What are some of the least read stories in the Mahabharata?

Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:

Kacha & Devayani

The various wars that ensued between the Devas and the Asuras are well known. The Devas used to die in large numbers while the killed Asuras used to be revived by their preceptor Shukracharya using the mritasanjeevani mantra. This mantra was unknown to Brihaspati, the preceptor of the Devas.

He sends his son Kacha to Shukracharya to learn this mantra. He tells his son that the only way to obtain this is by impressing Shukracharya’s beautiful daughter, Devayani, whose mother was Jayanti, one of Indra’s daughters.

Kacha takes up tutelage under Shukracharya and unknown to him, the young Devayani falls in love with him. She does not tell this to him though. The Asuras came to know of Kacha’s presence at their Guru’s hermitage and they understood the purport of his stay. They secretly decided to do away with him.

They killed him and Devayani was distraught. She begged her father to bring him back to life, and out of love for his spoiled daughter, Shukracharya revives the dead Kacha back to life. The Asuras try to kill him once again a little while later, and yet again, he is brought back to life at Devayani’s behest.

Out of desperation, the Asuras kill Kacha for a third time, they burnt his body, mixed the ash with alcohol and served it to Shukracharya without his knowledge. Devayani searches for her beloved all over the place and calls out to him. She hears his return calls from her father’s stomach. Shukracharya understands that his game is up. He imparts the invaluable mritasanjeevani mantra to Kacha who comes out by breaking open the Guru’s stomach, thereby killing him. Kacha uses the mritasanjeevani mantra to revive his Guru back to life.

He tells Shukracharya that the purpose of his stay has been completed and that it was time to return to Devaloka. Shukracharya gives him his blessings. Devayani approaches Kacha and tells him about her feelings for him, asking him to marry her. He refuses saying that as he was now born from Shukracharya’s stomach, he was equivalent to his father, which made her his sister, and that such a marriage was not permissible as per Hindu Dharma.

An enraged Devayani curses him that he will never be able to use the mritasanjeevani matra and he curses her back that she will not get a husband of strong character.

Devayani & Sharmishta

After Kacha left for Devaloka, Devayani spent her time in idle pursuits. Once she went to have a bath in a forest along with Princess Sharmishta, daughter of the Asura king Vrishparva, whom Shukracharya served as an advisor. As the girls bathed, a sudden gust of wind mixed up their clothes. Coming out of the stream, Devayani picked up Sharmishta’s clothes and wore them mistaking them to be hers. She sees Sharmishta wearing her clothes and scolds her for stealing her clothes. When Sharmishta sees that Devayani has worn her clothes, she reprimands Devayani and in a fit of temper, she makes fun of her saying that her father is nothing but a servant of her father the king.

Devayani lunges at Sharmishta at this. Sharmishta ducks right in the nick of time and Devayani is sent hurtling into a dry well. She cries for help but Sharmishta leaves her there and returns to the city with her maids.

Hearing her cries for help, a young king named Yayati, who was in the vicinity as a part of a hunting trip, comes to her rescue. Yayati was the son of the illustrious King Nahusha. He gives a hand to Devayani and pulls her up. Smitten by the king’s handsome figure, Devayani tells him that as he held her hand, he should now marry her.

Although Yayati was equally attracted to the beautiful Devayani, he was hesitant to abide by her wishes as her feared the wrath of Shukracharya. He expresses his predicament and takes her leave with a heavy heart.

Devayani sits there near the well and cries her heart out at being spurned a second time. Nightfall was quick approaching and a worried Shukracharya came out looking for his beloved daughter. He found her sitting in a disheveled state, her young face wet with tears.

He asks Devayani what has happened and who has brought her to this state. She selectively and quite cleverly tells him just that Sharmishta called him a servant of the king, and that she wouldn’t move an inch from there unless Sharmishta agrees to become her maid. Although this was an unreasonable demand, Shukracharya couldn’t say no to his beloved daughter. He sends word to the king that he too would not return to the city and to the service of the king unless Devayani’s demands were fulfilled.

In the absence of Shukracharya, the Asuras were doomed. For the sake of the kingdom and her clan, Sharmishta agrees to become Devayani’s maid.

Yayati, Devayani & Sharmishta

A few days later, Devayani meets Yayati once again in the forest. This time she takes him to her father and tells him that she wishes to marry him. Shukracharya agrees with the condition that Yayati would never make his dear daughter shed a single tear. He agrees and the marriage is solemnized.

Devayani and her retinue move to Yayati’s capital Pratishthana (Prayaga or modern day Allahabad) and spends her days in happiness. Sharmishta is given a separate palace to live in owing to the fact that she is a princess, even though she was maid-in-waiting to Devayani.

One day, Yayati sees Sharmishta walking in her garden and is instantly attracted to her. Sharmishta feels the same for the enigmatic king. She requests him to honor her feelings and to marry her. He tells her that if Devayani were to come to know of it, she would be furious and that he fears the anger of Shukracharya. She convinces him that it is perfectly in accordance with raja dharma for a king to accept a proposal of marriage from a princess towards whom he shares similar feelings.He gets convinced eventually and they get secretly married by Gardharva rites.

Devayani gives birth to two sons – Yadu & Turvasu – and Sharmishta gives birth to three sons – Druhyu, Anu & Puru. After a while, Devayani comes to know about her husband’s clandestine relationship with Sharmishta and complains to her father. A very angry Shukracharya curses Yayati with old age.

Seeing a bent and frail man standing in place of her handsome husband, a shocked Devayani pleads with her father to take back the curse. Shukracharya replies that the curse cannot be taken back, but Yayati can exchange his old age with the youth of one of his sons if they are willing.

A confident Yayati approaches his eldest born, Yadu. He refuses. Yayati receives the same treatment from Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu. Finally he approched his youngest son Puru. Puru agrees happily and in an instant, Puru becomes an aged man and Yayati regains his youthful semblance. once again.

Yayati spends a hundred years in youthful pursuits. At the end of a hundred years, he realized that he was still not satisfied. He understood the futility of his wishes and decides to return his youth to his son. When he told Puru, the noble prince offers the king more time if he so wished. Moved by his son’s magnanimity, Yayati refuses his offer but makes him his descendant, even though Puru was the youngest. After his old age was returned to him, Yayati, Devayani and Sharmishta retire to the forest to spend their last days in peace.

Their sons founded five of the greatest clans of Bharatavarsha…

  • Yadu – The Yadava Dynasty
  • Turvasu – The Yavana (Turks) Dynasty
  • Druhyu – The Bhoja dynasty
  • Anu – The Mlechha (Greek) Dynasty
  • Puru – The Paurava Dynasty (later known as Kuru Dynasty)

What are some of the least read stories in the Mahabharata?


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