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Maudgalya - Nalayani Episode from Malayalam Retellings

Bharatham Pattu (dated 1500 AD)

By Ayyanappilla Asan

Commentary by P.K. Narayana Pillai, National Book Stall, Kottayam, Kerala (1988)
Sambhava Parva, Vrttam 25, 10 songs
Songs 4 to 7, pages 138 to 139

Vyasa tells King Panchala:
Long ago your daughter was the wife of a sage. She was called Nalayani and the sage, Maudgalya. The sage was affected with leprosy (white coloured limbs). He used to cough and spit. Bad smell emanated from his body. He was stubborn. Others will not tolerate him but his wife managed. (song 4)
One day while he was eating, his finger fell of into the food along with pus. The sage stopped eating. The wife removed the finger from the food and ate the remaining food considering it to be more sweet than honey. The sage considered her to be great and chaste. (song 5)
The sage told the wife: Now I will grant you all you want. She told him her desires. The beautiful women and the sage affected by desire wandered in eight directions and fourteen worlds as Rati and Kamadeva (song 6 )
Satisfied, the sage discarded all his desires. He wanted to do penance. The wife asked: who will be my lover now? The sage said: you will be born as a prostitute and be wife to five men. She performed penance and Siva appeared. She presented her sorrow of not having a husband five times. (song 7)
Siva blessed her to be born on earth and have five husbands. She is born as your daughter.

Cherusseri Bharatham (Bharatagatha)

Authored by Ponathil Sankaran Nambiti during the reign of Udyavarman Kolathiri - M.E 621 to 640 (A.D 1446 to 1465)
Edited with an introduction by Chirakkal T. Balakrishnan Nair, Kerala Sahitya Akademi, Thrissur, Kerala (1974)
Chapter 19, Marriage of Panchali, pages 165 to 186
(Summary of pages 172 to 175)
As the Bharathas (Pandavas) disguised as brahmanas and their mother were proceeding to the palace (of Drupada) along with the Brahmins of Ekachakra, they met Vyasa on the way. The sage recited the story of the previous birth of the beautiful Draupadi so that Partha (Arjuna) can hear:
This virgin was the wife of a sage. He wanted to finish whatever sins he had. His body had big decaying wounds with pus. The wife used to clean the husband's body without any aversion. One day while the sage was eating, one of his fingers fell into the food along with worms and pus. He was unable to eat further. The wife removed the finger, worms and pus from the food and ate the remaining food happily. Seeing this the sage was happy. He told her to ask for a boon. The wife wanted the husband to be free of all diseases and enjoy marital bliss with him. The husband agreed to do so. After many days, the great sage told his dear wife: I am giving up pleasures and leaving to perform penances. The wife said: I will not agree with you, the abode of kindness, leaving me like this to the god of desire.' Hearing this the sage became angry and cursed her to be born on earth as a noble maiden and enjoy sexual pleasures with handsome lovers. The wife was sad to hear this. The husband asked her to worship Siva. The woman worshipped Siva, made him appear before her. She asked Siva to give her husband five times. Because of this , this woman will become the wife of all five brothers. Due to the kindness of Siva, there is no damage to chastity.

