Part 3 out of 10
'Will that stead you?' asked Kapila; 'nay--
'Seek not the wild, sad heart! thy passions haunt it;
Play hermit in thine house with heart undaunted;
A governed heart, thinking no thought but good,
Makes crowded houses holy solitude.'
To be master of one's self--to eat only to prolong life--to yield to
love no more than may suffice to perpetuate a family--and never to speak
but in the cause of truth, this,' said Kapila, 'is armor against grief.
What wouldst thou with a hermit's life--prayer and purification from
sorrow and sin in holy streams? Hear this!--
'Away with those that preach to us the washing off of sin--
Thine own self is the stream for thee to make ablutions in:
In self-restraint it rises pure--flows clear in tide of truth,
By widening banks of wisdom, in waves of peace and ruth.
Bathe there, thou son of Pandu! with reverence and rite,
For never yet was water wet could wash the spirit white.'
Resign thyself to loss. Pain exists absolutely. Ease, what is it but a
'It is nothing else,' said Kaundinya: 'I will resign myself!'
Thereupon,' the Serpent continued, 'he cursed me with the curse that I
should be a carrier of frogs, and so retired--and here remain I to do
according to the Brahman's malediction.'
'The Frog, hearing all this, went and reported it to Web-foot the
Frog-King, who shortly came himself for an excursion on the Serpent. He
was carried delightfully, and constantly employed the conveyance. But
one day observing the Serpent to be sluggish, he asked the reason.
'May it please you,' explained the Serpent, 'your slave has nothing to
'Eat a few of my frogs,' said the King. 'I give you leave.'
'I thank your Majesty!' answered the Serpent, and forthwith he began to
eat the frogs, until the pond becoming clear, he finished with their
monarch himself. 'I also,' said Night-cloud, 'stooped to conquer, but
King Silver-sides is a good King, and I would your Majesty were at peace
'Peace!' cried King Jewel-plume, 'shall I make peace with my vassal! I
have vanquished him--let him serve me!'
"At this moment the Parrot came in. 'Sire!' said he, breathlessly,' the
Stork Strong-bill, Rajah of Ceylon, has raised the standard of revolt in
Jambudwipa, and claims the country.'
'What! what!' cried the King in a fury.
'Excellent good, Goose!' muttered the Minister. 'This is thy work!'
'Bid him but await me!' exclaimed the King, 'and I will tear him up like
'Ah, Sire,' said the Minister--
'Thunder for nothing, like December's cloud,
Passes unmarked: strike hard, but speak not loud.'
We cannot march without making peace first; our rear will be attacked.'
'Must it be so?' asked the King.
'My Liege, it must,' replied the Vulture.
'Make a peace then,' said the King, 'and make an end.'
'It is well,' observed the Minister, and set out for the Court of the
King Silver-sides. While he was yet coming, the Crane announced his
'Ah!' said the Swan-King, 'this will be another designing spy from the
'Misdoubt him not!' answered the Goose, smiling, 'it is the Vulture
Far-sight, a spirit beyond suspicion. Would your Majesty be as the Swan
that took the stars reflected in the pool for lily-buds, and being
deceived, would eat no lily-shoots by day, thinking them stars?'
'Not so! but treachery breeds mistrust,' replied the Rajah; is it not
'Minds deceived by evil natures, from the good their faith withhold;
When hot conjee once has burned them, children blow upon the cold.'
'It is so written, my Liege,' said the Minister. 'But this one may be
trusted. Let him be received with compliments and a gift.'
'Accordingly the Vulture was conducted, with the most profound respect,
from the fort to the King's audience-hall, where a throne was placed for
'Minister,' said the Goose, 'consider us and ours at thy disposal.'
'So consider us,' assented the Swan-King.
'I thank you,' said Far-sight; 'but--
'With a gift the miser meet;
Proud men by obeisance greet;
Women's silly fancies soothe;
Give wise men their due--the truth.'
'I am come to conclude a peace, not to claim your kingdom. By what mode
shall we conclude it?'
'How many modes be there?' asked King Silver-sides.
'Sixteen,' replied the Vulture.
'Are the alliances numbered therein?' asked the King.
'No! these be four,' answered the Vulture, 'namely--of mutual help--of
friendship--of blood--and of sacrifice.'
'You are a great diplomatist!' said the King. 'Advise us which to
'There is no Peace like the Golden "Sangata," which is made between good
men, based on friendly feeling, and preceded by the Oath of Truth,'
replied the Vulture.
'Let us make that Peace!' said the Goose. Far-sight accordingly, with
fresh presents of robes and jewels, accompanied the Goose to the camp of
the Peacock-King. The Rajah, Jewel-plume, gave the Goose a gracious
audience, accepted his terms of Peace, and sent him back to the
Swan-King, loaded with gifts and kind speeches. The revolt in Jambudwipa
was suppressed, and the Peacock-King retired to his own kingdom.
"And now," said Vishnu-Sarman, "I have told your Royal Highnesses all.
Is there anything remaining to be told?"
"Reverend Sir!" replied the Princes, "there is nothing. Thanks to you,
we have heard and comprehended the perfect cycle of kingly duty, and are
"There remains but this, then," said their Preceptor:--
'Peace and Plenty, all fair things,
Grace the realm where ye reign Kings;
Grief and loss come not anigh you,
Glory guide and magnify you;
Wisdom keep your statesmen still
Clinging fast, in good or ill,
Clinging, like a bride new-wed,
Unto lips, and breast, and head:
And day by day, that these fair things befall,
The Lady Lukshmi give her grace to all.'
 A young Brahman, being invested with the sacred thread, and having
concluded his studies, becomes of the second order: a householder.
NALA AND DAMAYANTI
[_Selected from the "Mahabharata" Translation by Sir Edwin Arnold_]
The "Mahabharata" is the oldest epic in Sanscrit literature, and is
sevenfold greater in bulk than the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" taken together.
This remarkable poem contains almost all the history of ancient India,
so far as it can be recovered, together with inexhaustible details of
its political, social, and religious life--in fact, the antique Hindoo
world stands epitomized in it. The Old Testament is not more interwoven
with the Jewish race, nor the New Testament with the civilization of
Christendom, nor even the Koran with the records and destinies of Islam,
than is this great Sanscrit poem with the unchanging and teeming
population of Hindostan. The stories, songs, and ballads, the
genealogies, the nursery tales and religious discourses, the art, the
learning, the philosophy, the creeds, the modes of thought, the very
phrases and daily ideas of the Hindoo people are taken from this poem.
Their children are named after its heroes; so are their cities, streets,
and even cattle. It is the spiritual life of the Hindoo people. It is
personified, worshipped, and cited as being something divine. To read,
or even to listen, is to the devout Hindoo sufficiently meritorious to
bring prosperity to the fireside in this world, and happiness in the
world to come.
The western world has as yet only received the "Mahabharata" in
fragments--mere specimens, bearing to those vast treasures of Sanscrit
literature such small proportion as cabinet samples of ore have to the
riches of a mine. Such knowledge as we have of the great Indian epics is
largely due to Sir William Jones, and the host of translators who
In its present shape the "Mahabharata" contains some two hundred
thousand verses. The style is forcible, often terse and nervous: the
action is well sustained, and the whole effect produced is that of a
poem written in commemoration of actual conflict between members of
rival clans who lived somewhere southeast of the Punjab. In portrayal of
character the Hindoo poem somewhat resembles its Grecian
counterpart--the "Iliad"; the noble devotion and chivalric character of
its chief hero, Arjuna, reminds us of Hector--and the wily, sinful
Duryodhana, is a second Ulysses. The "Mahabharata" was probably begun in
the third or fourth century B.C., and completed soon after the beginning
of the Christian era.
The "Bharata" war is a war between rival cousins of the house of
Bharata, a race of heroes mentioned in the Rig-veda collection.
Duryodhana deprives his cousin Yudhisthira of his throne by inducing him
to squander his fortune, kingdom, family, and self--and then banishes
Yudhisthira and the latter's four brothers for twelve years. The
gambling was conducted in an unfair manner, and the cousins feel that
their banishment was the result of treachery, although pretended to be
mercy in lieu of death. When the twelve years are over they collect
armies of sympathizers, and on the Sacred Plain of the Kurus (the Holy
Land of India) the great war is fought out. The good prevails,
Duryodhana is slain, and Yudhisthira recovers his kingdom. This story is
told so graphically that the "Mahabharata" still has the charm that
comes from plot and action, as well as that of poetic beauty.
A concluding passage of this great poem says: "The reading of this
'Mahabharata' destroys all sin and produces virtue, so much so that the
pronunciation of a single shloka is sufficient to wipe away much guilt.
It has bound human beings in a chain, of which one end is life and the
other death. If a man reads the 'Mahabharata' and has faith in its
doctrines, he is free from all sin and ascends to heaven after his
The present selection is the episode of Nala and Damayanti. It is one of
the most charming of the "Mahabharata" stories, and its Oriental flavor
and delicacy have been well preserved by the translator, Sir Edwin
NALA AND DAMAYANTI
A prince there was, named Nala, Virasen's noble breed,
Goodly to see, and virtuous; a tamer of the steed;
As Indra 'midst the gods, so he of kings was kingliest one,
Sovereign of men, and splendid as the golden, glittering sun;
Pure, knowing scripture, gallant; ruling nobly Nishadh's lands;
Dice-loving, but a proud, true chief of her embattled bands;
By lovely ladies lauded; free, trained in self-control;
A shield and bow; a Manu on earth; a royal soul!
And in Vidarbha's city the Raja Bhima dwelled;
Save offspring, from his perfect bliss no blessing was withheld;
For offspring, many a pious rite full patiently he wrought,
Till Damana the Brahman unto his house was brought.
Him Bhima, ever reverent, did courteously entreat,
Within the Queen's pavilion led him, to rest and eat;
Whereby that sage, grown grateful, gave her--for joy of joys--
A girl, the gem of girlhood, and three brave lusty boys--
Damana, Dama, Danta, their names:--Damayanti she;
No daughter more delightful, no sons could goodlier be.
Stately and bright and beautiful did Damayanti grow;
No land there was which did not the Slender-waisted know;
A hundred slaves her fair form decked with robe and ornament--
Like Sachi's self to serve her a hundred virgins bent;
And 'midst them Bhima's daughter, in peerless glory dight,
Gleamed as the lightning glitters against the murk of night;
Having the eyes of Lakshmi, long-lidded, black, and bright--
Nay--never Gods, nor Yakshas, nor mortal men among
Was one so rare and radiant e'er seen, or sued, or sung
As she, the heart-consuming, in heaven itself desired.
