Damayantí's Suspicions--Maid Interviews the Charioteer--The Message Repeated--A Husband's Emotion--Wonders Performed by Nala--Wife's Final Test--Children Visit their Father--Interview in the Palace--Na]a Reproaches Damayantí--Her Confession and Vindication--Message from the Gods--Husband and Wife Reunited--Nala Returns to Nishadha--The Second Gambling Match--Nala Wins back his Kingdom--Erring Brother Forgiven--King and Queen Once More.
WITH sorrowful anxiety Damayantí ascended to the roof terrace of the lofty palace to gaze upon the chariot as it entered the middle court. She saw Rituparna stepping down, and Varshneya, who followed him, while Váhuka began to unyoke the foaming steeds.
King Bhima, who knew naught of his daughter's stratagem, received the royal Rajah of Ayodhya with much courtesy, and said: "I bid thee welcome, O king. . . . Why hast thou come hither?"
Now Rituparna wondered greatly that he beheld no kings or kings' sons, or even signs that a swayamvara was about to be held, but he kept his counsel and said: "I have come to salute thee, O Bhima."
The royal sire of Damayantí smiled thereat and said unto himself: "He hath not come so speedily through many cities for such a purpose. But we shall know betimes why he hath made this journey."
Rituparna was conducted to his chamber for rest and
refreshment by a company of royal servants, and Várshneya went with them.
Meanwhile Vahuka led his horses to the stables, and Damayantí descended to her chamber, thinking again and again that the sound of the coming chariot was like to the sound of Nala drawing nigh. So she called her fair handmaid, who was named Keśiní, and said unto her: "Go forth and speak to the misshapen charioteer with short arms, for methinks he is Nala. . . . Ask thou him who he is, and be mindful of his answer."
The handmaiden went forth and spoke unto Váhuka, saying: "Lo! the Princess Damayantí would fain know whence ye come and for what purpose."
Said Vahuka: "King Rituparna hath heard that the swayamvara is to be held at dawn to-morrow, so he set forth from Ayodhya and came hither swifter than the wind. I am his charioteer."
Keśiní asked him: "Who is the third man who hath come?"
Said Váhuka: "Várshneya is his name. He departed unto Ayodhya when Nala fled away. . . . I am skilled in taming steeds and in preparing viands."
The handmaiden then asked: "And doth this Varshneya know whither Nala hath fled and how he fares. Hath he told thee aught regarding him?"
Said Vahuka: "Várshneya carried away the children of Nala from Nishadha, but he knows not aught of the rajah, O fair one. Indeed, no man knoweth. He hath assumed a strange form, and wanders disguised about the world. . . . Nala alone knoweth, nor will he reveal himself."
Keśiní then spake, saying: "When the holy Brahman went unto the city of Ayodhya he uttered those words of Damayantí once and once again:
'Whither art thou gone, O gambler, who didst sever my garment in twain? Thou didst leave thy loved one as she lay slumbering in the savage wood. Lo! she is awaiting thy return. By day and by night she sitteth alone, consumed by her grief. Oh! hear her prayer and have compassion, thou noble hero, because that she ever weepeth for thee in the depths of her despair.'
Now speak again, I pray thee, the words which thou didst utter to the Brahman, for they gave healing to the stricken heart of Damayantí. Fain would the princess hear that speech once more."
Then was the soul of Nala rent with grief, hearing the message of Damayantí, and with tearful voice he said, repeating his former utterance:
"In the excess of her sorrow a noble woman will compose herself and remain constant, and so win heaven by her virtues. She is protected by the breastplate of her chastity, and will suffer no harm. Nor will she yield to anger, although she be deserted by her lord, whose robe the birds have taken away, leaving him in sore distress. She will not be moved to wrath against her husband, the sorrow-stricken and famine-wasted, who hath been bereft of his kingdom and despoiled of happiness."
Nala could scarce restrain his emotion as he spoke these words. Then the fair Keśiní hastened unto Damayantí and told all.
In her distress the princess said unto her handmaiden: "Go thou and observe this man closely, and return betimes to inform me of all he doeth. When he doth prepare viands for his royal master let no fire be given unto him nor any water."
