Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Yayati and Devayani

Mahabharata


Around this time, Vrishaparva was the king of the Asuras. He had a daughter named Sharmishta, who was a friend of Devayani. Once both of them went to bathe in the fragrant waters of a nearby pond, accompanied by many palace maidens. They spent the entire day in water sports, greatly enjoying themselves. When it was time to go, they changed into dry clothes. As fate would have it, the clothes that Devayani and Sharmishta were wearing got exchanged. This angered Sharmishta very much. She said, "O Devayani, it is not proper for you to wear clothes that were meant for me. I am the daughter of a king. Your father is a mendicant who earns a living by doing my father's bidding. As such you are also my servant. It is wrong for a servant to wear the clothes of her masters."

Sharmishta was so angry that she pushed Devayani into a nearby well and then went on her way, returning to the palace. Fortunately, the water in the well was shallow and Devayani was not hurt much. However, her heart burned with thoughts of revenge on Sharmishta. Each insulting word of the princess had struck her heart like a poisoned dagger. It grew dark soon, and Devayani started to become afraid. She began to wonder if she would be ever rescued from this well.

As luck would have it, King Yayati of the Chandra Vamsha, was hunting in the same forest. In the heat of the hunt, he had become separated from his retinue. Tired and thirsty, he was searching for water for both himself and his horse. He chanced upon this forest well. Great was his surprise when he saw that there was a beautiful maiden inside the well. He introduced himself to her and enquired as to how she happened to fall inside the well. Devayani related the incident with the princess and disclosed her identity. Yayati was very much shocked to hear the story and immediately pulled her out of the well.

Once Devayani was on dry land, she took covert stock of the King. The King was handsome and young (is there a king in the myths who is not?). She also knew of his fame as a great warrior, especially as a peerless archer. Devayani fell immediately in love with him. In those days, it was accepted practice for a woman to make the proposal. She addressed him thus: "O King. It is said that if a young man grasps the hand of a maiden, she becomes his wife. You have just now pulled me out of this well by clasping my hand. Therefore I become your wife. You must marry me." Yayati admired her beauty very much, but he was doubtful as to her father Shukra's consent for the marriage.

He said, "You are the daughter of the great sage Shukra. The family of a learned Brahmana is at a much higher social standing than a King. No Brahmana will consent to allow his daughter to marry a Kshatriya (warrior) king. I will not wed you without the consent of your father. I am afraid that the your father will not permit this marriage." He then escorted her to the hermitage and returned to his kingdom.

Devayani was certainly in love, however at this moment, her desire for revenge was stronger. She rushed crying to her father, and said "O first among Sages! Learned men have said that death is better than life with people who insult us. The scriptures also say that one should chose to live in a place where people honor and respect us. Drunk by power, my friend Sharmishta has insulted me today. I could have borne that, but she called you a beggar who earns a living by doing her father's errands. I cannot bear to have you dishonored. Let us leave this place and go somewhere else. But before that, you must punish the Asura's for the impertinence of their princess. I will not live even for one day in this shameless kingdom."

Now Shukra knew that quarrel between children had the potential to ruin the relationship of their parents. He did not place much importance to the words uttered in anger and haste by the young princess. However, he was still angry with the Asuras in the incident of wine and ashes. He drew himself to his full height and said, "Rise O Daughter. Know that your father is not a beggar, but the honored Guru of the Asuras. In knowledge I have no equals but Brihaspati. Even he had to resort to ignoble means to acquire unique knowledge that I possessed regarding the Sanjivini. I have never asked anything from anybody. The power of my penances is such that anything I desire might be mine. Do not be unduly hurt by the rash insults of your friend, the princess. She is young and will repent for her thoughtless words on her own. Greatness of a man lies not in anger, but in forbearance."

But Devayani would not be consoled easily. She repeatedly begged her father to go away from the court of Vrishaparva, saying that she could not bear to live in the realm where she had been insulted thus. At last Shukra relented. He stayed away from the counsels of Asuras and spent all his time in prayer and meditation.

