Water is a curious occurrence in nature . It is essential to life and creates it too.
Bruce Lee said “Be like water”.
Water in the skies and water falling to ground and water in between the skies and the ground invisible to the naked human eye but there.
Ocean, seas,rivers, lakes and clouds, rains, mist and fog all the different faces of water.
The majesty of the ocean and the volatility of rivers are hard to dismiss. Water here is distant, we marvel at it but seldom do we think it welcoming and warm. But lakes although sinister at the first glance are natures own cafeteria. They rope you in with their shimmering, glistening surface and the promise of always being there when you need it.
By the day creatures flock to sip and play, socialize or contemplate.
And at night the beasts gather before their hunt to prepare and after to quench their thirst.
Many legends and stories follow these lakes. This post explores one such story.
A lake, surrounded by trees, hills, a temple in the vicinity and a pyre ground. Filled to the brim with clear water and fish. Many questions swamping our heads, because, as it goes with such places in India there must be a story straight from the Mahabharata or Ramayana attached to this lake.
Before we knew it the old caretaker feeding the fish, flour and dough balls, whispered a story in our ears.
“The lake is named Nal-Damayanti”, the caretaker informed us. “Named after the King Nala and his Queen Damayanti”.
This lake is in India’s own lake district of Nainital, which is a part of the state of Uttarakhand, the more than humbly beautiful ‘Abode of the Gods’.
After he had finished his story.
“Nala lived a cursed life”, the caretaker said. While I thought what a cursed beauty Damayanti was.
Their palace once stood here, right where the lake is. Obviously, this was a long time ago. A time as spoken of in the Mahabharata he tells us, the palace of King Nala and Queen Damayanti stood here.
Damayanti slept a deep slumber one night, like many nights, next to the one she loved. After all the tough times, her palace, her bed, were the only places she found solace. Heaven, Earth and Hell had wronged her equally, her only curse her beauty. But here, with her faith in Lord Hari-Krishna- she made her home with the one she loved.
So far a dreamless sleep, but not for long. A voice rang in her head, another worldly voice, it faltered and broke as if every sound it made and the words it spoke travelled to her from a distant place. Terrified she jolted out of her slumber and sat up on her bed.
Did he hear the voice too? She looked over to his side. Without a worry on his face, he slept oblivious to her startling. Looking around, to see if anyone had entered her chambers, she found nobody. A faceless nameless entity terrified she kept it a secret.
The rasping voice haunted her day as it had her night.
“May I visit”, the voice had said. “No”, had escaped her lips.
She thought she had turned it away, she knew she was dreaming, but unlike any other dream, it felt like someone was calling out to her from far. She was used to feeling like being remembered and called out by her Nala while they were separated and in exile.
Someone was trying to reach out to her again but this time it wasn’t the longing of love. It was eerie and sinister like a jab in her ears. After all the separation from the one she loved and exile, her mind was tired she thought. It was all in the past she reassured herself. Memories of hardships could appear in any form, even as a twisted dream. She had to make peace with it and dismiss it as a nightmare.
But the visitor in her dreams never gave up, it returned every night after that. Damayanti turned it away every night and guarding the secret until one-day frustration and the burden of keeping a secret broke her silence on the recurring nightmare.
“I have to tell Nala”, Damayanti said to herself. Hoping to get one night of peaceful sleep without this smothering secret.
As she sat there waiting for Nala to come back she couldn’t help but shed a tear at their journey and to where it had led them, here to their own serene palace in the heart of the woods with blessed unearthly beauty. It wasn’t barren at all but treacherous just the same. It was a difficult forest to live in but so inconspicuous that she thought no one would venture out here to harass then anymore.
But alas this voice in her dreams, her ‘Nightmare Visitor’ had found its way.
Nala was a king, a mere human king. Damayanti a mere human but with beauty so enticing even God’s in heaven fell from grace to take her for their own.
