Nala and Damayanti: Role of Kali

After attending the wedding of Nala and Damayanti, the four devas were returning home when they came across Kali, the god of our age and Dwapar, the god of the previous age, both going in opposite directions. Indra asked Kali where he was going and he said that his mind was set upon Damayanti and he was going to her swayamvara to win her hand. Indra laughed and told Kali that the swayamvara was over and that in front of them, Damayanti had chosen Nala as her husband. Hearing this, Kali got very angry and said that it was audacious for Damayanti to choose a mere mortal over the devas. He decided to curse Damayanti. Indra tried to pacify him saying that Damayanti had chosen Nala with their permission and that Nala was a pure and powerful king and if anybody cursed him, the curse would revert back to its source. Saying this, the four devas left.

Kali could not control his anger and he told Dwapar that he would go into Nala’s body and possess him and that he would make him lose everything in a game of dice. Kali asked Dwapar to help him by entering the dice so they could be loaded against Nala. Kali then went into Nala’s kingdom looking for a chance to enter Nala’s body. As Nala lived in a high state of purity and consciousness, he could not get a chance to enter him. Then one day he got his chance; Nala had started his sandhya (evening) prayers without cleaning himself properly. Kali, in that moment of loss of consciousness, entered his body and possessed him. Kali then went to Pushkar, Nala’s younger brother, and told him how he now controlled Nala. He told him to invite Nala to play a game of dice. In the game he would make Nala lose everything and Pushkar would then be king of Nishada.

As planned, Pushkar went to Nala and in Damayanti’s presence challenged him to a game of dice. Nala accepted and the game started and went on for months. Nala, now possessed, lost everything he had – wealth, gold, chariots, his kingdom, even his clothes. On many instances, his ministers and the people of the country tried to stop him from playing but he refused to listen. Damayanti realised that the king was about to lose everything. She called his trusted charioteer and requested him to take her two young children to her father in Vidharbha, and that after that he was free to do as he chose.

Nala lost everything in the game. He took off all his clothes and ornaments and wrapped in just one cloth he set out to leave the kingdom. Damayanti followed her husband into the jungle, wrapped in a single piece of clothing too. They were tired and were unable to find food for three days. Nala saw a flock of birds and decided to try and catch one. He took off the only cloth he was wearing and covered the birds, but they flew away taking the cloth with them. As they were flying away, they shouted back at the king “We are the dice that defeated you, and we did not like your leaving with even one cloth, so we came back to take that too.

Nala was heartbroken and totally lost; without a single piece of clothing and with pangs of hunger he spoke to Damayanti. He showed her a road and said that it led to her father’s kingdom beyond the mountains. Damayanti was shocked at his words and said that she would not leave him alone in that state. She said that she would go if he also followed her to her father’s home. Nala refused saying he had gone there as a king and he could not go in the state he was.

Both of them roamed the jungle till they came to a deserted dwelling where they decided to spend the night. Kali was still in Nala’s body and in the middle of the night he decided to leave Damayanti, reasoning that if she was alone she would go to her father. When she was asleep, Kali, still in Nala’s body, cut off half the cloth she was wearing, wrapped it around his body and left. When she woke up she saw that her cloth was cut and realised that Nala had left her. Like a mad woman, she ran all around in the jungle calling out his name.

In the jungle, a huge python caught her and started swallowing her. A hunter who was passing by saw her being swallowed by the python and killed the snake and saved her. But then the hunter got attracted to her beautiful body and harboured thoughts of ravishing her. Damayanti saw the look in his eyes and invoked the power of her austerity reducing him to ashes. Damayanti started walking through the forest which was full of wild animals. She kept on asking trees and mountains, and animals if they had seen Nala. After three days of walking exhausted with hunger, she stumbled upon a beautiful forest which seemed very divine. She came upon a group of rishis who were in deep meditation. They asked her who she was and she told them her whole story and asked if they had seen her husband Nala. They replied that they had not seen him, but with the power of their meditation they could see that she would be united with him again, but only at that time when he was free of pain and suffering. Then suddenly that part of the forest vanished, along with all the rishis.

Here, we see how even after attaining great heights a seeker can fall again just through one act of unawareness. Kali is symbolic of our age which is called ‘Kaliyuga’. We count everything – if guests come to our home, we even count the number of slice/loaves they eat. Counting leads to possessiveness where we want to own and control everything. This is a very low state of consciousness. Nala fell into this state and because of this he lost everything, even the capacity to control or hold consciousness. Now, the seeker has to go through a long process of suffering before it comes back.