An eternal tale from the Mahabharata
After an age, daughter of Shukracharya, the guru of demons, incidentally for the second time came to the same jungle for a jaunt where she had had heated arguments with Sarmistha. Now, for years, Sarmistha had been serving Devyani like a dasi, together with one thousand girls, without any objection, for now it was the desire of all the demons that she worked for the well-being of the demons where they were engaged in a bitter war with the gods.
Devyani had come to the jungle along with one thousand dasis. While Sarmistha stood attendance on her, she wandered in the jungle along with her old friends and acquaintances. All the adolescent girls were fully absorbed in the playful gambols and ecstatic moments of pleasure and freedom. They frolicked around and enjoyed the juice of flowers and fragrance, and ate pulpy fruits and other stone fruit for taste. As if it was predestined and as if history were to repeat itself, the great son of Nahusa, King Yayati, was hunting around and arrived at the same place. He was extremely tired and exhausted after a long and tedious chase. He wanted to have water to quench thirst. At that time, the king saw Devyani, Sarmistha and other young women loitering about in the jungle in cheerfulness.
All the young, beautiful girls wore divine ornaments and looked stunningly charming. To while away their time, they were chattering, singing, jumping about and at times, taking fruits.
This playful scene attracted the king. He saw a fully ornamented girl Devyani sitting on a gracefully decorated godly platform.
It was difficult to compare her beauty and glow. She was sitting amidst beautiful women and Sarmistha was massaging her tender feet.
King Yayati approached the girls and asked, “What are the names of you, O beautiful girls, who are surrounded by two thousand friends? O fine looking women, give your full introduction.”
“O king, I shall introduce myself. Please listen. I am the daughter of Shukracharya, the famous guru of demons.” She also added, “She is Sarmistha, the daughter of the king of demons. She is my friend and dasi. When I am married off, she will escort me to the house of my parents-in-law and stay there to serve.”
“O beautiful woman, how is it that this girl of striking brows and eye-catching beauty, a daughter of the king of asuras, has become your friend and dasi? Please tell me. I am eager to know.”
“O the best among the kings, people follow the principles laid down by destiny. Please think it as a writ of destiny and be satisfied. Kindly do not ask about the fantastic incidents pertaining to this situation. From your talks, dress and brilliant radiance you look like a king. You also speak in pure Sanskrit language. Please tell me; what is your name, from where you come and whose son you are?”
“I have studied all the Vedas while following the strict discipline of a celibate. I am Yayati, the son of king Nahusha and now I am the king Yayati.” He was impressed the way she asked the question. Her words spoke of a great upbringing. Being daughter of Shukracharya, she had learnt the etiquettes of elegant and pure women. Therefore, he gave full details of his identity.
“O king, what purpose has brought you to the forest? Do you want water to quench your thirst or you want lotus flowers? Or have come for hunting?”
“I was chasing a prey and after pursuing it for a long distance I reached here. Now, I am extremely fatigued and want water. Therefore, now permit me to go.”
It appeared Devyani was attracted towards the king. Perhaps, she remembered her earlier encounter or it is possible that Yayati also recalled to mind, a brief episode when he had saved Devyani and pulled her up from the deep depression. Nothing appeared understandable but still many doubts were dispelled when Devyani voluntarily proposed to become his queen. This seems startling but then it does speak of the times when a woman had the freedom in her choice of a husband.
When the king wanted to go, Devyani said, “O king, may God bless you. Two thousand girls, and I, along with Sarmistha surrender before you. Please become my friend and husband.”
“O daughter of Shukracharya, may God be generous to you. O girl, I am not a suitable match for you. Ksatriyas do not accept a girl as wife from a brahmin such as Shukracharya.”
“There is not much difference. These castes are merged with one another, if one looks back. You are a son of a king’s sage and you are also a king’s sage, a priest of the kingdom. Therefore, you should marry me.”
“O woman, this body with four varnas—(castes) according to profession, is born of the body of the Supreme but dharma, the process of purification and karmas are diverse. A brahmin is thought to be the purest, the greatest.”
“O son of Nahusa, to marry a man is the dharma of a woman. No man has ever held my hand. You are the first to hold this hand.” She looked at him with intensity and wanted to find out whether he remembered the past or not.
This ancient tale tells about a man of dharma and a man of the world. The man wants pleasures of life and keenly desires prosperity and happiness of the people. He is truthful and frank. There is no falsehood or pusillanimity. Dharma, truth and ethics prevail in that kingdom of yore. Now, a man lives a life of sex, lust, passions, greed and violence, and amasses wealth. If a man develops the nature, wisdom, virtues of Yayati this world can see peace and harmony.
If a man learns to live within the parameters of dharma, righteousness, truth and devotion, he will automatically discover the limits of operation, and relations one would want to imbibe, the tale wonderfully exhorts.
