Naishadha-charita of Shriharsha

by Krishna Kanta Handiqui | 1956 | 159,632 words

This page relates End of the Svayamvara; Damayanti chooses Nala as her husband which is canto 14 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 14 - End of the Svayaṃvara; Damayantī chooses Nala as her husband

1. Then in order to obtain Nala, Damayantī eagerly set about the gratification of the gods. The Creator made Surabhi the wish-cow of the gods; but he made the gratification of the gods the wish-cow for men.

2. The gods are a grove of all-giving Kalpa trees to us, bearing choice sweet fruits as a result of the provision of water-basins, namely, the ceremonial circumambulations to the right; and pourings of water, to wit, the offering of unguents and incense.

3. Full of faith, she bowed to the gods, uttering their names. The salutation of those who have faith in the gods is a synthesis of the components constituting an all-encompassing success.

4. As she, in her heart, visualised the omnipresent gods by force of meditation, her vision became to her a surety of the fulfilment of her desire. The gods, once seen, vouchsafe a noble boon.

5. There she worshipped them, while the people in the assembly looked on amazed. Flowers bloom when fruits are coming; the gods likewise rejoice when a result is about to be won.

6. She then worshipped them with hymns and bunches of flowers, fresh and delightfully soft; hymns pleasing by their clarity, and flowers by their purity; hymns joy-giving, and flowers sweet-smelling; hymns composed in metres regulated by syllabic instants, and flowers growing on Mālatī plants; hymns that had sixfooted verses accompanied by songs, and flowers that had singing bees.

7. Single-minded, she meditated on the gods, installing them on the lotus seat of her heart by mental concentration. The unclouded contemplation of the gods is the prelude to the attainment of a result desired.

8. Thereupon the four gods, pleased of themselves, were satisfied at that amount of her devotion. How much blowing would a fire need when it wanted to be manifest of itself?

9. Having obtained the favour of the gods, she recalled the manner of composition of Sarasvatī’s pleasant speeches. The gods, indeed, when pleased, give nothing else than that they grant a well-ordered mind.

10. Keeping in view the last Nala,[1] she then connected with its special subject each verse, which was applicable to one or other of the gods, but was irrelevant with regard to any one else.[2]

11. At that moment she came to know that the verses (taken separately) referred to the womanly devotion of the regions of the sky to each of the divine regents[3] on account of the dependence of each region on one or other of them. But, taken together, they referred to Nala alone; even as the diverse regions, all combined, were subject to Nala alone.[4]

12. (Now) she surmised that each of the verses which was applicable respectively to Varuṇa, Indra, Yama and Agni, referred to Nala, when combined with the rest. Each one of the verses then served to single out a god who was not Nala.

13. When she concluded the last one to be the king, her heart was replete with joy. Pondering on Sarasvatī’s way of speaking, she said with a mind submerged in an ocean of thought.

14. “Verily she has an extraordinary way of speaking. For she is Sarasvatī assuming a corporeal form. Speaking with a twofold meaning, she honoured Indra and the other gods, and singled out to me Nala as well.

15. “As a favour to me, she strung together four garlands of speech[5] to indicate Nala clearly. Two of them[6] could signify Nala. Lo, my own delusion was great.

16. “That those words of her conveyed a twofold meaning is verily the play of her poetic power. For even the divine lords of the regions, altogether different (from Nala), played the role of mortal kings.

17. “Did the goddess then approve the rejection of the four gods, Indra and the others, as they were being pointed out one after another? Did her pleasant speech, therefore, urge me towards Nala? O what a delusion came over me!”

18. At that moment Damayantī saw that the earth was not touched by the gods, who surely considered the Earth to be the wife of another holding with devotion the feet of her consort Nala.[7]

19. Coming to the fore, she saw in the gods no blink of the eyes, but noticed it in the king, as if it were saying, beckoning to her, “Come here, and be united with Nala.”

