The Sorrows of Damayanti
Mahabharata, iii, vi, 5, viii-ix.
Oriental Department, March, 1897
Thereon Damayanti, seeing King Nala, ruler of men, thus distraught, his thoughts wrapped up in the play, herself not distraught though full of fear and sorrow, thought long and much on what should be done for the King. Fearing his fault, yet longing to do his pleasure, and seeing him robbed of all his wealth, the daughter of Bhima spoke thus to Vrihatsenâ her nurse and much honored servant, whom she loved as a friend full of all good qualities, and very wise in speech.
“Vrihatsen, go, summon the council, as by Nala’s command; go, see what treasure is gone, and how much wealth is still left untouched.”
Thereon the ministers all, recognizing it as Nala’s command, and saying “let it be even as our destiny,” speaking thus, approached King Nala. And all the subjects came again a second time, and the daughter of Bhima announced them, but he heeded not.
And Damayanti, seeing that her husband heeded not her speech, again, entered her chamber, utterly cast down and put to shame.
But learning that the dice were ever adverse to Nala, and that Nala was losing all that he possessed, she again spoke thus to her nurse:
“Vrihatsenâ, go again to Varshneya, as by the command of Nala; bring the charioteer hither, for a great work is to be done.”
Then Vrihatsenâ, hearing this word of Damayanti’ s, had Varshneya brought, by men swift to carry out commands. Thereon Bhima’s daughter, engaging Varshneya with gentle words, spoke to him, knowing well the time and place for speech, and seeing that the time had come.
“Thou knowest well that the King has ever placed fullest trust in thee; it is right, therefore, that thou shouldst aid him, in time of difficulty. For as ever more and more Nala is conquered by Pushkara, so ever more and more the rage grows on him for the game. And as the dice ever fall favorable to Pushkara, so Nala’ s adverse fortune with the dice is in equal measure seen. And as he hears not the voice of those that love him, even his own people, so even he heeds not my voice, utterly led astray. I appeal to thee for help, charioteer; accomplish, therefore, this word of mine. For my soul is not clear, and he may even perish thus. Yoke then Nala’s well loved, mind-swift horses, and taking our two children, go to the city Kundina. And leaving the two little ones among my kindred, and the chariot and these horses, either dwell there, if thou wilt, or go whithersoever it may please thee.”
And Nala’s charioteer Varshneya, hearing this word of Damayanti’s, at first declared it all to the council of Nala without omission; and when they had assembled and determined, then, with their consent he took the children and set them on the chariot, and carried them to the Vidarbhas. And the charioteer, leaving there the horses and the chariot, and the girl Indrasena and the boy Indrasena, announced the matter to King Bhima, grieving and sorrowing for King Nala. Then wandering forth, he went to the city Ayodhya, to King Ritaparna, and dwelt there full of sorrow. And there he entered the King’s service, as his charioteer.
And after Varshneya was gone, as Nala went on playing, his kingdom was won from him by Pushkara, and whatever wealth he had, besides. And Pushkara spoke, mocking, to Nala, when he had won his kingdom.
“Let us continue our game; what stake has thou still to play for? Verily Damayanti is left, and all else is lost. Let us then play for Damayanti as the stake, if it seems well to thee.”
And thus addressed by Pushkara, Nala’s heart was torn by grief, and he replied not at all. But looking steadily at Pushkara, Nala, full of bitter sorrow, putting off from him his robes and all his splendid ornaments, kept for himself one garment only, the King who made the sorrow of his lovers to increase.
Then the King went forth, leaving behind him his great happiness; and Damayanti also wearing one robe only followed after him as he went. And so with her Nala dwelt three nights beyond the gates. But Pushkara, now a mighty King, made a proclamation throughout the city, “whoever shall stand by Nala, shall meet with death by my command.”
And through that word of Pushkara’s, and through his hatred, the men of the city could not befriend Nala; but he dwelt there without the city, worthy of friendship, but befriended by none; three nights he dwelt there, tasting water only, and when hunger afflicted him, gathering fruits and roots. Then he who had been a king departed, and Damayanti followed after him.