Naishadha-charita of Shriharsha

by Krishna Kanta Handiqui | 1956 | 159,632 words

This page relates Nala urges Damayanti to choose one of the Gods as her consort which is canto 9 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 9 - Nala urges Damayantī to choose one of the Gods as her consort

1. Thus did Damayantī listen to the message of the lords of the quarters, hot out of respect for them, but only from a desire to hear Nala’s words, while she was anxious to manifest her reluctance, evident from the hints present in the movements of her eyes and eyebrows.

2. The daughter of the king of Vidarbha said thus to Nala, the moon of the earth, as if she had not heard the speech conveying the message of the gods delivered by him.

3. “Ah, I asked thee thy name and family; avoiding these, why hast thou spoken of something else? Owing as thou dost a reply to me herein, is not this thy indebtedness a matter for shame?

4. “Thy speech (Sarasvatī), incomprehensible in some places and lucid in others with regard to my query, desires to rival the river Sarasvatī, visible in some places and faint-streaming in others.

5. “Already have I heard thy words, serving as nectar to my ears, but unrelenting is my longing to hear thy name: thirst for water is never allayed by milk nor honey, nor even by something better.

6. “What dynasty holds such a jewel of a hero as thou art—one that removes all gloom? Eager am I to honour it, great because of thee, but scomed by me, thinking it is one like others.”

7. When she stopped, having spoken thus, the king highly favoured her agaṃ with his words, just as the raincloud favours the Cātaka birds tired of crying at the end of summer.[1]

8. “Well, my tongue is indifferent to both of them,[2] neither is very necessary: verbosity and superficiality of meaning are the two poisons of speech; eloquence consists in speech that is concise and weighty.

9. “What series of letters, and in what order, is assigned to me as a symbol—all this is idle talk; the words ‘you’ and ‘I’ are certainly able to give effect to our direct relations.

10. “If my family is not brilliant by nature, where is the propriety in mentioning it? If it is pure, alas! any such talk would be a mockery, coming as I do as a servant of others.

11. “Any eagerness to persist in a matter which I have neglected, after deliberating thus, looks ill on thy part as well; the effort of thy words is now in place only with regard to giving a reply to the lords of the quarters.

12. “Thou who art still persistent! Or, why do I not with a few words comply with thy wish in the matter? Will not thy persistence be satisfied on hearing that I am a scion of the dynasty of the moon?

13. “Such is the traditional custom among the great that the good do not utter their own names; so I am loth to speak about it: people censure one who deviates from custom.”

14. Saying thus, Nala, the destroyer of enemies, became silent, as does an autumnal peacock, the oppressor of serpents; then Damayantī, blushing at each word, uttered these words, like the female of a swan that bears on each foot the red hue of its beak.

15. “Though I have heard thee to be the ornament of the dynasty of the moon, my doubt regarding particulars is not removed; great, indeed, is thy skill in deception—silence over certain things and extensive talk about others.

16. “But I, too, must not give a reply to thee, as thou dost not make thy name the nectar of my ears; conversation on my part, too, with a stranger is not compatible with conformity to the custom prevalent among women of birth.”

17. Then Nala, without any reply on account of her retort, said to her with a smile, welcoming in his heart her delightful words: “Fair-eyed one, waste not thy words, I say, such as these, surpassing honey in sweetness, on matters alien to thee.

18. “Wilt thou not bring this toil of mine to fruition? Wilt thou not favour any one of the lords of the quarters? Thou shouldst thus honour the gods with words sanctified by being drenched with the nectar of poetic emotion.

19. “Wilt thou not send to the gods, in the shape of a message, such words as these, detailed and drenched with a flow of sentiment—words that, delivered by me, will act on the gods consumed by Cupid, as rain does on a forest oppressed by fire?

20. “In proportion as this person[3] delays here, be it for a moment, owing to thy neglect, Cupid hastens in anger at this very moment to make the gods his target.

21. “Are not Indra’s eyes, intent so long on my path,[4] made of thunder? But fie on me, slow in a matter requiring haste, in whom is absent even the quality of a servant of others!”

22. The king having stopped after saying this, the clever maiden said to herself, as she pondered on the lack of politic wisdom of the gods who were sending him, the Cupid of the earth (in beauty), as a messenger to a woman.

23. “Certainly the king of the waters (Varuṇa) has directed thee to me, and obviously the king of the dead (Yama) has sent thee; certainly it is the god ‘that has the winds’ (Indra) who has sent thee; and thou hast been employed by the light that has an upturned face (Agni).”[5]

24. Then with a secret smile, Damayantī, that indescribable ornament of the race of devoted women, had her mouth distinctly inclined to the graceful manner of a talk with him again.

25. “Useless joking would be insolence; a ‘no’, ‘no’ to one like thee would amount to censure; not replying would be slighting thee; so I am willing to give thee a reply.

26. “Even out of kindness how did that message of the gods come into being with regard to one who is characterised by mortality?[6] Or, in what words do not the great express their pleasure unto those who are by nature devoted in all humility to them!

27. “Strange! How can it be proper that Indra, who shines in the company of celestial nymphs, should on my account have a deep disgrace like that of a lake profusely charming with swans, on account of cranes?

28. “Tell me, what is a mortal woman in the presence of divine nymphs, though she, too, may be beautiful where they are not? Do not brass ornaments lend beauty to a poor woman’s limbs that are without any ornaments of gold?

