Categories: Hindu Mythology

Yayati: The Progenitor of the Yadavas and Pandavas

Yayati, an Abhira king celebrated in Hindu tradition, is a significant figure in the Chandravamsha (Lunar Dynasty). His story, which includes elements of conquest, romance, and spiritual enlightenment, is recorded in various ancient texts such as the Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam), and Matsya Purana. This narrative provides a detailed account of his lineage, achievements, and the profound curse that altered the course of his life.

Yayati

Yayati’s ancestry traces back to illustrious figures in Hindu mythology. Brahma’s son, Atri, was a Brahmarshi whose son was Chandra, the moon god. Chandra lent his name to the Lunar dynasty (Chandravaṃśa). Chandra’s son, Budha, had a son named Pururavas with Ila, the daughter of Vaivasvaita Manu. Pururavas married the celestial nymph Urvashi, and they had several sons, among whom Ayus was the eldest. Ayus married Prabha, an asura princess, and their son was Nahusha.

Nahusha, educated by Sage Vashistha, ascended to the role of Indra when the gods needed a leader. His reign lasted for 100 years until his arrogance led to a curse by the saptrishi (seven sages), transforming him into a snake and sending him to Naraka (hell). Nahusha had several sons, with Yati and Yayati being the most prominent. Yati chose a life of asceticism, leaving Yayati to inherit the throne.

Yayati’s Reign and Achievements

Yayati’s reign was marked by extraordinary achievements. Known as a Chakravarti, or Universal Monarch, Yayati performed numerous sacrifices and rituals to maintain his kingdom’s prosperity and religious sanctity. His notable achievements include:

Performing 100 Rajasuyas (royal consecrations)
Conducting 100 Ashvamedhas (horse sacrifices)
Completing 100 Vajapeyas (a type of Soma sacrifice)
Holding 1000 Atiratras (all-night Soma sacrifices)
Performing 1000 Pundarikas and countless Agnishthomas and Chaturmasyas
Yayati was renowned for his generosity, giving away mountains of gold and billions of cows to Brahmanas.

Marriage and Relationships

Yayati’s personal life is a central theme in his story. He married Devayani, the daughter of the sage Shukra, and also took Sharmishtha, the daughter of the daitya king Vrishaparvan and maid of Devayani, as his mistress. This complicated relationship led to significant events in his life.

The Story of Devayani and Sharmishtha

Devayani and Sharmishtha, while bathing in a forest pool, became embroiled in a quarrel caused by Indra, who transformed into a wind to mix up their clothes. In the ensuing confusion, Sharmishtha threw Devayani into a well. Yayati, hunting nearby, rescued her. Devayani informed her father Shukra, who demanded retribution. Vrishaparvan placated Shukra by offering Sharmishtha as a maid to Devayani. Later, Yayati and Devayani fell in love and married with Shukra’s consent.

The Curse and Its Consequences

Despite Shukra’s warning, Yayati began an affair with Sharmishtha, who desired a child. Yayati fathered three sons with Sharmishtha: Druhyu, Anudruhyu, and Puru. Devayani bore him two sons, Yadu and Turvasu. Upon discovering the affair, Devayani complained to her father, who cursed Yayati with premature old age. Shukra later amended the curse, allowing Yayati to exchange his old age with one of his sons’ youth. Only Puru, the youngest, agreed, earning Yayati’s gratitude and the throne.

Realization and Renunciation

After enjoying worldly pleasures for a thousand years, Yayati realized their futility. He declared that indulgence in desires only intensified them, rather than providing satisfaction. Returning Puru’s youth, Yayati embraced old age again and retired to the forest to live as an ascetic. His spiritual practices eventually led to his ascension to Svarga, the heavenly realm.

Afterlife and Legacy

Yayati’s virtues allowed him to travel across various celestial regions. However, his boastful nature led to his expulsion from heaven by Indra. Falling from the celestial region, he met his grandsons, who offered their meritorious powers to him, enabling his return to heaven.

Descendants

From Devayani

Yadu: Ancestor of the Yaduvamsha, which included Krishna.
Turvasu: His descendants formed the Yavana Kingdom.
Madhavi (Mamata): Married four times, having sons who became notable kings:
Vasumanas: Son with Ikshvaku King Haryaśva.
Pratarddana: Son with Divodasa, King of Kashi.
Shibi: Son with Bhoja King Ushinara.
Ashtaka: Son with Sage Vishvamitra.

From Sharmishtha

Druhyu: His descendants formed the Twipra Kingdom.
Anudruhyu: Ancestor of the Mleccha tribe, Tusharas (Tukharas).
Puru: His line included notable figures like King Bharata, and later the Kuru dynasty, which included Shantanu, Dhritarashtra, Pandu, Yudhishthira, Abhimanyu, and Parikshit.

Yayati’s story, marked by triumphs, curses, and realizations, offers profound insights into the transient nature of worldly pleasures and the importance of spiritual growth. His legacy continues through the lineages of the Yadavas and the Pandavas, significant dynasties in Hindu mythology.

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Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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