And Nala, too, of princes the Tiger-Prince, admired
Like Kama was; in beauty an embodied lord of love:
And ofttimes Nala praised they all other chiefs above
In Damayanti's hearing; and oftentimes to him,
With worship and with wonder, her beauty they would limn;
So that, unmet, unknowing, unseen, in each for each
A tender thought of longing grew up from seed of speech;
And love (thou son of Kunti!) those gentle hearts did reach.
Thus Nala--hardly bearing in his heart
Such longing--wandered in his palace-woods,
And marked some water-birds, with painted plumes,
Disporting. One, by stealthy steps, he seized;
But the sky-traveller spake to Nala this:--
"Kill me not, Prince, and I will serve thee well.
For I, in Damayanti's ear, will say
Such good of Nishadh's lord, that nevermore
Shall thought of man possess her, save of thee."
Thereat the Prince gladly gave liberty
To his soft prisoner, and all the swans
Flew, clanging, to Vidarbha--a bright flock--
Straight to Vidarbha, where the Princess walked;
And there, beneath her eyes, those winged ones
Lighted. She saw them sail to earth, and marked--
Sitting amid her maids--their graceful forms;
While those for wantonness 'gan chase the swans,
Which fluttered this and that way through the grove:
Each girl with tripping feet her bird pursued,
And Damayanti, laughing, followed hers;
Till--at the point to grasp--the flying prey
Deftly eluding touch, spake as men speak,
Addressing Bhima's daughter:--
Loveliest Damayanti! Nala dwells
In near Nishadha: oh, a noble Prince,
Not to be matched of men; an Aswin he,
For goodliness. Incomparable maid!
Wert thou but wife to that surpassing chief,
Rich would the fruit grow from such lordly birth,
Such peerless beauty. Slender-waisted one,
Gods, men, and Gandharvas have we beheld,
But never none among them like to him.
As thou art pearl of princesses, so he
Is crown of princes; happy would it fall,
One such perfection should another wed."
And when she heard that bird (O King of men!)
The Princess answered: "Go, dear swan, and tell
This same to Nala;" and the egg-born said,
"I go"--and flew; and told the Prince of all.
But Damayanti, having heard the bird,
Lived fancy-free no more; by Nala's side
Her soul dwelt, while she sat at home distraught,
Mournful and wan, sighing the hours away,
With eyes upcast, and passion-laden looks;
So that, eftsoons, her limbs failed, and her mind--
With love o'erweighted--found no rest in sleep,
No grace in company, no joy at feasts.
Nor night nor day brought peace; always she heaved
Sigh upon sigh, till all her maidens knew--
By glance and mien and moan--how changed she was,
Her own sweet self no more. Then to the King
They told how Damayanti loved the Prince.
Which thing when Bhima from her maidens heard,
Deep pondering for his child what should be done,
And why the Princess was beside herself,
That lord of lands perceived his daughter grown,
And knew that for her high Swayamvara
The time was come.
So, to the Rajas all
The King sent word: "Ye Lords of Earth, attend
Of Damayanti the Swayamvara."
And when these learned of her Swayamvara,
Obeying Bhima, to his court they thronged--
Elephants, horses, cars--over the land
In full files wending, bearing flags and wreaths
Of countless hues, with gallant companies
Of fighting men. And those high-hearted chiefs
The strong-armed King welcomed with worship fair,
As fitted each, and led them to their seats.
Now at that hour there passed towards Indra's heaven,
Thither from earth ascending, those twain saints--
The wise, the pure, the mighty-minded ones,
The self-restrained--Narad and Parvata.
The mansion of the Sovereign of the Gods
In honor entered they; and he, the Lord
Of Clouds, dread Indra, softly them salutes,
Inquiring of their weal, and of the world
Wherethrough their name was famous, how it fares.
Then Narad said: "Well is it, Lord of Gods,
With us, and with our world; and well with those
Who rule the peoples, O thou King in Heaven!"
But He that slew the Demons spake again:--
"The princes of the earth, just-minded, brave,
Those who, in battle fearing not to fall,
See death on the descending blade, and charge
Full front against it, turning not their face--
Theirs is this realm eternal, as to me
The cow of plenty, Kamadhuk, belongs.
Where be my Kshatriya warriors? Wherefore now
See I none coming of those slaughtered lords,
Chiefs of mankind, our always honored guests?"
And unto Indra Narad gave reply:--
"King of the Air! no wars are waged below;
None fall in fight, to enter here. The Lord
Of high Vidarbha hath a daughter, famed
For loveliness beyond all earthly maids,
The Princess Damayanti, far-renowned.
Of her, dread Sakra! the Swayamvara
Shall soon befall, and thither now repair
The kings and princes of all lands, to woo--
Each for himself--this pearl of womanhood.
For oh, thou Slayer of the Demons, all
Desire the maid."
Drew round, while Narad spake,
The Masters, th'Immortals, pressing in
With Agni and the Greatest, near the throne,
To listen to the speech of Narada;
Whom having heard, all cried delightedly,
"We, too, will go." Thereupon those high gods,
With chariots, and with heavenly retinues,
Sped to Vidarbha, where the kings were met.
And Nala, knowing of this kingly tryst,
Went thither joyous, heart-full with the thought
Thus it chanced the gods
Beheld the Prince wending along his road,
Goodly of mien, as is the Lord of Love.
The world's Protectors saw him, like a sun
For splendor; and, in very wonder, paused
Some time irresolute, so fair he was;
Then in mid-sky their golden chariots stayed,
And through the clouds descending called to him:--
"Abo! Nala of Nishadha! Noblest Prince,
Be herald for us; bear our message now."
"Yea!" Nala made reply, "this will I do"--
And then--palm unto palm in reverence pressed--
Asked: "Shining Ones, who are ye? Unto whom,
And what words bearing, will ye that I go?
Deign to instruct me what it is ye bid."
Thus the Prince spake, and Indra answered him:--
"Thou seest th'immortal gods. Indra am I,
And this is Agni, and the other here,
Varuna, Lord of Waters; and beyond,
Yama, the King of Death, who parteth souls
From mortal frames. To Damayanti go;
Tell our approach. Say this: 'The world's dread lords,
Wishful to see thee, come; desiring thee--
Indra, Varuna, Agni, Yama, all.
Choose of these powers to which thou wilt be given.'"
But Nala, hearing that, joined palms again,
And cried: "Ah, send me not, with one accord
For this, most mighty Gods! How should a man
Sue for another, being suitor too?
How bear such errand? Have compassion, Gods!"
Then spake they: "Yet thou saidst, 'This shall I do,'
Nishadha's Prince! and wilt thou do it not,
Forswearing faith? Nay, but depart, and soon!"
So bid, but lingering yet again, he said:--
"Well guarded are the gates; how shall I find
Speech with her?"
"Thou shalt find," Indra replied.
And, lo! upon that word Nala was brought
To Damayanti's chamber. There he saw
Vidarbha's glory, sitting 'mid her maids,
In majesty and grace surpassing all;
So exquisite, so delicate of form,
Waist so fine-turned, such limbs, such lighted eyes,
The moon hath meaner radiance than she.
Love at the sight of that soft smiling face
Sprang to full passion, while he stood and gazed.
Yet, faith and duty urging, he restrained
His beating heart; but when those beauteous maids
Spied Nala, from their cushions they uprose,
Startled to see a man, yet startled more
Because he showed so heavenly bright and fair.
In wondering pleasure each saluted him,
Uttering no sound, but murmuring to themselves:--
"Aho! the grace of him: aho! the brilliance;
Aho! what glorious strength lives in his limbs!
What is he? Is he God, Gandharva, Yaksha?"
But this unspoken, for they dared not breathe
One syllable, all standing shyly there
To see him, and to see his youth so sweet.
Yet, softly glancing back to his soft glance,
The Princess, presently, with fluttering breath,
Accosted Nala, saying: "Fairest Prince,
Who by thy faultless form hath filled my heart
With sudden joy, coming as come the gods,
Unstayed, I crave to know thee, who thou art;
How didst thou enter? how wert thou unseen?
Our palace is close-guarded, and the King
Hath issued mandates stern."
The Prince, replying to those tender words:--
"Most lovely! I am Nala. I am come
A herald of the gods unto thee here.
The gods desire thee, the immortal Four--
Indra, Varuna, Yama, Agni. Choose,
O Brightest! one from these to be thy lord.
By their help is it I have entered in
Unseen; none could behold me at thy gates,
Nor stay me, passing; and to speak their will
They sent me, fairest one and best. Do thou,
Knowing the message, judge as seemeth well."
She bowed her head, hearing the great gods named,
And then, divinely smiling, said to him:--
"Pledge thyself faithfully to me, and I
Will seek, O Raja, only how to pay
That debt with all I am, with all I have;
For I and mine are thine--in full trust thine.
Make me that promise, Prince. Thy gentle name--
Sung by the swan--first set my thoughts afire;
And for thy sake--only for thee--sweet Lord,
The kings were summoned hither. If, alas!
Fair Prince, thou dost reject my sudden love,
So proffered, then must poison, flame, or flood,
Or knitted cord, be my sad remedy."
So spake Vidarbha's Pride; and Nala said:--
"With gods so waiting--with the world's dread lords
Hastening to woo, canst thou desire a man?
Bethink! I, unto these, that make and mar,
These all-wise ones, almighty, am like dust
Under their feet: lift thy heart to the height
Of what I bring. If mortal man offend
The most high gods, death is what springs of it.
Spare me to live, thou faultless lady! Choose
Which of these excellent great gods thou wilt;
Wear the unstained robes! bear on thy brows
The wreaths which never fade, of heavenly blooms!
Be, as thou mayest, a goddess, and enjoy
Godlike delights! Him who enfolds the earth,
Creating and consuming, Brightest Power,
Hutasa, Eater of the Sacrifice,
What woman would not take? Or him whose rod
Herds all the generations forward still
On virtue's path, Red Yama, King of Death,
What woman would affront? Or him, the all-good,
All-wise destroyer of the Demons, first
In heaven, Mahendra--who of womankind
Is there that would not wed? Or, if thy mind
Incline, doubt not to choose Varuna; he
Is of these world-protectors. From a heart
Full friendly cometh what I tell thee now."
