Puranic encyclopaedia

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

This page describes the Story of Yayati 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 Yayāti

An eminent king of the Lunar dynasty.

Genealogy and Birth.

From Viṣṇu were descended in the following order—BrahmāAtriCandraBudha -PurūravasĀyusNahuṣaYayāti.

Sage Atri had three sons—Candra, Durvāsas and Dattātreya—by his wife Anasūyā. Candra’s son was Budha, Budha’s son was Purūravas, Purūravas’s son was Āyus, Āyus’s son was Nahuṣa who had six sons—Yati, Yayāti, Saṃyāti, Āyāti, Ayati and Dhruva. Yayāti had two wives, Devayānī and Śarmiṣṭhā. Two sons, Yadu and Turvasu, were born to Devayāni. Of them, Yadu became the founder of Yaduvaṃśa. Śarmiṣṭhā had three sons who were Druhyu, Anudruhyu and Pūru. The Puruvaṃśa traces its origin to Puru.

Yayāti’s marriage.

Yayāti married Devayānī, the daughter of sage Śukra and Śarmiṣṭhā, the daughter of Vṛṣaparvā.

There is a story behind this marriage, given in Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 76. Once there was keen rivalry between Devas and Asuras. For achieving victory Devas accepted Bṛhaspati and Asuras accepted Śukra as their preceptors. Although Devas slaughtered all Asuras they were restored to life by Śukra by the power of his mantra. Devas and Asuras resumed their battle. "Mṛtasañjīvanī" (the art of reviving the dead) was then unknown to the gods. Devas sent the handsome youth Kaca to Śukra, to learn Mṛtasañjīvanī from him. There, Kaca fell in love with Devayānī, Śukra’s daughter. But after acquiring the knowledge about Mṛtasañjīvanī he returned, without marrying Devayānī. At the time of his departure, Kaca and Devayānī cursed each other. Devayānī’s curse was that Kaca’s newly acquired knowledge would not produce the desired result, while Kaca’s curse was that Devayānī would not be married by any youthful ṛṣi.

Śarmiṣṭhā was the daughter of Vṛṣaparvā, the Daitya king. Devayānī was the daughter of Śukra, the Daitya preceptor. One day they were enjoying a bath in a forest brook with their maids, after leaving their clothes on the bank of the stream. At that time Devendra who came that way, transformed himself into a strong wind and carried all the clothes to a place and put all of them in a heap. Seeing this, the women rushed out of the water and in the hurried confusion in snatching their garments Devayānī and Śarmiṣṭhā happened to put on each other’s clothes. A quarrel took place between them on this mistake and the angry Śarmiṣṭhā pushed Devayānī into an unused well. Thinking that Devayānī was dead, Śarmiṣṭhā and her maids went to the palace.

At this time, Yayāti who was a king of the lunar dynasty happened to come there exhausted after his hunting. After rescuing Devayānī from the well and enquiring about her identity and the circumstances in which she fell into the well, he returned to his palace

Devayānī sent her maid Ghūrṇikā to her father and informed him about her mishap. The father, sage Śukra became angry towards Vṛṣaparvā, and came down from Daityaloka and settled down in the forest with his daughter. Afraid of his preceptor’s curse and anger, Vṛṣaparvā came to Śukra and offered profuse apologies to him for his daughter’s misconduct. But Śukra answered that he would be prepared to forgive only if Śarmiṣṭhā with 1000 maids would go and serve Devayānī. Finding no other way, Vṛṣaparvā yielded to the condition. Soon Śarmiṣṭhā and her 1000 maids went to the forest and began to serve Devayānī. Śukra returned to Daityaloka. Some time after this, Yayāti came to the forest one day for hunting. There he met Devayānī, being attended by many maids. In the conversation that followed, Devayānī was able to recognize Yayāti. She fell in love with him. But Yayāti insisted that he was not prepared to marry her without the consent of Śukrācārya. So she sent one of her maids to her father and informed him of her desire. The sage readily agreed and had their marriage performed. He also presented them 1,000 maids. After the ceremony, Yayāti returned to his palace with his bride. Śarmiṣṭhā and the 2,000 maids also accompanied them. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapters 76-81).

