Friday, January 1, 2010

Jindalai -- A New Year's Tale (Korean)

It's long been said that the first flower to bloom in the spring is the jindalai, the purple rhododendron. As much as folks love seeing the first appearance of this flower, they love even more to tell the story of how this flower came to be . . .

Long, long ago, in a mountain hamlet there lived an old couple and their only child, their beloved daughter, Dalai. She was a dutiful daughter who went up into the mountains daily to chop and collect firewood.

Now on the southern slope lived a hardy young man named Jin Yu. He too would go into the mountains to gather firewood, and one day he encountered Dalai. They began to chat and soon became friends. Before long, Jin Yu would help Dalai carry her heavy load of wood down the slippery and treacherous mountain path back to her home. Putting the load down and wiping off his sweat, he'd then smile and leave without saying very much.

Dalai and her parents were very poor, like most of the other folks in the area, and like many others, her family was deeply in debt to the local landowner. It would take more than a couple of lifetimes of repayment for Dalai's family to compensate him! The landowner had a son who for a long time had had his eyes on Dalai. She was very beautiful and could embroider--what a wonderful wife she would make! The son liked very much what he saw and in his heart wanted her for his wife.

And so he decided he would pay Dalai's family a little visit . . .

With his retinue, the landowner's son arrived at the house dressed in his best outfit, waving a silk fan.

Smiling, he said to her parents, "I've come about the back rent and other loans you owe us. Shall we talk?"

The shaken parents quickly ushered him inside and bade him sit as an honored guest.

"I want all the money you owe my family paid up right now," he said.

"But . . . But that's impossible for us!" said the father. "Look around you! You can see we're not wealthy. All we have right now is an abundance of firewood! Surely you can't expect us to pay you right now . . ."

The landowner's son smiled and said nothing for a moment. Then he took out a small silk purse and placed it on the table before the nervous father and mother.

"Well, then, if you can't pay now, I guess you just can't! Here, take the gold and silver inside this purse and buy yourselves a nice meal with it." He then snapped his fingers for one of his servants outside the house. The man entered carrying a big bundle and, at the direction of the landowner's son, placed the bundle upon the floor. "In this parcel," said the son of the landowner, "is the finest silk you shall ever find. Have your Dalai make herself some fine clothes with it."

The landowner or his son had never shown such kindness before, thought both the father and mother. What is going on here? What is all this about? It dawned on them: he wants Dalai.

Dalai and Jin Yu then came in the house.

"What's this?" Dalai asked her parents in front of the landowner's son, pointing with her nose to the bundle upon the floor.

The landowner's son sat and watched eagerly, smiling, hoping for a favorable reaction.

Dalai understood from where the gift had come. Without opening it or waiting for someone to explain what was inside, she picked the parcel up and tossed it out the front door into the dunghill.

Well, the landowner's son was ready to explode! His face turned a beet red, and he struggled to keep his tongue still. However, he controlled himself. He got up, had his man retrieve the package of silk from the dung heap and left.

And so that was that--at least for a couple of days.

A few days later, a messenger from the landowner arrived at Dalai's home. Dalai and her parents were there to receive the message.

"You are to surrender your daughter Dalai to our master within three days' time for the wedding ceremony," he told the parents. Before leaving, he added, "Have her ready on the appointed day and sent to our master; otherwise, our master will be obligated to send a party here and take her by force. Woe unto anyone who interferes!"

Dalai turned to her parents and said, "I'd rather die than marry the son of the landowner! I already love someone who loves me back and who respects me! Jin Yu!"

Dalai's parents were very upset, as was Jin Yu when he had heard the news. Together they went off to collect firewood.

Not sure of what to do, they looked up to the white crane in the sky and asked him where they could go.

"Outside this heaven you can see," replied the crane, "there are nine other heavens. Among them there is no place for you? Come now!"

They next asked the deer the same question.

The deer said, "Within this forest, there is a deeper, lusher, thicker forest. Do you fear within it there is no place for you two? Oh, please!"

That is what we shall do, Jin Yu and Dalai decided. We shall go together to the forest within a forest and then through the nine heavens . . .

Dalai didn't show up at the landowner's house on the appointed day. Instead, the day after the third day, she put on her finest dress, a pink one. Then, hand in hand, Dalai and Jin Yu headed off into the forest.

Hot on their heels and chasing them into the forest were the landowner himself, his son and his men. Within striking distance they were until the rocks, stones and pebbles made them stumble and fall. When they picked themselves up to chase farther, the moss made them slip and fall again. And again they picked themselves up to go after Jin Yu and Dalai, and this time the vines coiled around their ankles, and the thorns and brambles stung them.

When the landowner, his son and his henchmen finally got free, Jin Yu and Dalai were nowhere to be seen.

"Do this then!" shouted the landowner. "Have all available men surround the base of the mountain. Then have men with torches burn the whole mountain right up to its peak! For sure those two will try to escape the inferno, and when they do, we'll grab 'em!"

And that's what the landowner's men did--they torched the whole mountain from bottom to top, knowing that fire travels upwards. Soon the entire mountain was engulfed in flames.

Soon, thought the landowner, any minute now, the pair will come fleeing from the smoke . . .

Soon, thought, the landowner's son, Dalai will be mine . . .

The fire burned and burned and did not die until the mountain was a scorched and all its vegetation burned to smoking crisps.

The landowner, his son and their men waited and waited, but no one came out.

Jin Yu and Dalai were never seen again.

Dalai's father and mother went to the mountain to search for Dalai and the man who was to be her husband, Jin Yu. It was now spring, and though the mountain had been seared by fierce flames, on both sides of the mountain path grew fresh wildflowers. Then, at the peak, the old couple saw two very beautiful blooming flowers facing each other.

"Dalai . . . and . . . Jin Yu . . . " one of the parents said aloud. "There . . . they . . . are! There they are!"

As soon as those words were spoken, the whole mountaintop was bathed in the most aromatic scent the old people had ever encountered.

The story spread far and wide. In time those two flowers became known as jindalai, a combination of the names "Jin Yu" and "Dalai." And so every spring, Jin Yu and Dalai return, though just for a short time, as these flowers.


from Zhongguo funu chuanshuo gushi, Li Meng, ed., pp. 37-40. (See 2/26/08 for complete citation.)

This is a story linked to the new year of the traditional lunar calendar (i.e., Korean and Chinese New Year).

Another English version of this story is at

This story, collected in Heilongjiang, is well known on the Korean peninsula, its place of origin.

In yet another Chinese-language version, it is Dalai's brother who escapes with her to the forested mountain, where they incite a rebellion against the emperor who would snatch Dalai away from her family. An old man with silver whiskers materializes out from a crevice and offers the pair a magical horse and jeweled sword with which to fight the emperor's forces. In the end, however, due to their carelessness, Dalai is killed and her brother is captured. Their blood stains the mountain slopes upon which later grow the flowers known as
jindalai (see "Jindalai" in Zhongguo minjian wenyi cidian, ed. Guan Yanru. Lanzhou: Gansu Renmin chubanshe, p. 188).

D212, "Man, woman transformed to flowers"; D457.13, "Blood becomes flowers"; E711.2.2, "Soul in flowers"; T311.1, "Flight of maiden to escape marriage."


  1. I wonder if this is the same flower that grows in West Virginia and graces our mountains each spring? A lovely story.

  2. They might be the same! These are very delicate-looking & exceptionally pretty violet flowers. Thank you, Granny Sue!