29. “Let the gods pour forth words in any way they please; my ears are deaf even to a letter of them: how can a young doe conceive even a mere desire, improper as it is, with regard to Airāvata, the lord of elephants?”

30. Then said a girl friend who was told something in the ears by Damayantī, who bent her face just after saying these words, “Listen to what she has told me, bashfully entering my heart, and which goes out through the medium of my mouth.

(What Damayantī whispered to her)—

31. “Having long cherished Nala in my heart, I am afraid even to bring such a thought to my mind; for the honour of a chaste woman, fragile like a lotus-fibre, is rent asunder even at the slightest inconstancy,

32. “Why do not the gods ask their own all-seeing intelligence if my thoughts ever touched any one else, Nala excepted, even at the command of sleep?

33. “Perhaps the gods caused their sleepless selves to sleep solely to avoid the knowledge that I am another’s wife;[7] otherwise, being themselves the (saving) pilots on the ocean of vice, how could they knowingly touch such a woman even with their thoughts?

34. “It is merely a favour that they have taken a fancy even to a mortal being like me; if, however, a favour is to be done, may they be able, being pleased, to give me, by way of alms, him alone.[8]

35. “Moreover, hear my unshakable promise: if that king wed me not, myself will I act as an enemy of my life, using fire, hanging or water as an agent.

36. “In danger, when good deeds in no wise save, one ought to do even what is forbidden; when the highway is slippery with rain-water, even the wise go by a wrong way at times.

37. “I, a woman, can never give a satisfactory reply to the eloquent gods; so mayst thou be a commentator, not an adversary, of this series of aphorisms, the words spoken by me.”

38. Thus dismissed, after being rebuffed, the messenger,[9] though courteous, spoke some lively words, like a sweet-voiced cuckoo, enraged by a boy repeatedly mimicking its cooing for fun.

39. “Strange, it is funny, those gods themselves have set their hearts on thee, and even thou art averse to them: does anywhere treasure-trove come to a penniless man, and he rejects it by raising a barrier[10] of speech?

40. “Moon-faced girl, I hold thee in high esteem, neglecting all other women, because Indra loves thee; but thou hast spurned that esteem, turning thy back even at such a good present before thee.

41. “A mortal woman does not want a god! It is something new that I have heard from thee; why is it that this thy evil obstinacy is not altogether removed even by some well wishing teacher?[11]

42. “It is by the grace of the gods that a man attains divinity by shaking off his mortal nature: how can one wish to include iron that is treated with specially prepared mercury among objects made of iron?[12]

43. “Thou who callest thyself wise—art thou not ashamed of being attached to Nala, leaving aside Indra? O thou who hast thighs sōft as the border of the palm, I say deliberately, thou art superior even to the camel which neglects the sugar-cane, but likes the Śamī.[13]

44. “Alas, why art thou mistaken about the goodness of a mortal, leaving aside Indra, the leader of all the gods? It is useless toil for the current of breath to go through the nostrils, avoiding the mouth.

45. “The wise sacrifice their bodies in the fire of austerities with a view to the attainment of heaven to follow in another life; that very heaven, growing restless, is pulling thee forcibly by the hand, but foolish one, thou movest not.

46. “If, without Nala, thou art intent on hanging thyself, Indra will take thee away, as thou swingest in the air; for he is known as the lord of all that exists in the sky. Who doth neglect his legitimate share?

47. “If, bereft of Nala, thou enter the fire, that would be a mighty favour done to the god of fire; for thou wouldst then thyself give him thy body, to him unobtainable even by praying long.

48. “Varuṇa indeed will carry off the palm, if, leaving fire, thou enter the waters;[14] for then he, the lord of the waters, will ever carry his life, known to be thyself, on his bosom on the exterior as well.[15]

49. “Clever as thou art, if thou devise other modes of death, owing to these hindrances, thou wouldst indeed oblige the god of death, thyself coming to his abode as a welcome guest.

50. “Or, perhaps it is an affirmative assertion of thine, disguised as a negative; crookedness in speech does certainly befit thee: the mouth of a clever woman is a mine of that Poetic Suggestion, of which this is a flash.[16]

51. “How long am I to whirl, Damayantī, falling into the eddies of the mellifluous current of thy speech? Discarding thy shame a little, make it clear who among the great gods is to be favoured by thee.

52. “Is Indra to thy liking, the lord of the direction that has the temples of the Airāvata elephant for hard and plump breasts?[17] In my opinion no one except the thousand-eyed Indra is able to survey the beauty of thy limbs.

53. “Damayantī, be pleased with him; let him, the lord of the world, continuously enwrap his body with thrills caused by the contact of thy limbs—thrills (acting as) sharp thorns to the eyes of his wife Śacī.[18]

54. “Graceful one, I have come to know the truth; thou art spontaneously attached to Agni, the god of fire; how can thy desire, born as thou art of a Kṣatriya family, turn to any one other than that valiant god?

55. “Thou who art the one devoted woman shouldst not turn back thy mind at any cost from the god of fire, for fear of thy body being burnt; at the moment of ordeal his snowlike action on women that are chaste hath been a hundred times proved.[19]

56. “Thou whose conduct is just, must have made Yama, the arbiter of just conduct, the guest of thy heart; this order of things appears commendable likewise to me. Indeed, the union of the fit with the fit looks bright.