Keśiní hastened forth to watch the charioteer, and
when she returned she said: "O princess, this man is like unto a god. When he approacheth a low-built entrance he doth not stoop; the portal rises before him. Much flesh was given unto him to prepare viands for Rituparna. He but gazed on the empty vessels and they were filled with water. No fire was lit, and he took a handful of withered grass and held it up to the sun, whereupon it blazed instantly, and oh! the marvel, his fingers were unscorched by the flames. Water flows at his will, and as quickly it vanisheth. And lo! I beheld another marvel. When he lifted up flowers that had faded they were immediately refreshed, so that they had greater beauty and richer fragrance than before." 1
Damayantí was fully assured that Váhuka was no other than her husband in altered form, and, weeping, she said softly: "Ah! go once again to the kitchen, fair Keśiní, and obtain without his knowledge a small portion of the food which he hath prepared."
Ere long the handmaiden returned with a morsel of well-cooked meat, and when Damayantí, who had oft-times tried the food which had been cooked by her husband, tasted thereof, she uttered a loud cry in her anguish, and said: "Yon charioteer is Nala!"
Then she sipped water of ablution, 2 and sent her two children with Keśiní to the kitchen. Immediately that the charioteer beheld Indrasena and her brother he embraced them tenderly: he gazed lovingly upon the children, who were as beautiful as the children of the gods, and his soul was deeply moved, while tears ran down his cheeks. Seeing that the handmaiden observed him closely, he said: "Ah! the little ones are so like unto
mine own children that I could not restrain my tears. . . . Let us part now, O innocent maiden; we are in a land of strangers, and if thou comest so often men will speak ill of thee."
When Damayantí was told how the charioteer had been so profoundly moved when he saw the royal children, she sent Keśiní unto her mother, the queen, for she was impatient to behold her husband once again. The handmaiden spake to the queen, saying: "Lo! we have observed the charioteer closely, and believe that he is Nala, although misshapen of form. Damayantí is fain he would come before her, with or without the knowledge of her sire, and that quickly."
The queen at once went unto Bhima and told him all, and the rajah gave permission that the charioteer should be summoned. In an instant word was sent unto Nala, and soon he stood before Damayantí and gazed upon her, and was moved to anguish. The princess was clad in a robe of scarlet, and her hair was thrown into disarray and defiled with dust: she wept and trembled with emotion.
At length Damayantí spoke, saying: "O Váhuka, hast thou ever heard of a noble and upright man who fled away, abandoning his sleeping wife in a forest? Innocent was she, and worn out with grief. Who was he who thus forsook his wife but the lordly Nala? . . . What offence did I give unto him that he should have deserted me while I slept? Was he not chosen by me as mine husband even before the gods? . . . How could he abandon her who loved him--the mother of his children? . . . Before the celestial beings he pledged his faith. How hath he kept his vow?"
She spoke with broken voice, and her dark eyes were dewed by sorrow.
Nala made answer, gazing upon his beloved wife, and said: "My kingdom I lost by the dice, but I was innocent of evil, because Kali possessed my soul, and by that demon was I also swayed to desert thee, O timid one! But thou didst smite him with thy curse when thou wert in the forest mourning for me, yet he remained in my body until, in the end, he was conquered by my long-suffering and devotion. Lo! now, O beauteous one, our grief is nigh to its end. The evil one hath departed, and through love of thee I come hither right speedily. . . . But how," he asked sternly, "may a high-born lady choose her another husband, as thou wouldst fain do, even now, O faint heart? The heralds have gone up and down the land saying: 'The daughter of Bhima will hold her second swayamvara because such is her fancy.' And for this reason Rituparna made haste to come hither." 1
Damayantí shook with emotion when these hard words were spoken, and she addressed Nala, saying: "Do not suspect me, O noble one, of such shameful guilt. It was for thee and thee alone that the Brahmans went forth repeating the message which I addressed unto them. Lo! when I learned of the words thou didst speak unto the wise Parnada, I conceived this stratagem with purpose to bring thee hither. Faithful of heart have I remained, nor ever have I thought evil of thee. I call upon the wind to slay me now if I have sinned: on the sun I call also and on the moon, which enters into every thought of living beings. Let these three gods who govern the three worlds 2 speak now to prove my words, or else turn against me."
Then the wind which the princess had adjured spake from without and said: "O Nala, Damayantí hath done no evil, nor hath she thought on evil. For three long years she hath treasured up her virtue in its fullness. She speaketh what is true even now. Thou hast found the daughter of Bhima: the daughter of Bhima hath found thee. Take now thine own wife to thy bosom."
Even as the wind was speaking, flowers fell out of heaven all around them, 1 and the soft music of the gods floated down the wind. Nala marvelled greatly, and gazed with love upon the innocent Damayantí. Then he put on the holy garment and thought upon the king of serpents. Immediately he resumed his own form, and the daughter of Bhima beheld her lost husband once again.
