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desert his faithful wife. So he severed her garment and
used half of it. He turned away from the fair princess
as she lay fast asleep.

Repenting in his heart, Nala returned speedily and
gazed upon fair Damayanti with pity and with love. He


wept bitterly, saying: "Ah! thou dost sleep on the bare
hard ground whom neither sun nor storm hath ever used
roughly. O my loved one, thou hast ever awakened to
smile. How wilt thou fare when thou dost discover that
thy lord hath abandoned thee in the midst of the perilous
forest ? . . . May sun and wind and the spirits of the
wood protect thee, and may thou be shielded ever by
thine own great virtue!'

Then the distracted rajah, prompted by Kali again,
hastened away; but his heart was torn by his love, which
drew him back. ... So time and again he came and
went, like to a swing, backward and forward, until in the
end the evil spirit conquered him, and he departed from
Damayanti, who moaned fitfully in her sleep ; and he
plunged into the depths of the forest.

Ere long the fair princess awoke, and when she per-
ceived that she was all alone she uttered a piteous scream
and cried out : " Oh ! where art thou, my king, my lord,
my sole protector? ... I am lost ; oh ! I am undone.
I am helpless and alone in the perilous wood. . . . Ah !
now thou art but deceiving me. Do not mock me, my
lord. Art thou hidden there among the bushes ? Oh,
speak ! . . . Why dost thou not make answer? ... I do
not sorrow for myself only. I cannot well endure that
thou shouldst be alone, that thou shouldst thirst and be
an hungered and very weary, and without me to give thee
comfort. ..."

So she wailed as she searched through the forest for
Nala, now casting herself upon the ground, now sitting
to pine in silence, and anon crying out in her grief. At
length she said : "Oh, may he who causeth Nala to suffer
endure even greater agony than he endureth, and may he
live for ever in darkness and in misery!'

Hither and thither she wandered, seeking her lord,


and ever was she heard crying : " Alas ! O alas ! my

Suddenly a great serpent rose up in its wrath and
coiled itself round her fair body. . . .

"Oh! my guardian," she cried, "I am now undone.
The serpent hath seized me. Why art thou not near ?
. . . Ah ! who will comfort thee now in thy sorrow, O
blameless Nala?' ;

As she lamented thus, a passing huntsman heard her
cries ; he broke through the jungle and beheld Dama-
yanti in the coils of the serpent. . . . Nimbly he darted
forward and with a single blow smote off the monster's
head, and thus rescued the beauteous lady from her
awesome peril. Then he washed her body and gave her
food, and she was refreshed.

"Who art thou, O fair-eyed one?' he asked. "Why
dost thou wander thus alone in the perilous wood?'

Damayanti of faultless form thereupon related to the
huntsman the story of her sorrow. As she spoke, his
frail heart was moved by her great beauty, and he uttered
amorous words with whining voice. . . . Perceiving his
evil intent, she was roused to fierce anger. Her chastity
was her sole defence, and she cursed him so that he
immediately fell down dead like to a tree that has been
smitten by lightning and is suddenly blasted. 1

Freed thus from the savage huntsman of wild beasts,
the lotus-eyed Damayanti wandered on through the deep
forest, which resounded everywhere with the song of the
cricket. All around her were trees of every form and
name, and she beheld shady arbours, deep valleys, and
wooded hill summits, and lakes and pools, loud resound-
ing waterfalls, and great flowing rivers. The forest was
drear and appalling : it was full of lions and tigers, of

power of a curse is illustrated in Southey's Curse of Kehama.


countless birds and fierce robbers. She saw buffaloes and
wild boars feeding, and the fierce and awesome forms that
were there also serpents and giants and terrible demons.
. . . But, protected by her virtue, she wandered on all
alone without fear. Her sole anxiety was for Nala, and
she wept for him, crying: "Ah! where art thou? O
blameless one, remember now thy vows and thy plighted
faith. Remember the words which the gold-winged swan
addressed unto thee. . . . Am I not thy loved one? . . .
Oh ! why dost thou not make answer in this dark and
perilous forest ? The savage beasts are gaping to devour
me. Why art thou not near to save ? . . . I am weak and
pallid and dust-stained, and have need of thee, my pro-
tector. . . . Whom can I ask for Nala ? The tiger is
before me, the king of the forest, and 1 am not afraid.
I address him, saying: c Oh! I am lonely, and wretched,
and sorrowful, seeking for my exiled husband. If thou
hast seen him, console me ; if thou hast not seen him,
devour me, and set me free from this misery.' . . . But
the tiger turns down to the river bank, and I wander
onward towards the holy mountain, the monarch of hills.

