Naishadha-charita of Shriharsha

by Krishna Kanta Handiqui | 1956 | 159,632 words

This page relates Jesting and teasing which is canto 20 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 20 - Jesting and teasing

1. Lake a cloud from heaven, the chariot,[1] its speed increasing with the wind, reached the bejewelled floor of the mountain-high palace, a plateau with numerous minerals.

2. Damayantī then went up to receive her approaching beloved, as the waves of the western ocean do to receive the moon at dawn.

3. He who had seen the beauty of the golden lotuses of the celestial Gaṅgā perceived in her face, his looks full of love, a deep loving welcome.

4. Holding in her hand the lotus given to her by him as a message from heaven, she shone like Lakṣmī, her eyes resembling fullblown lotus blooms.

5. Though of little value, she valued it highly, because it was given by her beloved. She considered it worth a million, though it was worth a cowrie.

6. Her beloved said to her, “Slender one, if it please thee, let me finish the remaining rites[2] which prevent me from clasping thee round.”

7. “Why does so much pleasure-restricting ritual fall to thee today?” Thus she said to him in anger in her mind, though not in words.

8. At that moment Kali said in his mind, “Foolish girl, thou art vexed even at a rite that separates thee from thy beloved for a moment. But do I not purpose to sever thee from him for good?”

9. She then went from the king to a lotus-faced companion of hers, as if disdainfully; just as Beauty goes from a night lotus bed to a neighbouring day lily.

10. Nala gratified the Triad of sacrificial fires in the daily session of Agnihotra oblations, as if he thought, “Let not them also be hostile to me like Kali and Dvāpara.”[3]

11-12. After he had finished the morning rites, he went behind her, and closed her eyes with his hands, forbidding her girl companion to warn her with his hand. Damayantī’s laughing comrades watched him, as if he were measuring the extent of his beloved’s eyes with his outstretched palms.

13. “My dear, I recognise thee.” Half uttering these words, she knew the touch to be another’s as she unloosened the grasp of his hand. She then remained silent, assuming an air of being offended.

14. But he said to the fair one, “Thy anger is out of place, beloved. Should I not observe the religious austerities, by virtue of which I won thee?

15. “If it is thy purpose to take offence, because I greeted thee not after bathing, although I was thy slave during the night; then tell me, I bow to thee.”

16. With fear and anger, resisting her consort’s hands, with which he was about to touch her feet, she charmed him with her glances.

17. Bewitched by the dazzling in the comers of her eyes, Nala spake to the slender damsel thus.

18. “Have thy eyes, speedily going afar by casting side glances, turned back in fear at the sight of a pitfall, thy ears?

19. “Angry though thou art, thou dost bring me delight, o thou with lotus eyes! The light of the sun, though hot, creates the fragrance of the lotus.

20. “The Creator, whose creation varies from object to object, marked the moon, I fancy, with a dark spot, in order to remove all confusion between the moon and the orb of thy face.

21. “Thy words, clear and sweet, perfectly rival the pearls found on the banks of the Tāmraparṇī river; pearls that seem to be born in the womb of the moon.

22. “Thy words rose from the ocean of milk together with nectar. Lo, even to-day they are accompanied by smiles which look like jots from a flowing expanse of milk.”

23. Bringing his beloved to his lap, he then adorned a couch, just as the moon, embracing the moonlight, adorns the mountain of the east.

24. Like as the mellow raincloud clings to the sky at the beginning of the rains, so he, loving as he was, long embraced his beloved to alleviate the pain caused by his absence from her.

25. Whelmed with emotion, he kissed her smiling face, as does the sun the flowering lotus, while reflected in its honey.

26. Beckoning to a maiden friend of his beloved, Kalā by name, he made her sit before him, and spake to her, making her a witness of his jesting.

27. “Why is it that Damayantī, thy lotus-faced comrade, takes no pity on us? Loving you all as she does, she, I fancy, values others lightly.

28. “But does she not, telling a lie, deceive even her friends, when she says, ‘I favoured my beloved at night, surrendering myself to him?’

29. “She says to her friends, ‘I have none but Nala in my mind.’ But it is untrue; for Cupid ‘who abides in the mind’ is in her, his presence being inferred from her youth.