20. The maiden perceived no dust of the earth on the gods, but saw it on Nala. Doubtless it was attached to him from the Earth while she gave him, her husband, an embrace.[8]

21. She saw on Nala, but not on the gods, perspiration that looked like a layer[9] of diamond on a beautiful surface of gold, as if it wished to abate within his frame, eager to embrace her, the heat caused by its separation from her.[10]

22. The maiden saw that the garlands of the gods were fresh; but that of Nala was fading, as if it thought, “Having won this tender maiden to-day, will Nala have any regard for me?”

23. She saw in Nala, but not in the gods, a gleam that seemed to declare, “How much will the gods assume of his beauty? Nala’s gleam is still not theirs.”[11]

24. The idea which had first risen in her mind about Nala corresponded with these signs. From the manifestation of these characteristics she knew also that she had obtained the favour of the gods.

25. Then love urged the damsel to place her wreath of choice on Nala, while shyness held her back. Equally did she bear the urge of both.

26. Eagerly she made a strenuous effort to make the wreath embrace her beloved. But from shyness and stupor, not even a slight stir was there in her lotus hand.

27. The beauty of an overlord came over the Sentiment of Eros abiding in her heart, which held a parasol, the dynasty of the moon,[12] and was made to rock like a swing by bashfulness and love.

28. Her hand, eager with the wreath of choice, going towards her beloved, stopped again. Her everchanging glance went half way towards her beloved’s face, but back it came again.

29. Her heart had already reached her beloved, but her eyes could not move. The popular saying that shame abides in the eye was at that moment clearly made true by her.

30. Somehow casting a glance at the beauty of Nala’s lotus face, the bashful maid half looked at that orb of the moon, Sarasvatī’s face.

31. Perceiving those feelings of hers, the goddess spake thus to her feigning to be ignorant. “The screen of the wave of thy shyness doth not allow even me to discern thy thoughts.”

32. No sooner did she whisper the letter ‘Na’, half of Nala’s name, in the ears of the goddess[13] than she became overwhelmed with shame. She bent her head low, rubbing her fingers one against another.

33. Sarasvatī, taking hold of her hand, led her towards Indra with a smile. But Damayantī proved true to the significant name Perverse, common to women in general.[14]

34. The goddess started to take her to Indra (again), smilingly pulling her by the hand. At this she drew back her hand with a start, as if it had been placed by mistake on a serpent’s body.

35. The goddess of well-being associated with the sovereignty of heaven grew jealous, when she saw Damayantī going towards Indra. But, affectionate to Indra, she was ashamed to see Damayantī then turn away from him.

36. “I heard thee say No in respect of Nala. So name some other suitor.” Exhorted thus by the goddess,[15] Damayantī, tossed by the conflicting emotions of bashfulness and love,[16] indicated Nala with her eye.

37. While the gods laughed, placing their hands on the hands of the nymphs, Sarasvatī, fondly embracing Damayantī, and leading her to the middle of the passage running in front of the mortal kings and the divine lords of the regions of the sky, made her look like a travelling idol of the goddess Durgā.[17]

38. Seeing her going unasked,[18] slowly and slowly in the direction of Nala, Sarasvatī turned her back from the middle of the way, wishing to take her again to those very gods.

39. But Damayantī repressed the close embrace of the goddess, even as a newly married bride does that of her spouse, briskly moving her lotus-stalk neck as she turned her lotus face away,[19] (a face) distinguished by[20] the humming noise of those bees who were her maiden friends.

40. The goddess, with the corners of her lips drenched with a smile, said then to Damayantī, who was by no persuasion willing to go towards the gods, “Thou with the orb of a face excelling the moon! what suspicion canst thou have towards even me?

41. “Without bowing at the feet of the gods. without fully obtaining their permission, how can thy desire to choose Nala as thy consort be proper in the face of the hostility of the gods?”

42. Once more taking Damayantī by the hand, who grew confident at these words, the goddess made her bow to the goḍs and said to them, “Your kindness she now deserves, devoted to you.

43. “Ye lords of the regions of the sky, this devoted woman chooses you not as her consort, for you are many; nor any one among you for fear of humiliating the rest. She seeks therefore to choose this king, who is but portions of yourselves combined in one.

