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Nala and Damayanti and Other Poems

by Henry Hart Milman

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The episode of Nala is extracted from the Vanaparvam, the third part of the Mahabharata, the great Indian poem, which contains 100,000 slokas, or distichs. The sage, Vrihadasva, relates the story of Nala to king Yudishthira, in order to console him under the miseries to which he was exposed by bad success in play. By the terms of the gaming transaction, in which he was worsted by Sakuni, who threw the dice for Duryodhana, he was condemned to wander with his brothers for twelve years in the forest. The adventures of Nala showed how that king, having been in the same manner unfortunate with the dice, had suffered still greater toil and misery, and had at length recovered his kingdom and his wife. The popularity of this fable with the natives, is sufficiently proved by the numerous poetic versions of the story.

The Nalodaya, a poem ascribed to Kalidas, should first be mentioned. A new edition of this work has been recently published by Ferdinand Benary; we have a notice of it in the Quarterly Review: it seems to bear the same relation to the simple and national episode of the Mahabharata, as the seicentesti of Italy to Dante or Ar?osto, or Gongora to the poem of the Cid. Another poem called Naishadha, in twenty-two books, does not complete the story, but only carries it as far as the fifteenth book. There is a Tamulic version of the same story, translated by Kindersley, in his specimens of Hindu Literature. The third book of the poem of Sriharsha, containing 135 slokas, is entirely occupied with the conversation between Damayanti and the swans (the geese), in which the birds to excite her love, dwell with diffuse eloquence on the praises of Nala.

Author Information

Henry Hart Milman

He was educated at Eton and Oxford, where as a student he took well-nigh all the honors open to a student. His prize poem on "Apollo Belvidere", written in 1812, Dean Stanley pronounced "the most perfect of all Oxford prize poems." He entered the ministry in 1816; was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1821 to 1831; became Canon of Westminster in 1835, and Dean of St. Paul's in 1849. He died September 24, 1868. His career as a man of letters, theologian, and Churchman was brilliant. His poetic and theological writings are numerous. His History of the Jews (1829) was the first work of English theology to subject the Bible to historical criticism. Other works include History of Christianity (1840), History of Latin Christianity (6 vol., 1854-1855), and other volumes are among the ablest and most valuable of nineteenth century contributions to English theological literature. Milman's thirteen hymns were first published in Bishop Heber's posthumous volume of Hymns, 1827, and later republished in his own Psalms and Hymns, 1837. They are all in use among modern (Circa 2000) Church hymnals.

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