Lust and The Quest for Immortality

(This is the third of the Introductions to the Mahabharata Katha Series of Padma Shri Professor P. Lal published by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. Pages 369-387, sections 75-77; Yayati, pp. 388-457, sections 78-93)

The Sambhava sub-parva brings us to four of the most memorable characters of theMahabharata: Kacha, steadfast in his pursuit of knowledge in the face of feminine blandishments; Devayani, lovely, aggressive, knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it; Sharmishtha, princess-turned-maid, beating Devayani at her own game; and Yayati, hungering for sex, proud of his virtues, meteor-like flashing down from the heavens.

The theme of Vaishampayana’s narration is actually Yayati, for he devotes half of chapter 75 to an account of his old age and how he exchanged it for the youth of his son Puru in order to sate his lust, fruitlessly (75.47-49). It is Puru who founds the dynasty that comes to be known after him. This is significant, for Puru born of Sharmishtha, an Asura princess, is not debarred from inheriting his father’s property unlike the fruit of an inter-caste pratilomamarriage like the Kshatriya Yayati and the Brahmin Devayani’s. 

Vaishampayana comes to Yayati in the process of reciting the genealogy of the Bharatas afresh. Yayati is the second son of Nahusha, ascending the throne because the eldest, Yati, becomes a hermit. This is a recurring motif in the Paurava dynasty: Shantanu becomes king because his elder brother Devapi, suffering from skin-disease, turns ascetic; Dhritarashtra, the blind elder, is disqualified from kingship, though effectually he does hold the throne as Pandu retires to the forest; Karna, the eldest Kaunteya, is disqualified by illegitimacy. Vaishampayana expatiates on Yayati’s famous plea to his sons to assume his decrepitude and give him their youth, but there is a curious prevarication in shloka 40 where Yayati suppresses the truth that it was his giving in to Sharmishtha’s sexual demands that resulted in the curse. Ironically, it is the fruit of this cursed union that becomes the means of his salvation. 

There is a cryptic but pregnant allusion in shloka 14: “At a later period the Brahmins were united with the Kshatriyas.” The reference is to Parashurama exterminating all male Kshatriyas, including the embryos, so that their women had to approach Brahmins to beget children through a pratiloma union. Thus, the two races fathered by Manu were united and thenceforth every Kshatriya came to have a Brahmin ancestor.

At this stage, once again, Janamejaya breaks the narrative flow by wanting to know how the Kshatriya Yayati could marry the daughter of a Brahmin sage. Janamejaya’s query throws the narrative back into the cosmic dimensions we had left behind with the Churning-of-the-Ocean. Once again, it is the war between the titans and the gods that gives rise to the Quest for Immortality. The gods are at a loss because the Asura-preceptor Shukra resuscitates slaughtered Asuras through his special knowledge that Brihaspati, the Deva-guru, is ignorant of. Indra persuades Brihaspati’s eldest son, Kacha (this is the only episode where we hear of him) to spy out the secret through Shukra’s daughter Devayani. It is part of the carefully interwoven relationships that form the tapestry depicting the clash between good and evil in the epic that the Yadava Krishna, destroyer of demons, should trace his ancestry to Yadu, son of theAsura-preceptor’s daughter Devayani and Yayati. The gods repeatedly stress to Kacha the importance of Devayani (76.15-16). According to the Devi Bhagavata, Book VIII, the name of Devayani’s mother (this is the only place where she is mentioned) is Urjasvati, daughter of Priyavrata, the eldest son of Svayambhuva Manu and Surupa, the primordial couple.

Shukra accepts Kacha as his disciple, knowing full well that he is the son of Brihaspati, his opponent. The abrupt fall from such high ideals during the Pandava period will be seen when Drona ensures that Ekalavya will not surpass Arjuna in archery by misusing his rights as a guru. Kacha, following the shrewd advice of the gods, concentrates on pleasing Devayani, strictly adhering to the vow of celibacy, despite her aggressive blandishments even in private. It is when half of the thousand-year apprenticeship of Kacha is over that the anti-gods get wise to his intentions and carry out repeated attempts to destroy him, only to be frustrated by Devayani who persuades her father to resurrect him every time.

