Random Thoughts

Devayani, Yayati, Sharmishtha, Puru

Continued from "The Geniuses Behind the Myths"

Devayani, the daughter of Asura guru Shukracharya was friends with Sharmishtha, the daughter of Asura king Vrishparva. The story is a warning about friendships amongst two persons in a status contest, especially when their status is not from their own merit, but a mere reflection of their parent’s status. They went bathing in a river and the wind blew away their clothes from the banks. Sharmishtha, by mistake or design put on Devayani’s clothes after failing to find her own and when accused of misbehavior by Devayani, threw her into a well. Yayati was passing by and rescued Devayani by offering his right hand and pulling Devayani out. Remembering Kacha’s curse and being an opportunist, she claimed that since Yayati, the king, had offered her his right hand, they were now wed. Yayati was hesitant but was easily persuaded by her father. Devayani told her dad about the mistreatment by Sharmishtha and demanded revenge. Shukracharya threatened Vrishparva that he would resign his post and deprive the Asuras of the benefits of his resurrection science, unless Sharmishta was made a maid servant of Devayani.

Only firm self-control, unshakeable common sense, deep ethical sense, pious religiosity or terrible fear of spousal anger or revenge, keep some men from succumbing to extramarital temptation.

Vrishparva, like Bush and phony Obama could not afford to antagonize the power behind his kingship. He explained in his Texan drawl that one has to dance with those who brung you to the dance and go home with them and as Agamemnon and Afghans say, daughters’ death, slavery or sale as concubines are collateral damage, like drone bombing of civilians to combat Islamist terrorism; or bankruptcy, unemployment and home foreclosure of the American public in the process of enriching banksters, CEOs and defense contractors by government handouts. They like Shukracharya, are the campaign backers.
So Devayani was married to Yayati and Sharmishtha was compelled to go in dowry, as her maid.

Yayati was happy in his marriage, but the story has another lesson at the deeper level.
The Y chromosome with its penchant for aggression and excess massive production of sperms (in contrast to 400 or less viable ova in females during their lifespan) has a tendency to plant them in varying fertile wombs, especially since it does not carry the fetus in its body at its own expense. Thus even happily married men are invariably flattered by the attention of a young woman other than their wives (with the exception of Lakshmana - Surpankha but not Bhimsena - Hidimba).

Only firm self-control, unshakeable common sense, deep ethical sense, pious religiosity or terrible fear of spousal anger or revenge, keep some men from succumbing to extramarital temptation.

Within a short time Yayati had seduced or was seduced by Sharmishtha. As expected Devayani promptly whined to her powerful dad, who immediately cursed Yayati, so he instantly became old and impotent. Yayati whose life success owed more to serendipity and his dad Nahusha  (like W and GHW Bush) rather than character or prowess, begged Shukracharya for a way out and was told that he could be restored to non-geriatric virility, if he could find some other man to take his curse.

Another lesson the story teaches is that those who are desperate have no shame and will stoop to any level. So Yayati went to his sons by Devayani and Sharmishtha and requested them to generously donate him their youth, libido and virility, as a token of their filial love and piety. All except Sharmishta born Puru refused and Yayati was restored to his stud status.
Truly, old age like alcohol, as Shakespeare stated, increases the desire but takes away the performance, and a sex addict like a drug addict needs larger doses to get the same high (orgasm).
Other instances of shameless desire gratification is the story of old king Shantanu, who for orgasmic reasons was willing to overlook serial infanticide by his spouse (Ganga, who had an apparently valid reason for her behavior) and after a short period of sexual deprivation, promptly succumbed to the charms of Satyavati (Matsyagandha) and conveniently acquiesced to the renunciation of all sex by his young son Devavrata (Bhishma). By some accounts in one version of the story, Yayati reaches satiation after a while and returns the gift of youth to his son Puru and bequeaths him the kingdom and the kingship.

As my comments about this Hindu myth emphasize, at the bottom level is an interesting and gripping story, looking deeper it highlights the faults and weaknesses of the human psyche and even deeper how to avoid the pitfalls or exploit them, but still praising, extolling or even sanctifying certain customs like filial piety (also made a cornerstone by Confucius together with respect for the ruler like Hobbes in Leviathan) and different standards for female sexual behavior and the authority and power of Brahmins.
The Hindu myths have a moral message however biased.
Greek myths are beautiful and enticing stories but often though not always lacking a moral conclusion as in the multiple rapes and seductions of Zeus, or Pallas Athena after losing a weaving contest, converting the winning contestant Arachnida from a woman into a spider. This is because the Greeks conceived their gods to be humans spoilt and intoxicated by power after having acquired it by parricide from the Titans (who married their sisters) and either being progeny of or practitioners of incestual sex without condemnation, until the myth of Oedipus. 

Take the House of Atreus for comparison. Pelops’ father Tantalus killed Pelops, cooked him and offered the meat to the gods to test them. The gods restored Pelops to life and cursed Tantalus to suffer the hell of permanent, intense, unquenched thirst, because the water would rise to his lips but recede before he could drink it. Hence the English verb tantalize. Pelops married Hippodamia by winning a chariot race against her father who was killed in the race due to sabotaging his chariot by Myrtilus, as planned by Pelops. He then killed Myrtilus to whom he had promised the right to be the first to take Hippodamia’s virginity. 

