Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Ashvinikumara included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Aśvinīkumāra

(aśvinīdevas) Satya and Dasra, the two sons of Sūrya (The Sun) are called Aśvianīkumāras. (Ślokas 17 and 18, Chapter 150, Anuśāsana Parva, Mahābhārata). They are also known as Aśvins, and Aśvinīdevas. These two are the physicians of the devas. (Śloka 12, Chapter 123, Araṇya Parva, M.B).


Descending from Viṣṇu in order are: Brahmā, Marīci, Kaśyapa, Vivasvān (the Sun), Aśvinīkumāras.


The Viṣṇu Purāṇa describes the birth thus: "Saṃjñā, daughter of Viśvakarmā, was the wife of Sūrya. She got three children: Manu, Yama and Yamī. Once finding the effulgence of Sūrya unbearable she engaged Chāyā to look after Sūrya and left for the forests to do penance there. Sūrya took Chāyā to be Saṃjñā and got three children of her: Śanaiścara, (another) Manu and Tapatī. Once Chāyā got angry and cursed Yama. It was then that Sūrya and Yama came to know that she was not Saṃjñā, getting more details from Chāyā, Sūrya found out by his Jñānadṛṣṭi (a power of sight developed by Yoga by which one could see things far beyond the limits of his vision) that Saṃjñā was practising austerities taking the form of a mare. Then Sūrya went to her disguised as a horse and with her co-operation produced three children of which the first two became known as Aśvinīkumāras. The third son was called Revanta. Then Sūrya took Saṃjñā to his place (Chapter 2, Aṃśa 3, Viṣṇu Purāṇa). Śloka 35 of Chapter 66 of Ādi Parva states that Aśvinīkumāras were born from the nose of Saṃjñā.

How Aśvinīkumāras tested Sukanyā.

The Devī Bhāgavata contains a story of how the Aśvinīkumāras tested the fidelity of Sukanyā, daughter of Śaryāti and made her old and senile husband into a young and virile one. Śaryāti, son of Vaivasvata manu, had four thousand beautiful princesses as wives. But none had any children. When they were lamenting over this misfortune one of the wives gave birth to a girl and she was called Sukanyā. The father and all his wives together brought up this daughter with great affection.

In the neighbourhood of the palace of Śaryāti there was a tapovana as good and grand as Nandanavana and it contained a lake similar to the Mānasa lake. In one corner of this tapovana a sage named Cyavana was doing penance. He had been sitting there for so long a period without food meditating on a goddess that he was covered with plants and shrubs had grown over him. He was unaware of the growth around him. Once at this time Śaryāti with his wives and child and followed by a large retinue entered the tapovana for recreation. The King and his wives entered the lake and Sukanyā with her friends moved about in the garden plucking flowers and playing. Moving about thus aimlessly Sukanyā and party reached the place where Cyavana was doing penance. She saw the huge shrubby growth and while looking at it saw two gleaming points inside the shrubby heap. She was about to break open the thing when from inside she heard somebody addressing her thus: "Oh, innocent girl, why do you think of doing this mischief. Please do go your way. I am an ascetic. What wrong have I done to you for you to disturb me like this?" But Sukanyā brought up as she was, as a very pet girl did not like anybody advising her like this and so taking a pointed stick gave two pricks at the site of the gleampoints and left the place arrogantly.

The gleam-points were the eyes of Cyavana and so he lost his eyes and suffered much from the pain. Though he felt angry he did not curse anybody. But slowly the country began to witness the evil effects of this cruel deed. People stopped passing urine or faeces. Even animals were affected. The King and his ministers were worried. People came on deputation to the King to describe the disaster that had gripped the state. The King began to doubt that somebody must have done some great injury to the sage, Cyavana. He started enquiries asking his subjects one by one about this. But everybody replied in the negative. He bribed, he threatened. The result was the same. Then one day while the King and his courtiers were sitting despondent Sukanyā approached her father and confessed what she had done. She said: "While I was playing with my friends in the tapovana I saw this huge shrub-heap and two points gleaming from inside. I took a pin-stick and pricked them both and on drawing it out I found it wet also. But I left the matter there and never made any enquiries thereafter". Śaryāti now knew the cause of this national disaster and so immediately rushed to the sage for forgiveness. Prostrating before the ṛṣi the King pleaded "Oh, best of ṛṣis, forgive us for this injury done unknowingly. My daughter who is only an innocent child did this playfully while she was playing in this garden with her friends. She never knew what she pricked for a fun were your eyes. Oh, the best of sage, thou art rich in forgiveness and so please do condone this mischief and bless us." Cyavana replied that he would forgive if he gave Sukanyā in marriage to him. Śaryāti was depressed. How could he give his only and beautiful daughter to this aged senile ugly and blind ṛṣi? While the King was thus pondering over this, Sukanyā herself came to him and said, "Oh, dear father, please do not worry on my account. I shall go as his wife. If he is satisfied the nation would be saved from a calamity and I am prepared to sacrifice my happiness for the sake of the country. I will be only too glad to do so." With suppressed unwillingness the King gave his daughter in marriage to Cyavana.

