Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Plight of Sarmishtha

We have seen how Kacha, the son of the priest of gods, learnt the secret of reviving the dead (Mrita Sanjeevani) from Sukra, the priest of demons. He left the daughter of Sukra, Devayani , who was in love with him, high and dry.

The king of demons was called Vrishaparva. He had a daughter by name Sarmishtha. One day she went to enjoy herself in a nearby forest. She was in the company of her maids. Devayani was also with them.

A Quarrel

The damsels had their upper garments kept aside while engaging in various games. In the middle of their fun making a strong wind blew and carried the garments to a distance. The ladies went after their own clothes. In the confusion it so happened that Sarmishtha picked the clothes of Devayani.

Devayani was angry at this slip and made fun of the princess. She was, after all, the daughter of the chief priest. Everyone else, including Sarmishtha, were below her in rank. Why did she ignore all that etiquette and wear her clothes?

Sarmishtha was the proud daughter of the king. She could not tolerate being ridiculed in front of others. So, she did not mince her words in putting down Devayanai. Who did she think she was? Sukra, after all, made a living by praising the king who was Sarmishtha’s father. In return, her father doled out a living to Sukra. Hence, her father and Devayani both lived like beggars in the palace of Vrishaparva.

Devayani in peril

Those words made Devayani angry. She tried to grab her clothes by force which the princess wore. Sarmishtha went mad with rage and pushed Devayani into a well. Thinking that she must have died in it the princess returned to her palace.

Yayati, one of the early kings of the lunar dynasty (Soma Vamsa) happened to come that way shortly after. He was a predecessor to Puru and Bharata . He was hunting and was in the lookout for water to quench his thirst. He located the well and was wondering how to get some water out of it. It was then that he heard wails coming out of its depths. Yayati quickly got some ropes into the well and helped Devayani climb up. When she reached the top the king extended his right hand to hers and pulled her out.

Devayani introduced herself to him and thanked him for his help. The king quenched his thirst and went his way.

Left to herself, Devayani became furious thinking of all the insults and injury caused by Sarmishtha. She remained where she was and sent word to her father, Sukra Acharya.

Devayani’s revenge

Sukra wasted no time to rush to his dear daughter. Then, Devayani told him about all that happened. She also repeated the humiliating words of Sarmishtha and said that she would not return to the palace to live as a beggar. Sukra tried to pacify her without success.

So, the priest of demons returned to the king and reported the matter. He wanted permission to leave his service and find refuge elsewhere.

Vrishaparva was in deep trouble. He knew that without his mentor, Sukra, the entire race of demons would soon perish. He wanted to know how he could make amends for the wrongs committed by his daughter. Sukra had one single aim, how to keep his daughter happy.
So, the king approached Devayani and profusely aplogised for all that happened. He wanted to know what would make her happy. The proud daughter of Sukra put one straight condition. Sarmishtha should serve her as her maid accompanied by one thousand servants from the king’s court.

Vrishaparva was in a fix. It was the worst that could happen to his daughter, for that matter, to any princess.

Sarmishtha heard about all the consequences of her thoughtless action. She went to Devayani and promised her that she would gladly do what was asked of her.

From that day onwards the princess of demons served the proud daughter of their high priest as maid , day and night, wherever she was.