Story of Nala & Damayanti : Part 2
Stories from Mahabharata
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No sooner than Nala and Damayanti had settled down in their newly married life, Kali and Dwapar started their mischief. Kali entered the mind of Nala's brother, Pushkar, and exhorted him to challenge Nala to a game of dice. Though Nala was a weak player he accepted the challenge assuming it will be friendly game. But Pushkar was being driven by Kali and the dice was being driven by Dwapar. What began with the stake of a ring ended up with Nala losing everything he owned, including his kingdom. Then Pushkar asked Nala to stake his wife. "If you win I will return everything you have lost so far," he added as an incentive. Nala thought for a while but in the end declined the offer. Pushkar made them leave the country on foot. Nala wore only a loincloth and Damayanti only a sari.
They roamed around in this manner for a few days eating roots and fruits. One night Nala saw a bird and decided to trap it. He took off his loincloth to snare it but the bird flew off with the cloth. They now had to hide during the day and move at night. Damayanti wrapped one end of the garment around Nala whenever they were near people. Totally exhausted they reached within striking distance of the capital of King Bhim, Damayanti's father. Nala pleaded with Damayanti that she return to her father's palace, but his wife did not comply.
That night while Damayanti slept Nala decided to leave her. He thought that she would return to her home after he deserted her. He tore off an end from her sari, just sufficient to cover the bare minimum, and quietly slinked away. Some distance away he saw that a snake was trapped in a burning bush. He doused the fire and freed the snake. As soon as he was freed the snake bit him and turned into a celestial being. "Do not worry," he told Nala. "The poison will disfigure and discolour you but you need to remain incognito for some time. Whenever you feel that you have to return to your original self just wrap this garment around you. Travel in the south direction for five days. You will reach the kingdom of Rituparna. Win his confidence and take the opportunities as they come." He handed Nala the magic cloth and went his way.
The poison had taken its effect. Nala's skin had darkened and his body had shrunk and in all his appearance was more than hideous. He reached Rituparna's kingdom and with some difficulty got an audience with the king and work in his stables. His prowess with horses soon reached the king's ears. He began to choose and groom the horses for the king's personal use. He also began to drive the king's chariot on a regular basis. When he had gained sufficient familiarity with the king he requested that he would like to prepare a meal for the king. The meal was a big hit and Nala became the head of the stables and the kitchen and the king's confidante.
Meanwhile Damayanti had reached the palace of the king of Chedi. When she found herself alone on that fateful night, she moved away from her father's kingdom searching for Nala. The next night she was protected by a band of celestial beings, who put her with a caravan of merchants. However a herd of mad elephants destroyed a large portion of the caravan, and Damayanti because of her single garment and dishevelled state was immediately branded as a witch responsible for the tragedy. Many in the caravan wanted to stone her to death but the leader took pity on her. "We will be passing the city of Chedi tomorrow and I will drop you in the marketplace there. After that you are on your own," he warned. It was a case of out of the frying pan into the fire. The shopkeepers pushed her away fearing that she would bring bad luck. The pimps passed lewd comments and offered to take her to the brothel. One even threw a bad of coins at her. Some children thought she was being stoned and began to pelt her.
The king's soldiers heard the commotion and intervened. They took her to the king, who immediately ordered that she be put in his mother's care. For the first time since her exile Damayanti took a bath. After being given a meal Damayanti was presented before the Queen Mother. She thanked her for the hospitality but refused to disclose her identity. All she said was that she was searching for her husband. She looked for an opportunity to escape from the palace and continue with her search. But the palace was well guarded and her every attempt was thwarted.
Nala too had reached a dead end. He did not know how to proceed to look for Damayanti or to get back his kingdom. Both husband and wife were separately waiting for Fate to make the next move.
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