Every character of Mahabharata brings a unique meaning and inspiration to its reader. One of these characters, highly significant, inspirational and deserves recognition is Damayanti, wife of Nala from the Vana Parva of Mahabharata.
The tale of Nala and Damayanti was much before Mahabharata and was told to Yudhishtara by the sage Vrihadashva during the former’s sorrowful state of forest living. It was said that Nala had suffered more than Yudhishtara due to gambling with dice; Damayanti also had to undergo many hardships and trauma during this time. This paper focuses on the life skills perspective on the difficult experiences of Damayanti, and how she used her knowledge and wisdom, to come out of the challenges faced in her life. It is important to note that Damayanti shows a high level of resilience and commitment to her values and principles, which facilitated her success. The sufferings of Damayanti and her resilience to come back to life, not compromised in her values, her wisdom in dealing with sudden difficulties and challenges, showcases one of the most memorable and inspirational characters in Mahabharata. She also uses her wisdom and skills in eliciting the required responses that are very much similar to modern-day projective tests of psychological testing methods.
The story of Damayanti unravels many life skills one after the other. Unlike other characters of epics, Damayanti was more of a human being, devoid of the divine influence in her birth or growing years, and faced the challenges of life with her principles intact. Going through the various hardships in her life, Damayanti, with her unparalleled wisdom and skills, stands apart as an epitome of love, character, emotionally poised, and humility.
Mahabharata is an ocean of human characters. All human emotions, thoughts and actions, observed in civilized society are mentioned here. Every character brings its unique human nature and inspires the reader to inculcate the values it adheres or in some cases, warns people of the consequences of a particular emotional pattern, thought process and actions to be avoided in our learning to become positive and adaptive being in life.
The story of Damayanti was not connected to Mahabharata in a direct way. Pandavas, after losing their kingdom to Kouravas, due to the game of dice, have been spending their time with Draupadi in the woods of the Kamyaka forest. Yudhishtara was very much aggrieved of his condition. Also, Pandavas were afflicted with the separation of Arjuna, who had gone to the abode of Indra for getting the divine weapons. Meanwhile, the sage Vrihadashva visits them. Yudhishtara was thinking that no one is so miserable or unfortunate like him and suffers in the forest. Then, the sage Vrihadashwa narrates the story of Nala as it is called Nalopakhyana (M.B. VanaParva-NalopakhyanaParva, Sec.52-79, Pp.111-163). Damayanti was the wife of Nala, a king of Nishadha.
The story of Nala-Damayanti comes in the Shiva Purana also. In Shiva Purana, It was a hanging narrative and not connected with anything, and difficult to say that it was significant in the Puranic literature. For all the literary references, I relied on Mahabharata of Krishna-DwaipayanaVyasa, translated to English by K.M. Ganguly (2015) and not referred to anything else.
Life Skills: Relevance, scope and application in the context of Mahabharata narratives
Few skills are necessary to survive than other skills. These skills, if we master, smoothen the everyday tasks and reduces the stress we are undergoing. Ancient people evolved and survived through the challenges and difficulties through some kind of life skills model in a primitive way (Kumar, 2015). However, modern psychologists provided a theoretical explanation for the need to include these skills (Bandura (1977) in the children’s developing years. In recent years, the World Health Organization (1998) organized and structured these life skills to make them more effective and efficient tools to prevent the exploitation of the underprivileged children in the developing countries. Before this systematic method of inclusion, ancient India used these skills in an effective manner through narrating stories to children to enhance their wisdom and morality, so that they will not get deceived in the society. Probably in this way, the author of Panchatantra used the concept of narrating stories as techniques to teach the wisdom and way to live in the society, which is full of challenges, could be termed as life skills (Jebastina & Kumar, 2011; Nair &Santanam, 2011). Life skills are the kind of personal skills, which enables him/her to solve the problems in a social context. It concentrates on the social behavior of human beings in relation to different social situations (Nair, 2010). Nair (2010) emphasizes that:
Life skill will help the individuals to translate knowledge, attitude and values into healthy behavior. To make it simple, life skill is the ability that can be imbibed and improved through practice, to translate the knowledge, attitude, and values into positive behavior, to deal efficiently with the needs and challenges of everyday life (P.32).
