Mahabharata Parva 35: The Nalopakhyana Parva

Mahabharata Parva 35 - Nalopakhyana - Featured Image - Picture of a swan representing the love of Nala and Damayanti

The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.

The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.

In this post, we will summarize the Nalopakhyana Parva.

(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)

Yudhishthir’s Lament

The Nalopakhyana Parva follows the Indralokagamana Parva, and narrates how the rest of the Pandavas spent their time in the five-year period of Arjuna’s absence.

At the beginning of this section, we are shown the four brothers and Draupadi plunged in sorrow and grief, and Bhima once again takes it upon himself to insult Yudhishthir for his lack of initiative.

As the brothers argue, a sage called Brihadaswa comes to the hermitage. After welcoming him and offering him a seat, Yudhishthir gives in to a lament.

He complains of all the misfortunes that he had had to suffer, and declares, ‘I must be the most wretched of all kings in the world.’

Sage Brihadaswa stops him and says, ‘No, Your Majesty. I know the story of a man named Nala, a Nishada prince, the son of Virasena. When he was living in the forest, he had no slaves, no kinsmen and no friends.

‘You have your brothers supporting you, you have your wife, and you also are in the presence of Brahmins who are like the celestial sages themselves in wisdom.’

Overcome by curiosity at these words, Yudhishthir asks Brihadaswa to narrate the tale of Nala in full detail.

The Swan Messenger

The first part of Nala’s story concerns the matter of his love with Damayanti, the daughter of a Vidarbha king called Bhima. (Damayanti is named so because she is given as a boon by a sage called Damana.)

Damayanti is known far and wide for her beauty, and having heard of her, Nala finds himself falling in love without ever having met her. One day, while in his palace garden, he sees a swan furnished with golden wings.

While he is about to catch it, the bird speaks to him in a human voice. ‘Do not desire to imprison me, O King,’ it says. ‘If you let me free, I shall go to Damayanti and speak to her of you in such a way that she would not wish to be with any other man.’

Nala willingly lets the swan go, and the bird reaches Vidarbha, enters Damayanti’s garden, and sings Nala’s praises to her. ‘He is like the Ashwin twins in beauty,’ it tells the princess.

‘I have seen the gods, the Gandharvas, the Nagas and the Kimpurushas. I have not seen a man as handsome and as noble as Nala. If you get married to him, Princess, your union will be hailed as the most suitable in the entire world.’

Damayanti is impressed with the message. She sends the swan back to Nala with her acceptance of the proposed match.

Desired By Four Gods

Damayanti spends a few days after this moping and sighing around the palace, giving enough signs to everyone who saw her that she has become lovelorn.

Some of her waiting women go to Bhima (Damayanti’s father) and advise him to arrange for a groom-choosing ceremony. The king makes the required arrangements and sends out invitations to all the kingdoms of the land, including Nala.

The beauty of Damayanti is such, though, that Narada goes to Indra’s court and informs the king of gods of the swayamvara.

When the gods see her, they are also enthralled, and four of them desire to win her as wife. These are Indra, Agni, Varuna and Yama.

It so happens that as the four gods set out to Vidarbha, they come across Nala who is also on his way to participate in the ceremony. The gods decide that he would be a suitable messenger to carry their proposal to Damayanti.

They stop him and say, ‘We are the celestials, and we wish you to act as our messenger. Will you?’

Nala joins his hands and bows. ‘I will, of course, my lords. Command me what I should do.’

A Quest for Nala

‘Go to Damayanti, the princess of Vidarbha. And find out which one of the four of us she would like to have as her wedded husband.’

This shocks Nala, and in a crestfallen voice he says, ‘But sirs, Damayanti is my love! How can I go to the woman I deeply desire and speak of you? I am not suited to this task, please choose someone else.’

The gods insist that it has to be Nala who does the work, and they render him invisible so that he may enter the ladies’ chambers without being seen.

