Naishadha-charita of Shriharsha

by Krishna Kanta Handiqui | 1956 | 159,632 words

This page relates Damayanti and the swan which is canto 3 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 3 - Damayantī and the swan

1. Then the swan, swiftly descending from the sky with folded wings, dropped on the ground near Damayantī, spreading and shaking its wings on the spot where it landed.

2. The sudden sound that went up at the time from the earth struck by its wings abruptly startled her whose eyes were fixed on something else.

3. Just as the minds of ascetics, forsaking their attachment to the objects of the world, attain the One Absolute whose nature is beyond the range of expression, similarly the eyes of Damayantī’s friends, leaving their attachment to this and that object, were fixed only on the swan which had an indescribable beauty.

4. Just as the mental function of a sage comes to a standstill to comprehend in earnest the Absolute residing near within the body, similarly Damayantī cautiously stood still, wishing to catch, with a caressing hand, the swan moving about close to her.

5. The bird, though it guessed Damayantī’s trick from her movements, did not fly up to the sky, but with a quick bound it rendered ineffectual her hand which was about to pounce upon it.

6. At that moment her friends, knowing that her attempt was thus rendered futile by the bird, burst into laughter, clapping their hands at one another.

7. But Damayantī took her friends to task, saying, “Should you now scare away the bird by the clapping of your hands? Any one here who follows me will be doing me an ill turn”.

8. Slightly angry at the laughter of her friends, and visibly ashamed at her failure to catch the swan with her hands, the beautiful maiden then followed the bird, just as the shadow follows a man going in the direction of the sun.

9. When her friends mockingly said to her with a play of words, “But this thy journey towards the Haṃsa is not laudable”, she replied, “This swan cannot be an ill omen for me; it is going to announce some future good.”[1]

10. The swan, too, gracefully going in front of the beautiful damsel, who had a gait like that of a swan, gleamed as if it were continually mocking her by mimicking her own gait before her, in order to put her to shame.

11. The bird, sportively going along, lured the slender-limbed damsel into the midst of creepers, while the fair one was thinking at each succeeding step that it was about to come within reach of her hands.

12. When it discerned that Damayantī had only her shadow as her companion, having angrily deterred her friends (from following her), it addressed her like a parrot in a human voice, while particles of sweat adorned her body.

13. “Well, how far wilt thou go? Why art thou thus tiring thyself in vain? Girl, art thou not even afraid to see these dense rows of woods?

14. “Look, this woodland, by shaking its hands in the shape of the leaves playing in the wind, also through the cooing of doves, is like a friend deterring thee from fruitlessly setting thy foot on an undesirable path.

15. “How can I be caught by thee—I who go about in the air and thou who movest only on the earth? Ah, thy childishness has not been diminished even by the age that is Cupid’s friend.[2]

16. “We are birds, the offspring of the family of swans who act as the steed of Brahmā; the nectar of the sentiments of our pleasant speech is seldom obtained by those who are not inhabitants of heaven.

17. “Feeding on the tips of stalks and fibrous roots of the golden lilies on the river of heaven, we acquire a wealth of beauty that is in keeping with our food; an effect does, indeed, acquire its properties from the cause.

18. “Of the golden swans, who at the instance of Brahmā came to earth to play on Nala’s pleasure-tank, I am the only one travelling, anxious to see the earth.

19. “Once during the Creator’s pleasure trip I relieved the shoulders of my elders exhausted with fatigue; since then I have not felt tired, though I have been going over all the world without any rest.

20. “Snares and the like will never have the power to capture a divine bird like me, unless it is due to the uncommon luck of heavenly enjoyment of one man, one like whom is born but rarely on earth.

21. “Subservient to Nala, owing to his sacrifices and the charitable provision of wells and tanks, the gods create the pleasure of heaven even on the earth, and as a result of fertilising processes and the pouring of water trees burst into blossom before their season.

22. “Coming down speedily from the Mountain of Gold, we fan that king during his sports of love with our fly-whisk-like wings, permeated with the sprays of the river of heaven.