It was a conflict within the king, she observed. Nevertheless, surprisingly, she harboured no doubts and conflicts. She was clear
and decisive. Whatever may be the other considerations, as the king had held her hand even if with a purpose to save the life of a person in danger, she was firm in mind that only he was eligible to be her husband. While these thoughts crowded her mind, she said, “That you held this hand, therefore, I accept you as my husband.”
After a pause, she resumed, “I am a woman who keeps her mind under control. A person of your status and grandeur held this hand and touched me, so how is it possible for another man to touch me, O king Yayati?”
Yayati tried to argue, “O pious woman, a wise man should consider an angry brahmin and poisonous snake more dangerous and dreadful than the burning fire.” Devyani listened and then looked at him.
“How is it that an annoyed brahmin and a venomous snake are more frightful than the burning fire? How can you say that?”
“O woman, a snake kills only one living being, a weapon also finishes a man, but a brahmin burning with anger destroys the entire town and then, the nation. Therefore, I consider a brahmin horrible. Till your father agrees to hand you over in marriage, I cannot accept you as my wife.”
“O king, I have accepted you as a husband. Will you agree to marry when my father accepts the proposal? I do not think you will ask for my hand. If he agrees, you will accept. Therefore, it means you are not afraid of his anger. O king, stay for a few moments. I will just send a message to my father.”
Devyani told a dasi, “O dasi, go immediately and bring my father here; he is like a Brahma to me. Also inform him that Devyani has, after following the rules of marital relations, has accepted the son of Nahusa, King Yayati, as a husband.”
Thereafter, on receiving the message, Shukracharya arrived at the scene. The king bowed in respect before the great Guru and stood with folded hands. At that time, Devyani spoke, “O father, he is King Yayati, son of Nahusa. In times of crisis, he had held my hand and saved me. I pay regards to you. Kindly offer me to his devotion and services. I will not accept any other man as my husband than King Yayati.”
Devyani had the tendency to stand by her words even if her stance was one of conceit and indiscretion.
Shukracharya said, “O brave King Yayati, my dearest daughter has accepted you as a husband. Therefore, I give Devyani to you and so make her your queen.”
“O Bhargava, I humbly ask for a boon.” After a second, he said, “As this marriage obviously appears to be a relation tainted by the blemish originated from the mix up of varnas, so it should not harm me.”
“O king, I bless you. You are free from this act of adharma. Whatever you wish, you may ask. You should not have mental agony because of this relation. I free you from all the sins. You accept the beautiful Devyani as your wife, as enshrined in the tenets of dharma, and enjoy marital bliss and happiness together.”
The Guru looked at Sarmistha and said to the king, “O king, I also offer Princess Sarmistha, the daughter of King Vrishparva. Show respect to the beautiful girl but never invite her to abed with you. God bless you, O king. You will never call up Sarmistha or talk to her, and never touch her body. Now, you can marry properly, and you will be blessed as per the desires you nurse.”
Thereafter, Yayati took Devyani round (agni) and completed the formalities of marriage as per the writs of the religious books. After sometime, he returned to the capital with all glory and splendour.
The greatest irony continued to haunt. Sarmistha, one of the princesses, had to work as a dasi along with many other dasis. However, there was no escape. Tied up by a word of mouth, whether it was a result of love, faith and dedication or fierce bitterness and enmity, everyone was under obligation to obey the commands of destiny. If one understands that here existed the freedom of choice of a husband for a woman, one is bewildered at the plight of those thousands of girls who were merely shepherded to the new kingdom as dasis without consent. That raises questions of propriety, notwithstanding arguments to the contrary.
The capital of Yayati was like Aamravati, the most beautiful and fabulous. Devyani, the queen, stayed in the most beautiful palace and along with it she got constructed another grand palace near the Ashokvatika, where the daughter of Vrishaparva, Sarmistha, stayed along with one thousand maidservants. It was her sincere desire that Sarmistha also stayed royally. The king made sufficient arrangements of food, clothes, juices and water separately for them while extending appropriate respect to Sarmistha. Devyani began to live a wonderful married life. Life had more pleasures to offer than she had imagined. Yayati was a king of virtues and truth. Dharma determined the principles of life and the state. People were happy and prosperous in a state where justice prevailed. No violence and lies governed the psyche of people. It was an ideal kingdom.
A gorgeous and grand palace had been built for the queen. Devyani and Yayati would go daily to the Ashokavatika and after spending time with Sarmistha would return to the palace while Sarmistha returned to her palace. They continued to enjoy life for years. Yayati and Devyani spent many years of marital life and moved about like gods on this earth.
After some time, Devyani gave birth to a son. Many years passed and the daughter of Vrishaparva, Sarmistha, grew-up and was worried about her future. After taking bath religiously, she put on her ornaments, and properly dressed, she stood against the flower-laden branch of Asoka tree. When she looked into the mirror, a desire to have a husband arose in her mind and so she was quite disturbed.