With a heavy heart Nala enters Damayanti’s private room, and when they see each other, they fall deeper in love. Damayanti addresses Nala and says:

‘You are the king that sent the swan, are you not? It is for you that my father has called for the groom-choosing, Your Highness. Tell me why you are here.’

Nala describes his strange mission, and Damayanti, unflinching, says, ‘I want you to be my husband. Even if all the gods of heaven were to desire me.’

‘But how do I make this happen without drawing the ire of the gods?’ asks Nala.

Damayanti gives the king an idea. ‘Go back to them, and tell them that they should attend the swayamvara. I will choose you over them of my own accord, so no sin will attach itself to you.’

Nala does as he is told, and the gods prepare themselves for the ceremony.

Damayanti’s Swayamvara

The gods play a bit of a trick on Damayanti at the swayamvara. Knowing her preference for Nala, they all come disguised as the Nishada king, and the princess finds five men in the image of Nala facing her.

At once she guesses what had happened, and looks for attributes that she had heard celestials bore. But the gods have made sure that they covered their tracks in this regard, so they look identical to the human Nala.

Damayanti then prays to the gods and says, ‘Ever since I received his message through the swan, O Gods of heaven, I have lost my heart to Nala, and have thought of him as my husband.

‘I am certain that fate wants us to be together too, for why else would we have fallen in love so deeply? When both the man and the woman want each other, what is the need for any other consideration?’

The gods relent at Damayanti’s prayer, and they drop their disguises partly. Their eyes become unblinking. Sweat disappears from their bodies. The garlands around their necks retain full bloom and colour. And they stand with their feet not touching the ground.

Now it becomes easy for Damayanti to spot the real Nala. She goes to the earthiest looking of the five men and garlands him.

Dwapara and Kali

As the gods leave Damayanti’s groom-choosing and make their way back to heaven, they come across Kali and Dwapara, the personifications of the epochs and celestials in their own right, travelling toward Vidarbha.

‘Where are you going, O Kali?’ asks Indra, and Kali replies, ‘To the swayamvara of Damayanti, where else! My heart is set upon the fair damsel. I wish to win her as wife.’

Indra smiles. ‘The swayamvara is finished, Kali,’ he says.

‘The four of us had the same intentions as you, but Damayanti has chosen the Nishada prince Nala for a husband. We have blessed the couple and now we are returning to our abodes. I suggest that you do the same.’

Kali keeps his counsel in front of the gods, but as soon as they leave, he addresses Dwapara: ‘I am unable to control my anger at Nala for having taken as wife the maiden fate has reserved for me.

‘Come, my friend, and help me plunge this rival of mine into misfortune. Take possession of the dice and I shall do the rest.’

Nala Loses

Kali comes to the palace of Nala and waits, then, for twelve whole years for a lapse in the rites carried out by the king. During this time Nala and Damayanti give birth to a son and daughter (twins), both named Indrasena.

In the twelfth year, however, Nala makes the mistake of touching water and saying his twilight prayers without first washing his feet. Kali jumps at this opportunity and enters the person of Nala.

Possessed by the god of misfortune, the king then goes to Pushkara, his brother, and invites him to play a game of dice.

At the same time, Dwapara assumes the form of a set of dice and exhorts Pushkara to accede to the game. Over many months the king and his brother play against each other, pledging various objects of wealth and property.

But it is always Nala who loses because of the influence of Kali.

Damayanti Prepares

Damayanti, hearing of this game and its progression, fears the worst and arranges for councillors of the king to approach him. ‘Tell him what he has lost and what remains,’ she commands the ministers.

But when they approach the king, he is so intoxicated with wine and the effect of dice that he refuses to listen.

Damayanti then summons a charioteer by name Varshneya and sends the twins away to Vidarbha for fostering. In the meantime, Nala has continued to lose game after game, and it comes to a stage where he is left with nothing.

‘What else do you have to pledge,’ asks Pushkara, ‘besides Damayanti?’

