Yayati was a great king. He was the son of Nahusha (to read about the heroic exploits of Nahusha, visit the link) and one of the first kings of the Chandravansha. His sons started the main lines of Chandravansha, including the Yadava, Kuru, and Anava lines. He ruled from Pratisthana and ruled most of the world. He was a great devotee of Vishnu. He was really lustful.
- Father: Nahusha
- Mother: Ashokasundari
- Brothers: Yati, Samyati, Ayati, Viyati, Krti
- Wives: Devayani, Sharmishta, Asrubindumati
- Sons: Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu, Puru
Yayati was born to King Nahusha and Ashokasundari. He was their second son, after Yati.
Yati was the oldest son of Nahusha, so he was going to become king. But he wanted to go on the spiritual path and attain salvation. Yati left and adopted the path of salvation. Yayati was selected to be the king.
Yayati was a strong and just king. He conquered the entire world. The kingdom started prospering when he became king. Yayati assigned his 4 younger brothers (Samyati, Ayati, Viyati, Krti) to rule the four cardinal directions under him.
One day, Sharmishta, the daughter of the Danava king Vrishaparva, was playing with Devayani, the daughter of Shukracharya. With them were several of their friends. They were walking through a beautiful garden. Soon, they reached the lake situated over there, they took off their clothes and jumped into the lake. While they were playing in the water, they saw Lord Shiva and Parvati pass by on Nandi. Ashamed, they hastily got out of the water and covered themselves with their garments. In the hurry, Sharmishta accidentally put on Devayani’s clothes.
“Now look, this girl acts like a maidservant without any manners. Those clothes are meant for me, not for you! A girl whose father is a disciple of my father has put on my clothes! What nonsense, you beggar. Do you not know your place in this world!” Devayani rudely remarked, irritated.
Sharmishta became really angry. She took off the clothes of Devayani and threw them on the ground. She then pushed Devayani into a well and went home.
Meanwhile, King Yayati was on a hunt and happened to be passing by. He was really thirsty and spotted the well. When he went to go drink from the well, he discovered Devayani in the well. Noticing that she was naked, Yayati gave her his upper garments. Yayati then took her hand and pulled her out of the well.
“Oh King, with you taking my hand, you have accepted my hand in marriage. In the past, I was cursed by Kancha that I can’t marry a Brahmin. But you are a Kshatriya,” Devayani said.
Yayati pondered over the proposal. He felt attracted to the girl and desired her, so he accepted the proposal. Saying so, Yayati went home and Devayani rushed to her father, Shukracharya. Devayani told everything that had happened to her dad. Devayani convinced Shukracharya and made him give his consent for Devayani marrying Yayati.
“Father, I have one more desire. Sharmishta should become my maidservant and follow me to serve me. She should also follow me to my husband’s home,” Devayani said
Shukra told Vrishaparva about her daughter’s desire. Vrishaparva knew his Danava kingdom only prospered because Shukracharya was there to advise him, so he agreed. Sharmishta also accepted for the good of her father’s kingdom. So, Sharmishta became a servant of Devayani.
Devayani was then married to Yayati. As decided, Sharmishta followed her as the second wife of Yayati. When Yayati saw Sharmishta, he also became attracted to her and accepted her as his wife.
“Yayati, take care of Sharmishta, but do not have any children with her,” Shukra told Yayati.
Birth of Children and Curse
Yayati took great care of his two wives. Soon, Devayani gave birth to Yadu and Turvasu. Seeing Devayani’s children, Sharmishta too became desirous of children. She expressed her desire to Yayati. Yayati told her that Shukra had forbidden him from doing so. But Sharmishta insisted and Yayati was forced to give in. Soon, Sharmishta gave birth to three sons: Druhyu, Anu, and Puru.
Devayani was enraged when she saw Sharmishta give birth. She returned to her father’s house. Yayati, still filled with lust, followed Devayani. Yayati tried to appease her, but Devayani didn’t listen. She told her father everything.
“You lustful, deceitful man. May you become old in age very soon,” Shukracharya cursed.
“No! I am still in complete love with your daughter. My lust hasn’t been satisfied,” Yayati said.
“You can exchange your old age with someone else’s young age till your lust is satisfied. But only if that person is willing,” Shukra said.
Soon, as per the curse, Yayati became old really fast.
Once, Yayati went on a hunting trip to the forest. While he was hunting, he saw a beautiful golden deer with horns. Yayati thought that some demon was using the deer to lure him, but Yayati still followed the deer. Yayati followed it all the way to a beautiful grove. The golden deer then disappeared. In the middle of the forest was a lake. Running after the deer had exhausted Yayati. He bathed in the lake and drank its cold water. While he was sitting under the shade of a tree, he heard a woman singing divinely. Yayati loved music, so he was interested. A woman came up to him.
“Who are you? Why have you come here?” Yayati asked the woman.
The woman laughed and disappeared. Yayati thought that this was the illusions of an asura. Yayati saw the woman singing again, this time with another woman. Yayati felt attracted to the singing woman. He asked, “Who are you, divine woman. I am King Yayati, the son of Nahusha. I am well-known in the three worlds. I am filled with lust and desire union with you. I will give you everything I have.”
“Visala, tell this righteous king about my birth,” the woman said to her friend.