23. “If one thinks of making a classification of the good men of the world, that individual has to be mentioned first, who by the exercise of his powers is capable of achieving a great position for himself (just as the nominative case by the play of “su, au, jas” is capable of turning many a base into an inflected word).

24. “The king, who is a sacrificer and has bestowed his wealth on learned Brāhmaṇas in his service, enjoys his kingdom after having put it at the disposal of learned men, just as he partakes of the sacrificial butter after having offered it to the gods; but lo! he enjoys the first object ‘last’, and the last one ‘first.’[3]

25. “Who do not beg their desired objects of that contented king, who is the friend of the gods, and in respect of crowds of suitors fulfils an unfailing mission like that of the clouds by showers of riches that destroy poverty?

26. “The nymph Rambhā, having long made the peerless beauty of Nala the nectar of her ears through us, had become attached to him; but not getting him, she betook herself to Nalakūbara[4] for the sake of the name Nala attached to him.

27. “The court singer of Indra became known as Hāhā, because we pitied him by uttering hā, hā, as he sang, when we had gone from here to heaven, after having drunk in the sweet strains of Nala’s songs at the hour of his recreation.

28. “Indra, hearing with his wife the story of Nala’s generosity, did not, fortunately for her, notice the constant thrills of his consort Śacī owing to the garland of his eyes[5] being covered with tears of joy.

29. “Pārvatī, to whom Śiva is half her self, stopped her ears with the fingers, pretending to scratch them, whenever Śiva listened to the story of Nala’s virtues that forcibly charm the heart.[6]

30. “In vain the Creator, devoted to religious observances, endeavours to detain the goddess of speech by means of silence; immersed in the study of the Vedas, he knows not that the crooked goddess, clasping Nala’s neck, is there content with the flow of sentiments.[7]

31. “The vow of the goddess of wealth as the devoted wife of Viṣṇu has not suffered in the least owing to her embracing Nala; nor has her husband felt even an iota of jealousy, because the universe forms his self.

32. “Fie on the hand of the Creator, which, unabashed, makes the full moon on the full moon night;[8] but having remembered the beauty of his face, the intelligent hand, I ween, hath left the moon half made on Śiva’s head.

33. “The moon, overwhelmed with shame, on hearing from us about Nala’s face far surpassing it in beauty, hides itself sometimes in the sun, sometimes in the tide of the ocean[9] and sometimes in the bosom of the clouds going about in the sky.

34. “Making a sign to us, who are the servants of his emblem Garuḍa,[10] to sing the praise of Nala’s face that surpasses the lotus in beauty; Viṣṇu disports himself with Lakṣmī without any shame before Brahmā, who is covered up by the lotus of Viṣṇu’s navel shrinking on hearing our praise.”[11]

35. “By reckoning with the thirty-two teeth in his mouth for lines, the Creator declared that here exist the fourteen and the eighteen sciences reckoned in two different ways.[12]

36. “Observing the beauty and wealth of the king, we do not recall even Cupid and Indra, and owing to his complete possession of both the earth and the quality of forbearance, verily we do not think even of Ananta[13] and Buddha.

37. “What region has not been traversed by his horses, who are birds without wings, winds visible to the eyes, and minds not having the size of atoms?[14]

38. “On the battle-fields, fertilised by rivers of his enemies’ blood, the life-breath of crowds of (hostile) kings furnishes abundant food to the serpents in the shape of the showers of his arrows.

39. “The fame produced by his arm itching for battle has a passion for rubbing itself against the banks of those rivers, the regions of the sky, owing to the very nature of its cause.[15]

40. “If the three worlds were engaged in calculation, if their life-span did not come to an end, and if there were numerals beyond a hundred thousand millions of millions, it would be possible to count all his virtues.

41. “Entering the inner apartments of the king, for the doors are open to birds, we teach the slender-waisted damsels features of greater excellence in their beautiful gait.

42. “We plunge their hearts into an ocean of emotion by stories of the secrets of the joys of Rambhā and other nymphs, stories sweet as nectar streams,[16] and valued by Śukrācārya himself, the creator of poetry.