Significantly, Shukra takes no preventive steps and is a little annoyed with her repeated pleas in favour of a mere mortal (76.46-47). Devayani’s response is shrewdly laced with appropriate reference to Kacha’s lineage to show that he was not “a mere mortal” besides being a dutiful disciple of Shukra’s, so that the guru cannot absolve himself of all responsibility. Shukra uses the know¬ledge he possesses to resurrect Kacha and his words show how right the gods were in their advice to Kacha: “Devayani adores you, you have triumphed” (76.57). Yet, Shukra is apprehensive and urges Kacha not to be ungrateful and forget the mangled remains of his guru. Kacha faithfully and gratefully resurrects Shukra and reads him a homily on the disciple’s devotion.

The first act of the resurrected Shukra is to enact the mandate against Brahmins drinking liquor, equating it with the sin of Brahminicide. His next step is to inform theAsuras that Kacha has succeeded in learning the secret lore. They do not attempt to destroy him again, though an attempt on his way back would have been only natural.

Section 77 gives us the Devayani-Kacha confrontation. Here is a woman used to getting her way without question boldly demanding that her love be returned. There is none of the artificial coyness and prevarication that characterizes the heroines of classical Sanskrit. She devotes the first shloka to praising his virtues, the next to declaring her admiration for his father, the third attributing to him knowledge of her feelings all through, ending with a direct proposal that would admirably befit a liberated female of the Women’s Lib era. She will go through precisely the same exercise when Yayati appears on the scene. Bernard Shaw would undoubtedly have seen in her his ideal of the Life Force working through the predatory female to capture the helpless male victim. We do not come across the likes of this beautiful, aggressive, utterly selfish woman in the epics. Kacha, very firmly but respectfully, rejects her advances. Devayani tactlessly, yet so true to her supremely egotistic nature, reminds him that he owes his life to her— the worst gambit to win a man’s heart. Kacha now raises the spectre of incest. Devayani’s response is a curse, in response to which Kacha calmly foretells that no sage’s son will ever marry her (77.19). Further, analysing her curse logically (as Utanka does with Paushya) he finds a saving feature: the secret knowledge will fructify in his disciples (77.20).

Rabindranath Tagore’s treatment of the story in his Bidaya Abhishap takes the form of a dialogue between Devayani and Kacha at the point of his final departure from Shukracharya’s hermitage. Devayani’s asserts that winning a woman’s heart is well worth a thousand years of ascesis and that it is in no way less of a boon than theSanjivani mantra. Where in Vyasa it is Devayani who reminds Kacha that he owes his life to her and demands marriage in return, Tagore makes Kacha acknowledge the debt spontaneously and has Devayani spurn the offering of gratitude and passionately demand love. His Kacha is not the heartless stern ascetic of Vyasa who curses Devayani back. Tagore’s Kacha, instead, blesses her in response to her curse, saying that she will find happiness and glory and that the gloom oppressing her heart will fade. Tagore lifts the rather tricky and cold Kacha of Vyasa to heights of romantic feeling and nobility. 

And so Kacha disappears from this glorious pageant, but not Devayani whose frustrated desires lead her to seize Yayati the moment their paths cross. The Kacha-Devayani episode is significant in more ways than one. Devayani’s importuning Kacha is paralleled in Yayati being solicited by Sharmishtha. Kacha resists, is glorified by the gods and given a share in the sacrificial offerings. Yayati succumbs and is cursed with senility. 

S.A. Dange1 shows that this myth is a parable of initiation. Kacha is repeating the initiatory cycle of being swallowed and regurgitated by the guru. The atrocities Kacha suffers parallel the purificatory rites, torturing the flesh, which the initiate to the Greek and Egyptian mysteries had to undergo, and later the aspirant to knighthood in medieval Europe, after which the initiate was considered re-born as a member of the esoteric sect, fit to receive the secret knowledge, as Kacha finally does. The exact parallel to this story occurs in the Rig Veda’s soma-sacrifice. Amsu is the hair-like fibre of Soma that stands for the sacrificer. Its crushing and filtering into a purified flow of nectar represents the crushing of man’s crude nature and transforming it into the bliss of immortality called Amrita. Kacha, meaning hair, provides the hint to this esoteric sense.

The theme of the novitiate’s temptation by sirens also forms part of the ancient mysteries and the medieval cult of knighthood where chastity, like brahmacharya in the disciple, was the paramount virtue prized in the aspirant along with infinite patience, perseverance and implicit obedience to the preceptor’s commands. Devayani sings and attends upon Kacha in private, but he does not succumb to the sexual invitation. Earlier, in the Paushya parva, Utanka refuses the request to impregnate his guru’s wife in his absence. This refusal to give in to temptation enables both Utanka and Kacha to weather their deadly trials. The quest for immortality leads to doom unless lust is conquered.