30. “If thou shouldst describe the beauty of her face, I would listen to thy words; for that beauty is unseen to me even now, her head being bent with shame.

31. “She looks at her comrades straight in the face;[4] but she casts merely a hasty look at me with the atom of a corner of an eye, as if I were an offender.

32. “Since she does not look at me now, methinks she has forgotten me, such being her attitude. But she did look at me when I went as a messenger to her.

33. “With nectar streams of words pleasant and true, she shows affection for her comrades. But, assuming a sullen pride, she does not tell me ‘Thou art mine.’

34. “Kalā, whom among her friends does she not call by name? But she fights shy of my name ‘Nala.’

35. “In her heart, cruel to me, and enveloped by her plump breasts, there is not the slightest room left. Where will she give me a place?

36. “Knowing her heart to be such, I realise why her hard breasts turn away from me, though their action is something which befits them.”

37. When Nala became silent, having spoken thus ironically to Kalā, she said to him with a smile imitated from Damayantī’s face.

38. “Rightly dost thou think she is cherishing for thee an affection that is fresh. But her feeling towards us her friends is in keeping with an affection that is old.[5]

39. “How can our newly married tender friend tell us how she was enjoyed by thee, thou, an adept in the art of love?

40. “Sire, the worlds celebrate thee as one who speaks truth; a wife who spoke otherwise would not be worthy of thee.

41. “Cupid is, indeed, in her mind. But, sire, Cupid is thyself; for our friend’s mind is thy place of sojourn day and night.

42. “Cupid is thine own reflection, thine, who art in our friend’s heart. Otherwise how doth Cupid resemble thee in beauty?

43. “Or, perhaps she cherishes both of you, Cupid and thyself, in her mind, there being a doubt about the identity of each, owing to your similar beauty. But it is thou she longs for.

44. “Seeing that it is hard to draw back one’s heart once it is set on thee, the lotus-eyed maid, being afraid, casts only a glance at thee.

45. “From the moment of her seeṃg thee, thou hast been inseparable from her eyes. If there be doubt, look for thyself.[6] What faith is there in the words of others?

46. “When she transferred to thee the saffron of her breasts while embracing thee, really she said ‘Such is my heart’s love[7] for thee.’

47. “Our friend’s throat is devoted to uttering in silent prayer thy name, a hymn of love. It has a rosary disguised as her necklace.

48. “We say, our comrade’s heart being occupied by thy majestic self, her breasts came without, having no longer any room in her heart.[8]

49. “Hurt and scratched by thee (at night), how can her plump faultless breasts appear before thee,[9] covered as they are with shame?”

50. When he was thus drenched by Kalā with nectar-showering pleasant words, he asked his beloved, raising her face, “Is this really so?”

51. Nala’s hand, while raising his beloved’s face, shone forth like a day lotus, reconciled after long with the moon (by chance).

52. At that moment, smiling and bashful, Damayantī brought an intense delight to her consort, bowing her face once again.

53. Being in the company of his beloved, the king smilingly spoke to Kalā, her friend, desiring to have the pleasure of jesting again.

54. “Let thy comrade try to forgive the offence given to her by the day, in that she cannot practise on me the meaning of the verb niśi (to kiss), ṃ the day, as she is wont to do at night.

55. “If the day has eclipsed the moon, the friend of her face, it has brought about the splendour of the day lotus blossoms, also the friends of her face.

56. “Having played with me, she has already overcome her bashfulness with regard to me. So ask her, for whom it has come back now.

57. “Let her not be angry with me for biting her lips at night: does ever a Bimba creeper get angry with a parrot which pecks at her fruits.

58. “Look, her breasts stole the beauty of an elephant’s temples. The marks left by the driver’s goad can be clearly traced on them.[10] Should I not then punish them, being a king?

59. “My mouth might be guilty of drinking the nectar of her nether lip. But what is the offence of my head that it is debarred from bowing low at her feet?

60. “Ask her then if I have offended her by paying heed to thy words. The lyre, indeed, sounds now harsh to me, while the cuckoo sounds cruel.

61. “With thee, her friend, let her have companionate talks (as she likes). But why does she forget the affection which she had cherished for us?”

