Story of Nala & Damayanti : Part 3
Stories from Mahabharata
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Fate came to the rescue in the form of Damayanti's father. After learning of the fate of his daughter and son-in-law he sent out emissaries in all directions in order to locate the couple. One messenger ultimately reached Chedi, where he learnt that a mad woman found in the market place was living in the palace of the Queen mother. He asked to see this woman and recognised her. Thus Damayanti was sent to her father's kingdom.
Damayanti then sent emissaries to search for Nala. Since her father's emissaries had found no trace of him she realised that he could be in disguise for some reason. She gave her men a question to ask anyone they thought could be Nala and to bring back the answer. The question was, "How much of a man is a person who not only deserts his wife in the middle of the night but also steals half her clothes?"
A few weeks later one of the emissaries reported, "King Rituparna has a new aide who is skilled in horsemanship and cooking, both areas in which King Nala is proficient. I sought out this man. Unfortunately he turned out be dwarfish and ugly and not like the King. However as per your instructions I asked him the question and he replied that if a person did that in order to make his obstinate wife return to her father then he was a man."
Everything apart from the description fit. Damayanti had to meet this man. She announced another Swayamvara since Nala was missing for a long time and could now be presumed dead. She kept the notice so short that only the fastest riders would be able to make it. Rituparna heard of the Swayamvara and decided to participate. Nala assembled the team of his best horses and set off with Rituparna to Vidarbh. On the way Rituparna's scarf flew off and he wanted to retrieve it. Nala made a quick calculation of the horses' speed and estimated the distance they had covered since then. He told the king that if they returned for the scarf they would miss the Swayamvara. Later they passed a row of fig trees. Rituparna said that he could look at the fallen leaves and predict the number of leaves on the tree. Since they were nearing Vidarbh and were ahead of time Nala decided to test the king. To his surprise Rituparna was successful. On the final leg of the journey Rituparna told Nala that he was a fantastic gambler. Nala had not seen him play because no one was willing to play with him.
Damayanti was waiting on her balcony listening to the hoof beats as the carriages passed her palace. She immediately recognised the pattern of the hoof beats of the chariot being driven by Nala. She sent a maid to inquire who had arrived in the chariot and was informed that it was King Rituparna and his chariot driver. She was also informed that the king had refused the hospitality of Vidarbh and was asking his chariot driver to prepare his meal. Damayanti then asked the maid to smuggle some item of food. The taste was identical to her husband's cooking. Throwing all decorum to the winds she ran down to meet the chariot driver and was stunned to meet a dark, short and deformed man instead of a fair, tall and handsome Nala. She asked, "Why does a man want to send his dutiful wife back to her father's home?" The man replied, "Because he has lost his kingdom and cannot support his wife in the manner she was accustomed to before their marriage." He then put on the magic garments and was returned to his original form.
Rituparna congratulated Damayanti and told her that she had found her husband but he would lose not only his best horseman and best cook but also his best friend. Nala had a proposal for Rituparna. "I will stay with you for a while and teach you all that I know of horsemanship if you teach me all that you know of gambling." He added that he was not interested in playing regularly but just one time in order to win his kingdom back. Nala and Damayanti moved to Rituparna's kingdom. Soon Rituparna was an adept horseman and Nala an adept gambler.
Nala sent a challenge to his brother. He was willing to stake Damayanti if Pushkar staked the entire kingdom. Pushkar still felt that the victory was incomplete without his brother's wife and readily accepted the challenge. This time Kali and Dwapar were not there to aid him and Nala had become an expert player. Pushkar lost everything back to Nala. Nala had half a mind to send Pushkar out in a loincloth, but he was a large-hearted man. He gave Pushkar a part of the kingdom and suggested that he mend his ways.
Nala and Damayanti then lived happily thereafter and they did not forget the swan who had so sportingly taken their messages of love.
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