We pass on now to the tale of Yayati which forms one of the most poignant episodes in the epic and is peculiarly timeless in its appeal. For, here is a man with whom we can easily identify. A man overawed and virtually forced into marriage by the imperious Devayani; a man who gladly responds to the submissive Sharmishtha’s plea to beget children on her (three to Devayani’s two); a man hungry for sensual gratification, untrammelled by domineering wives and the bonds of marriage, desperately engaged in an existential search to glut the body’s desires; a man who achieves peace finally and rises to heaven by realizing that lust is insatiable and yet falls from there because of the universal human frailty: Pride. V.S. Khandekar’s famous Marathi novel and Girish Karnad’s engrossing play on Yayati show the perpetual appeal of this tragic story.

The two episodes are loosely linked through the deus-ex-machina of Indra. The gods, reinforced with the knowledge Kacha has brought, urge Indra to lead them against the titans. On the way, catching sight of Devayani, the Asura princess Sharmishtha and their companions sporting in a lake, Indra in the form of a strong breeze mischievously mixes up their clothes— and the tragic drama is on. The arrogant Devayani abuses Sharmishtha for daring to wear her clothes. The outraged princess pushes her down a dry well and leaves. Yayati appears on the scene in the course of a deer-hunt, which is intimately associated with lust— as we shall see with Dushyanta, Shantanu and Pandu— and gives us the first picture of what Devayani looked like. So far, she has been the conventional slim-waisted, large-eyed, moon-faced lady, as seen through Kacha’s chaste eyes. Here we find a king seeing a woman and struck, above all, by her copper-bright nails, to which he refers twice. He also calls her shyama, dark complexioned, unusual for a Brahmin lady. The only other dark ladies we know in the epic are the fisher-girl Satyavati who rules Hastinapura and imperious Draupadi, doom of the Kshatriyas. Devayani takes him up on this admiration of her nails and offers him her “right hand/With burnished copper-bright nails…lift me up” (78.22). She had, once before, asked Kacha to take her by the hand. He had refused. Yayati does not and finds himself trapped into a mesalliance. 

What follows brings out Devayani’s complete dominance over her father. She browbeats him into doing what she wants, cleverly harping on the insult to his status to arouse Shukra’s anger. She needs royalty to be humbled before herself, not just her father (80.14). Even in the confrontation between Devayani, Vrishaparva and Sharmishtha, it is once again the latter who emerges with the greater dignity and nobility. 

Sharmishtha’s undertaking to follow Devayani wherever her father may bestow her is the concern of the next episode which is more of an asurik marriage in reverse, with the woman virtually carrying off the man. The scene is a repetition of that in section 78, with the women amusing themselves, Yayati arriving again in pursuit of deer, the only difference being that this time Sharmishtha is massaging Devayani’s feet (81.7). Devayani throws aside all feminine modesty and guile and states, “Stay here and be my lord.” By way of inducement, she adds that a thousand maids and Sharmishtha go with the offer (81.17). Her eagerness to marry reminds us of Kacha’s curse that no Brahmin would espouse her. Devayani cuts short the entire argument with her firm, supremely confident declaration that she chose him and that her father will approve: “Why be afraid? You are getting without asking” (81.27). Shukra, without even asking Yayati, immediately bestows his daughter on him, freeing him from the taint ofpratiloma inter-caste marriage and counselling him to treat Sharmishtha well but not to share her bed. 

The only way to deal with a lady who browbeats a great sage, treats the Asura king like dirt and arrogates another king to herself, is to bypass her— which is precisely what Sharmishtha does. As the daughter of a king, she easily levels with Yayati who feels more at ease with her. She has little difficulty in persuading him to have intercourse with her (82.18). Sharmishtha deftly gets round his hesitation by quoting ashloka (82.20) little known to us today: “Five kinds of lying are excusable: when joking, when enjoying a woman, at the time of marriage, when facing death, and when one has lost all one’s wealth.” The verse is important enough to be repeated by Krishna in section 70 of the Karna parva while dissuading the furious Arjuna from killing Yudhishthira.