57. “Without the fear of death, spend with him limitless ages like a moment in amorous sports, without the slightest break, in the region shining pure with the lustre of the star known as Agastya.[20]

58. “Or, tender like a Śirīṣa flower, dost thou desire the god of the waters, Varuṇa, who by virtue of his watery nature is the lord of the order of tender objects? Leaving all others, did not the night, too, for the same reason, choose the cool-rayed moon?[21]

59. “Slender-waisted one, with him play as thou wilt in that ocean of milk, to which, profusely beautiful, Viṣṇu, abandoning the heavens, resorted day and night.”

60. What he thus said was obviously both heard and not heard by her, whose cheek and ear were resting on one side on the palm of her hand—(she heard it) because she was eager for his words; (she heard it not) because of the mockery involved in taking a fancy to the gods.

61. After that, Damayantī kept silence for a long while with her face downcast; then, in a moment, the clever maiden spoke to him, pitifully heaving a deep sigh.

62. “Piercing my guilty ears[22] with that heap of needles, the evil message of the lords of the quarters, thou hast clearly done to me, as if I were dead, something that befits the nature of a messenger of the god of death.[23]

63. “Those evil words of thine, the false calumny in regard to me,[24] issuing forth from thy mouth, and taking an inky colour, as if assuming the form of a script, are causing sharp pains like worms, having entered my ears.”

64. Then a girl friend, induced by Damayantī, said to him, “This my friend, with one tongue that has taken a resolute vow of silence, is paying homage to bashfulness; with another—myself—she is speaking to thee.

(What Damayantī said through her friend)—

65-6. “To-morrow comes the Svayaṃvara for me to adore that king[25] with my wreath of choice: this day, standing in its way, wishes to depart, preceded by my life; so, to me be so kind as to rest (here) to-day; I wish to pass this day, looking at thee; the bird[26] described my beloved as similar to thee in beauty, sketching his figure with its nails.

67. “The Creator cheated thy eyes inasmuch as they do not see the beauty of thy face; so, let them, too, attain to-morrow the end of their existence, looking at that beauty in Nala’s face.[27]

68. “Alas, how is it that on the occasion of my marriage with fire as the witness, thou dost not wish to acquire the easily gained, noble and lasting friendship of one who is thy peer?[28]

69. “With folded hands do I beg. Let me not be oppressed by thee in any way on account of the Dikpāla gods; please, thou shouldst not say such things to-day; I have my eyes filled too much with the rush of tears.

70. “Far from my choosing the lords of the quarters, I am not even looking at the beauty of Nala with any ardour, because it is present in thee.[29] I am making my life a handful of straw in the fire of womanly devotion; what is then Cupid who is but ashes?

71. “The woman who forsakes that ‘wish-fulfilling’ Cintāmaṇi jewel—Virtue—placed by Jina among the three jewels of his creed,[30] for the sake of ‘the ashes of the fire of Śiva’s wrath’,[31] does indeed scatter those very ashes over her family.”

72. Hearing those words, born of nectar and serving as oblations of butter in the fire of his love, Nala deemed himself not the messenger of the god of death, as declared by her, but the ruthless god of death himself.

73. Rent though his heart was by her pathetic words of grief, he wished not to deviate from his duty as a messenger. Secretly heaving a sigh, slowly he said—he, the Bṛhaspati of clever speech.

74. “Timid one, if Indra, the lord of heaven, ask at any time the (all-giving) Kalpa tree for thee—the tree situate on his own courtyard, how wouldst thou avoid being the mistress of his life? A request to that tree goes not in vain.

75. “If Agni, wishing to win thee, perform a sacrifice designed to fulfil all desires, himself offering in his own manifestations[32] the oblation that is his share, how can that Vedic rite prove futile?

76. “Tell me what recourse is there for thee, if Yama ask for thy hand the sage Agastya, who ever lives in the direction owned by Yama,[33] and would perforce be inclined to give him a commendable tribute?[34]

77. “Who knows how many wish-cows are in the mansion of Varuṇa for the purpose of sacrifice? If he ask even one of them for thy hand, thou wouldst at once be in the possession of Varuṇa.

78. “If, owing to thy disregard of her husband, Śacī, Indra’s wife, absent herself, devoted as she is to her husband, with a view to creating obstacles, how could the Svayaṃvara itself, attended by rival suitors, take place in the face of the (mutual) slaughter of the crowd of kings?[35]

19. “Dost thou then wish to see a hand-to-hand fight among the kings present, the rods detached from their umbrellas dancing about, and no one knowing what their own mouths, angrily reviling one another, mean to say?[36]

80. “Lotus-eyed one, if, on the occasion of thy marriage, the god of fire burn in anger, but not in flame, rendering futile the toil of blowing on the part of the priests, what ceremonial rite can Nala perform without Fire to witness it?

81. “Good-natured maid, if the god of death make some one of the family of the bride or the groom his guest, would not the Svayaṃvara, though magnificent, prove a failure?[37]

82. “If the other god, Varuṇa, being angry with Nala, prohibit the waters from attending the ceremony, he being their master, how will thy father, tell me, give thee to Nala, though the latter out of greed might hold out his hand (even without the presence of water)?[38]

83. “Damayantī, this have I said, highly beneficial to thee; reflect, laying aside delusion: when the gods are determined to thwart, what mortal can acquire even the thing that is in his hands?”

