Folk tales of Sri Lanka – Part 4 The flying wax horse

Folk tales of Sri Lanka – Part 4 The flying wax horse – By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

“Storytelling is the art of weaving ordinary words into extraordinary worlds.”

– Jack Dublin, The Lost and Found Journal of a Miner 49er: Vol. 2

The tale we shall present to you today is about a flying wax horse. This tale, locally known as Piyambana Iti Ashwaya, is included in Henry Parker’s collection as a folk tale he learnt from the western province. This lesser-known tale is magical, enchanting and at the same time tragic, nevertheless with a happy ending. You might wonder why most enchanting folk tales are full of tragedy and despair. One reason for this is that these folk tales are all about you and me. They are about tragedies that befall human lives and about dark human traits that lurk beneath our conscious mind. They are tales of age-old wisdom.

The reason to choose this tale is not only because it is lesser-known, but also because it has the many components and traits of a folk tale that is considered perfect whilst also comprising traits of a tale that can be categorised as a fairy tale.  It is known that if in a tale, truth and justice prevails over lies and injustice, good people are rewarded, obstacles are overcome by honest human relationships, and good triumphs over evil whilst carrying a moral message for the reader, such tales are universally accepted and known as complete folk tales. Most well-known fairy tales are composed in such a way. The tale of the flying wax horse also has attributes that are similar to Aladdin, as well as the Walahassa Jataka tale and Greek myths of flying horses. 

The horse in this tale…

In a typical Sri Lankan village, horses were not farm animals or animals that could be seen in the wild. They were associated with royalty and divinity. Horses were only bred for royalty and for the elite for their use and military purposes. In folklore, horses often symbolise freedom, power, speed, energy, ambition and spirituality. 

When a horse in a folk tale has the ability to fly, its power and energy is exaggerated. In folk tales in which a flying horse is portrayed, it often acts as the mode of freedom or the energy of the protagonist. The protagonist escapes his miseries or reaches his ambition with the help of the flying horse. 

The tale of the flying wax horse 

Once in an old kingdom, a baby prince was born. The day the prince was born, Brahmin pundits said that the young prince would one day leave the palace and his country. Fearing this prophecy, the king assigned guards to the prince’s palace and built a secured room for the prince on the highest floor of the palace. The prince grew up in this palace.

One day, when the prince was going for games (Uyankeliya) he saw a flying wax horse at the marketplace. Desiring to have the wax horse, the prince told his father about it. The king, at once, fulfilled his son’s desire. It had two wings and could fly high in the sky. Except for the prince, no one else knew that the wax horse could fly. Starting from this day, the prince would fly out of his palace and explore the country. 

One day he flew out of his country, and went to another kingdom, making the Brahmin pandits’ prophecy come true.

 He flew to the house of an old woman, a woman who made flower garlands for the king (of that kingdom). When he went into the house, he hid his wax horse outside the house on a tree. Through the old woman he learnt about the royal palace that she worked for. 

In this way he learnt that the king’s daughter’s apartment was on the upper floor. The prince would go there at night flying his wax horse. The princess would be asleep when the prince went there. But he saw the feasts served for her. The prince enjoyed the royal feasts for several nights. One day, the princess noticed that some of her food was missing. Therefore, she decided to stay awake to see who stole her food. 

One night she saw the prince enjoying her food. She took a sword and seized the prince. 

“Who art thou?” she said.

The prince revealed his identity and that he was a prince of a neighbouring kingdom. Afterwards, they continued to meet. Romance blossomed between the young prince and princess. 

The father of this princess had a strange habit of weighing the princess every morning. Thus he found out that the princess had gained weight. He learnt that she was pregnant. The king suspected the minister and ordered him to be killed. 

The king’s other daughters noticing the minister’s sorrow asked him why he was sad. Seeing injustice might fall upon the innocent minister, the princesses planned a strategy to save him.  Their plan was to prove the minister’s innocence and reveal who their sister’s lover was. So they put poison into the scented water boat in which the prince would have a bath before seeing the princess each night. The bathing water boat was placed at the pool which was at the royal palace gateway. 

That night, unknowing the princesses’ plan, the prince came to meet his lover. Before he met her, he entered the bathing boat filled with scented water. The poison mixed with the water burned the prince. He ran and jumped into the nearby pool. This pool was guarded by royal guards as per the secret plan. They seized the prince and took him to the king. After knowing the truth the king freed the minister and ordered the prince to be killed. 