Unto Nishadha's Prince the maid replied--
Tears of distress dimming her lustrous eyes---
"Humbly I reverence these mighty gods;
But thee I choose, and thee I take for lord;
And this I vow!"
With folded palms she stood,
And trembling lips, while his faint answer fell:--
"Sent on such embassy, how shall I dare
Speak, sweetest Princess, for myself to thee?
Bound by my promise for the gods to sue,
How can I be a suitor for myself?
Silence is here my duty; afterwards,
If I shall come, in mine own name I'll come,
Mine own cause pleading. Ah, might that so be!"
Checking her tears, Damayanti sadly smiled,
And said full soft: "One way of hope I see,
A blameless way, O Lord of men! wherefrom
No fault shall rise, nor any danger fall.
Thou also, Prince, with Indra and these gods,
Must enter in where my Swayamvara
Is held; then I, in presence of those gods,
Will choose thee, dearest, for my lord; and so
Blame shall not light on thee,"
With which sweet words
Soft in his ears, Nishadha straight returned
There where the gods were gathered, waiting him;
Whom the world's masters, on his way, perceived,
And, spying, questioned, asking for his news:--
"Saw'st thou her, Prince? Didst see the sweet-lipped one?
What spake she of us? Tell us true; tell all!"
Quoth Nala: "By your worshipful behest
Sent to her house, the great gates entered I,
Though the gray porters watched; but none might spy
My entering, by your power, O radiant Ones,
Saving the Raja's daughter; her I saw
Amid her maidens, and by them was seen.
On me with much amazement they did gaze
Whilst I your high Divinities extolled.
But she that hath the lovely face, with mind
Set upon me, hath chosen me, ye Gods.
For thus she spake, my Princess: 'Let them come,
And come thou, like a lordly tiger, too,
Unto the place of my Swayamvara;
There will I choose thee in their presence, Prince,
To be my lord; and so there will not fall
Blame, thou strong-armed! to thee,' This she did say
Even as I tell it; and what shall be next,
To will is yours, O ye immortal Ones!"
Soon, when the moon was good, and day and hour
Were found propitious, Bhima, King of men,
Summoned the chiefs to the Swayamvara;
Upon which message all those eager lords
For love of Damayanti hastened there.
Glorious with gilded pillars was the court,
Whereto a gate-house opened, and thereby
Into the square, like lions from the hills,
Paced the proud guests; and there their seats they took,
Each in his rank, the masters of the lands,
With crowns of fragrant blossoms garlanded,
And polished jewels swinging in their ears.
Of some the thews, knitted and rough, stood forth
Like iron maces; some had slender limbs,
Sleek and fine-turned like the five-headed snake;
Lords with long-flowing hair; glittering lords;
High-nosed, and eagle-eyed, and heavy-browed;
The faces of those kings shone in a ring
As shine at night the stars; and that great square
As thronged with Rajas was as Naga-land
Is full of serpents; thick with warlike chiefs
As mountain-caves with panthers. Unto these
Entered, in matchless majesty of form,
The Princess Damayanti. As she came,
The glory of her ravished eyes and hearts,
So that the gaze of all those haughty kings,
Fastening upon her loveliness, grew fixed--
Not moving save with her--step after step
Onward and always following the maid.
But while the styles and dignities of all
Were cried aloud (O son of Bharat!), lo!
The Princess marked five of that throng alike
In form and garb and visage. There they stood,
Each from the next undifferenced, but each
Nala's own self;--yet which might Nala be
In nowise could that doubting maid descry.
Who took her eye seemed Nala while she gazed,
Until she looked upon his like; and so
Pondered the lovely lady, sore-perplexed,
Thinking, "How shall I tell which be the gods,
And which is noble Nala?" Deep-distressed
And meditative waxed she, musing hard
What those signs were, delivered us of old,
Whereby gods may be known: "Of all those signs
Taught by our elders, lo! I see not one
Where stand yon five." So murmured she, and turned
Over and over every mark she knew.
At last, resolved to make the gods themselves
Her help at need, with reverent air and voice
Humbly saluted she those heavenly ones,
And with joined palms and trembling accents spake:--
"As, when I heard the swans, I chose my Prince,
By that sincerity I call ye, Gods,
To show my Love to me and make me know!
As in my heart and soul and speech I stand
True to my choice, by that sincerity
I call the all-knowing gods to make me know!
As the high gods created Nishadha's chief
To be my lord, by their sincerity
I bid them show themselves, and make me know!
As my vow, sealed to him, must be maintained
For his name, and for mine, I call the gods
By such sincerity to make me know!
Let them appear, the masters of the world--
The high gods--each one in his proper shape,
That I may see Nishadha's chief, my choice,
Whom minstrels praise, and Damayanti loves."
Hearing that earnest speech--so passion-fraught,
So full of truth, of strong resolve, of love,
Of singleness of soul and constancy--
Even as she spake, the gods disclosed themselves.
By well-seen signs the effulgent Ones she knew.
Shadowless stood they, with unwinking eyes,
And skins which never moist with sweat; their feet
Light-gliding o'er the ground, not touching it;
The unfading blossoms on their brows not soiled
By earthly dust, but ever fair and fresh.
Whilst, by their side, garbed so and visaged so,
But doubled by his shadow, stained with dust,
The flower-cups wiltering in his wreath, his skin
Pearly with sweat, his feet upon the earth,
And eyes a-wink, stood Nala. One by one
Glanced she on those divinities, then bent
Her gaze upon the Prince, and, joyous, said:--
"I know thee, and I name my rightful lord,
Taking Nishadha's chief." Therewith she drew
Modestly nigh, and held him by the cloth,
With large eyes beaming love, and round his neck
Hung the bright chaplet, love's delicious crown;
So choosing him--him only--whom she named
Before the face of all to be her lord.
Oh, then brake forth from all those suitors proud,
"Ha!" and "Aho!" But from the gods and saints,
"Sadhu! well done! well done!" And all admired
The happy Prince, praising the grace of him;
While Virasena's son, delightedly,
Spake to the slender-waisted these fond words:--
"Fair Princess! since, before all gods and men,
Thou makest me thy choice, right glad am I
Of this thy mind, and true lord will I be.
For so long, loveliest, as my breath endures,
Thine am I! Thus I plight my troth to thee."
So, with joined palms, unto that beauteous maid
His gentle faith he pledged, rejoicing her;
And, hand in hand, radiant with mutual love,
Before great Agni and the gods they passed,
The world's protectors worshipping.
The lords of life, the powerful Ones, bestowed--
Being well-pleased--on Nala, chosen so,
Eight noble boons. The boon which Indra gave
Was grace, at times of sacrifice, to see
The visible god approach, with step divine;
And Agni's boon was this, that he would come
Whenever Nala called--for everywhere
Hutasa shineth, and all worlds are his;
Yama gave skill in cookery, steadfastness
In virtue; and Varuna, King of Floods,
Bade all the waters ripple at his call.
These boons the high gods doubled by the gift
Of bright wreaths wove with magic blooms of heaven;
And those bestowed, ascended to their seats.
Also with wonder and with joy returned
The Rajas and the Maharajas all,
Full of the marriage-feast; for Bhima made,
In pride and pleasure, stately nuptials;
So Damayanti and the Prince were wed.
Then, having tarried as is wont, that lord--
Nishadha's chief--took the King's leave, and went
Unto his city, bringing home with him
His jewel of all womanhood, with whom
Blissful he lived, as lives by Sachi's side
The slayer of the Demons. Like a sun
Shone Nala on his throne, ruling his folk
In strength and virtue, guardian of his state.
Also the Aswamedha Rite he made
Greatest of rites, the Offering of the Horse,
As did Yayati; and all other acts
Of worship; and to sages gave rich gifts.
Many dear days of much delicious love,
In pleasant gardens and in shadowy groves,
Passed they together, sojourning like gods.
And Damayanti bore unto her lord
A boy named Indrasen, and next, a girl
Named Indrasena. So in happiness
The good Prince governed, seeing all his lands
Wealthy and well, in piety and peace.
Now at the choosing of Nishadha's chief
By Bhima's daughter, when those lords of life--
The effulgent gods--departed, Dwapara
They saw with Kali, coming. Indra said--
The Demon-slayer--spying these approach:--
"Whither, with Dwapara, goest thou to-day,
O Kali?" And the sombre Shade replied:--
"To Damayanti's high Swayamvara
I go, to make her mine, since she hath passed
Into my heart." But Indra, laughing, said:--
"Ended is that Swayamvara; for she
Hath taken Raja Nala for her lord,
Before us all," But Kali, hearing this,
Breaks into wrath--while he stood worshipping
That band divine--and furiously cries:--
"If she hath set a man above the gods,
To wed with him, for such sin let there fall
Doom, rightful, swift, and terrible, on her!"
"Nay," answered unto him those heavenly ones,
"But Damayanti chose with our good-will;
And what maid but would choose so fair a prince,
Seeing he hath all qualities, and knows
Virtue, and rightly practises the vows,
And reads the four great Vedas, and, what's next,
The Holy Stories, whilst, perpetually,
The gods are honored in his house with gifts?
No hurt he does, kind to all living things;
True of word is he, faithful, liberal, just;
Steadfast and patient, temperate and pure;
A king of men is Nala, like the gods.
He that would curse a prince of such a mould,
Thou foolish Kali, lays upon himself
A sin to crush himself; the curse comes back
And sinks him in the bottomless vast gulf
Thus the gods to Kali spake,
And mounted heavenward; whereupon that Shade,
Frowning, to Dwapara burst forth: "My rage
Beareth no curb. Henceforth in Nala I
Will dwell; his kingdom I will make to fall;
His bliss with Damayanti I will mar;
And thou within the dice shalt enter straight,
And help me, Dwapara! to drag him down,"
Into which compact entering, those repaired--
Kali and Dwapara--to Nala's house,
And haunted in Nishadha, where he ruled,
Seeking occasion 'gainst the blameless Prince.
Long watched they; twelve years rolled ere Kali saw
The fateful fault arrive; Nishadha's Lord,
Easing himself, and sprinkling hands and lips
With purifying water, passed to prayer,
His feet unwashed, offending. Kali straight
Possessed the heedless Raja, entering him.
That hour there sat with Nala, Pushkara
His brother; and the evil spirit hissed
Into the ear of Pushkara: "Ehi!