Gratuitously, Yayati suddenly mentions a vow of his to grant whatever is asked, thereby making his final capitulation all the more ‘honourable’ for him. Whatever the excuse, it remains an undeniable fact that Yayati succumbs to lust and its fruits are dreadful. What hurts Devayani most is not that she has been duped and bested once again by Sharmishtha, but that her rival has outdone her even in the number of sons (three against her two). This fury at having been outwitted in the number of sons is repeated later by Kunti who hectors Pandu for pleading Madri’s case who has cunningly succeeded in getting twin sons at one go. Devayani, living example that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, rushes pettishly to her father and paints an exaggerated view of the situation, behaving as though all creation revolves around her (83.30-31). Dharma is whatever she considers befitting her status and worth. Shukra seems merely to be a puppet in her hands and promptly curses Yayati with invincible decrepitude. Later, however, he grants that Yayati may exchange his senility for the youth of any of his sons and sanctions that that son will inherit the throne. Shukra was, therefore, the accepted lawgiver (whence Shukra-niti) not only for the Asuras but for the kingdoms of mortals as well. 

Now, in section 84, comes one of the most pathetic scenes in the epic: the senile Yayati pleading with his sons to exchange their youth for his old age, unashamedly acknowledging his unsated lust and being rejected contemptuously by one after another. Each is cursed by Yayati. Yadu is cursed that none in his line will be rulers: the Yadavas never attain royal status. Turvasu’s line will be wicked Yavanas and become extinct, as indeed it does after a last reference in Shatapatha Brahmana. Druhyu is doomed to the seas and to be known as Bhoja, the western kings. Anu is barred from performing yajñas, cursed with senility and his lineage is called Mlecchas. Puru, no doubt wiser by the curses incurred by his elder brothers through their obduracy, accepts Yayati’s senility and bides his time patiently, to be rewarded with the kingdom and win renown as the founder of the Paurava dynasty. There is a peculiar instance of time-collapse here. Yayati’s sons are not even teenagers when Shukra curses him. Yet, the moment he returns, they speak to him like grown young men. The version given in the Udyoga parva avoids this peculiarity by not bringing in the curse at all and simply refers to Yadu and others having displeased their father. 

The fact that Yayati is met by a deputation of his subjects consisting of representatives from all the castes is an indication that the monarch could not rule whimsically as a tyrant. His subjects lodge their protest against what they consider a whimsical and unjust setting aside of the elder progeny in favor of the youngest. Yayati has to explain the situation to them and to invoke the sanction of Shukra before they allow Puru to be made king. The tendency towards the law of primogeniture is already in evidence among the people.

One would have expected a tempestuous outbreak by Devayani when her sons are passed over in favour of the detested Sharmishtha’s progeny. Vaishampayana is tantalisingly silent about her reactions to this final blow where she is wholly worsted by her rival. Her not returning with Yayati proved to be her undoing, for she could at least have briefed her sons appropriately and won the crown for them. But, as before, her self-consuming pride stood in the way of achieving her cherished desires. In more ways than one, she reminds us of another red-blooded beautu, arrogant, ruling males by her flaming loveliness and steel-will, yet ultimately frustrated in all her prized attempts to win happiness: Eleanor of Acquitaine, first Queen of France, then of England as wife of Henry II, in whose unbending egotism she met her match. So, too, Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Grey Mare, who destroyed York and Lancaster, yet united them ultimately through her daughter Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry VII, at the cost of her sons’ lives.

Yayati pleading with his sons for their youth becomes an archetype in himself, which is stressed in the reiteration of the same formula by the king as he is rejected by each son: 

“Child of my heart
yet you
Will not give me your youth.”

This form of a test set to the aspirants for kingship, or a hidden treasure they have to find, with the elders usually failing because of their egotism and the youngest winning it through his humility, is a motif recurring time and again in folk tales throughout the world. We find two remarkable parallels in Scandinavian mythology in the stories of King Aun (Ynglinga Saga) and Halfdan the old (Flateyjarbok). 

But what is most important is the appealing figure of Yayati, who realizes that lust is insatiable, a priceless realization which, unfortunately, is not handed down to the succeeding generations who continue to carry this taint of lust as Pandu laments (85. 12-14). The tragedy assumes Grecian proportions of nemesis because Yayati’s father Nahusha had been doomed because of the same failing, yet the son did not learn a lesson from his father’s fate. His descendants, Shantanu, Vichitravirya and Pandu all fall victim to the identical flaw. The Bhandarkar Edition and van Buitenen’s translation are all the poorer by leaving out these Upanishadic lines that look forward to the exhortation to cut the tree of desire with the sword of non-desire which the Gita will pronounce.