43. “Who among those damsels does not confide to me Cupid’s latest commands, as one does merchandise to the care of a merchant? For a bird does not feel shame before any one, and so no one feels shame before a bird.

44. “The information which I store in my heart, steadfast with concentration—I whose ears are accustomed to hear the teachings of Yoga, sanctified by the explanations emanating from the different mouths of Brahmā—that information reaches no one, even though it be a trifle.

45. “It is a pity that some other girl will attain the celestial happiness unattainable by thee, by betaking herself to Nala; just as the night lily enjoys the gaiety of moonshine unattainable by the day-lotus plant, by taking the moon unto herself.

46. “As Nala has not married thee, thou canst not obtain the happiness arising from flattering words spoken by us; just as a mango-grove that has not received the visit of the spring cannot obtain the happiness brought by bees.

47. “Or, perhaps, thou wilt be his. Who has surveyed the Creator’s mind by delving into it? Thou art, indeed, unmarried, and dost possess an exuberance of the true nature of beauty.

48. “At the same time, the Creator’s spontaneous effort to unite those who are worthy of each other is well-known from his having united the moon with the night, Śiva with Pārvatī, and Viṣṇu with Lakṣmī.

49. “Thou who art the tide of the ocean of womanly virtues overflowing its shores, art not fitted for union with any one other than Nala; a tender wreath of Mallikā blossoms is not woven with an extremely coarse string of Kuśa grass.

50. “As one who draws the Creator’s chariot, I asked him once whether he had created any woman worthy of Nala’s dalliance. Methought I heard the letters of thy name in the creaking of the wheels of his car.

51. “If thou art united with a husband other than Nala, what boat will be there for the Creator, who has passed all his life with a reputation for wisdom, to cross the ocean of popular censure?

52. “Enough! It is useless to indulge in irrelevant thoughts. Slender damsel, I have tired thee too much; I would wipe off that offence; tell me what desire of thine I should fulfil.”

53. Having spoken thus, the bird stopped, wishing to know the heart of the princess. The wise propose an action to some one after sounding his heart, just as they propose a descent into a deep lake after sounding the waters.

54. With her head slightly turned aside and moving, the king’s daughter, who with her face eclipsed the moon, having pondered for a moment over what she was to say, said to the bird.

55. “Fie on my childish love of wanton acts, excited by the impulse whereof I disturbed thee who wast innocent, just as the ripples of water moving in contact with the wind disturb one standing on the bank.

56. “Beautiful as thou art, thou hast by thy purity become a mirror unto those who are good; this my offence came to be mirrored in thy own self, while thou wast honouring me, offender though I was.[17]

57. “Gentle bird, forgive me, a girl, even if I have clone something improper; though a swan, thou dost deserve homage, being divine in nature, as does Viṣṇu incarnate in the form of a fish.

58. “What joy wouldst thou bring me that would surpass even the joy of my eyes on seeing thee? What does the moon do for the creatures beyond sprinkling their eyes with the sprays of its nectar?

59. “How can that desire, which the mind never parts with, be ever expressed? Who is that shameless girl who will speak of her desire to catch the moon with her hands?”

60. Drinking in her gentle words sweet as the vine, the swan renounced its liking for the cuckoo’s voice, and felt contempt for the sound of the lyre.

61. When she became silent, having spoken indistinctly from shame, the swan, somewhat in doubt regarding what she said, joined its lotus-like mouth with words.

62. “The matter, of which thou thus speakest with fervour as something like a desire to catch the moon with the hands—have I no right even to hear of it, just as a Śūdra has no right to hear the words of the Vedas?

63. “Why so much ado? Thou wilt obtain the object which only exists on the by-way of thy mind; even the Absolute, about which the mind itself is in the dark, can be realised by those who are alert.

64. “Thou whose waist is a phase of Śiva’s power of becoming small as an atom! Among the creatures inhabiting the Creator’s world, respect thou me, though an ignorant bird, as one whose fame has been created by his truthfulness and power of appreciation.

