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Mahābhārata – Episode 29 – Naḻopākhyāna – Naḻa Loses the Gamble, Forsakes Damayantī

This article is part 29 of 32 in the series Mahābhārata


Kali had to wait for a whole twelve years until he could find a flaw in Naḻa. He went to Naḻa’s friend Puṣkara, instigated him to invite Naḻa to play a game of dice, and he (i.e. Kali) entered the dice that would be used for the gamble. When invited, Naḻa could not refuse to play. Falling prey to Kali’s rage, Naḻa lost all his gold, wealth, chariots, and so forth even as Damayantī watched the game. The madness of the game befuddled his mind and he played like a man who is unconsciousness of his body. None of his friends were able to stop him. Ministers and townsfolk came to him to beg him to stop. Damayantī narrated this to Naḻa with her eyes overflowing with tears. But he did not utter a single word. Therefore all of them returned with sorrowful hearts. When Damayantī saw that the rolled dice was always unfavourable to Naḻa, she was afraid; she called for the charioteer Vārṣṇeya and sent her son Indrasena and her daughter Indrasenā along with him to her father Bhīmarāja’s place. Then Vārṣṇeya became a charioteer to King Ṛtuparṇa.

After Puṣkara won everything that Naḻa owned, he said, “If you want to continue playing, then do so! Damayantī is left! If you like to place her for wager, then do that!” Listening to those words, Naḻa felt as if his chest had been torn apart. He saw Puṣkara with profound sorrow, without uttering a word, except for a single piece of cloth that he wore on his body, he removed all his ornaments and garments, placed it in front of the winner, and went away. Damayantī too, wearing but a single piece of raiment, started following him. With the authority of a king, Puṣkara declared that if anyone went to help Naḻa then he would be put to death. Therefore Naḻa and Damayantī got nothing to eat in the city and for three nights, they just drank water; unable to find any food, they starved and as they were slowly withering, they came across a few golden coloured birds. If he caught those birds, not only would they get money but they could also get something to eat – with this thought, Naḻa took the single piece of cloth he was wearing and threw it on them, in a bid to capture them. They flew away carrying the cloth itself, leaving Naḻa naked on the ground, bowing his head down in shame; and as they flew away they told him, “O fool! We are the dice; we didn’t like the fact that you walked away with a piece of cloth; therefore we came to take that also away from you!” At that point, the king looked at Damayantī and said, “O lady of good qualities! These dice have snatched away all my wealth. They ensured that in the land of Niṣadha we don’t get food and wither out of starvation. Now they have even seized the single piece of cloth that I wore. Having attained such a terrible state of distress, it feels like my life will end due to this sorrow. Therefore, as your husband, I will tell you something that is for your good: Look there! There are a few paths that start out from the southern direction. This is the Vindhya mountain range; that is the Payoṣṇī river. There are āśramas of ṛṣis abundant in fruits. This is the road that leads to Vidarbha; this is the road that leads to Kosala!” Damayantī, who had been ravished by sorrow, shed copious tears when she heard these words. She said, “Mahārāja! When I think about your oath, my heart trembles; I lose control over my own body. Having lost your lands and treasures, finding neither a morsel of food to eat nor a piece of cloth to wear, you are withering away; how can I go away, forsaking you in a forest uninhabited by humans? However deep your sorrow might be, can you get a better friend than your wife? Is there anyone else who can help you better than your life partner?” Naḻa said, “What you say is true, Damayantī! Man has no better friend than a wife; I have no desire to abandon you! Why do you doubt me? I might forsake myself perhaps but I will never forsake you!” Damayantī said, “Mahārāja! If that’s the case then why are you showing me the way to Vidarbha? I know that you are not one who will abandon me. But when the mind is distressed, it is possible that you forsake me. Again and again when you are pointing towards these different directions, I get that feeling. If your desire is that I should go, then let us both go to Vidarbha, come! The king will look upon you with respect. Both of us can live in my house in peace!” Naḻa said, “O my beloved! Your father’s kingdom is like my own; there is no doubt about that. But I will not be able to go there while I’m sunk in troubles. Earlier, when we were wealthy and prosperous, we had paid a visit, which brought you joy. Now, having lost everything, if we go there, your sorrow will only increase.”