When Vrishaparva realized that his Guru was no longer present in his councils, he grew very worried. He asked his trusted advisers to find out the reason Shukra was displeased with him. The advisers related all that had taken place between Devayani and Sharmishta on the river bank. They said, "O King. Know that your daughter has insulted the daughter of the great sage Shukra. Not only that, she also insulted by calling him mendicant who makes a living begging for alms. Very much hurt by these words, which burned hotter than fire, Devayani has persuaded her father to stay away from your councils."

Vrishaparva was very much shocked when he realized that the thoughtless behavior of his darling daughter was the cause of Shukra's anger. He personally went to meet Shukra at his hermitage. Once he saw Shukra, he immediately prostrated himself at his feet and said, "O Guru. You are the greatest among learned men. Your yogic powers are unequaled. Even Brihaspati, the Guru of the Devas acknowledges you as his superior. My advisers have informed me that you are very much displeased with us, due to the words spoken by my daughter Sharmishta. Please forgive us, words spoken by young people in haste should not be held against them. It is the duty of elders to forgive such transgressions of youth. Please forsake your anger, and once again advise us in our councils. It is said that a clan without a king will be destroyed within a year, but a clan without its perceptor will not last even a month. Please protect us with your wisdom, as you have protected us Asuras since time immemorial."

Shukra was pleased by the humble words of the Asura king. He said, "O King, I did not hold the words of your daughter against you. Kacha, who was a blameless disciple of mine, was murdered twice by your men. Not only that, they insulted me by mixing his ashes in wine and offering me this unclean wine to drink. In the present instance, my daughter Devayani is the aggrieved party. She has vowed that she will no longer reside in your realm. I cannot be separated from my daughter. If you can placate her, I will be willing to return to your councils."

So Vrishaparva went to Devayani. He tried to placate her with sweet words. He offered to make any reparation in his power for his daughter's transgression. Devayani heard him patiently and said, "O King. The riches and wealth you have offered me have no lure for me. Your daughter Sharmishta was my dear friend since childhood. We have grown into young women together. But yesterday, at the river bank, when I wore her clothes by mistake, she insulted me and called me her servant. Try as I might, I can never forget her words. It is not possible for me to stay in a place where I have been treated like a servant."

Vrishaparva again humbly apologized to her on his daughter's behalf and begged her to reconsider her decision. At last Devayani said, "O King, I will consent to live in your realm upon one condition. Since your daughter has insulted me by calling me her servant, your daughter must become my servant. She should forsake the riches and comfort of your palace and become my servant in the hermitage. If you consent to this condition, I will overlook her insults, and let my father resume his place as your perceptor."

Vrishaparva was dumbfounded when he heard Devayani's condition. He could not condemn his daughter to a lifetime of servitude. Crestfallen, he returned to his palace, deep in thought. His daughter noticed that her father was preoccupied with some worry. She shrewdly suspected that her quarrel with Devayani was its cause, as she was aware that Shukra no longer graced the court with his presence. She went to her father and inquired the reason behind his worry. Vrishaparva at first sought to fob her off with excuses of matters of state, but his daughter would not be dissuaded so easily. At last, answering her repeated queries, he disclosed the reason for Shukra's displeasure and Devayani's condition.

Sharmishta was by this time heartily regretting her rash words to her dear friend. She said to her father, "O Father. Since my rash act has been the cause for this calamity befalling our clan, it is but right that I make the reparation. All these riches and grandeur of your palace will mean nothing to me as long as I am the cause of our beloved Guru forsaking our clan. It is said that even Rudra cannot escape the consequences of his actions. When such is the case of the Lord of the universe, who am I to complain about the results of my actions? Go immediately to Devayani and tell her that you accept her condition. I will take up my new position as her servant as soon as she commands."

Vrishaparva was greatly touched by his daughter's sacrifice. With tears rolling from his eyes he sought to dissuade her, telling her that Devayani will relent in time, and counselled her not to take such a rash step in haste. However, Sharmishta's mind was completely made up. She knew herself to be right and would not be persuaded. So it transpired that the Asura princess, who rivalled the Apsaras in her beauty, exchanged her clothes of rich silks for coarse garments such as those worn by servants and the poor. She, who was used to have hundreds of maidens waiting on her, went from her palatial apartments to the hermitage of Shukra, and took up her duties as the servant-maid of Devayani. For her part, Devayani was secretly ashamed of reducing her friend to such a plight, but the memory of the insults prevented her from relenting. However, she treated Sharmishta more like an equal than a servant. Shukra was also very fond of Sharmishta, whom he had known since she was a child. Her sacrifice increased his good opinion of the princess.