" c Hear me ! ' I cry. I salute thee, O Mountain.
... I am a king's daughter and the consort of a king,
the illustrious lord of Nishadha, the pious, the faultless
one, who is courageous as the elephant. . . . Hast thou
seen my Nala, O mighty Mountain? . . . Ah! why
dost thou not answer me? . . . Comfort thou me now
as if I were thine own child. . . . Oh! shall I ever be-
hold him again, and ever hear again his honey-sweet
voice, like music, saying: 'Daughter of Vidarbha,' while
it doth soothe all my pain with its blessed sound? . . ."

Having thus addressed the mountain, Damayanti
turned northward and wandered on for three days and
three nights. Then she reached a holy grove, and


entered it humbly and without fear. She beheld there
the cells of hermits and their bright sacred fires. The
holy men were struck with wonder by reason of her
beauty, and they bade her welcome, saying: "Art thou
a goddess of the wood, or of the mountain, or of the river?
O speak and tell."

Damayanti made answer: "I am not a goddess of the
wood, or a mountain spirit, or yet a river nymph, but a
mortal woman."

Then she related to the holy men the story of her
sorrow and her wandering, and these seers spoke to her
and said: "A time cometh soon, a time of beauty, when
thou wilt again behold Nala in splendour and sin-released
ruling over his people."

When they had spoken thus, all the holy men
vanished, and their sacred fires vanished also. Dama-
yanti stood a while in silent wonder, and in her heart she
said: "Have I seen a vision? . . ." Then she went
towards another region.

Lamenting for Nala, the fair one came to a beauteous
asoka tree 1 : its green branches were gemmed with
gleaming fruit, and were melodious with the songs of
birds. " O happy tree," she cried, " take away all my
grief. . . . Say, hast thou beheld my Nala, the slayer of
his enemies, my beloved lord? Oh! hast thou seen my
one love, with smooth, bright skin, wandering alone in
the forest? Answer me, O blessed Asoka, so that I may

depart from thee in joy. Ah! hear and speak thou happy

tree. . . .

So, wailing in her deep anguish, Damayanti moved
round the asoka. Then she went towards a lonelier and
more fearsome region. . . . She passed many a river and

1 A (not) soka (sorrow). This beautiful tree has exquisitely coloured and abun-
dant blossom, varying from rich orange red to primrose yellow. It is sacred to Siva.


many mountains, and she saw numerous birds and deer
as she wandered on and on, searching for her lost

At length she beheld a great caravan of merchants.
Ponderous elephants and eager camels, prancing horses
and rumbling cars came through a river. The river banks
were fringed by cane and tangled undergrowth; the curlew
called aloud there, and the osprey; red geese were
clamouring; turtles were numerous, as were the fish and
the serpents likewise. All the noble animals of the
caravan came splashing noisily across the ford.

The great concourse of travellers stared with wonder
on the slender-waisted, maniac-like woman, clad in but
half a garment, smeared with dust and pale and sorrowful,
her long hair all matted and miry. Some there were who
fled from her in fear. But others took pity and said:
" Who art thou, O lady, and what seekest thou in the
lonely forest ? Art thou a goddess of the mountain, or
of the forest, or of the plain? . . . We pray for thy pro-
tection ; be mindful of our welfare so that we may prosper
upon our journey."

Then Damayanti told the story of her misrortune and
sorrow, and all the travellers gathered round about to
hear boys and young men and grey-haired sages.
"Oh! have you beheld my lord, my Nala?" she cried
unto them.

The captain of the band answered her " Nay " ; and
she asked him whither the caravan was bound, whereat
he said: "We are going towards the realm of Chedi, over
which Subahu is king." When the merchants resumed
their journey, Damayanti went with them.

Through the forest they travelled a long distance,
and at eventide they reached the green shore of a
beautiful wide lake which sparkled with bright lotus


blooms. 1 The camp was pitched in the middle of a deep
grove. Gladly did the men bathe with their wearied
animals in the delicious, ice-cool waters.

At midnight all slept. ... In the deep silence a herd
of wild forest elephants, with moisture oozing from their
temples, 2 came down to drink from the gurgling stream
which flowed nigh to the camp. When they scented the
tame elephants lying crouched in slumber, they trumpeted
aloud, and of a sudden charged ponderously and fell upon
them like to mountain peaks tumbling into the valleys
beneath. . . . Trees and tents were thrown down as they
trampled through the camping ground, and the travellers
awoke panic-stricken, crying: "Oh! Alas! Ah! Oh!"
Some fled through the forest; others, blind with sleep,
stood gasping with wonder, and the elephants slew them.
The camp was scattered in the dire confusion; many
animals were gored; men overthrew one another, en-
deavouring to escape; many shrieked in terror, and a
few climbed trees. Voices were heard calling: "It is
a fire!" and merchants screamed, "Why fly away so
speedily? Save the precious jewels, O ye cowards."