Arise, and challenge Nala at the dice.
Throw with the Prince! it may be thou shalt win
(Luck helping thee, and I) Nishadha's throne,
Town, treasures, palace--thou mayest gain them all."
And Pushkara, hearing Kali's evil voice,
Made near to Nala, with the dice in hand
(A great piece for the "Bull," and little ones
For "Cows," and Kali hiding in the Bull).
So Pushkara came to Nala's side and said:--
"Play with me, brother, at the 'Cows and Bull';"
And, being put off, cried mockingly, "Nay, play!"
Shaming the Prince, whose spirit chafed to leave
A gage unfaced; but when Vidarbha's gem,
The Princess, heard that challenge, Nala rose:
"Yea, Pushkara, I will play!" fiercely he said;
And to the game addressed.
His gems he lost,
Armlets and belt and necklet; next the gold
Of the palace and its vessels; then the cars
Yoked with swift steeds; and last, the royal robes:
For, cast by cast, the dice against him fell,
Bewitched by Kali; and, cast after cast,
The passion of the dice kept hold on him,
Until not one of all his faithfullest
Could stay the madman's hand and gamester's heart
Of who was named "Subduer of his Foes."
The townsmen gathered with the ministers:
Into that palace gate they thronged (my King!)
To see their lord, if so they might abate
This sickness of his soul. The charioteer,
Forth standing from their midst, low worshipping,
Spake thus to Damayanti: "Great Princess,
Before thy door all the grieved city sits.
Say to our lord for us, 'Thy folk are here;
They mourn that evil fortunes hold their liege,
Who was so high and just,'" Then she, deject,
Passed in, and to Nishadha's ruler said,
Her soft voice broken, and her bright eyes dimmed:--
"Raja, the people of thy town are here;
Before our gates they gather, citizens
And counsellors, desiring speech with thee;
In lealty they come. Wilt thou be pleased
We open to them? Wilt thou?" So she asked
Again and yet again; but not one word
To that sad lady with the lovely brows
Did Nala answer, wholly swallowed up
Of Kali and the gaming; so that those--
The citizens and counsellors--cried out,
"Our lord is changed! He is not Nala now!"
And home returned, ashamed and sorrowful;
Whilst ceaselessly endured that foolish play
Moon after moon--the Prince the loser still.
Then Damayanti, seeing so estranged
Her lord, the praised in song, the chief of men,
Watching, all self-possessed, his fantasy,
And how the gaming held him; sad, and 'feared,
The heavy fortunes pondering of her Prince;
Hating the fault, but to the offender kind;
And fearing Nala should be stripped of all,
This thing devised: Vrihatsena she called--
Her foster-nurse and faithful ministrant--
True, skilful at all service, soft of speech,
Kind-hearted; and she said, "Vrihatsena,
Go call the ministers to council now,
As though 'twere Nala bade; and make them count
What store is gone of treasure, what abides."
So went Vrihatsena, and summoned those;
And when they knew all things, as from the Prince,
"Truly we, too, shall perish!" cried they then;
And all to Nala went, and all the town,
A second time assembling, thronged his gates:--
Which Bhima's daughter told; but not one word
Answered the Prince. And when she saw her lord
Put by her plea, utterly slighting it,
Back to her chamber, full of shame, she goes,
And there still hears the dice are falling ill;
Still hears of Nala daily losing more;
So that again unto her nurse she spake:--
"Send to Varshneya, good Vrihatsena;
Say to the charioteer--in Nala's name--
'A great thing is to do. Come thou!'" And this--
So soon as Damayanti uttered it--
Vrihatsena, by faithful servants, told
Unto the son of Vrishni, who, being come
In fitting time and place, heard the sweet Queen
In mournful music speak these wistful words:--
"Thou knowest how thy Raja trusted thee;
Now he hath fall'n on evil; succor him!
The more that Pushkara conquers in the play,
The wilder rage of gaming takes thy lord--
The more for Pushkara the dice light well,
More contrary they happen to the Prince:
Nor heeds he, as were meet, kindred or friends;
Nay, of myself he putteth by the prayer
Unanswered, being bewitched; for well I deem
This is not noble-minded Nala's sin,
But some ill spell possesseth him to shut
His ears to me. Thou, therefore, charioteer!
Our refuge be; do what I shall command;
My heart is dark with fear. Yea, it may fall
Our lord will perish. Wherefore, harnessing
His chosen steeds, which fly as swift as thought.
Take these our children in the chariot
And drive to Kundina, delivering there
Unto my kin the little ones, and car,
And horses. Afterwards abide thou there,
Or otherwhere depart."
The words of Damayanti, and forthwith
In Nala's council-hall recounted them,
The chief men being present; who, thus met,
And long debating, gave him leave to go.
So with that royal pair to Bhima's town
Drove he, and at Vidarbha rendered up,
Together with the swift steeds and the car,
That sweet maid Indrasena, and the Prince
Indrasen, and made reverence to the King,
Saddened for sake of Nala. Afterwards
Taking his leave, unto Ayodhya
Varshneya went, exceeding sorrowful,
And with King Rituparna (O my Prince!)
Took service as a charioteer.
The praised-of-poets, Nala, still played on,
Till Pushkara his kingdom's wealth had won,
And whatso was to lose beside. Thereat
With scornful laugh mocked he that beggared Prince,
Saying, "One other throw; once more!--Yet sooth,
What canst thou stake? Nothing is left for thee
Save Damayanti; all the rest is mine.
Play we for Damayanti, if thou wilt."
But hearing this from Pushkara, the Prince
So in his heart by grief and shame was torn,
No word he uttered--only glared in wrath
Upon his mocker, upon Pushkara.
Then, his rich robes and jewels stripping off,
Uncovered, with one cloth, 'mid waiting friends
Sorrowful passed he forth, his great state gone;
The Princess, with one garment, following him,
Piteous to see. And there without the gates
Three nights they lay--Nashadha's King and Queen.
Upon the fourth day Pushkara proclaimed,
Throughout the city, "Whoso yieldeth help
To Nala, dieth! Let my will be known!"
So, for this bitter word of Pushkara's power
(O Yudhisthir!) the townsmen rendered not
Service nor love, but left them outcast there,
Unhelped, whom all the city should have helped.
Yet three nights longer tarried he, his drink
The common pool, his meat such fruits and roots
As miserable hunger plucks from earth:
Then fled they from those walls, the Prince going first,
The Princess following.
After grievous days,
Pinched ever with sharp famine, Nala saw
A flock of gold-winged birds lighting anigh,
And to himself the famished Raja said:--
"Lo! here is food; this day we shall have store;"
Then lightly cast his cloth and covered them.
But these, fluttering aloft, bore with them there
Nala's one cloth; and, hovering overhead,
Uttered sharp-stinging words, reviling him
Even as he stood, naked to all the airs,
Downcast and desperate: "Thou brain-sick Prince!
We are the dice; we come to ravish hence
Thy last poor cloth; we were not well content
Thou shouldst depart owning a garment still."
And when he saw the dice take wings and fly,
Leaving him bare, to Damayanti spake
This melancholy Prince: "O Blameless One,
They by whose malice I am driven forth,
Finding no sustenance, sad, famine-gaunt--
They whose decree forbade Nishadha's folk
Should succor me, their Raja--these have come--
Demon and dice--and like to winged birds
Have borne away my cloth. To such shame fall'n,
Such utmost woe, wretched, demented--I
Thy lord am still, and counsel thee for good.
Attend! Hence be there many roads which go
Southwards: some pass Avanti's walls, and some
Skirt Rikshavan, the forest of the bears;
This wends to Vindhya's lofty peaks, and this
To the green banks where quick Payoshni runs
Seaward, between her hermitages, rich
In fruits and roots; and yon path leadeth thee
Unto Vidarbha; that to Kosala,
And therefrom southward--southward--far away."
So spake he to the Princess wistfully,
Between his words pointing along the paths,
Which she should take (O King!). But Bhima's child
Made answer, bowed with grief, her soft voice choked
With sobs, these piteous accents uttering:--
"My heart beats quick; my body's force is gone,
Thinking, dear Prince, on this which thou hast said,
Pointing along the paths. What! robbed of realm,
Stripped of thy wealth, bare, famished, parched with thirst,
Thus shall I leave thee in the untrodden wood?
Ah, no! While thou dost muse on dear days fled,
Hungry and weeping, I in this wild waste
Will charm thy griefs away, solacing thee.
The wisest doctors say, 'In every woe
No better physic is than wifely love,'
And, Nala, I will make it true to thee."
"Thou mak'st it true," he said; "thou sayest well,
Sweet Damayanti; neither is there friend
To sad men given better than a wife.
I had not thought to leave thee, foolish Love!
Why didst thou fear? Alas, 't is from myself
That I would fly--not thee, thou Faultless One!"
"Yet, if," the Princess answered, "Maharaja!
Thou hadst no thought to leave me, why by thee
Was the way pointed to Vidarbha's walls?
I know thou wouldst not quit me, noblest Lord,
Being thyself, but only if thy mind
Were sore distraught; and see, thou gazest still
Along the southward road, my dread thereby
Increasing, thou that wert as are the gods!
If it be thy fixed thought, 'Twere best she went
Unto her people'--be it so; I go;
But hand in hand with thee. Thus let us fare
Unto Vidarbha, where the King, my sire,
Will greet thee well, and honor thee; and we
Happy and safe within his gates shall dwell."
"As is thy father's kingdom," Nala said,
"So, once, was mine. Be sure, whatever betide,
Never will I go thither! How, in sooth,
Should I, who came there glorious, gladdening thee,
Creep back, thy shame and scorn, disconsolate?"
So to sweet Damayanti spake the Prince,
Beguiling her, whom now one cloth scarce clad--
For but one garb they shared; and thus they strayed
Hither and thither, faint for meat and drink,
Until a little hut they spied; and there,
Nishadha's monarch, entering, sat him down
On the bare ground, the Princess by his side--
Vidarbha's glory, wearing that scant cloth,
Without a mat, soiled by the dust and mire.
At Damayanti's side he sank asleep,
Outworn; and beauteous Damayanti slept,
Spent with strange trials--- she so gently reared,
So soft and holy. But while slumbering thus,
No peaceful rest knew Nala. Trouble-tossed
He woke, forever thinking of his realm
Lost, lieges estranged, and all the griefs
Of that wild wood. These on his heart came back,
And, "What if I shall do it? What, again,
If I shall do it not?" So murmured he.