While the prince was being taken to the executioners, the prince said to the guards,

“There is something that belongs to me hidden out there. I will bring it and give it to you, if you allow me to go and get it.”

Knowing he was of royalty and must be having something precious, the guards let him go. The prince went to the tree where the wax horse was hidden. He climbed on the back of the flying wax horse and escaped his execution. The same night, he came back to the palace, met his lover and took her away. 

The two lovers were flying above a dense forest. It was then that the princess felt as if it was time to deliver her baby. They landed somewhere in the midst of the forest. Settling her at a safe place, the prince went to a nearby village, riding his flying horse, to bring medicine, material, and help. 

At the marketplace, the prince kept the wax horse near a shop while he went to another shop. While he was busy a sudden fire arose and the wax horse melted. Losing his wax horse, the prince was unable to go back to the princess as he did not know how to find her in the dense forest.

The princess waited for the prince to return. Meanwhile she gave birth to a boy. Thinking that the prince abandoned her purposely, feeling frustrated she left the newborn prince in the forest saying she didn’t want even the son of the useless, selfish prince. 

She went to a nearby village and settled there.

At the same time, the princess’s father was riding across the same forest. Seeing the helpless newborn child, the kind king took him to his palace and raised him as his own (this child was actually his own grandson).

Time passed by. After many years, one day the young prince was travelling across the village where his mother lived. He saw the princess (his mother) with a group of village girls, and desired her. He wanted to marry her. He attempted to propose to her on three accounts. On all these three accounts he failed as bad omens occurred and stopped him from doing so. 

The first time he visited the princess, his horse trampled some young chickens. The angry mother hen shouted at him, 

“This one is going to take his own mother in marriage, and as if insufficient he killed my little ones as well.”

As the prince felt what happened was a bad omen he returned back to his palace. 

The second day, his horse trampled on a young goat and killed it. The angry mother goat scolded him, 

“This one is going to take his own mother in marriage, and as if insufficient he killed my little one as well.”

Again the prince returned home. 

The prince also learned from the girl’s society that no one would give a daughter in marriage to him as he was an abandoned infant and no one knew his parents and he was brought up by the king. 

He had also heard his friends at the playground saying that he was an illegitimate child. 

Hearing this, the prince asked his grandfather or the king that reared him, about his identity. The king told him his story. 

On the third day, he went to the village again and was with the village girls. He asked the princess about her life. Hearing her life story, he realised that she was his lost mother. 

Discovering his true identity and knowing who his parents were, the prince set out to find his father. He was able to reunite with his father and to unite his mother and father together. 

The old king appointed the young prince as his successor. He married a princess of a royal family and lived happily ever after with his united family. 

Tales of wisdom

What is fascinating about this tale is the number of symbols used in it. The flying wax horse, hen, goat, killing of the young animals, the dense forest, the fire that melts down the wax horse and the birth of the new prince at the same time, and the marketplace are interesting symbols in this tale. These symbols can be seen in folktales all over the world. 

The loss of the wax horse separates the lovers and makes them lose their way on their journeys. They were united by their son, who was born on the same day the wax horse was destroyed. The wax horse symbolises freedom, power and strength; yet, it was not strong enough, hence it was easily melted down. 

The end result of the prince gaining the wax horse was the birth of a prince, who was the very reason that united all lost characters, and brought happiness to all. 

In such tales, a marketplace symbolises a place of exchange or a phase of transformation in our lives; the prince’s home and imprisonment was exchanged for freedom (wax horse) thus making him a lost traveller. At the second marketplace, he lost his way on his journey, yet a new hope was born. 

The dense forest, as in many folktales, symbolises the dark phases of our lives; a journey of self-discovery, which makes us reappear stronger and more powerful. 

The prophecy of this tale, as in many folktales with a prophecy, teaches us a deep philosophy about life and destiny. As the prophecy was heard, the king takes hard efforts to avoid it, making it the very reason that the prophecy comes true.

“Blind ambition drives the foolish, while the soul directs the wise.”

– Erin Forbes, Fire & Ice: The Kindred Woods

Original article was published on

Uncategorized, Sri Lankan folk tales, Sri Lankan folklore