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Yayati's father, Nahusha is transformed into a python by a curse uttered by the sages as punishment for his arrogance. Yayati's elder brother, Yati, is initially given the kingdom, but turns it down and instead becomes an ascetic. Yayati then becomes king in his place and prospers so greatly that he is able to conquer the whole world. He appoints his four younger brothers to rule the world's cardinal directions
One day Sharmishtha, daughter of the Danava king Vrishparva and Devayani, daughter of the Daitya sage Shukracharya go, with Sharmishtha's retinue, to bathe in a forest pool not far from their home. After bathing, Devayani confuses Sharmishtha's sari with hers and puts it on instead. Sharmishtha returns, scolds Devayani for her mistake and belittles her with the jibe that she is the daughter of Vrishparva's servant. This slur on herself and her father (Shukracharya being a sage and high priest and indeed the guru of all the Asuras - no mere employee) infuriates Devayani who tries to attack Sharmishtha. Sharmishtha takes back her sari, throws the, now naked, Devayani into a well and leaves the forest with her retinue. Later Yayati, son of Nahusha, comes to the well for water and helps Devayani to climb out of it. She tells him that, as he has held her hand, he should become her husband. Although Yayati finds himself attracted by Devayani's beauty, he fears Shukracharya and tells Devayani that he cannot marry her without the permission of her father.
Devayani resolves to make Sharmishtha her servant in revenge for trying to kill her by throwing her into the well. Sharmishtha's father, Vrishparva agrees to this, since he fears that the continued security of his kingdom would be in doubt without the sage counsel of Devayani's father Shukracharya. Sharmishtha also agrees to this to save the kingdom and becomes Devayani's maidservant.
Some days later Devayani goes on a picnic in the forest with her servants. There she again meets Yayati, who is out hunting. This time she brings him to her father and tells him that they would like to marry. Shukracharya gives his consent and tells Yayati that he should take care of Sharmishtha too (as she is a princess, by birth) although he shouldn't have sex with her. Yayati marries Devayani and looks after her well.
After some time Sharmishtha comes to Yayati and asks him to give her a son. He refuses and says that, if he were to do so, he could not face the wrath of Shukracharya. Nevertheless, Sharmishtha manages finally to convince him, saying that it would be against Dharma if he were to refuse her request, as she is desperate to have a child. He reluctantly agrees and they start to have sex, in the hope that she will conceive. In due course, Devayani gives birth to two sons Yadu and Turvasu while Sharmishtha gives birth to three sons Druhyu, Anu and Puru.
Eventually Devayani learns of her husband's affair with Sharmishtha and complains to her father. Enraged at his son-in-law's disobedience, Shukracharya curses Yayati with premature old age in punishment for inflicting such pain upon his daughter. However he later relents a little, telling Yayati that, if he can persuade one of his (Yayati 's) sons to swap ages with him he will be able to escape the curse and regain his lost youth for a while. Yayati asks his sons if one of them will give up his youth to rejuvenate his father, but all refuse except the youngest, Puru (one of his sons by Sharmishtha). In grateful recognition of Puru's filial devotion, Yayati makes him his legitimate heir and it is from the line of Puru - later King Puru - that the Kuru vamsha dynasty later arises.
Chariot of YayatiThe Vayu Purana, the Brahmanda Purana, the Shiva Purana and the Harivamsa Purana mention that Yayati possessed a divine chariot which could travel in any direction unimpeded. It is variously mentioned that Yayati acquired it from Shukracharya, Indra or from Shiva.
The Harivamsha Purana mentions that with the speed of this chariot, Yayati was able to conquer the earth and the heavens in merely six days. Yayati gave this chariot to his youngest son, Puru who succeeded his father as king. The chariot became a family heirloom among the descendants of Puru. The chariot however vanished due to a curse incurred by the Paurava King Janamejaya when he slew a Brahmana in his hatred. Many years later, Indra once more gave that same chariot to King Vasu Uparichara, another descendant of Puru. Uparichara's grandson, Jarasandha of Magadha, inherited that chariot. Jarasandha was eventually defeated and slain by the Pandava Bhima who gave the chariot to his cousin, Lord Krishna.
Children of Devayani
- Yadu gave rise to Yadu vamsha, and one of his descendants is Krishna.
- Turvasu and his descendants formed the Yavana Kingdom
- Madhavi married four times and had one son with each husband. She married Haryyashwa, Ikshvaku King of Ayodhya; Divodasa, King of Kashi; Ushinara, Bhoja King of Kashi and the Maharishi Vishwamitra. With the Ikshvaku King Haryyashwa, she had a son named Vasumanas who became a wealthy king and practised charity. With Divodasa, the King of Kaśi, she had the mighty warrior King Pratarddana who acquired weapons from Sage Bharadwaja and defeated the Haihayas and the Videhas in battle. With the Bhoja King Ushinara, she had Shibi, who became a Chakravartin Samrat and conquered the world, practised Dharma and charity. With Sage Vishwamitra, Madhavi had a son named Ashtaka, who became famous for performing sacrifices and charity. The four sons of Madhavi didn't like Yayati's self-righteousness, but each one used their powers to send Yayati to heaven. Madhavi herself lost interest in marriage and performed penances in the forest for the rest of her life. Madhavi's four sons, after ruling their kingdoms, joined their mother and lived with her in the forest until her death.
Sons of Sharmishtha
- Druhyu and his descendants, the Bhoj Vansha, are believed to have formed the Twipra Kingdom.
- Anu gave rise to a Mleccha tribe, Tusharas (Tukharas), with their kingdom located in the north west of India as per the epic Mahabharata. (Mbh 1:85) Further on Kekaya, a warrior on the Pandava side into whose chariot Bhima got during the fighting on the sixth day. As per Bhagavata Purana the Usinaras, the Sibi, the Madras, and the Kekayas were the direct descendants of Anu. Sibi or Sivi is stated to be son of Usinara.
- Puru, the youngest son, succeeded Yayati and inherited his kingdom in the Gangatic plain. He in turn gave rise to Puru Vansha (the house of Purus) and eventually Pauravas, whose King Porus fought with Alexander the Great in the Battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BC.
InfluenceIn modern language and usage,trading conscientious behavior for external gain is sometimes called Yayati Syndrome. Yayati, a Marathi novel by V. S. Khandekar, won him the Sahitya Akademi Award (1960), and a Jnanpith Award (1974). Playwright Girish Karnad's debut play Yayati (1961) is based on the story of King Yayati found in the Mahabharat.
- Mahabharata, Adiparva, verse. 71-80.
- Yayati (Marathi). 1959. ISBN 978-81-7161-588-9
- Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust, by V. S. Khandekar (English), Tr. by Y. P. Kulkarni. Orient Paperbacks. ISBN 81-222-0428-7.
- Yayati, by Girish Karnad. Oxford University Press.
- Don Rubin (1998). The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Asia. Taylor & Francis. p. 196. ISBN 0-415-05933-X.
- Dowson, John (1888). A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature. Trubner & Co., London.
- Mani, Vettam (1964). Puranic Encyclopaedia. Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi. ISBN 08426-0822-2.
- Story of King Yayati from Mahabharata
- Devayani and Yayati Retold by P. R. Ramachander
- Yayati in Brahma Purana