Sukanyā after her marriage engaged herself fully in the service of looking after the welfare of her husband. She gave her husband healthy and tasty fruits and vegetables, bathed him daily in hot water, placed before him all the materials for his pūjā and when the time came for his meals gave him his food sitting by his side. After the meals she gave him tāmbūla and only after putting him on a bed would she go to attend to her own affairs. After finishing her meals she would come again to her husband and sit by his side massaging him. In the evening she would make ready all the things required for the pūjā and after the pūjā feed him with nourishing food. Whatever remained after his feed would be taken by her. At night she would be at the foot of her husband and take a nap. In the morning she would attend to all the details of the ablutions of her husband. Thus Sukanyā lived true to her husband always anxious to please him. Then one day the Aśvinīkumāras saw her going to the āśrama after her bath. They were very much attracted by the stunning beauty of the maiden that they approached her and asked: "Oh, beautiful maiden, who are you? We are Aśvinīkumāras. You seem to be alone. How did you happen to come to this place? You are one who should always move about with friends and courtiers and what is the reason for your living like this?" Sukanyā replied, "Revered Devas, I am the daughter of Śaryāti and wife of Cyavana. Forced by certain circumstances my father gave me in marriage to this sage who is very old and blind. He is living in the āśrama nearby. I am living with him looking after his comfort. If you think it convenient you can come and accept our hospitality." Hearing this the Aśvinīkumāras told her thus: "Sweet girl, you are fit to be the wife of one who is better than this blind old ascetic. So please do accept one of us as your husband". Sukanyā did not relish this talk and threatening them that if they did not withdraw stopping such blabbering she would curse them to ashes. The Aśvinīdevas were a bit surprised and also frightened at the attitude of Sukanyā. "Oh, Princess, we are immensely pleased at your sense of righteousness and chastity and you can ask of us a boon. We are physicians of the devas and can give your husband his sight and can also make him young and virile. But there is a condition for this. As soon as your husband becomes young and handsome we will also become like him and then you can select one among us. Are you willing? If so we will make your husband charming and handsome at this instant.

Sukanyā was well pleased with this offer but the condition placed did not satisfy her. So she ran to the āśrama and told her husband thus: "Lord, I met the Aśvinīdevas on my way from the river after my bath and enamoured of my beauty they have made this offer. We will make your husband young and beautiful giving him back his eyesight and then we will change ourselves to resemble him. You have then to select one of us as your husband. I am not able to understand their cunning and so I have come to you to get from you the answer for their question. I am anxious to see you young and handsome with your eyesight regained. I shall do as you direct."

Cyavana said: "There is nothing in this for great thinking. You go and tell them that you would do as they wish and bring them down here. On hearing this Sukanyā went to the Aśvinīkumāras and took them to the āśrama. They asked Cyavana to take a dip in the lake nearby and as he entered the lake the Aśvinīdevas also entered it and took a dip in its waters along with Cyavana. Lo! As they rose from the waters all the three became young and handsome looking alike. The Aśvinīdevas then requested Sukanyā to select one among them. Sukanyā was in a fix and she prayed to her goddess to give her power to identify her husband. She was blessed with that power and she selected Cyavana from the lot at which the Aśvinīdevas were also pleased. (Seventh Skandha, Devī Bhāgavata).

Cyavana’s gratitude.

Cyavana who got back his eyesight and youth asked the Aśvinīkumāras what boon they wanted. They then told him thus: "We are the physicians of the devas. Devendra has unnecessarily put a ban on our drinking Soma (juice extracted from the creeper Soma). When Brahmā performed a yāga at Mahāmeru this leader of the devas did not allow us to take a soma drink. If you are capable of doing it you should get us the right to take this celestial drink." Cyavana promised to do that.

Before long, King Śaryāti and his wife came to the āśrama to enquire about the welfare of their daughter. To their great amazement they found a young and handsome ascetic at the āśrama and were a bit suspicious of the character of their daughter. But soon all doubts were cleared and they were immensely pleased. Cyavana then told the King the request of the Aśvinīdevas and Śaryāti also promised his help on this matter.