Kumar and Krishnamurthy (2017) demonstrated that Panchatantra stories are not mere fables for children; they have well depicted, matured psychological theory behind. The present paper is also an exploration of life skills used in the narratives, which has been inspiring the generation for centuries.
Similarly, when we look into the narratives of Mahabharata, we come across many stories of extraordinary feats and accomplishments. Many of these feats described as divine intervention and support, there are stories, which show a pure human exertion. One such type of story observed in the Mahabharata is Nalopakhyana-a legendary journey of Nala and his sufferings. Damayanti, wife of Nala, a lone humble woman, faces sudden challenges and hardships in life, goes through it and succeeds in her goals. This paper focuses on the character of Damayanati, understands her actions, thought process and feelings from the life skills perspectives, and follows in her journey to reach her husband. She does not reach her husband as a submissive helpless woman, but as a woman with substance called love and hope, both were strengthened by her wisdom and commitment to her values. She confronts her fate with resilience and humane efforts.
In the present paper, to keep the flow of a narrative work, life skills concepts are inter-woven and not introduced in an organized manner. A particular sub heading may have more concepts than what has been titled; problems and stresses in life do not come in a systematic way, but at random and in a chaotic manner. Apart from life skills, positive psychological concepts are applied to understand the character in a holistic perspective.
Damayanti: Not a divine birth, but a case of human effort over divinity
King Bhima of Vidarbha did not have children. Once, Brahmarshi Damana visited the king. The King Bhima and his wife took care of the sage and the sage got pleased and gave a boon in the form of a jewel of a daughter and three sons, who could bring fame to the kingdom. The author of Mahabharata does not give any other detail regarding the birth of Damayanti and we could infer that there was no divinity attached to the birth of Damayanti and her siblings. However, when she grew up, she was not an ordinary woman or princess. She was celebrated all over the world for beauty, brilliance, grace and intelligence. Meanwhile, Nala, son of Virasena was the king of Nishadha kingdom. Nala was famous for his prowess, administration, cooking and equestrian skills, where no one was equal to him in the world. The messengers of Nala used to tell Damayanti about the qualities of Nala and vice versa. This repetitive hearing of positive virtues of each other, even though not seen, they became attached to each other. Gradually, this attachment was strengthened and Nala was not able control his love feelings and became lonelier.
When a golden swan approached Damayanti in a secluded area and described Nala, Damayanti was not scared and listened to it and expressed her interest in Nala. She specifically wanted the golden swan to convey her message to Nala. This incident was our first confrontation with Damayanti and she was observed as bold, assertive and excellent in her communication style.
It should be noted that neither Nala nor Damayanti expressed their love for each other at this stage. Nevertheless, Damayanti was feeling something, which she could not express. Her maids noticed the behavioural change and informed the King. The king wanted to conduct swayamvara for Damayanti. The author of Mahabharata does not explain elaborately about whether the king Bhima had a talk with his wife and Damayanti before announcing swayamvara. However, we could infer easily that there must have been a talk and after this Damayanati might have gotten more eased from her anxiety and melancholy. Because, it is obvious that no one will marry the demented and melancholic princess!
Self-awareness, open communication and interpersonal relationship of Damayanti
Probably, organizing swayamvara and other paraphernalia might have taken months and there was no specific condition other than the choice of a bride, Damayanti might have got back to her previous grace and beauty. This could be observed in her appearance and talk, when Nala visits her as a messenger of Gods.
…He beheld the daughter of the king of Vidarbha surrounded by her hand-maids, blazing in beauty and excelling in symmetry of form, of limbs exceedingly delicate, of slender waist and fair eyes. And she seemed to rebuke the light of the moon by her own splendour. And as he gazed on that lady of sweet smiles (M.B. Vana Parva, Sec.55, P.119).