Nala does not stake Damayanti, though. He calls for an end to the game, removes all manner of ornaments from his person, dresses in a single piece of cloth, and leaves the palace. His wife follows him.

Nala is Robbed

When Nala and Damayanti leave the royal palace, Pushkara takes over and decrees that anyone in the city seen helping the destitute king and queen will be punished by death.

So for three days and nights the two of them stay at the outskirts of the kingdom, subsisting on water alone. Then they make the decision to go into the forest and perhaps move to another kingdom for better luck.

However, as they enter the jungle, Dwapara and Kali assume the form of birds with golden feathers. Nala gets tempted to hunt them down so that they could cook and eat them.

But just as he is about to catch them, they fly out of reach and tear open the one piece of cloth that he is wearing.

‘We do not like it that you have even one piece of cloth to wear on your person, O King,’ they tell him, and fly away into the city, leaving him naked.

The Desertion of Damayanti

‘Look at how stark our misfortune is, my queen,’ he says to Damayanti after the birds have disappeared. ‘The dice that have cast us here were not content to drive me into the forest.

They had to snatch the one piece of cloth that was covering me. I am not the same man you married, so perhaps it is better that you leave me and find a husband that will take good care of you.’

Damayanti brushes this off, and insists on accompanying Nala wherever he goes. ‘We can trace our steps to Vidarbha, my lord,’ she says. ‘My father, King Bhima, will invite us both with open arms, and you will live like a king on our land.’

‘I know that, my queen,’ replies Nala, ‘but I cannot bring myself to go to Vidarbha in this avatar, stripped of all my clothes, my wealth, my honour and valour.’

They sit down on the earth in the middle of the forest, using Damayanti’s garment to cover their bodies against the cold.

With Damayanti slipping off into sleep, Nala berates himself for failing in his role as a king and husband.

Under the influence of Kali, he becomes melancholic and reasons that if he were to desert his wife, she would eventually go to a kingdom that would treat her well.

Thus, Nala abandons Damayanti in great sorrow and goes his own way.

Damayanti Wakes Up

Damayanti wakes up a while after Nala had left, and at first thinks that the king had gone to fetch some water or fruits for her. But as the moments pass in waiting without any sign of Nala, she comes to realize that she had been abandoned.

Paralyzed by fright, she sits there for an hour or so, unable to think of anything to do. Then, she picks herself up and wanders around in the forest.

She has a few adventures of her own. In the first, a snake attacks her and traps her in its coils. Just as the beast is about to administer the fatal bite, however, a hunter appears and rescues Damayanti.

After she tells him who she is and thanks him for his help, the man watches the half-garment-clad princess and begins to lust after her. He first tries to win her over with soothing words, but when Damayanti resists his advances, he tries to use force upon her.

This angers her enough to curse him, saying:

‘I have not even thought of a man other than Naishadha in all these years. If my mind has remained pure, let this wretch be burned to ashes in this very spot.’

After killing the hunter in that fashion, she comes across a caravan of travelling traders.

Damayanti Reaches Chedi

They take her along with them, but as they camp on the edge of the woods near the outskirts of the city, a herd of elephants attack the group and kill many of the men.

The surviving members accuse Damayanti of being a Rakshasa or Pisacha woman who had attracted beasts of prey over the course of the night. They abandon her and go their own way. Thus Damayanti is again left to fend for herself.

However, she is now close to Chedi. She finds her way to the city on her own, famished to the bone, covered in dust, and clothed in just half a torn garment. The children of the city chase her as if she is a mad woman.

The Queen Mother of Chedi now sees her (the first piece of good fortune that Damayanti has in a while) and orders her servants to bring the princess before her.

After giving her the necessary items and hearing her story (but not the specific details), she employs Damayanti as an attendant to Sunanda, the daughter of king Subahu of Chedi.

Karkotaka Bites

Now we look at what Nala does after leaving Damayanti in the forest. After walking along for an hour or two, he sees a mighty conflagration in the forest, and the cries of help of someone caught within the flames.