Sri Mahabharatam Kilippattu

By Tunchatt Ezhuttacchan (1500-1600 AD)
Sahitya Pravarthaka Co-operative Society Ltd., Kottayam, Kerala (1967).
Sambhava Parva , pages 284 to 288
Vyasa told King Panchala in private:
I will tell you about your daughter's previous birth. She was called Nalayani and her husband Maudgalya. He was an angry old man with a skinny body. He was affected by leprosy and worms and his body was smelling badly. He used to speak harsh words and used to cough. One day while he was eating, his finger fell off into the food. The wife removed the finger and ate the remaining food . After eating, the wife went to caress the body of the husband. Then Maudgalya said: You are the most chaste wife. I will grant you all your wishes. Tell me how I can satisfy you.
She said: Make me satisfied in five different forms. Maudgalya assumed a handsome figure and satisfied his wife as a sage living in a hermit. He went to the world of devas, ate amruta and lived there enjoying the pleasures with his wife Indrasena. He was respected by Paulomi. He went to the house of Sun, ascended the chariot of Sun and satisfied his wife. He went to Meru and enjoyed with his wife in the divine Ganga. He lived among the rays of moon. For a long time, he assumed the form of a gentle wind. Maudgalya became a mountain and Nalayani, a river. Maudgalya became a flowering Sala tree and Nalayani, a creeper.
Vyasa continued: Today she has become your daughter.
Panchala asked: Why did she become my daughter?
Vyasa said: Nalayani who was Indrasena took care of her husband Maudgalya for a long time and the sage satisfied his wife. Then he discarded all his desires and prepared to do penance. Nalayani told Maudgalya: Dear, do not leave me. I am not satisfied with sexual pleasure. The husband said: Why did you say this which is not to be said? You who are mad with desire want to stop my penance. Go to earth, take birth as daughter of Druapada. You will have five kings as husbands. Maudgalya blessed her and she went to the forest to do penance.
Siva appeared and said: You will be born as a King's daughter on earth. You will have five husbands. You will be able to perform the God's mission.
She asked: How can a woman have five husbands? I hear that it is not Dharma.
Siva said: Hear the reason: you said give me a husband five times. Hence you will have five husbands. There is no sin.
Nalayani said: I hear that there is no such provision in Vedas. A woman can have only one husband. A man can have many wives. If directed by husband, a woman can take another man to get sons. If a woman takes a third man, she has to perform prAyaschitta (compensatory acts) as directed by public. If a woman takes a fourth man, she is definitely fallen. If she thinks of a fifth man, she will be a prostitute. This is what I hear. Hence I do not want many husbands. It is not common. It is not ordained by Vedas. I will have the sin of mixing.
Siva said: Long ago, women had no restrictions. You will not have any sin.
(Nalayani said:) If I get five husbands, I should regain my virginity after intercourse. I have attained siddhi by serving my husband. I wish to attain siddhi again by serving my husbands.
Siva said: Siddhi and desire do not occur together. If you indulge in desire, you will not achieve siddhi. A chaste woman is sure to achieve siddhi. You will not face any obstacle in achieving siddhi. You will become virgin after living with each of the five husbands. Now proceed to the river Ganga and stand in the water. There you will meet a man. He is the lord of heaven, Indra. Bring him to me. Accordingly the woman proceeded to the river Ganga.

Nalayani Caritam

By Kuncan Nambiar (AD 1700 to 1770)
Ezhupattanchu Tullalkkathakal, Pages 679 - 688, Editor V.S.Sharma, DC Books, Kottayam (1976)


The next day, Drupada, Pandavas, other kings, Brahmins, ministers, citizens and generals of the army assembled in the court. Then Vyasa entered the court. King Drupada welcomed Vyasa and honoured him. The King explained to Vyasa : "We are in a dilemma. Yudhishtira said that all the five Pandavas will marry my daughter. This is not agreeable to me. Yesterday we dispersed saying that today we shall discuss the matter. O great sage, kindly guide and bless us."

Vyasa said : "I shall explain to you all secrets in private". Both entered a room and closed the door.

Vyasa said : "Listen to the story of the previous birth of your daughter. She was called Indrasena and Nalayani. Her husband was a sage called Maudgalya. The beautiful Indrasena's husband was extremely ugly - old, skinny, bald, affected by leprosy, body full of wounds emitting bad smell. He was also adamant. He used to speak harshly with the wife. The wife suffered all the ill-treatment patiently. She used to clean his body thoroughly, bathe him, prepare good food and feed him lovingly. The old man used to find fault with everything she does. He always complained about the food, about her, etc. She used to listen patiently without replying to any of the accusations. She gladly ate the food left over by the husband after he had mixed and eaten it with his hands having fingers covered with wounds, swarming with worms.

Many years Nalayani served Maudgalya in this manner. One day as he was eating, one of his fingers fell into the wound along with some worms. The sage stopped eating and got up. The wife removed the finger and the worms and ate the remaining food without any hesitation. The sage was highly pleased with this. Then he appeared as a handsome man with beautiful body and limbs and embraced his wife.