When some stranger comes suddenly into the well-guarded house, any inmates would get a shock. Same thing happened to all the women of the gynoecium. They were shocked to see a stranger, but handsome man. Damayanti too got shocked, but probably, she recovered quicker than all others and takes the initiative in enquiring the stranger with a smile. Damayanti was not scared to ask but honest as well as soft being non-judgmental is crucial in eliciting the required response from the stranger. She enquires:
‘What art thou, O thou of faultless features, that hast come here awakening my love? O sinless one, O hero of celestial form, I am anxious to know who thou art that hast come hither. And why hast thou come hither? And how is it that thou hast not been discovered by any one, considering that my apartments are well-guarded and the king’s mandates are stern (M.B. VanaParva, Sec. 55, P. 119)
We need to understand the height of positivity in the asking of Damayanti. She doesn’t get angry with the stranger, a man, who came without permission, also without getting noticed by any guards. Still she calls him sinless and allows a space and the assurance to express his reasons. Nevertheless, she also opens up her inner feelings of love, without hesitating as well as showing her presence of mind with the critical thinking dimension in saying ‘considering that my apartments are well-guarded and the king’s mandates are stern’. The demeanor and phrases reveal her balanced emotion and awareness of inner feelings as well as her keen critical thinking ability. Nevertheless, the question is how appropriate to express the inner feelings to a stranger in the first interaction. The only way to nullify this judgment is through the dimension of self-awareness at a very high degree, where the person knows himself and can communicate his inner feelings without being afraid of judgment.
After Nala introduced himself and his reasons to be there, Damayanti was calm and balanced. She does not get angry or scared with the Gods, but salutes them with humility! The quality of humbleness does not come to oneself, if he has a low self-awareness and low in self-acceptance. In my perspective, humility is not a distorted, negative construct, nonetheless, it is, aware of oneself and accept the limitations, where one of the living mortal being in the Universe, where oneself is lesser to the higher Universal beings or divine entities. Humility, self-awareness and self-acceptance are required in our journey of self-realization and self-actualization. Damayanti displays this quality throughout her life in a consistent manner.
Then smilingly she expresses her inner feelings of love towards him and the words said by the golden swan. Damayanti also says she will not accept anyone other than Nala, and may end her life, if he forsakes her. Nala, as a messenger of Gods, narrates the various divine qualities of Lokapalas and questions her choice to marry him. For this, Damayanti, once again saluting to the invisible Gods and said to Nala that she will choose him only as her husband. Nala refuses to accept her choice because as a messenger he has to work on the owner of the messages rather than being selfish in his endeavor. The feelings of Damayanti and the way she manages that is the significant thing. Probably, Damayanti was able to be empathetic with Nala, whom she loves a lot and does not get angry with him. She understands his conflict of interest and gives a solution. Then, Damayanti says to Nala that in the swayamvara, she will choose him, if he visits the ceremony along with Lokapalas, which does not turn blame on Nala’s virtues. When we notice how easily Damayanti solved the problem shows her intelligence and problem solving ability in an emotionally poised manner. She does not get into a helpless position, nor blame others. She does not leave it to the fate and magical solutions; she does not even get scared like Nala, when she decides and chooses a mortal instead of an omnipotent divine soul. That is the confidence Damayanti had in her as a person without a little false pride.
Critical thinking and open communication as a problem solving mechanisms
The Amphitheatre was filled with kings and princes from different kingdoms. Damayanti came with a garland and after crossing over many kings and princes, she saw five people, all resembling Nala. She had a doubt and was anxious. She recalled that celestials have distinct physical attributes than mortals. However, she was not able to see any of those. With humility, she bows down to them and seeks their help. She prays:
‘Since I heard the speech of the swans, I chose the king of the Nishadhas as my lord. For the sake of truth, O, let the gods reveal him to me. And as in thought or word I have never swerved from him, O, let the gods, for the sake of that truth, reveal him to me. And as the gods themselves have destined the ruler of the Nishadhas to be my lord, O, let them, for the sake of that truth, reveal him to me. And as it is for paying homage unto Nala that I have adopted this vow, for the sake of that truth, O, let the gods reveal him unto me, O, let the exalted guardians of the worlds assume their own proper forms, so that I may know the righteous king.'(M.B. VanaParva, Sec. 57, P.121).
