Two characters in this story are the twin gods called the Aswini Devas. They are the physicians in heaven.
We have talked about Yajnas which are rituals in which various articles, like milk, ghee and an intoxicating drink called Soma are offered in the fire meant for many divinities. The gross body of the article is burnt. The god of fire carries the essence (of the offered article) to the respective gods.
In each Yajna there is a rule as to whom all, among gods, are entitled to their share. It is said that the Asini Devas were never entitled to any until the time of this story.
Chyavana was one of the sons of the renowned Bhrigu. This sage spent all his time meditating. His penance was so deep that he remained standing at one place and lost track of time and his surroundings. He became a support for creepers in the forest. Gradually ants built a mound around him. Through the covering of the ant hill, it is said, that only his two powerful eyes shone like torch light.
There was a king by name Saryati ruling the land. He had several wives, but, only one child, one beautiful princess by name Sukanya. One day the king came to the forest with his army. Sukanya also came along in the company of her maids. She enjoyed herself plucking wild flowers and fruit and came to the ant hill covering the sage. The princess was surprised to find two shining objects beneath the ant hill. Out of childhood curiosity she pricked them with a thorn. She heard a groan from beneath and ran away in fright.
The king was having his bath in a nearby river at that time. Suddenly, all the soldiers of the king started complaining about acute pain in the stomach. Their bellies started swelling to suffocation in no time and they were in agony. The king was surprised. He asked every one whether there was any incident that could have caused their malady. None of them were aware of any.
A mismatched marriage
Then, Sukanya came running and told the king about her experience. The king rushed to the spot and discovered the sage beneath the ant hill with his bleeding eyes. The king profusely apologized to the sage for what his daughter did out of ignorance. He was willing to do anything to remedy the harm done.
Sage Chyavana spoke. “King, it is true that your daughter acted out of ignorance. But, she was rash at the same time. The only way you can redeem the situation is by marrying your daughter to me”.
The king took that as an order and gave his daughter in marriage to the sage.
Sukanya lived happily with sage Chyavana for many years. She looked after her old husband with full devotion.
Pursued by gods
Once, the Aswini Devas happened to see Sukanya moving alone in the forest. She appeared more beautiful than the best of the goddesses even in her rags. The Aswini Devas accosted the damsel and asked her who she was. Sukanya introduced herself to the divine visitors. Then, the twin gods spoke. “Fair lady, your aged husband does not deserve a beauty like you. You may choose one of us and live happily in heaven henceforth”. But, Sukanya politely refused the offer, confirming her devotion to her husband. The gods spoke again. “You should know that we are the physicians of heaven. We have a deal for you. We shall make your husband young and handsome and looking exactly like one of us. You must then choose one among the three”. Sukanya was willing to stand such a test.
A fair deal
Then, the gods asked her to bring her husband to the nearby river. The sage and the two gods immersed in the water at the same time. When they rose up Sukanya found three identically looking handsome youths. The pious lady meditated for a while and chose her own husband among the three.
Sage Chyavana was very pleased with the gods for giving him youth and good looks and wanted to offer them something in return. He spoke. “I am very pleased for this service you rendered to me. I shall make the two of you entitled for your share in all Yajnas henceforth”.
King Saryati heard the happy news that sage Chyavana had been blessed with youth and beauty by the gods. He came to meet his daughter and son in law. The sage, then, asked the king to perform a Yajna by way of thanking the gods for their service. The king was quite happy to do that.
Chyavana was the chief priest at the ritual. He made an offering in between, addressed to the Aswini Devas. Lord Indra was angry that the sage was setting a bad precedent. He thought that the Aswini Devas never deserved a share. He appeared before the sage and tried to stop the offering to the Aswini Devas. But, the sage stood firm.
Furious that his command has been ignored, the king of gods invoked his irresistible weapon, the Vajra. But, the sage was unmoved. He chanted a Mantra and Indra’s hand holding his Vajra was paralyzed.
Man versus god
Chyavana wanted to put pressure on Indra. He created a demon from the sacrificial fire called ‘addiction’. He was an embodiment of what his name stood for. The demon filled the earth and sky and was more fearsome than what anyone had seen before.
He started chasing Indra at the command of sage Chyavana. Indra panicked. His hand holding the powerful Vajra was paralyzed. The king of gods bowed before the sage. He promised the sage that thenceforth the Aswini Devas would be eligible for a fare share of Soma and other offerings at Yajnas.
Chyavana was satisfied. It is said that he divided the demon into four parts and imbibed them into four objects – alcohol, women, gambling and hunting.
We now return to Arshajnanam to be with the pilgrims’ progress.