King Nala was a brave and handsome ruler of Nishadha. He had heard of Princess Damayanti’s beauty and was so influenced by all that he had heard that he wanted to marry her. Princess Damayanti of Vidarbha too had heard about King Nala’s warm and kindly disposition and was keen to meet him. As they could not meet each other without becoming a cause for gossip, they began sending letters to each other through a swan.
Meanwhile the king of Vidarbha on seeing his daughter grow up into a beautiful and talented princess, decided to arrange a swayamvar (marriage) for her. He sent invitations to kings and princes residing far and near asking them to attend his daughter’s swayamvar. King Nala too was invited like the other suitors.
One day, while taking a walk in his kingdom, he ran into Lord Indra, Yama, Varuna and Agni. The four of them accosted him and said, “Where are you going? Are you going for Princess Damayanti’s swayamvar?”
King Nala replied, “Yes I am going to attend the function.”
All the four gods said to him, “Before you go there, why don’t you first tell her that she should marry one of us? We shall always remain indebted to you for this. We shall give you a mantra by reciting which you can change your appearance and she will not know that it is you.”
King Nala went and met Princess Damayanti disguised as a messenger and told her that the four gods wanted that she should marry one of them.
Princess Damayanti lost her cool and sent her reply, “Why should I marry any of them? I do not know them. In any case, my affection lies elsewhere.”
King Nala returned to the gods to convey the message. The gods laughed and said to Nala, “We all will dress up and disguise ourselves to look like you and all of us will reach the court at the same time. You should neither say anything nor gesture to her when she comes in front of you. You should show as though you have never seen her before.”
King Nala agreed as he had no choice in the matter.
On the appointed day all the four gods and King Nala reached the site of the swayamvar. A whole lot of kings and princes were gathered for the occasion.
Soon Princess Damayanti arrived with a garland in her hand. She walked down from one end to the other, looking carefully at all the suitors standing in a row. When she went and stood in front of the five look-alike suitors, she peered closely at each of them from head to toe and went and garlanded King Nala.
The gods were surprised as to how she knew whom to garland. So they asked her, “How did you know who was Nala?”
She replied, “I looked at your feet and saw that King Nala’s feet were firmly planed on the ground while you all had your feet above it. It meant that you were some superhuman powers.”
The gods were happy to hear her reply for it meant that not only was she beautiful, but intelligent too. They blessed the couple and left for their heavenly abode.