Yayāti’s domestic Life.

After his arrival in his capital city, Yayāti made arrangements for Devayānī’s residence in his own palace while Śarmiṣṭhā took up her residence in Aśokavanikā. In due course, Devayānī gave birth to a son. The sight of the child roused the motherly instincts of Śarmiṣṭhā who spent a thousand years in heartburning. One day, while she was brooding alone in her garden, Yayāti happened to come there. As they met, their hearts were moved by tender feelings. Śarmiṣṭhā approached Yayāti and begged for a son. But he tried to evade her by pleading that it was not proper to do anything in violation of Dharma. But in the end, he had to yield to her earnest supplications and philosophical arguments. Thus Śarmiṣṭhā conceived a son in secret.

When the child was born and it grew up, Devayānī’s mind was constantly vexed with the thought as to who was the father. Once in an angry mood she questioned Śarmiṣṭhā herself about it. She answered that the child’s father was a sage whose identity she could not ascertain in the excitement of her union with him. Any way, this answer satisfied Devayānī.

Soon after, another son was born to Devayānī. The first boy was named Yadu and the second son, Turvasu. As a result of the secret relations between Yayāti and Śarmiṣṭhā, three boys were born to her and they were named Druhyu, Anudruhyu and Pūru, respectively. These boys also grew up in Aśokavanikā.

Once Devayānī was in her garden with her husband and children. Just then, Śarmiṣṭhā’s children also happened to come there. Devayānī who somehow had her own suspicions, enquired of them their parentage and the innocent children replied that their mother was Śarmiṣṭhā and their father was Yayāti. Devayānī who became furious, immediately went to Asuraloka and informed her father Śukra about it. On hearing it, the sage who was beside himself with anger owing to his paternal affection, cursed Yayāti so that he fell a victim to the infirmities of old age. Yayāti entreated Śukra to withdraw the curse since he had not enjoyed his youth to the full.

Śukra lifted the curse by assuring him that one of Yayāti’s sons would accept his father’s old age in exchange for his youth and the son would be crowned King after Yayāti. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapters 82 and 83).


Yayāti asked his eldest son Yadu for his youthfulness. But the latter was not prepared to exchange it for his father’s old age. Next the father approached his younger sons, Turvasu, Druhyu, and Anudruhyu, with the same request, but all of them in turn refused to oblige him. Even though Yayāti promised to return the youthfulness to them after a thousand years, they refused to exchange it for his old age. Yayāti in his anger, cursed Yadu that his progeny would never become Kings. Turvasu’s family would be completely destroyed and Druhyu would float down the river, with unfulfilled desires and faded prosperity. Pūru wholeheartedly accepted his father’s old age in exchange for his youth and went to the forest. From that day Yayāti began his reign with a cheerful heart. (Mahābhārata Ādi parva, Chapters 84 and 85).

In Padma Purāṇa, there is a slightly different version about the way in which Yayāti fell a victim to the infirmities of old age. It is as follows:—Seeing the rigorous observance of Yayāti’s virtuous life, Devendra began to be alarmed at the thought that he might be dislodged from his place. He called his charioteer Mātali and ordered him to bring Yayāti with him to Indraloka. When Mātali failed in his mission, Devendra sent some Gandharvas to enact the drama of "Vāmanāvatāra" before Yayāti. Enchanted by the charm and performance of Rati on the stage, the King became irresistibly fascinated by the female sex.

