• anjali mohapatra

4- Marriage and Betrayal

Updated: Feb 24

(King Yayati, Devyani, and Sharmistha)



Rishi Vaishampayan continued the story about the glory and gloom of king Yayati: O King Janamejaya, feel fortunate that you belong to such a noble race of Somavamshi! Life always crosses through many hurdles. King Yayati was virtuous yet because of some silly mistakes, he had to meet the bad phases. Now listen to me how he got married to Devyani, and why he was cursed by Guru Shukracharya. ‘After gaining the Sanjivini mantra, Kachha went back to Devalok. The war between Danavas and Devas was always there. To take advantage of that divine mantra, the Devas suggested to Indra, the God of devas, to restart the war. Lord Indra agreed to their proposal. He started looking for opportunities to create a void between Guru Shukracharya and Danava King Vrishaparva so that Danavas could be weakened further. One day Princess Sharmistha, daughter of King Vrisaparva, went to take her bath in a lake accompanied by her friends including Devyani- daughter of Guru Shukracharya. While the girls were bathing, Indra dev disguised himself as Vayu and blew so strongly that all their clothes on the river bank were jumbled up. After finishing their bath, the girls came to the shore to change their dresses. In a hurry, Sharmistha wore the dress of Devyani. Seeing her dress worn by Sharmistha, Devyani lost her temper. She yelled at Sharmistha and humiliated her lineage. As the daughter of the Guru, she always expected respect from the princess. But Sharmistha, on the other hand being the daughter of a king, equally felt proud of herself. She couldn't resist seeing her dress torn by Devyani. She became furious and started abusing her. ‘You beggar! How dare you use harsh words to me? Are you not aware of who I am? Don't you know that your father lives on alms that my father bestows on him? Your father chants praise of others while everywhere my father’s praises are chanted!’ Addressing her with such cruel words, Sharmistha pushed Devyani into a nearby well and went back to her palace. Utterly humiliated Devyani went on crying waiting for someone's help. Coincidentally King Yayati reached there chasing after a deer. He felt extremely thirsty. Searching for water he reached near the well where Devyani was dumped and heard a somber wailing coming from that well. Curiously he peeped into it and saw a beautiful young maiden. The King addressed, ‘O lotus-eyed! Who are you? Why are you crying and how did it happen?’ ‘I am Devyani, daughter of Rishi Shukracharya. Please help me to come out, then I shall describe everything,’ said Devyani wailing with pain. After lifting her, the king passed some time with sweet conversation. Out of frustration and anger, Devyani revealed the incident in detail that had happened between her and Sharmistha. A little later Yayati pacified Devyani with soft words. At the first sight, Devyani was fascinated by the gorgeous look of the king. She requested Yayati to marry her as he had touched her right hand while rescuing her. King Yayati was stunned by her absurd proposal. Very politely he said, ‘O venerable lady! You are the daughter of a Brahmin of the highest rank who is even worshiped by celestials. I’m just a king- a Kshatriya. No shastras would accept the marriage of a higher caste girl to a lower caste boy.’ With a few sweet words, he requested her to return to her home and bidding farewell to Devyani, went away to his kingdom. Devyani anguished with the wretched behavior of the princess didn't go back to her home. She vowed to take revenge. Seeing the delay of his daughter for a long time, Shukracharya felt uneasy and sent his disciple- Ghurnika to search her out. Ghurnika returned and informed him that Devyani was in the forest and did not want to come back. Shukracharya went to the forest where Devyani rested. Seeing her father, she burst out crying and with vapid anger told him the cruelty of Sharmistha. Shukracharya loved his daughter more than his life, yet he remarked, ‘You might have done something wrong, dear.’ That shows the wisdom of the great sage! Shukracharya pacified his daughter with soft words and requested her to come back home. But she yelled, ‘O noble father! Wicked Sharmistha threw me down the well! I’m not going to the place where people do not know polished behavior, where virtue is overruled by vice, where no humanity, no respect, and no good conduct is exercised. Arrogantly Sharmistha announced that you are no better than a beggar, depending upon the alms given by her father. She humiliated me to the worst. You tell me father- if you are really under the mercy of the king, if you truly chant for taking alms- then I am ready to compromise, or else I’m not entering the king’s domain unless Sharmistha begs apology to me. That's my final decision.’ Wise sage Shukra thought for a while said, ‘O my dear daughter- neither I chant for flattery nor I beg anyone. All the celestials worship me. So, get rid of your anger. One who forgives is better than who holds anger. He who holds the reign tightly is called the true charioteer. He who subdues his anger by forgiveness even if there is a cause conquers the world. A person endowed with all the good traits would obtain- Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. So please give up your anger.’ Devyani refuted her father as wisely as Shukra did. She pointed out that if a pupil disobeys his teacher, then he must be punished. She was too adamant about her decision. Eventually, Shukra went to Vrisaparva and informed him of the misconduct of Sharmistha and the demand of Devyani. He made it clear to the Danava King that without his daughter he would not stay in his kingdom any further. Sharmistha heard the conversation of her father with Guru Shukracharya. She understood the plight of her father and realised the grievance of Guru Shukracharya. At last, she came to Devyani with her father Vrishaprava. Sharmistha uttered the words very politely, ‘O reverend Devyani! Forgive me for my arrogance. I am ready to carry out your command as you wish.’ Triumphantly Devyani announced, ‘Well then! Be my maid always and wherever I would go, be there at my service.’ ‘So, it be,’ said Sharmistha mournfully. Thereafter, princess Sharmistha served Devyani as a devoted maid. It was a coincidence that Devyani met King Yayati once again in the forest. She hadn't forgotten King Yayati, though didn't ask his name in the first meeting. After knowing his lineage, once again she earnestly requested the King to marry her. But Yayati argued on the same basis of caste difference and was afraid of losing his reputation. Shukracharya was called to the spot by his daughter to decide her marriage. Illustrious Guru Shukracharya happily pronounced, ‘O courageous descendent of Kuru! You are chosen by my daughter. No one is more precious to me than Devyani. If she is happy, then I am too. Do not hesitate to marry a woman of a higher caste as it has already happened earlier. I bestow her to you. Please accept her as your wife. And all the damsels with King Vrishparva’s daughter Sharmistha would accompany her. But remember two things- you will always give proper respect to Sharmistha and you would never call her to your bed.’ King Yayati bowed to Guru Shukracharya with respect and went to his kingdom with his wife Devyani, Sharmistha, and the thousand damsels. Thereafter King Yayati spent his time with Devyani very happily and Sharmistha performed her duty as a maid. One day, Sharmistha met the king in secret and revealed her burning desire to be his wife. When Yayati forsook her strongly as it would be ‘adharma’, witty Sharmistha told him, ‘O noble King! As per the shastra- a wife, as well as her property, belongs to her husband. Since I am a slave of Devyani, I also belong to you. Do not forsake me. Thus, O wise king, please fulfill my desire to be a mother of your children!’ Truth always prevails! Devyani came to know the secret relationship of her husband Yayati and Sharmistha. Angry like a raging storm, she left her husband and went back to her father Shukracharya to complain about the betrayal of King Yayati. Though Shukra was a wise Sage, he lost his control and cursed Yayati with premature old age as punishment. But later with a humble request of Yayati, Shukra said, ‘O King! Curse can't be recalled but if you wish, you can transfer your premature old age to whomsoever you want.’ Thus, suffering from the curse of Guru Shukra, Yayati asked his sons to exchange their youth with his old age. All of them denied except Puru, the youngest son who agreed to accept old age. Thereafter King Yayati enjoyed his youth for a long time. [Sage Vyasadev nicely depicted the rules of shastras- casteism (one among the rules) prevailing at the days of yore through the conversation of King Yayati and Devyani. If a girl from lower caste married a boy of higher caste- it is Anuloma, but if a girl of higher caste married a boy of lower caste, it is called Pratiloma. The second one was mostly forbidden. Analysing human psychology he had woven the story characters intricately.]

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