62. Kalā then whispered something in Damayantī’s ears, on the pretext of bringing her ear near to Damayantī’s face.

10.Lit...... the beauty that is well marked by the traces left by the goad. The reference is to the nail marks on Damayantī’s breasts.

63. “Well, wicked girl, thou didst not tell me anything about thy secret doings. Wait till I make the amiable king himself relate what thou didst do.

64. [11]

65. Damayantī remained silent. Kalā, pretending to hear words from her, made an affirmative sound at frequent intervals, and went on speaking.

66. Damayantī, however, struck her with the toy lotus of her hand, whereupon she stepped forward and spoke to the king, describing Damayantī’s maturity in the art of love.

67. “Sire, look, look how she strikes me and threatens me with her frown; for she is angry because I pleaded for thee.

68. “She says to me, ‘By what sign dost thou know that he is Nala? I fear he is Indra coming in a magic form.’

69. “Besides, as a proof that thou art Indra she contends that thou didst give her a lotus from a golden lily of the river of heaven as well as that thou hast come from heaven.[12]

70. “She says, ‘I have seen how Indra assumed Nala’s beautiful form by magic.’[13] She says also, ‘I have heard how Indra wronged Ahalyā, Gautama’s wife.’

71. “Damayantī’s intelligence is keen as the tips of Kuśa blades! She fancies thou art Indra, because thy lotus hand has a sign like the thunderbolt[14] in it.

72. “So if thou art the real Nala, remove her suspicion by relating to her face those secret doings, witnessed by none except thyself and her.”

73. Hearing these words, the falsity of which was concealed by Kalā’s skilful delivery, Nala said to Damayantī, being unable to ascertain her feelings.

74. “Dost thou remember, while feigning to be asleep, thou wast thrilled with joy when I put my hand on thy navel? It looked like a lotus (on account of the bristling hairs).[15]

75. “Dost thou remember, o tender maiḍ, in love’s new revelry while thou wast whelmed with bashfulness and fear, I let thee go for fear of hurting thee, though I had only half completed my course with thee.

76. “Recollect, once when I came after winning a battle I pinched thee with my fingers amid a dense crowd, while thy hand was about to touch my feet in obeisance.

77. “Thou dost know, once after a love quarrel, grieved to have left me, thou didst draw and look at a picture depicting thyself and me in the company of each other. When I discovered thee, thou didst sever the figures by drawing a line between them.

78. “Thou hast not surely forgotten how enraptured by our joys of love, I drank thy tongue, not content with thy lips.

79. “Thou mightst remember how I told thy smiling comrades that a fresh nail-mark, imprinted on my bosom from thy breasts, while I embraced thee, was given by thee.

80. “Thou dost know, in convivial drinking bouts, while jesting with other maidens, I was angrily looked at by thee, and lay prostrate at thy feet before them.

81. “Thou dost know, once on my return from abroad, while I looked at thee with my heart full of love, thou didst embrace and kiss a comrade of thine in expression of thy sportive delight in her.

82. “Dost thou recollect, after passing bits of betel from my mouth into thine I justly demanded them back.

83. [16]

84. “Remember the joy of our mutual company when we never turned our backs on each other even during sleep. For we turned our backs at night, only after exchanging places with each other.

85. “Only remember, even in the presence of people, at a moment when their eyes were distracted, looking at something else, thou didst threaten me, pointing to thy nether lip which I had bitten.

86. “Remember, on seeing this, I appeased thee by folding my hands under the pretext of revolving the stalk of the toy lotus in my hand.

87. “Thou canst not remember, I fancy, an occasion when I offered thee betel without giving thee a nail-mark on thy lotus hand; nor can I remember one, when thou didst the like.

88. “Remember how thou didst join thy friends, leaving me when I told some lie. When I followed thee there, thou didst gracefully rend a blade of grass in twain before me.

89. “Beloved, thou mightst remember, when thou couldst not proceed with love’s course for a second time, I called thee in jest ‘a summer night[17] resounding with the notes of the cuckoo.’

