Previously: Nala, having assumed the form of Bahuka, leaves Damayanti in the forest for Rituparna’s kingdom (Read here).
In the meantime, Damyanti’s father sends out a large number of capable, astute learned people far and wide in search for his daughter and son in law. One of them reaches Chedipur where Damayanti is now living. There he enters the Antahpur along with a group of learned men. He being a friend of Damayanti’s brothers, immediately recognizes her having known her all through childhood by the presence of a unique lotus shaped birth mark in between her eyebrows inspite of being attired as a Sairandhari. Seeing a familiar face after such a long time, Damayanti breaks down. Witnessing this, Princess Sunanda runs off to inform RAjamAta. Rushing over to Damayanti, the RAjamAta learns of her identity and realizes that they are in fact related. Ultimately, Damayanti leaves for her father’s place.
Damayanti then ponders and plans. Finally chalking out a strategy, she organizes and sends learned Brahmins as emissaries in all directions for her husband Nala giving very specific instructions. As learned Brahmins, one could gain entry into the Royal courts, and once they completed chanting their verses, they were to offhandedly remark: “Is it fair to desert one with who sacred vows are solemnized all alone in the darkness of the night? One whose side you promised never to leave. What did you do?”
The emissaries dispatched by Damayanti fan out in all directions. None had had any success in discovering Nala’s whereabouts. One of them ParnAdha finally reaches Ayodhya. He too had been searching far and wide for Nala. Visiting RAjaRshi Rituparna’s court, he makes his usual cryptic remark. People merely throw him a questioning glance and leave. While exiting the palace, the now deformed Nala intercepts him and remarks – “In times unfavorable when misfortune strikes, and the husband commits wrong – in such circumstances, a wife could forgive him?”, and then turning away leaves him alone.
But Nala is unrecognizable. Learning more about this strange, deformed person, his skills, and his position with the RAjaRshi, the messenger returns to Damayanti giving her an account of what had transpired. Following deep deliberation, she believes that this unlikely person might be holding the key to her husband’s whereabouts. She accordingly devices a plan.
Per Damyanti’s master ploy, Sudeva who had previously spotted her in Chedipur is dispatched to King Rituparna’s court carrying with him the Declaration of Damayanti’s Punah-Swayamvara. She specifically instructs Sudeva to convey that the ceremony would be held the very next day, did not matter when he reached Ayodhya.
Sudeva does as briefed, also elaborating on Nala’s desertion, and Damayanti’s father’s decision to lookout for another groom. As Damayanti conceded to her father’s wishes, the Punah-Swayamvara was to be held the very next day. And Rituparna is duly invited for the event. Both Rituparna and Nala are dumfounded, neither could believe it. Rituparna decides to leave straight away for the ceremony, though not as a participant.
The only hitch being the distance. Damayanti’s Kingdom was far, far away from Rituparna’s. None could traverse the distance in a single day except for Nala. This was the very reason for Damayanti’s instructions. Nala’s skill and ability with horses was exceptional – there was absolutely no one living at the time on the entire Bhoomandal whose talent was on par with his or even remotely close to it. Offering his services and reassuring that they could do it, Nala with VArshneya as his assistant sets off with RajaRshi Rituparna.
With the horses and chariot flying like the wind under the expert hands of Nala, Rituparna starts off for Damayanti’s Kingdom. Nala too is equally determined to see for himself this new twist in his life. Dashing through the wind, the journey is a wondrous testimony to Nala’s talent. On one occasion, when Riturparna’s upper garment flies out of the chariot, he immediately requests Nala to stop to recover it. Nala replies in the negative saying they had already crossed several yojanAs in the moment it took to make the request (a Yojana being about ten and half miles).
Fascinated by Nala’s talent, King Rituparna decides to take a break so certain is he they would reach well before time for the next day’s event. Marveling, he wonders about Nala’s identity, and mulls over the possibilities: Is he anuuru – Surya Ratha SArathi…, or is he MAtAli – Indra Ratha SArathi…, or… is he Nala Chakravarthy…? He feels a desire to gift Nala another Vidya. Pointing out a tree he asks if Nala could estimate the number of leaves. With Nala replying in the negative, Rituparna smilingly states he could do so with merely a glance. Selecting a branch for validation, Nala verifies King Rituparna’s count, and is astounded by his talent.
Sitting on the banks of a nearby river, RAjaRshi Rituparna imparts to Nala the Aksha Hrudaya Mantra that bestowed him his extraordinary talent. In return Nala offers Ashwa Hrudaya Mantra – that which gave him his exceptional skill with horses as Guru Dakshina. Desirous though of learning it from Nala, RAjarshi Rituparna refrains from doing so as he is still not certain of Nala’s real identity. He shows remarkable restraint as Vidya, especially Mantra Vidya that can have intangible effects on the subtle body be received solely from Uttama Gurus.
