Naishadha-charita of Shriharsha

by Krishna Kanta Handiqui | 1956 | 159,632 words

This page relates Nala and the swan; Description of the city of Kundina which is canto 2 of the English translation of the Naishadha-charita of Shriharsha, dealing with the famous story of Nala (king of Nishadha) and Damayanti (daughter of Bhima, king of Vidarbha), which also occurs in the Mahabharata. The Naishadhacharita is considered as one of the five major epic poems (mahakavya) in Sanskrit literature.

Canto 2 - Nala and the swan; Description of the city of Kuṇḍina

1. Then obtaining its freedom from that lord of the earth, the best among men, the bird experienced a joy that was beyond the range of words.

2. Several times did the bird shake its body, the feathers of which were made to bristle up; then with its beak it scratched the root-ends of its wings, the inside of which was ruffled by the grasp of (Nala’s) hands.

3. The bird went to its nest at the very moment of its getting loose, hastily scratching its head with one of its feet, the leg being up in the middle of the root-end of a wing.

4. With strokes of the tip of its strong beak, the clever bird removed, gently scratching as it did so, the worms which were sharply biting it in certain parts of its body, being inaccessible in the cluster of its feathers, a fort as it were.

5. The birds living in the pool of water quickly approached and surrounded the swan, but after that, scared by the disorder (of its feathers) caused by the seizure with the hand, they flew up with loud chirpings.

6. The bird again went to Nala’s hand which held, as it were, bees in the shape of its rosary beads, he himself bearing many marks used by the members of the Śaiva sect, as if the bird mistook his (rosy) hand to be a red lotus of a pool bearing spaces with large quantities of moss.

7. The bird seemed to have a great confidence (in Nala) owing to the long caressing by him, and roused the curiosity of the king beyond measure, by coming to his hand.

8. The swan, to which the lake of Mānasa was dear, said thus, causing the king’s mind, wḥicḥ was sinking in the waves of the nectar of curiosity, to have recourse to two pitchers in the shape of the holes of his ears.[1]

9. “Thou that art beautiful like Cupid, even kings well-versed in the purport of the law-books do not condemn hunting, but in spite of it thou didst let me loose; that is thy religious virtue refulgent with mercy.

10. “Hunting is not a sin in the case of kings who kill the fish that eat the weaker members of their race, the birds that hurt the trees on which they have their nests, and the deer that cause pain to the innocent grass.

11. “I wish to remove the effect of the unpleasant tilings I said, by doing some goo i to thee, just as the sun removes the fever of heat which it causes to a tree, by showering water on it.

12. “It is not proper even for one like thee to reject a good that is present unasked; this offer hast thou received from a favourable fate, to which other persons are as hands.

13. “Is it possible for me, a bird, to do any good to thee, the lord of the earth? This I do know, yet a,n anxiety to do thee a good in return does not leave me.

14. “Or one should, without delay, confer on one’s benefactor a benefit accomplished by one’s own means; it may be groat or small; the wise do not persist in any such distinction in the matter.

15. “Even if this statement of mine bo not perfect in judgment, thou shouldst hear it; will it not cause delight like the voice of a parrot, because it is tho utterance of a bird?

16. “There thrives that, king Bhīma, whose name has been made literally true[2] by the multitude of his enemies, and obtaining whom as the master, the land of Vidarbha laughs at even the heaven with Indra as its lord.

17. “As a boon from the truthful sage Damana, who was highly pleased with him, the king obtained a daughter, the uprise of whose virtues has no parallel in the three divisions of time[3] or in the three worlds.

18. “Because she came into being, subduing with her personal charm the pride of beauty on the part of the beautiful women of the three worlds, she acquired the name Damayantī.[4]

19. “Know her to be Lakṣmī herself with this difference,[5] that she rose from the ocean of virtues, viz: that king; in spite of the screen (of invisibility), who does not know that a digit of the moon resides on Śiva’s head?

20. “Glorious, indeed, is the lock of hair that the learned Damayantī holds on her head; who will want to compare it with the Camarī deer’s screen (of invisibility), who does not know that a digit of the moon resides on Śiva’s head?

