The gentle Damayanti was desolate in the terrifying forest where wild animals roamed freely. She had heard about ghosts of various kinds which lurked in darkness for their favourite dish of human flesh. Damayanti wailed, “my husband, who promised to be by my side until death, where are you now? How could you leave me all alone in this dense forest with no hope for escape?”
Caught by a python
Damayanti moved aimlessly here and there with her thoughts wandering in search of her missing Nala. Already terrified by her loneliness, she was horror stricken realizing that a python had grabbed her foot and was slowly sucking her into its mouth. She started crying aloud for help, repeating the name, “Nala”. Luckily, a hunter happened to hear her and came rushing. He slit the python from head to tail and saved Dmayanti from her agony.
But, worse was in store for the hapless queen. The hunter was enchanted by the enchanting looks of the lady whom he happened to save. Desire provoked the primitive man to draw Damayanti to himself in spite of her protests. The queen of Nishadha was terrified at first. Fear changed to anger when her objections were ignored. She had led so chaste a life that she never even thought about any other man in her life. That gave her the courage to curse her tormentor with the words, “you have violated my person by your mere touch. May you perish this very instant by the power of my chastity”. As soon as she those words were spoken, as though by a miracle, the hunter fell down dead.
Seen Nala ?
Escape from the mouth of the python and from the clutches of the hunter did not end Damayanti’s misery. Where was Nala? Where to look for him? Who to ask in that desolate forest?
She went from tree to tree and from mountain to streams looking for Nala. When tired she would sit on a rock and continue wailing about him. She would imagine his handsome figure and think of his noble qualities. Will she ever set eyes on him again?
She found a tiger passing by. By then she had turned almost mad in mind even to be aware of fear. She addressed the tiger, “you have been wandering all through the forest. Have you found my loving husband?”
Getting no reply she approached a mountain with a tall peak. “You are standing tall in this forest. You see far and wide from where you stand. Did you notice my Nala passing by?” She next asked a stream whether it passed by the Naishadha in its wanderings through the forest.
Words of hope
Damayanti searched for days after days for Nala who left her without a word. Then, she located a hermitage not far away in front. All her sufferings and fear vanished finding the place where saints meditated in tranquility. Peace loving animals grazed in the surroundings. A gentle stream flowed near by.
Damayanti prostrated before the hermits. They received her with all kindness and asked her who she was and why she was moving all alone in the forest. Damayanti introduced herself and narrated how she ended up in the forest with her husband. Now her husband is missing. She spoke not even a word blaming her husband for her predicament.
The sages then spoke consoling her. “Fair lady, do not worry about your future. You will soon get over all your present troubles. You will meet your husband and he will regain his lost kingdom. We foresee all that through the power of our penance.” So speaking, the sages disappeared from sight with their hermitage and its surroundings, as though in a dream.
With a caravan
Damayanti continued her search, but, now with her mind at ease. But, she appeared like a mad person with her matted hair, torn piece of cloth and dust covered body. Soon, she came across a caravan of traders. They were travelling to the kingdom of Chedi (became famous later for Sisupala) to sell their precious commodity and buy fresh stock from there. Damayanti approached and told them all about herself and her misfortune. She wanted to know whether any one of them happened to meet her husband on the way. They had not, but, did not mind her joining them on their way to Chedi.
Damayanti thought that she could find refuge with the queen of Chedi and launch a search for Nala from there. Thinking so, she joined the group.
But, misfortune befell the caravan soon. They were riding several tame elephants carrying their goods. Attracted by the pachyderms, some wild elephants attacked the group from all sides. All their elephants were killed and even many of their members were crushed by the invading mammals. The surviving traders thought that Damayanti was a devil who invited disaster to their company. So, they left her behind and moved on. Luckily, there were a few Brahmins in the group who felt pity and took her with them to the kingdom of Chedi.
We shall continue with her life at Chedi in the next episode.