Mahābhārata – Episode 112 - Story of Yayāti

This article is part 112 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

Yayāti was the tenth in the line of descendants from Dakṣa-prajāpati; his son was Pūru. Further in his lineage Duṣyanta was born.

The preceptor of the Asuras, Śukrācārya knew the mystic art of mṛta-sañjīvini that could revive people from death. Using that he would bring back to life all the dead Asuras in the ongoing war between the Devas and Asuras. All those who were thus revived went back to fighting the Devas with renewed vigour. The preceptor of the Devas, Bṛhaspati did not know the art of mṛta-sañjīvini and therefore the Devas who died in the war could not be revived. Thus the Devas began dwindling in number and in strength; so they called for Kaca [Kacha], the eldest son of Bṛhaspati, and requested him to go to Śukrācārya with a view to learn the mystic art of mṛta-sañjīvini. In deference to their wishes, he went to Śukrācārya and said, "I am the grandson of Aṅgirasa and the son of Bṛhaspati; my name is Kaca. I wish to learn under your tutelage. Please make me your disciple." Śukrācārya agreed. Śukrācārya had a daughter named Devayānī. Kaca easily befriended her and amused her with singing, dancing, and playing various musical instruments. He would bring her fruits and flowers. She too was similarly friendly towards him. When the Asuras learnt about this, they chased after Kaca who had taken the cows for grazing; they captured him, killed him, chopped him into pieces, and fed the pieces to the dogs. In the evening, only the cows returned; Kaca did not. Seeing this, Devayānī guessed that he must be in some sort of danger and alerted her father at once. He invoked the mṛta-sañjīvini mantra and Kaca came back from the death, tearing apart the stomachs of the dogs. On another occasion, when Kaca had gone to gather some flowers, the Asuras killed him; they burnt his body, mixed the ashes in wine, and offered that wine to Śukrācārya. Again, with a view to placate his daughter, he invoked the the mṛta-sañjīvini mantra and Kaca was alive again; but he was in Śukrācārya's stomach. The only way for him to come out would be to rip open his guru's stomach. If that happened, Śukrācārya would die; Kaca informed the situation from within Śukrācārya's stomach. Without any option, Śukrācārya taught the art of mṛta-sañjīvini to Kaca with the instruction that he must be revived soon after Kaca came out. Accordingly, after Kaca came out tearing his guru's belly, he immediately invoked the mantra and brought Śukrācārya back to life. Both Kaca and Śukrācārya survived, much to the delight of Devayānī.

Kaca's objective was fulfilled since he had learnt the sañjīvini art and he was getting ready to return to the abode of the Devas. When the time came for him to leave, Devayānī accosted him with a proposal of marriage. She wanted Kaca to marry her but he refused. He said that since she was his guru's daughter, he held her in great respect and she was worthy of worship; she was just like a sister to him and that he only had brotherly love towards her. Devayānī was shattered and she cursed Kaca that the art of mṛta-sañjīvini would be useless to him and that he could never use it again. Unfazed by her curse, Kaca merely said, "It doesn't matter if I can't use it myself; I will be able to teach it to others and they will make use of it!" Saying so he returned to his father's home. The Devas learnt the art from him and became as strong as the Asuras.

One day Devayānī along with Śarmiṣṭha, the daughter of the Asura king Vṛṣaparva, and other damsels were in a forest, engaged in water sports (jala-krīḍā). At that point, a fiery wind blew and all the clothes of the women that were kept on the banks of the river were blown away in a corner and became one big jumbled heap. And as a result, Śarmiṣṭha ended up wearing Devayānī's sari. The mixup became the cause of a fight between the two of them and Śarmiṣṭha said, "Whether my father is seated or asleep, your father showers praises on him. He bows his head down and behaves with servitude. You the daughter of someone who flatters my father and gets his work done with forced smiles and words of praise. You wretch! You waif! You're getting angry with me, someone who's much more powerful than you are!" After thus mocking her, Śarmiṣṭha pushed her into an empty well and went away. Nahuṣa’s son Yayāti happened to be hunting deer in the same forest; overcome by thirst he stopped by the well but instead of water he found Devayānī there. When he learnt she was Śukrācārya's daughter, he immediately rescued her from the well. Leaving her at the outskirts of her town, he went away. But she did not return home.

When Śukrācārya learnt that his beloved daughter had fallen into a well, he set out to look for her and found her on the way. She told him the insults hurled on her and on him by Śarmiṣṭha and simply refused to set foot in the kingdom of Vṛṣaparva. He told her, "I don't praise but rather get praised. I never stretch my hand in front of Vṛṣaparva; I've never asked him anything. Vṛṣaparva knows this, as does Indra, and Yayāti too!" In many ways, he tried to console his daughter but she would not budge. Then Śukrācārya went to Vṛṣaparva, explained to him the details of all the events that transpired and finally informed him that he and his daughter will be leaving the kingdom. But Vṛṣaparva did not want to lose his strength and his position of power. Śukrācārya made it extremely clear that unless Devayānī was assuaged, it would not be possible for him to remain in the kingdom. Therefore Vṛṣaparva had to do as Devayānī ordered. She said that Śarmiṣṭha and all her sakhis (friends, associates) should become her slaves and also that when she got married, all of them would follow her as her retinue. The king agreed to this. For the sake of her father, Śarmiṣṭha had to agree.