20. “Glorious, indeed, is the lock of hair that the learned Damayantī holds on her head; who will wish to compare it to the Camarī deer’s tail which even the animal does not put to the fore?[6]

21. “Antelopes console their eyes under the pretext of scratching them with their hoofs, as they close up out of fear, vanquished by the beauty of Damayantī’s large eyes.

22. “King, the family of Damayantī’s father and that of her mother, her eyes and her womanly virtues—those which are heard of as well as those which are seen in her—all these brilliantly shine forth with their mutual splendour; the families, because they are celebrated; the eyes, because they are stretched as far as the ears; and the virtues, because they follow the Scriptures.

23. “Her eyes which prove the lotus to be pale, when they do not touch the collyrium-stick, make even the Khanjana bird humble in its pride of beauty, when they are embellished with collyrium.

24. “The word Adharabimba (‘a lower lip like the Bimba fruit’) designating her lip has acquired a (more) appropriate construing, viz., ‘The fruit called Bimba is inferior (adhara) to it (in beauty’).

25. “The disc of the moon, the essence of which seems to have been taken away by the Creator for making Damayantī’s face, is (for that reason) seen to have a hollow made in the middle, and hold the blue of the sky in the deep cavity.

26. “Rightly does the Creator revolve the moon round Damayantī’s face as a vessel of ‘ceremonial whirling’, whitish (as if) with a lotion of flour-water in it, and carrying, as it were, a plaster of cowdung in the guise of its dark spot.[7]

27. “In a test of beauty the entire genus of lotus flowers was defeated by Damayantī’s face; obviously it has not even now given up the sign of its defeat—the habit of keeping above the water.[8]

28. “Her eyebrows have emerged as the bows of Cupid and his wife Rati for the conquest of the world, and are not the nostrils of her high nose shooting tubes for them both, desirous of letting loose their arrows on thee?[9]

29. “Hero, she is worthy of thee alone; her arms conquer the lotus stalk that resides in its watery fort, and with the grace of her hands she wishes to take possession of the charms of the lotus blossoms devoted to the sun.

30. “Do not the two ages, childhood and the one following it, both of which wish to pervade the fair-eyed damsel, live contented in her, though limited off by the Creator by making a division with a line of hairs?[10]

31. “Verily her breasts are serving as two swimming pitchers[11] both for Cupid and Youth, as they move forward on her body, though made unfathomable by floods of beauty.

32. “Has the pot acquired the power of turning the potter’s wheel from its (instrumental) cause—the potter’s rod? For having become her high breasts, it (now) produces a whirling motion[12] with a shower of lustre.

33. “Verily the peacock, whose train is slighted by Damayantī’s hair, has recourse to Kārttika,[13] and Airāvata, the king of elephants, whose temples are vanquished by the beauty of her breasts, has recourse to Indra.

34. “The (Creator’s) fist, the thumb-mark of which is patent from the fact of Damayantī’s back being depressed in the middle, made her belly beautiful with three fleshy folds which issued from inside its four fingers.[14]

35. Does some curious fellow measure with his fist Damayantī’s belly? For it shines with (three) fleshy folds together with a zone of gold, as if bearing (the impressions) of the four fingers of a fist.[15]

36. “Does the Creator who made her plump and rounded hips wish to build an one-wheeled chariot for Cupid with the experience he gained in making the (one-wheeled) chariot of the sun?

37. “With her broad thighs, does the beautiful damsel wish to surpass only the banana plant known as Rambhā? (She wishes to surpass) also the young nymph of that name, (the touch of) whose bosom was the result of religious austerities on the part of Kubera’s son,

38. “Two day-lotus blossoms, as if by worshipping the sun, obtained for themselves a superior position in the shape of being Damayantī’s feet; certain it is that a pair of swans, coming and cackling round them, provides them with anklets.[16]

39. “Why should not the lotus, which dwells in sacred pools and rivers, and passes whole nights in meditation by way of closing its petals, attain a happy state in its birth as Damayantī’s feet?

40. “I who have visited many places to resort to pools of water have made Damayantī the guest of my eyes—Damayantī, about whose waist it is doubtful whether it exists or not.

41. “Concluding that she had not pursued her studies even with the celestial maidens, as her comrades, I pondered as to who was in the mind of the Creator as her husband.