65. “The goddess of speech lives in our mouth amidst the Vedas as her neighbours;[18] bound by the power of good company, she does not deviate from the path of truth, as if out of shame before her neighbours.

66. “If thy heart in desire for something goes even to the city of Laṅkā, situate in mid ocean,[19] know even that to be in thy hands.”

67. Thus spoken to by the bird, Damayantī said, abashed and delighted, “My heart is not going to Laṅkā[20] nor is it desirous of anything else.”

68. Then that Indra among swans, remembering that a maiden’s nature is a mountain, as it were, with Cupid the elephant submerged in the river of bashfulness, said to her who was not speaking in a clear fashion.

69. “Have I not, an intelligent being, understood the meaning of those two verses uttered by thee, a poetess expert in puns, to be respectively, ‘My desire is to marry the king,’ and ‘My mind longs for Nala’?[21]

70. “But thinking of the lack of firmness of thy heart, I feel that I am, in fact, ignorant of it. Cupid himself, when his aim is a maiden’s heart fickle by nature, is likely to miss his mark.

71. “Surely the moon of the people of Niṣadha (Nala) is the Indra of the earth; how can one like myself, acting like a low-born creature, acquaint him thus with such a dubious matter?

72. “If thou choosest some other youth, whether at the instance of thy father or of thy own accord, what will Nala think of me if I plead before him on thy behalf?

73. “Princess, thou, too, must not enjoin me to set about this matter which it is feared may go wrong, but I will do whatever thou askest of me other than this.”

74. The king’s daughter spoke again, slackening the persistence of bashfulness, as if shaking off the swan’s words which had entered her ears, by shaking her head in disagreement.

75. “Thy surmise about my being given in marriage to someone other than Nala is as the Veda in thy heart; thou shouldst make the conjecture of the night having a beloved other than the moon precede it as if it were the syllable Om.[22]

76. “Without surmising the growth of affection in the heart of the day lily to be connected with some one other than the sun, thou dost fear that I may marry some other than Nala:[23] great, indeed, is thy rashness.

77. “This hast thou surmised well: I will, indeed, have recourse to someone other than Nala of my own accord, but only to destroy myself without him; also not to make thee a liar before the king.[24]

78. “As to conjecture that tells thee that thou must be deceived by me, why is it dumb regarding the good that is to result from that deception? If words, in which it is impossible to suspect any reason for insincerity, are not the Vedas, then what are the Vedas like?

79. “If my father desires to give me to someone other than Nala, why does he not sacrifice me in the fire, the body being all that remains of me? He is no doubt the master of the body of his child; but it is still Nala who is the lord of my life.

80. “Thou wouldst do me a good that would be even higher than my being the devoted bondslave of Nala! What will the day lily do even with the moon that is full of nectar so long as it is not the sun?

81. “In my heart, desirous only of him, there is no thought of obtaining even the priceless Wishing Stone; in my mind he with a face like the lotus is the only treasure, the quintessence of the three worlds put together.

82. “I have heard of him, seen him in my delusion in all the. directions, and contemplated him without any break in the stream of consciousness. To-day I will obtain him or die; both are in thy hands, one shall remain.

83. “Acquire thou the virtue that would accrue from keeping thy promise[25] and giving my life to me. Good sir, give up futile doubts; why this extreme reserve even in a matter that is good?

84. “O wise and dear one, reject not my prayer, nor put diverse obstacles in the path of what is to be done. Deviate not from the path of fame that arises from the honourable position of being true to one’s word—the path free from the sport of calumny.

85. “Thou art so niggardly that thou dost feel no shame, thinking even of those who give their very lives for the good of the distressed. Virtue purified by fame is slipping from thy hand owing to thy reluctance to give my own life to me.

86. “If thou givest my life to me, I will repay thee by sacrificing even my life; but with what can I repay, if thou be the giver of something more than life? So do thou plunge me in a limitless ocean of poverty that I may be unable to repay my debt to thee.

87. “Purchase my life even as a piece of merchandise; there will at least be some religious merit, if nothing else. Thou giver of the lord of my life, if I have nothing to give thee, I can at least sing thy fame.