A curious feature is that Yayati is said to have dallied with the apsara Vishvachi after his rejuvenation, although in his plea to Shukra he had put forward his infatuation with Devayani as his excuse for wanting to remain youthful. Nor is there any mention of Sharmishtha. Earlier, in verse 47 of section 75, Vaishampayana has Yayati enjoying both his wives and the apsara after his rejuvenation and describes him as achieving heaven along with his wives, none of which is mentioned in the extended account that follows. Presumably, Yayati steered clear of the twin sources of his predicament and turned to a professional pleasure-giver without any strings tied. When he proceeds to the forest after resuming his old age, it is peculiar that his queens are not mentioned as accompanying him.

The Bhumi-khanda (chapters 64-83) of the Padma Purana provides interesting variations. Owing to his devotion to Vishnu, Yayati and his subjects are free from age, disease and death which makes them no different from the gods. Indra worries that Yayati, like his father Nahusha, may usurp his throne and despatches his charioteer Matali to persuade the king to retire to Svarga. Yayati refuses to enter heaven unless he can do so with his physical body and ensures that his subjects worship Hari ardently. Consequently, Yama’s messengers return frustrated. Yama now rushes to Indra, complaining that without any work his status is imperilled. Indra now deputes Kama and Rati in the guise of performers to beguile Yayati with song and dance. He gets so enraptured by them that he neglects his ablutions, which enables decrepitude to enter his body. While chasing a deer on a hunting expedition, he falls in love with a mysterious woman named Ashrubindumati, born from Rati’s tears. She agrees to be his provided he becomes free of jara by transferring it to one of his sons. Yayati’s sons are only four, named Ruru or Turu (the eldest), Puru, Kuru and Yadu (the youngest), the epic order being reversed (Yadu, Turvasu, Anu, Druhyu, and Puru) and the number reduced. Turu is cursed by Yayati to be beyond the pale of the Vedas and be known as Mleccha; Yadu’s descendants are called Turaska who are mortal enemies of the Pauravas; Kuru being too young is not called by Yayati. As Ashrubindumati will not suffer co-wives, Yayati discards Devayani and Sharmishtha and promises to fulfill all her desires. Devayani and Sharmishta have hot words with her over this and she complains to the king who commands Yadu to kill both queens. When he refuses, Yayati curses that his descendants will suffer in hell and marry their maternal relatives. Yayati, engrossed with his new bride, neglects the worship of Vishnu and she succeeds in persuading him to give up his body in order to show her Indra’s Svarga. Yayati’s last advice to Puru is to avoid hunting—a point that Pandu mentions in his lament (85.12-14)—and never to trust women. His subjects all accompany him and enter the world of Vishnu. 

Thus, Vaishampayana satisfies Janamejaya’s curiosity about the inter-caste, pratilomamarriage of his ancestor (76.1), which had interrupted his account of the Descent of the Generations, Adivamsavatarana

Vaishampayana now slips in an adroit reference to Yayati having been flung down from heaven, which inevi¬tably prompts the insatiable Janamejaya to insist on yet another digression enabling us to savour a unique episode in Indian mythology that is only feebly paralleled in the Trishanku myth. Yayati’s story has been related with a poignancy that makes it the tragedy of all men who aspire to bliss. Where Trishanku remains an individual king condemned by Brahmins who is sponsored by the arch-rebel Vishvamitra to enter Indra’s realm with his physical body and serves more as an illustration of the sage’s powers than as a symbol of man’s eternal effort to captureAnanda in this mortal coil, Yayati is Everyman who has reaped the fruits of his toil but falls victim to his innate hubris and loses all that he had so painfully built up, till fellow-men come to his rescue. Through their joint human endeavor, not because of any intervention by a seer of supernatural powers, he is able to regain his lost happiness. This is particularly significant because, even while falling, he has not learnt his lesson but responds with swollen pride in the merit of his austerities and his self-love that prompted the transference of his senility to Puru (89.2, 19). True to character, the cause of his fall is seen to be that basic feature of lust, even in celestial realms (89.20-21). 