"Would death be better, or to leave my Love?
For my sake she endures this woe, my fate
Too fondly sharing; freed from me, her steps
Would turn unto her people. At my side,
Sure suffering is her portion; but apart,
It might be she would somewhere comfort find."
Thus with himself debating o'er and o'er,
The Prince resolves abandonment were best.
"For how," saith he, "should any in the wood
Harm her, so radiant in her grace, so good,
So noble, virtuous, faithful, famous, pure?"
Thus mused his miserable mind, seduced
By Kali's cursed mischiefs to betray
His sleeping wife. Then, seeing his loin-cloth gone,
And Damayanti clad, he drew anigh,
Thinking to take of hers, and muttering,
"May I not rend one fold, and she not know?"
So meditating, round the cabin crept
Prince Nala, feeling up and down its walls;
And, presently, within the purlieus found
A naked knife, keen-tempered; therewithal
Shred he away a piece, and bound it on;
Then made with desperate steps to seek the waste,
Leaving the Princess sleeping; but, anon,
Turns back again in changeful mood and glides
Into the hut, and, gazing wistfully
On slumbering Damayanti, moans with tears:--
"Ah, Sweetheart! whom nor wind nor sun before
Hath ever rudely touched; thou to be couched
In this poor hut, its floor thy bed, and I,
Thy lord, deserting thee, stealing from thee
Thy last robe! O my Love with the bright smile,
My slender-waisted Queen! Will she not wake
To madness? Yea, and when she wanders lone
In the dark wood, haunted with beasts and snakes,
How will it fare with Bhima's tender child,
The bright and peerless? O my life, my wife!
May the great sun, may the Eight Powers of air,
The Rudras, Maruts, and the Aswins twain,
Guard thee, thou true and dear one, on thy way!"
So to his sleeping Queen--on all the earth
Unmatched for beauty--spake he piteously;
Then breaks away once more, by Kali driven.
But yet another and another time
Stole back into the hut, for one last gaze--
That way by Kali dragged, this way by love.
Two hearts he had--the trouble-stricken Prince--
One beating "Go," one throbbing "Stay"; and thus
Backwards and forwards swung his mind between,
Till, mastered by the sorrow and the spell,
Frantic flies Nala, leaving there alone
That tender-sleeper, sighing as she slept.
He flies--the soulless prey of Kali flies;
Still, while he hurries through the forest drear,
Thinking upon that sweet face he hath left.
Far distant (King!) was Nala, when, refreshed,
The slender-waisted wakened, shuddering
At the wood's silence; but when, seeking him,
She found no Nala, sudden anguish seized
Her frightened heart, and, lifting high her voice,
Loud cries she: "Maharaja! Nishadha's Prince!
Ha, Lord! ha, Maharaja! ha, Master! why
Hast thou abandoned me? Now am I lost,
Am doomed, undone, left in this lonesome gloom.
Wert thou not named, O Nala, true and just?
Yet art thou such, to quit me while I slept?
And hast thou so forsaken me, thy wife--
Thine own fond wife--who never wrought thee wrong
When by all others wrong was wrought on thee?
Mak'st thou it good to me, now, Lord of men,
That love which long ago before the gods
Thou didst proclaim? Alas! Death will not come,
Except at his appointed time to men,
And therefore for a little I shall live,
Whom thou hast lived to leave. Nay, 't is a jest!
Ah, Truant, Runaway, enough thou play'st!
Come forth, my Lord!--I am afraid! Come forth!
Linger not, for I see--I spy thee there;
Thou art within yon thicket! Why not speak
One word, Nishadha? Nala, cruel Prince!
Thou know'st me, lone, and comest not to calm
My terrors, and be with me in my need.
Art gone indeed? Then I'll not mourn myself,
For whatso may befall me; I must think
How desolate thou art, and weep for thee.
What wilt thou do, thirsty and hungry, spent
With wandering, when, at nightfall, 'mid the trees
Thou hast me not, sweet Prince, to comfort thee?"
Thereat, distracted by her bitter fears,
Like one whose heart is fire, forward and back
She runs, hither and thither, weeping, wild.
One while she sinks to earth, one while she springs
Quick to her feet; now utterly overcome
By fear and fasting, now by grief driven mad,
Wailing and sobbing; till anon, with moans
And broken sighs and tears, Bhima's fair child,
The ever-faithful wife, speaks thus again:--
"By whomsoever's spell this harm hath fall'n
On Nishadha's Lord, I pray that evil one
May bear a bitterer plague than Nala doth!
To him, whoever set my guileless Prince
On these ill deeds, I pray some direr might
May bring far darker days, and life to live
More miserable still!"
Mourned that great-hearted wife her vanished lord,
Seeking him ever in the gloomy shades,
By wild beasts haunted. Roaming everywhere,
Like one possessed, frantic, disconsolate,
Went Bhima's daughter. "Ha, ha! Maharaja!"
So crying runs she, so in every place
Is heard her ceaseless wail, as when is heard
The fish-hawk's cry, which screams, and circling screams,
And will not stint complaining.
Straying too near his den, a serpent's coils
Seized Bhima's daughter. A prodigious snake,
Glittering and strong, and furious for food,
Knitted about the Princess. She, o'erwhelmed
With horror, and the cold enfolding death,
Spends her last breaths in pitiful laments
For Nala, not herself. "Ah, Prince!" she cried,
"That would have saved me, who must perish now,
Seized in the lone wood by this hideous snake,
Why art thou not beside me? What will be
Thy thought, Nishadha! me remembering
In days to come, when, from the curse set free,
Thou hast thy noble mind again, thyself,
Thy wealth--all save thy wife? Then thou'lt be sad,
Be weary, wilt need food and drink; but I
Shall minister no longer. Who will tend
My Love, my Lord, my Lion among kings,
My blameless Nala--Damayanti dead?"
That hour a hunter, roving through the brake,
Heard her bewailing, and with quickened steps
Made nigh, and, spying a woman, almond-eyed,
Lovely, forlorn, by that fell monster knit,
He ran, and, as he came, with keen shaft clove,
Through gaping mouth and crown, th'unwitting worm,
Slaying it. Then the woodman from its folds
Freed her, and laved the snake's slime from her limbs
With water of the pool, comforting her
And giving food; and afterwards (my King!)
Inquiry made: "What doest, in this wood,
Thou with the fawn's eyes? And how earnest thou,
My mistress, to such pit of misery?"
And Damayanti, spoken fair by him,
Recounted all which had befallen her.
But, gazing on her graces, scantly clad
With half a cloth, those smooth, full sides, those breasts
Beauteously swelling, form of faultless mould,
Sweet youthful face, fair as the moon at full,
And dark orbs, by long curving lashes swept;
Hearing her tender sighs and honeyed speech,
The hunter fell to hot desire; he dared
Essay to woo, with whispered words at first,
And next by amorous approach, the Queen;
Who, presently perceiving what he would,
And all that baseness of him--being so pure,
So chaste, and faithful--like a blazing torch
Took fire of scorn and anger 'gainst the man,
Her true soul burning at him, till the wretch,
Wicked in heart, but impotent of will,
Glared on her, splendidly invincible
In weakness, loftily defying wrong,
A living flame of lighted chastity.
She then--albeit so desolate, so lone,
Abandoned by her lord, stripped of her state--
Like a proud princess stormed, flinging away
All terms of supplication, cursing him
With wrath which scorched: "If I am clean in heart
And true in thought unto Nishadha's King,
Then mayest thou, vile pursuer of the beasts,
Sink to the earth, stone dead!"
While she did speak,
The hunter breathless fell to earth, stone dead,
As falls a tree-trunk blasted by the bolt.
That ravisher destroyed, the lotus-eyed
Fared forward, threading still the fearful wood,
Lonely and dim, with trill of jhillikas
Resounding, and fierce noise of many beasts
Laired in its shade, lions and leopards, deer,
Close-hiding tigers, sullen bisons, wolves,
And shaggy bears. Also the glades of it
Were filled with fowl which crept, or flew, and cried.
A home for savage men and murderers,
Thick with a world of trees, whereof was sal,
Sharp-seeded, weeping gum; knotted bambus,
Dhavas with twisted roots; smooth aswatthas,
Large-leaved, and creeping through the cloven rocks;
Tindukas, iron-fibred, dark of grain;
Ingudas, yielding oil; and kinsukas,
With scarlet flowerets flaming. Thronging these
Were arjuns and arishta-clumps, which bear
The scented purple clusters; syandans,
And tall silk-cotton trees, and mango-belts
With silvery spears; and wild rose-apple, blent
'Mid lodhra-tufts and khadirs, interknit
By clinging rattans, climbing everywhere
From stem to stem. Therewith were intermixed--
Round pools where rocked the lotus--amalaks,
Plakshas with fluted leaves, kadambas sweet,
Udumbaras; and, on the jungle-edge,
Tangles of reed and jujube, whence there rose
Bel-trees and nyagrodhas, dropping roots
Down from the air; broad-leaved priyalas, palms
And date-trees, and the gold myrobalan,
With copper-leaved vibhitikas. All these
Crowded the wood; and many a crag it held,
With precious ore of metals interveined;
And many a creeper-covered cave wherein
The spoken word rolled round; and many a cleft
Where the thick stems were like a wall to see;
And many a winding stream and reedy jheel,
And glassy lakelet, where the woodland beasts
In free peace gathered.
Wandering onward thus,
The Princess saw far-gliding forms of dread--
Pisachas, Rakshasas, ill sprites and fiends
Which haunt, with swinging snakes, the undergrowth.
Dark pools she saw, and drinking-holes, and peaks
Wherefrom break down in tumbling cataracts
The wild white waters, marvellous to hear.
Also she passed--this daughter of a king--
Where snorted the fierce buffaloes, and where
The gray boars rooted for their food, and where
The black bears growled, and serpents in the grass
Rustled and hissed. But all along that way
Safe paced she in her majesty of grace,
High fortune, courage, constancy, and right--
Vidarbha's glory--seeking, all alone,
Lost Nala; and less terror at these sights
Came to sad Damayanti for herself--
Threading this dreadful forest--than for him.
Most was her mind on Nala's fate intent.
Bitterly grieving stood the sweet Princess
Upon a rock, her tender limbs a-thrill
With heavy fears for Nala while she spake:--
"Broad-chested Chief! my long-armed Lord of men!
