Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Damayanti included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Damayantī

Daughter of Bhīma the King of Vidarbha The most noble of all the Indian heroines, Damayantī has secured a place in the literatures of almost all the languages in the world. The famous hero Nala is her huband.

The background of the story of Nala.

During the time of the forest life of the Pāṇḍavas, Arjuna had gone to Kailāsa to do penance before Śiva for getting divine weapons. The rest of the Pāṇḍavas spent the time till the arrival of Arjuna, in sorrow and sadness. They spent miserable days one by one. At that time the hermit Bṛhadaśva visited them. They welcomed the hermit. In the midst of their conversation Dharmaputra told the hermit with tears that he was the most unhappy man in the world. Hearing this the hermit told them the story of Nala, to console the Pāṇḍavas.

The birth of Damayantī.

The King Bhīma of Vidarbha was childless for a long time. While the King was spending sorrowful days, as he had no children, a hermit named Dama reached his palace. The King welcomed the hermit. Seeing the sorrow of the King the hermit blessed the King and the queen, and as a result a daughter named Damayantī and as her brothers three sons Dama, Dānta and Damana were born to them.

The Svayaṃvara (marriage) of Damayantī.

During this period a son named Nala was born to Vīrasena the King of Niṣadha. The child was an expert in the game of dice and he would speak only truth. He grew up and became a youth.

Once the swans which came to the palace of Damayantī from Nala, began to praise Nala. They sang about the glory of Nala. Nala also knew about the beauty and the other good qualities of Damayantī. Thus they fell in love with each other. Nala also started for Kuṇḍinapurī, the capital city of Vidarbha, to marry Damayantī. The devas (gods) Indra, Agni, Varuṇa and Yama, having heard of the beauty of Damayantī from Nārada, had gone Kuṇḍinapurī, to take part in the marriage. On the way they met Nala. They were aware of the fact that Damayantī was in love with Nala. So they called Nala and sent him to Damayantī with a message that Damayantī should accept one of the four gods as her husband. By the boon of invisibility, given by the Gods, Nala entered the room of Damayantī unseen by others and gave the message to Damayantī. But Damayantī did not agree to it. The Gods also entered the nuptial hall and took their seats in the shape of four Nalas. Damayantī entered the hall with the nuptial garland in her hands. She saw five Nalas including the real Nala, and prayed to the gods to show her the real Nala her lover. So the devas assumed their real forms and Damayantī put the garland on the neck of the real Nala and accepted him as her husband. Being much pleased with the behaviour and character of both Nala and Damayantī, the four gods blessed them. Agni promised to be near Nala whenever he thought of him. Yama said that Nala would always be righteous. Varuṇa said that Nala would obtain water at the thought of it. Indra blessed him saying that he would get mokṣa immediately after the completion of a yāga. The gods remained till the end of the marriage ceremony and then they departed. Nala and Damayantī lived in Kuṇḍinapurī.

The hatred between Kali and Dvāpara.

Hearing about the Svayamvara of Damayantī Kali and Dvāpara started for Kuṇḍinapurī. On the way they met Indra and the other gods, who were returning from the marriage of Damayantī. They told Kali and Dvāpara that Damayantī had accepted Nala as her husband. Kali and Dvāpara got angry at this and returned saying that they would destroy the kingdom of Nala. After that Kali waited for a chance to enter the body of Nala. After twelve years, once Nala, after passing urine, without washing his legs performed his evening worship. At that moment Kali entered the body of Nala. With that Nala became bereft of all senses of righteousness and duty, and challenged his younger brother Puṣkara to a game of dice. Puṣkara engaged Nala in the game of dice. Kali stood in the shape of an ox as helper of Nala. Nala lost his kingdom in the game. Seeing that her husband was being defeated continuously, Damayantī sent for the charioteer Vārṣṇeya and sent her son Indrasena and daughter Indrasenā to Kuṇḍinapurī. After leaving the children at Kuṇḍinapurī Vārṣṇeya engaged himself in a travel. After visiting several countries he reached Ayodhyā and became the charioteer of King Ṛtuparṇa.

Nala and Damayantī to the forest.