The above sentences said by Damayanti reveals her clarity of thought process, which is one of the features of critical thinking and communication in the crucial situation, where the situation is filled with confusion, beyond one’s intellectual capacity to understand the dynamics of the celestials due to their omniscient and omnipotent qualities. Another aspect of the incident was the Nala, who had doubt in himself, whether he is the right person for the princess Damayanti compared to celestials. This was observed during his stint as a messenger. Damayanti was not having such kind of self-doubt; she was pure in her love, affection and truthfulness.
When she found Nala, she caught hold of his hem of the garment and garlanded him. We need to appreciate the author of Mahabharata, Krishna-Dwaipayana for providing the minute details, which are of significant nature to understand the psychological dynamics of the character. Once, she discerns Nala, she was bashfully caught the hem of the garment reveals her genuine love for him, which has been expressed by her spontaneously. Nala was grateful to her for her choice and expresses his wish to be with her, throughout the life and obedient to her command. This was an unusual gesture from Nala, the king, shows that he not only reveres her beauty, but also listens to her advice, like an obedient student to his teacher. Damayanti reciprocates by saluting him with folded hands.
The couples were happily married for twelve years and got twins, a boy and a girl child.
Kali and his evil intentions: An example of low self-awareness and empathy
Meanwhile Kali, who was waiting for an opportunity to possess Nala from the day Nala got married to Damayanti and finally got a chance to possess Nala. Kali insisted Pushkara to invite Nala for a game of dice. The virtuous Nala, possessed by Kali, also fond of dice game, could not resist for a long time. When they started playing the game of dice, where Dwapara was helping the Pushkara in every move, Nala was on the worst side losing the game over game, the major portion of his wealth. Damayanti, a keen observer, tried to stop Nala, but could not. She tried to intervene, when the councilors and royal citizens came to visit Nala to restrain from his gaming stint, Nala did not even listen to her words. Damayanti tried twice to interfere and came to know the status of treasury and resources. She became alarmed due to the gravity of the situation. Damayanti probably could not understand Nala’s falling in virtues and behave this way. As a person with intelligence and foresightedness, who does not want her children to be victims and suffer due to future calamity, sent them to her father’s place with a trusted person by name, Varshneya. She has done all these things as per the stated rules. It is interesting to know that Damayanti does not talk ill about Nala. She tells Varshneya that Nala is in difficulty and it’s all others responsibility to assist the king, wherever possible. She does not even get angry with Nala for not listening to her words. One reason could be that in those days, the ruling king was considered equal to the visible God and the citizens were generally respecting his actions and deeds (M.B.AdiParva-AstikaParva, Sec.41).
Damayanti: An epitome of empathy
Nala lost in the dice game to Pushkara, everything he had, including the kingdom and wealth. He had to set out for the forest in a single cloth. Damayanti follows him. They hardly had anything to eat for a week long except water. Then he sees a flock of birds to catch, but loses his final piece of cloth. Dwapara, disguised as birds, carried away the cloth after teasing him. They had difficult days together and Nala shows Damayanti, where the roads go again and again. He did not specifically express her to go to her father’s house. But Damayanti, an intelligent woman, understood what he meant. She expresses in a choked voice:
‘O king, thinking of thy purpose, my heart trembleth, and all my limbs become faint. How can I go, leaving thee in the lonewoods despoiled of thy kingdom and deprived of thy wealth, thyself without a garment on, and wornwith hunger and toil? When in the deep woods, fatigued and afflicted with hunger, thou thinkest of thyformer bliss, I will, O great monarch, soothe thy weariness. In every sorrow there is no physic equalunto the wife, say the physicians. It is the truth, O Nala, that I speak unto thee’ (M.B. VanaParva, Sec.61, P.127).
Perhaps, there is no other literary evidence, which displays better empathetic sentence from any person in the history of humankind to think of others’ condition under these kinds of harsh circumstances. A woman, born and brought up in the royal clan, probably never experienced a toiled life, goes through the hard days without proper food and sleep, thinking about her husband’s condition and being a soothing nurse-friend in his pain. Damayanti was absolutely a graceful person to be revered, when we think of the finest example of empathy.