Amidst the tumult and the slaughter Damayanti
awoke, trembling with fear, and she made swift escape,
nor suffered a wound. In the deep forest she came nigh
to the few men who had found refuge, and she heard
them say one to another:

" What deed have we done to bring this misfortune
upon us? Have we forgotten to adore Manibhadra 3 , the
high king of the Yakshas? Worshipped we not, ere we
set forth, the dread spirits which bring disasters? Was

1 They are coloured red, white, and blue.

3 Rutting elephants. The seasonal juice is odorous, and issues from minute holes
on each side of the elephant's temples.

3 Manibhadra, the demi-god, was worshipped by travellers, and resembles Kuvera,
god of wealth.


it doomed that all omens should be belied? How hath
it come that such a disaster hath befallen us?'

Others who had been bereft of their kindred and their
wealth, and were in misery, said: "Who was she that
ill-omened, maniac-eyed woman who came amongst us?
In truth she seemed scarcely human. Surely it is by
reason of her evil power that disaster hath befallen us.
Ah! she is a witch, or she is a sorceress, or mayhap a
demon. . . . Without doubt she is the cause of all our
woes. . . . Would that we could find her oh the evil
destroyer! Oh the curse of our host! . . . Let us slay
the murderess with clods and with stones, with canes and
with staves, or else with our fists. . . ." l

When the terrified and innocent Damayanti heard
these fearsome threats, she fled away through the trees,
lamenting her fate, and wailing: "Alas! alas! my terrible
doom doth haunt me still. Misfortune dogs my foot-
steps. ... I have no memory of any sin of thought or
deed of any wrong done by me to living beings. Per-
chance, oh, alas! I did sin in my former life, and am now
suffering due punishment. . . . For I suffer, indeed. I
have lost my husband ; my kingdom is lost ; I have lost
my kindred; my noble Nala has been taken from me,
and I am far removed from my children, and I wander
alone in the wood of serpents."

When morning broke, the sorrowful queen met with
some holy Brahmans who had escaped the night's dis-
aster, and she went with them towards the city of Chedi.

The people gazed with wonder on Damayanti when
she walked though the streets with her dust-smeared body
and matted hair. The children danced about her as she
wandered about like to a maniac, so miserable and weary
and emaciated.

1 A curious glimpse of Hindu ideas regarding demi-gods or demons.


It chanced that the sorrowing woman came nigh to
the royal palace. The mother of the king looked forth
from a window, and beheld her and said: "Hasten, and
bid this poor wanderer to enter. Although stricken and
half-clothed she hath, methinks, the beauty of Indra's
long-eyed queen. Let her have refuge from those staring


Damayanti was then led berore the queen mother, who
spoke gently, saying: "Although bowed down with grief,
thou art beautiful of form. Thou fearest not anyone.
Who art thou so well protected by thine own chastity?'

Bhima's daughter wept, lamenting her fate, and related
all that had befallen her, but did not reveal who she was.
Then the queen mother said: "Dwell thou herewith me,
and our servants shall go in quest of thy husband."

Damayanti said: "O mother of heroes, if I abide here
with thee I must eat not of food remnants, nor do menial
service, nor can I hold converse with any man save the
holy Brahmans who promise to search for my husband."

The royal lady made answer: "As thou desireth, so
let it be." Then she spake to Sunanda, her daughter,
saying: "This lady will be to thee a handmaiden and a
friend. She is of thine own age and thy worthy peer.
Be happy together."

At these words the Princess Sunanda was made glad,
and she led the strange woman unto her own abode,
where sat all her virgin handmaidens.

There Damayanti dwelt for a time, waiting for her
lost husband.

Nala in Exile

Nala's Wanderings The Magic Fire King of Serpents Rescued Nala
Transformed His Service as a Charioteer Life in Ayodhya The Evening
Song of Sorrow Search for Damayanti How she was Discovered Her De-
parture from Chedi Search for Nala A Woman's Faith Journey to the
Swayamvara The Tree Wonder Demon Leaves Nala's Body The Coming
of the Chariot Damayanti's Vow.

SOON after Nala had fled into the forest depths, deserting
the faithful Damayanti, he beheld a great fire which blazed
furiously. As he drew nigh he heard a voice crying over
and over again from the midst of the sacred flames:
"Hasten, Nala! Oh, hasten, Nala, and come hither!"