Puṣkara got the kingdom, wealth and everything that his elder brother, Nala, had possessed. The miserable Nala left everything he had and clad in only one cloth got out of the palace. His wife Damayantī followed him. They stayed outside the city for three days. Puṣkara made a proclamation that if anybody rendered any help to Nala he would be ruthlessly put to death. After that Nala stayed there for three more days, with only water for food and drink. Then he went to the forest. His wife followed him. They were hungry. Nala saw some golden birds. Nala wanted to catch them for food. So he took his only cloth and spread it on the ground. The birds took that cloth and flew away. Those birds were the dices used in the game. They were influenced by Kali. The miserable and hungerstricken Nala asked his wife Damayantī to go with the caravan traders who were going to Avanti and save herself. But she did not consent to go away from him.

They spent that night in an inn. They both fell asleep because of weakness. After a time Nala woke up. He thought that his wife would somehow or other get to some country closeby and save herself, if he left her there. So he decided to take half of her cloth. How to do it without her knowledge? Thinking so he walked round the inn. He saw a good sword. He took the sword, and cut half of the cloth of Damayantī and leaving her in the inn he went away.

In a short while she woke up and missing her husband she cried aloud and ran here and there in search of him. Then she went into the forest crying. A big snake caught hold of her and began to swallow her. She cried aloud. Hearing the cry, a forester came there. He cut the snake open and saved Damayantī. But when he saw her he became overpowered by libido and tried to make her his wife. She got angry and cursed him and he instantly fell down dead. After this she began to wander in the forest aimlessly, often seeing wild animals and fearing them. At last she got on a rock and sat there and began to wail thinking of Nala.

Damayantī in the kingdom of Cedi.

While she was sitting on the rock wailing, a caravan of traders came by that way. They had been attacked by a herd of elephants and were running away from them. They saw Damayantī. She told them her story. They brought her to the kingdom of Cedi. She wandered through the country for a while and finally reached the palace of the King Subāhu. Thinking her to be a mad woman the street boys were following her. The queen saw the woman surrounded by street boys and felt pity for her. She sent her maid and brought her to the palace. Without revealing that she was the queen of King Nala, she told everything else to the queen. The queen consoled her and said that she would get her husband back. She invited Damayantī to stay in the palace till she got her husband back. Damayantī replied as follows: "Mother, I shall stay here. But there are certain conditions. I won't eat remains and offals of victuals, I won't make others to wash my legs. I won't talk with men who are not related to me. If anybody hankers after me you must order him to be killed. Brāhmaṇas may come and see me only in connection with the search for my husband. This is my vow." The queen agreed to her conditions and made her the attendant of her daughter Sunandā.

Nala in Ayodhyā.

Nala filled with sorrow was walking along the forest when he saw a wild fire. From the midst of the fire somebody was calling Nala by name and crying. When Nala approached the fire, he saw the great and famous serpent Karkoṭaka lying entwined in the flames. Karkoṭaka the King of the Nāgas had once deceived Nārada, who then cursed him that he would become stationary in a place like an immovable thing till Nala came and rescued him. From that day onwards, Karkoṭaka was remaining in that forest without moving. Then the forest caught fire. Karkoṭaka being unable to move had to remain in the fire. Nala immediately saved Karkoṭaka from the fire and with that he was absolved from the curse of Nārada. Karkoṭaka asked Nala to walk forward, counting the steps. When Nala counted ten, Karkoṭaka bit on the leg of Nala and he became ugly. Then the serpent said to the flurried Nala, "Don't fear. I have made you ugly so that others may not recognize you. Now you are ugly because of my poison. But my poison has affected Kali who is in your body. Because he had harmed you who are blameless, he has to suffer for it. So long as this poison is in you, nobody will harm you. You must go to Ṛtuparṇa the King of Ayodhyā and tell him that you are Bāhuka a charioteer. You must give Ṛtuparṇa the spell 'Aśvahṛdaya mantra' and get from him the spell 'Akṣahṛdayamantra'. After that you will have reunion with your wife and children. Here are two cloths for you. Whenever you want to get your original form you need only wear them." Saying these words Karkoṭaka gave Nala two divine garments and then disappeared.

Nala started for Ayodhyā. He reached the palace on the tenth day. There he was employed as the horse keeper of Ṛtuparṇa on a pay of hundred pieces of gold. Thus he stayed there under the name Bāhuka. Vārṣṇeya and Jīvala who were the horse-keepers of Ṛtuparṇa upto that time, were placed under Bāhuka.