88. “Or, perhaps the rich do not care to win grateful people to be had even by means of a benefit costing a ‘cowrie’; but lo, the good, calling themselves wise, purchase those very people even at the cost of their lives.

89. “Nala is a king, hence the impersonation of the eight divine lords of the quarters;[26] devoted as I am to him, they are pleased with me; otherwise it was impossible that coming of thy own accord, thou shouldst become the guarantee of my winning him.

90. “Becoming as the root of the Vīraṇa grass, made for me by the Creator without any joints, wilt thou not, acting like the root of the Vīraṇa for me, apply to my bosom the paste of sandal?[27]

91. “No use delaying, it is time to hurry up; for there is scope for deliberation only in a matter that admits of delay; suffering never waits for time, just as a keen intellect waits not for a teacher’s instruction.

92. “When thou goest from here, thou shouldst not supplicate Nala on my behalf, while he is in the inner apartments; for at that time his sympathy for the beloved faces there might cause a distaste for any other maid.

93. “If Nala is perfectly satisfied with his enjoyment in his harem, it is not necessary to speak of this matter to him; for to one who is satisfied with (plain) water a sweet, fragrant and cool drink of water tastes not well.

94. “Ornament of the race of swans, thou shouldst not put in any word for me, when Nala’s heart is tepid with anger; on a tongue tainted with bile even sugar tastes bitter.

95. “Thou shouldst not make thy entreaty on my behalf, when the king’s mind is occupied with other affairs; the sleeplike inattention of a man asked for a favour at such a moment hears the stamp of disdain.

96. “Being wise, thou shouldst therefore communicate this to the king after finding out a suitable occasion; what seems good to thy noble self—complete failure or delayed success?”

97. It might seem improper to our minds that she discarded all shame as she said these things; but Cupid who made her say all this bore testimony to her innocence.

98. Both Śiva and Cupid feel unbounded joy in rivalry with each other, when they get something mad; the former when he gets the ‘mad’ flower;[28] the latter when he gets some one suffering from the pangs of separation.[29]

99. Then concluding that the princess who spoke thus was in love with Nala, the bird laughingly unloosened again the seal of silence on its beak.

100. “Princess, if this be the truth, I do not see what is to be done by me in this matter; Cupid himself, by intensely heating both thee and the king, hath brought about this union.

101. “Let the divine character of the sense-organs of Nala, whose mind is set on thee, be to-day a reality, having obtained by winning thee a satisfaction that is given only by nectar[30]—the sense-organs that had taken the vow of privation through austerities.[31]

102. “Owing to thy absence Cupid is consuming his body, as if out of envy, thinking, ‘Our bodies were alike, but mine was burnt (by Śiva), while his is not even heated.’

103. “While drinking in thy portrait, decorating a wall, with his eyes, not winking from eagerness, the king’s eyes take a redness given by streams of tears, but which seems to be caused by thee.

104. “While the king drinks in thy portrait with eyes winkless out of eagerness, a dispute about the tears takes place between ‘love by eyesight’ and ‘lack of winking.’ Each says, ‘These are mine.’[32]

105. “Damayantī, though thou art outside, thou art in his heart; is there a way in which thou art not his life-breath? No wonder that his mind with thyself as its only object pervades thy portrait.

106. “Unceasingly dost thou ascend the everlong stairway of his thoughts, and the sighs that he plentifully heaves are due to his meditating on thee, with his self absorbed in thyself.

107. “What his heart secretly tells thee, his face bespeaks openly.[33] This act of his face is in keeping with its friendship with the moon, the friend of Cupid who is the enemy of Nala.[34]

108. “As he now lies in bed at night, there is no sleep for him, nor any damsel other than thou who might, by embracing him, kiss his eyes, submerging his mind in stupor.

109. “In vain did Cupid, by piercing Nala with his arrows, reduce him to emaciation, with beauty as the residue; though made lean and thin, he doth not give up his rivalry with him.[35]

110. “He would not fear sin itself, if it brought thee to him; and he would not even be ashamed to be a slave to thee; has Cupid in any wise damaged even his character by piercing him severely with sharp arrows?

