The Travails of Damayanti

Damayanti had entered a divine forest where she had met with a group of rishis after which that part of the forest vanished and she found herself in the old part. Many times in extreme situations of suffering and pain, our thoughts calm down and we enter the intuitive mind beyond thought.. At this time, we are able to tap into the intuitive and a flash of understanding may dawn on us, or we may receive some higher communication which impacts our life deeply.

After the forest vanished, Damayanti opens her eyes and sees an Asoka tree in full bloom. The word ‘soka’ means pain and suffering and Asoka means ‘free from pain’. Damayanti’s ‘sighting of the tree’ immediately upon opening her eyes is very symbolic and from deep within her subconscious she receives a message that she too will be free of her suffering very soon. Pleading to the tree, Damayanti says, “O Asoka tree, be true to thy name, free me from this suffering of separation from my husband and reunite me with him.”

A little distance away she sees a caravan of people with elephants, horses and camels crossing the nearby river. Hopeful that they might know the whereabouts of her husband Nala, she runs to them. On seeing her approach, the reaction of the people is not what she anticipates. Many of them are frightened by her disheveled appearance, as she is full of dirt not having bathed for many days. Some think that she is a ghost, as she is clad in a half-lion cloth and her long hair is hanging loose down to her shoulders. Some start shouting, others laugh at her eerie appearance and still others feel pity for her. Yet, her profound beauty cannot be hidden and emanates from her in a hypnotic field. They ask her if she is a being of the underworld or a demi-god. Forlorn, she answers that she was just an ordinary human being whose husband was lost and she was desperately trying to find him.

The leader of the group, sympathizing with her plight, tells her that though they had not seen her husband, she could join them in their journey to the country of Cedi. They are going there to sell wares at a handsome profit, and on the way they would help her find her husband. Seeing that as the best option, Damayanti joins the group. After a few days, the caravan halts at a beautiful lake and decides to camp there. At night a herd of wild elephants come to drink water at the lake, and seeing the group of tame elephants that are a part of the caravan they are infuriated. In their wild fury, they sweep over the sleeping group crushing and killing people, children, horses and camels. Damayanti finds it difficult to breathe in her sleep and the commotion awakens her. Seeing the melee of destruction she immediately runs off to safety in another part of the forest.

In all our lives a time comes when we are in deep pain In the morning the few remaining survivors, lamenting at the loss of their dear ones collect the remains of their belongings and move on. They refuse to take Damayanti with them blaming her presence for the bad luck that befell them. As they left a group of Brahmins who were leaving last took pity on her and agreed to take her to the kingdom of Chedi.

In life, whenever there comes a point of deep pain and suffering, we become undisciplined. We do not eat properly nor sleep well and tend to neglect our daily duties. Damayanti’s ghost-like appearance and the destruction faced by the caravan symbolizes her unruly and undisciplined psychological state. She joins the Brahmin group, who personify the thinking center within us. In order to restore balance and discipline in our lives, it is important to connect with the thinking center and use it wisely.

On reaching the capital of Cedi, Damayanti is once again left alone and she begins wandering the streets again like a lost soul looking for Nala. Soon, a group of children start following her, laughing and teasing her on the way. From the palace window, the queen mother sees Damayanti and is struck by the aura of her mesmerizing beauty which radiates through despite her ghost-like appearance. She summons a palace guard to bring Damayanti into the palace stating that her dazzling beauty would fill the palace with light.

In the palace, the queen mother asks Damayanti, “You are full of dirt, adorn one filthy lion cloth, are not wearing any ornaments, yet your beauty is divine and captivating. Please reveal your identity.” A lovelorn Damayanti replies that she is just an ordinary wife, whose husband has abandoned her and that she will know no happiness till she is reunited with him.” The queen mother tells her, “For some inexplicable reason I feel a deep sense of affection for you, please stay at the palace, my men will search for your husband.” Damayanti says, “I will stay on the conditions that I will not eat left-over food, I will not wash another person’s feet and if any man tries to talk to me he must be punished. Also, I will continue meeting Brahmins to inquire about the whereabouts of my husband.” The queen mother agrees to all of Damayanti’s conditions and introduces her to her daughter Sunanda, and tells her that she will be her new friend and companion. Sunanda takes an instant liking towards Damayanti.

What does the kingdom Cedi signify in our psychological space? The word means ‘to make aware’, that is, to warn us from falling into the sleep or hypnosis of life. Gurdjieff calls this space as that of ‘work memory’. We have a memory but on the spiritual path we consciously create a new kind of memory that helps us to awaken, rather than deepening our sleep of life. For instance, we may have a habit of getting upset very easily and may desperately want to break free of this pattern. However, no matter how much we resolve not to get upset, at the next provocation, we get worked up all over again. The pattern continues like a vicious cycle. Now, after a bout of irritation, we relive the whole episode consciously, going over it again in our minds but this time with awareness. This creates a new memory in us. After practicing this many times, a point will come when we are on the verge of getting upset but the new memory warns us and we do not allow the situation to hypnotise us and are free from a pattern of irritation. The minute we experience this freedom, ananda or joy comes in our life. Here Damayanti becomes Sunanda or fortunate ananda’s companion. So this is a time for Damayanti to go back to old wounds, heal them and bring joy in her life.