A fascinating episode is the appearance of Yayati’s four grandsons through his hitherto unmentioned daughter Madhavi. This forms part of the gripping Galava-Garuda episodes in the Udyoga parva (sections 119-122). There Yayati gifts Galava his daughter Madhavi who is blessed with the ability to regain her virginity after every marriage, like Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi. In succession, Galava sells her to three kings— Haryashva, Divodasa and Ushinara— for two hundred special horses from each. Madhavi gives birth to Vasumanas from Haryashva, Pratardana from Divodasa and Shibi from Ushinara. Galava then presents her and the six hundred horses to Vishvamitra who fathers Ashtaka on her. This is a unique story in the epic that deserves to be studied from the sociological and psychological angles in depth. Subodh Ghose first attempted this in a masterly short story in Bharat Prem Katha2. Bhisham Sahni has written a play on this named Madhavi3 and Dr. Chitra Chaturvedi has a splendid Hindi novel on Madhavi’s plight called Tanaya4

In the Sambhava sub-parva Vasumanas introduces himself as the son of Ausadasvi or Rausadasvi, not Haryashva. The sudden appearance of the other three besides Ashtaka is unexplained. The three kings are rajarshis, royal sages, and joint authors of sukta 179 in mandala X of the Rig Veda. Each gifts their common maternal grandfather the heavenly regions earned by his karma. Four times over Yayati refuses to accept alms like a mendicant. Faced with the dread prospect of the earthly hell, he clings fast to his principles and becomes a figure worthy of admiration, phoenix-like rising from the ashes of his pride and lust. 

What we find in Yayati is a union of the three meritorious functions of the Ideal King noted by Dumezil: amassing merits by distribution of wealth, conquests, sacrifices and truth-telling5. It is because of these merits that he ascended to heaven. When he falls, like the Iranian Yima-Jamshid, because of his sin of pride it is among his grandsons, each of whom represents one of these supreme merits: Vasumanas’ riches and generosity, Pratardana’s prowess, Shibi’s veracity and Ashtaka’s assiduous practice of yajña. Their unusual joint engagement in celebrating the Vajapeyasacrifice is also significant because this ritual includes two rites that are reproduced in Yayati’s experience: a symbolic ascent to heaven and a chariot race that Shibi wins because Truth is pre-eminent among the monarch’s functions. By virtue of the four grandsons’ gifts, Yayati re-acquires the sum of the types of meritorious functions that were present in him in a natural synthesis during his kingship, reversing his fall from heaven and restoring him to the celestial regions. Thus, Yayati finally achieves immortality through his grandchildren’s generosity, having abjured pride and lust.

The tale of Yayati is not just a dynastic history or a moral fable. As a dynast, too, he is a watershed in Indian proto-history. All five sons are repeatedly mentioned in theRig Veda and the Puranas. Of them, the Yadavas stemming from Yadu and the Yavanas originating from Turvasu are the most important besides the Pauravas whose story is the subject of the epic. Krishna will be born in the Yadava clan, to weave the web that will annihilate both the solar and the lunar dynasties, but for a few survivors. Yayati himself serves as one of the most important homiletic lessons in Indian mythology. In the Udyoga parva Narada narrates to Dhritarashtra the story of his fall owing to overweening pride. That episode becomes a fascinating exercise in narrative technique, being something like a four-ring circus: Sauti is narrating what Vaishampayana told Janamejaya, having learnt from Vyasa about Narada telling the story to Dhritarashtra. Within the story itself, we have dramatic dialogue between Yayati, Ashtaka and Madhavi.

Another interesting point is the alliance with the Asuras that comes to a head with Puru’s kingship. His ancestor is Budha, born to Soma of Tara, the cause of the Tarakamaya war between the gods and titans with the latter espousing Soma’s cause. Budha’s grandson Ayu marries Asura Svarabhanu’s daughter. Ayu’s grandson Yayati hands over the kingdom to his son by Sharmishtha, the Asura princess. Significantly, in the Rig Veda (VII.8.4) Puru is called “Asura-Rakshasa,” just as in the Puranasother kings of the Lunar dynasty, such as Madhu, Lavana, Kamsa and Jarasandha are called Asuras. The epic war that takes place is largely among Asura-affiliated clans. The infusion of daivik blood through the birth-by-proxy of the Pandavas revives an ancient and eternal conflict between the titans and the gods on a human level. Yayati is the watershed in this history.        

1.  Legends in the Mahabharata (MLBD, New Delhi)
2. Translated by Pradip Bhattacharya, Love Stories from the Mahabharata, Indialog, New Delhi, 2005.
3. Translated by Ashok Bhalla, Seagull, Kolkata, 2002.
4. Lokbharti Prakashan, Allahabad, 1989.
5. G. Dumezil: The Destiny of a King, University of Chicago Press

Image: Devayani and Kacha painted by the great artist Abanindranath Tagore (Rabindranath's nephew and principal of the govt. art college in Calcutta). This was published in the famous Bengali monthly "Prabashi" edited by Ramananda Chattopadhyay, another legendary name of the Bengal renaissance.


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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