44. “Long ago did the Creator bring about Damayantī’s marriage by choice, through the (chance) contact of her wreath with Nala on the way as well as her dalliance of love through a (chance) embrace of Nala.[21] What then remains that you attempt so much to thwart it?

45. “Or, perhaps it was a desire to bring fame to Nala, never deviating, along with his subjects, from the path of observance of caste duties, that brought you to the earth, you who were pleased with this manner of his activity.”

46. Sarasvatī took her to Nala, when the gods, on hearing these words, gave their permission with significant movements of their eyebrows, their lips playing with smiles in the orbs of their facss at these words of the goddess.

47. Sarasvatī brought Damayantī’s hand, charming with a wreath of Madhūka flowers, near the neck of that moon of the earth.[22] Her hand was immovable even by Cupid, while she stood motionless with shame.

48. Round Nala’s neck the bride then let fall the wreath of Madhūka flowers, decked with Dūrvā shoots, as if it were a line of letters offered in writing in token of her acceptance of him.

49. The king bore round his neck that wreath of flowers, looking like Cupid’s noose, and beautiful with deep blue Dūrvā blades resembling in lustre the sentiment of Eros.[23]

50. Methinks, with a face downcast with offended pride, Damayantī jealously looked at that garland, which was flashing bright in contact with Nala’s body, and had on it an emerging line of thrills, the tips of the Dūrvā blades.

51. From the mouths of the beautiful women of the city there went up a loud Ulūlu sound, a sort of auspicious song of theirs, the letters of which issued forth as if incoherent from joy.

52. The wreath of Madhūka flowers, resting on his spotless bosom, and mirrored on it, looked like a line of Cupid’s arrows, partly lying on the surface and partly gone inside.

53. At that moment, while Damayantī’s body bristled with thrills, all her hair seemed to stand on tiptoe, eager like children to witness the bridegroom’s charm.

54. She, with the charming lips, brightly shone, all her limbs bristling with the tips of her hairs, as if she were Cupid’s archery platform, bedecked with target poles.

55. At that moment did all her movements vanish, as if blown away by the gusts of wind loosed by Cupid’s arrows. Or, perhaps were they for a moment cajoled away by Kali in order to make with them a vigorous effort to win her for himself.

56. While Cupid caused that perspiration in Nala’s hand, which was touching the wreath bestowed by her, he was creating, as it were, the ceremonial palmful of water[24] for the coming marriage, a mighty festival.

57. Tender as she was, she resembled cotton wool. So it was natural that she should be shaken by the blasts of air from Cupid’s arrows. But a wonder it was that Nala, a great mainstay of the earth, should have a violent tremor on account of them.

58. The wreath of flowers, reflected in the tears of the (rival) kings, seemed to remain thrust in their very eyes, judging from the redness of them. But rightly were Nala’s eyes wide open,[25] which seemed to drink in the wreath.

59. From the joy caused by the touch of Damayantī’s hand, Nala was so greatly benumbed that he long resembled a pillar fixed for Cupid to aim his arrows at.

60. Close to him, the rulers of the regions of the sky, renouncing that beautiful form, now receding from them, assumed their own forms; just as someone resorts to begging, renouncing an empire; or goes over to old age, traversing the period of youth.

61. The erstwhile hidden (thousand) eyes of Indra, as he was casting off his disguise as Nala, appeared first, as if from a desire to see the beauty of Damayantī’s emotions, each eye vying to be first.

62. She (now) saw an approaching sage, the founder of a family group, whom Indra, enemy to his own family, seemed to place in front of him as a noble friend, on account of the obstacle to Indra’s marriage with Damayantī; for a marriage depends on the favourable character of the ancestral families of the bridegroom and the bride.[26]

63. Agni enveloped his body with shooting flames, as if he wished to destroy with torches the mighty gloom of the infatuation caused by his love.

64. Alas, Light, the companion of Agni, appeared faint in the day, as if it quickly hid itself from shame before the people, because Damayantī did not choose its master Agni.