111. “Like a contagious disease, the extreme shyness of the bashful king insinuated itself into the expert physicians who were treating his dreadful fever of love; for they remained silent about the cause of the disease.

112. “He is suddenly frightened, fancying thou art angry, and laughs without any occasion, fancying he has got thee; without any reason he follows thee, as if thou art going away, and replies to the air, as if addressed by thee.

113. “Alas, alas, this valiant king is sinking helpless, like an elephant, in the clay of utter delusion on the island of swoon belonging to the Yamunā river of incessant sorrow caused by thy absence.

114. “That stage, the last of the stages,[36] created each by the five arrows of Cupid, doubled because they are discharged from, the right as well as the left hand—may it never come about.

115. “To thee I am sent by the king, ever dejected owing to Cupid’s oppression; having come hither, I have achieved ray reward in the knowledge of thy sentiment, eager for merit as thou art.

116. “Damayantī, blessed art thou who hast attracted even Nala by thy noble virtues; after this, what praise is there for the light of the moon that it perturbs even the ocean?

117. “Mayst thou shine with Nala as the night with the moon; may he shine with thee as the moon with the night. Perhaps the Creator, who unites that couple again and again, is acquiring practice with a view to uniting you both.

118. “Slender maid, Nala’s art of drawing pictorial designs, exhibiting no small skill, will reach its perfection, if anywhere, on thy swelling bosom alone.

119. “One moon can never satisfy thy two eyes; so let it bring an unbounded joy to thy eyes in company with another moon—the face of Nala.

120-1. “Behold the wishing tree of Nala’s religious austerities! The beauty of its sprouts is flashing in the guise of the tips of thy finger-nails; verily thy eyebrows are but two leaves of this tree, and it is thy lower lip that is flashing red as its mature sprout. Thy hands are its new leaves, and thy smiles are its buds: it is flowering with the tenderness of thy limbs, and bearing fruit in the guise of the charms of thy bosom.[37]

122. “It seems, while making your mutual attachment equal in measure, Cupid made the disc of the moon the dish of the balance, with the lunar rays attached to it as the cords, while he made his own arrow the beam of the balance.

123. “During the gaieties of love, let the pictorial designs on thy breasts, erased in contact with Nala’s lotus-like hand, thickly coated with the wax-like sweat caused by emotion, once more enter the hand whence they had gone forth.[38]

124. “Damayantī, let both of you, young as you are, accept in the garden of pleasure the shower of flowers, released ever and anon by the breezes, delighted at the various modes of your erotic wrestling, rich in postures.

125. “By virtue of your mutual union, let now your minds, thine and Nala’s, shine forth, blossoming with joys, as if they were two atoms forming first a unit of two atoms, about to create once more the body of the mind-born god of love.[39]

126. “To vanquish Nala, who is not to be conquered with a bow of flowers, Cupid rejoices to find in thee, who dost belong to a pure family and possess great virtues, a bow made of faultless bamboo and furnished with a string; thou art, indeed, gleaming with a winding silk ribbon beautiful with vermilion, which, decorating thy neck, hangs down a little on thy back, as if it were a trace left by the rubbing (of vermilion).[40]

127. “Know thyself to be the beautiful flowery bow of the mighty Cupid, the pearls in thy necklace to be the shots of his bow, and the great king Nala to be the target; the line of hair on thy body assumes the entire grace of a bowstring, softened by its constant stay in the lap of that bow, and has a loop in the centre in the guise of thy gleaming navel.[41]

128. “Cupid, surpassed by Nala in beauty, became despondent and left his arrows[42] on thy hair, his bow at the bottom of thy forehead,[43] and his body in that furnace—the (third) eye of Śiva; but deprived of his body, he has now taken shelter on thee for vanquishing Nala, and the leafy designs painted on the mountain of thy bosom are serving as a cottage for him.”[44]

129. The bird having thus spoken to Damayantī, her friends who had been long looking for her, then came and surrounded her; the bird also hastily set out for Nala’s capital, saying, “Happiness to thee, allow me to depart.”

