The story of Yayati – Part 3


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Yayati then approached his eldest son Yadu and requested him to exchange his youth with old age so that he may satisfy his sensual needs and enjoy the pleasures of youth for a few more years. Yadu refused to do so citing the fact that he had not been young long enough to experience the bodily happiness of youth and would therefore not be able to become indifferent to material pleasures, having never experienced them.

Yayati then approached his other sons Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu who refused his offer as they did not know the true nature of the human soul and accorded too much importance to their temporal human body and its youth.

The old king finally found in his young son Puru someone who was willing to take on his old age in exchange for youth. The following were Puru’s words when he accepted Sukracharya’s curse

Not too many people in this world get a chance to repay their fathers who have given them their body. He who acts as per his father’s wishes is surely destined to be blessed even by the Gods.

As a young man again, King Yayati then enjoyed sensual pleasures and pleasures of the flesh for many more years. Years later he realized that the craving for sensual pleasures is not satiated by indulgence and if anything such indulgence only serves to increase the cravings even more. Upon achieving this realization, he goes back to his son Puru and gives back his youth to him and gladly accepts old age.


Dr Devdutt Pattanaik, eminent mythologist in this article [Link to article] describes how the events in Yayati’s story contribute to the inherent struggle between the older and younger generations. In this case, the older generation in the form of Yayati has his way and how the defeat of the younger generation in the form of Puru is often glorified and celebrated as a large sacrifice.

This is what is termed the Yayati Complex by many Indian psychologists, where the son sacrifices his pleasures to heed to the demands of his father, in order to obtain the goodwill and appreciation of his father. This is a clear contrast to the Western psychological precept of The Oedipus Complex discussed in my earlier posts [Link to post].

Another wonderful example of the Yayati Complex is found in the Mahabharata where Bhishma takes on two terrible vows – one to make Satyavati’s sons the heirs to the throne of Hastinapur and two never to marry so that his children might never stake a claim to the throne themselves. Bhishma takes these vows to ensure that his father Santanu’s desire to marry Satyavati is fulfilled, and is therefore a classic example of the Yayati Complex.

The story of Yayati – Part 2


<< PART 1 >>

After some time, King Yayati who was out on a hunt happened to come by that way. Feeling thirsty he stopped near the well and happened to see Devayani in the well. Desirous of helping her, he took off his upper garment, reached down to her and pulled her out of the well.

Addressing him Devayani said O King, by taking my hand into yours, you have accepted my hand in marriage. It will now never be touched by another man, as it is providence that our relationship has so been consummated.

Know this o King, no qualified Brahmin can ever become my husband because Kaca, the son of Brihaspati has cursed me so.

After Yayati had agreed to her statement, Devayani then went to her father Sukracharya and narrated all that happened. Enraged with the princess’ behavior Sukracharya then went to Vrishaparva with the intention of punishing her. Vrishaparva however satiated his guru’s anger by offering Sharmistha as a maidservant to Devayani.

Once Sukracharya’s anger was mollified, he then sent Devayani with her thousand maidservants which included Sharmistha to her husband, King Yayati’s palace. Giving his daughter’s hand in marriage to the king, Sukracharya warned Yayati to never allow Sharmistha into his bed.

The king and his newly wed queen enjoyed marital bliss and soon Devayani was pregnant with their child. Seeing her old friend enjoying her pregnancy, Sharmistha approached Yayati in a secluded place and asked him to marry her as well and promised to be a faithful wife to him. Neglecting the holy Sukracharya’s advice, the king went on to marry Sharmistha as well and gave in to her demands for a child from him.

When Devayani found out that her former friend was also pregnant with the king’s child, she was angry and immediately left the palace for her father’s place. The distraught Yayati followed her there and despite his entreaties and pleading, she refused to come back to his palace. Angry at the king not following his specific advice to the contrary, Sukracharya cursed Yayati

You womanizing, deceitful man, may you immediately enter old age which disfigures the human body

Yayati begged the holy man for his forgiveness who then relented and told him that if he could transfer his invalidity and old age to some young man, then he could remain young and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh if he so desired.

<< PART 3 >>

The story of Yayati – Part 1


King Nahusha had six sons; Yati, Yayati, Samyati, Ayati, Viyati and Kriti. When he grew old and wanted to renounce his kingdom, his eldest son Yati, did not accept the kingdom offered by his father, knowing fully well that a person who becomes the king can never succeed in the pursuit of self-realization. Therefore, when circumstances intervened and Nahusha was forced to give up his kingdom as he had offended Saatchi, Indra’s wife and was cursed to live the life of a snake, his second son Yayati became the king. He nominated his four younger brothers as regents for the four directions of his kingdom and took Devayani, the daughter of Sukracharya and Sharmistha, the daughter of Vrishaparva as his queens. The story of Yayati’s marriage to these two ladies goes thus.


One day Vrishaparva’s daughter Sharmistha along with her thousand companions which included Sukracharya’s daughter Devayani were walking in the palace garden. The garden was well renowned for its beauty and was full of lotus flowers, crammed with blossoming trees and almost always nicely buzzed with the activity of bumblebees flying around collecting honey from all the flowers. When the princess and her companions arrived at the lake in the garden, they took off their clothes and started playing in the water.

Seeing Lord Shiva pass by that way with his consort Parvati, the young women quickly got out of the water and covered themselves with the garments they had casually discarded on the banks of the lake. In her hurry to get dressed, Sharmistha unknowingly put on the dress of her guru Sukracharya’s daughter, Devayani. Devayani, angered by this act of the princess, exclaimed

Alas, despite being a princess, Sharmistha’s actions are against etiquette. She desires clothes which are not her own and her actions are like that of a dog which lusts after the sacrificial ghee. My father who is a descendant of Bhrigu, and the spiritual guru of her father Vrishaparva, is a learned and a chaste man and the princess by virtue of stealing my clothes reminds me of somebody who is unchaste trying to master the Vedas.

Angered by this outburst of her companion Sharmistha retorted What nonsense Devayani? You don’t know your place. It is you who waits outside our doors for food like crows do when fresh rice is cooked.

Saying so she removed the garments that Devayani was wearing and threw the naked girl into a well.

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