90. “Thou mightst remember thy anger, when, on seeing me partake of fresh Nimba fruits in the spring, thou didst suspect that I loved thy co-wives, and didst give me more of them to eat.[18]

91. “Remember how, after tasting a sugared dish, I praised it because it was prepared by thee; and how I feared thy nether lip which seemed to turn red with anger, because I disparaged it (by praising the sweetness of the sugar).”

92-96. [19]

97. Whelmed with shame while her beloved was thus relating her secrets, she covered her friend’s ears with her hands in the midst of his speech.

98. It seemed as if those red lotus blossoms, Damayantī’s hands, pressed her girl companion’s ears, seeing that the girl’s blue lotus eyes also “pressed”[20] her ears.

99. Damayantī (while she covered her friend’s ears with her hands) seemed to cover up her consort’s words which had got into her companion’s ears, with the object of confining her secret in them, on account of her shame.

100. While Nala laughed aloud, seeing his beloved’s prank, other companions of her smiled at a distance, even without knowing what the matter was.

101. Fairies of the earth as they were, they fondly showered on husband and wife flowers of their smiles, fragrant with their breath.

102. The smile of the girls, occasioned by Nala’s laugh, beamed as if it were the blooming of a night lotus bed brought about by the light of the moon.

103. Among them, the clever Kalā recognised the voice of an intimate friend, ringing with laughter, and became bolder still.

104. Calling her aloud, Kalā said to her, “Come, fair maid, thou art deprived of a celestial joy. Drink thou the moon’s nectar streams, these words from the king.”

105. The slim-waisted girl had, however, heard a portion of the king’s words, though she was at some distance from him. Just so people in the sacred Baḍarī, a little place, hear the tiny noise of the (adjoining) Kalpagrāma site.[21]

106. Kalā then saw that the expression of Damayantī’s face, who was at her back listening to Nala’s words, was reflected in Nala’s crown gem,

107. Kalā seemed to be[22] hearing Nala’s words still (though Damayantī had covered her ears), for she was mimicking her friend’s bashfulness and other expressions of her feelings, inferring them from Damayantī’s facial expression, reflected in Nala’s crown gem.

108. Assuming similar airs again and again, she said to Damayantī, “I heard all that the king said. Let my tutelary deities prove false, if thou shouldst think I am telling a lie.

109-10. “Sire, thou shouldst check thy beloved. Her hands will merely ache from pressing my ear-rings hard.” Thus saying, Kalā set free her ears from Damayantī’s grasp. The latter also obeyed her consort when he asked her not to fatigue herself in vain.

111. The sound produced when Damayantī abruptly let go Kalā’s ears seemed to be a clapping of the hands marking the termination of the continuous rumbling sound in her ears while they were kept shut by Damayantī with her hands.

112. Kalā stepped aside a little; then smiled and rejoiced. She then went near a comrade and pitifully entreated her thus.

113. “I will tell thee their secrets, all that I have heard. Come, friend, tell me what thou hast heard; exchange news with me.

114. Damayantī and Nala, who had been astonished while Kalā feigned to hear Nala’s words, now shook their heads, when she entreated her comrade to tell her what she had heard.

115. Nala said to her while she thus spoke to her friend: “Wait, I will teach thee a lesson if thou hast really deceived both of us with the audacity of a false oath.”

116. Kalā replied, “Why dost thou suspect that I, thy beloved’s serving maid, have spoken to-day a disgraceful falsehood?[23]

117. “I really heard something then; but it was the rumbling sound in my ears. Besides, I said simply ‘I heard’, but did not say I heard thy words.

118. “It is true that an oath in the name of the gods, though true, brings evil in its train..So, sire, with thyself as my witness I declare that my oath was not meant to be taken seriously.[24]

119. “Alas, I am blamed when I play a hoax upon you two. But why do both of you deceive me by saying that you never dallied with each other?”

120. Both the girls then whispered in each other’s ears what they had heard (about the amorous play of Nala and Damayantī). They expressed their surprise ever and anon, and smiled profusely.

121. Then said Kalā, “Damayantī, be not angry with me. I whispered thy secrets in her ear, concealing them even from her other ear.”

122. Nala then said to his beloved, “Thou hast seen the skill of thy comrades in deception. So beware of relying entirely on thy maiden friends.”