She was filled with pain and sorrow, and overwhelmed with the feelings of passion and love for a man. She said, “O Asoka tree, you free all the people from distress and sorrow. Bless me and be kind enough to let me have darshana of my beloved and let me adorn this pretty body with your name. I have attained adulthood but I have not accepted a husband yet. What kind of situation is this? What should I do, which turns out a divine work? Devyani is pregnant. I too, am young but it is going waste. Why should not I accept the king as my husband in the same way that Devyani did? On a request, King Yayati can also bless me with a son I believe. Will the king give darshana to me in solitude?” Sarmistha, standing with the support of the flower bedecked Asoka tree, was in an earnest voice saying all this passionately.
It was a desire to love and to be loved. Her prayers were soon answered. She was deliberating deeply when Yayati emerged out of the palace and seeing Sarmistha in the Asokavatia, stood near her. She came to him and with folded hands said, “O son of Nahusa, even Moon, Indra, Vishnu, Yama and Varuna or anyone else can look at the women of the palace with a desire and so I am quite safe. None is so daring. O king, you know about my beauty, youth, family and dynasty. I want to make you happy. At this hour of intense desire, bless me with a son.”
At this moment, Sarmistha appeared frank and could not hide feelings of love and passion for the king. At the same time, she was conscious of what she was doing.
Yayati said, “Sarmistha, you are a graceful and innocent daughter of the king of demons. I know you quite well. You are pure and an incarnation of piety. I find nothing in you, which is not mystic and beautiful. One can nothing speak against you. However, what can I do? I have married Devyani. At that time, Guru Shukracharya had clearly told me, ‘O King Yayati, you should never call Sarmistha to your bed.’
After listening to him, Sarmistha said, “O king, words of irony or joke, if untrue do not cause any damage. It is not a sin if one has to tell lies about women at the time of marriage or when life is in danger. If it is feared that everything is going to be lost or stolen, and if one tells a lie to avert a destructive situation, it is not considered a sin. Untruths spoken at these moments are not sins.”
The king was listening cautiously to the arguments advanced by Sarmistha. She added, “O king, while saving the life of an innocent person, if one has to tell lies, it is not a sin. If someone says so, it is a total lie. Wherever a question of life of many innocent people is involved, in order to save one’s life only, if a lie is told, it is sin; and this lie of putting everyone else in danger destroys the man who tells lies simply to save life and existence.”
Yayati said, “O holy woman, for the people, the king is the greatest testimony of truth. If he begins to tell lies, he perishes. Even if it is a financial crisis I cannot tell lies.”
“O king, husbands of two close friends are equal. Friends devoted to serve a close friend can get married. My friend has accepted you as a husband, therefore, I also accept you as my husband. O king, Sage Shukracharya offered me to you at the time of marriage of Devyani with the clear instructions that you would look after me also. You should not forget the pledge and prove it untrue. O king, you are a man of charity and every day you gift gold, jewels, pearls, clothes, ornaments, cows and land to the beggars.
This gift or charity is external. It does not depend upon the body. To give a son or a body in charity is difficult. O son of Nahusa, the sentiments behind other gifts, donations, or charitable acts are not as pure and sacred as the giving away of body in charity. You have made an announcement three times a day daily in the kingdom that whoever desires anything will not be disappointed, and you will fulfil his wishes. Your proclamation will prove a lie if you do not accept my prayer. This proclamation will go waste. O king, kindly prove your declaration true like Kubera.”
“I am determined to give desired things to the people who come with prayers and want wishes fulfilled. You also pray for the realization of your wishes so tell me what should I do for you?” Yayati assured her.
“O king, save me from adharma. I wish that I should get a son from you and spend life on earth by following the principles of the best dharma.”
She looked at him and said again, “O king, a wife, a servant and a son are entitled to wealth. Whatever wealth they get, it belongs to them and they have a right over it. Therefore, a husband has a right over a wife’s wealth, the lord is the rightful owner of the servant’s money and a father is entitled to have the wealth of his son.”
Sarmistha’s reasons appeared quite logical, based on sacred dharma. She added, “I am dasi of Devyani and you have a right over her. Therefore, O king, you are entitled to enjoy Devyani and me, for; we belong to you. So, have an enchanting relationship by accepting me as wife.”
King Yayati appeared convinced by the sound reasons offered by Sarmistha. He extended a hand of reverence and love to her and then, as per dharma agreed to make Sarmistha, his wife.
Thus, profoundly devoted to each other, they found more delight and divine pleasure in the union of bodies clamouring for love. After the satisfaction of deep love and passion, they departed reverently from each other and went away to respective palaces. Sarmishtha had the divine pleasure of getting her long cherished desires fulfilled. Now, she was happy that she would give birth to a son soon, and Yayati would be the father. After sometime as anticipated, she gave birth to a son.