The king runs to the fire and discovers a Naga prince, his body half-burnt. He introduces himself as Karkotaka.

‘Please rescue me from this fire, O Nala,’ he says. ‘I was placed in this fire by Sage Narada for a wrong I committed, and he told me that you will pass by this way. I will become light in your hands; please pick me up and carry me away from this heat.’

Saying so, he shrinks to the size of a thumb, allowing Nala to carry him with no effort. After the king takes him to a safe distance, intending to drop him on the ground, Karkotaka again addresses him and says:

‘Carry me with you, Nala, and walk in that direction for ten steps.’

Puzzled at this bizarre instruction, Nala nevertheless does as he is told, but on the tenth step, Karkotaka bites the king and fills his body with poison. Nala’s form also changes from a handsome man to a bent and shrunken wretch.

Karkotaka Explains

Karkotaka, now in his human form, joins his hands and bows. ‘The poison I filled you with will protect you from all the venomous creatures of this forest, O Nala.

‘And it will fill Kali, the being that has possessed you, with pain. Every moment hereon that he spends within you, he will have to endure increasing amounts of agony. One day, not able to bear it any longer, he will leave you.

‘I changed your form so that no one will recognize you. I suggest that from here, you should go to the city of Ayodhya, ruled by King Rituparna, who will trade his knowledge of dice for your knowledge of horses.

‘Go to him, and introduce yourself as a charioteer under the name of Bahuka. Take it on my word that you will regain all your lost splendour, along with your dear wife Damayanti.’

He then gives Nala two pieces of celestial cloth. ‘Wear this garment upon your person,’ he says, ‘when you wish to return to your proper form. But you must not wear it until Kali has left your body.’

Saying this, Karkotaka vanishes. Nala proceeds toward Ayodhya.

Nala Lives as Bahuka

In Ayodhya, Nala approaches the king Rituparna and introduces himself. ‘O King,’ he says, ‘I am Bahuka. There is no one in this world as skilled as I am in managing horses.

‘I also have skilled hands, perhaps more so that you have ever seen, so in all matters of craft you can seek my advice. I also surpass most men of the world in the art of cooking, for my tongue knows the subtlety of taste.

‘I promise to strive my hardest to attain success, Your Majesty, if only you will be kind enough to employ me.’

Rituparna replies, ‘O Bahuka, indeed I am searching for a competent man to look after my stables. I shall instruct my charioteers Varshneya and Jivala to assist you, and you will live with them in full comfort. Start your duties as soon as you are able.’

(Incidentally, Varshneya is the same charioteer that takes Damayanti’s twin children to Vidarbha during Nala’s game of dice. After dropping off the kids there, he comes to Ayodhya and enters King Rituparna’s palace.)

Varshneya, of course, does not recognize Nala, and Nala pretends not to know his old charioteer.

Sudeva Recognizes Damayanti

In the meantime, Bhima, the father of Damayanti and the ruler of Vidarbha, sends out a large number of Brahmins to scour Aryavarta in search of his daughter and son-in-law.

At great length, a man by name Sudeva enters the city of Chedi and chances upon the companion of the princess Sunanda who looks, in his eyes, remarkably similar to the princess he has been seeking.

He approaches Damayanti and gives his introduction. Recognizing him, Damayanti breaks into tears and asks after the welfare of everyone back in Vidarbha.

While this conversation is going on, Sunanda notices that her sairandhri is being harassed by the strange Brahmin, and complains to the Queen Mother of it.

The Queen Mother arrives from her inner apartments, addresses Sudeva, and asks him the purpose of his visit.

‘Rajamaata,’ says Sudeva, ‘this here is no maid, though she has lived here incognito out of respect for her husband’s fate. She is the princess of Vidarbha, the daughter of King Bhima, wife to the great Nishada ruler Nala who had fallen into hard times.’

