Read part I here.
King Yayati, realizing the fruitlessness of indulging further in pleasures, returns Puru back his youth. Puru inherits the best of the kingdom – the regions between the rivers of Ganga and Yamuna. Yadu moves towards further east and other sons towards the border areas, establishing their own new kingdoms. Thus, having relinquished the throne and the pursuit of pleasure, Yayati retires to the ashrama of Vanaprastha and ventures into the forest.
There he performs austerities of immense hardship, lives minimally, serves the sages, treats life around him with great compassion and immerses himself in the spiritual practices of yoga. He consumes only the uncooked and naturally fallen vegetables and fruits. He gains absolute control over his mind and anger. In every Parva Kaala and every Sandhya, he performs all rites to satisfy the Pitru-s, Devatas and pleases Yagneshwara with his Yagnas. Despite his limited resources, he treats all guest appropriately. He eats root-vegetables only after the plant gives itself away. Thus, he performs a harsh penance of very limited consumption for countless years. For some more years he lives with just water and without indulgence in the mind and word. In the next stage, he lives only on air. Lastly, he performs a severe penance with agni on his four sides, Sun above him and standing on one foot. In all the corners of the world, Yayati comes to be known as a great tapasvi without comparison. Thus, Yayati who once sought his son’s youth to seek pleasures of life, comes to be known as a great renunciate. He accumulates an immense of amount of puNya and is elevated to Swargaloka on account of all his good deeds. At the Swargaloka, the Saadhyas, Marut-gaNas, Vasu-s and other Devatas welcome him with immense awe and respect, on account of the powers he had assumed through his tapas. He freely roams around Devaloka and Brahmaloka for countless number of years. All the heavenly beings praise him for his righteousness, yagnas, charity and being a great king.
But Devaloka is not without challenges. One day, Indra comes to meet Yayati and begins a friendly conversation. “Oh, great King Yayati, when you renounced the world and gave away your kingdom to Puru, I am eager know what your words of advice for him were and wisdom that you bestowed upon him. What was your upadesha to Puru?”. King Yayati is drawn to this. Those were moments of great realization and transformation which Yayati likes to reminisce. Yayati speaks about the distribution of kingdom and his subsequent advice to Puru on the great royal responsibility towards dharma and the royal conduct. Yayati tells Indra indulgingly how he emphasized the four most important royal characteristics of compassion, friendliness, charity and gentle speak. By now Indra has drawn Yayati’s mind totally away from Devaloka to Martyaloka. The next question sets it all. Lord Devendra, with a great sense curiosity asks Yayati “Oh great King, after relinquishing you came to the forest to perform that extreme austere penance of yours that has earned you a place in this Swargaloka. Your great tapas – which other great man’s tapas does it compare to? I am eager to know others whose Tapas is comparable to yours”.
This was a trap setting question and Yayati should have realized. But Yayati, now firmly in the reminisces of Martyaloka, responds with a resounding laughter full of pride “Oh Mahendra, I have not seen anybody among the devatas, gandharvas, maanavas or even sages whose tapas is comparable to me. How do I compare my tapas to anybody at all?”. The moment of truth has passed. Yayati has failed the test. Devendra reveals with his typical smile “Oh Yayati! Inspite of many heavenly guNa-s of yours, there is one dOSha that continues to persist within you. That is the very difficult dOSha of ahamkaara. How could you speak with such haughtiness and insultingly of others who have done tapas far more stringent than yours? This has ended all the puNya that you have accumulated which elevated you into the Devaloka. Thus your time at Devaloka has ended. With your puNya drying, you cannot remain a second on this Devaloka”.
Yayati comes to his senses. It is a momentary lapse but a Himalayan one at that. He has to pay a price for this action and the rules cannot change for anybody. He begins to descend. Yayati is distressed and supremely agonized with his lapse and the loss of his Devaloka status. He greatly laments but within a short time regains himself. “Oh Devendra, did my one lapse empty my puNya? So be it. If I do have to fall back to the Bhooloka, let me fall amidst men of great good, conduct and righteousness – please grace me with this privilege, if you please, Oh Devendra”. Lord Indra assures him “Oy Yayati, not only will you find yourself amidst of such men, you will also attain everything you have lost through them. Let this be a lesson for you to keep your ahamkara away”.
