The timeless story of Nala and Damayanti

BN Goswamy

Karkotasya naagasya Damayantyaa Nalasya cha

Rituparnasya rajarashe kirtanam Kali-naashanam

[Reciting the story of Karkotaka, the serpent, of Damayanti and Nala, and of the royal sage, King Rituparna, destroys the evil effects of the Kali age.]

— From the Nalopakhyana within the Mahabharata

Nala and Damayanti, their passionate union and their unlucky separation; in the midst of that their trials and their tribulations; and, lastly, the tip of their troubles and their reunion — finds its place within the nice epic, the Mahabharata. And the purpose of it being instructed there by a visiting sage, although it has nothing on to do with the continued battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, is didactic.

Damayanti and the Swan. By Raja Ravi Varma.

Things are unhealthy now, the sage tells Yudhishthira, the seniormost of the Pandavas, however they are going to flip. Another noble king had, up to now, suffered by the hands of ‘outrageous fortune’, dropping his total kingdom on the throw of cube, however all it will change.

Damayanti, the sage tells the Pandavas, was the daughter of King Bhima of Vidarbha who introduced her svayamvara at which she might select a husband for herself.

The fame of her magnificence and her nature having unfold far and vast, kings and princes of all hues, even the gods — together with Indra, Agni, Varuna and Yama — and guardians of the quarters, flocked collectively to that ceremony. But Damayanti had already fallen in love with younger Nala, king of Nishadha, by the mediation of a golden swan — hamsa is the time period used — who acted as a messenger between them.

At the svayamvara, Damayanti selected Nala, although the 4 gods had tried to play upon her an elaborate ruse making an attempt to trick her into selecting one in every of them. Their coronary heart’s want granted, Nala and Damayanti obtained married and spent lengthy years in nice felicity. But then destiny struck.

Damayanti and the Swan. Actress Ramya Krishnan dressed up as Damayanti. Scene recreated in {a photograph} by Venket Ram.

The spirit of the evil age, Kali, who had additionally been a contender for Damayanti’s hand, had determined to avenge himself upon the younger couple. He deliberate and he plotted and succeeded in separating the 2, every of them going by untold struggling. Finally, nevertheless, all this ended. Nala, having misplaced his kingdom at one level to his personal brother in a sport of cube earlier, recovered the whole lot: his kingdom, his misplaced spouse, and his peace: all by having learnt from a kindly king who had employed him as his charioteer, all of the intricacies of that sport of cube. Having narrated this uplifting account, the sage departed, including that the mere recitation of this story destroys all sins.

Damayanti and the Swan

Frontispiece to the ‘Nala-Damajanti’ ebook by Ruckert. 1845.

Whether for the destruction of sins, or for savouring its sheer allure, the story of Nala and Damayanti entered numerous texts of early India. Even in that different nice epic, the Ramayana, it finds point out. In the Samhitas, and Brahmanas, of outdated; within the Puranas starting from the Padma and the Linga, to the Vayu and the Matsya, one finds it in a single model or the opposite. Those nice repositories of tales, just like the Brihat-katha, and the Kathasaritasagara, function it. This aside, impartial texts devoted wholly to the story — just like the Nalachampu of Trivikram Bhatta, the Naishadhananda of Kshemeshvara, the Davadantikatha of Jinasagara Suri, the Nalaramayana of Rajashekhara — got here to be written. The allure of the story appears to have been irresistible. Even the well-known German poet, Friederick Ruckert, succumbed to it, for he translated the whole textual content from Sanskrit into German verse and printed it within the 1840s, together with in it an illustration of a European-looking Damayanti listening to the Swan delivering her lover’s message. All this aside, a number of collection of work, or illustrated manuscripts, centering upon it, had been commissioned by Indian connoisseurs, in types starting from the pre-Rajasthani and the favored Mughal to the Deccani. But maybe probably the most excellent of work of the Nala-Damayanti theme got here out of the Pahari space. In the arms of a painter of the celebrated artist-family headed by Pandit Seu, primarily based in Guler, the story sprang to life like nowhere else. There are work in that collection — now for probably the most half within the Karan Singh assortment in Jammu — as additionally extremely refined drawings scattered over completely different collections. In these the painter units out to seek for the last word within the expression of delicacy of feeling. Every scenario, every element, is instructed as if in a smooth whisper. How Damayanti hears from wandering minstrels of the sweetness and the character of Nala and falls in love with him; how a golden swan captured by Nala in his backyard is launched as a result of it guarantees to fly to Damayanti in her distant house and communicate to her of Nala’s the Aristocracy and his love for her; how the love of the 2 grows by the day, in actual fact by the second although they haven’t met but; and the way Nala wins her hand within the svayamvara, are all there on this extraordinary collection. Here, Damayanti swoons on the mere considered her lover, the gods fall hopelessly in love along with her, Nala turns invisible as he enters his beloved’s condo, and all this time that golden swan retains an eye fixed out for the pair. There is a wispy softness of line in these work; the comb seems barely to the touch the floor of paper, and types look as if they’ve simply been ‘breathed’ upon paper.

It will not be simple to choose only one work from the collection to talk about. But — purely for the sheer refinement of all of it — one might take a look at the folio the place the swan lands in Damayanti’s backyard for the primary time. Discreetly, she leaves her bevy of associates and goes quietly right into a small grove to have the ability to communicate with the swan, or hear it, all by herself. Damayanti listens with nice care, hanging on each phrase, however at the same time as she listens, out of sheer shyness, she pulls a veil in direction of her face, for it’s her nice love’s phrases which can be being conveyed to her. This easy, however transferring, gesture appears to say all of it. When the painter Raja Ravi Varma turned to this story, what second from it did he decide? Damayanti’s dialog with the swan, the theme being chosen later for a postage stamp. The props, the attire, the postures, all got here out of his theatrical cabinet, so to talk, however the second is nicely chosen. And when the up to date photographer, Venket Ram, turns to re-creating together with his lens ‘scenes’ from Ravi Varma’s outdated work, what does he do? One of the photographs he picks is ‘Damayanti and the Swan’, attire up Ramya Krishnan, that proficient movie actress from the south, as Damayanti, and clicks.

Evidently, a story for all occasions and all seasons.

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