For a long time, the truth of union between Yayati and Sarmistha remained a secret. When she gave birth to a son, Devyani was immensely hurt on hearing the news. She was genuinely pained and worried about the conduct of Sarmishtha. Unable to resist fulmination, she went to Sarmishtha and said, “O beautiful Sarmishtha, what a sin you have committed under the heat of passions!”
“O dear friend, a great saint of dharma had come. He was an authority on Vedas. I prayed and begged before the sage to grant satisfaction of passions by uniting physically with me. O dear woman, I do not act against the principles of dharma. I got this son from that sacred sage. This is the truth, you must know.”
“O frail woman, if this is the truth then it is a good thing. Do you know anything about the lineage, name, family etc. of that Brahmin? I want to know.”
“O Devyani, he was overwhelmed with the radiance of tapa and divine light of the sun, as if. I was dazed. I could not gather courage to ask anything.”
“Sarmistha, if it is so and if, you have begot a son from a senior and higher brahmin, then I am not angry with you.”
Sarmistha with forceful and well-reasoned arguments convinced Devyani. She revealed the truth but still not the whole truth. For, she believed that begetting a son from King Yayati by entering into a marital relationship was not a sin. It was right and she was entitled to develop such a relation. One is wonderstruck at the wisdom and argumentative ability of Sarmistha.
It also reflects upon the learning she had. It was a sense of devotion and clarity of purpose, which provoked her to take such a decision. She did not speak the truth but still she did not hide anything. Perhaps, she knew, it was inessential for Devyani to know the truth. If, after years, she came to know, it would not hurt anyone. That way, it was a practical or possibly opinionated thinking determining human relations. Such relationships do exist among us but with the passage of time, a man forgets and the society also learns to live despite outcry. However, tribal instincts do exist when one comes to know how local people, orthodox and traditional derive sadistic pleasure by inflicting injuries on those young couples who violate the norms of a community. What the Khap panchayants had been doing in recent times, invites cynicism and hatred for a civilized society. A man learns to live at two diametrically opposed situations, and that is an inveterate truth. In many parts of the world, such uncivilized acts take place in the name of dharma and religious dictums, and no one raises a point. Man is perhaps such an animal who lives at two repugnant levels, and feels no compunction.
Devyani and Sarmistha continued to talk for a long time, and when every doubt was clear, they laughed heartily. Devyani believed that her friend was correct and so she quietly went to the palace. It is worthwhile to make a mention of two sons born out of Devyani: Yadu and Tarvasu. They appeared like gods, as if they were Indra and Vishnu. Sarmistha had three sons: Druhu, Anu and Pooru. After sometime, Devyani, a woman of sacred smiles, went to the jungle along with Yayati to live in loneliness.
In the forest, they saw extremely handsome young boys playing fearlessly. On looking at them, she was immensely surprised and so said, “O king, these virtuous and brilliant young boys appear as if they are sons of gods. The radiance and divine glow of the boys are like yours.” Having said so she asked those handsome boys, “O little children, what is your lineage? Who is your father? Tell me correctly. I want to hear the name of your father.”
The boys looked at the beautiful woman. With the little finger, they pointed at Yayati and said, “King Yayati, the greatest of the kings, is our father. Holy woman Sarmistha is the mother.” Saying so, the children came near the king. The king was standing near Devyani, so he did not think it proper to greet the tiny children. He even did not pick up the children as was expected of a father. Realizing the cold attitude of their father Yayati, the boys rushed to mother Sarmistha. When Yayati listened to the talks of boys, he felt humiliated and embarrassed. It did not take much time for Devyani to understand the secret when she observed the king’s extra affection for the boys.
Devyani said to Sarmistha, “O woman, you told that a sage used to come to you. Under the ruse, you continued to encourage King Yayati to visit you. I had told you earlier that you had sinned. O Sarmistha, while being a dasi, you did the incredible which displeased me. You have now gone after the doctrines of asuras dharma, the religion of demons, and you are not afraid of me.”
“O sweet friend of catching smiles, it is true when I told you about the sage husband. Justice and dharma guide my conduct, so I do not fear you. When you accepted Yayati as a husband, I had also decided to be his woman. O beautiful woman, a husband of a friend is also the lord and husband of all the unmarried women who serve under the wife as dasis, and so he is their husband and it is dharma.”
He told, “You are elder, a daughter of a brahmin, so you are honourable and worth worshipping for me. Therefore, the sage king is more venerable. Do you know this truth? O woman, your father and my guru, Shukracharya, dedicated us to the service of the king. King Yayati looks after me also as he thinks it right.”