Pelops and Hippodamia had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes who killed their stepbrother Chrysippus to get the throne. They and their mother Hippodamia were banished to Mycenae where Hippodamia hanged herself. Atreus had vowed to sacrifice his best lamb to the goddess Artemis, but instead gave it to his wife Aerope. She gave it to her lover Thyestes (parallel to the story of Bhartrihari and Pingala). Atreus then proclaimed that the one who owned the lamb would be king, thinking that it was with his wife Aerope. Thyestes became king by producing the lamb. Atreus charged his brother with treachery and adultery and demanded the throne back. Thyestes said he would return the throne when the sun moved backward in the sky. Atreus prayed to Zeus and with his assistance convinced the sun to rise in the west and set in the east and reclaimed the throne. He banished Thyestes but still craved revenge.

He killed Thyestes’ sons, cooked them and fed Thyestes, the father their meat. Thyestes prayed to the oracle for his revenge and was advised to have a son by his own daughter Pelopia. This son, Aegisthus was abandoned by his mother Pelopia and eventually found his way into the house of Atreus (parallel to the stories of Oedipus and Paris), who raised him like a son. Thyestes informed the grown up Aegisthus that he was both his father and grandfather and commanded him to kill Atreus, which he did. Atreus had two sons Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and Menelaus, the king of Sparta, whose wife ran away with Paris, the son of Priam, the king of Troy, and caused the Trojan War.

Agamemnon was the leader of the Achean Greek army and was told that to obtain a favorable wind for the Greek ships to reach Troy, he would have to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. The sacrifice of Iphigenia made her mother and his wife Clytemnestra mad, and she began an affair with Thyestes’ son and grandson Aegisthus, the cousin of Agamemnon and the murderer of his father Atreus. Agamemnon in the siege of Troy, first quarreled with Achilles over his concubine Briseis, a prize of war and after the sacking of Troy by the horse of wily Odysseus (Ulysses, king of Ithaca) took the tragic Cassandra as concubine, back to Mycenae. Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon in his bath, as a revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia and for taking as concubine Cassandra, while unfazed by her taking Aegisthus as lover. (She had not heard the wisdom -When I looked at the evil in my own heart, all evil faded from the world)

Agamemnon’s only son Orestes was young but as he grew up, he was repeatedly urged by his only surviving sister Electra, to take his revenge for his father’s murder by killing their mother Clytemnestra. In the fashion of Hamlet, he was torn by conflicting emotions but eventually murdered his mother and was chased around Greece by the avenging Furies, but with the help of Apollo, the sun god and Athena, the goddess of wisdom granted him reprieve and free lifetime family counselling. 
Where is the moral in the story? 
Compare that with Yudhisthira, whose major sin was the utterance of Ashwatthama hato (Aswatthama is dead), loudly and under his breath, Narova kunjerova (man or elephant), having to suffer a visit and short stay in hell before getting his just rewards of heaven.

QED, I rest my case and await the judgement of my readers after the last part on Mahabharata and Ramayana.  

Continued to Myths, Intentions & Words


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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Views: 4290      Comments: 3

Comment what happens to Devayani after yayati gets married to sharmishtha ? How devayani leads her life after this incident?

24-Jan-2011 14:12 PM

Comment Thanks for your comments and corrections of the details. Bhartu,hari was just a typo (now fixed) and while Devayani may have offered the right hand, my implied criticisms are to stress our subtle biases and propagandas. The bias towards the right gives us the other meaning of "Dextrous" and its Latin origin and etymology, as against the negative prejudice against the left handed as in the Latin term "Sinistral and Sinister". The shenanigans of Indra are along the same lines as Zeus, though less erring, as in the case of Ahalya, Damyanti's first swayamvara, switching clothes by turning into wind. It is amusing to me that as straight laced as religious Indians are (Kamasutra notwithstanding), all chant and condone "Radhe-Krishna" with dethronement of Rukmini, Satyabhama and 16108 Indriyas. Including the Pingala story would have made the article too long and for the same reasons I skipped Sinhasan Batrisi, Vaital Pacchisi and Panchtantra as they are of later origin and not mythology but stories, yet with tremendous moral and practical lessons.

Random Thoughts
25-Sep-2010 08:23 AM

Comment The most powerful warning against giving in to desire is spoken by Yayati himself as he falls from heaven and the wording anticipates his descendant Krishna's exhortation in the Gita to slice the tree of attachment with the sword of detachment.
The article would improve by removal of a few errors.
1. Indra, as the wind, mischievously mixes up the clothes of the bathing girls. Sharmishtha by mistake puts on Devayani's.
2. Devayani offers Yayati her right hand, not the other way about. Since he takes her by her right hand, he has virtually accepted her as wife.
3. Bhartrihari not "Bhartuhari". Will readers follow this cryptic reference?

Pradip Bhattacharya
24-Sep-2010 02:21 AM

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