Now, Agni had given Nala power over fire, so crying:
" Have no fear," he leapt through the flames. ... In
the space within that blazing circle be beheld the king of
serpents lying coiled up in a ring with folded hands and
unable to move. 1 " Lo! I am Karkotaka," the serpent said,
"and am suffering this punishment because that I deceived
the holy sage Narada, who thereupon cursed me, saying :
c Thou wilt remain here in the midst of the flames until
Nala cometh nigh to free thee from my curse'. ... So
do I lie without power to move. O mighty rajah, if thou
wilt rescue me even now, I will reward thee abundantly
with my noble friendship, and help thee to attain great

J This serpent was a demi-god with human face and hands. It ruled its kind in the
underworld, and recalls the Egyptian king serpent in the story of the shipwrecked sailor.
See Egyptian Myth and Legend. It is also called Vasuka and Shesha.

( C 5C9 ) 353 26


happiness. Oh lift me all speedily from out of this fiery
place, thou noble rajah!"

When he had spoken thus, Karkotaka, king ot the
serpents, shrank to the size of a man's finger, whereupon
Nala uplifted and carried him safely through the flames to
a cool and refreshing space without.

The serpent then said: "Now walk on and count thy
steps, so that good fortune may be assured to thee."

Nala walked nine steps, but ere he could take the
tenth the serpent bit him, whereat the rajah was suddenly
transformed into a misshapen dwarf with short arms.

Then Karkotaka said : " Know now that I have thus
changed thy form so that no man may know thee. My
poison, too, will cause unceasing anguish to the evil one
who possesseth thy soul; he will suffer greatly until he
shall set thee free from thy sorrow. So wilt thou be
delivered from thine enemy, O blameless one. . . . My
poison will harm thee not, and henceforth, by reason of
my power, thou wilt have no need to fear the wild boar,
or any foeman, or a Brahman, or the sages. Ever in
battle thou wilt be victorious. . . . Now, go thy way,
and be called 'Vahuka, the charioteer'. Hasten thou
unto the city of Ayodhya 1 and enter the service of the
royal Rajah Rituparna, the skilful in dice. Thou wilt
teach him how to subdue horses, and he will impart
to thee the secret of dice. Then wilt thou again have
joy. Sorrow not, therefore, for thy wife and thy children
will be restored unto thee, and thou wilt regain thy king-

Then the serpent gave unto Nala a magic robe, saying:
" When it is thy desire to be as thou wert, O king, think
of me and put on this garment, and thou wilt immediately
resume thy wonted form."

1 Oudh.


Having spoken thus, the king of serpents vanished
from sight. Thereupon Nala went towards the city of
Ayodhya, and he stood in the presence of the royal Rajah
Rituparna, unto whom he spoke thus: "My name is
Vahuka. I am a tamer of steeds, nor is my equal to be
found in the world; and I have surpassing skill in cooking

The rajah welcomed him and took him into his service,
saying : " Thou shalt cause my horses to be fleet of foot.
Be thou master of mine own steed, and thy reward will
be great."

He was well pleased and gave unto Vahuka for com-
rades Varshneya, who had been in Nala's service, and
Jivala also. So the transformed rajah abode a long time
at Ayodhya, and every evening, sitting alone, he sang a
single verse:

Where is she all worn but faithful, weary, thirsty, hung'ring too?
Thinks she of her foolish husband ? . . . Doth another man her

Ever thus he sang, and his comrades heard him and
wondered greatly. So it came that one evening Jivala
spoke to Nala and said : " For whom do you sorrow
thus, O Vahuka? I pray you to tell me. Who is the
husband of this lady?' 1

Nala answered him with sad voice and said: "Once
there was a peerless lady, and she had a husband of
weakly will. And lo ! as they wandered in a forest
together, he fled from her without cause, and yet he
sorrowed greatly. Ever by day and by night is he
consumed by his overwhelming grief, and brooding
ever, he sings this melancholy song. He is a weary
wanderer in the wide world, and his sorrow is without
end ; it is never still. . . . His wife wanders all forlorn in


the forest. Ah ! she deserved not such a fate. Thirsting
and anhungered she wanders alone because her lord for-
sook her and fled; wild beasts are about her, seeking to
devour; the wood is full of perils. ... It may be that she
is not now alive. . . ."

Thus did Nala sorrow in his secret heart over Dama-
yanti during his long sojourn at Ayodhya, while he served
the renowned Rajah Rituparna.