Some time passed and Devayānī with all her slaves were at the same spot in the forest where they had played water sports earlier; they were all seated and having a relaxed time. At that point, Yayāti who was on a hunt happened to come there. Devayānī asked him to get married to her. He was hesitant; he said that he was the son of a kṣatriya but she was the daughter of a brāhmāṇa and that their marriage was not appropriate. Finally it was decided that if her father agreed, it would be fine. Śukrācārya gave his consent. Devayānī got married to Yayāti and went to his capital. Without a choice, Śarmiṣṭha had to go along with her retinue.

Devayānī lived in the inner chambers of the palace. Separate residences were constructed in the Aśoka-vana [a sort of palace garden] for Śarmiṣṭha and the other slaves. In due course Devayānī became pregnant. Śarmiṣṭha was pining for a partner, without marriage. One day she asked the king to come to a spot where she would be waiting, and when he showed up, waiting for the right moment, she begged for union with him. At first, he did not agree. He said, "Śukrācārya specifically instructed me not go anywhere near Śarmiṣṭha or allow her to come near me. I have given him my word that such a thing will not happen!" 

Śarmiṣṭha said, "O king! You know my illustrious family and my spotless character. This being the case, a wrong step on your part will not amount to transgressing your word to the preceptor. The husband of my sakhi is also my husband, no? You give whatever anyone asks you; give me a son!" With such words, she finally convinced him. She too became pregnant in due course. When Devayānī heard this, she was aghast. Śarmiṣṭha assuaged her at once with the words, "I have committed no transgression; I'm going to have a child from a dharma-adhering ṛṣi!" Devayānī was convinced and let the matter be.

Yayāti had two sons through Devayānī: Yadu and Turvasu; he had three sons with Śarmiṣṭha: Druhyu, Anu, and Pūru. Once when Devayānī and Yayāti were taking a stroll in the Aśoka-vana, she saw Śarmiṣṭha's sons playing and asked them, "Whose children are you?" They pointed to Yayāti as their father and said that their mother was Śarmiṣṭha. When the children came near them, the king did not show them any affection or cuddle them since Devayānī was nearby. They promptly ran off to Śarmiṣṭha to complain. And when Śarmiṣṭha came there, Devayānī abused her for telling a lie and for cheating her. Śarmiṣṭha simply said, "I told you that I had union with a ṛṣi; that's not a lie. That ṛṣi is Yayāti; he is a rājarṣi; further, after he became your lord, he automatically become the lord of your slaves, including me." Furious with both of them Devayānī said, "I will not stay here for a moment; I will go to my father's house." She walked away in a huff and Yayāti ran behind her trying to calm her down. Not only did she not respond to his words, she also did not turn around to look at him. Both of them arrived in Śukrācārya's house. Listening to his daughter's complaint, he rebuked Yayāti and cursed him with old age; at once, Yayāti became an old man. When Yayāti told Śukrācārya that he harbours a stong desire to continue conjugal life with Devayānī, Śukrācārya said, "If that is the case, then find a young man who can give you his youth in exchange for your old age; if someone agrees to give you his youth then you will become youthful." Thus he gave the antidote to the curse. Yayāti then said, "Well then, whichever son of mine agrees to give me his youth, I will make him my heir and he will rule the kingdom after me. Will you agree to this?" Śukrācārya gave his consent.

Thus bearing the burden of old age, Yayāti returned to his capital. He called his sons one by one and asked them if they would agree to give their youth to him in exchange of his old age. Both the sons of Devayānī did not agree to it. Among Śarmiṣṭha's sons, Druyhu and Anu also did not agree. The youngest, Pūru, agreed to it. Yayāti became young again. Pūru became an old man.

In the course of time, Yayāti exhausted all his desires for sensual pleasures, and returned Pūru’s youth to him taking back old age; he gave the kingdom away to Pūru, became an ascetic, and retreated to the forest to perform meditation and tapas. Pūru became the progenitor of the Paurava lineage. It is in this lineage that later Duṣyanta was born. (Similarly, from Yadu the Yādavas arose, from Turvasu the Yavanas, from Druhyu the Bhojas, and from Anu the Mlecchas. Yayāti had given these four sons small provinces in the frotiers of his kingdom and ruled the major, central portion of his kingdom himself.)

Owing to his tapas, Yayāti arose to svarga. He started boasting that there is no other ascetic in heaven equal to him and because of this transgression, he fell back to earth. As he was falling down to earth to be reborn, his daughter's children Vasumanta, Aṣṭaka, Pratardana, and Śibi, all of whom were kings, granted him their share of puṇya and he again rose to svarga.

This is a translation of the upa-kathā (sub-story) of Yayāti that appears in the Ādi-parva. Thanks to K K Subramaniam for his review and pertinent suggestions.

With this episode, the English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar stands completed. The original Kannada version of Vacanabhārata is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.

Sarvam śivam.

रत्नोदारचतुःसमुग्ररशनां भुक्त्वा भुवं कौरवो
भग्नोरुः पतितः स निष्परिजनो जीवन्वृकैर्भक्षितः।
गोपैर्विश्वजयी जितः स विजयः कक्षैः क्षिता वृष्णाय-
स्तस्मात्सर्वमिदं विचार्य सुचिरं शान्त्यै मनो दीयताम्॥
(क्षेमेन्द्र)

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

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