Nishadha's King! Ah! whither art thou gone.
Leaving me thus in the unpeopled wood?
The Aswamedha sacrifice thou mad'st,
And all the rites and royal gifts hast given,
A lion-hearted Prince, holy and true
To all save me! That which thou didst declare,
Hand in hand with me--once so fond and kind--
Recall it now--thy sacred word, thy vow,
Whithersoever, Raja, thou art fled.
Think how the message of the gold-winged swans
Was spoken, by thine own lips, then to me!
True men keep faith; this is the teaching taught
In Vedas, Angas, and Upangas all,
Hear which we may; wilt thou not, therefore, Prince--
Wilt thou not, terror of thy foes, keep faith,
Making thy promise good to cleave to me?
Ha, Nala, Lord! Am I not surely still
Thy chosen, thy beloved? Answerest not
Thy wife in this dark, horror-haunted shade?
The tyrant of the jungle, fierce and fell,
With jaws agape to take me, crouches nigh,
And thou not here to rescue me--not thou,
Who saidst none other in the world was dear
But Damayanti! Prove the fond speech true,
Uttered so often! Why repliest not
To me, thy well-beloved; me, distraught,
Longed for and longing; me, my Prince and pride,
That am so weary, weak, and miserable,
Stained with the mire, in this torn cloth half clad,
Alone and weeping, seeing no help near?
Ah, stag of all the herd! leav'st thou thy hind
Astray, regarding not these tears which roll?
My Nala, Maharaja! It is I
Who cry, thy Damayanti, true and pure,
Lost in the wood, and still thou answerest not!
High-born, high-hearted, full of grace and strength
In all thy limbs, shall I not find thee soon
On yonder hill? Shall I not see, at last,
In some track of this grim, beast-peopled wood,
Standing, or seated, or upon the leaves
Lying, or coming, him who is of men
The glory, but for me the grief-maker?
If not, whom shall I question, woe-begone,
Saying, 'In any region of this wood
Hast thou, perchance, seen Nala?' Is there none,
In all the forest, would reply to me
With tidings of my lord, wandered away,
Kingly in mind and form, of hosts of foes
The conqueror? Who will say, with blessed voice,
'That Raja with the lotus-eyes is near,
Whom thou dost seek'?--Nay, here comes one to ask,
The yellow forest-king, his great jaws armed
With fourfold fangs. A tiger standeth now
Face to face on my path; I'll speak with him
Fearlessly: 'Dreadful chief of all this waste,
Thou art the sovereign of the beasts, and I
Am daughter of Vidarbha's King; my name,
The Princess Damayanti; know thou me,
Wife of Nishadha's Lord--of Nala--styled
"Subduer of his Foes"? Him seek I here--
Abandoned, sorrow-stricken, miserable.
Comfort me, mighty beast, if so thou canst,
Saying thou hast seen Nala; but if this
Thou canst not do, then, ah, thou savage lord,
Terrible friend, devour me, setting me
Free from all woes!' The tiger answereth not;
He turns, and quits me in my tears, to stalk
Down where the river glitters through the reeds,
Seeking its seaward way. Then will I pray
Unto yon sacred mount of clustered crags,
Broad-shouldered, shining, lifting high to heaven
Its diverse-colored peaks, where the mind climbs
Its hid heart rich with silver veins, and gold,
And stored with many a precious gem unseen.
Clear towers it o'er the forest, broad and bright
Like a green banner; and the sides of it
House many a living thing--lions and boars,
Tigers and elephants, and bears and deer.
Softly around me from its feathered flocks
The songs ring, perched upon the kinsuk trees,
The asokas, vakuls, and punnaga boughs,
Or hidden in the karnikara leaves,
And tendrils of the dhava or the fig;
Full of great glens it soars, where waters leap
And bright birds lave. This king of hills I sue
For tidings of my lord. O Mountain Lord,
Far-seen and celebrated hill! that cleav'st
The blue of the sky, refuge of living things,
Most noble eminence, I worship thee;
Thee I salute, who am a monarch's child,
The daughter and the consort of a prince,
The high-born Damayanti, unto whom
Bhima, Vidarbha's chief--that puissant lord--
Was sire, renowned o'er earth. Protector he
Of the four castes, performer of the rites
Called Rajasuya and the Aswamedha--
A bounteous giver, first of rulers, known
For his large shining eyes; holy and just,
Fast to his word, unenvious, sweet of speech,
Gentle and valiant, dutiful and pure;
The guardian of Vidarbha, of his foes
The slayer. Know me, O Majestic Mount!
For that King's daughter, bending low to thee.
In Nishadha lived the father of my lord,
The Maharaja Virasena named,
Wealthy and great; whose son, of regal blood,
High-fortuned, powerful, and noble-souled,
Ruleth by right the realm paternal: he
Is Nala, terror of all enemies;
Dark Nala, praised-in-song; Nala the just,
The pure; deep-seen in scriptures, sweet of speech,
Drinker of Soma-juice, and worshipper
Of Agni; sacrificing, giving gifts;
First in the wars, a perfect, princely lord.
His wife am I, Great Mountain! and come here
Fortuneless, husbandless, and spiritless,
Everywhere seeking him, my best of men.
O Mount, whose doubled ridge stamps on the sky
Yon line, by fivescore splendid pinnacles
Indented! tell me, in this gloomy wood
Hast thou seen Nala? Nala, wise and bold,
Like a tusked elephant for might; long armed,
Indomitable, gallant, glorious, true;
Nala, Nishadha's chief--hast thou seen him?
O Mountain, why consolest thou me not,
Answering one word to sorrowful, distressed,
Lonely, lost Damayanti?"
Then she cried:--
"But answer for thyself, Hero and Lord!
If thou art in the forest, show thyself!
Alas! when shall I hear that voice, as low,
As tender as the murmur of the rain
When great clouds gather; sweet as Amrit-drink?
Thy voice, once more, my Nala, calling to me
Full softly, 'Damayanti!'--dearest Prince,
That would be music soothing to these ears
As sound of sacred Veda; that would stay
My pains and comfort me, and bring me peace."
Thereafter, turning from the mount, she went
Northwards, and journeying on three nights and days
Came to a green incomparable grove
By holy men inhabited; a haunt
Placid as Paradise, whose indwellers
Like to Vasistha, Bhrigu, Atri, were--
Those ancient saints. Restraining sense they lived,
Heedful in meats, subduing passion, pure,
Breathing within; their food water and herbs;
Ascetics; very holy; seeking still
The heavenward road; clad in the bark of trees
And skins--all gauds of earth being put by.
This hermitage, peopled by gentle ones,
Glad Damayanti spied, circled with herds
Of wild things grazing fearless, and with troops
Of monkey-folk o'erheard; and when she saw,
Her heart was lightened, for its quietness.
So drew she nigh--that lovely wanderer--
Bright-browed, long-tressed, large-hipped, full-bosomed, fair,
With pearly teeth and honeyed mouth, in gait
Right queenly still, having those long black eyes--
The wife of Virasena's son, the gem
Of all dear women, glory of her time;
Sad Damayanti entered their abode,
Those holy men saluting reverently,
With modest body bowed. Thus stood she there
And all the saints spake gently, "_Swagatam_--
Welcome!" and gave the greetings which are meet;
And afterwards, "Repose thyself," they said;
"What wouldst thou have of us?" Then, with soft words
The slender-waisted spake: "Of all these here,
So worshipful in sacrifice and rite--
'Mid gentle beasts and birds--in tasks and toils
And blameless duties--is it well?" And they
Answered: "We thank you, noble lady, well.
Tell us, most beauteous one, thy name, and say
What thou desirest. Seeing thee so fair,
So worthy, yet so sorrowful, our minds
Are lost in wonder. Weep not. Comfort take.
Art thou the goddess of the wood? Art thou
The Mountain-Yakshi, or, belike, some sprite
Which lives under the river? Tell us true,
Gentle and faultless form!"
Thus made she to the Rishis: "None of these
Am I, good saints. No goddess of the wood,
Nor yet a mountain nor a river sprite;
A woman ye behold, most only ones,
Whose moving story I will tell you true.
The Raja of Vidarbha is my sire,
Bhima his name, and--Best of Twice-born!--know
My husband is Nishadha's Chief, the famed,
The wise and valiant and victorious Prince,
The high and lordly Nala; of the gods
A steadfast worshipper; of Brahmanas
The friend; his people's shield; honored and strong,
Truth-speaking, skilled in arms, sagacious, just;
Terrible to his foes, fortunate, lord
Of many conquered towns; a godlike man,
Princeliest of princes--Nala--one that hath
A countenance like the full moon's for light,
And eyes of lotus. This true offerer
Of sacrifices, this close votary
Of Vedas and Vedangas, in the war
Deadly to enemies, like sun and moon
For splendor--by some certain evil ones
Being defied to dice, my virtuous Prince
Was, by their wicked acts, of realm despoiled--
Wealth, jewels, all. I am his woful wife,
The Princess Damayanti. Seeking him
Through thickets have I roamed, over rough hills,
By crag and river and the reedy lake,
By marsh and waterfall and jungle-bush,
In quest of him--my lord, my warrior,
My hero--and still roam, uncomforted.
Worshipful brethren! say if he hath come--
Nishadha's Chief, my Nala, hitherward
Unto your pleasant homes--he, for whose sake
I wander in the dismal pathless wood
With bears and tigers haunted--terrible!
Ah! if I find him not, ere there be passed
Many more nights and days, peace will I win;
For death shall set my mournful spirit free.
What cause have I to live, lacking my Prince?
Why should I longer breathe, whose heart is dead
With sorrow for my lord?"
To Bhima's child,
So in the wood bewailing, made reply
Those holy, truthful men: "Beautiful One!
The future is for thee; fair will it fall!
Our eyes, by long devotions opened, see--
Even now--thy lord; thou shalt behold him soon,
Nishadha's chief, the famous Nala, strong
In battle, loving justice. Yea, this Prince
Thou wilt regain, Bhima's sad daughter! freed
From troubles, purged of sin; and witness him--
With all his gems and glories--governing
Nishadha once again, invincible,
Joy of his friends and terror of his foes.
Yea, Noblest, thou shalt have thy love anew
In days to come."