42. “Then trying to think of a worthy husband for her, and being unable to get riḍ of objectionable features in the case of all other young men, I hit upon thee as the final conclusion.

43. “My recollection being roused by this climax of thy beauty, it is today that the pure-smiling damsel has come to my mind, though I have seen her for a long span of time.

44. “Hero, Damayantī’s emotional complex will become thee alone; only on the bosom of a young woman does the beauty of a pearl-string shine forth.

45. “Without her, this thy beauty is useless like the flower of a barren tree; (without her) this wealthy earth is useless, and what is thy pleasure-garden worth, though it has singing cuckoos?

46. “But union with her, desired by the gods, is not easy for thee, just as in the rainy season union with the beclouded moonlight is not easy for the lotus of the night.

47. “Hence will I sing thy praise near Damayantī in such a manner that, treasured by her in her heart, thou wilt not be re-placed even by Indra.

48. “Fie on these words of mine, though they are meant only to obtain thy consent; the good speak of their usefulness by action, not by words.”

49. Having drunk this clear nectar of words emanating from that king of birds, Nala gave out a pure, white smile, as if it were an emission, due to satiation, of the nectar drunk by him.

50. Fondling the bird with the red lotus[17] growing at the fore-end of his arm, Nala softly uttered to its joy words which came from a throat that was the repository of the nectar of pleasant speech.

51. “Thy figure is beyond the range of comparison; the goodness of thy nature is beyond the range of expression; the gist of the essential tenets of palmistry that a noble figure possesses noble qualities has thyself as the example.

52. “Indeed, not merely thy body is of gold; is thy voice, too, so? Why, thy partiality is not only for the path that is without any support,[18] but also for one like me.

53. “Suffering from an extreme heat, I have got thee—a breeze with the quintessence of snow; it is otherwise with the rich, but for the good the company of those who are virtuous is the only perfect treasure.

54. “A hundred times have I heard of her, the unfailing herb that makes the three worlds lose their senses; but by virtue of what thou hast said, I feel I have seen her with my own eyes.

55. “To the wise seeing everything clearly with the aid of friends or their own heart, the eyes which cannot grasp minute objects even at close quarters are merely ornaments of the face.

56. “Bird, her story, a sort of peerless honey, which people have made the guest of my ears, serves as a kindling verse[19] in stirring up Cupid’s fire; fie on those who are fickle!

57. “Bird, being as fuel in the fire of her absence I surmise the south wind to be unbearable, full as it is of the poisonous whiffs of the serpents on the Malaya mountain.[20]

58. “Bird, is it because the moon is united every month with the sun[21] that it burns me with its extremely sharp rays which take away my patience?

59. “If Cupid’s arrows are flowers, and not thunderbolts, they grow on poisonous creepers; for they have stunned and vehemently heated my heart.

60. “To me about to be drowned in this limitless ocean of pain caused by Cupid’s arrows, be thou therefore a refuge, like a boat suddenly placed near at hand by fate.

61. “Or, perhaps my urging thee to action is like crushing a thing already crushed; for the good do good to others of their own accord, just as sense-perceptions become valid on their own account.

62. “Auspicious be thy way! May we meet speedily again! Dear bird, do, do what I long for, and remember me in time.”

63. Having sent away the bird with these words, the patient king, the Bṛhaspati of pleasant and truthful speech, entered the garden house, astonished at the swan’s words adhering to his memory.

64. Then the bird, in order to crown that very day with success, by looking at Damayantī, started for the city of Kuṇḍina which acted as the ornament of the mundane sphere.

65. On its way before it, the swan perceived a pitcher full of water as the first guest of its eyes—a token that augurs the success desired by a traveller.

66. Adopting for a moment a motion, slow with amazement, in order to look round in the sky, the bird saw in the king’s pleasure-garden a mango fruit attached to the tree.[22]

67. The noble bird saw a mountain, frequented by clouds, the elephant cubs of the sky, and abounding with shrubs, and possessing hyenas and serpents hidden by branches.

21.The Malaya mountain is believed to be situated in the south.

68. The bird went on, now shaking the root of its wings, now imperceptible by soaring high, and now spreading out its motionless wings, giving delight to lookers-on.

69. Owing to its speed the swan gleamed along, as if rubbing the gold of its wings against the touchstone-like surface of the sky, with a thin ray of light coming into view.