Damayantí shrieked and embraced Nala, and she hid her face in his bosom. He was again travel-worn and dust-stained as he clasped her to his heart, and she sighed softly. Long they stood there, speaking no words, in silent ecstasy. . . . The children were brought in and Nala embraced them once more.
Then did the queen, who rejoiced greatly, inform Bhima of Nala's return, and he said: "When he has performed his ablutions he will be re-united to Damayantí on the morrow."
The whole night long the happy pair sat together in the palace relating all that had befallen them during the years that they were parted one from another.
On the morn that followed Nala was again wedded to Damayantí, and thereafter he paid homage to Bhima. The glad tidings of his return spread swiftly through the city, and there was great rejoicing. Soon all the houses were decorated with banners and garlands; the streets
were watered and strewn with flowers. The altars of the gods were also adorned.
When Rituparna came to know that his charioteer, Váhuka, was the Rajah of Nishadha, he was well pleased, and he went into Nala's presence and said: "May thou have joy with thy queen to whom thou art re-united. Have I ever done aught unjustly unto thee whilst thou wert in my palace? If so, I now seek thy forgiveness."
Said Nala, "No injustice have I ever suffered from thee, mine old friend and kinsman. . . . I give thee fully all I have--my skill in steeds."
Rituparna was grateful unto Nala for his gift. He gave in return fuller instruction in the science of dice, and thereafter departed to his own city.
When a month had gone past Nala took leave of King Bhima and went towards Nishadha with one great chariot, sixteen elephants, fifty armed horsemen, and six hundred foot soldiers. The whole force entered the city boldly and made the earth to shake. Nala at once went before Pushkara and said: "I would fain throw dice with thee once again. I have much wealth and will stake all my treasure and even Damayantí upon the hazard. Thou, Pushkara, must stake thy kingdom. Let us stake everything; let us play for our lives. And know, too, that, according to ancient law, he who wins a kingdom by gambling must accept the challenge to play the counter game. . . . If thou wilt not play, then let us settle our difference in single combat."
Pushkara restrained from smiling, for he was confident of success, so with haughty contempt he made answer:
"It is joy to me that thou dost again possess great treasure to enable thee to play. It is joy also to me that I can win Damayantí with faultless limbs. Soon,
indeed, will Bhima's daughter be decorated with the treasure which I shall win; she shall stand by my side as Apsarás, queen of heaven, stands beside Indra. Long have I waited for thee so that I might win Damayantí and be fully satisfied."
Nala would fain have drawn his sword, but composed himself, and, with angry eyes and scornful smile, he said: "Cease this idle chatter and let us play. Thereafter thou wilt have no desire to speak."
Immediately the two brothers set to the game, and Nala won at a single hazard all that he had lost. Then he smiled and said: "Now the whole kingdom is mine once again. Fallen monarch! never wilt thou behold the fair Damayantí because thou art become her slave. . . . Know now, that thou didst not triumph heretofore by reason of thine own skill, but because Kali aided thee, nor didst thou perceive this, O fool! . . . But fear not that I will take vengeance. . . . I give thee back thy life. Thou wilt have an estate and revenues and my friendship, because I remember, O Pushkara, that thou art my brother. . . . Mayst thou live for a hundred years!"
Then Nala embraced his brother, who did homage with hands folded, saying: "May thy splendour endure for ever! May thou live for ten thousand years! Thou hast given me my life and a city in which to live."
Pushkara remained with Nala for a month, and then went his way to his own domain.
All Nishadha rejoiced because that their rightful king had returned. The counsellors of state did homage before Nala, and said: "There is great joy now in city and country, and the people come to honour thee even as Indra is honoured by all the gods."
When the rejoicings were over, and the city of Nishadha
was again tranquil, Damayantí returned home escorted by a great army, and she brought great treasures which her royal sire Bhima, the terrible in strength, had conferred upon her. With the long-eyed queen came her children also.
Thereafter Nala lived in happiness like unto the mighty Indra, being happily restored to his kingdom, and once again the monarch among men. He achieved great renown as a ruler, and he performed every holy rite with munificence and devotion.
367:1 The powers given Nala by the gods as marriage gifts are here illustrated.
367:2 A part of the ceremony of purification. The mouth was washed after eating, drinking, expectorating, slumbering, &c.
369:1 According to the laws of Manu, second marriages were unlawful. Apparently, however, they were permissible at the early period of the poem, at least in some districts.
369:2 Heaven, the earth, and the underworld.
370:1 A sign of divine approval and favour.