130. Damayantī, though she fondly tasted again and again the infinitely sweet and fragrant butter that was the speech of the noble bird, the messenger of her beloved, the butter being mixed with the honey of the flowers composing Cupid’s arrows, obtained no joy, but experienced in her heart an intense heat, and her stupefaction knew no measure.[45]

131. Tears soon became the limit of the range of her vision, as it followed the swan, the friend of the king; even while by her side, it was far from her eyes,[46] but now, though it was far away, it was not removed from the range of her mind.

132. The swan started alone on its journey to communicate to Nala all that had taken place, clearly expressing the possibility of success by diverse flutterings of its wings; while her friends took her away, saying, “Dear friend, thou art out in the wilderness; foolish one, hast thou forgotten the way? Weep not, come, let us depart.”

133. The bird found the king restless with love and making a bed of young shoots and leaves fade away (with the heat of his body), while he was under an Aśoka tree, crowned with a luxuriant growth of flowers that vied with the flaming arrows of Cupid, the tree being on the bank of the pool of water near which it had erstwhile seen him.

134. “Dependent Damayantī, to thee I will say nothing; but swan, come quickly, tell me what she said about me”—Nala having said thus, the swan, coming near, related it. In the case of the good the only delay in the attainment of a cherished object is that of their own desire.

135. The great king made the swan repeat what his beloved had said, asking the bird, “What is it? What is it?” Then mad with the wine of intense joy, he himself likewise repeated a hundred times what he had heard.

136. Epilogue.

Footnotes and references:


There is a pun on the word Haṃsa meaning both ‘swan’ and ‘the sun.’ “The journey towards the swan” may turn out to be “a journey towards the sun”, which is regarded by astrologers as inauspicious. But Damayantī replies that the journey is not towards Haṃsa ‘the sun’, but towards Haṃsa ‘the swan’, which is highly auspicious, as the sight of a swan is believed to bring luck.


i.e. youth.


An apparent contradiction is aimed at. In the verse butter is mentioned first, but it is taken by the king ‘last’ (śeṣa); the kingdom is mentioned last, but it is enjoyed “first” (aśeṣa). The real meaning is, however, that the butter is taken not “last”, but “at the end of sacrifices”, and the kingdom is enjoyed not “first”, but “in its entirety”. The apparent inconsistency is due to śeṣa meaning both “last” and “end”, and aśeṣa meaning both “not last i.e. first” and “entire or whole”. The first meanings give a semblance of mutual contradiction which disappears when the latter ones are adopted.


See 2. 37.


Indra has a thousand eyes. His wife Śacī ought not to have taken so much interest in Nala.


As a devoted wife, Pārvatī avoids listening to the praises of Nala.


The silence of the Creator during religious observances is fancied as an attempt on his part to detain his faithless wife, the goddess of speech, who, however, secretly leaves him for Nala.


The Creator is here reproved for making the full moon in the presence of Nala’s face.


The moon is believed to be merged in the sun during the Amāvāsyā night and in the ocean when it sets.


i.e. we who are birds, Garuḍa being the king of birds and the emblem of Viṣṇu.


Brahmā sits on the lotus that grows out of the navel of Viṣṇu, who asks the swans to describe the beauty of Nala’s face; while the swans do so, the lotus shrinks in shame on hearing that Nala’s face is superior to it in beauty, and Brahmā sitting on it disappears in the fold of its petals.


See 1.4, 5.


The serpent who holds the earth on his hood.


The mind is regarded as an atom, but the horses, though as swift as the mind, are not of that size.


He who feels an itching sensation must rub himself against something; here though the arms is itching for battle, it is its effect-fame-that rubs itself against the four quarters, according to the principle that the characteristics of the cause pass on to the effect. The idea is that Nala’s military fame was spreading in every direction.


Lit. stories that are not inferior to.........


i.e. the bird is so pure that her own offence, namely, her attempt to catch it, is reflected in its mirror-like self, and the bird taking it for its own offence apologises to her. See verse 52. She means to say that the bird, instead of blaming her, blames itself.