Maudgalya said : " My dear Nalayani, I assumed the form of an old man to test your love.I am pleased with your devotion. Ask for any boon."

The beautiful Nalayani said : "I wish to enjoy all pleasures in this world, in the world of Devas and in the netherworld. Please assume five forms and make love to me".

The great sage assumed five forms and enjoyed the pleasures with his wife. One day all the five and the wife went to the city of the great Deva. The king of Devas welcomed them. The beautiful lady and her five husbands roamed in the world of Indra and enjoyed all pleasures. The apsaras saw them and discussed:
"So far I did not think that such beautiful women live on earth. Why did these men come here ? Do they want to show their beautiful wife to us? Among the five men who is the lady's husband?"
"I heard all five men are her husbands!"
"Are there not more than five men on earth ? Why did this woman think that five are enough?"

"She thought it may be uncomfortable if she brings many. Hence she brought five men with her."

"Do all women on earth follow such malpractices?"

"Who knows? In any case why are you concerned? If you mock at this, you will be blamed. The lord Indra is pleased with them. He has arranged a room for them. If you talk loosely, you may be in trouble. Our lord Indra is kind to women of earth. Do you know the truth ? What do you know? The lover of Ahalya wishes to help them."

"What a misfortune! A woman of ill-fame has arrived in our land. She is bent on doing various acts day and night. She lies on the lap of one man. Then another man makes up her hair. The third one presses her feet. The fourth caresses her hand. The fifth prepares betel leaf for her to chew. What do you think? All seem to be wicked fools."

"I do not understand why Devas are keeping quiet. These people should be killed. If I am the King, I will expel them immediately. They came here to make us suffer."

" We can not tolerate this. All will laugh at us if we speak openly."

While the divine women were discussing thus, the men and the women played various water games in the divine Ganga. They enjoyed various pleasures for some time.

The sage and his wife became a Yaksha and Yakshini, a Kinnara and Kinari, Charana and Charini, Horse faced man and woman, Vidhyadhara and Vidhyadhari.

They enjoyed in the Nandana forest, sandalwood forest, in the moon, in the world of Indra and in the end returned to their hermitage on earth. The great sage and his wife became a Brahmin and Brahmin woman. The sage spoke to his wife in Sanskrit. " Listen! There is no water to perform my prayers. The house is not cleaned properly. Where are the maid servants? Where are the lamps? Prepare food immediately. I am hungry." Thus they enjoyed as a Brahmin couple.

Nalayani suggested that they should leave Kerala and visit other regions.

The sage and his wife went to Pandya country (Tamil Nadu). As a Tamil Brahmin, the sage spoke in Tamil: "Bring food to both of us immediately. Otherwise we shall die of hunger".
"The rice and curry are ready. We shall serve you soon."

They proceeded to Telugu land as Telugu Brahmin couple. They went to a householder and spoke in Telugu. "We shall take bath and come. Keep the food ready."

Then they went to Konkan land and spoke to a householder in Konkani.

They went to LATa country (North India?) and spoke in Hindi.

Then they became a Kshtriya couple.

They became a Sudra couple. The sage consumed liquor and got intoxicated. He started beating his wife. People threatened him and asked him to stop beating the wife.

The couple became a copper smith and his wife, a carpenter and his wife, a blacksmith and his wife, a goldsmith and his wife, a kirata and his wife, an astrologer and his wife.

They enjoyed life as fish, crab, water snake, crocodile, tortoise, sea-horse, shark, tiger, deer, bison etc. In short they enjoyed the pleasures of all varieties of human and animal world.

At last the sage was satisfied. Indrasena was not at all satisfied. She wanted to have more and more pleasure. The holy sage said: "You are still not satisfied with sexual pleasure. Go to earth and be born as the daughter of Drupada. You will have five husbands. Enjoy all sexual pleasures. A prostitute will be happy only with men of loose morals. With excess sexual desires, you shall perish. It is better to strive for salvation. So go and perform penance."

Thus cursing Nalayani in this way, the great sage went to the forest and engaged himself in performing penances.

Compiled by A. Purushothaman (May 2005)