The Marriage of Nala and Damayanti

In our last article we saw that Nala is the soul or controller within us and Damayanti represents the capacity to control. The first step in any spiritual journey is the non-expression of negative emotions. Each situation we face in life induces a reaction in us; most reactions are negative. All reactions are automatic and come from patterns or habits that lie in our psychic structure. The ultimate goal of every seeker is to be free of reaction, but before he can be free of all reactions he must learn not to express negative ones. To do this, we work towards increasing our will or capacity of not getting caught in a reaction. This is the Damayanti within us. If I get irritated, at one point I realise that I have been overpowered by an irritation – this is the first point of awakening, the Nala within us, the realisation that I am in a negative state. Then comes the struggle with the irritation, this capacity to struggle is Damayanti.

We have seen that kings from all over the land started coming to Vidharbha for Damayanti’s swayamvara and Nala was also one of them. The gods led by Indra had also decided to try for her hand in marriage. They saw Nala travelling in his chariot and came down beside him and said, “O king, you are truthful and helpful and so we want you to become our messenger.” Nala agreed to be their messenger and asked it was that he should do. Indra told him, “You should go as our messenger to Damayanti and tell her that the gods Indra, Agni, Varuna and Yama are coming to her swayamvara and that she should choose one of us as her husband.

To this, Nala replied, “I have also come this far to win the hand of Damayanti and since I have decided that I want her, it would not be right for me to carry such a message.” Indra said that initially he had agreed to be their messenger and so now he should comply. Nala agreed but told Indra that Damayanti would be in a palace with guards and he would not be able to enter. Indra told him not to worry, and so Nala entered Damayanti’s palace without the guards noticing him. There, he saw the beautiful Damayanti surrounded by her maids. Nala was so stunned by her beauty that he nearly forgot why he had come. Damayanti also saw him and was shocked and wondered who he was and how he had entered her personal palace. At the same time, she was equally attracted to him as well.

She then spoke in soft melodious words to Nala, “O most handsome one, you have increased the beauty of my limb. O great hero, you have come here as if you are a god, please tell me who you are.” Nala replied “O beautiful one, know that I am Nala and have come here as a messenger of the gods Indra, Agni, Varuna, and Yama. They have said that they are keen to marry you, and asked you to choose one of them. I have given you their message, now do as you deem fit.” Damayanti then told Nala, “With due respects to the gods, I will only marry you. O great king please accept me.” Nala replied “The gods have sent me as their messenger, how can I deceive them.” Damayanti suggested that let them all come to the swayamvara, and there in front of all the kings and the gods she will chose Nala. Nala then went and met Indra and the other gods and told them exactly what had happened.

The day for the swayamvara dawned and all the great kings gathered for a colourful ceremony in a huge hall. As the names of the kings were announced Damayanti saw that instead of one Nala, there were five who looked and dressed the same. She immediately realised that the four gods had changed their form to look like Nala. Damayanti was at her wits end as she did not know how she would recognise the real Nala. She then joined her hands and prayed to the gods, “Since I had heard the swans talk of Nala I had chosen him in my heart, if this be true then let the gods help me recognise Nala.

The four gods who had come to the swayamvara heard her prayer and revealed traits that allowed Damayanti to recognise them. She saw that they did not perspire, that their eyes were always steady and the garland of flowers around their necks was ever fresh. They were seated without any part of their body touching the earth. She then garlanded Nala with the flowers she had indicating that she had chosen him for a husband. Nala was very happy and he told Damayanti, “O lotus eyed one, because you have ignored the gods and chosen me, I shall forever remain at your command.” The gods were very happy with Nala and gave him eight boons, two from each of the four god that had come to wed Damayanti.

Indra gave Nala the power to invoke him and that of great speed. Agni gave him the power to create fire anywhere and to shine like a bright flame in any company. Yama gave him the power to bring out different tastes from food he cooked and that he would never deviate from the path of truth. Finally, Varuna gave him the power to have water anywhere and that flowers will remain ever fresh as long as they touch his body.

Here it is very difficult to explain the Sanskrit words for these eight powers. With the calming of thoughts, the movement of the mind into the past and future is curtailed and one lives in the ever fresh present, just like a garland of flowers that never lose their freshness. As attention becomes one-pointed, one sees the deeper laws of life or the working of the five elements. As the sensitivity increases, so do the tastes in life and hence, events in life bring a different taste. That the gods do not sweat means no dirt can touch them. They are free from the rules of gravity suggests there is nothing that can pull them down. This controlling capacity which we have called Damayanti is called “dharna” by Patanjali and as we move to the state of dharna, these powers become by-products.