Desire, it is said, is the root of all evil. But desire has been the prime motivating force for most actions of man through all times, be it conquest or love or revenge or even penance. To what extent can man satisfy his desires? Is there a limitation to desire? What can cure one infested with the desire disease?
Devayani, the daughter of Shukracharya, the preceptor of the Daityas, was companion to the daughters of Vrishaparva, the king of the Daityas. One day, they were in the woods playing in a pool when a strong wind blew their clothes into a bundle.
Mistakenly, princess Sarmishta wore Devayani’s clothes to which the latter remarked: How can a disciple’s daughter wear the clothes of the master’s daughter?
Sarmishta, angered by these words, retorted: Are you not the daughter of a beggar to whom my father doles out liberally?
Though Devayani had not meant to hurt Sarmishta and did everything to placate her, the princess got more and more infuriated until at last she slapped Devayani and pushed her into a dry well and left with her sisters. Some time later, she was rescued by a young king, Yayati by name. Though not the practice for a Brahmana woman to marry a Kshatriya, Devayani insisted that she marry Yayati, as he had held her right hand. Shukracharya had to give her in marriage to the king.
Moreover, Devayani reasoned with her father that Sarmishta was wrong in calling him a beggar and, to make amends, made her father talk to Vrishaparva into sending Sarmishta with her as her maid. Vrishaparva, hitherto unaware of the happenings, was appalled at the thought of incurring his preceptor’s curse and made his daughter humbly follow Devayani.
In the days that followed, Yayati and Sarmishta grew close and they married secretly. Soon, however, Devayani came in knowledge of this and went weeping to Shukracharya. The sage cursed the king: You shall lose your youth and become prematurely old!
Yayati, terrified, begged of the sage to withdraw the curse. The sage, considering that Yayati was his own son-in-law, said: A curse once uttered cannot be revoked. However, you shall regain your youth if someone else takes upon himself your old age.
Thus a prematurely old Yayati ruled for sometime but his yearning for sensual pleasures had not abated. His only hope were his five young sons whom he called one by one, and asked of them if they were willing to take upon themselves the wretched old age, the reward being the crown. The first four princes declined but the fifth son, Puru by name, said: Father, it would be of great pleasure for me to make you happy!
Thus Puru turned old and ruled the kingdom while Yayati enjoyed all the pleasures of life. Not satisfied, he went to the kingdom of Kubera and indulged in the senses. After several years, Yayati realised that not all the indulgence could ever satisfy the senses any more than fire is put out by pouring ghee over it. He then returned to his kingdom and took back the old age from Puru.
Yayati ruled the kingdom wisely and Puru, whose descendents were to be the players in the great Mahabharata, was the heir to the throne.