70. The swan, whose wings left in their trail a jingling sound owing to its speed, was seen overhead with a steadfast gaze by birds which were below and which quickly came to a lower level, apprehending the pounce of a hawk.

71. The swan, as it went along, could not be seen by people, who saw its shadow on the earth and immediately looked at the sky in all directions, the bird quickly going out of sight at a high speed.

72. On its way the swan, with its lustre spreading with its speed, did not stop anywhere in any wood beautiful with lofty trees, nor did it answer back the quacking of its relations.

73. Then the beautiful city, protected by the terrible-armed king (Bhīma), and adorned with edifices white as the Mount of Kailāsa, came in sight of the bird.

74. (The city) where houses with frames of crystal, with walls pure like a digit of the moon, shone as if they were continual amorous smiles of the earth meant for her beloved (the king).

75. (The city) where enveloping darkness, without any return, took shelter even in daytime, for fear of the sun, in the guise of the lustre of the sapphire[23] buildings of the king.

76. (The city) where at night in the houses made of shining white gems—the interval between heaven and earth laughing with them—the single night of the full moon visited all other nights as a guest.

77. (The city) where the pleasure tank, tinged with the saffron transmitted by beautiful women plunging in them, did not clear up even in the course of the whole night, just as an obstinate ladylove, offended by the saffron transmitted (to her lover) through his attachment to beautiful women, does not show her favour throughout the night.

78. (The city) which at night, calm and quiet for a moment, adored a certain pure, internal light in the shape of its houses of gems, using its line of ramparts as the sheet of cloth worn during meditation.

79. The city that flashed like the heavens, reflected in the middle of a pool of water, in which the portion of water not occupied by the reflection sparkled clearly in the guise of a moat.

80. The city where the strokes of the stick-like hems of the flying streamers over the rows of houses gave rest to Aruṇa, the charioteer of the sun, as he voyaged through the sky and drove the horses of the sun.[24]

81. The whole city was marvellous with the choicest gifts of the three worlds corresponding respectively to the basement, the middle and the upper storeys of the houses—choicest gifts which belonged to the nether regions, the earth and heaven, and bore each their own characteristics.[25]

82. The city where it was natural that the royal palace, with the top border blue with clouds, and bearing a surface brilliant with exceedingly pure white-wash, should bear the semblance of the moon-crested Śiva.[26]

83. The city where the antelopes serving as the dark spots of those moons, viz., the faces of the multiform statuettes, appeared to have been devoured by the lions on the beams of the numerous palatial buildings.[27]

84. The sage Nārada of truthful speech said that the heaven of the nether world was above heaven itself; but being as it were put in a lower position by that city, the ornament of the earth, it became just the opposite.[28]

85. The rumbling sound from the noise in the city emanating from the millstones in each market avenue along with the fragrance of flour, inviting to travellers, does not even now renounce the clouds.

86. The divine mountain Meru in the shape of the wall of gold, the city gates thickly studded with jewels serving as its wings, lived there, embracing and conciliating its offended lady-love, the heaven that had departed from its lap.[29]

87. Encircled by the flames issuing from the city-wall made of sunstones being on fire[30] between sunrise and sunset, the city looked as magnificent as the city of Bāṇa.[31]

88. Loudly did the ocean of shops roar in the city, with many conches and gems, with crabs in the shape of hands moving in the counting of cowries, and with white sand in the shape of camphor.

89. At each moonrise, the celestial Gaṅgā, with her volume of water increased by the oozings of the moonstones in the pavements of the topmost chambers of the buildings in the city, forsook not an attitude befitting a devoted wife.[32]

90. (The city) where in the evening the stalls of saffron in the perfume shops shone as if they were the fallen and homeless rays of the setting sun.

91. Just as formerly the sage Mārkaṇḍeya saw inside the stomach of Viṣṇu the objects of the universe, similarly people saw in that city articles of every description exposed for sale by each merchant in his shop.