Gods and demons from hell alike.
A long time ago when Damayanti was a young girl. Just at the first and traces of womanhood. She befriended a beautiful Golden Swan.
The swan told Damayanti many stories about the great Nala. The stories plenty and glorious. In spite of the dashing nature, the swan tried to portray about Nala, Damayanti knew he was a humble soul at heart who loved horses and cooking scrumptious meals for kings and commoners alike.
She knew as the blood gushed to her cheeks at the mention of his name, into a beautiful rosy blush, she had lost her heart to Nala.
Damayanti’s mother, however, thought only Indra-King of Gods and ruler of the five elements- was befitting as her daughter’s husband. Damayanti did not agree. Her heart would never allow her to marry anybody other than Nala.
Indra heard of this and disguised himself as Nala for Damayanti’s Swayamvara-all eligible men are called upon to display their skills and in the end, the Princess is to choose one as her husband. Many Kings, Gods, Demons, Nala imposter-Indra and Nala himself were present at Damayanti’s swayamvara.
Damayanti’s as we know had already made her choice. The only challenge was to recognise the fake from the real. Lord Krishna had to intervene as he knew he could not leave Damayanti in her plight alone.
“It’s all in the eyes, look carefully you shall know”, he gave Damayanti a clue in her dream, the night before her swayamvara.
One look in the real Nala’s eyes and she knew it was him and she threw the garland around his neck.
The God’s, King’s and Princes left the swayamvara praising and in awe of Nala, thoroughly impressed by his unique talent and humble demeanour, however, the demon Kali only had revenge on his mind.
He plotted against Nala and Damayanti which led them into an exile for twelve years and separation for 8 years.
She brushed off the memories from the past and brought herself to say it out loud.
“The voice in my dream”, she told Nala taking a pause and drawing in a long deep breath “wants to pay us a visit. I’ve refused it so many times every night for so many nights. But it won’t stop haunting me. It won’t budge. It only speaks once at night. It says “may I visit? and I say No.”, she informed Nala. “Haven’t you heard it? Haven’t you heard me speaking out loud while I’m asleep?”, she inquired hoping he was keeping it a secret like she was.
Confused Nala said “Let it visit. We would know who it is that is trying to reach out to you in such a curious way. As curious as it is, I’m sure this is a very powerful being. I would really like to know who or what it is.”
To feed Nala’s curiosity and against her best judgement, she decided to let the voice in.
“May I visit your palace, my dear Damayanti?” Damayanti was shocked. The voice was clearer and not at all distant. And it wasn’t just three words this time. It was as if the voice knew she was ready to meet it. “Please do…Yes…Yes you may”
The instant Damayanti said ‘Yes’ the winds blew and the rain hammered with such immense force, shattering windows and walls alike.
The voice was The Storm, a raging storm that destroyed their palace and reduced it to ruins. The storm who they allowed to visit had finally shown itself to them.
Indra laughed. He was after all the King of the God’s who controlled all the five elements. Who never forgave Nala for stealing Damayanti from right under his nose and Damayanti for choosing Nala over him. Sent the very storm that destroyed their palace. But he wasn’t done with them just yet.
Nala went back to the ruins of his palace he found a lake in its place full of fish. He picked one up and began to roast it on an open flame. The burning fish sprang to life and jumped back into the water.
It spoke to Nala. “You will never be able to eat any fish from here Nala like you cannot ever stay here. I have received a boon from Indra the boon of immortality. Through me runs Amrut-Elixir of life. Go live your life away from this place as it will always host a raging storm that you welcomed and immortal life that you will never be able to consume, far too unyielding for you to survive.”
They say that the elixir spread through to the entire vicinity and the flora and fauna are known to have healing properties. Indra did curse Nal-Damayanti but left a gift for the benefit for all.
Research still continues. And proof abundant for any onlooker.
And it is still against the law to catch fish from the lake Nal-Damayanti.