(To read the story from the beginning go to nal-and-damyanti-a-story-told-through-kathakali-and-raja-ravi-varma-paintings-part-1)
Damyanti was determined that she would choose Nal when her father invites suitors for her swayamvar– a groom selection contest, practiced for ancient princesses. All kings, princes and Gods aspired to marry a beautiful woman like her. Once her father Bheemak announced the swayamvar, Indra (God of rain and thunder), Varun (God of water resources), Agni (God of fire) and Yama (God of death) also traveled to Vidharbha for the contest. They met Nal on the way. They were surprised to see a human so handsome that he looked almost like one of them.
The gods befriended him and felt a human would have more influence on Damyanti. They implored Nal to carry their proposal to her. Nal disclosed that he too desired to marry Damyanti, so he was an unfit choice of a messenger. Pleased by his honesty, the Gods insisted that they trusted him. They would device a little test. The four Gods and Nal would have an equal chance. If then Damyanti manage to prove her preference for Nal, they would withdraw their claim and bless them.
They helped Nal reach her palace. He was astounded to see Damyanti in person. She was an epitome of feminine beauty. It was no surprise that she was desirable to the Gods. Damyanti recognized him, yet mischievously asked for his introduction. Nal introduced himself and conveyed the messaged of the four Gods. A surprised Damyanti opened her heart to him. She then stated that she would marry none else than Nal himself, and threatened to end her life if he tried convincing her to marry anyone else.
Poor Nal was ecstatic but worried at the same time. He did not wish to cheat the Gods or hazard their wrath upon Damyanti. He admitted her love was reciprocated. Yet the lovers couldn’t unite by offending the Gods, unless she let them test her resolve. If she passed their test, she would be able to realize their dream. Damyanti understood and promised him that she would succeed no matter what. He could go and tell the Gods to take the test. Nal returned and repeated Damyanti’s words to the Gods. They agreed, if only Damyanti could recognize the real Nal. They all planned to disguised as him. Next day everyone was amazed to see five ‘Nals’ seated in the sawaymvar.
Damyanti walked past the other suitors and stopped in front of the identical quintet. She was perplexed and anxious, what if she chose the wrong Nal? She pondered over all signs of divinity, she had learnt from her teachers. She noticed that four out of five ‘Nals’ did neither have a speck of dust on their bodies, nor a droplet of sweat. They did not bat their eyelids. The garlands they donned were as fresh as dew. While they sat on their thrones their feet did not touch the floor. They did not cast shadows.
Gods were very pleased with the couple. Everyone praised Nal’s fortune that Damyanti had preferred him to the Gods and congratulated the couple. Nal was jubilant and promised Damyanti to love her unconditionally. The marriage was conducted with full fanfare.
The Gods granted Nal a boon each as a special gift. Indra promised every time Nal held a Yajna (Fire sacrifice) he would visit himself to accept his offerings. To Damyanti he granted that anyone who troubled or molested her she could punish him with a curse. Agni promised Nal could light a fire without any aid. Yama granted him special taste to his food when he prepared it. Varun granted his empty pots would fill water the moment he desired and any flower he touched would refresh.
Nal and Damyanti returned to Nishadh and lived happily with each other. Nal was a good ruler loved by his ministers and people. He ruled his kingdom according to rules of Dharma. They had two children soon.
When the gods returned to heaven after participating in the marriage of Nal and Damayanti, they met Kali (kaliyuga- symbolic of bad time ahead), escorted by Dwapara (symbolic of a good past). On inquiring with them, Indra learnt that Kali was on his way to marry Damayanti, unaware that her marriage was over. Indra told him that his effort would be futile because Damayanti had already married a virtuous man named Nal. Kali was jealous and angry and vowed that he would not allow them to live together happily and he would do all that he could to separate them. The Gods tried to dissuade Kali from his attempt but he was unreasonable, they warned him of dire consequences and left for the heavens.
Kali and Dwapara together plotted the scheme to separate Nal and Damayanti. Since Nal was very righteous, Dwaparan told Kali that he could be trapped only through deceit in playing Dice. They together decided to persuade Nal’s younger brother Pushkara to challenge Nal for a game of dice.
Pushkara welcomed the unexpected visitors and described his pathetic life where he had no royal powers like his cousin Nal. While inquiring about the purpose of their visit, he also exposed his inferiority complex. The two ill willed people were delighted to see that the situation was already in their favour. They promise Pushkara to help him defeat Nal in a game of Dice, send him to the forest and make him the King of the land. Kali offered himself as the stake for Pushkara to start the game.
Encouraged by the two, Pushkara challenged Nal for a gambling match. A worried Damayanti, tried to dissuade Nal. Sensing that Nal might change his mind, Pushkara mocked that he was a coward and coaxed him to play. Nal told his wife that it was below his prestige to decline a challenge. An argument occurred between the couple. Ignoring Damyanti’s warning Nal finally sat down to play.
Kali transformed himself in to a harmless ox. It was only an ox (Kali) at stake for Pushkara. Nal however confidently put his riches to gamble. One by one, Nal lost all his wealth. As if possessed, Nal was immune to the attempts of Damayanti or his ministers to dissuade him from this unreasonable game. At the end the situation came to such a juncture that if he contested further, he would lose his kingdom and would have to go to the forest. He rolled the fateful dice again. As Damyanti feared, he lost everything with the stake and Pushkara won hands down.
Damyanti dispatched her two children to her father’s house with a trusted charioteer Varshaneya, preempting a bleak future for them in the wake of a lost kingdom. Soon Pushkara had won everything and drove Nal and Damayanti out of the country. Having lost everything except the clothes they were wearing. Insulted to the core, Nal and Damayanthi walked away grief-stricken to the woods.
What happened to Nal and Damyanti in the forest? Did they stay together or separate?
(Pics courtesy the Internet)