The two return to the chariot, and settle down for their onward journey. The already DhArmic Nala is now enriched with another Mantra Vidya and his very being is infused with this new Mantric deity. The moment Nala is about to restart, he is startled to see a vision of a tormented being breaking free from his very own body – his…..Nala’s body, gagging and throwing up blood. On questioning, introducing himself as Kali Purush, he discloses how though he had intruded Nala’s body in challenge and established a tenacious hold on him, he could no longer inhabit him. Divulging how he had been tortured this long in view of Nala’s unflinching, unswerving devotion to Dharma and Satya, and Damayanti’s own unyielding steadfastness to Nala, he discloses he was further tormented with Kakotaka’s poison and now with the added agony of the newly acquired Mantric deity, it was akin to adding fuel to the fire, and he could no longer tolerate Nala’s purity and devotion.
Furious, Nala is about to curse him. Kali Purush implores to be spared claiming he has had enough punishment. Furthermore, Kali Purush promises to leave alone people who even merely thought of Nala. Nala then directs Kali Purush to reside within the Vibheetaka Vruksh when further requested for shelter. To this day, this tree is considered inauspicious, and no part of this tree is ever taken into homes.
The End to the Trials
Free from Kali Purush, Punya Shlok Nala, though still deformed sets off for Damayanti’s kingdom with RAjaRshi Rituparna in the chariot who all along was totally oblivious of this encounter as Kali Purush was totally invisible to the rest. On reaching the Kingdom, both are surprised to see absolutely no sign of any celebrations. Rituparna is abashed for having believed and rushing over for the Punah-Swayamvar. They are duly shown to their quarters and Nala settles down as the RAjarshi’s cook.
VyAsa beautifully describes Damayanti’s state of mind – With eager anticipation, Damayanti looks forward for their arrival. From the very sound of the chariot she recognizes her husband’s signature drive. Eagerly observing the occupants of the chariot, she sees the stately RAjaRshi Rituparna, VArshneya their previous charioteer, and … a misshapen man. Unable to figure out the mystery, she decides to investigate further to confirm his identity. She sends her confidant Keshini to the kitchen quarters where Nala is stationed as a cook. Keshini goes back and forth on several errands and strikes up a conversation. She watches his reaction on Damayanti’s Punah-Swayamvar. She observes his work, his immaculate culinary skills, his talent for fuel efficiency, and promptly updates the Queen. The ingenious maid even sneaks away some food samples to Damayanti. On one occasion, Damayanti sends her children with Keshini. Though they do not recognize him, overcome by emotion, Nala bends down, and crying, hugs them. Quickly though becoming aware of Keshini’s penetrating glance, he admonishes her frequent trips, advising her on the impropriety as the visits could be misconstrued. He instructs her not to drop in anymore. Damayanti is left with no further questions about his identity notwithstanding his appearance.
For final confirmation, on Damayanti’s request, her father summons Nala. Damayanti – “How fair is it to have left me who wished to live with you, totally trusting you and you alone in the forests? Is it worthy of one who is Nitya Satya Vrata?” Apologizing, Nala details the circumstances including the role of Kali Purush. Then quickly counters her about her Punah-Swayamvar? Whereupon she reveals the ploy to uncover his whereabouts. Finally united with his beloved Queen, Nala brings to mind Karkotaka the Serpent, and as promised, regains his former Divine Stature. They are all overjoyed.
A happy Rituparna too requests for and learns the Ashwa Hrudaya Vidya from him. Free from Kali Purush, Nala challenges King Pushkar for either war or another game of dice. As none at the time could win a war with Nala, Pushkar accepts the challenge for a game of dice. Armed now with even Aksha Hrudaya Vidya that helps him in the game of dice, Nala regains his lost Kingdom.
Under Nala Chakravarthy’s rule the kingdom prospered.
Thus concluded Rishi Brihadashva his narrative on the Nala Damayanti epic. The Rishi further goes on to convey the Phalashruthi – whosoever that tells or listens to Nala Damayanti Charitra with Shraddha (belief), are not affected by Kali Purush. It brings about harmony amongst family members, amongst people who cannot stand the sight of each other, amongst intellectuals who can then work harmoniously for the welfare of the world. The Rishi also imparted to Yuddhisthira Aksha Hrudaya Vidya and Ashwa Hrudaya Vidya. Free from his momentary weakness, RAja Yudhisthir regains his equanimity. Thus, the MahaRshi narrated this wonderful Charitra that chased away not only his blues but also had a beautiful phalashruti.
Blessed was Yuddhisthira. The King may have lost his Kingdom and was forced into exile, but was ever fortunate not to have lost the Sattvic company that kept him firmly rooted in Dharma. Never once wavering from it, not even tempted away from it. The King turned his most trying times doing tapas as repentance for the game of dice, and continued till he was unsurpassed in his knowledge and practice of Dharma. What one gains from Dharma may not be visible to the human senses or mind, but then … the JeevAtma thrives and flourishes.
Successfully completing his exile in the forests in the aforesaid esteemed company and then agnyAtvAs, Yuddhisthira regains his lost kingdom under the guidance of Sri Krishna ParamAtma.
As VyAs proclaims in the MahAbhArata:
कर्कोटकस्य नागस्य दमयन्त्या: नलस्यच
ऋतुपर्णस्य राजर्षे: कीर्तनं कलिनाशनम् |
Karkotakasya NAgasya DamayantyAha Nalasyacha
Rituparnasya RAjarshehe Keertanam Kali NAshanam.