It is important to note that the ‘tough empathy’ is required to be successful in the hard tasks (Goffee & Jones, 2000). After expressing her purpose in being with Nala, Damayanti confronts Nala on his intention to forsake her. Here, we see the purity of love in each other. Then Damayanti, after understanding Nala’s intention, feeling compassionate, takes the initiative to go to her father’s place together, if Nala is pleased about it. She feels that her father will still receive Nala with honour and he can happily live there. It is heartwarming to see in the ancient Indian culture, a woman is the promoter of the virtues in both the houses. They never felt that ‘not belonging’ to their parental place. This culture has been under tremendous change nowadays. However, Nala was not willing to go there under his present condition.
Nala could not bear that Damayanti was undergoing difficulties, which she never experienced. When she was in deep slumber in a traveller’s shed, he thought that deserting her would be the best option and she would reach her father’s place. He found a sword and cut her single piece of cloth without her getting noticed. But his heart was not ready to do that. He prays to Gods to protect her along with her own energy of being a chaste wife. He makes many attempts and is finally influenced by Kali, bereft of senses, leaves her and disappears in the deep forest.
Lamentations of Damayanti and curse on Kali: Managing emotions and critical thinking
Damayanti wakes up from her deep slumber and finds that Nala was not there nearby. She started lamenting and her emotions beyond consolable and heart wrenching to hear. Even during these lamentations, she thinks of Nala, his distressed condition and cries for him. Sometimes, negative feelings like fear and anger makes people notice beyond the narrow perspectives. The same thing happened in the case of Damayanti; Probably, birds carrying Nala’s cloths might have given some hint to the intelligent Damayanti that virtuous Nala playing dice continuously, losing and still not give up the dice play, not even listening to her words, and finally even losing cloths, must be someone’s evil plot. When Nala was around, perhaps she might not have given this importance to the thought. Once, Nala deserts her, the suspicion might become clearer to her, but still, Damayanti was not able to discern who this person was supposed to be, curse the person, whoever it might be, to go through more distress than they did. She could not curse with specific consequences because the evil minded person is not a certainty, but he has to get the consequence for his evil action, probably she might have thought that mere higher distress than what they are undergoing is good enough.
Curse is a negative energy. If the targeted stimulus is vague, not deserving or against nature, curse does not affect the targeted stimuli, and causes damage to the person who is cursing. It was observed in the incident of a gigantic serpent seized Damayanti. Then hearing someone is crying for help, a hunter rescues her and advances towards her with a sexual intention. When Damayanti understood his intention, she immediately cursed him to be dead. However, she did not curse the serpent earlier because catching a prey, whoever came nearby in its territory, is the natural instinct of the wild serpent and a righteous person cannot use his spiritual power on it. Curse works more at psychological dimension than physical dimension. Hunter, being influenced by a self-fulfilling prophesy, with extreme fear and guilt of his actions, dies of massive heart attack or failure of the other life supporting organs.
Damayanti has a strong affectionate feeling for Nala. Even, under the seized by a serpent, she was thinking about the Nala’s distressed condition. It is a selfless and pure love; can be seen with sages and transcended spiritual beings, and in self-actualized persons.
Resilience of Damayanti: A person with humility and indomitable strength
Damayanti is lamenting continuously. She was asking mountains, hills, animals like lions, elephants, and deers, whether they had seen the king Nala. She introduces herself as the daughter of Bhima and then the daughter in-law of Virasena and an innocent spouse of Nala. Damayanti was frightened to walk alone in that terrible forest, she walks, laments, still searches for deserted Nala, not getting angry with him for deserting her, but feels proud of herself, queen of king Nala and again feels humble to say as an innocent spouse. We need to note that Damayanti, so much in distress physically and psychologically, manages her emotions in such a balanced way; nowhere we see the excess either in humility or in pride, a rare quality to have during such a distressed situation, which is natural in persons with high self-awareness. While walking in the terrific forest, which is part of nature, filled with wild and ferocious animals, there is no way a lonely one could have his pride and arrogance. The person has to be humble and show humility. However, humility has its limitations; one has to have the energy or power to move forward, need to feel not helpless and that comes from the feeling of pride in oneself, one’s identity. That will give the individual the energy needed to be identified later by people they feel proud of. A small error here could take a toll on a person’s life. Probably, Damayanti was unparalleled in managing her emotions with high self-awareness, showing higher resilience than any other woman, in the distressed situation, a person integrated in her “total self”.