Bāhuka used to recite a poem every evening when he returned from his work.

"weary and worn of hunger and thirst, that poor woman, where might she be? serving whom will she be now. thinking of the unlucky fool?"

Hearing this song of lamentation everyday, once his assistant Jīvala asked Bāhuka, whom he was reciting the poem about. Bāhuka replied: "Once there was a man who was a fool. He got a good wife. For some reason they were separated. The fool is still wandering about weary and sad in search of his wife."

Damayantī in Kuṇḍinapura.

At this time Damayantī was living in the palace of the King of Cedi, as the maid of princess Sunandā. King Bhīma became very sorry not knowing where Nala and Damayantī had gone. He sent men in all directions to search for them. The King proclaimed that those who found them would be awarded thousand cows, lands assigned to Brahmins, and villages. He proclaimed that so many cows would be given even to those who could give any information about them. Hearing this Brāhmaṇas went in all directions and Sudeva, one of them, reached the Kingdom of Cedi. He recognized Damayantī who was like fire inside the cover of smoke. When Damayantī was alone Sudeva approached her and said that he had come from Vidarbha and that he was a friend of Damayantī’s brother. Damayantī recognized Sudeva and she cried aloud. Sunandā who saw this scene, told her mother about it. The queen sent for Sudeva and asked him what the matter was. He revealed everything about Damayantī, to the queen. When they heard the story all the women in the harem cried. Then with tears the queen said, "Hear this, Damayantī, your mother and myself are the two daughters of Sudama the King of Daśārṇa. Father gave your mother to Bhīma the King of Vidarbha and me to Vīrabāhu the King of Cedi. I have seen you when you were an infant."

When the King of Cedi knew everything he sent Damayantī in a palanquin to Vidarbha.

The search for Nala.

Damayantī told her father that she didn't want to live any longer unless Nala was brought to her. Bhīma had been trying hard to find out Nala. One day Parṇāda one of the numerous Brahmins who were engaged in the search for Nala, came to Bhīma and said, "while I was wandering from place to place, I happened to reach the palace of Ṛtuparṇa the King of Ayodhyā. There I made enquiries about Nala the husband of Damayantī, in the presence of the King. But nobody gave me any answer. When I returned Bāhuka the charioteer of Ṛtuparṇa followed me. An ugly man with short hands, an expert in driving horses, and an excellent cook, he asked me several questions about Damayantī."

When Damayantī heard this she had horripilation. She secretly went to her mother and compelled her to send Sudeva the Brāhmaṇa to Ayodhyā. Her mother consented. She called Sudeva, in the presence of her mother and told him to go to Ayodhyā and tell Ṛtuparṇa that the second svayaṃvara (marriage) of Damayantī would take place before sunrise next day and that he should come earlier. Sudeva instantly went to Ayodhyā.

Ṛtuparṇa, hearing the words of Sudeva, wanted Bāhuka to take him in the chariot to Vidarbha within the period of a day time for the second svayaṃvara of Damayantī. Nala consented with a breaking heart. Immediately they started. Vārṣṇeya also got into the chariot. The chariot flew through the sky with tremendous speed, to Vidarbha. On the way the upper garment of the King fell on the ground. He ordered the chariot to be stopped for taking his upper garment. Nala said that within that winking time the chariot had travelled a yojana (league) and gloried in his power of driving horses. Then they saw in the forest a Tanni tree (Terminalia bellerica) with fruits. Seeing the Tanni tree the King said, "O Bāhuka, if you are an expert in horse-driving I am an expert in reckoning. I will tell you how many leaves and nuts there are in that Tanni Tree. There are five crores of leaves in both the branches together and two thousand and ninetyfive nuts. They stopped the chariot and checked the tree and found the reckoning of the King correct. The King had the knowledge of the art called 'Akṣahṛdaya'. It was with this art that the king calculated the number of leaves in the tree, at one look. Bāhuka drove the chariot with the speed of wind because he had known the art called 'Aśvahṛdaya'. Then and there, Bāhuka taught the King the art of 'Aśvahṛdaya' and the King taught Bāhuka the art of 'Akṣahṛdaya'. The moment Nala learned Akṣahṛdaya Kali vomitted the poison of Karkoṭaka and got out of the body of Nala. Long ago, the mother of Indrasena, a god, had cursed Kali and drove him out. Since then Kali had been living in the body of Nala. As soon as he came out Kali begged Nala for pardon. Nala curbed his anger. But Kali was afraid of Nala. So he made the Tanni tree his abode. Because of that Tanni became detestable.

