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ONE warm afternoon, pleasantly tired
with sporting in the woods Devayani and
the daughters of Vrishaparva, king of the
asuras, went to bathe in the cool waters of
a sylvan pool, depositing their garlands on
the bank before they entered its waters.
A strong breeze blew their clothes
together into a huddled heap and when
they came to take them up again, some
mistakes naturally occurred. It so
happened that princess Sarmishtha, the
daughter of the king, clad herself in
Devayani's clothes. The latter was vexed
and exclaimed half in jest at the
impropriety of the daughter of a disciple
wearing the clothes of the master's
These words were spoken half in jest, but
the princess Sarmishtha became very
angry and said arrogantly: "Do you not
know that your father humbly bows in
reverence to my royal father every day?
Are you not the daughter of a beggar who
lives on my father's bounty? You forget I
am of the royal race which proudly gives,
while you come of a race which begs and
receives, and you dare to speak thus to
Sarmishtha went on, getting angrier and
angrier as she spoke till, working herself
up into a fit of anger, she finally slapped
Devayani on the cheek and pushed her
into a dry well. The asura maidens
thought that Devayani had lost her life and
returned to the palace.
Devayani had not been killed by the fall
into the well but was in a sad plight
because she could not climb up the steep
sides. Emperor Yayati of the Bharata race
who was hunting in the forest by a happy
chance came to this spot in search of
water to slake his thirst. When he glanced
into the well, he saw something bright,
and looking closer, he was surprised to
find a beautiful maiden lying in the well.
He asked: "Who are you, O beautiful
maiden with bright earrings and ruddy
nails? Who is your father? What is your
ancestry? How did you fall into the well?"
She replied: "I am the daughter of
Sukracharya. He does not know that I
have fallen into the well. Lift me up" and
she held forth her hands. Yayati seized her
hand and helped her out of the well.
Devayani did not wish to return to the
capital of the king of the asuras. She did
not feel it safe to go there, as she
pondered again and again on Sarmishtha's
conduct. She told Yayati: "You have held
a maiden by her right hand, and you must
marry her. I feel that you are in every way
worthy to be my husband."
Yayati replied: "Loving soul, I am a
kshatriya and you are a brahmana maiden.
How can I marry you? How can the
daughter of Sukracharya, who is worthy to
be the preceptor of the whole world,
submit to be the wife of a kshatriya like
myself? Revered lady, return home."
Having said these words Yayati went back
to his capital.
A kshatriya maiden could marry a
brahmana, according to the ancient
tradition, but it was considered wrong for
a brahmana maiden to marry a kshatriya.
The important thing was to keep the racial
status of women unlowered. Hence
anuloma or the practice of marrying men
of higher castes was legitimate and the
reverse practice, known as pratiloma, i.e.
marrying men of a lower caste, was
prohibited by the sastras.
Devayani had no mind to return home.
She remained sunk in sorrow in the shade
of a tree in forest. Sukracharya loved
Devayani more than his life. After waiting
long in vain for the return of his daughter
who had gone to play with her
companions, he sent a woman in search of
The messenger after a weary search came
on her at last near the tree where she was
sitting in dejection, her eyes red with
anger and grief. And she asked her what
Devayani said: "Friend, go at once and tell
my father that I will not set my foot in the
capital of Vrishaparva" and she sent her
back to Sukracharya.
Extremely grieved at the sad plight of his
daughter Sukracharya hurried to her.
Caressing her, he said: "It is by their own
actions, good or bad, that men are happy
or miserable. The virtues or vices of
others will not affect us in the least." With
these words of wisdom, he tried to
She replied in sorrow and anger: "Father,
leave alone my merits and faults, which
are after all my own concern. But tell me
this, was Sarmishtha, the daughter of
Vrishaparva, right when she told me you
were but a minstrel singing the praises of
kings? She called me the daughter of a
mendicant living on the doles won by
flattery. Not content with this arrogant
contumely, she slapped me and threw me
into a pit which was nearby. I cannot stay
in any place within her father's territory."
And Devayani began to weep.
Sukracharya drew himself up proudly:
"Devayani," he said with dignity, "you are
not the daughter of a court minstrel. Your
father does not live on the wages of
flattery. You are the daughter of one who
is reverenced by all the world. Indra, the
king of the gods, knows this, and
Vrishaparva is not ignorant of his debt to
me. But no worthy man extols his own
merits, and I shall say no more about
myself. Arise, you are a peerless gem
among women, bringing prosperity to
your family. Be patient. Let us go home."