Damayanti Returns

Hearing these words, the Queen Mother sheds a few tears of regret at having treated a princess that way all those months. She also reveals that Damayanti is in fact her niece.

‘Your mother and I are siblings, my dear,’ she tells her. ‘We were born to the righteous Sudama, the ruler of the Dasarnas. She was given to Bhima of Vidarbha, while I was given to Virabahu of Chedi, the father of Subahu.

‘From now on, you will stay here as a princess ought, equal in status to Sunanda.’

Damayanti thanks the Queen Mother for her kindness, but requests for her leave. ‘My children live in Vidarbha as we speak, Aunt, and they have had to stay estranged from me for a long time.

‘My heart yearns to see them again, and my father, stricken by sorrow as he is by my plight, will be soothed if I stayed with him. So if you wish to help me, please arrange for a swift vehicle that will carry me to the city of my birth.’

Thus exhorted, the Queen Mother says, ‘So be it.’ Damayanti returns to Vidarbha with Sudeva.

News of Nala

Now that his daughter had been found, Bhima sends out messages to all his Brahmins to search for Nala. To all the kingdoms of Aryavarta are these scouts sent, with messages crafted by Damayanti, begging the hiding king to reveal himself and return.

After a long time has passed thus, a Brahmin named Parnada happens to visit Ayodhya, and upon his return to Vidarbha, seeks Damayanti’s audience and tells her of a curious man named Bahuka that looks after Rituparna’s stables.

‘He is a man of short arms, Princess,’ he says. ‘And he is unsightly to look at. He is supposedly skilled at driving chariots and tending to horses. When he heard my message to the king, he sought me out in private and wept many tears.

‘He asked after my welfare, and asked me to give you his best wishes. He used your name, Princess, which surprised me enough to make haste back and report to you.’

Damayanti, hearing these words, becomes sure that the man named Bahuka is indeed Nala in disguise. But knowing that any open invitations will not work, she summons Sudeva and entrusts him with a secret mission.

A Second Swayamvara

‘This should not be known to anyone, O Brahmin,’ says Damayanti’ ‘least of all to my father. Please go to Ayodhya as fast as a horse will carry you, and give the king Rituparna the message that I am about to write.’

Sudeva does as he is told. He enters Rituparna’s court and says, ‘Your Majesty, I bring greetings all the way from Vidarbha. I have also brought an invitation in the name of King Bhima to the swayamvara of his daughter, Damayanti.’

‘Damayanti?’ says Rituparna. ‘Has she not been married already to Nala?’

‘Indeed she has, Your Highness,’ says Sudeva. ‘But the king has fallen upon the worst of times, and he has abandoned our princess. Damayanti has lost all hope of finding him alive again.

‘She therefore wishes to offer herself to another king willing to have her as wife. Alliance with Vidarbha, as you well know, is a desirable prize, Your Majesty.’

‘It is,’ agrees Rituparna. ‘When is the ceremony?’

‘Tomorrow at this time, sir,’ Sudeva replies. ‘So you must hurry.’

Rituparna, then, as Damayanti had hoped, summons Bahuka and says, ‘I intend to go to Damayanti’s swayamvara in Vidarbha in the course of a single day.’

And Bahuka, with his heart bursting with grief (that his wife had given up on him), tethers ten horses bred in the country of Sindhu to Rituparna’s chariot.

Exchange of Knowledge

While Nala is steering Rituparna’s chariot through the path that leads to Vidarbha, Varshneya also goes with them in the capacity of a spare charioteer.

Watching Bahuka’s skill with horses, Varshneya ponders long and hard about the identity of the man.

Only Nala has skill of this magnitude when it comes to handling the reins of a car, he thinks. But this short ugly man – could he be Nala? I have heard that the king has been felled by destiny. Could it be that his good looks have abandoned him?

On the way, they pass a Vibhitaka tree laden with leaves and fruits. Rituparna, addressing Bahuka, says, ‘My friend, the ocean of knowledge is a vast one. No one man can claim to be well-versed in all branches of a science or of an art.

