Nala and Damayanti
(extract from the book)
A moving tale of romance and adventure from the Mahabharata retold for younger readers (12+). See how true love overcomes all adversity and get a fascinating glimpse into the high morals and beautiful culture of Ancient India.
Nala sat alone in his palace gardens. His mind wandered again to thoughts of Damayanti. From the first time he had heard of that princess he had felt his heart move. The court heralds had described her beauty as being exactly like the apsaras, the mind-stealing consorts of the gods. No other woman like her could be found on earth, they said, and soon she would select her husband at a swayam-vara ceremony.
Nala had already experienced a couple of those. They were fairly common for princesses. Hundreds of suitors would jostle about in huge arenas, all of them dressed in their finest silks and royal regalia. The maiden would then have the difficult job of selecting the best of them as they proudly postured and vied with each other for her attentions. Nala knew there was no certainty that Damayanti would pick him from out of the crowd. The only sure way might be to snatch her and then face all the other kings and princes in a fight. He had seen that tried a few times as well, not always successfully.
Sighing, Nala rose from the golden seat and began walking slowly around the gardens. The heady fragrance of blossoming creepers carried on the soft breeze. As he strolled about, the Nishadha king gazed vacantly at the neat rows of many-coloured flowers running along the edge of the lake. He thought only of Damayanti. Having heard of her numerous feminine accomplishments, how she had been bestowed upon her father by the boon of the powerful sage Damana, and how she had grown up resembling the Goddess of Fortune herself, Nala had decided that she had to become his queen. But how would it ever be achieved?
As he rounded the lake he saw to his surprise a number of golden swans landing on the water. He stopped and gazed out at them as they flapped their wings, sending ripples across the lake. Their bright golden plumage was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He went to the edge of the lake and knelt down, and as he did so one of the swans came toward him. Nala reached out quickly and grabbed the bird, holding it firmly by its neck and legs so that he might examine it more closely. To his amazement, the bird began to speak.
“King of the Nishadhas, you should not capture me. I know what is on your mind and if you release me I will render you a great good. I will go at once to Damayanti’s palace. By speaking repeatedly of your many fine qualities, I will attract her to you. After hearing my praises, and how you are pining for her, she will not want to marry anyone else.”
Nala released the swan and stood up quickly. “Surely this would please me, magical bird. Go then to the Vidharbha kingdom and seek out that beautiful maiden. I desire none other than her.”
The swan rejoined its companions. Together they rose upwards from the lake, their wings beating rhythmically. Nala watched as they turned southward and soared away. When they were nothing more than specks in the distance, he walked slowly back into his palace, wondering at the movements of fate.
. . .
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