(To read the story from the beginning go to nal-and-damyanti-a-story-told-through-kathakali-and-raja-ravi-varma-paintings-part-1)
Living in Kosala, Bahuka often worried what might have happened to Damyanti in the forest. One day when the other two servants were deep asleep, he cursed himself and sang a tragic separation song in her memory. Jeevalam was half awake and overheard this exceptional poetry. He was curious but Bahuka bluffed. He claimed it was only a sad song that he had created. Bahuka evaded many other questions about his past. Jeevalam was suspicious that there was more than what met the eye. Bahuka had not revealed his real identity.
Full of doubt, Jeevalam discussed the matter with the charioteer Varshaneya. This was the same Varshneya who had worked with Nal (before he dropped his children at Kundinpuri of Vidarbha). Hearing about the sad downfall of his beloved king, he had joined Rituparna. He admitted to Jeevalam that though the dwarf’s habits matched his former master, but there was no way this ugly man could be the most handsome, well-built Nal. Jeevalam had no choice but to stay quiet.
After reaching her home Kundinpuri, Damayanti sent around learned Brahmins in search of Nal all around the country. She taught them a song describing happenings in Nishadh and how a king left his wife in a jungle. Damyanti asked them to report if anyone responded to the song. Each one was meant to sing it in the market places, crowded community areas of the nearby kingdoms.
One day a singer named Parnadan was singing Damyanti’s song in Kosala. Jeeavalam was surprised to hear a song that was quite like Bahuka’s tragic poetry. He approached Parnadan and revealed his colleague sang a similar song and matched all the clues. He added that ‘Bahuka’ always said in the end that graceful ladies should understand the circumstances of their husband’s actions.
Parnadan returned to Kundinpuri and reported this to Damyanti. Following the clue from Parnadan, Damyanti concluded that Nal was most likely hiding in Kosala. Her mother suggested they announce Damyanti’s second marriage to get Nal to Kundinpuri. Damyanti once again asked her trusted Brahmin Sudeva to reach Kosala and check this man Bahuka’s reality. She implored him to device a plan to bring him to Kundinpuri once for her sake.
Sudev promised to undertake any risk to bring them together. He suggested that since the King of Kosala was well known to him and he would declare in the presence of Nal (Bahuka) that Damyanti’s second marriage was planned for the very next day and the King was invited to take part. Assuring Damyanti to keep hope, he left for his trip towards Kosala.
As planned, Sudeva informed Rituparna about the second marriage of Damyanti in the presence of Bahuka. Nal was shocked and upset, but he didn’t express his feelings. Rituparna immediately ordered Bahuka to saddle his best horses and take him as fast as possible to Kundinapuri.
The thought of the second marriage of Damyanti constantly troubled Bahuka. He was worried about the turn of events. He had mercilessly abandoned her so could not expect her not to marry again. King Rituparna soon arrived in the chariot along with Varshneya and the three together proceeded towards Kundinapuri.
Both Rithuparna and Varshneya were surprised at the speed and expertise with which Bahuka drove the chariot. The King’s stole blew away, petrified with the speed he asked Bahuka to slow down. Bahuka suggested that the impending marriage was more urgent than picking his stole. During the journey Rithuparna was extremely pleased with the character of Bahuka. In a light moment Rithuparna demonstrated to his aids, the trick of estimating the number of leaves on a tree. Bahuka requested him to teach it as a reward for taking him to Kundinpuri. King taught him Akshahridaya Mantra (The law of probability), this skill also equipped him to calculate his chances at the game of dice.They reached Kundinpuri within a day.
The new skill had increased Nal’s confidence. Karkotakam’s poison was becaming too powerful for Kali to tolerate. At last Kali exited out of Nal’s body. He described his misery to Nal. How Damyanti’s curse and the venom together had made his stay in the body, more painful by each passing day. If Nal would let him go, he would grant that anyone who heard or told the Nal-Damyanti story, Kali (the bad time) would cease to have his bad influence on him or her. Nal was wise not to carry grudges he let Kali go.
Escorted by Bahuka, when Rithuparna arrived at the Court of King Bhiman, he found himself alone. Quite contrary to his expectation of seeing the decorated court crowded with Kings, there were no signs of a celebration. Rithuparna decided to cover up his foolishness by pretending that he had come only to refresh his friendship with King Bhiman. Agitated inside Bahuka also maintained a calm demeanour.
