How a Warrior Princess Found Love

by Mrudula Govindaraju and Blythe Robbins

 Damayanti bent low over her horse as it galloped over the flat ground used for practice by the royal family. Her focus was on the moving clay target set at an interval of twenty paces for the next hundred feet. As she approached the first target, she held the reins in her teeth and stood up in her stirrup. Pulling an arrow from the quiver tied to her saddle, she nocked the arrow and stretched the cat-gut string before letting go to hit the clay target.

 "My Lady! Princess, stop." A loud honking accompanied a flutter of white wings, as white as the snow-capped Himalayas.

 The horse reared on its hind legs and snorted loudly. Damayanti controlled her horse and held on to her seat. It took her a moment to realize the rude interruption was a swan. A swan like she had never seen before.

"Your Majesty, Princess Damayanti." The swan bowed gracefully, opening his wings wide and high. "I am Devadutta, a messenger from Prince Nala."

 "Silly, bird. I could have killed you. Don't you know better than to interrupt me when I’m practicing?" Damayanti lost her temper.

 "I had to catch you alone, Princess. It's an important message I deliver." Devadutta thrust his chest out and puffed up his consequence.

 "I thought pigeons did that job." Damayanti cocked an eyebrow, her eyes twinkling.

 "Pigeons are for plebeians. We only deliver messages to royalty."

 "What's so important and secretive?"

 "I bring you a message from Prince Nala." Devadutta adjusted his posture to begin singing in praise of Nala.

 "You'd make a wonderful fool.” Damayanti said teasingly. “Why don't you change your profession? You can join my court."

 "Princess, you hurt me." Devadutta flapped his wings delicately. "Now let me begin."

 Damayanti nodded her head.

 "Prince Nala, the most handsome and brave warrior..."

 "I am a warrior," Damayanti interrupted.

 "Who has won many battles," Devadutta continued without a pause. "The brave prince is a sharp-shooter with a short bow,  a swordsman better than the best, a great war tactician, and he can wrestle with the best in the kingdom..."

 "I can do all that and more. What are you trying to do? Get me to fight with Nala? Do you want our kingdoms to wage a war?”

 "Majesty." Devadutta was all contrition. "Please let me finish. I will lose my thought if you interrupt me."

"Get to the point instead of blathering. What can Nala do that I can't do?"

 "Cook, your Majesty." Devadutta said triumphantly. "He is exceptional. I deliver an invitation for lunch tomorrow at his palace. He will send his chariot to pick you up. He will feel honoured if you will accept his invitation."

 "I accept. You could have simply delivered this instead of creating all the drama."

 "What's life without som

e drama?" Devadutta winked as he flapped his wings and flew away.

 Damayanti went to the lunch as promised. As expected, she bested Nala as a warrior in every way, but he was always a close second. Triumphant, Damayanti sat down to lunch with Nala, but when she took her first bite of the course he prepared, she realized that his food was magic. Damayanti and Nala soon fell deeply in love.

Damayanti bested him in everything, and Nala was always a close second. But, when he cooked a meal, she didn't stand a chance. No one, but no one could whip up a course like Nala.

 They decided to get married.

 But nothing is ever so simple.

 

Indra, the king of Gods, also admired Damayanti's bravery and valour. He thought her beautiful, kind and generous. Unbeknownst to Damayanti, Indra too fell in love with her. But Damayanti loved Nala and Indra could not sway her. He offered her riches that no mortal could ever own; he told her she would be the queen of Gods and rule his kingdom; and finally, he offered her his heart.

 But nothing swayed Damayanti, and her rejection stung Indra. He was hell bent on marrying Damayanti. If he couldn't marry her with love, then he would do it with guile!

 The day of Damayanti’s and Nala’s wedding arrived.  Radiant with happiness and decked in finery, Damayanti walked down the steps of her palace into the grand hall in quick steps, her anklets tinkling with joy. Suddenly she heard a voice.

 "Princess Damayanti. Look at the eyes before you decide." Devadutta whispered quietly as he hid behind the pillars of the first-floor balcony.

 The doors of the grand hall were thrown open as the majordomo announced Damayanti's arrival. A hushed silence filled the hall as soon as Damayanti stepped inside. In the centre of the hall, where Nala sat in a place of honour, she found ten chairs with ten identical Nalas sitting in place. Each Nala looked at Damayanti with identical expressions of love, expectation and joy. She paused, took the garland of roses a server held on a tray, and looked at her father sitting on his throne. He shrugged, helpless. How can a mortal fight against the gods?

Damayanti understood that this was Indra spinning his magic so he could deceive Damayanti and marry her. She looked at the ten Nalas and remembered Devadutta's words. She walked by each Nala, looking into their eyes as she passed. Suddenly, Damayanti walked up to her love and put the garland of roses around Nala's neck.

 Only mortals blink their eyes. Gods don't.

 Damayanti and Nala married later that day, and their love stayed true for eternity.