Thursday, February 22, 2007

Search for Damayanti

Bhima of Vidarbha was greatly worried hearing about the tragedy that sent his daughter and her husband into the forest. The king thought that the two must be suffering and roaming about in forests with no help in sight. The immediate task was, somehow, to trace them. So, he sent Brahmins in all directions with promise of generous rewards.

One of them was Sudeva, a friend of Damayanti’s brother. He reached the kingdom of Chedi and came upon the maid attending on the queen. The Brahmin found that her resemblance to Damayanti was particularly striking. She was as beautiful, but dressed modestly. Her looks were that of a woman in distress. After carefully weighing in various possibilities, the Brahmin decided to confront her directly.

He addressed her. “Daughter of king Bhima, I am Sudeva, your brother’s friend. I came looking for you as ordered by your father. Your parents, brother and children are all keeping well and are anxiously waiting for your return”.

Damayanti started weeping hearing those words. She, in turn, enquired about her children and all other relations.

Princess Sunanda thought it strange that her friend should be so much in tears after meeting a stranger. She reported the matter to her mother.

The queen came immediately where Damayanti was talking with the visiting Brahmin. She asked Sudeva whether he knew her earlier.

Back in Vidarbha

Sudeva told the queen all about Damayanti, her marriage to Nala and the tragedy which deprived the Nishadha king of his land. The queen was, no doubt, taken by surprise with the revelation. She was keeping a princess as her maid all along, though unwittingly. Besides, Damayanti was her direct niece, her mother being the queen’s sister. The queen embraced her niece with the new found relationship.

Damayanti then took leave of the queen and her friend, Sunanda. She accompanied the Brahmin and reached her father’s palace in due course. Every one in the palace was happy beyond words to receive her. They all shared her grief when Damayanti narrated how she suffered in various forests and how fortunate she was to escape to Chedi palace.

In search of Nala

Damayanti , then, told her parents that she did not want to live long without Nala. Hearing those words, her mother wept and kept quiet. The king issued fresh orders for the Brahmins to renew the search for Nala.

Damayanti, somehow, sensed that Nala might not identify himself to strangers. So, she left a message with the Brahmins addressed to Nala. “You disappeared with half the piece of cloth I was wearing. You left me behind, helpless, while I was asleep in deep forest. You know what is right and what is wrong. Is it not the duty of a husband to look after his wife? Remember, your wife and children are awaiting your return”. Damayanti asked the Brahmins to repeat those very words in all public places wherever they go.

Just a hint

After a few days, one of the Brahmins returned from Ayodhya and reported a strange encounter there. He repeated the same words in the court of Rituparna. Neither the king nor those who were assembled spoke anything in reply. But, when he came out the charioteer of Rituparna approached him privately. He did not at all fit the description of Nala. On the contrary, he looked positively ugly. But, he appeared to be deeply in sorrow. He said. “Is it not the duty of a chaste wife to bear all shortcomings of her husband? If her husband happened to leave her and go, because of some misfortune, she should not get angry on him”.

Damayanti was certain that the person who spoke those words was certainly Nala. How he managed to change his own identity was a puzzle. She was determined to bring him out of his hiding. There must be a clever device to entice him to come into the open. She took her mother into confidence in the matter. Damayanti requested her mother not to let even her father know of their plan.

A second marriage

Damayanti made a mental calculation that an expert like Nala, and only one like him, would reach the Vidarbha palace from Ayodhya in a day by chariot. With this in mind she made a plan. She asked Sudeva, her brother’s friend, to take an invitation personally to Rituparna. But, this was done in complete secrecy, even without telling her own mother. The message said that Damayanti wanted to marry again as her first husband was not to be traced anywhere. It would be a Swayamwara like before. Naturally, no other kings were invited.

Rituparna was excited hearing the good news. He had heard about the exceptional beauty of Damayanti. There might be other suitors. But, time was short. Many would find it hard to reach the Swayamwara with such a short notice. But, he had confidence in his charioteer, Bahuka. So, with high hopes he asked the charioteer to start immediately.

Bahuka’s mind was in turmoil hearing that his wife was going to marry again. He thought. “True, I cheated her. She must have left all hopes of finding me later. Yet, how could she do this to me?” Outwardly, Bahuka was pleased with the news and was ready to start immediately.
He went to the stable and chose four horses of the best breed and of the most agile. The king was greatly angered looking at the lean horses. There were many others which were healthier. But, Bahuka assured him that those horses would take him to his destination in time.

We shall learn about their journey in the next episode.

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