On hearing Sarmistha, Devyani said, “O king, I shall not live here. You have done a grave wrong to me.” Deeply hurt, and with tearful eyes she got up immediately and began the journey to the ashrama of Shukracharya. King Yayati was extremely perturbed. He tried to explain and make Devyani understand the delicacy of events, but she did not return. Each moment, her eyes were getting scarlet with anger. Tears continued to roll down as she journeyed to the place of Shukracharya but she did not speak a word to the king. After sometime, she had reached the ashrama of her father. She offered respects to him and stood with folded hands. Later on, King Yayati turned up and paid regards to the great guru.
After relaxing for a few moments, Devyani said, “O father, adharma has defeated dharma. It is the progress of the ordinary, and the ruin of the lofty. Sarmistha, daughter of Vrishaparva, has excelled, and stands ahead. King Yayati has three sons from Sarmishtha. O father, I am unfortunate, for, I have only two sons. I am telling the truth. The greatest of the dynasty of Bhrigu, Yayati is famous as a man of dharma but he has violated the limits of a dignified conduct. This is the truth.”
“O king, being a man of dharma, you thought adharma dear and so it was an outrageous act. Therefore, old age, which is difficult to avoid, will very soon overpower you.”
“O godlike brahmin, daughter of Vrishaparva, the king of demons, asked for a physical union at an appropriate time of a month. She gave reasons. I considered it dharma and so we united in wedlock.”
He continued, “There was no other thought. O brahmin, a man who does not fulfil the desires of a woman during the period of craving for union with the man is condemned by men of wisdom and learned men of supreme knowledge, and he is also reviled as a killer of an embryo. If a man, who is justifiably requested by a woman wanting sexual satisfaction, refuses to unite with the woman, it is thought by wise men of religion as the assassin of the womb.”
After a pause, in all humility, he added, “O brahmin, I have taken a vow. He, who demands or desires anything from me, I must give it to him or her. Sarmishtha, whom you bestowed on me when I married Devyani, never wanted to accept another man as her husband. Therefore, thinking it a matter of dharma, I accepted her as my wife. Please forgive me for this. O, the best in the dynasty of Bhrigu, with this thought in mind and for fear of an act of adharma, which deeply disturbed, I went to Sarmistha.”
Shukracharya, apparently not satisfied with the explanation, told Yayati, “O king, on such a sensitive subject, you should have waited for me because you are under me. O son of Nahusa, he who does not act religiously is destined to suffer as sins of theft disgrace him.”
The curse was severe and irrevocable, for it had come from the mouth of a sage of tapa and penance. It was shocking but it happened immediately. Yayati turned quite old and the glowing youth disappeared. Therefore, the curse of the great Guru condemned Yayati to live a life of old age. Yayati was totally down and disheartened. He said, “O great brahmin, as a youthful man, I am not yet satisfied and contented while living a marital life with Devyani. Therefore, O brahmin, be generous to me and bless me so that old age does not enter my body.”
“O lord of Earth, I do not tell lies. You are already old but I give you one solution. If you so wish, you can have youthfulness of someone else and offer him old age.”
“O great Guru, a son who gives his youth will be blessed with the holy aura, and he shall achieve glory and stateliness unheard of. He will also be the king of the empire. Kindly approve and bless.”
Realizing that the king had done so to make his daughter happy and that he had been quite rash in handing over the punishment, he relented a little and said, “Remember me with bhakti and devotion, and then as per your desires, you will be able to carry the old age to the body of another person. You will not be sinned in that eventuality. Whosoever, offers you his youth happily will be the emperor. He will be blessed with longevity, honour and wisdom and beget saint-like sons and daughters.”
Coming hurriedly to the present age, one is stunned and shocked. Here, enquiries move at a snail’s pace, then there is haste and finally it is collapse of the reports. For, the criminal goes free in the present scheme of administering justice, and so the people suffer…and the perpetrator of the sin or the Ruler whether democratic or otherwise, is not ready to suffer for his sins or crimes, whether violent or otherwise, and so we live in miseries unabated. Whatever may be the stage of life, a man always wants to enjoy life. Pleasures of life fascinate and delight.
Thus, Yayati suffered old age without appearing so sinful. However, one truth is revealed—that any act, which smacks of adharma or untruth is likely to punish the man who does so. One may be a man of tapa or penance, but sins and untruths chase a man until he is penalized. In other words, the karmas of a man chase him. Even if a man of dharma does something unintentionally not according to the principles of dharma, he should be prepared to face the consequences. For no one goes unpunished for sins and crimes he commits.
Yayati was a man of dharma and truth no doubt. Then, the curse of a holy sage was to prove its veracity with tangible consequences. Whether Shukracharya was right or wrong in awarding the punishment, is not the question here. However, the controversial question still craves for an answer. It was only the king who was to suffer and not Sarmistha. It was apparently right. If a king commits a mistake, he should be punished.