So speaking, from the sight
Of Damayanti, at that instant, passed
Hermits, with hermitage and holy fires,
Evanishing. In wonderment she stood,
Gazing bewildered. Then the Princess cried:--
"Was it in dream I saw them? Whence befell
This unto me? Where are the brethren gone,
The ring of huts, the pleasant stream that ran
With birds upon its crystal banks, the grove
Delightful, with its fruits and flowers?" Long while
Pondered and wondered Damayanti there,
Her bright smile fled, pale, strengthless, sorrowful;
Then to another region of the wood,
With sighs, and eyes welling great tears, she passed,
Lamenting; till a beauteous tree she spied--
The Asoka, best of trees. Fair rose it there
Beside the forest, glowing with the flame
Of golden and crimson blossoms, and its boughs
Full of sweet-singing birds.
She cried: "Ah, lovely tree, that wavest here
Thy crown of countless, shining, clustering blooms
As thou wert woodland king--Asoka tree,
Tree called 'the sorrow-ender,' heart's-ease tree!
Be what thy name saith--end my sorrow now,
Saying, ah, bright Asoka! thou hast seen
My Prince, my dauntless Nala; seen that lord
Whom Damayanti loves and his foes fear;
Seen great Nishadha's Chief, so dear to me,
His tender princely skin in rended cloth
Scantily clad. Hath he passed wandering
Under thy branches, grievously forlorn?
Answer, Asoka! 'Sorrow-ender,' speak!
That I go sorrowless, O heart's-ease, be
Truly heart-easing--ease my heart of pain."
Thus, wild with grief, she spake unto the tree,
Round and round walking, as to reverence it;
And then, unanswered, the sweet lady sped
Through wastes more dreadful, passing many a
Many still-gliding rillets, many a peak
Tree-clad, with beasts and birds of wondrous kind,
In dark ravines, and caves, and lonely glooms.
These things saw Damayanti, Bhima's child,
Seeking her lord.
At last, on the long road,
She, whose soft smile was once so beautiful,
A caravan encountered. Merchantmen
With trampling horses, elephants, and wains,
Made passage of a river, running slow
In cool, clear waves. The quiet waters gleamed,
Shining and wide outspread, between the canes
Which bordered it, wherefrom echoed the cries
Of fish-hawks, curlews, and red chakravaks,
With sounds of leaping fish and water-snakes,
And tortoises, amid its shoals and flats
Sporting or feeding.
When she spied that throng--
Heart-maddened with her anguish, weak and wan,
Half clad, bloodless and thin, her long black locks
Matted with dust--breathlessly breaks she in
Upon them--Nala's wife--so beauteous once,
So honored. Seeing her, some fled in fear;
Some gazed, speechless with wonder; some called out,
Mocking the piteous face by words of scorn;
But some (my King!) had pity of her woe,
And spake her fair, inquiring: "Who art thou?
And whence? And in this grove what seekest thou,
To come so wild? Thy mien astonisheth.
Art of our kind, or art thou something strange,
The spirit of the forest, or the hill,
Or river valley? Tell us true; then we
Will buy thy favor. If, indeed, thou art
Yakshini, Rakshasi, or she-creature
Haunting this region, be propitious! Send
Our caravan in safety on its path,
That we may quickly, by thy fortune, go
Homeward, and all fair chances fall to us."
Hereby accosted, softly gave response
That royal lady--weary for her lord--
Answering the leader of the caravan,
And those that gathered round, a marvelling throng
Of men and boys and elders: "Oh, believe
I am as you, of mortal birth, but born
A Raja's child, and made a Raja's wife.
Him seek I, Chieftain of Nishadha, named
Prince Nala--famous, glorious, first in war.
If ye know aught of him, my king, my joy,
My tiger of the jungle, my lost lord,
Quick, tell me, comfort me!"
Then one who led
Their line--the merchant Suchi--answering,
Spake to the peerless Princess: "Hear me now.
I am the captain of this caravan,
But nowhere any named by Nala's name
Have I, or these, beheld. Of evil beasts
The woods were full--cheetahs and bears and cats,
Tigers and elephants, bison and boar;
Those saw we in the brake on every side,
But nowhere nought of human shape, save thee.
May Manibhadra have us in his grace--
The Lord of Yakshas--as I tell thee truth!"
Then sadly spake she to the trader-chief
And to his band: "Whither wend ye, I pray?
Please ye, acquaint me where this Sartha goes."
Replied the captain: "Unto Chedi's realm,
Where rules the just Subahu, journey we,
To sell our merchandise, daughter of men!"
Thus by the chieftain of the band informed,
The peerless Princess journeyed with them, still
Seeking her lord. And at the first the way
Fared through another forest, dark and deep;
Afterwards came the traders to a pool
Broad, everywhere delightful, odorous
With cups of opened lotus, and its shores
Green with rich grass, and edged with garden trees--
A place of flowers and fruits and singing birds.
So cool and clear and peacefully it gleamed,
That men and cattle, weary with the march,
Clamored to pitch; and, on their chieftain's sign,
The pleasant hollow entered they, and camped--
All the long caravan--at sunset's hour.
There, in the quiet of the middle night,
Deep slumbered these; when, sudden on them fell
A herd of elephants, thirsting to drink,
In rut, the mada oozing from their heads.
And when those great beasts spied the caravan,
And smelled the tame cows of their kind, they rushed
Headlong, and, mad with must, overwhelming all,
With onset vast and irresistible.
As when from some tall peak into the plain
Thunder and smoke and crash the rolling rocks,
Through splintered stems and thorns breaking their path,
So swept the herd to where, beside the pool,
Those sleepers lay; and trampled them to earth
Half-risen, helpless, shrieking in the dark,
"Haha! the elephants!" Of those unslain,
Some in the thickets sought a shelter; some,
Yet dazed with sleep, stood panic-stricken, mute;
Till here with tusks, and there with trunks, the beasts
Gored them, and battered them, and trod them flat
Under their monstrous feet. Then might be seen
Camels with camel-drivers, perishing,
And men flying in fear, who struck at men--
Terror and death and clamor everywhere:
While some, despairing, cast themselves to earth;
And some, in fleeing, fell and died; and some
Climbed to the tree-tops. Thus on every side
Scattered and ruined was that caravan--
Cattle and merchants--by the herd assailed.
So hideous was the tumult,-all three worlds
Seemed filled with fright; and one was heard to cry:--
"The fire is in the tents! fly for your lives!
Stay not!" And others cried: "Look where we leave
Our treasures trodden down; gather them! Halt!
Why run ye, losing ours and yours? Nay, stay!
Stand ye, and we will stand!" And then to these
One voice cried, "Stand!" another, "Fly! we die!"
Answered by those again who shouted, "Stand!
Think what we lose, O cowards!"
While this rout
Raged, amid dying groans and sounds of fear,
The Princess, waking startled, terror-struck,
Saw such a sight as might the boldest daunt--
Such scene as those great lovely lotus-eyes
Ne'er gazed upon before. Sick with new dread--
Her breath suspended 'twixt her lips--she rose
And heard, of those surviving, some one moan
Amidst his fellows: "From whose evil act
Is this the fruit? Hath worship not been paid
To mighty Manibhadra? Gave we not
The reverence due to Vaishravan, that King
Of all the Yakshas? Was not offering made
At outset to the spirits which impede?
Is this the evil portent of the birds?
Were the stars adverse? or what else hath fall'n?"
And others said, wailing for friends and goods:--
"Who was that woman, with mad eyes, that came
Into our camp, ill-favored, hardly cast
In mortal mould? By her, be sure, was wrought
This direful sorcery. Demon or witch,
Yakshi or Rakshasi, or gliding ghost,
Or something frightful, was she. Hers this deed
Of midnight murders; doubt there can be none.
Ah, if we could espy that hateful one,
The ruin of our march, the woe-maker,
With stones, clods, canes, or clubs, nay, with clenched fists,
We'd strike her dead, the murderess of our band!"
Trembling the Princess heard those angry words;
And--saddened, maddened, shamed--breathless she fled
Into the thicket, doubtful if such sin
Might not be hers, and with fresh dread distressed.
"Aho!" she weeps, "pitiless grows the wrath
Of Fate against me. Not one gleam of good
Arriveth. Of what fault is this the fruit?
I cannot call to mind a wrong I wrought
To any--even a little thing--in act
Or thought or word; whence then hath come this curse?
Belike from ill deeds done in by-gone lives
It hath befall'n, and what I suffer now
Is payment of old evils undischarged.
Grievous the doom--my palace lost, my lord,
My children, kindred; I am torn away
From home and love and all, to roam accurst
In this plague-haunted waste!"
When broke the day,
Those which escaped alive, with grievous cries
Departed, mourning for their fellows slain.
Each one a kinsman or a friend laments--
Father or brother, son, or comrade dear.
And Damayanti, hearing, weeps anew,
Saying: "What dreadful sin was that I wrought
Long, long ago, which, when I chance to meet
These wayfarers in the unpeopled wood,
Dooms them to perish by the elephants,
In my dark destiny enwrapped? No doubt
More and more sorrow I shall bear, or bring,
For none dies ere his time; this is the lore
Of ancient sages; this is why--being glad
If I could die--I was not trampled down
Under the elephants. There haps to man
Nothing unless by destiny. Why else,
Seeing that never have I wrought one wrong,
From childhood's hours, in thought or word or deed,
Hath this woe chanced? May be--meseems it may!--
The mighty gods, at my Swayamvara
Slighted by me for Nala's dearest sake,
Are wroth, and by their dread displeasure thus
To loss and loneliness I am consigned!"
So--woe-begone and wild--this noble wife,
Deserted Damayanti, poured her griefs:
And afterwards, with certain Brahmanas
Saved from the rout--good men who knew the Veds--
Sadly her road she finished, like the moon
That goeth clouded in the month of rain.
Thus travelling long, the Princess drew at last
Nigh to a city, at the evening hour.
The dwelling-place it was of Chedi's Chief,
The just Subahu. Through its lofty gates
Painfully passed she, clad in half a cloth;
And as she entered--sorrow-stricken, wan,
Foot-weary, stained with mire, with unsmoothed hair,
Unbathed, and eyes of madness--those who saw,
Wondered and stared, and watched her as she toiled
Down the long city street. The children break
From play, and--boys with girls--followed her steps,
So that she came--a crowd encompassing--
Unto the King's door. On the palace roof
The mother of the Maharaja paced,
And marked the throng, and that sad wayfarer.
