Krishna Avatar Part 41
By Nirooshitha Sethuram, Yogaratna
Graphics by Sheralee (Shambhavi) Hancherow
Sage Brihadvasa came to visit the Pandavas in the forest. The sage narrated the story of King Nala of Nishadha for Yudhishthira to know that times will change.
Once there lived a mighty king named Nala who ruled the kingdom of Nishadha. He was very generous and noble. He was not only brave but also very handsome, and was loved by all his citizens. Nala was a gifted charioteer and also was known for his culinary expertise. Still today in India, in the Tamil language, a dish well cooked, is called “Nalapakam,” meaning a dish as delicious as that prepared by Nala.
One day while Nala was wandering alone, he came across a lake with some beautiful swans. Especially one of them really caught his attention. He slowly crept forward and caught the swan. The bird cried out in pain while the other swans waited helplessly. Nala spoke softly to the swan assuring it that he wouldn’t harm it and brought it to his palace.
To free itself, the Swan told him about Damayanti, the charming daughter of King Bheema of Vidarbha kingdom. It promised Nala that it would sing the praises of Nala to Damayanti if he would free itself. Nala was delighted hearing this.
He told the swan that he had once been told about Damayanti by someone else. Ever since hearing about her, he had fallen in love with her without even seeing her. Nala said that he had decided to marry her and only her. Damayanti was indeed a very beautiful princess, and it is said that even the Devas, the celestial beings, wanted to marry her.
Nala immediately freed the bird and requested it to do what it had promised him. The swan flew away into the sky and reached Vidarbha kingdom. Upon entering the royal garden, it started to recite Nala’s name. It certainly caught Damayanti’s attention. She wanted to have the swan for herself. She slowly went down to catch the swan. It wasn’t easy to catch it, but at last she managed to grab the swan.
Out of curiosity, Damayanti asked the swan about the name Nala that it was repeating. The swan happily started telling praises of Nala. Hearing this Damayanti fell in love with Nala as much as he was in love with her. She decided to marry Nala, none but him.
The swan thus finished its job successfully and returned to Nala. Nala was thrilled to hear the news about Damayanti’s love towards him and released the swan back to its family, keeping his own promise.
When the time for Damayanti’s swayamvara came, Nala was invited, as were many other kings and princes. The hall was not only full of mighty kings and princes from all over the earth, but also with celestial beings. They were all anxiously waiting to be selected by Damayanti. But Damayanti’s eyes were fixed on one man, Nala himself. She garlanded him at the ceremony, and they were happily married in front of all the guests with their blessings.
When the celestial being Kali, the personification of Kali Yuga, heard about Damayanti disregarding the Devas and choosing a mortal man, he got very angry. He vowed to bring down the happy life of Damayanti with Nala. But it wasn’t easy because Nala was following the path of righteousness. It is said that it took 12 years for Kali to find fault and divert Nala from the righteous path.
Being influenced by Kali, Nala played a game of dice with his cousin-brother Pushkara, gambling away his wealth and kingdom to him. As Nala lost everything in gambling, he and Damayanti sent their children to her parents. They went to the forest and wandered aimlessly.
As they underwent much suffering, Nala was worried about Damayanti. He didn’t want her to suffer any longer for his mistake. He tried his best to convince her to go to her father’s kingdom, showing her the way. But she refused to leave Nala as she said that the husband needs the wife even more in adversity, therefore she will remain with Nala. Overpowered by grief, seeing his wife suffering, he then deserted Damayanti so that she would be forced to return to her father’s kingdom.
After leaving his wife with a heavy heart, he walked a long distance purposelessly in the forest came across a devastating fire. When he was turning away from it, all of a sudden, he heard a cry for help. There, he saw the Serpent God, Karkotaka, caught on fire. Nala jumped right into the fire and saved the serpent’s life.
As requested by Nala, as a favor to him, Karkotaka changed Nala into an ugly dwarf so that he wouldn’t be recognized by others. Karkotaka also suggested that Nala should go to the kingdom of Ayodhya and serve king Rituparna. There he could learn the game of dice, as Rituparna was the best there was in the game.
Karkotaka, then gifted Nala a magic cloth which would restore his original form back when he desired. Taking his advice, Nala went to King Rituparna, taking the name of Bahuka and served him as both charioteer and cook.
Meanwhile waking up alone in the forest, not knowing what had happened to Nala, Damayanti wept and wandered in the forest crying out for Nala. She sobbed for a while, coming to the conclusion that he left her deliberately. She searched for Nala everywhere, asking every animal and bird about him.
When she was grabbed by a deadly python, a hunter saved her. The hunter desired to marry her for her beauty. Taking advantage of her loneliness, he made his mind known to her. He was burnt to ashes by her vow of chastity when he tried to force her into it.