Damayanti walked in that forest for three days and night, probably because of physical and psychological exhaustion, she dreams about a pleasant experience. In the dream, exhausted Damayanti comes to a place or grove, where ascetics live and do their sacrifices. She goes there, salutes them and enquires about their welfare and sacrificial practices. The ascetics responded with a positive note and they asked her back about her whereabouts. Damayanti tells them that she does not belong to any celestial clan but a human being and narrates her story without blaming the king Nala, but praises him. After narrating her background, she asks those ascetics about Nala, thinking that he might have visited those Ashrama’s and if she could not get to see him in a few days, she is going to end her life. The ascetics responded that she would soon see Nala with all his wealth and enjoy a life with him.
Self-awareness and managing emotions for survival
Dream is part of our unconscious self, where two contradictory self confronts each other and the dominant core self will emerge and guide the conscious self. Damayanti, with her pious background, gets a positive message, feels sad and pale, and continues her life journey in that deep forest.
Damayanti continues her searching, talking to trees, animals and mountains. It is not only searching for a person outside; a way to seek self, to keep oneself sane and strong, where your voice becomes the positive-motivating friend of your de-motivating self, a problem solving mechanism in the solitary distressed journey.
After a few more days of walking in that terrific forest, she sees a group of merchants about to cross the river. She joins the group. Merchants became afraid of her and everyone got into different emotional reactions. Finally, a merchant leader asks her presence in that forest being alone and walking like a divine being. She replies to them that she is a human being, narrates her story, and probably seeks their support in joining the caravan. We could notice that she is back to her normal self, not the traumatized Damayanti; she might have taken few minutes to collect herself due to the physical exhaustion, but she did not become helpless nor protected woman; she stands tall, assertive and composed person; outcome of being self-aware and persons with resilience qualities.
The caravan got attacked by wild elephants. There was a chaos and stampede. Damayanti managed to escape unhurt. However, that does not last long. Survivors of the attack started blaming their misfortune due to her presence. Few of them could not understand Damayanti’s condition and wanted to kill her through stone pelting. Even though Damayaanti used her intelligence to protect her, could not control her emotions. She was getting to self- blame mode and pitied her condition. She adopted different defense mechanisms, a destiny as the finality. We will come back to this belief in the later section.
Critical thinking and decision making as a mechanism to defend oneself
Morning, Damayanti joined the remaining merchants group and got along with Brahmana’s and reached the mighty city of Chedi’s. Damayanti was still looking shabby and disheveled. Local boys, thinking that she is a mad person, mocked her. Damayanti, surrounded by boys and was noticed by the queen mother. The queen mother asked a maid to bring Damayanti to her quarters. The queen mother asks Damayaanti her background and appreciates her personal grace. Damayanti hides her true story and informs the queen mother only as a woman serving a good lineage. She briefly talks about her husband, without revealing the identity.
We observe that Damayanti was very much methodical about using her critical thinking and decision-making skills. She does not blabber herself to solve her problem from someone else. Because she did not know that the queen mother is her aunt. She does not want to meet her parents without the presence of Nala by herself. She accepts to be part of serving woman only after the queen mother agrees to Damayanti’s condition that:
I shall not eat the leavings on any dish, nor shall I wash anybody’s feet, nor shall I have to speak with other men. And if anybody shall seek me (as a wife or mistress) he should be liable to punishment at thy hands. And, further, should he solicit me over and over again, that wicked one should be punished with death. This is the vow I have made. I intend to have an interview with those Brahmanas that will set out to search for my husband. If thou canst do all this, I shall certainly live with thee. If it is otherwise, I cannot find it in my heart to reside with thee (M.B. VanaParva, Sec:65, P.140).
