ICPR: Stories of Illumined Seers, Poets and Heroes 20 July 2004 - Part 1: Is Damayanti Human or Superhuman?

Professor Vyas and friends, let me first of all express my gratefulness to Shri. Tiwariji for having agreed to come here and to be with us this morning. Professor Vyas has already described multifarious responsibilities that he has borne in his life, but my knowledge of him leads me to consider him to be one of the best leaders of india. I do not look upon him merely as a former Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh or of the Governor of Pondicherry, even though these positions are in themselves most eminent, but what rates him to the highest in my estimate, this is utter dedication to the highest ideals of India. He has devoted his life in the image of stithapragya of the Bhagavad Gita, one whose intelligence is settled in the permanence of the immortal soul, one who looks upon honour and dishonour with equal eyes, one whose desires have been burned and one who is steadfast in action so that that action is offered only at the feet of the divine. This is the ideal to which he is dedicated and embodied in his life, and one of the happiest chapters in my life is my acquaintance with him and my permanent friendship with him. Sir, I am extremely grateful that you took time from your busy schedule to be with us and to have spoken to our students to uplift them to the ideals which are enshrined in the history of India.

I do not wish to take time in a speech this morning. I shall go straight to the work to which we are dedicated this morning. I have with me a number of questions which I have received from the students of your school for seminar. Our idea was that we have given them the story already. They were supposed to read them and we have invited questions from them so that we can answer the questions or we can have dialogue with them on these questions.

We have already distributed to them the relevant literature and I feel very happy that each one of you has read this literature. This is evident from the questions that I have received. I do not know if all the questioners are present here or not. Some of them may not be here, but that does not matter. If professor Vyas permits me, I shall present these questions.

One of the important questions that I have received, which I shall first take up, is about Damayanti. It is said in the question:

Q: Was Damayanti really faultless? She had no fault of any kind? Was she so superhuman? She was not human or what?

Because the text which has been given may perhaps give indication that she was the perfect person incapable of the failures of human nature. I think if this is the message given by the story which has been presented to you, I feel somewhat sorry. Human ideals can be best illustrated only if the personalities which are concerned are human. If you can show that such is a normal stuff of human nature and out of that stuff of human nature, something grand and beautiful has grown up.

Let me first of all read out to you one line from Mahabharata describing when she wakes up and finds that Nala is not by her side. She did not know what had happened to Nala. Of course, Nala has run away. She did not know that he has gone away. She just wakes up and finds that Nala is not around and then see the psychological condition that has been described by the author of Mahabharata. Anyone know who was the author of Mahabharata? Anyone knows here the name of the author of Mahabharata?

Very good, Veda Vyasa. His style of writing is what is called masculine style of writing— straight forward, terse, strong, brief, penetrating. These are the qualities of Vyasa's writing and now you see in two lines Damayanti is described. She wakes up and says:

हा नाथ हा महाराज हा स्वामिन् किं जहासि माम् ।
हा हतास्मि विनष्टास्मि भीतास्मि विजने वने ।। (3.60.3)

हा नाथ, O Lord, हा महाराज O king, हा स्वामिन् My Lord, किं जहासि माम् Why do you forsake me, हा हतास्मि विनष्टास्मि भीतास्मि विजने वने, three epithets and the whole agony of the woman forsaken by a husband, is caught, हतास्मि I am killed, विनष्टास्मि I am undone, भीतास्मि I am afraid, it’s an anticlimax. But you can see the beauty of the three words: हा हतास्मि विनष्टास्मि भीतास्मि विजने वने, in this wilderness in the forest devoid of any human beings, in this wilderness I am alone.

Is it not human? The question was: was Damayanti devoid of human agony, human feelings? This is Damayanti. So it is not true to say that Damayanti was not human, superhuman. No, it is this woman when her husband leaves her. She feels हतास्मि I am killed. You can see the words that Vyasa used. In three words, the whole agony is, as it were, crystallised. When you are absolutely undone, the three words have come to her are हतास्मि विनष्टास्मि भीतास्मि. It is this Damayanti who is full of fear, who feels she's finished, undone. It is this Damayanti who stands up in that wilderness.

First of all, she searches for Nala all over and Vyasa describes. It is one of the pointed chapters of Mahabharata how Damayanti moves about, runs about in search and you must remember she had only half the garment left for her. Even the garment that was left Nala had cut off one half and only half the garment was there for her. In that condition she runs about her and then she returns to her own home, father’s home. And then she tries to find out where Nala is.

You can see the woman whose life was finished. She remained sustained. She had no hope of recovery. She makes tremendous search all over and the rest is a story to be admired. I will not tell you the whole story, how she recovers him, what kind of strategy she employs, and even when the husband comes back and shows himself as you know his whole face was completely defaced by the sting of the serpent, he was unrecognisable, and yet she recognises him. He is the one and remains wedded to him in spite of dire adversity in life. This is what makes Damayanti one of the greatest women, a woman like any one of us and yet capable she brings out from her deepest self that strength, that power to withstand a calamity in which she is undone. She remains steady.

This is the one question which was asked and I am answering that question already.