‘You might be blessed in your skill with horses, but I have my skill too. Do you see that tree? I claim that there are fifty million leaves on it and two thousand ninety five fruits.’

When Bahuka hears this, he remembers what Karkotaka had told him, and stops the chariot. ‘Let me check if you are right, Your Highness,’ he says.

‘Do not fear that we will be late for Damayanti’s groom-choosing. I assure you that I will take you there on time.’

Nala Learns to Play

He jumps out of the chariot and fells the tree. He counts the number of leaves and fruits on it and concludes, to his surprise, that Rituparna had been right.

‘How did you know of this, O King?’ he asks. ‘What divine power do you possess that you were able to accurately count the number of leaves on these branches?’

‘I am skilful with numbers and dice, Bahuka,’ Rituparna answers. ‘Now that you have satisfied yourself that I am right, let us proceed to Vidarbha.’

Bahuka bows to the king and says, ‘Your Majesty, I wish to gain this knowledge of numbers that you possess. In return, I shall impart to you all that I know about horse lore.’

This trade strikes Rituparna as fair, and the two of them sit down to educate each other. (How they were able to do this in a matter of one evening, we are not told.)

Just as Bahuka learns the secrets of numbers and dice, Kali exits his body at long last, unable to bear the pain caused by Karkotaka’s poison any longer.

Bahuka knows that Kali has now left his body, but he does not reveal his true form just yet.

Arrival at Vidarbha

When Rituparna at the palace of King Bhima at Vidarbha, he notices that there is no sign of a swayamvara anywhere. There are no Brahmins chanting verses at the main door.

There is no fire lit in honour of Agni. No assemblage of priests. No floral decorations. No rival kings. Nothing.

For his part, Bhima does not know the reason of Rituparna’s surprise visit, so after the initial respects have been paid, he asks, ‘What brings you here all of a sudden, O King of Ayodhya?’

That question confirms to Rituparna that there had been a misunderstanding. So he summons some tact and replies, ‘I have come just to pay my respects to you, King Bhima. Nothing else.’

This is an unconvincing answer, but what else can Bhima do? He arranges for the guest chambers to be readied, and asks the royal chef to make something special for dinner that night.

At the same time, Bahuka and Varshneya repair to the stables and look after the horses.

Kesini’s Questions

Damayanti is flummoxed at the turn of events because the roar of chariot wheels that accompanied Rituparna’s entry into Kundina (Vidarbha’s capital) reminded her of Nala, and yet she could not see him anywhere.

Though she strongly suspects that the man with the short arms is her husband, she is not certain, so she sends a waiting woman called Kesini to the stables to investigate.

Kesini seeks out Bahuka and asks him who he is and where he comes from.

Bahuka replies: ‘Varshneya here was once a charioteer in the employ of the great Nishada king, Nala. I am a mere cook in the kitchen of King Rituparna. I also have a deep knowledge of horses, so he has appointed me chief supervisor of stables.’

‘Then you must be the man who sought out Sudeva when he came to Ayodhya carrying Princess Damayanti’s message. You sent a message back through him intended for her, did you not?’

Bahuka reluctantly admits that he did.

‘Repeat that message,’ Kesini says, ‘so that we know that it is indeed you.’

Nala repeats what he had originally said to Sudeva. ‘Chaste women,’ he says, ‘though overtaken by calamity, do not forsake their husbands.’

Kesini takes the message back to Damayanti, and on hearing those words, Damayanti’s suspicions are strengthened, but she still cannot be certain that the short man is truly Nala.

Nala is Discovered

Damayanti then asks Kesini to bring her a piece of meat that has been boiled and dressed by Bahuka. Kesini does the princess’s bidding, and on tasting this meat, Damayanti remembers all those times in the past when she had partaken of food prepared by Nala.

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She also asks Kesini to keep a close watch on the uncouth man, and the waiting woman reports after a few hours of observation all the various instances during which Bahuka behaved in the manner of a king, not like a low-born.