One is stunned at the alacrity with which Shukracharya acted and awarded the punishment. There was no detailed enquiry, no committee, no counsels and no argument. It was an immediate administering of justice. Yayati could not even appeal. Yes, if he made a mercy appeal, the quantum of retribution stood watered down. Now, coming hurriedly to the present age, one is stunned and shocked. Here, enquiries move at a snail’s pace, then there is haste and finally it is collapse of the reports. For, the criminal goes free in the present scheme of administering justice, and so the people suffer. Here, the perpetrator of the sin or the Ruler whether democratic or otherwise is not ready to suffer for his sins or crimes, whether violent or otherwise, and so we live in miseries unabated.
Whatever may be the stage of life, a man always wants to enjoy life. Pleasures of life fascinate and delight. A woman is the fulcrum around whom most of the pleasures rivet. A woman gives pleasure and satisfaction to a man in all circumstances, with or without conditions, but joys she definitely gives. A mere touch of a woman provides enchantment of a lifetime. Only that a man needs the requisite acumen and wisdom. When Guru Shukracharya condemned Yayati, he still wanted his youth back, so that he enjoyed being with both Devyani and Sarmishtha. That is passion and lust. If there are people like Yayatis, it is dharma and pleasure. There is incontestable sanctity attached to it. There were dasis in that age but that does not mean they were pleasure seekers. In contemporary times, the so-called liberty has not yet matured. One often finds big people in sex scandals, and sex-rackets continue to flourish despite claims of the powers that be. It is worth examining. One may look deep into the malady but disillusionment stares dreadfully.
Yayati was sad and depressed but knew that it was to happen, for he was a man of dharma. A king must follow the law and rules of the game of life. He wanted his youth; he wanted women and pleasures of life.
He was still thirsty as a man. Guru Shukracharya had suggested an escape route. Yayati was hopeful. He had five sons and this made him confident.
When an old Yayati returned to the capital, burdened with the curse of Sukracharya, he called his eldest and virtuous son, Yadu and said to him, “O son Yadu, it is the curse of Shukracharya which has made me old. My entire body is wrinkled and my hair is white but I am still not satisfied with the pleasures of youth. O Yadu, please accept all the sins with the old age and give your youth to me so that I may enjoy life with the youth. After the completion of one thousand years, I shall give back your young age and take back all the sins and old age from you.”
“O king, in old age many imperfections crop up while you eat and drink. Therefore, I shall not take old age. This is my firm opinion. O king, I am not desirous of an old age, on the arrival of which the beard and moustache grow white, and the pleasures of life are gone. Old age makes a person lethargic and frail. The entire body is covered with wrinkles and the man grows so weak and thin like a straw that it is difficult to even see him. In old age, there is no strength to do work. Young women and those who serve you also begin to neglect. Therefore, I do not want old age. O man of dharma and a king among the kings, you have many sons whom you love more. Therefore, you may select another son and offer old age to him.”
“O son, you are born of my heart and body, and still you do not wish to give me your youth. Therefore, your children will have no right over the kingdom.”
Thereafter, he called Turvasu and said, “O Turvasu, take all my sins with this old body. O son, I shall enjoy the pleasures of life with the youth you offer. After the completion of one thousand years, we shall exchange the offers and you will get back your youth.”
“O father, I do not want old age which destroys the will and power to enjoy pleasures,” Tarvasu reasoned out. “This age kills strength and beauty, and later on, it wipes out intellect and life. One is dead.”
Yayati was naturally not very happy but still he argued, “Turvasu, you are an integral part of this body. Born of my heart, and still you do not give your youth to me. It will destroy your offspring. Oh foolish son, you will be the king of those who are afflicted by the sins of varnas, of low caste and those who are carnivorous. You will live life like the men of the burial places. You will be king of those who are enamoured of the wives of gurus and behave like birds and animals, and whose conduct and thoughts are similar to fiends.” Saying so, Yayati sat silent. Now, none was ready to help him.
After reprimanding and cursing Turvasu, he called Druhu, son of Sarmistha, and disclosed his intentions.
“O Druhu, please accept this old age bereft of radiance and beauty, and give me your youth for one thousand years. After one thousand years are complete, I shall give back your youth and take back my old age, and thus, I shall be able to enjoy the life of glory and pleasures for another one thousand years.”
“O dear father, an old man cannot ride a horse, an elephant or a chariot. He cannot enjoy a woman. His voice also begins to wobble or stammer. Therefore, I do not want old age.”
“Druhu, born out of my body and heart, you do not want to give your youth, and so I tell you your inner wishes will not be fulfilled. You will go to a land where there is no salvation even of horses, elephants, foxes, goats, bulls etc., and there you will always travel in a boat and thus, live in unending sufferings.”
Later on, he called another son, Anu, and said, “O Anu, you take this old age along with all the sins so that I live with your youth for one thousand years.”
“O father, an old man eats at odd times like a child and remains impious. He does no religious duties on time. I do not want such an age.”