“When Lord Shiva burned Kama deva (god of love), his wife Rati became really sad. She went into a lake and wept melodiously. The devas at Swarga heard this weeping and felt compassion for her. They requested Lord Shiva to revive Kama. Lord Shiva, who also felt compassion for Rati, revived Kama. Kama immediately went to the lake where Rati was. When Rati saw Kama, she started shedding tears of joy. A tear from her left eye turned into a lotus. From the lotus was born this woman, named Asrubindumati,” her friend narrated. “I am Visala, the daughter of Varuna. I always stay with her out of love.”
“I have understood everything about Asrubindumati. Let her be my wife,” Yayati requested.
“Asrubindumati desires a young man with righteous qualities. She wants a man who is respectful to all like Indra,” Visala conveyed.
“I possess all these qualities. I am fair and righteous and always follow religion. I never forget my dharma,” Yayati said.
“O King, there is one blemish in you. You are old. The daughter of Rati desires a young husband. Therefore, she cannot be yours,” Visala said.
“I shall come when I am young. Then, I will marry her,” Yayati said. He remembered that Shukracharya had said that he could exchange his old age with someone else’s youth. He went up to his sons to exchange their youth with his old age.
Cursing his Sons
First, he went to Yadu, his eldest son, and said, “I have become old. Wrinkles cover my face and I have gray hair because of the curse of Shukra. Please accept my old age and all my sins while I take your young age.”
“I do not wish to take up your old age,” Yadu said. “Old age comes with many deficiencies and ailments. Old men are weak and aren’t capable of performing their daily work. They are basically immobile. I have a whole kingdom to rule after you pass away, father. How can I do so with old age?”
“I gave birth to you and you disregard me! I curse you that your progeny will not rule my kingdom,” Yayati cursed.
He then went to Turvasu and requested him to accept his old age. “You cannot enjoy the pleasures of life with old age. You cannot enjoy food, drinks, and love. I do not want your old age,” Turvasu said.
“I gave birth to you and you can’t accept a little favor! I curse you that your progeny won’t rule the kingdom. You’re dynasty will consist of unrighteous people who don’t follow our customs,” Yayati cursed.
He then went to Druhyu. “My dear son, accept my old age and my sin for a thousand years. After a thousand years, you can take back your young age,” Yayati requested.
“An old man cannot drive a chariot or ride a horse. He cannot enjoy woman. I don’t want your old age,” Druhyu said.
“Because you didn’t accept my old age, I curse you that none of your desires will ever be fulfilled,” Yayati cursed.
He requested the same offer of Anu. Anu said, “An old man is like a little child. He is weak and feeble. I do not desire young age.”
“Oh Anu, I curse you that your descendants will live to young age and die early,” Yayati cursed.
Finally, he went to Puru, his youngest son. “Puru, please accept my old age and all my sins,” he requested.
“Father, I will do as you wish. Take my old age and enjoy worldly pleasures as much as you want,” Puru agreed.
“Oh Puru, you are the only one of my sons that accepted my offer. May your dynasty always succeed and be prosperous. Your progeny will rule over the kingdom,” Yayati said, pleased. Yayati then became young once again and Puru became old.
Marrying and Enjoying Asrubindumati
Now young, Yayati went to Asrubindumati. “Oh beautiful lady, I desire nobody but you. Please accept my hand in marriage now that I am young,” Yayati requested.
“So be it, I will be your wife,” Asrubindumati agreed.
So, the pleased Yayati married Asrubindumati in the Gandharva way. For many years, King Yayati enjoyed with Asrubindumati on beaches, forests, and parks.
Yadu Refuses to Kill Devayani and Sharmishta
When Yayati married Asrubindumati, Devayani and Sharmishta were filled with jealousy. They were also angry that Yayati had cursed their sons. Asrubindumati knew that Devayani and Sharmishta hated her presence. She told this to Yayati, who was angered by this. He called Yadu and said, “Go kill Sharmishta and Devayani.”
“Oh proud father, the Vedas say that killing your mother or sister or daughter is a huge sin. So I will not kill these two mothers,” Yadu said.
“Since you have disobeyed me, I curse you that you will enjoy a portion of your mother,” Yayati cursed.
Performing the Ashwamedha Yagna
Once, Asrubindumati said to Yayati, “O dear one, I want you to perform the famous horse-sacrifice, the Ashwamedha Yagna.”
“I will do as you wish, Asrubindumati,” Yayati said.
He called Puru to him and told him to make preparations. He invited brahmins, priests, and kings. At the sacrifice, Yayati gave several gifts to brahmins and the poor.
Taking back his old age
Once, Asrubindumati expressed a strong desire to Yayati. “I want to see the heavens of Shiva, Vishnu, Indra, and Brahma. Please help me in doing so,” Asrubindumati expressed her desire.
“I will surely fulfill your desires. I desire to go to heaven now. I will go to these heavens with you,” Yayati said.
Yayati instructed Puru, who was going to be the king after him, on how to rule and lead the subjects. He then gave his young age back to Puru and took his old age. He told his citizens that he was going to make Puru the king.
“Why not Yadu. He is your eldest son,” his subjects said. Yayati explained to them how Puru deserved the throne because of how he obeyed his father’s words while his other 4 sons didn’t, so the subjects agreed.
Puru was initiated as the king. Druhyu, Turvasu, Yadu, and Anu were all assigned parts of Yayati’s empire, but they all ruled under Puru.
Retiring to the Heavens
Yayati, with Asrubindumati and many of his subjects, proceeded to the heavens. They first went to Swarga and met Indra. After that, they went to Satyaloka and met Brahma. After that, they all went to Lord Shiva’s abode and met Shiva. Finally, they all went to Vaikuntha and met Lord Vishnu. All of them then stayed in Vaikuntha.