92. In that city, the merchant in a shop, while weighing a black bee along with pieces of musk, did not notice it owing to the noise of the people, though it was humming, motionless with the greed of fragrance.[33]

93. In that city, in winter nights, the frost did not hurt the feet of people going over the bridge made of sun-stones, heated all the day by flames.[34]

94. At the advent of summer, the heat as severe as the Kali age did not heat the city’s highway of moonstones, cool like Nala’s temper, owing to the flow of water in contact with the rays of the moon.[35]

95. The city marked with a circle in the shape of its circular moat was not accessible to enemies, being as difficult to tackle as the propositions of the Mahābhāṣya.[36]

96. Made of lotus blossoms in the face, hands, feet and eyes, and of Campaka flowers in the other limbs, Damayantī herself assumed there the grace of a wreath of flowers meant for the worship of Cupid.

97. It seemed as if a hundred nymphs coming down to the earth, being unable to walk in the sky owing to the heavy weight of their hips and breasts, lived in the city as her friends.

98. It was natural that the city, full of paintings, should contain all colours that were permanent; it was also natural that it should have a variety of tones, possessing as it did sounds from many a mouth.[37]

99. At night the city’s houses, made of rubies, and thirsty during the day, owing to the sun coming in contact with them, licked in many ways the moon, the storehouse of nectar, with their flags tinged red by their own lustre.

100. At night the royal palace in the city, made of pure rubies, and thirsty, being frequented by the rays of the sun, licked the moon, the abode of nectar, with its tongue-like flag of the same hue as itself.

101. The spot in the moon coming in contact with the yellow flags over the turrets bore resemblance to the yellow-robed Kṛṣṇa lying on the coiled up serpent Ananta.

102. The silken streamer flying over the palace in the city played in the sky with undulations caused by the wind, as if it were the celestial Gaṅgā left half-made in times of yore by the sage Viśvāmitra, whose game of creating a new heaven was interrupted by the mouths[38] of Brahmā, busily engaged in manifold prayer emanating from tongues that were sanctified by the untiring recital of the Vedas.

103. The row of white flags over the buildings, restless and playing in the lap of the sun, and tinged with a bluish hue by the lustre of the exceedingly pure blue apartments of the city, was, as it were, the child of the river Yamunā.[39]

104. The young ladies of that city, stepping from the top of their palaces of pleasure on to the clouds that were eager to accept the hospitality of the borders of the pleasure-edifices of their lovers, were manifestly nymphs traversing the sky in aerial chariots; for their eyes winked not, owing to their emotion, as they made their way with the speed of clouds.[40]

105. The religious merit of the city, resulting from the giving of mouthfuls of grass to cows, manifested itself constantly through the medium of those Kuśa blades, viz., the rays which went up from the emerald peak of Damayantī’s pleasure-hill, but which, downcast with shame at their pride of speed being destroyed by their striking against the orb of the universe, entered with their tips the mouths of the divine cows going about with upturned face in the heavens.[41]

106. There the swan was charmed with Damayantī’s pleasure-garden where the arduous task of watering the trees was rendered useless by the basins round the trees being made of moonstones and full of the water oozing from them, when embraced by the rays of the moon.[42]

107. Then the golden-winged bird saw there the princess, radiant in a concourse of her friends as bright as herself, and whose beauty was able to rival that of the crescent of the moon abiding amidst the assembly of stars.

108. Radiating a golden lustre by the speed of its flying, and looking for a place suitable for landing somewhere below, the bird made a circuit above, as if it were the halo of the moon hanging in the air to attend on her moon-like face.

109. Looking at Damayantī engaged in play with her friends in the woodland, the bird thought, “Śacī, the consort of Indra, doth not feel so great a joy in the garden of Nandana in the company of her friends, the nymphs Ghṛtācī and others.”

110. Śrīhīra, the ornamental diamond, etc.; here ends the second canto, brilliant by nature, in his composition—the beautiful epic Naiṣadhīyacarita.

Footnotes and references:


A drowning man tries to catch hold of an empty pitcher. Similarly the mind of Nala, which was going to be drowned in the flood of curiosity, had recourse to the ear-holes, as if they were two empty pitchers, i.e. the swan brought Nala to such a degree of curiosity that he longed to satisfy it by hearing what it had to say.


i.e. terrible to his enemies, “terrible” being the literal meaning of the word Bhīma.


i.e. the past, the present and the future.


Literally “she who subdues”.


