The story of Devayani is one which probably today’s generation may not be aware of. People of my generation would have come across this story somewhere or the other. I remember reading an Amar Chitra Katha comic having the story of Kacha and Devayani and also had a Sanskrit lesson featuring this story.
For youngsters of this generation, the story of Devayani, Kacha, Sharmishta, and Yayati is one that they will definitely find interesting. The story of Devayani is full of human emotions. It is a story that brings forth all possible human behavioral traits. Love, passion, lust, attachment, jealousy, desperation, sacrifice, joy, sorrow – you name the emotion and you will find it in this tale.
I am surprised why no filmmaker has taken up this story for dramatization. The rich content of this story is something no scriptwriter can even imagine. The story of Devayani is not just a story of emotions, it is the story of all that happened before the incidents of the Mahabharata. It is the story of our ancestors.
Devayani was the daughter of Shukracharya, the preceptor of the Asuras. Kacha was a Deva who was sent to get the secret of the Sanjivini that could revive the dead. The young Devayani falls in love with Kacha but it is a tale of unrequited love. Later, Devayani and her best friend Sharmishta have a terrible fallout, which ends up with Devayani dramatically marrying Yayati, the son of King Nahusha. Sharmishta is forced to accompany her as a maid.
Yayati cheats on Devayani and marries Sharmishta. He has children with both his queens. A furious Devayani asks her father to curse her husband with old age and loss of vitality. A desperate Yayati pleads with his children to exchange their youth so he could regain his youth. Only one son agrees! He is Puru the ancestor of the Hastinapura kings.
The story of Devayani is intriguing. Here is a woman who lost in love but became the queen of a great empire. She made a serious mistake of bringing her friend along with the intention of punishing her but in the end lost everything. Yayati who led a life of indulgence attains heaven at the end. The ‘other woman’ Sharmishta has a constellation named after her.
But poor Devayani ends up with nothing, spending the last days of her life separated from her husband in the ashram of her father. The story of Devayani is interesting, because of the complex nature of the protagonist. Indeed, she is one of the most complex characters whose story is narrated in the Mahabharata.
She was a motherless child who was betrayed by a friend, who stole her husband from her. Deeply in love, she loses her love and ends up marrying a king. In the end, she loses all that she had. But her contribution to Aryavarta comes from her eldest son Yadu. He was the founder of the Yaduvamsha in which Krishna was born.
To understand why Devayani’s story turned out so bitter, it is important to understand her character and her personality. This is what author Manjula Tekal has done in her novel “Devayani”. Manjula, an author and translator has come out with a modern retelling of the story of Devayani.
In her retelling, she removes the story of the Gods and demons and the magic and divine powers used. Instead, she makes all her characters humans. The Devas and Asuras are clans who fight for the control of Aryavarta. When Indra defeats Vritra, the legend is that the sage Dadichi sacrificed his life, so his bones could be used to make the powerful weapon Vajra. In her retelling, the author makes the entire story modern by mentioning how Dadichi literally worked his bones off to help Indra.
There are many other such interesting instances of how the author converts the episodes involving magic, curses, and divine powers into incidents acceptable for a modern tale. Agastya’s curse that fell Nahusha and Shukracharya’s curse that made Yayati old has been adapted in the retelling in a brilliant way.
Interestingly, the author chooses to tell the story of Devayani through three different characters. Part I of the book features Kacha and narrates the famous love story of Kacha and Devayani. The retelling starts with a lengthy prologue that sets up the story very well. We are then taken into the mind of the young Devayani and understand her emotions when she loved Kacha and finally lost him.
Part I introduces the readers to the politics and geography of Aryavarta. We are told about how the Devas and Asuras had divided the land among themselves. There is a narration of the wars they fought and the reasons for the war. This is the modern-day retelling the author has done and it is impressive.
Part II is the story of Yayati, which is again interlinked with Devayani. Yayati’s marriage to Devayani and his betrayal forms the crux of this part. Why did Yayati cheat on his wife even though he was warned against it by Shukracharya? After losing Kacha, Devayani became the queen of an empire and could have led her life in joy. Why did she lose her husband? The behavior of Devayani and her nature is brought out well by the author in this part.
Part III features the other woman, Devayani’s friend Sharmishta. It explores the relationship between Sharmishta and Devayani. It takes you to the explosive climax where Yayati loses his youth and begs his sons to sacrifice their youth for him. Why does Puru agree to exchange his youth with his father? Why does Devayani end up losing everything? What explains Devayani’s behavior where she gave the ultimate punishment to her husband?
Most importantly, why does the protagonist of this story end up as a loser? The answers to all these questions are found in the novel “Devayani.” It is an extremely well-written novel that holds your interest. As you turn each page, you understand human behavior. You realize that the story that happened to our ancestors thousands of years ago is what we see around us today.
Jealousy, anger, passion, revenge are all emotions that most people have. The story of Devayani tells us what would happen if we fail to keep our emotions under control. This is the reason why youngsters of today’s generation need to read this book. It is a racy and engrossing tale, no doubt. It has everything that youngsters will not find in any YA genre book or in any TV show.
Once you close the book and reflect, you will realize how potent human emotions are. It can make or break not just a person but an entire country. You will understand how Devayani’s emotions led to actions that impacted the entire Aryavarta. Everyone who reads this story should take away the learning that if we are not in control of our emotions, the flood it creates can sweep us away.
When I first finished the novel, I was not satisfied with the ending. I felt that the book did not give a proper closure for Devayani. But then after some time, I realized that this is the harsh reality that the story of Devayani conveys. The book ends with an epilogue that explains the changes in Aryavarta that took place and narrates what happens to the sons of Devayani and Sharmishta.
If you are a fan of love or romance stories, read this book. If you would like to read a fast-paced page turner, then read this book. If you want to read a tale of human emotions, then do read this book. As celebrated author Amish says of this story, “Read this to understand our origins.”
The author of this book Manjula Tekal has translated a number of well-known books into Kannada, including Jagmohan’s book ‘My Frozen Turbulence’. She has master’s degrees in management from IIM, Bangalore and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Devayani is the first novel by the author, who is presently based in Illinois.
This book came to me courtesy Indic Book Club under the 1000 book reviews initiative. I am thankful to Abhinav Agarwal and team and to Indic Academy for promoting Indic books.
This book is available for purchase here.
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