84. Weighing in her mind these words of his, she was convinced that so it was; and with a gush of tears let loose, she then reduced her eyes to the condition of the months of Śrāvaṇa and Bhādra.[39]

85. Two tear drops, dark in contact with the collyrium paint (of her eyes), falling on her bosom like a couple of bees from her eyes, blooming lotuses, with the hope of reaching her bud-like breasts, gleamed like two blue, unsteady gems.

86. A lake she was then of the sentiment of love, shaken by the oncomnig arrows of the flower-arrowed. Cupid; and, with a stream of tears bent on gushing, her eyes had the grace of the blue lotus with the stalk attached thereto.[40]

87. Then did she wail in a gentle voice, aggrieved at the certainty of not getting her love; she was going mad, she was weeping, her patience was gone, she was bewildered, the joy of her heart vanished, her reason rocked.

(Damayantī’s plaint)—

88. “Fire of Cupid, hurry on, spread the expanse of thy fame made up of my ashes. Creator, devoted as thou art to devouring the fruit of the longing of others, descend to hell to-day, content with my fruitless life.

89. “Thou heart of mine, heavily consumed by the fire of separation! If thou art of iron, why dost thou not melt? Thou that art penetrable by Cupid’s arrows, nor art thou thunder; wilt thou not say why thou art not rent asunder?

90. “Life, why lingerest thou? Away, quick; the heart, thy abode, is afire! Even now thou leavest not thy false repose; strange is this indolence, such as thine.

91. “Eyes, great[41] as ye are, how did false and vicious desire come to hoax even you?[42] Hundred years long, wash with your tears the sin that prevents your seeing the beloved’s charm!

92. “Mind, what thou wishest never becomes mine; I get neither my beloved nor death—both desired by thee; so do thou wish for my separation from my beloved; (in that way) by thy grace, separation may not be my lot.[43]

93. “Among my enemies, beseech I will not, with pitiful entreaties, the over-hostile Cupid, but I will beg the wind of the south: let it scatter my ashes towards the direction where my beloved is; for the practice of hostilities ends with killing.[44]

94. “The ages run on, but this moment halts; how much shall I bear? Nor will death come to me; for clear it is, never will my beloved forsake my inner being, my mind will not forsake him, and the life-breaths will not forsake the mind.[45]

95. “Ye gods, who has drunk up the ocean of your kindness, one spray of which is able to remove my burning heat? Will not a crore of women superior to me rise in a trice for your pleasure, at the exertion of a mere thought of yours?

96. “Or, the rainy weather of my own tears day and night, having created by force the season of rains, how will the gods, sleeping soundly, hear my words? Will not my words be as weeping in the wild?[46]

97. “Nala, dost thou not see this suffering of one who is devoted heart and soul to thee? How often, alas, on lake after lake, have I looked for that bird[47] which might speak to thee! But the Creator concealed even that.

98. “Kind one, if thou knowest my mind to be devoted to thy feet, why not take pity on me? But there is no question of thy offence; the Creator is to blame for plunging the mind of Others in gloom.[48]

99. “Truly it will come to thy ears, Damayantī died for thy sake; lord, favour me even then with a jot of kindness, if not now!

100. “Thou who art an (all-giving) Kalpa tree to suppliants! Something do I beg of thee: this my heart is eager to burst; but finding in the heart an exit in the (resulting) cleft, let not him that is equal to my life[49] depart with my miserable life.”

101. In spite of his being (then) in her company, the emotion of forlorn love, subdued in his heart by his duty as a messenger of the Dikpāla gods, but bursting with force at these pathetic words of his beloved, made the king frantic again at once.

102. Then forgetting everything about his mission on behalf of Indra and other things, Nala said thus unwittingly, imagining in his beloved actions blended with graceful gestures lingering in his fancy.[50]

(Nala throws off his disguise and addresses Damayantī)—

103. “O my beloved, for whom art thou lamenting, and drenching thy face, alas, with drops of tears? With graceful sidelong glances,[51] dost thou not see this Nala bowing before thee?

104. “Thou with eyes that have pupils like sapphire![52] It is thy expert knowledge of the figure Binducyutaka (Dropping of the Anusvāra) that shines forth in the guise of the flow of thick drops of tears; for doubtless thou art thereby thyself making this Saṃsāra (world) Sasāra (full of substance).[53]

105. “Why art thou turning thy face into a toy-lotus placed on thy hand that has discarded the lotus?[54] On thy bosom, that has banished ornaments through no fault of theirs, how long wilt thou create a string of pearls with the streams of thy tears?[55]

106. “With my hand, let me first wipe off these ill-omened, oncoming tears from thy eyes; with my head will I then wipe off my offence, along with the dust of thy lotus-like feet.

107. “Like the star Rohiṇī, let the ruddy floral spray of the rays of the rubies of my crown worship the moon that is in the form of the bright nails of thy feet![56] Thou who art angry without a cause, give up, give up thy ire.

108. “If thou art in the least offended with me, humbly do I pay deep homage to thee; angry one, if thou remainest even for a while, bowing thy face, I bow at thy very feet.

109. “With the plenitude of thy power thou mayst favour me or not; but what toil is there in accepting a mere obeisance? What a measure of difference! Thou art an (all-giving) Kalpa creeper to suppliants, but miserly in casting even a look at me!

110. “Tender as thou art, how art thou bearing the havoc of Cupid’s arrows? Or, perhaps the arrows of the fish-bannered Cupid turn back and rebound, falling on thy bosom armoured with firm-based breasts.