The goddess Lakṣmī rose from the ocean; Damayantī, the mortal Lakṣmī rose from the ocean of virtues, viz: her royal father.


It is usual to compare the rich hair of a woman to the bushy tail of the Camarī deer.


The reference is to a certain popular custom.


See Notes.


Cf. 21. 151 and see Vocab. under “nālīka


i.e. the downy growth of new hair on Damayantī’s body indicates that she is on the border-line of childhood and youth. Cf. 6. 38.


The reference is to the use of pitchers to assist in swimming. Cf. 1.48.


i.e. of the eyes of onlookers, by making them roll in amazement. See Notes.


Kārttika or Kārttikeya rides a peacock.


The Creator is fancied as making Damayantī’s belly by holding her slender figure in the fist; the three fleshy folds on the belly are the marks left by the four fingers of his fist, while the mark of the thumb is visible in the depression in the middle of the back.


The three fleshy folds and the golden girdle round the waist are fancied as the impressions of the four fingers of a fist holding the slender belly in its grasp.


As swans and lotus blossoms are inseparable, Damayantī’s feet are fancied as two lotus blossoms, and her jingling anklets (haṃsaka) as two cackling swans (haṃsaka).


i.e. with his rosy hand.


i.e. the sky.


A Vedic verse known as Sāmidhenī, with which a sacrificial fire is kindled.


The Malaya mountain is believed to be situated in the south.


It is believed that on every Amāvāsyā night the rays of the moon enter the sun. See Notes on 6.7. Nala, being a Virahin, finds the light of the moon as hot as the sun.


Regarded as a good omen.


The azure lustre of the sapphire buildings is fancied as perpetual darkness.


i.e. the buildings were so high that the flags flying over them could like rods drive the horses of the sun.


The gifts of the nether world, the earth and heaven are respectively treasure, cereals and articles of luxury; the three floors of the houses corresponding to the three worlds were full of them.


Śiva has his neck blue, and body white; the palace, too, is blue with clouds hovering on a level with its roof, and is painted white. With these characteristics, the palace with the moon above looks like Śiva who has the moon on his forehead.


The beautiful faces of the statues are fancied as moons which are, however, without the dark antelope associated with the moon. It is, therefore, surmised that the animals were perhaps devoured by the artificial lions on the beams.


The nether world was once declared by Nārada to be more beautiful than the heavens; but as this city surpassed even the nether world in beauty, it was more beautiful than both the heavens and the nether world.


The heaven located on the Meru is fancied as having angrily left the mountain and come down to the earth, to become the city of Kuṇḍina. The golden city wall is fancied as the golden mountain which has followed its ladylove to the earth, while the gates of the city are fancied as the fabulous wings attributed to mountains.


Sunstones are believed to catch fire in contact with the sun.


The city of Bāṇāsura was surrounded by protecting flames.


Moonstones are believed to exude water in contact with moonlight. Here the idea is, the houses are so high that at moonrise the copious oozings from the moonstones embedded in the floors of the top chambers flow into the celestial Gaṅgā, and cause in that river a rise of tide, as if it were the rise of emotion in the heart of the river at the sight of her beloved moon.


i.e. the bee could not be distinguished from the dark-coloured musk on which it had settled, its humming being drowned in the noise of the people.


See under Verse 87.


See under Verse 89.


These are said to have been marked with a circle to indicate their difficulty. See Notes and Vocab. under “kuṇḍalanā”.


Also: It was natural that the wonderful city should contain all the castes observing their customary rules; it was also natural that it should have a variety of accents, possessing as it did the sound of the Vedas (lit. the sound of the many-mouthed Brahmā).


These were four.


i.e. the row of these flags reminded one of the Yamunā river with its deep blue waters shimmering in the sun.


The women are fancied as travelling like nymphs on clouds to meet their lovers. Nymphs, being of divine origin, do not wink; the women also do not wink in their eagerness to meet their lovers.


The rays shooting up with great speed went beyond the heavens, till they were obstructed by the roof of the universe; then turning back, they came along with their tips downwards, and on their way through heaven entered the upturned mouths of the divine cows. In this way the city acquired the virtue resulting from feeding a cow with mouthfuls of Kuśa grass, the jets of rays being similar to the pointed blades of Kuśa.


See under Verse 89.

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