As he begins to fall, people on earth wonder if it were the venerable Lord Sun himself who was falling. As he sought from Indra, he began to fall into an area full of righteous men, into the Ashrama of Rajarshi Ashtaka – son of Vishwamitra. Known for Vedic sacrifices, Ashtaka is performing yet another along with his brothers Pratardana, Vasumanta and Shibi. Surprised at this heavely phenomenon, Ashtaka looks at the falling Yayati in daze. Ashtaka greatly praises his tejas, seeks his antecedents and assures him of a place in his Ashrama, where fear had no place. Yayati introduces himself as the son of Nahusha and father of Puru. A great conversation ensues between the two on Yayati’s personal journey and on the righteous conduct of men. Yayati begin’s from his attaining of the Indraloka. He describes the Indraloka as having a thousand doors, of great extant. After Indraloka, he was elevated to Brahmloka where spent a thousand years where there was no destruction at all. He was then elevated to Vishnuloka where there was divine happiness forever. He had attained all Siddhi. He enjoyed the beauty and bliss of divine Nandana-vana where many lakhs of years were spent like a few seconds. But any amount of wealth goes empty if one begins to spend, thus Yayati says that his puNya coming to a naught and with ahamkara stepping in, he lost everything. In a split second, all the Lokas ceased to exist for him. Yayati says his desire to be amidst the righteous has brought him to Ashtaka, a Rajarshi, who was performing great Yajnas. He explains his fate as the result of insulting the tapas of elders, the equals and the learned young. He laments his ahamkara and blames that as the sole reason for the extinction of his puNya. Indraloka may have many ways to enter but none of those paths help how to sustain the status. That is a realization beyond that path.
Ashtaka then wonders if his own righteousness has earned him the exalted worlds outside of Bhoomi. Yayati, by now well versed with the ways of many worlds, assures him of every exalted puNya loka for such has been the conduct and acts of Ashtaka. Ashtaka then renounces all those puNyalokas in favour of Yayati so that he does not fall to the bhoumalOka that he so despises and gets to once again enjoy all the pleasures of the great puNyalOkas. In spite of his craving for the other worlds, Yayati has not yet lost the perspective of righteousness. Yayati is very keen to not take anything in charity as he is a kShatriya. At the same time, King Pratardana, King Vasumanta and King Shibi – overhearing this conversation – step in. They seek from Yayati if they have earned the right to be elevated to the exalted worlds through their righteousness. Yayati affirms and explains the worlds that are awaiting them at the end of their lives. Just as Ashtaka, they renounce their future great worlds in favour of Yayati. However, Yayati refuses to take anything in charity, without repaying the right value. On the other side, the kings too refuse to take back what they have given away to Yayati in a righteous manner. Eventually, considering their exceptional status of being men of great sacrifice, valour, charity and righteousness – Yayati thinks of accepting their offering to raise back to Indraloka. For the four Kings, renunciation and charity are of such high value that they could part that away in favour of who thought as richly deserving and seeking.
At that moment, Sage Madhavi, the mother of the great kings, appears hopping like a deer and consuming naturally grown plants from the earth such as grass. The great Kings bow to her and address her “Oh Mother, what is the reason for you to return from your tapas in the forest? What must we perform for you as your sons? You should order us and we shall obey you”. Madhavi, pleased by the utterings and status of her sons, draws close to Yayati and addresses him “Oh, father – they are my sons. They are none other than your douhitras (grand children from a daughter). It has been destined that your douhitras shall elevate you back to your exalted worlds. Do you remember me – I am none other than your own daughter Madhavi, now wandering the forest as a deer in my penance. I have attained great puNya through my righteousness. Half of that is yours now”.