Damyanti was certain that Nal was the best charioteer around and only he was capable of achieving the feat of covering the distance between the two kingdoms in a day. Rithuparnan was hosted in the royal guesthouse.
Eager to reunite with her husband, Damyanti sent her companion Kesini to observe the ugly dwarf who had come with Rithuparna. Kesini had special instructions to observe his habits and behaviour. Kesini approached Bahuka and asked him who he was and why he had come there. Though it was evident to Nal that the marriage of Damyanti was false information, Bahuka told her the truth that they had come for the second marriage of Damyanti.
Kesini talked to him about how her mistress Damyanti had lost all interest in life. He however repeated that graceful women should not be angry with their husbands and understand the circumstances to their wrong actions. Kesini’s doubts increased. She enquired whether he had any news about Nal. Bahuka was caught unaware, but collected himself fast and denied any such information. He remarked that it was inappropriate for strangers to be seen together at untimely hours and requested her to go away.
Kesini hid herself in the guesthouse and keenly observed Bahuka. She watched that he lighted a stove without using a starter fire, he just raised a straw to the sun and it caught fire on its own. When he looked at empty pitchers, they filled up with water. He turned dry flowers fresh with his touch. As directed by Damyanti, she pinched some food Bahuka had prepared. She returned to Damyanti, convinced that she had discovered something important. Kesini described the strange happenings to her mistress and presented the bite of the stolen food she had carried. By the boon of Yama, Nal had a special taste in his food that Damyanti recognized.
Damyanti was happy and sad both. Happy that she had found Nal, sad that doubts gripped her mind again. How had he transformed into the dwarf? Why hadn’t he tried to find her? She wondered if he was displeased with her. Would he reject her if she approached him? She decided that the pain of rejection couldn’t be worse than the pain of separation she already suffered. Risking her worst of fears, she decided to meet him.
Damyanti went to see Bahuka. She was sure that the Bahuka’s behaviour and actions were exactly like Nal. She had last seen him before falling asleep in the forest. Nal was tense on seeing his beloved after long, he cursed himself for abandoning her once again. There were a thousand things to explain and ask but taut like bowstring, he controlled his emotions and remained quiet.
He just asked her why she had decided to marry again. Damyanti explained it was because she wanted him to come out of his hiding. She knew that only if there was a motive more urgent than the guilt of deserting her; he would surface again. She was forced to announce her wedding.
Unnayi Warrier added a dramatic ending to his play when he wrote about Nal’s resentment at Damyanti’s decision to marry again. With the use of elaborate mudras he displayed how hurt Nal felt by her deceit. They describe the scene this way:
Happy to see her husband back, Damyanti approached him with surprise and happiness, but instead of being pleased, he expressed his displeasure and shoved her away. He asked her to go ahead with the second marriage as planned and live with whichever king she liked. Dismayed by the rejection of Nal, Damyanti pleaded that the news of the second marriage was only a ploy to regain Nal, as advised by her mother. Refusing to believe anything of what she said, Nal turned away from Damyanti.
(At this moment a divine voice from the heavens announces: “I am Vayudeva, telling you that the idea of a second marriage was only a trick employed by her to bring Nal back to her and there was no reason to doubt her!” Nal apologises to damyanti and admits she was right. Then Nal drapes the holy cloth gifted by Karkotakam over himself and regaines his original form. The two unite together. This is followed by requests from the Gods in heaven Indra, Agni, Vayu and Yama to Nal to accept his wife back. Shower of flowers are sprinkled from all around and sacred sounds of musical instruments. Nal embraces her lovingly.)
In the Mahabharata story, Nal then left with Damyanti and his loyal charioteer Varshaneya for Nishadha. He challenged Pushkara for a dice game again. Pushkara accepted. Nal equipped with the Akshahridaya Mantra, played well and won his entire kingdom again. He forgave Pushkara and returned him with his due share in the wealth. Nal ruled his people with justice and humility again.
In Mahabharata, the story of Nal-Damyanti brought a lot of relief to the humiliated and banished Pandavas. It marks their rebound from depths of despair. Inspiring them to stop feeling like victims of cheating and prepare to win their honour again. Pehaps the boon of Kali was right- one who tells or hears the story of Nal-Damyanti is liberated from the influence of tough times.
(Pics courtesy the internet)