“O Anu, even when you are born out of my body and heart, you do not want to give your youth to me but find fault with the old age. This makes me sad. Therefore, you will be afflicted with all the sins in old age, your offspring will die in young age, and when you grow old, you will not do any religious duty, like agnihotra, a prayer, and yajna before burning fire in the morning and evening, and so will live impure and unclean.”
When he was gone, Yayati called Puru and said to him, “Puru, you are my dearest son. You are a man of virtues. O son, I am seized by old age. All organs have wrinkles and the hair on the head is white. I have attained all the signs of old age. I have this pitiable condition of life by the curse of Guru Shukracharya. O son, I am still not satisfied with the pleasures of life. O Puro, you take all sins along with my old age, and I, by getting youth, will live for another one thousand years and enjoy the pleasures of this world. After the completion of this period, I shall return your youth to you and take back my old age with all the sins.”
When Yayati finished, he looked at son Puru with curiosity and expectation. Puru observed Yayati, the old king with deference, and said in a humble voice, “O king, I shall act upon your commands and fulfil your wishes. By obeying gurus, a man is ennobled and is glorified. It leads him to heaven after a long life. With the blessings of the guru, Lord Indra governs the three worlds. A father is like a guru, and by obeying a father, a man is happy as all the wishes are fulfilled. O great king, please give me your old age with all the sins and I shall accept it. You take my young age from me and enjoy the pleasures of life as you wish. After getting old age, I shall live in the guise of a great king and by giving youth to you, I shall obey in whatever way you command.”
“O son Puru, I am happy with you and I bless you. The people of your kingdom will live happily, and all their wishes will be fulfilled.”
By saying these words, Yayati remembered Guru Shukracharya. Thereafter, he gave his old age to Mahatma Puru and became young again.
At first, it appeared a very difficult proposition and demand. At another level, an obedient son’s sacrifice and devotion to his father are exemplary. A long treatise on the relationship between a son and a father and its relevance, if viewed from the contemporary context, infuses meaning in a forceful manner.
Yayati was now young and began to live the youth of Puru with excitement and passion, and enjoyed the worldly pleasures of life while taking care of the people in a proper way. He did everything keeping in view the time, occasion and desires. He kept the principles of dharma in mind. In fact, if viewed from the proper perspective, he was the person who had taken birth on earth to cherish the enjoyments of life. He had the ability, the capacity and a sense of proportion. No doubt, he had the youth of his son to live for another one thousand years, yet he had not forgotten for a moment the doctrines of dharma and the qualities of ethical life. He organized yajnas on appropriate occasions and pleased the gods and goddesses. He was also engaged with devotion to pay respects to the pitrus during shrardhas. He continued to purify life, people and the environment. When he so desired, he performed acts of charity, and handed out many gifts to the needy and the poor. By doing sacred and religious prayers, he tried to satisfy the holy brahmins. Thus, another youth gained did not go waste.
Yayati did not wish to squander away even a moment of life. He had full faith in this life and the life of the other world. He left nothing untouched, which was not purifying. He, as was expected, offered grain and water to the guests by washing their feet, offering a proper seat and food. He served all the segments of the society. He looked after the vaishyas and protected their property and wealth, took care of the poor and the neglected by showing kindness and generosity. He did not spare the looters and thieves and put anti-social elements in the prison. So following the principles of dharma, he performed all duties towards the kingdom and the people as were expected from him. He was like Lord Indra on earth, and so he served the kingdom and the people for years.
Yayati was a courageous and brave young man like a lion. He kept under restraint all the senses and exhibited immense self-discipline. He never opposed the sacred tenets of dharma but took extreme delight in the enjoyments dharma offered, and so took a keen interest in the sacred acts of dharma. Thus, the king was happy and satisfied while enjoying the pleasures of the world but then he would get disillusioned when he thought that he would soon complete one thousand years. The curse still pursued him. The wise Yayati understood the subtle meaning of time. How the time-element was so integral to human life, he knew. He counted everything on his fingertips, was disappointed at the soon-to-be-over term of life, and recalled the tenure of life so vividly. He understood the writ of destiny, and so enjoyed each moment of life.
One may be a man of tapa or penance but sins and untruths chase a man until he is penalized…the karmas of a man chase him. Even if a man of dharma does something unintentionally not according to the principles of dharma, he should be prepared to face the consequences. For no one goes unpunished for sins and crimes he commits.
When this man of dharma realized that the time was up, he went to Puru and said, “O vanquisher, I have experienced the pleasures of life with taste, excitement, and according to time, with the youth you exchanged with my old age. The inner unquenched thirst for the enjoyment of pleasures never ends. The thirst continues unabated as one lives life on earth. As you pour ghee, the sacrificial fuel etc. the flames rise up furiously, so also the passions increase.