These demeanors of Damayanti reveal that she is highly assertive, value based, no nonsense approach even during the helpless condition. Another point to be noted down is her adeptness in decision making; Damayanti is clear in her self-awareness and maintaining the boundary than letting it loosened and get into issues with her interpersonal relationship. In this way, she shows more maturity than Draupadi of Mahabharata. Damayanti never allowed anyone to take advantage of her helpless condition, showing how much she values her integrity and being a chaste woman. Queen mother agrees for her conditions and Damayanti stays there, thinking and feeling about the whereabouts of King Nala.
Sudeva, a Brahmana came to search for Nala and Damayanti, saw her in the palace of Chedi queen. He recognizes her and meets her privately. He introduced himself as a friend of her brother. He reassures Damayanti about the well-being of her relatives back at Vidarbha. Sudden hearing of her relatives and kin’s, Damayanti cried out profoundly, Sunanda, the daughter queen mother informs the latter. Queen mother asks Brahmana about his background and the reason for his presence there. The truth revealed to the queen mother about Damayanti and the queen mother felt good to know that that Damayanti is her sister’s daughter. We observe that Damayanti has been staying there for a long time and did not want to visit her father’s place without getting a call from her father. This shows that Damyanati did not want to visit her father’s without Nala by herself. However, when she knew that her father had been searching for her, she did not want to continue her previous stint, and wanted to search for Nala with more resources, revealing that she is highly adaptive and flexible in her decision making and problem solving approach.
Creative Critical thinking and problem solving approach of Damayanti
She conveys her love towards Nala and intention to search for his whereabouts. The queen informs the king Bhima. Bhima agrees for it and sends some Brahmanas to Damayanti about the strategy to be adopted. Damayanti wants to use a different technique this time than what they have already done. She knows that there is a strong reason for Nala to desert her and stay away. He might have been in the camouflaged form. So, finding out his presence in the crowd by physical markers, does not help. She uses psychological games to get him out of his field. She asks the Brahamana’s to recite particular speech in a dramatic way. The speech has the incidents related to Nala- Damayanti and their heart wrenching separation and his commitments to her after the marriage. Any one responding to the speech means there is something in the person or the person is connected to the speech recited in some way. Damayanti asks the Brahmana’s to get to know more about the person, who responds. Similar kind of method to elicit the responses used in modern day projective-psychological testing (Freeman, 1965; Anastasi, 1990) and in psychodrama form of psychotherapy in a slightly structured way than what has been described here. However, Damayanti has used the conceptual psychological explanation successfully, probably three millennia before, the concept has been studied by modern psychologists.
We need to note that Damayanti was very precise in her instructions and the technique. This shows that she has a good enough knowledge and understanding of how people react to a situation, where they are connected. I do not think this kind of knowledge comes from random creativity. She might have studied or been exposed to experts, who use some aspects of human behaviour and personality testing earlier to her.
As Damayanti expected, the plot worked. A Brahmana, who went to Ayodhya, got the response from a charioteer of the King Rituparna. A charioteer named Vahuka responded to the speech saying that how the deserted spouse should not misunderstand and get angry with the deserted person. Brahmana described Damayanti even with features and emotional tone of Vahuka. Damayanti became certain that the short-armed person was supposed to be Nala. Then she creates one more plot to bring Nala. She calls another confident person, Sudeva, secretly and informs him that he has to inform King Rituparna about king Bhima is organizing one more swayamvara for Damayanti as she does not know whether Nala is alive or not. Sudeva should inform the king Rituparna that the swayamvara would take place next day of the day he informs Rituparna. Because if king Rituparna wanted to attend the ceremony, except Nala, no one could drive the chariot so fast that they will be in Vidarbha the next day. Damayanti wanted it to be so secret that she does not want her father to know about it! The plot shows how Damayanti is keen in problem solving to get Nala back in her life using her wisdom and creativity. Damayanti is not a person, who submits helplessly to fate and passively waits for him to come back. Nonetheless, she takes the initiative, asserts herself and uses her creativity to reach her goal.
