Yayati falls down from heaven

Posted on March 29, 2011

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The story of King Yayati needs no introduction to the readers of Bharata. The husband of Devayani (Shukracharya’s daughter) and Sharmista (the Asura King Vrshaparva’s daughter) was once cursed by Shukracharya to assume a withered body. Yayati’s son Puru willingly offered his youth to the King and accepted the King’s decrepitude in exchange. Yayati subsequently enjoyed the pleasures of the youth for many years but found himself dissatisfied. In the end, he returns the youthfulness to his son, and spends his final years in the woods before ascending to heaven.

* * *

Yayati lived in the upper regions for a long time. One day, he met with Indra, who asked, “Tell me, o King, to whom do you compare yourselves in ascetic merits?”.

Yayati replied, “I have not seen anyone among the Devas, humans, Gandharvas and maharishis whose ascetic merits are equivalent to mine”.

Considering Yayati’s words to be in disregard of accomplished ascetics, Indra declared that Yayati’s speech had eroded him of all remaining merits. He also added that with the merits expired, Yayati would fall down from heaven immediately. Yayati requested Indra that he fall in a region populated by virtuous sages. Indra agreed, and advised Yayati to respect his peers and superiors (in accomplishments) henceforth.

* * *

A group of sages – Ashtaka, Pratardana, Shibi and Vasuman – observed Yayati falling from the sky. As Vyasa would reveal, these four were none but rajarishis born in Yayati’s lineage.

Ashtaka approached Yayati and enquired about the King and his whereabouts. The sages then proceeded to ask Yayati about the various regions he visited in heaven, and put forth questions out of curiosity – such as, how one loses one’s merit, how is one reborn after death, how does the reborn soul acquire a body and sense organs, what are the actions appropriate for men in different ashramas, etc.

The sages, then using their ascetic powers, stopped Yayati from falling further. The four of them offered Yayati their respective merits so that the King could regain his place in heaven. But Yayati declined, saying that he could never accept gifts as he was a Kshatriya. (Vasuman recommends Yayati to give him a handful of sand in return – so that his offer of merits would technically not qualify for a gift. But Yayati refuses, saying that doing so would be an act of falsehood).

Soon, five golden aerial chariots descended from the skies to take Yayati and his four grandsons to heaven.

At this point, Madhavi, who was Yayati’s daughter and the mother of the four sages arrived at that place. She confirmed that the King was indeed her father. Madhavi added that the wealth and merits of one’s daughter and grandsons are one’s own, and hence Yayati should accept their merits and return to heaven.

Yayati showered praises on his daughter and grandsons, and declared that grandsons’ participation would be considered virtuous for the performance of ancestral rites (such as Shraddha).  The King and the grandsons then alighted the chariots and went to heaven.

* * *

On their way to heaven, another interesting incident happened. Shibi’s chariot sped past the four of them and reached heaven earlier. Ashtaka enquired about the reason for this, and Yayati briefly replied that Shibi was the greatest of them all as he had given away everything at his disposal. (Vyasa chooses not elaborate further, but he gives the answers in another part of Bharata – in Vana Parva – which we shall see later)

(Source: Mbh Adi Parva, Chapters 87 to 93, Udyoga Parva Chapter 121)

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