Once the Rākṣasī named Jarā and Madana got access to Yayāti’s body. While in that state, one day he went to the forest for hunting. There he happened to meet a beautiful girl named "Aśrubindumatī". From her companion-maid, Viśālā, the King came to know of her history. Viśālā said to Yayāti—"Long ago when Kāmadeva was burnt Rati was in deep grief. The gods were moved to pity by her tears and they restored Kāma to life. Rati who was extremely happy, began to shed tears of joy. A beautiful girl was born from the tears which fell from her left eye. This maid who is standing before you is that girl. She is now looking for a suitable person for her Svayaṃvara." On hearing this story the King expressed his desire to marry her. Aśrubindumatī agreed to become his wife on condition that he exchanged his old age with some young person for his youthfulness.

Yayāti returned to his palace and asked each of his sons to give him his youth. Pūru alone fulfilled his father’s desire. After this Yayāti married Aśrubindumatī. But he was compelled to submit to another condition also, that he should not maintain any contact with his other wives. Devayānī and Śarmiṣṭhā naturally, became distressed and furious when they saw Yayāti and Aśrubindumatī as husband and wife. So Yayāti asked Yadu to kill both of them. But Yadu refused to obey him. Yayāti who became angry at this, cursed his son that one of his descendants would marry his uncle’s daughter and become heir to his mother’s wealth.

After some time, on Menakā’s advice, Aśrubindumatī urged Yayāti to go on a visit to Heaven. So he entrusted his kingdom to Pūru and went to Vaikuṇṭha.

Yayāti’s reign.

The Purāṇas describe Yayāti as a noble and eminent King. Some of the events which took place during his reign and which deserve special praise, are given below:

(i) Gift of cows. Once when King Yayāti was in the company of his subjects, a Brāhmaṇa approached him with a request for Gurudakṣiṇā. At once Yayāti gave him a gift of 1,000 cows. (Mahābhārata Vana Parva, Chapter 195).

(ii) Yayāti and Gālava. See para 6 under Gālava.

(iii) His end. After a thousand years, Yayāti handed over his kingship to Pūru and went to the forest. He spent many years living in Bhṛgutuṅga in the company of sages, and feeding on fruits, roots, etc. and in the end died in the forest and attained Heaven.

(iv) Yayāti’s fall from Heaven. Yayāti remained in Heaven for many years. Once he insulted the Devas, Indra and other gods and kings in the divine assembly. The gods looked at one another, wondering who this proud fellow was. They asked how this man reached Heaven without renouncing his pride. In the meantime Yayāti lost his balance and fell down from Heaven to the earth. While descending, he prayed that he should fall in the midst of good men.

Just at this time, four kings named Pratardana, Vasumanas, Śibi and Aṣṭaka were performing a Yāga in Naimiṣāraṇya. Yayāti happened to fall head downwards into their midst. But since they caught him in his fall he did not crash to the ground. He explained his story to them. They allowed him to accept the fruit of their Yajña and to go to Heaven. But since he was a Kṣatriya he told them he had no right to it. Just then, his daughter Mādhavī arrived there. She allowed him to take half of the divine grace which she had earned and with the help of it Yayāti ascended to Heaven again. (Mahābhārata Udyoga Parva, Chapter 120).

Other details.

(i) Yayāti witnessed the battle between Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas which was fought as a result of the theft of King Virāṭa’s cows. (Mahābhārata Virāṭa Parva, Chapter 56, Verse 9).

(ii) In Mahābhārata, Sabhā Parva, Chapter 8, Verse 8, it is stated that King Yayāti continues to be in Yama’s assembly.

(iii) Yayāti once gave 1,000 cows to a Brāhmaṇa as "Gurudakṣiṇā". (Mahābhārata Vana Parva, Chapter 195).

(iv) He came riding in Indra’s chariot and witnessed the battle between Arjuna and Kṛpācārya, from the sky. (Mahābhārata Virāṭa Parva, Chapter 56, Verse 9).

(v) Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva, Chapter 115, men tions that Yayāti had conducted 1,000 Yāgas and that he was the leader of all Kings.

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