65. Yama assumed a form, emitting gloom, and dreadful with eyes red as a cloth dyed with red lac, (a form) accompanied by a mace, as if he were then Wrath coming to occupy the hearts of the kings.[27]

66. Citragupta, Yama’s highly meritorious scribe, and the deep colour[28] of Yama’s body which had been marvellously concealed came into view together. The former put ink on the surface of a writing leaf, which ink the latter claimed to surpass.[29]

67. The mighty Varuṇa shone forth, assuming his watery form, and bearing his noose fixed in his hand, the tie of his mind, slackened at that moment with regard to Damayantī.[30]

68. The lord of the waters was indeed without any companion, for he misunderstood the precept “One should come to a woman in the company of some one else”, and thought “How can one, accompanied by one’s wife, win another woman”?[31]

69. Thereafter Sarasvatī also manifested her divine form, pleasing to Viṣṇu. Perceiving her with her emblems coming into view, the maiden wondered no more at the manner of her speech.

70. Indra and the other gods, who were displaying this fun of transmutation of forms, in that onlooking assembly of heroes, caused, alas, the discomfiture of magicians, destroying the means of their livelihood.

71. Then looking at Nala and Damayantī, who attained the unattainable object of their desire, both charming with the emotion of their mutual love, Indra, the mighty sovereign of the Golden Mountain,[32] then said, delighted in his heart.

72. “Damayantī, so to thee is given this king, a boon that is rarely obtained. Nala, because thou sincerely executed thy mission,[33] here is my favour to thee—

73. “In sacrifices will I partake of thy oblations, assuming a form visible to the eye. Many doubt the existence of gods independent of sacrificial formulas, not seeing any sacrifice partaken of by us.[34]

74. “When the end comes, be merged in Śiva and Pārvatī, thyself and thy wife. The anxiety ‘What shall I be like at my death?’ doth indeed oppress the heart of a sentient being.

75. “On the bank of the river Asi, near Vārāṇasī, a city will rise for thee to live in, called after thy name. For, if thou lived in Kāśī, desirous of salvation, the joys of Damayantī’s company would be curtailed.”

76. Then the god who is the mouth of the gods,[35] that are familiar with the taste of sacrifices, having wreaths of smoke for beard, said to Nala, “May thy prosperity be unbounded as the milk of that wish-cow, thy own vision of me.

77. “May my body which serves to burn and cook be subject to thy will. Becoming its master, do thou excel Cupid, whose body ' was destroyed by this very body of mine.

78. “Food, fish, drinks and the like, may they, prepared by thee, surpass nectar in taste. King, I know thy searching nature with regard to the culinary art.”[36]

79. The god who is the son of the sun,[37] also pleased of himself, said to the king, “This my tongue hath long been eager to give thee a boon on account of thy deeds.

80. “Let all kinds of weapons along with their appurtenances appear to thee, the conqueror of enemies. Nothing higher than this is worthy of being attained by those whose life is consecrated to the hero’s vow.

81. “Even if thou shouldst suffer the direst turn of fate, may thy heart not deviate from the law. The trio of virtue, wealth and desire appears to abide in the hands of one who forsakes not piety, and is not devoted to anything else.”

82. Varuṇa, pleased at heart, spoke to the king words accompanied by a smile, “Having bestowed Damayantī on thee, I give thee now two boons by way of giving her a dowry.

83. “Wherever thou wilt, let there be water anon, even in a desert. Water doth maintain the life of creatures in the world in a way in which the other elements do not.

84. “At the mere exertion of thy will, let a desert, whose heat expands with the summer sun, turn into an ocean, and then again become the abode of camels as before.

85. “In contact with thy limbs, let there be freshness and a divine exuberance of fragrance in flowers. Nothing have I seen like flowers that produces both religious merit and bliss.”

86. Smilingly did Sarasvatī, too, say in joy to the king, “Shouldst thou not accept something from me, bringing as I do delight to thy beloved?

