Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Sukanya and Chyavana

Once upon a time, there was a great Rishi (sage) named Chyavana. While he was still a young man, he decided to embark upon a long and arduous penance. He refrained from food and water during this penance and sat deep in meditation. Centuries passed, the sage was still deep in meditation, he had grown old, but he was still alive, thank to his yogic power. His penance had become part of the legend of that place, and people had forgotten where his hermitage used to be. Since had been motionless for centuries, an ant hill had formed around him.

Sukanya, the teen-aged daughter of the local king, had come to the forest along with her father and his retinue. It was noon and everybody was resting under the shade various trees. Sukanya was restless. She decided to explore the forest and walked here and there. As luck would have it, she came upon the hermitage of Chyavana. She went inside and saw crumbling walls, and no signs of human habitation. Struck with wonder, she came back outside and saw the ant hill. Exactly at this time, the penance of the sage had concluded and he opened his eyes. His bright eyes fell upon the princess, and he smiled to himself, for he still had the mind of a young man.

As Sukanya was staring at the ant hill, she thought she saw two glowing orbs inside. Curious, she picked up a nearby stick and poked them to see what was inside. The lights (which were really Chyavana's eyes) were extinguished. A moan came from the ant hill. Frightened, the princess ran away, and joined here father's retinue.

The sage knew that it was not really Sukanya's fault that he had become blind. However, he was in great pain and blood oozed from his punctured eyes. When a sage is in distress, people also feel his distress. All the people in the king's retinue felt ill. They felt as if they had personally lost something precious, something close to their heart. The King felt the same, and was surprised. He called his astrologers and said, "What is the meaning of these signs? Why is everybody suddenly ill? What could have happened?".

The astrologers studied the signs in the sky, listened to the sound of the birds and animals and said, "O King, all these signs point to the same thing. Some sage is greatly in distress. He has been harmed by someone in your retinue. Till he is appeased, all of you will continue to be ill."

The king was very much concerned. He then remembered the legend of Chyavana. When he had been a child, he had heard from his grandfather that the sage Chyavana was said to be performing a penance, somewhere in this forest. He deduced that somebody in his troop must have disturbed this sage. He called all of them and told them about the interpretation of the astrologers.

Sukanya immediately knew that she was responsible. Hanging her head in shame, she went to her father and said, "Father, I saw a hermitage in the forest and an ant hill in front of it. When some things glowed inside the ant hill, out of curiosity I poked them with a stick. The lights went out and I heard a deep moan, as if somebody is in pain. I fear that it must be the sage that you were mentioning. Please, let us go there and see what has happened to him."

The King was very angry. He scolded his daughter for her thoughtless behavior, but what had been done could not be undone. He asked her to take him to this hermitage. When the whole group got there, the sage was still sitting in meditation, the ant hill around him had fallen off, and blood was flowing from his eyes.

Everybody immediately prostrated themselves before the hermit. The King humbly begged the sages pardon for the thoughtless act of his daughter. He requested the sage not to judge her too harshly, for she was a mere child.

The sage said, "O King. I am well aware that your daughter is only a child. I also know that curiosity, not malice was her crime. However the end result is the same. I have become blind. How will I be able to continue my prayers and austerities? I am helpless to even move around now. What reparation can be made that will overcome my disability?"

Sukanya once again begged the sage's pardon. She said, "O great one, although my act was simply out of curiosity, you have become blind as a result of it. You will need someone to take care of you all the time. Please marry me, I shall atone for my crime by being your devoted wife and will help you carry forward your penances and prayers. Please accept my hand in marriage!"

The King was aghast. He said, "O daughter, you do not know what you are proposing. You are accustomed to a life of luxury. Do you know how hard the life of a hermit is? You, who are still a child, speak of taking care of this Rishi! You have never had to do a day's work in your life, and now you offer to assist the sage in his prayers? Besides, you are too young to be married. Think well before you act."

The sage interposed and said, "Child, you do not have to make such a sacrifice for your crime. As your father says, you will find it very hard to be the wife of a sage. Life will be a long toil under these circumstances. I am old, blind and ugly. You are a princess, and can expect to become a wife of a young prince. Do not throw yourself away on an old man."

However, Sukanya was steadfast in her determination. She respected the sage greatly. His peaceful expression, and the sense of calm that emanated from him was very much to her liking. She insisted that she had thought this issue out and that she was sure that she wanted to marry the sage.

The marriage was performed soon. Despite the great difference in their ages, they were very happy. If Sukanya wished occasionally that her husband would be young and handsome, she at least gave no sign of her thoughts to her husband. Many years passed in this way.