The king Rituparna, Varshneya and Nala reached the city Kundina and the palace. Horses and elephants recognized the sound of chariot as that of Nala and facing towards their previous master. Damayanti too heard the sound of rattling as similar to Nala. Damayanti also saw the king Rituparna and Varshneya. She could not recognize Nala disguised as Vahuka. She saw an ugly looking person with short arms. She made one more scheme to find out whether he was a Nala or not. She asks her maid Kesini about her plot, to evoke the emotions in that confronted person Vahuka. Kesini goes and does what she has been told. She asked Vahuka about the objective of coming here and about himself as well as expressing previous schemes. She asks Vahuka to respond to what he has done earlier. Even though Vahuka responded, he could not hold for long his emotions, burst out, and weeps. Kesini comes back and narrates it to Damayanti, who was observing the incident from the terrace. Damaynati was certain that he was Nala. However, she wanted to ascertain more precisely. As of now, Damayanti’s emotional self accepts him as Nala. That is not the end; she wanted her logical self to accept the Vahuka as Nala. For that, she uses another psychological method-observation. She asks Kesini to observe Nala keenly without him coming to know. Then Damayanti asks Kesini to bring the food he cooked. All these things ascertain that he is Nala to her. Then she sends her children with Kesini and gets the observation from her. When he sees the children, he could not restrain his emotions, cries a lot. But Vahuka is cautious about his meeting with her frequently, which people may think differently.
Self-awareness and responsibility in the inter-personal relationship
Damayanti was certain in all the aspects that Vahuka is Nala. However, what is required is she needs to be certain that Nala needs to announce that he is the same old Nala, who deserted her in the forest and reasons for his behaviour. Unless that has been resolved, she does not want to accept him as her husband. This act of testing by Damayanti shows that she wanted Nala to be responsible for his actions and accept her with love; as a person with principles. Damayanti, as a person committed her values, wanted Nala too show the same amount of commitment to her. When he does not do it, she confronts him directly. Here, Damayanti is not a passive loving and caring wife, she is a responsible human being, who acts on fairness. We need to understand that fairness cannot be one-sided act; fairness is mutual and provides the conducive space within the relationship. Any bursting of emotions don’t fill the void created by unfair treatment ; only experiencing the pain of other, who was treated unfairly and accepting that ‘I treated the other person unfairly and will take all the responsibility’ is the crucial understanding needed to be followed here.
Another crucial observation of Damayanti is her belief in human effort and exertion than carried away with the belief that fate is the finality. She tests Vahuka in many ways to ascertain him as Nala. Finally, she asks him for the reason for desertion with irrefutable words. Nala replied to that as all these evil acts are the influence of Kali and he questions her intention to get second marriage again. Damayanti gives him the appropriate response and her scheme to recover the virtuous Nala.
She also takes a vow that if there is any sin in her actions and schemes, let Gods give her the chastisement.
People do ask should Damayanti taking vow is necessary in this context. In case of Nala, it was not there. Nala responding to the schemes of Damayanti, his emotional bursts and coming to Damayanti’s second swayamvara shows that he is interested in her committed companionship and as not to run away from her. However, the same way Damayanti has to prove her, the way they wanted. She proves herself in an unequivocal way; no more asserting herself is necessary than the vow with extreme consequences, an act similar to Agnipareeksha of Sita in Ramayana. The vow also shows that high self-awareness dimension of Damayanti and proves her commitment and love to her beloved person-Nala.
Damayanti was an outstanding woman with values, not seen in ordinary human beings. She had gone through the hardships, stood resiliently and firm in her principles. Damayanti’s love for her husband is unparalleled and she might have inspired the millennia of ancient India. She makes schemes to recover her husband and tries to get more schemes to ascertain herself more precisely, are the best examples of her skills and wisdom. Throughout the narration, we could not see a demeanour of audacity, arrogance and passivity, but an abundance of life skills and survived through her life skills and commitment to her purpose. Damayanti is not an ordinary woman, but an empress of life skills, character, pure love, where any human would like to possess those qualities because she was not a divine person, but a mere human being; that is the humility of Damayanti.
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This paper was presented as a part of a Conference on Puranas and Indic Knowledge Systems, organized by Indic Academy on 26th and 27th March 2021.
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