Considering Nala now almost found, Damayanti sends the two Indrasenas, the boy and the girl, with Kesini to meet Bahuka. Upon meeting his children, Bahuka bursts into tears, and when Kesini asks him why he is crying, he replies:

‘These twins are almost identical to my own children, Fair One. That is why I lost control of my emotions for a moment. Please do not come repeatedly to meet me like this, for it might make people speak ill about you.’

When Kesini describes the scene to Damayanti, the princess is now convinced that this has to be Nala, notwithstanding his appearance.

She sends word to her mother saying, ‘I believe I have found Naishadha, Mother. He is none other than the man that King Rituparna brought with him.

‘He goes by the name of Bahuka. I seek your permission to receive him in my quarters. Have guards stationed by the door if necessary, and whether you tell Father or not is not to my concern.’

Nala Regains his Form

Bahuka is brought on some pretext to Damayanti’s chamber, and when he sees his wife suddenly after such a long period of separation, he breaks down and weeps.

‘Why do you cry, O Bahuka,’ asks Damayanti, ‘when it is I who has been wronged by Nala? He left me to fend for myself in a forest when I had no source of protection.

‘What sin had I committed to earn such treatment from the virtuous king? In front of the fire did he take a vow to stay by my side at all times, and yet, at the first sign of trouble, he let me go.’

Bahuka shakes his head. ‘No, my queen,’ he says. ‘Everything that I had done was brought upon by Kali. It was his act of possessing me that has caused all my bad choices.

‘In my right mind I would never have done it, for as you said, I promised you in front of the fire that I shall forever remain with you.

Damayanti then informs Nala that the whole thing had been a ruse. ‘I told this lie in order to tempt you to come here, my lord,’ she says. ‘I knew that only you could travel the hundred yojanas in one day.

‘I do not wish to marry another man; no, I have not even thought of another man in all these years.’

Both Nala and Damayanti are united after this dialogue, and for good measure Nala remembers the garment given by Karkotaka, and puts it on.

As a result, he regains his old handsome form.

Nala Plays Again

Only one thing remains for Nala to do now. After spending a short amount of time in Vidarbha, he sets out with a few followers to the city of the Nishadas where Pushkara, his brother, is ruling over his stolen kingdom.

Armed with his newly acquired knowledge of dice-play, he throws a challenge at Pushkara and says, ‘I am eager to play you again, Brother, at this game of dice, with all my wealth and even Damayanti at stake.

‘If you do not wish to play at dice with me, then let us fight like true Kshatriyas in single combat, so that the victor might rule over this city as lawful king.’

Pushkara is only too glad to accept the challenge. ‘Brother,’ he says, smiling, ‘it appears as though you have not learnt from your previous round of ill-luck.

‘By virtue of Damayanti you were protected, and you won at least part of your wealth back, due to the kindness of your wife’s father! If you are now eager to throw away the light of your life in another rash challenge, who am I to dissuade you?

‘Come, let’s play. Let the world witness me winning Damayanti, and her waiting upon me like an apsara waits on Indra.’

Nala Wins

All this talk comes to nothing, though, because Nala is now well-versed with the science of dice. In no time at all he succeeds in winning his kingdom back, and reduces Pushkara and his family to mere slaves.

‘I still consider you my brother, Pushkara,’ he tells his vanquished enemy. ‘My love for you has not been diminished by our battle. Whatever has befallen me has been ordained by fate.

‘You were simply a pawn chosen by the goddess of fortune for the purpose. I shall not punish you for events that are not in your control. So you may go free. And may you live to be a hundred years old.’

And then, after Nala reclaims his position on the throne, on an auspicious day, Bhima sends Damayanti from Vidarbha to take her place by Nala’s side.

With this victory of Nala, the Nalopakhyana Parva ends. Yudhishthir becalmed by this story of a king who had – like him – lost everything but won it all back.