87. “The wise should not despise a thing, though slight, which comes without one’s asking. Offered by an honourable Fate, methinks, such a gift of love is worthy of a high esteem.

88. “King, reflect inwardly and meditate always on my pure mystic formula, which, without any form, embodies Śiva, and is accompanied by the moon,[38] and represents the form that goes by the name Pārvatī and Parameśvara, universal, but twofold owing to the union of two shapes, male in one half and female in the other.[39] May this formula prove effective to thee!

89. “The virtuous man who cherishes in his heart this my formula called Cintāmaṇi (Wishing-stone) becomes a master of eloquence with a speech drenched with the nectar of fully developed sentiments. He acts as Cupid in charming even the gazelle-eyed maids of heaven. No use speaking much. Whoso longs for a thing doth obtain it precisely with the help of this.

90. “If he who is solely devoted to me meditates on my figure composed of mystic formulas, concentrating his mind on me, and worshipping me with lovely flowers, perfumes and the like, as I ride my beautiful swan; and, if he, at the end of a year, puts his hand on the head of someone, whoever he may be, the latter, too, will of a sudden compose elegant verses. Worth seeing is the marvel of this particular form of mine.

91. Ornament among kings! every day will I make Damayantī, famous as a woman, and an abode of virtues, devote herself more and more to the sport of clasping thy neck; cherished she is with emotion in thy heart. Everyday will I make also the Vaidarbhī style, famous among the styles, and an abode of merits, entirely devote itself to the game of word-play in the utterances[40] of the poetic narrator of thy life; it is replete with poetic emotion in his heart.

92. “For the joy of men, pure verses on thee will plentifully emerge from the mouth of the poet who, inspired by myself, will celebrate thy deeds. Like Viṣṇu, wilt thou be renowned as the holy-famed destroyer of the sins, brought by the Kali age upon the people of the mundane sphere.”

93. The goddess and the gods then said (to Damayantī), “Say, what desired object shall we give thee, the crown jewel of the world? Nothing is unattainable to thee, who art chaste. Ah, let him who wishes to infringe thy vow be reduced to ashes!

94. “Astonished art thou to see us assume our (real) forms, discarding our disguise. In thy heart, too, let knowledge spring up to acquire its form, wisdom.”[41]

95. While the gods betook themselves to the sky, having thus granted boons, there rose in a moment a mighty noise from the utterances of the attendants of the kings who were rising from their seats, the noise deepening with the sound of drums beaten by a multitude of gods.

96. The rival kings, in spite of their jealousy, did not impute any blemish (to Nala), which had no place in one who was virtuous and pure-famed; nor did they utter anything having semblance of martial ardour with regard to one who had obtained divine weapons by virtue of boons. But, with their sighs, they made Damayantī’s heart full of a profound pity.

97. Turned by those kings into an incarnate deity of the river of the sentiment of pathos, Damayantī at once besought her father and made him give to them the worthy ones among her friends. The kings, too, held back their lives, which were bent on departure, because Damayantī was not theirs, out of consideration for those damsels, who constantly imitated their comrade, learning from her all her arts.

98. Alas, as Nala, equal to Indra in splendour and glory, was then about to start for his mansion, a shower of flowers fell from heaven, as if it were Indra’s fame assuming a corporeal form, shedding tears,[42] to wit, the honey of the flowers, with bees dropping on it.[43]

99. At that moment the gods, leaving the king, a portion of their own selves, felt a pain that is caused by the mutilation of a limb. Sarasvatī, too, full of anxious thoughts as she was departing, looked at Damayantī, the abode of her own grace, turning and turning round.

100. On that festive occasion of giving a daughter in marriage, king Bhīma singly; Nala and Damayantī both, in order to wipe off the evil words of the (rejected) kings; and the kings, who were many, as they were going each to his own camp, all these played, played and played auspicious music in joy.

101. Epilogue.

Śrīhīra, etc. In the beautiful epic, The Story of Nala, composed by him, whose fine sayings are clear as the autumnal moonlight, the fourteenth canto, brilliant by nature, is finished.