After living such a long life, I realize that all the grains and food, barley, gold, animals and women and other things in this world are not enough for the man. He goes on savouring the pleasures of life and the thirst still tortures. Now, at this stage of life, I find a man should abandon desires. Dim-witted people find it difficult to abandon passions and desires. The lust for more does not grow old even if the body is wrinkled. It is a lethal disease but a man who fully throws away desires and infatuation completely, gets happiness. I have spent one thousand years in the enjoyment of pleasures and still every day the appetite increases, and a passionate desire for more exists. Therefore, I will discard all passions and longings, and free from internal conflicts, I shall loiter among the stags in the forest.” He was in a supremely blissful composure and looked at Puru benignly.
The decision to cut off from the snares of passions and pleasure had made Yayati happy, and so he looked quite calm and serene. After a few moments he added, “Puru, may God bless you. I am happy. You take back your youth, and take possession of the kingdom with all the rights of a king. You, as a son, pleased me and did so well.”
Without taking much time, Yayati took back his old age. Puru was once again a young man. When brahmins, priests, wise men and ministers came to know that Yayati was going to enthrone Puru as the king, they appeared before him and said, “O king, why are you making Puru the king when Yadu, grandson of Sukracharya and elder son of Devyani is alive? It is improper. Yadu is the eldest son. After Yadu, Turvasu was born and thereafter, sons of Sarmishtha: Druhyu, Anu and Puru were born. By ignoring the elder sons, how can a young son be the heir of the kingdom? We are reminding you of this ethical and reasonable fact. Please follow the doctrines of dharma”
Yayati listened to the logic of brahmins. The suggestions of the wise men kept in view the ethics, religious sanction and the propriety of rulers. After thinking for a few moments, Yayati said, “I want that people of all the varnas—castes, creeds—including brahmins should listen to what I say. I am to give kingdom to an elder son. My elder son Yadu did not obey. A son who goes against the wishes of his father is not considered a son in the eyes of noble and righteous people. A true son obeys his parents and wants their well being, works according to their wishes and behaves in a way that suits a son. It is what dharma says. ‘Son’ means hell. Hell is in the image of a son. Therefore, people desire deliverance from the life of hell, so seek protection, and wish a son to protect them from the sufferings of the world. A son is part of your body and accordingly a son is entitled to worship gods, sages and pitrus. He is called the eldest son who is favourable and valuable for many people He, who is equipped with virtues, is the real and the best son, and none else. Men of dharma explain the dharma of pitrus through a son.”
The wise men of the court were silently listening to Yayati. The king added, “Yadu has disobeyed. Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu have also shown lack of respect. Puru obeyed and cherished my words and command. He had taken my old age. Therefore, he, in reality, this younger son, is the rightful heir of this kingdom. I may tell you that like a true friend, he fulfilled all my desires. Guru Shukracharya had given a boon that a son who will obey would be the king and caretaker of the entire world. Therefore, I humbly pray before you that the ceremony of coronation be organized for Puru. I consider him the most suitable choice to bring peace and prosperity to the people.”
All the well-wishers and wise men of the kingdom present at the court agreed with the proposal of Yayati. They stated, “According to the boon of Guru Shukracharya, Puru is a deserving son, for he has looked after your comforts and well being. One cannot go against the principles of dharma and Guru’s command.”
Thereafter, Puru was made the king and afterwards Yayati was initiated to the life of forest, Vanaprastha Ashrama, the fourth and last part of life where a man, after relinquishing all social links, and along with brahmins of tapa and mediation, leaves the palace and the capital. Others sons, as per the words of Yayati, lived lives as were determined by Yayati. Those men of dharma had the power of truth. When a man, whatever may be the status in life, whether rich or poor, a beggar or a king, follows the path of dharma, he is bestowed with the divine eye and voice. Anything he sees, converts into something glorious and full of light, filling the inner self of man. Whatever he utters proves true. It happened in ancient times.
Yayati was a man of dharma. He was a man of the world. He was truthful and frank. He wanted to enjoy life to the full. He wanted the gifts of nature to fill his life with pleasures; he wanted his women to satisfy his passions and hunger. He wanted his people to live in harmony with nature and enjoy life. Nevertheless, the path of dharma and truth was essential and of this, he was emphatic. Even sage Sukracharya could not go against the wishes. If one looks at the tale from the contemporary point of view, one is aghast. We have a huge crowd of saints, sadhus and religious people along with massive gathering of devotees in saffron and white busy singing devotional songs, hymns and incantations of mantras. They are people who build up places of worship. All these things happen. There are talks of dharma, truth and ethics. However, nothing really materializes. All live life of sex, lust, passions, greed, and violence, and amass wealth. It is in either banks or underground, and the talks and laws continue to curb unethical behaviour and violence. That is life. Yayati was a complete man.
Here, Yayatis are in crores but live a life of dissipation and adharma, and that is precisely the sickness of this age. The less said the better. But still, there are fine people around who may not be religious or visitors to places of worship but who are definitely humane, and there is hidden the secret of salvation of modern man, to be brief.