Ṛtuparṇa, Vārṣṇeya and Bāhuka reached Kuṇḍinapura in the evening. When the sound of the chariot of Nala reached the ears of Damayantī her heart bumped with joy. The chariot was stopped and Ṛtuparṇa entered the palace. The King Bhīma welcomed Ṛtuparṇa heartily. As there was no sign of any preparation for the svayaṃvara (marriage) Ṛtuparṇa understood that some sort of trick had been played on him.

Test of Nala.

Damayantī sent her maid Keśinī to Bāhuka to watch him. Keśinī had a secret talk with Bāhuka. Though Nala did not reveal himself, he cried when she talked about Damayantī. Keśinī returned to Damayantī and told her what she had heard and seen. Damayantī became more and more convinced that Bāhuka was Nala himself So she sent Keśinī again to Nala. She discovered the following facts about Bāhuka, after a keen observation, and made a report of them.

(1) Bāhuka does not stop to pass through even a small door. The upper sill lifts by itself for him to pass through.

(2) He gets enough room for him to pass through even a big crowd.

(3) Empty pots are filled with water at a look from him.

(4) When he stretches out a grass to the sun, it catches fire.

(5) Fire does not burn him even if he touches it.

(6) When he crushes a flower, it blooms more beautiful and fragrant than before.

When Keśinī said all these facts to Damayantī, she became fully convinced that Bāhuka was none other than Nala himself. Damayantī sent Keśinī again to Bāhuka to get some meat cooked by him. Damayantī tested the taste of the meat brought by Keśinī and she knew that the food was cooked by Nala. She sent Keśinī again to Bāhuka with her children. Seeing Indrasena and Indrasenā coming to him, Bāhuka ran to them, gathered them and embraced them and cried aloud. Then he told Keśinī that he had done so because the children were just like his two children.


After having tested Bāhuka so far Damayantī sent Keśinī to her mother to tell her everything, and to say that she was convinced of the fact that Bāhuka was none other than Nala and that the difference was only in shape and to request that she may be permitted to see Bāhuka in person. The queen informed the King of all these facts. With the permission of her parents Bāhuka was brought to the room of Damayantī. The moment Bāhuka saw Damayantī he began to shed tears. Damayantī also was filled with emotion. But she told him thus:—

"Bāhuka, have you seen a man who had left his sleeping wife in the forest? Who else, but Nala the famous and the righteous would discard his blameless and loving wife who had been sleeping, with fatigue and hunger in a lonely place? Have I done anything wrong to him in my younger days so that he should leave me in the forest when I was sleeping? Leaving aside real gods I married him. I worshipped, him. I had children from his blood and now he has abandoned me. In the presence of Gods and with fire as witness, holding my hands he had taken a vow that he would support and protect me. Where has that vow gone?" At these words Bāhuka shed tears for a long time. Then he told her all that had happened to him since their separation. Damayantī requested Nala, not to have any misconception regarding the idea of a second svayaṃvara; she said to him that she committed no wrong and that her fidelity and loyalty had undergone no change. At that time Vāyu (the wind-god) in an etherial voice said "Damayantī has committed no sin". Immediately Nala put on the divine clothes given by Karkoṭaka and regained his original form. Damayantī embraced Nala and cried aloud. The king her father, mother and the people of the city all ran to them.

Next day Ṛtuparṇa returned. After a few days Nala collected an army consisting of three hundred soldiers, sixteen elephants, fifty horses and a white chariot only, from Vidarbha and went to the kingdom of Niṣadha. Reaching there Nala challenged Puṣkara for a game of dice. Puṣkara refused the challenge. Nala took his sword to cut Puṣkara into two. Finally Puṣkara agreed to play. At the first cast of the dice the life and the Kingdom of Puṣkara fell into the hands of Nala. But Nala did not kill Puṣkara; instead, he embraced him. Nala became King. Damayantī and the children reached Niṣadha. Nala ruled the country with more happiness and prosperity than before. (Mahābhārata, Vana Parva, Chapters 52 to 79).

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