111. “With the comers of thy lips express tiny smiles; make the fringe of thy eyebrows move gracefully; be pleased playfully to cast on me looks that frequent the path of the comers of the eyes.[57]

112. “Bring to an end the rainy season of tear-drops; with thy smile give me the joys of moonlight; let the two Khanjana birds that are thy eyes play on me; let thy face be as a lotus in bloom.

113. “Inside my ears, with a garland of letters,[58] bring about a boundless play of a flow of nectar! Thou with maddening eyes, with the charm of thy smiles make my eyes feast, as it were, on milk-rice after a fast.

114. “Beloved, adorn half my throne; ah no, adorn my lap! Oh, I said that by mistake; mayst thou forgive! What seat can there be for thee except my bosom?

115. “Thou who hast studied the guile of Cupid’s arrows! If thou who art inside my heart comest outside to my bosom, my heart, folded in thee,[59] will no more dread Cupid’s arrows.

116. “Clasp me round; let the arrows of Cupid be left without any entry into our two hearts, joined one to the other; this firm expanse of my bosom is the proper handmaid of thy inflexible breasts.

117. “I long for thy lips, by the flow of whose honey honeyed are thy words, my ears being the witness; on the tableland of thy breasts, let my finger-nails bring about a wonder—the rise of the crescent of the moon.[60]

118. “Dost thou not personify Cupid’s drama? Thou dost indeed ‘hold the thread’[61] in the shape of the clear line of hairs on thy body; well, the central gem in thy pearlstring does look beautiful, as if it were the hero of the play that takes delight in thy graceful gestures; and, the gem on thy crown, obscuring the moon in brightness, is as the jester of the play, a noble Brāhmaṇa, with a gem on the crest of his head.

119. “Let thy lower lip, red like a Bimba fruit, the lip on which is engraved ‘a group of eight lines’ indicating the auspicious character of the birth of thy love, become like a Bhūrja leaf from the (crimson) colours provided by the marks of biting left by my teeth.[62]

120. “Be kind with thy words; favour me with thy kisses; be pleased to have thy breast served by me; for thou alone art the life of Nala as the night is of the lunar rays.”

121. Then coining to his senses, he became conscious that he was disclosing his identity; and, seeing Damayantī coming to herself,[63] he spoke these words, having recollected his past; just as a sage, on attaining right knowledge, becomes conscious of the soul revealing itself, and just as he, seeing the Cosmic Matter near at hand,[64] makes (relevant) utterances, having recollected the impressions of his past lives.

122. “Ah, why did I reveal myself! What will Indra in this matter think of me! Reverently bowing before him, and then confounded with shame, I will not look at even the expression of his feelings.

123. “Ah me! this great task of Indra I have forsaken; for I disclosed my name for nothing; Hanūmat and others shed lustre[65] on the messenger’s path with their fame, while I have done so with the laugh[66] of my foes.

124. “I did not purpose wrong; but I know what others will say—others who speak of Viṣṇu, exerting himself for the protection of men, as the ‘oppressor of men’ (Janārdana), but give the name Śiva (Benign) to the god who destroys the life of the world during the universal deluge.

125. “But, why is this heart of mine bursting under the weight of shame since its innocence is known to the gods? Let them know this rugged truth, but who will put his hand on the mouths of men?[67]

126. “Owing to this consciousness (of my duty), my toil was bearing fruit; but that consciousness was eclipsed by the powerful Creator; Indra himself is powerless to remedy a thing liable to destruction at the caprice of fate.”

127. As Nala was thus deploring the disclosure of his identity, brought about by himself under a mighty wave of delusion, the kind-hearted golden swan-king came along swiftly, wishing to extricate him, as he lay thus buried in grief.

128-29. To Nala, who looked up at the sound of its wings, saying, ‘Here is that bird,’ said the swan, “Cruel one, bring her not to extreme despair; after this she will surely die. Being conscious of thy offence in respect of the gods, having exerted thyself so much for the success of their affair, thou need not be a false witness; the pure-heartedness of the good has themselves for witness.”

130. Thus consoled by the bird which, having said this, went away after taking leave of both Nala and Damayantī, the king gently spoke to her, offering in his mind obeisance to the lords of the quarters.

131. “How much torment shall I give thee—torment fruitless in generating love for the gods? Let them be kind to me for my guileless mission or punish me for my offence.

132. “This my madness stood me in good stead; for (thanks to it) I felt not the pangs of separation from thee: even from an evil issues the abating of an evil, just as from ignorance proceeds the attenuation of a sin.

133. “The fire of the grief of separation which was thine was thus kind to me, in spite of my having harassed thee sorely; for it to-day took pity on thee, maddening me, and making me reveal myself.[68]

134. “These gods are devotedly longing for thee, but thou wishest to make even me thy slave; do what thou wilt, reflecting well; let not repentance, once felt, attack thee in the rear for naught.

135. “Indifferent, I say this to thee, not out of fear of the gods, nor because I am pining with love; even if my death do thee good, that would serve only to repay my debt for thy love.”

136. Just as the rich beauty of the spring beams forth with the wide-expanding voice of the cuckoo, so was Damayantī fervently delighted with these nectar-like words, pleasant and true, spoken by Nala.

