(To read the story from the beginning go to nal-and-damyanti-a-story-told-through-kathakali-and-raja-ravi-varma-paintings-part-1)
In the forest Nal and Damayanthi wandered hungry and thirsty. After hours they saw two birds sitting on a tree branch and planned to catch them for food. Without his bow and arrows Nal felt helpless and frustrated. He took off his only piece of clothing, a dhoti (wrap around his waist). He tried to use it as a net to catch the birds. What he did not know was that the birds were indeed Kali and Dwapara in disguise. Kali had sworn to strip Nal off his every belonging and separate him from Damyanti. As planned, Dwapara flew away with Nal’s dhoti leaving him naked and ashamed. He covered himself with some leaves.
Wandering through a thick forest, the starved and depressed couple reached a shelter. Damayanthi tried to console Nal. Nal inturn ordered her to go back to her father’s palace. But Damyanti insisted to stay by his side, wherever he went. After the discussion she rested her head on her husband’s lap and fell off to sleep.
As the final revenge Kali entered Nal’s mind and began to drive him crazy with morbid thoughts. Nal was distraught thinking about his misfortune. He thought that Damayanti might be safer if she were left alone. Suffering from a disturbed mind, he decided to leave Damayanti to her fate. He found an abandoned sword and cut half of her sari to cover him, he prayed to the Gods to look after her and left.
On waking, Damyanti found herself alone in the midst of the forest. Terrified by the eerie loneliness, she called for Nal to stop hiding and appear before her. After waiting the whole day when Nal failed to return, she realized, she had been abandoned by him. She set out to look for Nal.
Damyanti faced several problems; a hunter saved her from a python and in return of the favour, attempted to rape her. Helpless Damyanti burnt him down with her curse. Distraught and tired she reached a group of merchants, who promised to drop her at her father’s house. At night when she rested in their camp, wild elephants attacked them and most of them were brutally crushed. The remaining merchants abused her for bringing on ill luck and accused her of being a witch or demon. Damyanti was devastated by the series of unfortunate incidents that chased her wherever she went. She cursed again that whoever was responsible for their misfortune (kali) would never rest in peace.
Anguished Damyanti set out alone again, wishing that wild animals would kill her and end her misery forever. This time she wandered into the kingdom of Chedi, ruled by King Subahu. Dayanti was dirty, dressed in a torn sari, hair open and tangled, and her face ashen with fear, agony and stress. She looked like a lunatic and children followed her making fun of her.
The queen of Chedi spotted Damyanti from the balcony of her palace; she wondered why such a beautiful woman suffered that way. She summoned her and Damyanti introduced herself as a servant girl lost in the woods. The queen took pity and employed her as her daughter’s parlour maid.
Damyanti’s father Bheemak had sent out several messengers to look for her. One such messenger Sudev, who had grown up with Damyanti and her brothers, reached Chedi. In the temple he saw the servant girl of the princess and recognized her. She was a pale shadow of the beautiful bejeweled princess Damyanti he knew.
Sudev requested for an audience with Damyanti and introduced himself as her brother’s friend. Once damyanti recognized him, Sudev informed her that her father wanted her back. The Chedi queen was stunned to know Damyanti’s real identity. Damyanti was her real sister’s daughter that she had seen only in childhood. She was distressed and repentant to have made her niece work as a servant. Damyanti instead was thankful for their patronage and care. She then accompanied Sudev to her father’s kingdom.
After deserting Damayanti, Nal wondered why he was destined to suffer such a fate. All the good deeds he had done, the boons bestowed on him by the Gods were of no help. Only a little deviation from his righteous path and all his honour, possessions and family were lost. He was troubled that people would remember him as a coward, for abandoning his wife. He repented and prayed for grace from Gods so that he could earn back all he had lost.
Nal drifted aimlessly in the dense forest without any purpose, immersed in the unpleasant memories of the previous days. He heard someone calling him and approached the direction of the call. He saw nothing but a forest fire and smoke. Soon he understood it was a cry to be rescued, from the midst of the forest fire. At the time of his marriage with Damayanti, he had received the boon from Agni that fire would not burn either him or those whom he wished to save. Nal ran into the blaze, he located the source of the cries, it was a serpent trapped in the logs. He carried the serpent out.
When rescued, the serpent asked Nal for an introduction. When he Nal told his name the serpent asked him to shut his eyes and count to ten. When Nal reached ten, the serpent bit him and handsome Nal transformed into a dark ugly dwarf. Confused with anger and sorrow, Nal asked the serpent, why it had behaved in such a thankless manner with its saviour. The serpent revealed itself as Karkotakam, among the most venomous snakes. It disclosed that a sage had cursed him and then given the reprieve that one day Nal would rescue it. He had been asked to infect Nal with his venom to change his appearance. The only way Kali could be forced to leave his body. Nal thanked him with a sad smile, so this was all destined, he thought.
Karkotakam assured him that the venom in his blood would soon drive away Kali that had infested him. Karkotakam gave Nal a holy piece of cloth, after wearing it he could return to his original appearance, when the right moment arrived. He instructed Nal to stay incognito in the kingdom of Kosala, serving King Rithuparna.
Karkotam also advised him to please the king and acquire the Akshahridaya Mantra from him. Karkotakam then blessed him to enjoy all prosperity again. Nal commenced his journey towards the Kingdom of Kosala.
As directed by Karkotakam, Nal presented himself in the court of Rituparna, introduced himself as Bahukam, the stable boy. He requested the King for a chance to serve him. The King allowed him to stay there with the other two servants, a cook Jeevalam and a charioteer Varshaneya.
For concluding part of the story, go to nal-and-damyanti-a-story-told-through-kathakali-and-raja-ravi-varma-paintings-part-4