Damayanti and the swan-messenger (Painting by Raja Ravi Varma)
Damayanti(दमयंती) Telugu (దమయంతీ), a character in a love story found in the Vana Parva book of the Mahabharata, and other Hindu texts by many authors in numerous Indian languages. She was the princess of Vidarbha Kingdom, who married king Nala of Nishadha Kingdom. Her other lesser known name is Bhaimi.
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Damayanti was a princess of Vidarbha Kingdom. She was of such beauty and grace that even the gods could not stop from admiring her. She fell in love with Nala simply by hearing of his virtues and accomplishments from a golden swan. When it was time for her to choose her husband at a swayamvara, gods, princes and kings came to seek her hand. The Gods Indra, Agni, Varuna and Yama were on their way to the swayamvara, when they met Nala. They ask him to be their messenger and to go inform Damayanti that she must choose one of them as her husband. Nala at first refused, saying he was himself interested in her, but he finally accepted the mission. On seeing him, Damayanti agreed to pay her respect to the gods, but she insisted on choosing only Nala for her husband. The Gods then each disguised themselves as Nala and asked Damayanti to choose amongst them. Damayanti saw through them each time. The demon Kali, the personification of Kali yuga, also wanted to marry Damayanti. On his arrival, he was unaware and was late for the swayamvara. He ran into the gods and was told how she chose Nala in their place. Kali then angrily vows to cause the fall of Nala's kingdom through his propensity for gambling.
Damayanti and Nala are happily married and have two children. Once Nala loses his kingdom in a game of dice, forcing Nala and Damayanti to live in poverty in the forest. Nala starts worrying for Damayanti, resolves to abandon her in order to protect her from his bad luck. Nala leaves, meanwhile on his way, finds and rescues the Snake King Nāga Karkotaka from a fire, who bites him. Nala survives the bite, but the venom turns him into an unrecognizable dwarf named Bahuka.
Damayanti takes refuge in the palace of the Princess of Chedi, offering to serve her. Damayanti is finally discovered and taken back to her father's house where she is reunited with her children. They search for Nala, but cannot find him. Damayanti starts thinking that the only way Nala will come back would be for fear that she would not be his wife anymore. Thus she requests a fake second swayamvara. She is still of such irresistible beauty that many kings attend it. Nala's master also wants to go to the swayamvara and Nala accompanies him. Damayanti is persuaded that the dwarf is Nala because of the flavour of a dish that he cooked for her. The pair are reunited and Nala is transformed from a dwarf into his familiar form. She forgives him for having abandoned her in the forest.
Nalacharitham attakatha, written by Unnayivaryar, is the structured story of Nala and Damayanti, played in the more dramatic and action-filled style of Kathakali. The story is divided into four parts as to be played in four days.
- J. A. B. van Buitenen (1981). The Mahabharata, Volume 2. University of Chicago Press. pp. 318–322. ISBN 978-0-226-84664-4.
- Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books. pp. 109, 191, 282, 316. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.
- S. M. E. (April 1927). "Nala and Damayanti by Norman M. Penzer". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (2): 363–364. JSTOR 25221149.
- Goswami, B.N. (2015). Nala and Damayanti: A Great Series of Paintings of an Old Indian Romance. Niyogi Books. ISBN 9789383098897.
- Dallapiccola, Anna Libera (2002). Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-51088-9.
- Doniger, Wendy (1999). "Chapter 3: Nala and Damayanti, Odysseus and Penelope". Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. University of Chicago Press. pp. 133–204. ISBN 978-0-226-15640-8.
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