Chanting this shloka early at dawn and dusk keeps Kali Purush at bay …
Let not him affect the Buddhi …
Nala Damayanti Charitra is an epic within an epic. It reflects the Bimba Pratibimba style. To alleviate Yuddhisthira’s unusual despair, Rishi Brihadashwa narrates to him Nala Damayanti Charitra. There are unmistakable parallels in their lives. It’s human nature that hearing others’ troubles mitigates one’s own. Also, the Rishi by choosing this historical story, eases Yuddhisthira’s own troubles as neither Nala nor Damayanti had anyone else to share their burden with in their times of trouble. On the other hand Yuddhisthira had not only his divinely blessed brothers and wife, but also a retinue of learned scholars well versed in VedAs and ShAstrAs. He had the Rishis and Sri Krishna ParamAtma visiting him often. Nala’s DhArmic nature is a mirror to Yuddhisthira’s own love for Dharma. Both of them lose everything including their kingdom to a game of dice. Nala’s Damayanti is as captivating as Draupadi. Both these strong willed women not only go through untold hardships, they even take up the same occupation of Sairandhari during their stay incognito. The five Nalas in the Swayamvara remind one of the five PAndavAs. But it comes down to just one Nala finally. Similarly the PAndavAs though five and individually the sons of Yama, VAyu, Indra and Ashwin brothers also have Indra Tejas of five IndrAs of different time periods within them. They too are traced down to a single Indra Tejas unifying them. Nala’s culinary skills equal Bheem’s and both of them take up the job of chef when passing incognito. And Nala’s drastically changed appearance reminds one of Arjuna’s Brihannalla the teacher who taught dance to the Princess. This Nala Damayanti Charitra has found mention in VAlmiki RAmAyan too when Sita Devi proclaims in SundarakAnda she is to Sri RAma as Damayanti is to Nala. Thus Nala Damayanti have been thought of in both RAmAyan and MahAbharat in times of troubles. It is mentioned in PurAns, and Devi BhAgavatam. This is very clearly categorized under ItihAs.
Rishis used different approaches for the upliftment of humans from this materialistic world – VedAs, Upanishads, PurAns, MantrAs, YagnAs, Yog, DharmAcharana, upAsanA, TatvaChintana. Amongst mantrAs alone there are different mantrAs for different purposes, and then again there are different mantrAs serving the same purpose in different individuals based on their aptitude. Again while one might be able to do mantra japam as ordained in ShAstrAs, it may not suit another. This other may obtain the same benefit by just listening to a PurAnic story. So vast is this system. Most approaches require total shraddha (belief). Probably though just as mantras are chanted in Samskrit, full benefit of PurAnic stories too can be achieved when read or listened to in Samskrit.
Nala Damayanti Charitra has SamvAdagni upAsana encrypted in it. VedAs discuss SamvAdagni Vidya which is lost to us. It’s purpose is to promote harmony amongst all. The need of the hour being harmony, Nala Damayanti Charitra is all the more important. This is Kali Yug whose adidevatA is Kali Purush who by spreading conflicts, strife, anAchar and durAchar can even reduce one’s lifespan. Merely thinking of Nala Chakravarthy Charitra gets rid of Kali’s influence. It has the Shakti to negate Shani Dosh, Graha Dosh too.
While we have many PurAnic stories promoting AdhyAtmika through Dharma, UpAsana, and TAtvikam most of them deal with only one aspect. Few epics like RAmAyana, MahAbhArata, and Nala Damayanti Charitra though deal with all three aspects.
Yet another angle is within the characters. Damayanti – Nigraha Shakti with ParAshakti Tejas, Nala – Nar with Vishnu Tejas, Rudra Tejas, and Rituparna – KAl. The DevAs being DikpAls, and Karkotaka the divine serpent. All these deities are worshipped to ward away adverse influences of planetary positions. Thus these characters with the Tejas of these deities are so full of Shakti providing us a multitude of blessings.
Finally looking through the AdhyAtmik lens – decoding the names and applying the chronicle to every individual JeevAtma. Nala being Nar could be any one of us humans. He faces ups and downs as any other ordinary mortal would. With Damayanti, meaning Nigraha Shakti by his side he adheres to Dharma even in the worst of circumstances. With the anugraha of Karkotaka (Kundalini Shakti), and abiding by Ashwa Vidya (Indriya Nigrahana – indriyAs / senses are the AshwAs / horses that lead us through life), Nar over a period of time with Rituparna signifying KAl overcomes all adversities and obstacles to achieve aksha Vidya (Atma Vidya) and finally Realization – Sadgati, Mukti. This does not negate the charitra itself. Divinity plays different roles in different leelAs for us mortals.
Some of these concepts beyond grasp, sound incredulous but unlike the proverbial frog in the well that cannot conceive of a world beyond it’s narrow vision, let’s open up our minds to the wondrous mysteries of the world. And which the Rishis tried best to reveal to us in all possible ways.
Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!
(Image credit: livemint.com, original by Raja Ravi Varma)
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