy and ordered, "Bravo! Summon the advisers to the court for a secret meeting!"

Chandan and Yousuf started work the next day. They grew very fond of Zuhoor who worked as their guide and informer. He narrated many tales about Chiktan but proved to be a pathetic cook. Finally, Yousuf took over the cooking.

A few months passed and the Dub-Da-Bayrr was almost ready. Chandan put it on display and was delighted by the people's reaction. He asked Zuhoor for his opinion. He replied, "It is fabulous. I have never seen such a marvel. People say it is one-of-a-kind in the region." Chandan laughed and said, "People are exaggerating. What are people at the palace saying?" Zuhoor replied, "I have not been there for a few days. I will go today for an important meeting to discuss the new palace with the advisers." Chandan was surprised and asked, "What kind of meeting? Shouldn't we attend it too as we are building it?" Zuhoor replied, "No. It is a meeting for invited advisers only and many say it is a secret meeting."

Later that night, Chandan looked worried. Yousuf asked "What is bothering you?" Chandan replied, "Nothing. You finish your work. I am a little hungry." Yousuf started cooking while Chandan napped and Zuhoor left for the palace.

Next day, the advisers flocked to the palace and the meeting was soon underway. The king dedared, "I plan to build a grand palace with a unique Dub-Da-Bayrr. I want your suggestions to ensure that Chandan does not replicate it anywhere." The initial silence was broken by an elderly man, who said, "Amputate their hands." Everyone gasped while the king replied, "That would be inhuman!" There were a few other suggestions that were rejected. Finally, the king asked, "So what about the suggestion to amputate their hands?" After a brief discussion, a decision was taken to amputate their hands and everyone was ordered to maintain secrecy about it till the construction was over.

Zuhoor worked as a common butler at the court and followed the discussion at the meeting. He then sneaked out and ran back to the carpenters. They were surprised to see him and his expression of fear. Yousuf greeted him, "Nono Zuhoor, chisong garay, mangmook jiksay dug" (Little Zuhoor, what happened, to you? Why are you so frightened?) Zuhoor took a deep breath and replied, "They intend to amputate your hands to ensure that you do not build another Dub-Da-Bayrr." Chandan looked at him in disbelief. Zuhoor continued, "That is what they have decided. Your lives are in danger! You must escape!" After a brief discussion, Chandan and his son decided to leave and asked Zuhoor to keep this a secret.

The next day, as they were making preparations to leave, they received news that the Dub-Da-Bayrr was leaning to one side. When the king heard this, he summoned Chandan and asked, "What is this? You said that everything would be ready in a few months but now the Dub-Da-Bayrr is about to fall." Chandan replied, "Your majesty, I don't know how this happened. Perhaps it was the wind last night. I will need a special device from my home in Skardo to rectify the problem. Please have some men bring it to Chiktan." The king agreed, "But how many days will you take to correct this embarrassment?" Chandan replied, "It will take me a week once I have the instrument. It is very heavy and we must send around 40 strong men to bring it." The men were ordered to leave the next day. Chandan told them, "Go to my home and ask my daughter-in-law to give you the Throkskhori-Skurbu. It is very heavy so follow her instructions carefully."

This had bought Chandan time till the men returned. Yousuf asked his father, "I can't understand what happened to the Dub-Da-Bayrr. It is not fragile and could not have been damaged by the wind." Chandan asked for Zuhoor and Yousuf replied that he was at the palace and had not disclosed their secret to anyone. Chandan was satisfied. He said, "I knew he could be trusted. Well, the wind did not damage the Dub-Da-Bayrr. I know because I sabotaged it." Yousuf was stunned, "What?! Why? The king would have killed us for that!"

Chandan explained, "I was wary when I hear about that meeting and Zuhoor confirmed my suspicion. I then sneaked out last night and went to the building site. The guards were sleeping and I quickly removed an important part from Dub-Da-Bayrr. I blamed the wind when the king asked us about it. Also, there is no device in Skardo. That was a lie. The word Throkskhori-Skurbu is a coded message to your wife. She is a clever woman and will find a way to save us." Yousuf was shocked, "You kept me in the dark about so many things! Do you think Zehra will understand your message? Our lives are now in her hands." Chandan said, "I am certain she will understand it."

Once the men reached Skardo, they had to climb a hillock to reach Chandan's home. They knocked on the door and it was answered by a beautiful and charming lady. The leader spoke, "We have been sent from Chiktan by your father-in-law." She asked, "How are they? Is the work done? Why have they sent you?" The leader replied, "They are fine. The work is not complete yet. We were sent to bring the Throkskhori-Skurbu to rectify a problem in the Dub-Da-Bayrr. We must hurry back." She responded, "It is not here right now. You must be tired and hungry. Eat something and rest." She understood the code and realised that they were in trouble. She started thinking of a strategy to save them.

The men went to sleep after dinner as Zehra told them it would take two days as the instrument was being prepared in the forest. Two days later, she told the men "The men making the instrument fell short of wood and need your help." They agreed to help and followed her to the forest. There, Zehra pointed to a large log and said, "This is the special wood needed to mend the Dub-Da-Bayrr. The workers tried to slice it but only managed to create a deep crack. You need to pull it apart and I will put the wedge in it." The leader commanded the men to make two rows of 20 people and pull the log apart.

As the men put their hand in the crack, Zehra pulled the wedge out. The men screamed in pain. The leader started yelling, "Are you mad?! Put it back or they will die!" Zehra replied, "No! I know that my father-in-law and husband are in danger. You go to your king and tell him that I will release these men only after my husband and his father return home safely." The leader requested her to release the men but she refused. Finally, he rushed to Chiktan and went straight to the king who was surprised to see him and asked, "What happened? Why are you so panicked?" The man replied, "Your majesty, the men are in Skardo and their lives are in danger. We need to release the carpenter and his son otherwise that lady will kill the men." The king was furious, "What happened?! Who is this lady?" The leader replied, "She is Chandan's daughter-in-law and is very cunning. She knew of the plan to kill the two carpenters and tricked us. She now demands that unless the two carpenters return with me, she will kill all the soldiers."

The king thought for a moment, then ordered, "Call the advisers!" When they arrived, the king explained the situation and added, "We are in a fix. The neighbouring kingdoms will laugh at us if they hear of this. If we send the carpenters back, we will suffer financial losses and the unfinished Dub-Da-Bayrr will be an eyesore. How did this woman learn of our secret plan? This means that Chandan also knows. Find the traitor who leaked this information!"

Everyone was uneasy seeing the king's anger. Then someone said, "Your majesty, it was a secret meeting and the traitor is someone from the palace." The king replied, "Yes! Question every employee of the palace! Put the culprit behind bars!"

Soon, Zuhoor was caught and brought to the court. The king was surprised, "What? The child did it? I can't believe it!" The soldier replied, "We are sure he is the culprit." Another person added, "He is their helper and close to them." Zuhoor was not given an opportunity to defend himself and sent to prison. Finally, it was decided to send the carpenters back to secure the release of the soldiers. Thus, the dream of having a Dub-Da-Bayrr crowning the magnificent palace remained unfulfilled.

Author's note: Chandan's story is a repository of witty incidents, songs and sayings that remain popular even today. I had heard this story in my childhood when it was narrated by a carpenter. This version is based on my recollection and a touch of my imagination.