Nala and Damayanti for students, KK Shanmukhan, Kurukshethra Prakasan, Kaloor Towers, Kochi: 682 017, Rs 30.00
NALA, bereft of his own intelligence, was wandering in the forest. Sometimes the memories of Damayanti would emerge to haunt him.
In this sudden memory, he used to shudder. “There is no sinner as I am. I have abandoned her in the midst of the thick forest which was the abode of wild animals. Is she still surviving? Or else, did some cruel animal have eater her up?”
Sometimes, he consoled himself believing that since she is a pious and devout lady providence must have been less cruel to her and she must have reached home. When he was so absorbed in thought, he happened to hear a cry mentioning his name.
“Oh, Nala , Please come and rescue me. I am amidst this forest fire that is burning me from head to tail. I know, fire would not burn you and you alone can help me. Please come without delay and save me from peril.” Hearing this, that somebody seeks his personal help; he forgot his own worries for some time and rushed to where the fire was burning. He jumped into the fire and saw a huge serpent struggling in for survival. He took it on his shoulders and jumped out. Then he laid it down.
“ Nala, O great king,” said the serpent: “Listen to me patiently. I am Karkotata, the chief among poisonous snakes. A saint once cursed me for a particular reason. He also told me that you would liberate me. Now I see your past, present and future. The only reason for your entire predicament is Kali.”
Nala said to the king of serpents with folded hands: “Oh enlightened one, the ornament of Lord Shiva, please tell me about my wife. When shall I see her?
Karkotata replied: “Sure. With the grace of God, you will unite with her without delay. Take this cloth. When your wear this you will get back your personality. Until then this will help you to hide your identity.” Having said this, the serpent gave him a long cloth. Nala took it with gratitude.
Karkotata addressed Nala: “You go and meet king Rituparna in Ayodhya of undisputed fame. He is a good and compassionate king. Seek a job as his personal cook and charioteer. Hide the truth that you are a Kshatriya. Serve him as he will be pleased with you quickly. Give him the art of Aswahridaya, the taming and riding speedily horses and take the art of Akshahridaya instead form him. Rest your mind always in the lotus feet of Lord Shiva. May all the very best befall you!” Saying this Karkotata disappeared.
Nala changed his name to Bahuka and went to Ayodhya. He met king Rituaparna and told him: “ I am Bahuka. I have no means of livelihood. I know how to tame horses and drive chariot at high speed. I am a good cook too.”
Hearing this Rituparna was very happy. He welcomed Bahuka: “Come, come on Bahuka, my dear. Be settled here in my palace. This is my charioteer Jeevala. And that is his assistant Varshneya.” Then the king continued: “You can stay with them in the same house. Show your expertise in the art of cooking rare dishes. And whenever I require your help to drive my chariot in haste, I shall send for you. Look after the horses well.”
As the three went to sleep together daily, Nala could not get sleep easily. He used to sit up in the dark and grieve for Damayanti.
One night as he was sobbing like this, his friends woke up. They asked him for the reason of this usual soliloquy. He somehow escaped form them saying that it was a dream he was seeing.
One day Parnada, one of the Brahmans sent by Damayanti’s father came to Ayodhya. He received the hospitality of king Rituparna and discussed a lot of worldly events in his assembly. Incidentally he also narrated the separation of Nala and Damayanti. He then asked the assembly the answer of one question that Damayanti had asked him to put in front of the assembly.The question was, under whose protection did Nala left Damayanti in the forest?
Parnada asked this question in the assembly and no one had the appropriate answer to it.
As he went out of the court, he saw a courtier, calling Parnada from behind.
He told Parnada, the answer to the question he had posed: “Virtuous women are protected from any danger by their own chastity. There is no greater cover beyond.” And saying this, the person went back in haste.
Parnada went back to Kundina and told king Bhima and Damayanti as to what had happened in the court of King Rituparna. Damayanti understood that it would be Nala and Nala alone and that he was now in Ayodhya.
Assuming beyond suspicion that Nala was alive and would be at Ayodhya, Damayanti, with the concurrence of their father decided to sent a messenger , a Brahmana by name Sudeva who was her father’s friend to Ayodhya. Her plan was to invite king Rituparna to Kundian on the pretext of her second marriage, second swayamvara of Damayanti.
Sudeva appeared before Damayanti. She told him: “Welcome great Brahmana. Can you do me a favour?”
“Why this foreword? Command me,” said sudeva. “Please tell the king,” said she, “That king Bhima has decided for the second marriage of his daughter Damayanti and that is scheduled for tomorrow.”
Sudeva said, “I shall go at once. You need not worry.” And taking her blessing he left .
(To be continued)