137. Damayantī who had been censuring her own mind, which had been gravitating to the messenger of the gods, though she had held it in check, thinking of her duty as a chaste woman, gave up hate as well as censure, having now ascertained him to be Nala in her mind.[69]

138. She had been censuring Cupid thus in her mind—“Mind-born as thou art, the mind of mortals is thy parent; art thou not ashamed to plunge it in sin?[70] Thou hast put an end to the tradition of worthy sons.”

139. The usual description of her body was that it was a flower, but it was not particular as to what flower it was. At that moment, in the rainy season[71] created by her tears of joy, the hairs on her body, standing erect, declared it to be a Kadamba blossom.[72]

140. The succession of gestures accompanying the ravings uttered by Nala,[73] removed Damayantī’s mistaken idea that he had said so,[74] considering himself to be discovered by her; for she was wailing, addressing Nala.[75]

141. After that, the bashful Damayantī could not speak to Nala; as she had formerly spoken to him unabashed, face to face, she was now for that very reason immersed in an ocean of shame.

142. When she failed to give a reply to her beloved even indirectly, (by whispering it) in the ears of a girl friend, the girl herself said to him laughingly, “Owing to her bashfulness, silence is now thy beloved’s treasure.

143. “Hear from my mouth the mystic doctrine of love which she uttered, making streams of tears the guest of thy feet, thine, who wast depicted by herself in a portrait.”[76]

(What Damayantī had said, addressing the portrait. Verses 144-54).

144. “Ornament of the lunar dynasty, doubtless the swan itself did not tell thee about me, whose life was in despair owing to thy absence; otherwise, how is this cruelty inasmuch as it is killing me possible in one like thee?

145. “The moon is surpassed by thy face, Cupid by thy beauty; why are they both resolved to kill me?[77] If they are so, because I am thine, then, indeed, victory is mine; for what the gods conceive in their minds goes not in vain.[78]

146. “In vain does the moon wish to rub off its dark spot with the ashes of my limbs consumed by its rays; but, will it even thereby resemble thy face? For stained will it be again by the killing of a woman.

147. “Be pleased to give thy arrows to Cupid; let him kill me with them, setting aside his flowery arrows; breathing my last with my mind centred on thee, I will conquer him like a straw, becoming thyself.[79]

148. “Devoted as I am to thy feet, what is it to me if the Vedas sing the virtues of the gods? The night lily would never rejoice, when bathers in waters sang the praise of the sun.[80]

149. “To-day let me rather die than live; otherwise thou wouldst not know my love for thee. Lord of my life! Thou who art more than my life! From my having died for thee, believe me to have possessed thyself as my only support.

150. “The sacred vow of Kṣatriyas, common to all suppliants, namely, protection even from the terror of the thunderbolt, is in thy case grievously broken, religious defaulter as thou art, not protecting me even from flowery arrows.[81]

151. “I am thine, yet alas! thou sparest that false god Cupid out of respect for his being a god, though he is about to kill me; pray, know that Cupid to be a Caṇḍāla; he is the friend of the Spring who makes his arrows.[82]

152. “It is on lesser and lesser enemies that the wise should first whet their prowess; for, burning on grass, gradually does fire destroy dried cowdung and numbers of trunks of trees.[83]

153. “How great, too, will be thy offence against the gods, if thou be kind to me, my choice being free?[84] Being gratified by thee at sacrifices, the gods, in order to save their face, will not even mention it (to thee).[85]

154. “Let them, too, go to the Svayaṃvara as they like; appeasing those very gods, I will choose thee; even they will somehow be moved to pity; surely they too are not Cupid nor thyself.”[86]

(Damayantī’s friend addresses Nala)—

155. “This river of the essence of honey,[87] with isles of silence at every step, was loosed by Damayantī, subject to a confused emotion of bashfulness and love, on seeing thee even in a portrait.

156. “Thy Cupid is a Caṇḍāla who is not touched nor looked at,[88] and who is called deformed,[89] perhaps because, when vanquished by thee,[90] one of his fingers was cut off. Making friends with the Spring in the jungle, and entering my friend’s heart, he is stealing her life; and, let the directions on that account wait upon thy fame.”[91]

157. Then the king, his head drooping with shame, took his departure, promising to go to the assembly of kings[92] in company with the gods, as Damayantī herself had told him unseen by others.

158. As Damayantī, in her anxiety to meet her beloved on the morrow, was rapidly shedding streams of tears—streams with reeds in the shape of high and low thrills on the surface of her cheeks,[93] even that one night consisting of four watches was hard for her to pass, owing to her pangs of love; so it seems the Creator decreed all nights to have three watches, in mercy to her.[94]

159. To those gods, Indra and the others, capable of visualizing the story of everything that ever happens to the people of the three worlds, the king quickly and sorrowfully related the whole truth of his mission to her as it actually took place.

160. Epilogue. [Śrīharṣa refers to himself as having composed a work named Arṇavavarṇana, ‘Description of the Ocean (?).’]

Footnotes and references:


Cf. 5. 127.


i.e., his name and family.


i.e., Nala himself.


i.e., fixed in the direction of his return journey.


It is also implied that these gods are curious creatures. The king of the waters (jala)’ may mean also the ‘king of fools (jaḍa)’. The king of the dead is one who is himself dead and has no sense. Marutvat (Indra) ‘one who has the winds’ (vātula) implies that he is mad, while the description of Agni suggests a ghostly phenomenon.


i.e., with regard to a mortal woman like me.


