This delightful tale comes from Korea. It tells the story of Shimchung, who loved her blind father so much that she was willing to sacrifice all for him. We love the delicate Eastern images - the lotus blossom in particular - and we hope you will too.
Bertie has adapted our text from various versions - and you can read more about the background to this traditional story here.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
Read by Natasha. Duration 14.15
Many years ago there lived a poor blind man called Shim. He and his wife were childless, and never a day went past when the couple did not pray to the spirits for the blessing of a child. It was only after many years that their prayers were granted, and Shim’s wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter whom they named Shimchong. But sadly, the mother died soon after giving birth, and poor blind Shim was left to bring up the child alone, as best he could.
The years went by, and Shimchong grew into a beautiful young woman, devoted to her father.
One day, Old man Shim was walking out alone when he fell into a deep ditch that brought water to the fields. Every time he tried to scramble out, he slid back again into the mud. He had started to think that he would die in that ditch, and he was bemoaning his fate when he heard a voice speak to him from above.
“Old man,” said the voice, “We have heard you complain many times about your blindness. If you will give 300 sacks of rice to the temple as an offering to Lord Buddha, then we monks will pray for you to be able to see once again.”
The old man cried out, “Good monks! Only save me now and return me safely to my daughter, and I will gladly offer you whatever you ask to give to Lord Buddha!”
No sooner had he spoken, than he felt gentle but firm hands lift him up and out of the ditch – to the blind old man it seemed that those hands had reached down from heaven itself. Shim was so grateful for his rescue that he thanked the monks again and again, and swore that he would bring the 300 sacks of rice to the temple.
It was not until later, when he was already home and dry, that he realised that he had no chance of keeping his promise to the monks.
“Oh Shimchong,” he said to his daughter, “What shall I do? We are so poor that I could not offer three bowls of rice, let alone 300 sacks. Now what a terrible fate will befall us? I have offended Lord Buddha himself!”
Father and daughter both began to weep, for neither of them could think of any way to pay their debt to the temple. That night, as Shimchong lay awake, unable to sleep, her mother appeared to her and said, “Go down to the harbour tomorrow. There you will find a merchant looking for a young girl. Go with him, and he will provide the 300 sacks of rice.”
It so happened that the Dragon King of the East Sea was angry with a rich merchant, and he had sent storms to sink the merchant’s ships on the way to China. After losing ship after ship in this way, the merchant had consulted the high priest of the Dragon King’s temple, who told the merchant that he must take a beautiful young maiden out to sea and sacrifice her to the Dragon King.
The merchant offered a great quantity of gold to any family that would give up their daughter to the Dragon King of the East Sea – but none would enter into such a terrible deal. Then Shimchong appeared at the harbour, and she went to the merchant and offered herself in return for 300 sacks of rice to be sent to her father. The merchant could not believe his luck. 300 sacks of rice was nothing to him – a low price indeed!
Although the merchant sent 300 sacks of rice to the temple, and the monks did indeed pray for the return old man Shim’s sight, nothing happened. Now not only was he poor and blind, but he had lost his daughter too – he was utterly alone.
Shimchong boarded the merchant’s ship, and the ship put out to sea. At first the waters were calm, but then the Dragon King began to thrash his tail and the waves started to toss the ship to-and-fro.
The merchant told Shimchong to put on her brightly coloured wedding dress, and then he brought her out of the hold and up onto the deck. Shimchong quietly said a prayer, and then leaped over the side of the ship and into the waves. As soon as she had disappeared the violent sea grew calm again. The sailors wept because they had never seen a girl at once so beautiful and so brave.
Shimchong sank deeper and deeper into the icy cold sea. When she opened her eyes she was surrounded by bright fish of every colour and shape, and they lead her to the palace of the Dragon King of the East Sea. There she lived, happily at first, but it was not long before she began to miss her father deeply, and she began to look sad, and sometimes there were tears in her eyes.
At last, the Dragon King could no longer bear to see the lovely girl looking so sad. Her devotion to her father touched his heart, and as a reward for her goodness, he sent her back to the world above, only first he transformed her into a lotus flower.
A fisherman found the giant lotus blossom in the mouth of a river, and he was so overcome by its beauty, that he decided to make it a gift to the king of the land above. His queen had recently died, and he was in deep mourning. When he saw the flower, his eyes lit up in wonder. He thanked the fisherman with gold, and set the flower up in his room, and every time he felt sad, he stood and looked at it, admiring its beauty.
What he did not know was that each night, when the palace was asleep, Shimchong would come out of the blossom and walk through the many beautiful chambers and halls, and at first light, she would merge back into the flower.
One night, the king could not sleep so he got out of bed and drew the blinds to let the moonlight into his room. He turned around and was amazed to see the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld.
“Who are you?” He asked, “Are you a spirit?”
The girl tried to merge back into the lotus blossom, but it had vanished. She could not say who she was, for surely the king would not believe her story. The king could not help but fall in love with her, and she was moved that so powerful a man could be so gentle and so sincere.
Not long after, they were married, and on their wedding day he said to her, “My blossom. Now you are my Queen. Anything you wish, I shall grant. All you have to do is tell me your desire.”
Shimchong replied, “There is only one thing I wish for. Let there be a great banquet to celebrate our marriage, and may all the blind men of the kingdom be invited to dine with us.”
His bride’s wish was strange and unexpected, but the king gladly granted it. They held a banquet, and blind beggar men came from all four corners of the land to feast at the table of the king. The new queen watched from behind the silk curtains, hoping to catch sight of her father. Though hundreds and hundreds of blind men came into the banqueting hall – not one was her father.
The queen had given up all hope of seeing him. “He must have died of grief when I went away,” she thought sadly to herself. But one of the king’s kindest and most faithful stewards called out, “Do not close the doors for there is one more beggar for the banquet.”
An old man entered the hall, leaning on one shoulder of the steward. His clothes were ragged, he was covered with dust from the journey, and he was so weak he could hardly walk.
Shimchong came out from behind the curtain and held his hand. “Father,” she said, “It is I.”
When the old man heard that familiar and much loved voice of his daughter, he opened his eyes and could see.
And that was the story of the Blind Man’s Daughter.