In this context Bhagavan Vyasa advises
humanity in general in the following
words of counsel addressed by
Sukracharya to his daughter:
"He conquers the world, who patiently
puts up with the abuse of his neighbors.
He who, controls his anger, as a horseman
breaks an unruly horse, is indeed a
charioteer and not he who merely holds
the reins, but lets the horse go whither it
would. He who sheds his anger just as a
snake its slough, is a real hero. He who is
not moved despite the greatest torments
inflicted by others, will realise his aim. He
who never gets angry is superior to the
ritualist who faith fully performs for a
hundred years the sacrifices ordained by
scripture. Servants, friends, brothers, wife,
children, virtue and truth abandon the man
who gives way to anger. The wise will not
take to heart the words of boys and girls."
Devayani humbly told her father: "I am
indeed a little girl, but, I hope, not too
young to benefit by the great truth taught
by you. Yet, it is not proper to live with
persons who have no sense of decency or
decorum. The wise will not keep company
with those who speak ill of their family.
However rich they may be, the ill-
mannered are really the veritable
chandalas outside the pale of caste. The
virtuous should not mix with them. My
mind is ablaze with the anger roused by
the taunts of Vrishaparva's daughter. The
wounds inflicted by weapons may close in
time; scalds may heal gradually; but
wounds inflicted by words remain painful
as long as one lives."
Sukracharya went to Vrishaparva and
fixing his eyes on him gravely said:
"O king, though one's sins may not bring
immediate punishment they are sure,
sooner or later, to destroy the very germ
of prosperity. Kacha, the son of
Brihaspati, was a brahmacharin who had
conquered his senses and never committed
any sin. He served me with fidelity and
never strayed from the path of virtue.
Your attendants tried to kill him. I bore it.
My daughter, who holds her honor high,
had to hear dishonoring words uttered by
your daughter. Besides, she was pushed
into a well by your daughter. She cannot
any more stay in your kingdom. Without
her I cannot live here either. So, I am
going out of your kingdom."
At these words the king of the asuras was
sorely troubled and said: "I am ignorant of
the charges laid at my door. If you
abandon me, I shall enter fire and die."
Sukracharya replied: "I care more for the
happiness of my daughter than for the fate
of you and your asuras, for she is the one
thing I have and dearer to me than life
itself. If you can appease her, it is well
and good. Otherwise I go."
Vrishaparva and his retinue went to the
tree under which Devayani stood and they
threw themselves at her feet in
Devayani was stubborn and said:
"Sarmishtha who told me that I was the
daughter of a beggar, should become my
handmaiden and attend on me in the house
into which my father gives me in
Vrishaparva consented and asked his
attendants to fetch his daughter
Sarmishtha admitted her fault and bowed
in submission. She said: "Let it be as my
companion Devayani desires. My father
shall not lose his preceptor for a fault
committed by me. I will be her attendant,"
Devayani was pacified and returned to her
house with her father.
On another occasion also Devayani came
across Yayati. She repeated her request
that he should take her as his wife since he
had clasped her right hand. Yayati again
repeated his objection that he, a kshatriya,
could not lawfully marry a brahmana.
Finally they both went to Sukracharya and
got his assent to their marriage. This is an
instance of the pratiloma marriage which
was resorted to on exceptional occasions.
The sastras, no doubt, prescribe what is
right and forbid what is wrong but a
marriage once effected cannot be made
Yayati and Devayani spent many days in
happiness. Sarmishtha remained with her
as an attendant. One day Sarmishtha met
Yayati in secret and earnestly prayed to
betaken also as his wife. He yielded to her
prayer and married her without the
knowledge of Devayani.
But Devayani came to know of it and was
naturally very angry, She complained to
her father and Sukracharya in his rage
cursed Yayati with premature old age.
Yayati, thus suddenly stricken with age in
the very prime of his manhood, begged so
humbly for forgiveness that Sukracharya,
who had not forgotten Devayani's rescue
from the well, at last relented.
He said: "O king, you have lost the glory
which is youth. The curse cannot be
recalled, but if you can persuade anyone
to exchange his youth for your age the
exchange will take effect." Thus he
blessed Yayati and bade him farewell.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?