123. But Kalā, too, said to her, “Friend, forsooth, thy consort never reveals thy secrets anywhere! Such a gallant personage is to be trusted, indeed!”

124. When she retorted in this way, Nala said to his beloved, “Say, Damayantī, I will turn out these two wicked girls from the room.”

125. When the fair Damayantī delighted him with her consent, nodding her head, Nala, raising the empty hollow of his folded palms, showered water over the girls.[25]

126. Though they were at a distance, their robes were completely drenched by showers of water multiplying at Nala’s will, while they stood agape with wonder.

127. With torrents of water easily accessible to him by virtue of Varuṇa’s boon, he drenched their bosoms with water as he imbued their hearts with wonder.

128-129. With joy he then asked Damayantī to look at the two girls, who did not retire even at this. “Slender maid, look at these comrades of thine. They have been turned into Jaina ascetics[26] by the water, drenching their clothes before me. Their breasts are now open to view without let or hindrance, in spite of their wearing silken robes.”

130. When their limbs were laid bare by the water, though they were covered with clothes, it seemed to be a magical illusion due to the fact that water is called Śambara.[27]

131. Or, perhaps their limbs became visible, because clothes are called Ambara, a name of the sky; while the beautiful gems in their pearl-strings were the stars visible in the sky.[28]

132. The two girls then went out ashamed, when they saw their condition; while the other girls, all of them, went out one after another, eager to look at the other two.

133. The girls, when they were out of the room, said to Damayantī, “O thou who hast studied the science of polity, those two comrades of thine are not to be neglected even now; for they are acquainted with thy secrets.”

134-36. The king, however, shouted to the girls, “Your comrade Damayantī says: They two heard my secrets, but I saw theirs. Never believe their words, for they are hostile to me; the Creator himself installed them on the throne of falsehood and fraud. With ink drops of falsehood, who doth not, besides, play the artist in besmirching the spotless character of an enemy, cleansed though it may be with showers of fame?”

137. But the two girls replied, “We shall not speak much. We shall only tell the reason why[29] we have been all expelled.”

138. The girls did not notice[30] even the waving of hands with which chamberlains, whose hands quivered with age, forbade them to speak such words.

139. “Saucy jades, away hence. Fie on your foul speaking!” When the chamberlains so said, the girls ran away in fear; and the former retired as well.

140. Nala then said to his beloved, who stood with her face downcast, ashamed at the words of her comrades, “‘Never was there a girl companion so shameless and false.

141. “Ah, thy beautiful face looks abashed; harsh words would not come forth from it, even if thou shouldst suffer a mighty grief.”[31]

142. He then lay down on the bed, placing her on his bosom. He closed his eyes, and enjoyed the softness of her limbs.

143. Placing his hand on her breasts, and passing it over the knot of her skirt, he rewarded the toil of his hand in taking hold of her hands during the marriage rites.

144. Carrying her with delight, seated on his bosom, he clearly declared that he had gone through the ceremony of “carrying her aloft.”[32]

145. On account of the musk paint of her bosom being erased in contact with his perspiring fingers; that he had kneaded his beloved’s breasts was likely to be echoed round among her maiden friends.[33]

146. He started up while giving her a scratch with his fingernails on her bosom. When she looked at him, he said, “Has it not hurt me, abiding as I do in thy heart?

147. “Ah, it was improper that my sharp finger-nails should have left on thy spotless bosom a bloodstained mark;[34] just as harsh-speaking knaves fabricate a scandal about an innocent man, as if he were a sinner.

148. “Thy scarf kisses thy hips and thighs, and embraces thy bosom. Excellent, it enjoys something in keeping with its auspicious luck.”

149. Looking at her perspiring, slightly visible hips, with her silken scarf lying flat on them, he cursed with a sigh the length of the day.

150. He bit even the portion of his beloved’s face near her lips; and even there he imitated the movement of sucking her nether lip.

151. “Unbearable is the pain which Cupid’s arrows inflict on me; have pity, have pity on me, o thou with nimble glances.” Thus he teased her while she was in a pleasant mood.

152. Nala’s eyes moved from the beloved’s lotus face to the expanse of her bosom, and from there to her hips ever and anon.