The verses of the Vedas being uttered by Brahmā, to whose chariot the swans are attached, the Vedas are here spoken of as being the neighbours of the swans, i.e., their utterances are true like the Vedas.


Lit. the city of Laṅkā, for which the bosom of the ocean has become a bedstead.


Damayantī’s reply can be construed as meaning also “My heart longs for Nala (nalaṃ kāmayate).”


See Verses 59 and 67.


The syllable Om is put before a Vedic verse. The idea is, to think that she may marry someone other than Nala is as absurd as to think that the night may have a lover other than the moon.


i.e. I love Nala just as the day lily loves the sun.


i.e. to prove the truth of the bird’s report that she loves Nala. “Someone other than Nala (anala)” means also fire.


See verse 66.


Cf. 1.6.


The root of the Vīraṇa grass and sandal are used as sedatives to allay the heat of the body. Damayantī asks the swan to be for her as “the root of the Vīraṇa grass” called Nalada, which means also “that which gives Nala.”


The ‘mad’ flower is the Dhattūra which has highly intoxicating properties.


i.e Śiva rejoices when he gets the ‘mad’ flower, Cupid when he gets someone mad with love. The Dhattūra flower is sacred to Śiva. See 21.34.


Being a king, Nala was sprung from the eight gods known as the Lokapālas, and as such his sense-organs were already known to be divine; now they are actually so by the taste of nectar at the prospect of their association with Damayantī.


i.e. were pinning away as in the case of one engaged in religious austerities.


The idea is, while Nala gazes at Damayantī’s portrait, tears appear in Ms eyes, and it is not possible to decide whether they are caused by his continuous gaze or by his fond glances at her lifelike portrait. The difficulty in coming to a decision regarding the cause of the tears is represented as a quarrel between the two possible causes, both of which claim the tears as their own.


i.e. his secret musings are manifested by the paleness of his visage. Nala has turned pale owing to his anxiety for Damayantī.


Cupid, the oppressor of Nala, is his enemy, and as an enemy he wants to divulge Nala’s secrets. In this he is helped by Nala’s face, which by its paleness says that Nala secretly thinks of Damayantī day and night. The face thus acts as Cupid’s friend, but Cupid is not its immediate friend. The friend of the face is the moon (owing to the similarity of both), and the moon is the friend of Cupid (love being associated with moonlight); thus it is quite proper that the face should offer its help to Cupid, because he is the friend of its friend—the moon.


i.e. he is still as beautiful as Cupid.


i.e. death, the last of the ten stages of love.


Nala’s religious austerities are here fancied as the Kalpa tree which grants him his desired object—Damayantī.


i.e. the pictorial designs drawn on her breasts by Nala’s hand will be erased by that very hand; they will be reabsorbed, so to say, in their place of origin.


Cupid being born of the mind, his body destroyed by Śiva can be recreated only by minds serving as atoms. The two minds of Nala and Damayantī, both in love with each other, are fit constituents to serve as a starting point in the recreation of Cupid.


Damayantī is fancied as a bow to be used by Cupid. As a bow is made of bamboo, the scarlet ribbon hanging down on her back is fancied as the trace left by vermilion, when rubbed on the back of the bamboo to see whether it is sound; Cupid is testing the soundness of the bow he is going to use.


The line of hair on Damayantī’s body is fancied as the string of Cupid’s flowery bow, while the navel is fancied as the loop provided in the centre of the bowstring for holding the shot before it is let off.


i.e. flowers.


The eyebrows are meant, beautiful eyebrows being represented as Cupid’s bow.


The burning of Cupid by Śiva is interpreted as an act of suicide by Cupid throwing himself into the fire of Śiva’s eyes to escape the disgrace of being surpassed by Nala in beauty. He is now fancied as performing religious austerities for conquering, in his turn. Nala with Damayantī as his weapon.


The idea is, the swan’s words, describing as they did Nala’s love for her, touched her deeply and only increased her sorrow; her position is likened to that of one who has taken butter mixed with honey, believed to have a poisonous effect.


i.e. she did not see it clearly owing to her tears.

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