Footnotes and references:


i.e., the fifth or the real Nala.


she now understood that the verses 13.10 etc., though apparently applicable to Nala as well as the gods, referred only to the gods and not to Nala.


i.e., Indra and the other three gods.


i.e., while each of the divine regents ruled over one or other of the regions, Nala, being a king, was the master of all the regions.




13.29, 30.


Nala being a king, the earth was his wife. The gods of course do not touch the ground when they are on the earth.


Cf. Verse 18.


Lit. sprout.


Lit...... to abate the heat of his body caused by separation, (a body) desirous of embracing.


The gods have no shadow. Nala’s shadow is fancied as a gleam. Chāyā means both ‘shadow’ and ‘gleam.’


Nala, a scion of the lunar dynasty, is fancied as a royal umbrella under which love thrives like a king in Damayantī’s heart.


Lit. As soon as the letter...... was admitted into the ears of the goddess.


vāmā”: “woman” means literally “perverse.”


Damayantī had uttered ‘Na’ (na) in her attempt to name Nala. Sarasvatī pretends that it was a No, rejecting Nala.


Lit. Damayantī who was an arena of a duel between bashfulness and Cupid.


Durgā idols are still carried in procession in Assam and Bengal on the Vijayā Daśamī day. See, however, Vocabulary under “pānthadurgā”.


The reading “adeśitām” has been adopted.


Lit. making her lotus face such that its stalk grew agile in turning aside.


Lit. marked by a symbol, the humming noise etc.


See 6.49-55.


i.e., Nala.


This is the conventional colour of


Ref. to the water poured on the bridegroom’s palm by the bride’s father in token of the bride being given away.


Lit. The interior of the king’s eyes rightly adopted a dilation. See also Notes.


e.g., the bride and the bridegroom should not belong to the same ancestral family or gotra. Indra, being a god, has no gotra: he is besides said to have destroyed his gotra, i.e., killed his kinsmen. Unable to satisfy gotra conditions, he brought with him a pravara or the founder of a family group as a substitute. See Notes for details.


i.e., the rejected suitors.


Lit. attribute.


i.e., Yama’s colour was blacker than ink.


Lit. bearing his noose fixed in his hand, as if it were related to the loosening of the tie of his mind, effected at that moment with regard to her.


Considering the weakness of human nature, moralists advise men to come to a woman in the company of some one else (sadvitīya) Varuṇa, however, misunderstood the saying and took the compound “[?]dvitīya” to mean “accompanied by one’s wife”, for the word “dvitīya[?]” means a wife. He thought “sahadvitīyaḥ sasaha[?]yaḥ” meant “dvitīyay[a/ā?] sahadharmiṇyā vartamānaḥ”; Varuṇa’s epithet “jalādhipa”: “the lord of the waters” is here purposely used, as it sounds like “jaḍādhipa”: “the lord of fools”, “a master fool”.


The mission to Damayantī on behalf of the gods.


This is a reference to Mīmāṃsā doctrines. See Appendix on Philosophical Allusions under 5.39.


i.e., Agni, so called, because oblations to the gods are offered in the sacrificial fire.


Lit. acts of cooks.


i.e., Yama.


The formula in question is “hrīṃ” which contains in itself Śiva’s name “hara” minus the vowels. The formula being regarded as the embodiment of Śiva, it is described as being accompanied by the moon supposed to be on Śiva’s head. The ‘moon’ (indu) means also the Anusvāra of the formula.


The reference is to the Ardhanārīśvara form of Śiva, half male and half female. Sarasvatī’s formula propounds the true nature of this form; and while repeating it, the devotee is to visualise in his heart the mysterious dual form embodying the male and female energy of the universe. See also Notes and Vocabulary under “cintāmaṇimantra”.


Lit. throat.


According to Nārāyaṇa: In thy heart, too, let knowledge spring up for thee to assume any desired form.


Indra’s fame is fancied as a woman shedding tears, because he was rejected by Damayantī.


The honey refers to the tears, and the bees to the collyrium paint applied to the eyes of a woman.

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