153. Damayantī, however, quickly got up, and anxiously followed her friends, fearing the rashness of his impatience.

154. Damayantī’s breasts and hips, which gently moved, seemed to retard her movements as best as they could; for they were eager to have the loving touch of Nala’s limbs.

155. Though he had arms strong like the posts to which elephants are tied, and though she walked slowly owing to the weight of her hips, he could not catch hold of her, paralysed as he was by the touch of her limbs.

156. She crossed the doorway, turning back and smiling, as she saw her beloved, his words unfinished: “Embracing and embracing me o slender maid.........

157. The shy maid, sad in Her heart, because she was cross with her beloved, could neither go to her comrades nor could she return.

158. A fair woman bard, coming near the door, then announced the midday to Nala. “Victory to thee, o king! The earth, arid with the heat of the noon, desires to drink the water in which thou bathest thyself.

159. “Conch-white water has been brought from the Gaṅgā. In contact with the ripples of thy hair, it desires to acquire the beauty, which it would by mingling with the (dark) Yamunā, uneven with ripples.

160. “Mounting the crest of the world, the sun now radiates its heat, possessing as it does a stupendous might, like thine own. But, after worshipping and meditating on Śiva, thou wilt see the sun brought low by thy religious merit.”

161. At the approach of the time for worshipping and meditating on Śiva, the king, though morose at his beloved’s absence, seemed to call up joy with an effort, and rose to go out; while he turned his eyes ever and again in the direction of the side-door, thinking of the possible return of his beloved who had abruptly gone out.

162. Epilogue.

Śrīhīra etc. In his epic, The Story of Nala, which describes emotions and topics not attempted by others, the twentieth canto, brilliant by nature, is at an end.

Footnotes and references:


Lit. chariot-cloud.


e.g., the Agnihotra oblation.


The word “tretā” meaning both the Tretā age and the three sacrificial fires is played upon. At first sight the sentence means: ‘Let not the Tretā age also be hostile to me like Kali and Dvāpara’. The hostility of these two Ages to Nala has been described in Canto XVII.


Lit. with both eyes complete.


Verses 38-49 form a reply to what Nala had said to Kalā about Damayantī.


The girl playfully suggests that Nala should look into Damayantī’s eyes and see his image in them.


There is a pun on “rāga” meaning both “redness” and “love”, which suggests that the saffron was the emblem of her love.


See Verse 35.


Lit. show their face. In Verse 36 Nala had complained of the “vamukhya” or averseness of her breasts, “vaimukhya” means literally “turning away of the face”.


Lit...... the beauty that is well marked by the traces left by the goad. The reference is to the nail marks on Damayantī’s breasts.




See Verse 4 and 19. 66.


See Canto X.


Lit. infers thee to be Indra from thy lotus hand which clasps the thunderbolt. Indra is the wielder of the thunderbolt, while the ‘thunder-sign’ on the palm of the hand is a mark of sovereignty.


Lit. thou didst become lotus-navelled.




Summer nights are proverbially short.


Damayantī interpreted Nala’s liking for the bitter Nimba fruit as a degeneration in taste, which led her to suppose that he was likewise fond of her co-wives.




i.e., reached as far as the ears.


Lit. just as the tiny Badarī hears the small nose of......


Lit. was inferred to be.


Lit. why hast thou suspected a scandal, the falsity of the words of thy...... maid?


Lit. appealing to thee, I maintain the meaninglessness of that (oath or those words).


By virtue of the boon granted by Varuṇa. See 14. 83.


The reference is to Digambara ascetics who do not wear clothes.


Śambara “water” is also the name of a demon famous for his magical powers. See Vocab. under “śāmbarī”.


Lit. Or, perhaps owing to the clothes being Ambara, this invisibility took place, characterised by the vision of stars, namely, the beautiful gems......


Lit. the purpose for which.


Lit. did not notice the prohibition made with the waving of hands.....


Means also: Ah, the gold of thy face was burnt, enclosed in an earthen case (i.e., refined); silver would not come forth from it, even if it should be oppressed with intense heat.


This is the literal meaning of “udvahana”: “marriage”.


Lit. he made his beloved’s breasts such that (the fact of) their being kneaded was liable to be echoed.......


Lit...... a mark was made in such a way that blood was in it.

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