Gods being all-seeing do not sleep. Damayantī means that they knew her to be devoted to Nala, but purposely went to sleep to avoid the knowledge of the fact, and so to be able to be her suitors.


i.e., Nala.


i.e., Nala.


Lit. door.


Also, “why is it that this evil caused to thee by scone evil planet is not radically removed even by the benign Jupiter?”


Special preparations of mercury are supposed to turn iron into gold. The idea is that such transformed iron is no longer iron, but pure gold. So a man made divine by the grace of the gods is absolutely divine and has no longer any mortal element in Mm. It is implied that Damayantī raised to divinity by the love of the gods is no longer a mortal woman, but a goddess; so her objection that as a mortal woman she cannot marry a god is not valid.


This is sarcastic. Indra is compared to sugar-cane and Nala to the bitter and thorny Śamī plant. The idea is, Damayantī excels, i.e., is even more stupid than the camel. In this case, the epithet “karabhoru” is to be construed as meaning “greater (i.e., more stupid) than the camel.”


i.e., if she should drown herself.


Damayantī, being loved by Varuṇa, is, as it were, his life and is already inside his heart; united with her, he will place her also on his bosom outside.


Nala insinuates that Damayantī’s ‘No’ to the suit of the gods is really a ‘Yes’ disguised as a ‘No’ by means of Poetic Suggestion or Dhvani, according to which a negative statement may convey an affirmative sense, or an affirmative statement a negative sense.


Indra is the presiding deity of the east. As he is one of the lords or husbands of the directions, the protuberances on the head of his elephant are fancied as the breasts of his mistress—the east.


Because Damayantī would be her rival.


Chaste women are believed to be unhurt while undergoing the fire ordeal to prove their purity.


i.e., in the south of which Yama is the presiding deity.


i.e., because the moon, too, has a “watery nature”, being composed of water.


Guilty of hearing overtures on behalf of suitors other than Nala.


Of the gods who sent Nala as a messenger to her, Damayantī makes special mention of the god of death, comparing the bearer of the message to the messenger of death who tortures a sinner after his death.


i.e., the calumny resulting from the overtures on behalf of the gods.


i.e., Nala.


i.e., the golden swan.


i.e., the visitor and Nala resemble each other so closely that, when they meet, the former would see, as it were, his own beauty in the face of the latter.


i.e., Nala.


i.e., though the visitor is as beautiful as Nala, she must not look at him, as he is not Nala.


Right discernment, right knowledge and right conduct constituting Dharma. These are Jaina tenets.


i.e., Cupid who was burnt to ashes by Śiva.


i.e., the three sacrificial fires. Ordinarily in a sacrifice oblations are offered to Agni by others in the sacrificial fires, but in a sacrifice performed by the god of fire himself he would have to offer oblations to himself in his own manifestations.


i.e., the south. Cf. Verse 57.


Agastya, being an inhabitant of the southern region, will have to pay a tribute to its king—Yama.


There is a belief that Śacī must be present during a Svayaṃvara, if it is to pass off smoothly. Nala means that, if Damayantī slights Indra, the latter’s wife, being so offended, will absent herself from her Svayaṃvara, thus causing disturbances and making it impossible for her to choose Nala.


Verses 78 and 79 are to be taken together.


i.e., in the case of a relative’s death the ceremony will have to be stopped according to the requirements of Aśauca.


A gift must always be preceded by an offering of water. So if Varuṇa prevents the participation of any water in the ceremony, it cannot be performed.


Months of heavy rainfall. Lit....... eyes, the gush of whose tears was let loose.


The eyes are likened to the flowers, and the stream of tears to the stalk. Śucī means also ‘summer’, in which case the imagery is that of a pool of water in the summer when the stalk of the lotus is clearly visible in the shallow water.


Big or long-drawn eyes are regarded as beautiful.


The desire of looking at Nala is regarded as vicious, because it is only deluding her without any chance of its being fulfilled.


Damayantī means that what her mind desires is never realised; it is just the contrary that comes about. So, she argues, let her mind desire that she may never be united with Nala; in that case, as usual the contrary i.e. her union with Nala might perhaps come about.


The south wind is as usual described as an enemy of forlorn lovers. Nala’s capital being situated in the north, the south wind is requested to scatter her ashes in that direction after her death. Though an enemy, it might do her this favour, as hostilities cease after death.


Damayantī fancies her beloved as the soul. So long as the soul does not depart, the mind and the five life-breaths cannot depart; so there can be no death. The mind here refers to the subtle body composed of the sense organs, the mind, the five elements, the five vital breaths, etc. At death, the soul departs, followed by the subtle body, after which the dissolution of the physical body takes place.


The reference is to the belief that the gods sleep in the rainy season. Damayantī means that she has herself created an artificial rainy season with Her tears, causing the gods to fall asleep.


i.e., the golden swan.


i.e., the Creator who keeps Nala in the dark about Damayantī’s sufferings.


i.e., Nala himself.


i.e., Nala forgot himself, and all that he had fancied about Damayantī rushed to his memory.


Lit. with the grace of eyes moving sideways.


Cf. 7. 29. Or, ‘Thou with eyes shining like sapphire!’