Naḻa goes away leaving Damayantī Naḻa Mahābhārata – Episode 29 – Naḻopākhyāna – Naḻa Loses the Gamble, Forsakes Damayantī Nala-Damayanti-203x300

Naḻa goes away leaving Damayantī

Naḻa wrapped himself partly with a half of Damayantī’s sari and tried to convince her in many ways. Thus as they walked forward sharing the same piece of garment, a temple came into view. Ravaged by hunger and thirst, they both lay down on the ground there. Damayantī was exhausted and she soon fell asleep. Naḻa did not get sleep. Stark naked; body covered in dust; a troubled mind; sorrow of losing the kingdom on the one hand, pain of separation from friends and relatives on the other. Many thoughts raced through his mind: “Can I do this or shouldn’t I? Is it better to die or is it better to leave everyone? Due to her love for me, if she joins me, she too will suffer. If I’m not there, at some point of time, she will reach her father’s place!” After thinking long and hard, finally Naḻa decided that if he left her and went away, that would result in better comfort for her; then he tore half of her sari and wearing that around his waist, and like a madman he ran away. But unable to control his heart, he turned back and upon seeing Damayantī, he broke down in sobs. “My beloved who had hitherto neither seen the sun nor felt the wind is now asleep on the ground, like a woman without refuge, wrapped in a single piece of cloth. After she wakes up, upon not finding me, she will become like a mad woman. I don’t know how she will manage in this ferocious forest that is full of wild animals!” Speaking these words, unable to stay and unable to depart, being in two minds, his thoughts were going forwards and backwards like a swing. Finally, due to the influence of Kali, after much wailing and lamenting, he abandoned his wife in the lonely forest and went away.

When Damayantī woke up and found herself alone, she was extremely afraid. She shouted; she roared; she screamed, “Mahārāja!” She said, “I’ve been ruined! Oh no!” “When your devoted wife was asleep, you abandoned her – how could you do such a thing! Or are you hiding behind one of the shrubs and staying silent? I’m not worried about myself; how will you manage on your own? How will you endure hunger, thirst, and exhaustion?” she said, even as she ran from here to there, falling, rising, weeping, and sighing, in search of him. As she was running about this, a python caught her. She cried out, “O my husband! A snake is swallowing me! Help!” A hunter who heard her cries came there, killed the snake with his sharp sword, and helped release her. As she washed her body and tried to find some solace, he asked her who she was, where she was from, and learnt all the details. As he saw the half-naked woman and listened to her sweet words, slowly he was overtaken with lust. Full of sinful thoughts, as he neared her with a view to pounce on her, Damayantī looked at him partly with sorrow, partly with rage and cursed him: “If I have even harbored a thought about another man except for my husband, the Niṣadha king, then let the power of my integrity kill this man!” Instantly he burned to death, became blackened, and fell to the ground.

To be continued…

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.

Series Navigation << Mahābhārata – Episode 28 – Naḻopākhyāna – Naḻa Marries DamayantīMahābhārata – Episode 30 – Naḻopākhyāna – Parallel Lives of Naḻa and Damayantī >>
A R Krishna Sastri Naḻa Mahābhārata – Episode 29 – Naḻopākhyāna – Naḻa Loses the Gamble, Forsakes Damayantī ark

A R Krishna Sastri

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His 'Vacana-bhārata' and 'Kathāmṛta' are classics of Kannada literature while his 'Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka' and 'Bankimacandra' are of unrivalled scholarship.
A R Krishna Sastri Naḻa Mahābhārata – Episode 29 – Naḻopākhyāna – Naḻa Loses the Gamble, Forsakes Damayantī ark