While she was roaming in the forest, she met some great saints. They received her with kindness and consoled her that she would be reunited with her husband after some time. After these blessings Damayanti met a group of traders who were on their way to the kingdom of Chedi. They invited her to join them. After travelling for many days, they camped at a lakeside. At midnight, elephant herds came, destroying all that they carried. She was shocked at the misfortunes striking at her one after another.
After a long journey she was among the survivors who reached the kingdom of Chedi. There, she met Queen Bhanumati. As she didn’t want to reveal her true identity to the queen, she told her that she had been abandoned by her husband, who was very noble but made a big mistake when gambling, playing a game of dice. The queen received her with kindness and asked her to stay. Damayanti agreed and stayed with her, serving her as a royal maid.
Meanwhile, the king of the Vidarbha kingdom searched for his daughter everywhere. He sent people all around to find her. One day a minister of Vidarbha came to Chedi. He recognized Queen Damayanti, assisting Queen Bhanumati as a royal maid. The minister was happy to find her there as he had been searching for her for a long time.
Damayanti then found out that she had been staying with her aunt all along. She happily returned to Vidarbha to her father’s kingdom and saw her children who had grown up fast. They reminded her of Nala, which made her miss Nala even more. Her father promised to find Nala and sent out his ministers in search of him.
When one of the ministers arrived at the court of King Rituparna, Bahuka caught the minister’s attention. Even though he didn’t look like Nala, he resembled him so much in many ways, especially his charioting skills and culinary skills.
He returned to his kingdom and told what he had observed in King Rituparna’s kingdom to Damayanti. She too was convinced that it was Nala. Soon after, a plan was made to bring Nala to Vidarbha. Damayanti, with the help of her father, planned to hold a fake second swayamvara, knowing Nala would somehow show up. They announced that Damayanti has agreed to remarry. The invitation was sent to Ayodhya inviting King Rituparna. He was informed only the day before the fake swayamvara.
As there was not enough time to travel, the king was worried about missing the ceremony. Hearing this, Nala assured the king that he would take him there in time to attend the ceremony. The king agreed and Nala drove the chariot. The horses flew in the air, so they reached the city within a day. But both of them were surprised because there weren’t any festivities. They were told that, as it’s the second marriage, they were keeping things quiet.
Reaching the palace Nala in the form of Bahuka, recognized his children playing outside at the terrace. He ran towards them and hugged them tightly. Observing this from her palace Damayanti rushed down and said to Bahuka, “I know it is you, Nala, I am sure of it. I am so pleased to see you. Thank you for coming.”
Nala was surprised at this and asked how she knew that it was him. He also added a second question without a pause, with a sad voice asking if she was going to marry again. Damayanti with a smile instantly said, “No, Nala. It was all a trick to get you to come here. Who else but you could travel such a long distance in a day?”
Hearing this, Nala was overjoyed. He put on his magical cloth, which transformed him to his true form. All were happy to see Nala, Damayanti and their children reunited again. But now Nala had to regain his kingdom from his cousin Pushkara. As Nala had learned Rituparna’s skills at dice and numbers, in exchange for his skill as a charioteer, he was ready to meet his cousin once more.
After returning to his kingdom, Nala challenged Pushkara for a rematch of the game of dice. Nala staked all the wealth he had earned from his father-in-law, himself and his wife for the Nishadha kingdom. Pushkara was driven by the desire to gain the beautiful Damayanti. Sure of his own success, he accepted the rematch in dice.
Nala, after many years of hardship, during which he never deviated from the path of righteousness, had overcome the influence of Kali. He regained his kingdom by defeating Pushkara in the rematch. Pushkara lost everything and became a slave. But Nala forgave him for what he had done and gave him his palace back. Nala and Damayanti were reunited with their citizens and lived happily thereafter.
It is said that Kali offered Nala a boon when he left him. Nala sought the boon that whoever read his story would not be unduly affected by the malefic effects of Kali. Sage Brihadvasa, continued and said, “Now that you have listened to the story of Nala and Damayanti, you will be free of the ill effects of Kali, and the future will be bright for you and your family.”
More to Come
- King Nala and Swan – https://tamilandvedas.com/2018/08/28/science-in-nala-damayanthi-story-of-mahabharata-post-no-5371/
- Damayanti and Swan – Damayanti and Swan https://kathakids.com/mythology-for-children/mahabharat/tales-from-mahabharata-damayantis-swayamvara/
- Dayamanti about to place garland on Nala – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Damayanti_Choosing_a_Husband_by_Warwick_Goble.jpg
- Nala leaving Dayamanti as she sleeps – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nala
- Hunter and Dayamanti – https://kathakids.com/mythology-for-children/mahabharat/tales- from-mahabharata-the-separation-of-nala-and-damayanti/
- King Rituparna guard and Bahuka (Nala driving chariot) – https://tamilandvedas.com/2018/08/28/science-in-nala-damayanthi-story-of-mahabharata-post-no-5371/
- Dayamanti and Nala – https://www.indianetzone.com/6/nala_damayanti.htm