On their return to their palace Śaryāti decided to perform a big yāga to which all the devas were also invited. Cyavana officiated as priest. The Aśvinīdevas were also present quite to the dislike of Indra. The time came for distributing soma, and when Cyavana called the Aśvinīkumāras to take their share Indra objected saying that since they were physicians of the devas they could not be given that drink. Cyavana argued against that and after a great verbal combat Cyavana succeeded in making the Aśvinīkumāras take the drink. For more details look under 'Cyavana'. (Seventh Skandha, Devī Bhāgavata).

Other information regarding Aśvinīkumāras.

(1) How they tested Upamanyu. This story is given under the word Āpodadhaumya.

(2) Birth of Nakula and Sahadeva. Kuntī, wife of Pāṇḍu, had obtained from Sage Durvāsas five sacred mantras, the chanting of each of which would give her a child.

Even before her marriage Kuntī tested the power of the mantras by chanting one of them. Sūrya appeared and she had to take a son from him who became the famous Karṇa later. By chanting the second, third and fourth meditating on Yama, Vāyu and Indra, Kuntī got respectively the sons Dharmaputra, Bhīma and Arjuna. The fifth mantra she gave to Mādrī and she meditated on the Aśvinīdevas and got Nakula and Sahadeva.

(3) The Aśvinīdevas were present for the marriage of Pāñcālī. (Śloka 6, Chapter 186, Ādi Parva, Mahābhārata). During the burning of the forest Khāṇḍava the Aśvinīdevas stood on the side of Arjuna.

(4) King Yuvanāśva became pregnant and bore a child. It was the Aśvinīdevas who took the child out by surgery. The boy became known as Māndhātā later. (Śloka 3, Chapter 62, Droṇa Parva, Mahābhārata).

(5) During the Mahābhārata battle the Aśvinīdevas handed over some Pārṣadas to the god, Skanda. (Śloka 38, Chapter 43, Śalya Parva, Mahābhārata).

(6) The Aśvinīdevas like very much oblations of Ghee. The others who like it are Bṛhaspati, Pūṣan, Bhaga and Pāvaka. (Śloka 7, Chapter 65, Anuśāsana Parva, Mahābhārata).

(7) The month of Āśvina (October-November) is the month of Aśvinīkumāras and if a man gives ghee to the Brahmins freely in that month he will acquire more physical beauty. (Śloka 10, Chapter 65, Anuśāsana Parva, Mahābhārata).

(8) One who offers Ghee as oblation to the fire for twelve months in succession will reach the country of the Aśvinīkumāras. (Śloka 95, Chapter 107, Anuśāsana Parva, Mahābhārata).

(9) The great poet of Kerala, Vallathol, in his commentary on the 93rd Sūkta of the Ṛgveda states that there is a belief that the Aśvins and Candrasūryas (the Sun and Moon) are one and the same.

(10) Dīrghaśravas son of Dīrghatamas once prayed to the Aśvinīdevas to get rains and it is said that they gave a downpour of sweet water. (Ṛgveda, Sūkta 112, Ṛk 11).

(11) Once a sage named Gotama was lost in a desert and craved bitterly for drinking water. He prayed to the Aśvinīdevas for water and they dug a well itself in the desert and quenched the thirst of the sage. (Ṛk 9, Sūkta 16, Ṛgveda).

(12) The sage Dadhyañc taught the Aśvinīdevas the technique, Madhuvidyā. There is an interesting story about it. It was Indra who taught this to Dadhyañc and while teaching him he had threatened that if he gave away that secret to anybody else his head would be cut off. Aśvinīdevas found a way to tide over this difficulty. They at first cut off his head and fixed the head of a horse on him. It was with the head of a horse that Dadhyañc taught them Madhuvidyā and as soon as the teaching was over his horse-head was cut off and the real head placed in its place. (Ṛk 22, Sūkta 116, Ṛgveda).

(13) The vehicle of the Aśvinīdevas is a donkey. Once this donkey in the disguise of a wolf went and stayed with Ṛjrāśva, son of the Rājaṛṣi Vṛṣāgīr. Ṛjrāśva gave the wolf to eat hundred goats belonging to the people of the place. Vṛṣāgīr got angry at this act of his son and cursed him. The son became blind and he got back his eyesight by pleasing the Aśvinīdevas by prayer and offerings. (Ṛk 16, Sūkta 115, Ṛgveda).

(14) Once Suryā decided to give his daughter in marriage to the owner of the horse which would win a horse-race which Suryā would conduct. In the race the horse of the Aśvinīdevas won and they thus married Sūryā’s daughter. (Ṛk 17, Sūkta 117, Ṛgveda).

(15) The Aśvinīkumāras killed an asura of name Viṣvak and destroyed his dynasty also. (Ṛk 16, Sūkta 117, Ṛgveda).

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