A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nala Damayanti – Concluding Part

In the previous part we read about the love story of Nala Damayanti, how they met, married and separated and met again to live happily ever after. 

Let us look at the significance of this tale and its placement from a narrative perspective.

When Yudhishtir had lost his kingdom and he was sent to exile for thirteen years along with his four brothers and Draupadi, he was suffering from extreme self-pity. He could not reconcile with what he had done and how his actions had led to the pitiable state of his brothers and wife. It was important to bring him out of the self-pity mode and have him overcome this grief, which was being made evident in his brother’s eyes and Draupadi’s untied hair.

While in exile Sage Bhardwaj comes to meet the Pandavs and in his moment of self-pity, Yudhishtir asks the sage, if there was any king before him, who was as unfortunate like him, who had lost his kingdom and everything and was driven out to exile. He felt that there was none as unfortunate as him and though he followed the path of Dharma, he was in such a sorry state. It is at this stage that the sage tells him this story and makes him realize that he was still better off, as he had his brothers and his wife with him, while Nala was all alone.

The similarities between Nala and Yudhishtir were quite striking. Both had beautiful wives, both had a weakness for the dice and both were not very good at it and both lost their kingdoms in the game of dice. In the case of Yudhishtir, the dice were doctored by Shakuni and in the case of Nala, Kali had played foul. At the end of the game, both are driven to exile, while Nala spent twelve years in exile, Yudhishtir had an additional year.

Nala became the charioteer of the King of Ayodhya and Yudhishtir became the personal assistant of King Virata. What is equally significant is that during exile both Nala and Yudhishtir master the skill of playing dice with the respective kings that they were serving. Nala’s disfigurement could be seen as similar to the last year of disguise that Yudhishtir had to undertake while serving King Virat, just as Draupadi was serving the Queen in disguise similar to Damayanti serving the Queen without their knowledge of who the two ladies were.

It is said that when Nala lost everything at the game of dice, his brother had suggested that he stake Damayanti, but Nala declined. While here Nala differs from Yudhishtir, Nala still does stake Damayanti later. Both do stake their wives, one out of sheer desperation, while the other out of confidence; one when his was weak while the other when he was strong in the game.

According to Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya, a prolific writer on Mahabharata, the tales have an important difference. The tale of Nala Damayanti is a pure romance with all the romantic trappings. It stands out to be a stark difference from the original flow of the epic, especially in the treatment of Damayanti and Draupadi. While Draupadi’s character is strong and determined, Damayanti comes out as a soft and a quiet woman, thought she occasionally does display the typical traits of a ‘Vyasan’ woman, like when she refuses the gods to marry Nala. This could be a case of the story being told by a young Vyasa! The initial wooing through a swan, the magical powers of Nala the pining of Damayanti, are all a case of a classic romantic tale and that sure does make a significant diversion from an otherwise mature tale of the Pandav’s in the epic.

The tale of Nala Damayanti has been rewritten in many forms as standalone romance and I too came across the tale as a romantic story that warmed the cockles of my (then young) heart!!

But as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, one shouldn’t miss the significance and the positioning of the story in the epic, which had its own rationale in the narrative.

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