Devyani and Sharmishtha, (daughters of Shukracharya, the guru of the asuras and Vrishparva, the king of the rakshasas respectively) together with their maids, were swimming in a river. Passing by was Indra, the king of the devas. He took the form of wind and blew their clothes away. When they came out, Sharmishtha started wearing Devyani’s clothes by mistake. On seeing this, Devyani got enraged and said, “O daughter of a rakshasa! How dare you, who are my disciple, wear my clothes?” To this Sharmishtha replied, “My father enjoys the fruits of the mantras that your father chants; yet, your father lives on my father’s generosity and begs alms from him.” Devyani then tried to get her clothes off Sharmishtha, who getting angry pushed her into a well. Taking her for dead, Sharmishtha and the maids left.
King Yayati was passing by and hearing Devyani’s cries, inquired who she was. On learning that she was a Brahmin and the daughter of Shukracharya, he held her hand and pulled her out of the well. He then left for his kingdom.
Devyani then told her personal maid to go to her father and narrate the incident. Shukracharya ran to the forest to console his daughter. Shukracharya was a wise guru and he told Devyani that any suffering that came in one’s life could only come if one had done something to invite it. He explained that suffering never comes of its own; one sows a seed and reaps the fruit. He then told Devyani that she must have done something for the event to have happened with her. To this Devyani retorted, “Whether I repent for my sins or not, hear what Sharmishtha had to say. She said that you just chant mantras for her father, the king, and that you live on his generosity like a beggar.”
This angered Shukracharya and he remarked, “The gods, demons, and men worship me, for it is I who gives water for the welfare of the people and it is my energy that nourishes the herbs to grow medicines.” He went to Vrishparva and informed him that he was leaving the demons and their kingdom for good. He reminded Vrishparva how he had previously tried to kill Kacha and now his daughter had tried to kill Devyani. The king tried to console him, begging him to stay. Shukracharya said he would not leave them only if the king made his daughter happy. So Vrishparva asked Devyani what she wanted; Devyani asked that Sharmishtha become her maid.
Once again they were playing in the forest when King Yayati passed by. Devyani confronted him and told him that he must marry her as he was the only person who had caught her hand. So Yayati went to Shukracharya and asked permission to marry Devyani. Shukracharya agreed and told Yayati that Sharmishtha would accompany them as Devyani’s maid and that he should look after her but never have any relationship with her. Yayati has two children with Devyani, of which one was called Yadu.
One day, Yayati sees Sharmishtha and is attracted to her. They have three children; the youngest one called Puru. When Devyani heard of this, she was angry and went to her father, who cursed Yayati with pre-mature old age. Yayati begged Shukracharya to take back his curse. Shukracharya told him that if he wanted youth, he could borrow it from any one of his sons. Out of Yayati’s sons, only Puru agreed to loan him his youth. Yayati enjoyed his youth for a thousand years and indulged in all the pleasures of life. He then realised the futility of indulgences, so he gave Puru’s youth back and went to heaven.
Let us interpret this story. We have seen that Devyani means dev + ayan or moving towards gods. She is the daughter of Shukracharya (or sex energy). Rakshasas are those who misuse sex energy and the daughter of their king is Sharmishtha, meaning sensual pleasures (or the attractions of life). Man has two choices – to allow his sex energy to move on the path of excitement and pleasures or to move towards the gods, that is the upward movement of sex energy through transformation and transmutation.
They both have a relationship with Yayati, which comes from the word yatna or effort. To transform his sex energy, man must make an effort (yatna), and that is why Devyani marries Yayati. Patanjali puts a great deal of emphasis on the word yatna when he says ‘tatra sthitau yatna abhyaas’ – to achieve a state of yoga, man must do abhyaas or practice. He then explains what practice is – yatna or continuous effort.
As we practice, many times our sex energy is again seduced and pulled back in the indulgences of life, depicted by Yayati having children with Sharmishtha. In indulgence, we lose the energy of youth and become old even if our bodies are still young. This is shown in Shukracharya’s curse to Yayati. Yayati borrowing youth from his son to enjoy the pleasures of life shows that one cannot suppress sex energy; that one has to go through all the pleasures of life and through indulgence, reach a level of understanding where he willingly gives back the youth to his son. Only a person with rich experiences can really transform sex energy.
Through Devyani’s son Yadu, came the race of the Yadavas, in which Krishna was born. Thus, by transforming sex energy, the epitome of consciousness is achieved. From Sharmishtha’s son Puru, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who fought the Mahabharata war, were born. This symbolises that only chaos and strife can result through sensual indulgences. Every seeker on the spiritual path has the choices of how to channelise his sex energy, and the path he chooses is his own free will.