Meanwhile King Bhima was causing search to be made
for his lost daughter and her royal husband. Abundant
rewards were offered to Brahmans, who went through every
kingdom and every city in quest of the missing pair. It
chanced that a Brahman, named Sudeva, entered Chedi
when a royal holiday was being celebrated, and he beheld
Damayanti standing beside the Princess Sunanda and the
queen mother at the royal palace.

Sudeva perceived that her loveliness had been dimmed
by sorrow, and to himself he said as he gazed upon her:
" Ah ! the lady with lotus eyes is like to the moon, darkly
beautiful; her splendour hath shrunken like the crescent
moon veiled in cloud she who aforetime was beheld in
the full moonlight of her glory. Pining for her lost
husband, she is like to a darksome night when the moon
is swallowed; her sorrow hath stricken her like to a river
which has become dry, like to a shrunken pool in which
lotus blooms shrivel and fade; she is, indeed, like to
withered lotus. . . . Doth Nala live now without the
bride who thus mourns for him ? . . . When, oh when
shall Damayanti be restored once again unto her lord as
the moon bride is restored unto the peerless moon? 1 . . .
Methinks I will speak. . . ."

1 The moon is masculine, and the marriage occurs at a certain phase. In Egypt the
moon is male, but was identified with imported female deities. In Norse mythology
Mani is moon god ; there was, however, an earlier moon goddess, Nana. In Ireland
and Scotland the moon was not individualized that is, not in the Gaelic language.


The Brahman then approached Damayanti and said:
" I am Sudeva. Thy royal sire and thy mother and thy
children are well. ... A hundred Brahmans have been
sent forth throughout the world to search for thee, O
noble lady."

Damayanti heard him and wept.

The Princess Sunanda spoke to her queen mother,
saying: "Lo! our handmaid weeps because that the
Brahman hath spoken unto her. . . . Who she is we
shall speedily know now."

Then the queen mother conducted the holy man to
her chambers and spoke to him, saying: "Who is she
this mysterious and noble stranger, O holy man?'

Sudeva spoke in answer: "Her name is Damayanti,
and her sire is King Bhima, lord of Vidarbha. Her
husband is Nala. . . . From birth she has had a dark
beauty spot like to a lotus between her fair eyebrows.
Although it is covered with dust, I perceived it, and
so I knew her. By Brahma was this spot made as
the sign of his beauty-creating power."

The queen mother bade Sudeva to remove the dust
from the beauty spot of Bhima's daughter. When this
was done, it came forth like to the unclouded moon in
heaven, and the royal lady and her daughter wept together
and embraced the fair Damayanti 1 .

Then the queen mother said: " Lo ! thou art mine
own sister's daughter, O beauteous one. Our sire is
the Rajah Sudaman who reigns at Dasarna 2 . . . . Once
I beheld thee as a child. ... Ah ! ask of me whatsoever
thou desirest and it shall be thine."

The words for moon in A. Saxon and German are masculine ; in Gaelic they are

1 The Gaelic Diarmid had similarly a beauty spot on his forehead. Women who
saw it immediately fell in love with him.

2 Dasarna, "Ten Forts", in the south-eastern part of Central Hindustan.


" Alas ! I am a banished mother," Damayanti said
with fast-flowing tears. " Permit me, therefore, to return
unto my children who have been orphaned of mother and


The queen mother said: " Be it so.'*

Then Damayanti was given an army to guard her on
her journey towards her native city, and she was welcomed
there by all her kindred and friends with great rejoicing.
King Bhima rewarded Sudeva with a thousand kine, and
a town's revenue for a village. 1

When Damayanti was embraced by her mother she
said: "Now our chief duty is to bring home Nala."

The queen wept, and spoke to her husband, the royal
Bhima, saying: "Our daughter still mourns heavily for
lost lord and cannot be comforted."

Then Bhima urged the Brahmans to search for Nala,
offering munificent reward when that he should be found.
Damayanti addressed these holy men ere they departed
and said unto them: "Wheresoever thou goest, speak this
my message over and over again :

" Whither art thou gone^ O gambler^ "who didst sever my
garment in twain? Thou didst leave thy loved one as she lay
slumbering in the savage wood. Lo! she is awaiting thy
return: by day and by night she sitteth alone ^ consumed by
her grief. Oh hear her prayer and have compassion^ thou
noble hero^ because that she ever weepeth for thee in the
depths of her despair!'

So the holy men went through every kingdom and
every city repeating the message of Damayanti over and
over again; but when they began to return one by one,
each told with sadness that his quest had been in vain.

1 A Brahman village settlement.


Then came unto Vidarbha that Brahman, the wise

Online LibraryDonald Alexander MackenzieIndian myth and legend → online text (page 28 of 38)