One day, Sukanya had gone to the river, to fetch water for her home. The Ashwini twins, who are the divine physicians, happened to see her there. They were immediately struck by her beauty and began to lust after her. They knew that she was the wife of Chyavana, who was old and weak. They appeared before her and solicited her. They said, "Your husband is old and weak. We on the other hand, are young and handsome. Abandon your husband and choose one of us to be your mate."

Sukanya was incensed. She said, "How dare you speak such low words to me. Go away from here before I curse you. You are not even fit to utter the name of my husband. His yogic powers are so great, that you would be burned into ashes if he merely becomes displeased with you. Are you not ashamed to utter such unbecoming words to a married woman?"

Crest-fallen, the twins went away. However, they could not forget her, so they hatched a plan. The next day, they again waited near the river. When Sukanya came there, they said, "We have repented our conduct yesterday. It was shameful. We have decided to atone for it by turning your husband into a young man again. We are the physicians of the Gods and can make old age go away."

When Sukanya heard this, she was tempted. While she was very happy with her husband, she felt that her life would be complete, if only her husband could regain his sight and become young again. However, she returned no answer and after fetching water, went back to the hermitage.

Chyavana could sense that something was weighing on his wife's mind. He asked her what it was. She narrated the incidents of the past two days and told him about the offer of Ashwinis. He smiled at her and said, "Would you like me better if I was young and handsome? Would you be happier if I were no longer blind?"

She said, "My Dear, You know that I love you very much. It pains me to see you being blind, for that is an eternal source of reproach to me. If not for me, you would still have your eyesight. If you could only see again, I would not care for anything else!"

Chyavana sensed that his wife wanted to take up the offer of the Ashwinis. He said, "Very well. I sense that the Ashwinis are not being completely honest here, yet their offer is very tempting. Which blind man can refuse a gift of eyesight? Which old man would not want to become young again? Let us go to the river and tell the Ashwinis that we accept their gift."

The Ashwinis were overjoyed that their plan had worked so well. The said to the sage, "We can restore both your eyesight and make you young again. In addition, you would be very handsome. All you have to do, is to hold our hands on either side, and then take a dip into this river."

With the Ashwinis holding both his hands, the sage immersed himself in to the water. The Ashwinis also immersed themselves. When all three of them came out, a miracle had happened! The sage was now young and handsome and had his eyesight restored as promised, but he had turned into a spitting image of the Ashwinis! You could not tell them apart now.

Now Sukanya was aghast. Too late, she realized that the twins had tricked her. She had to pick her husband out of these three identical men, and the greater probability was that she would end up choosing one of the Ashwinis instead of her husband. She was very angry at the treachery of the Ashwinis, but anger could not help her now.

All three men in stood in front of her, and were smiling at her. She prayed to Lord Shiva to give her strength, to help pick out her husband correctly. She looked at the first man. His face was smiling but his eyes held a cruel expression. She knew at once that it could not be her husband. She looked at another. His eyes had the gleam of avarice, and she decided that this was not her husband at all. When she looked into the eyes of the last, she saw an expression of love, of a soul at peace with itself and knew at once that this was Chyavana, her husband. She boldly walked forward, grasped his hand firmly, and pulled him out of the line-up.

The Ashwinis were very much chagrined. They had been so confident that she would chose one of them. Now they were afraid of her anger. They hung their heads in shame.

Chyavana spoke. He said, "Thank you O Ashwinis, for your gift of youth and eyesight. I thank you for myself as well as for my wife. I know that your gift was not made out of the goodness of your heart, but as a part of an evil plan. However, be as it may, I am still indebted to you for your gifts. I know that because of your dispute with Indra, he has forbidden you to take a portion of Havis, the sacrificial offerings. I know that your status is inferior to that of the Devas chiefly because mortals do not offer you worship. In return for your gift, I shall teach you certain verses from the Vedas, that have been long forgotten. I am certain that not even Brihaspati knows their secrets. With this knowledge, you will be able to convince the Devas to let you share the Havis."

Then Chyavana proceeded to instruct them in the Mantras (incantations). The Ashwinis were very grateful to the sage, who had repaid their treachery with such kindness. They were able to barter their knowledge in exchange for the right for a portion of the Havis. From that day, they were treated as equals by the Devas.

The sage and Sukanya lived happily for a long time, till it was time for both of them to ascend to heaven.

Last Modified At: Fri Nov 5 22:47:10 2004