Going to the past, a daughter was also born to Yayati – called Madhavi. She was born with a special boon, she would be a maiden even after begetting a child and that would be so for 4 times. Apart from being very beautiful, she had all the prowess of a great Kshatriya princess in terms of shastras and bravery, with many kings seeking her to be their wife. Once sage Galava came to Yayati seeking 800 horses that were white in colour with a single black spot, which he was to present his Guru Vishwamitra as gurudakshina. Yayati, not being able to serve the sage, in turn presented his daughter Madhavi to Galava explaining her special status. Galava could secure his horses through her. Galava accepts and sets out. Madhavi reveals her special status to Sage Galava so that she could be a Queen of many kings. He reaches out to 4 illustrious kings – Haryashwva of Ikshvaku dynasty, Divodasa – King of Kashi, Ushinara of Bhoja dynasty and finally the Sage Vishwamitra himself, who was formerly King Kaushika. All four of them praise Madhavi for her heavenly qualities. Madhavi, who is aware of her boon, lives with all of them as a Wife and respectful Queen, presents them with a son each – King Vasumanas, man of great charity, the great Warrior King Pratardana, King Shibi who becomes a Chakravarti and a man of truthfulness, austerity and charity, finally King Ashtaka – another man of great yagnas. Being men of charity was a common characteristic of these 4 sons. In turn, Sage Galava received horses from the Kings. Finally, Princess Madhavi returns back to Yayati who organizes a swayamvara for her to choose her own husband. In the presence of illustrious Kings, to the surprise of all of them, Madhavi chose Forest God as her husband renounced the world. The Sages and Kings respect her choice. Madhavi lives in forest like an austere deer roaming around freely in the entire forest and feeding only on what deers would. Now she is back to donate a part of her puNya and that of her sons, to elevate Yayati to the exalted worlds that he seeks with such intensity. She declares that all men attain great puNya through the children of their daughters – douhitras. The four Kings bow to their mother.
At the same time Sage Galava too appears and blesses Yayati – “Oh King, you shall receive one-eighth of my puNya and raise to your exalted lokas. The four kings too declare all of their earned good to Yayati. Yayati ascends back towards Indraloka. As he ascends – the great kings declare “Oh Matamaha, We are full of Rajadharma. We, who are aware of all dharma, are full of righteous conduct and good nature, beyond everything we are your douhitras. Receive all our puNya and definitely raise to the Indraloka”. Lo and Behold – 5 winged chariots appear and take all 5 of them towards Indraloka. However, Shibi is the first to reach Indraloka. Ashtaka is surprised that his great sacrifices did not earn him that status. Yayati, explains this as the result of great charity and humility of King Shibi. Thus, Yayati once again enters the great lOkas. He regains his status and respect among the sages, devas, gandharvas, marut-gaNas and apsaras. Yayati, though, still has a doubt. He questions Indra how he could be void of his status, so hard earned, by a single slip in conduct. Lord Devendra smiles and explains that such is the nature of the ariShaDvarga – kAma, krOdha, mada and other fundamental-faults (dOSha) can simply annul everything that one has earned. The only way to retain the status of puNyalOkas is through perfect conduct – which must be absolute.
This is a combination of 2 different narrations of Yayati stories in Mahabharata. Yayati may have excessively indulged stealing away his son’s youth but once he realizes he sets out in a path of renunciation that leads him to exalted worlds. Irrespective of how one has led one’s life, there is always a way to set oneself in the path of great worlds. Having earned everything, Yayati squanders away everything just with a single lapse – momentary one at that. While it seems momentary, it establishes that he had still not won over his self – he is still a proud king. But Yayati has earned enough good in his life and it retains in him enough sense to seek a fall amidst righteous men. Fall, if we do, we must not abandon the company of the great. That is what restores us back to glory. Further, in his fall, he becomes the reason for enlightenment of his descendants and conducts himself with great truth and righteousness. The great kings on the other hand, in their willingness to give up earned exalted worlds, in favour of their ancestor, become greater than Yayati. They simply abandon even the aspiration of being in the higher worlds – such is the state that they have attained wherever they are. They sympathize with Yayati’s craving for the exalted worlds. Thankfully, Yayati demonstrates a righteous alertness that he once again must earn his right and not merely take it as charity. Only upon being satisfied that they are exceptional men and they are his douhitras (whose earnings he has contributed to indirectly) that he accepts their offerings with full self. It is his daughter Madhavi’s tapas and her divine presence that finally makes his ascend glorious and complete. Eventually, exalted worlds are for those who earn it or have contributed to the earning of others directly or indirectly.
This apart, the story of Madhavi and the conversations between Yayati and Ashtaka are treatises themselves and we shall see in the subsequent parts of this series.
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