Binducyutaka is a kind of word-play in which the removal of the Anusvāra gives a different sense to a word or a sentence, e.g. “kānto nayanānandī?ā?leduḥ khe na bhavati” means “The beautiful new moon pleasant to the eyes is not in the sky”; but, if the Anusvāra in “bāle?duḥ” is dropped, the sentence with the forms “bāle duḥkhena bhavati” will mean “Girl, the beloved pleasant to thy eyes is difficult to have”. Here, the idea is that Damayantī’s tears are so charming that they have made the world full of substance, but as the “world” (saṃsāra) becomes “full of substance” (sasāra) only when the Anusvāra in “saṃsāra” is dropped, Damayantī who brings this about by means of her tears is said to be extremely clever in the use of Binducyutaka.


It is usual for girls of high station to hold a lotus in the hand. Damayantī in her grief no longer has any lotus, but her lotus-like face which she sadly rests on her hand takes the place of one.


i.e., the current of her tears flowing on to her bosom is taking the place of the pearlstring which she has discarded in her grief.


i.e., let me bow down at thy feet.


i.e glances.


i.e., with thy words.


Lit. “having entered into a sheath composed of thyself”.


i.e., the finger nails would produce semi-circular marks resembling the crescent.


The “thread-holder” (“sūtradhāra”) is the stage-manager, who by introducing the play gives the clue to the development of the action. Damayantī is here fancied as the “stage-manageress” (sūtradhāriṇī) Cupid’s drama.


Nala means to say: “On thy lower lip there are eight lines which resemble the eight lines of a certain astrological calculation on a horoscope indicating a birth of exceptionally good omen (in thy case, the birth of thy love); thy lip is thus like a Bhūrja leaf on which horoscopes are written, and let the marks of biting, which my teeth will leave on my ruddy lip look like coloured letters written on such a Bhūrja leaf”.


On hearing that her visitor was Nala, Damayantī was ceasing to weep and growing calm.


i.e., perceiving it to be separate from the soul.


Lit. whitened.


A laugh in Sanskrit poetry is always white.


i.e., prevent them from saying what they like.


It was Damayantī’s grief that maddened Nala, causing him to reveal his identity; as this, however, consoled Damayantī, her very grief is described as having taken pity on her, while owing to this happy result it was an act of kindness to Nala also, though it was he who first caused her grief by making those overtures on behalf of the gods.


Damayantī was reproaching herself for being influenced by the charms of a stranger; but her mind was at rest, when she came to know that the so-called messenger of the gods was Nala himself.


In Damayantī’s case, allowing her mind to be attracted by a stranger.


Cf. Verse 96.


The hairs standing up on Damayantī’s body as thrills of joy were passing through her are likened to the erect hairlike filaments of a Kadamba flower which blooms in the rainy season. Cf. 5. 79.


According to Nārāyaṇa, “Nala who had himself described the course of the play of his own delusion removed Damayantī’s mistaken idea, etc.”


i.e., revealed his identity. See Verse 103.


Damayantī at first thought Nala perhaps disclosed his identity not out of love for her, but because he suspected himself to be discovered, when she began to weep, uttering his name (Verses 97-100). But the impassioned mariner in which he declared that he was no other than Nala removed her doubts regarding his sincerity.


i.e., Damayantī was shedding tears which drenched the feet in the portrait.


To Virahins both Cupid and the exciting moon are regarded as dangerous.


Damayantī means to say that the moon and Cupid, both eclipsed by Nala in beauty, wish to take revenge: but, being unable to do anything to him, they have let loose their wrath on her, knowing her to be his beloved. As this, however, presupposes on the part of the moon and Cupid, both gods, a belief that Damayantī is Nala’s by love and devotion, that very belief is bound to bring about her union with him owing to the thoughts of the gods always bearing fruit in action.


The reference is to the belief that a man is reborn as the person or creature, of whom he thinks at the time of his death. Damayantī expects in that way to be reborn as a man in the form of Nala, in order to ‘conquer’ Cupid by means of Nala’s superior beauty.


i.e., the night lotus loves the moon, so it does not bloom at sunrise in spite of the adoration of the sun by bathers.


i.e., Cupid’s arrows.


The spring creates the flowers serving as Cupid’s arrows.


i.e., Cupid, though an inferior enemy, ought not to be neglected.


Damayantī means that, as she will choose Nala of her own accord, the gods will not be offended with him at the failure of his mission.


This and the subsequent verse seem to be out of place here. Damayantī was not aware of Nala’s mission on behalf of the gods, previous to her meeting him in the inner apartment; and, as she was in continual conversation with him from the moment of her meeting him, she could not have turned aside to address his portrait. So this verse contradicts Verse 155 where the whole speech from Verse 144 to 154 is represented as being addressed to Nala’s portrait, which could take place only before his arrival.


i.e., not as cruel as Cupid or thyself.


Ref. to Damayantī’s speech.


Cupid here personifies the influence which Nala exercises over Damayantī, causing all her sufferings. Cupid is, therefore, described as a Caṇḍāla employed by Nala to torture Damayantī.


anaṅga”: “Cupid” does not mean here “formless”, but deformed.


i.e., in a contest of beauty. Lit. thou having triumphed.


i.e., let thy fame spread in the directions. This is said sarcastically.


i.e., the Svayaṃvara.


The flowing tears are compared to streams, and the thrills to reeds growing In them.


A Prahara or watch is three hours, and a Ghaṭī twenty-four minutes. A night consists of four Praharas, but it is usually called “triyāmā”: “having three Yāmas or Praharas’, by omitting at each end four Ghaṭīs which are included in the day. It is here fancied that the night was thus shortened by the Creator out of pity for Damayantī who in her grief was finding it too long to pass.

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