Damayanti was now certain that the charioteer of Rituparna who came assuming the name of Bahuka was none other than her husband, Nala. She did not know, as yet, how the Nishadha king managed to appear so completely different. She also needed permission from her parents before confronting her husband directly.
She went to her mother and said. “Mother, I have tested the charioteer thoroughly. There is no doubt in my mind that he is Nala. I need to find out why and how he is in such a disguise. Please speak to father about it. I need to have a long chat with my husband and get a few missing details”.
The queen got the necessary nod from her husband. Then, Damayanti went to the place where Bahuka was staying. The confidence she gained through her clever tests that the charioteer was indeed Nala in disguise did not prepare her for the shock of meeting some one who looked so different. The person who was supposed to be the handsome Nala appeared with matted hair and wearing saffron clothes. He looked dirty and was ugly beyond description. Yet, she took courage and asked. “I am told that you call yourself Bahuka. Have you met my Nala who abandoned me in forest? Have I done any harm to him in my childhood? Did I not choose him in marriage ignoring all other suitors, including the ones from heaven? Did he not swear in front of fire at marriage that he would take care of me?”
Nala could not conceal his real identity any longer. He replied. “Try to understand that it was not my free will that worked when I gambled away all my possessions. I was not myself when I left you behind in the forest and disappeared. The cruel Kali had possessed me in revenge for your marrying me. But, that rascal of Kali was all along being tormented inside me by your curse. He, finally, had to leave me completely when I learnt the secret of dice from king Rituparna”.
Nala continued. “I came with the desire to see you just once. Your messengers are all over the world inviting kings for your second marriage. I also came to find out how you could even think of such a course of action”.
To that accusation Damayanti replied. “Please do not mistake me. The talk of my second Swayamvara was a mere ploy to get you here. No one other than you would have managed to cover the distance of eight hundred miles ( 100 Yojanas) in a day. I swear that I speak the truth”. A loud voice was heard from heaven at that very instant. “It is true that your chaste wife has not erred, in thought, speech or action”. This was followed by gods playing on divine drums (Dundubhi) and showering flowers on the pair by way of blessing.
Nala was pleased to learn the truth. He took out the cloth gifted by the serpent Karkotaka and wore it around him. Then, Damayanti saw the original form of her handsome husband and rushed to his outstretched arms.
The two exchanged their stories following their separation in the forest. The sorrows each suffered were washed away in the happy tears of their new found union.
A Grand royal welcome
Nala and Damayanti spent that night together and went to meet the king next morning. Bhima was greatly pleased to receive Nala appearing in his old radiant form. News passed around the kingdom that Nala has returned from his exile. The citizens of Vidarbha were overjoyed with the news. They decorated the streets and came in large numbers to receive the illustrious king who married their princess. Nala and Damayanti received the citizens graciously.
Nala went to Rituparna with Damayanti next. He tried to apologize to the king for any of his lapses while under his service. The large hearted king of Ayodhya cut him short and spared no words to appreciate the years the two spent happily together. Rituparna did not forget to bless the couple for a long and happy married life.
Back to his own country
Nala lived happily in the company of Damayanti in her father’s kingdom for a few days. Then, he decided that it was time for him to return to his own land. He took leave of his in-laws and drove his own chariot carried by his favourite horses to Nishadha taking Damayanti and the children with him. He went to Pushkara and said. “Brother, I have earned enough wealth while in exile. I offer all that, including myself, as stake and challenge you to a fresh game of dice. I want you to wager on the entire kingdom including your own life. If you refuse, then you should meet me in a duel. I am afraid that you have to choose between the two”.
Pushkara showed surprise to find his brother back. He was happy to play and was sure that he would win again. The two played and this time, to Pushkara’s dismay, he lost.
Nala said. “Brother, now the entire kingdom and even your life are at my disposal. I can do anything that I want with you. But, I do not blame you for what was done to me in the past. I do not want to punish you for it. You may take half the kingdom that is due to you and go”. With those words Nala sent Pushkara away and ruled his land as an ideal king for long, long years. He lived happily in the company of Damayanti and the children.
The sage, Brihadasva, concluded telling the story of Nala to Yudhishthira with this happy note.