Later, Devayani met King Yayati, once again hunting in the forest. She had not forgotten him. She persuaded him to accompany her to her father and to seek her hand in marriage. Shukra knew that Yayati was a good king, of impeccable lineage and of good character. Although he was not best pleased with his daughter marrying a Kshatriya, he decided to give his consent. He took Yayati aside, and said to him. "O King of the Kurus, my daughter has decided that you shall be her husband. Although it is not a common practice, such a marriage is permitted in the scriptures. I would consent to this match on only one condition. I know that it is the practice of Kings to take multiple wives, but such a proceeding would break my daughter's heart. You must promise me to be faithful to her and be monogamous all your life. You must especially not lift your eyes towards the princess Sharmishta, who will be accompanying my daughter as her servant."

Yayati readily consented to the condition laid out by the sage. Yayati and Devayani were married soon after this and Sharmishta accompanied them to Yayati's kingdom. As fate would have it Sharmishta also fell in love with the King. She waylaid him one day in his palace and declared her love for him. Yayati had been very much struck by her beauty all along, and was sorely tempted to return her affection. However, the promise made to Shukra and the fatal consequences that were sure to follow from his transgressions made him hold back. In the end, his passion proved stronger than his virtue and he took Sharmishta as his concubine. Such things cannot be concealed for long and in due course, it came to the ears of Sharmishta. She was very much grieved, and went away to her father.

When Shukra heard of the King's betrayal, he became exceedingly angry. He cursed the king, saying: "Since Yayati's passion has overcome his judgment, may he become attain old age immediately. His desires would burn strong, but his body shall no longer be able to serve him in quenching them." The curse came to pass immediately. Yayati became an old man, with all the attendant ills of old age. His eyesight became weak, he was nearly deaf, his handsome face was marred by a profusion of wrinkles. His posture became bent and he could not walk without the aid of a stout stick. He immediately perceived that this must be a curse of Shukra. He went to his hermitage, fell at the sage's feet and sought his forgiveness. Shukra said, "O King. In this very place you had promised me that you would remain monogamous and will not allow another woman to share your bed. I especially warned you against letting your eye wander in the direction of the princess Sharmishta. The scriptures state that among all the great sins, betrayal of trust ranks very high. You have broken your sworn word. You must bear the consequences of your sin."

Yayati pleaded again with Shukra to take back his curse. At last Shukra relented somewhat and said, "Very well. Even the Gods find it hard to tread the path of virtue when confronted with desire. Being only a mortal, it was perhaps inevitable that you should stray from the righteous path. However, my curse once uttered cannot be undone. If one of your sons would give his youth in exchange for your old age, you can be young again."

The king had to be content with this. He was at this time of middle age. He had two sons by Devayani, Turvasha and Yadu. Anu, Dhruhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta. Upon returning to his kingdom, he called all his sons to him and explained the curse of Shukra and the means the sage had suggested for mitigating it. He proclaimed that whichever son of his would consent to give his youth for his old age, would inherit the kingdom from him. All his four elder sons refused to give up their youth. Puru, the youngest, who was devoted to his father, was the only one who would consent. He gave up his youth and took on his father's old age. In return, Yayati immediately crowned Puru as the king. Then Yayati went away to lead a life of pleasure. He sought to quench his desire by immersing himself in pleasure. After spending many years in this fashion, the great truth dawned upon him. He said to himself: "Desire is a like fire. It cannot be quenched by indulging in pleasure. It only grows stronger each time one appeases it by giving way to it." He returned to the kingdom, gave back his son Puru's youth, took his rightful old age and retired to the forest, to lead a life of an ascetic. The Chandra dynasty was henceforth also referred to as the Puru clan, after Puru, the son of Sharmishta and Yayati.

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Last Modified At: Sun Nov 7 16:20:04 2004