Cave No. 1
Identification: Schlingloff (1973a, p. 155–167).—
There was a nāga (one of a race of semi-human serpents) prince who ruled over a kingdom abutting his father, the nāga king’s, kingdom. Once a snake charmer sent by a human king to capture the nāga prince was killed by a hunter. On hearing how the prince was saved by the hunter, the nāga king invited the hunter to his palace and honoured him with precious objects. However, on the advice of a hermit, the hunter requested for an additional present, an unfailing noose. Initially, the nāga king refused to give the noose in order to protect the nāgas from garuḍas (eagles), but then gave in at his son’s request.
The hunter came to know from a hermit about a kinnarī, a princess of a fairy-land high up in the mountains, who bathed in a forest lake every full moon night. He caught the kinnarī in the subsequent full moon night with the help of the unfailing noose even as her attendants flew away. The kinnarī requested the hunter not to touch her and handed over her crest-jewel (which gave her the power to fly) as security. When the hunter learned that Sudhana, the son of a human king had a soft spot for the pretty kinnarī he handed her over to Sudhana.
Sudhana spent some happy days frolicking with the kinnarī, far from his father’s kingdom. But a jealous and scheming court brahmin, who intended to himself possess the kinnarī, sent Sudhana on a military operation against a hill tribe and performed some atrocious rituals involving animal sacrifice. The brahmin thought that if the prince returned alive from the operation, he would die grieving over his beloved, which would allow him to gain dominance at the court. When the kinnarī got a hang of this plot, she asked the queen for her crest-jewel, which the prince had entrusted to her, and flew away.
She related all this to the hermit in the forest. She also disclosed to him the road map to her father’s palace. When the prince returned from the campaign unharmed, he straightaway went in search of his beloved. The hermit faithfully described to him the way to the kinnarī’s father’s palace. The prince overcame many obstacles to reach the destination. He flung a signet ring into one of the jugs of water prepared for kinnarī’s bath. The kinnarī saw the ring fall into her lap when water was being poured over her body by the attendants. By this she became aware of the prince’s arrival. To add to her joy, her father was ever so delighted with Sudhana, who, however, had to pass a few more tests before he could marry the daughter. The prince passed all exams with flying colours and wedded the beauteous kinnarī. They lived happily in the fairy-castle and then took off for the prince’s hometown. The king welcomed them back and made his son an administrator of his kingdom.—Prince Sudhana was none other than the Buddha in a former existence.
—Source: Singh 2019, 31-33; Schlingloff 2013, I, 182-183