Then to her nurse spake the queen-mother this:--
"Go thou, and bring yon woman unto me!
The people trouble her; mournful she walks,
Seeming unfriended, yet bears she a mien
Made for a king's abode, and, all so wild,
Still are her wistful eyes like the great eyes
Of Lakshmi's self." So downwards went the nurse,
Bidding the rude folk back; and to the roof
Of the great palace led that wandering one--
Desolate Damayanti--whom the Queen
Courteous besought: "Though thou art wan of face,
Thou wear'st a noble air, which through thy griefs
Shineth as lightning doth behind its cloud.
Tell me thy name, and whose thou art, and whence.
No lowborn form is thine, albeit thou com'st
Wearing no ornaments; and all alone
Wanderest--not fearing men--by some spell safe."
Hearing which words, the child of Bhima spake
Gratefully this: "A woful woman I,
And woful wife, but faithful to my vows;
High-born, but like a servant, like a slave,
Lodging where it may hap, and finding food
From the wild roots and fruits wherever night
Brings me my resting-place. Yet is my lord
A prince noble and great, with countless gifts
Endued; and him I followed faithfully
As 't were his shadow, till hard fate decreed
That he should fall into the rage of dice:--
And, worsted in that play, into the wood
He fled, clad in one cloth, frenzied and lone.
And I his steps attended in the wood,
Comforting him, my husband. But it chanced,
Hungry and desperate, he lost his cloth;
And I--one garment bearing--followed still
My unclad lord, despairing, reasonless,
Through many a weary night not slumbering.
But when, at length, a little while I slept,
My Prince abandoned me, rending away
Half of my garment, leaving there his wife,
Who never wrought him wrong. That lord I seek
By day and night, with heart and soul on fire--
Seek, but still find not; though he is to me
Brighter than light which gleams from lotus-cups,
Divine as are the immortals, dear as breath,
The master of my life, my pride, my joy!"
Whom, grieving so, her sweet eyes blind with tears,
Gently addressed Subahu's mother--sad
To hear as she to tell. "Stay with us here,
Thou ill-starred lady. Great the friendliness
I have for thee. The people of our court
Shall thy lost husband seek; or, it may be,
He too will wander hither of himself
By devious paths: yea, mournful one, thy lord
Thou wilt regain, abiding with us here."
And Damayanti, bowing, answered thus
Unto the Queen: "I will abide with thee,
O mother of illustrious sons, if so
They feed me not on orts, nor seek from me
To wash the feet of comers, nor that I
Be set to speak with any stranger-men
Before the curtain; and, if any man
Sue me, that he be punished; and if twice,
Then that he die, guilty of infamy.
This is my earnest prayer; but Brahmanas
Who seek my husband, or bear news of him,
Such will I speak with. If it may be thus,
Gladly would I abide, great lady, here;
If otherwise, it is not on my mind
To sojourn longer."
Quoth the queen-mother: "All that thou dost ask
We will ordain. The gods reward thy love,
Which hath such honor!" Comforting her so,
To the king's daughter, young Sunanda, spake
The Maharajni: "See, Sunanda, here
Clad as a handmaid, but in form divine,
One of thy years, gentle and true. Be friends;
Take and give pleasure in glad company
Each with the other, keeping happy hearts."
So went Sunanda joyous to her house,
Leading with loving hand the Princess in,
The maidens of the court accompanying.
Not long (O Maharaja!) was Nala fled
From Damayanti, when, in midmost gloom
Of the thick wood a flaming fire he spied,
And from the fire's heart heard proceed a voice
Of one imperilled, crying many times:--
"Haste hither, Punyashloka, Nala, haste!"
"Fear not," the Prince replied; "I come!" and sprang
Across the burning bushes, where he saw
A snake--a king of serpents--lying curled
In a great ring, which reared its dancing crest
Saluting, and in human accents spoke:--
"Maharaja, kindly lord, I am the snake
Karkotaka; by me was once betrayed
The famous Rishi Narada; his wrath
Doomed me, thou Chief of men! to bear this spell--
'Coil thy false folds,' said he, 'forever here,
A serpent, motionless upon this spot,
Till it shall chance that Nala passeth by
And bears thee hence; then only from my curse
Canst thou be freed,' And prisoned by that curse
I have no power to stir, though the wood burns;
Nay, not a coil! good fellowship I'll show
If thou wilt succor me. I'll be to thee
A faithful friend, as no snake ever yet.
Lift me, and quickly from the flames bear forth:
For thee I shall grow light." Thereat shrank up
That monstrous reptile to a finger's length;
And grasping this, unto a place secure
From burning, Nala bore it, where the air
Breathed freshly, and the fire's black path was stayed.
Then made the Prince to lay the serpent down,
But yet again it speaks: "Nishadha's Lord,
Grasp me and slowly go, counting thy steps;
For, Raja, thou shalt have good fortune hence."
So Nala slowly went, counting his steps;
And when the tenth pace came, the serpent turned
And bit the Prince. No sooner pierced that tooth
Than all the likeness of Nishadha changed;
And, wonder-struck, he gazed upon himself;
While from the dust he saw the snake arise
A man, and, speaking as Karkotaka,
Comfort him thus:--
"Thou art by me transformed
That no man know thee: and that evil one
(Possessing, and undoing thee, with grief)
Shall so within thee by my venom smart,
Shall through thy blood so ache, that--till he quit--
He shall endure the woe he did impart.
Thus by my potent spell, most noble Prince!
(Who sufferest too long) thou wilt be freed
From him that haunts thee. Fear no more the wood,
Thou tiger of all princes! fear thou not
Horned nor fanged beasts, nor any enemies,
Though they be Brahmans! safe thou goest now,
Guarded from grief and hurt--Chieftain of men!
By this kind poison. In the fields of war
Henceforth the victory always falls to thee;
Go joyous, therefore, Prince; give thyself forth
For 'Vahuka, the charioteer:' repair
To Rituparna's city, who is skilled
In play, and dwells in fair Ayodhya.
Wend thou, Nishadha! thither; he will teach
Great subtlety in numbers unto thee,
Exchanging this for thine own matchless gift
Of taming horses. From the lordly line
Descended of Ikshvaku, glad and kind
The King will be; and thou, learning of him
His deepest act of dice, wilt win back all,
And clasp again thy Princess. Therefore waste
No thought on woes. I tell thee truth! thy realm
Thou shalt regain; and when the time is come
That thou hast need to put thine own form on,
Call me to mind, O Prince, and tie this cloth
Around thy body. Wearing it, thy shape
Thou shalt resume."
Therewith the serpent gave
A magic twofold robe, not wove on earth,
Which (O thou son of Kuru!) Nala took;
And so the snake, transformed, vanished away.
The great snake being gone, Nishadha's Chief
Set forth, and on the tenth day entered in
At Rituparna's town; there he besought
The presence of the Raja, and spake thus:--
"I am the chariot-driver, Vahuka.
There is not on this earth another man
Hath gifts like mine to tame and guide the steed;
Moreover, thou mayest use me in nice needs
And dangerous, where kings lack faithful hearts.
Specially skilful I am in dressing meats;
And whatso other duties may befall,
Though they be weighty, I shall execute,
If, Rituparna, thou wilt take me in."
"I take thee," quoth the King. "Dwell here with me.
Such service as thou knowest, render us.
'Tis, Vahuka, forever in my heart
To have my steeds the swiftest; be thy task
To train me horses like the wind for speed;
My charioteer I make thee, and thy wage
Ten thousand gold suvernas. Thou wilt have
For fellows, Varshneya and Jivala;
With those abiding, lodge thou happy here."
So entertained and honored of the King,
In Rituparna's city Nala dwelled,
Lodging with Varshneya and Jivala.
There sojourned he (my Raja!), thinking still
Of sweet Vidarbha's Princess day by day;
And sunset after sunset one sad strain
He sang: "Where resteth she that roamed the wood
Hungry and parched and worn, but always true?
Doth she remember yet her faultful lord?
Ah, who is near her now?" So it befell
Jivala heard him ever sighing thus,
And questioned: "Who is she thou dost lament?
Say, Vahuka! fain would I know her name.
Long life be thine; but tell me who he is,
The faultful man that was the lady's lord."
And Nala answered him: "There lives a man,
Evil and rash, that had a noble wife.
False to his word he was; and thus it fell
That somewhere, for some reason (ask not me!),
He quitted her, this rash one. And--so wrenched
Apart from hers--his spirit, bad and sad,
Muses and moans, with grief's slow fire consumed
Night-time and day-time. Thence it is he sings
At every sunset this unchanging verse,
An outcast on the earth, by hazard led
Hither and thither. Such a man thou seest
Woful, unworthy, holding in his heart
Always that sin. I was that lady's lord,
Whom she did follow through the dreadful wood,
Living by me abandoned, at this hour;
If yet, in truth, she lives--youthful, alone,
Unpractised in the ways, not meriting
Fortunes so hard. Ah, if indeed she lives,
Who roamed the thick and boundless forest, full
Of prowling beasts--roamed it, my Jivala,
Unguarded by her guilty lord--forsook,
Betrayed, good friend!"
Thus did Nishadha grieve,
Calling sweet Damayanti to his mind.
So tarried he within the Raja's house,
And no man knew his place of sojourning.
While, stripped of state, the Prince and Princess thus
Were sunk to servitude, Bhima made quest,
Sending his Brahmans forth to search for them
With straight commands, and for their road-money
Liberal store. "Seek everywhere," said he
Unto the twice-born, "Nala--everywhere
My daughter Damayanti. Whoso comes
Successful in this quest, discovering her--
With lost Nishadha's Lord--and bringing them,
A thousand cows to that man will I give,
And village-lands whence shall be revenue
As great as from a city. If so be
Ye cannot bring me Nala and my child,
To him that learns their refuge I will give
The thousand cows."
Thereby rejoiced, they went,
Those Brahmans, hither and thither, up and down,
Into all regions, rajaships, and towns,
Seeking Nishadha's Chieftain, and his wife.
But Nala nowhere found they; nowhere found
Sweet Damayanti, Bhima's beauteous child--
Until, straying to pleasant Chedipur,
One day a twice-born came, Sudeva named,
And entered it; and, spying round about
(Upon a feast-day by the King proclaimed),
He saw forth-passing through the palace gate
A woman--Bhima's daughter--side by side
With young Sunanda. Little praise had now