Yayati: a classic tale of lust

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Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar(1898-1976) is acknowledged as one of the all time greats of Marathi literature. In his literary career spanning nearly half a century he published eleven novels, thirty one collections of short stories, six collections of allegorical stories and fifteen volumes of critical literary essays. In 1941 he became the President of the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan and was later nominated a Fellow of India’s National Academy of Letters, the Sahitya Akademi in 1975. His works have been translated into several languages, including English, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali and Gujarati, amongst others.

Yayatiremains his best known and perhaps his most critically acclaimed work. It won him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award (1960) and the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary award, in 1974. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 1968 for his landmark contribution to Indian literature.

‘Artistic maturity and a high seriousness of purpose make this work a significant contribution to Marathi literature.’

Sahitya Akademi Award Citation

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YAYATI

A Classic Tale of Lust

TRANSLATED AND ABRIDGED FROM MARATHI BY

Y P KULKARNI

V S KHANDEKAR

www.orientpaperbacks.comISBN : 978-81-222-0428-5

Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust© Mandakini V. Khandekar, 1978

Cover design by Vision StudioPublished byOrient Paperbacks(A division of Vision Books Pvt. Ltd.)5A/8 Ansari Road, New Delhi-110 002

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Cover Printed atRavindra Printing Press, Delhi-110 006

INTRODUCTION

The story of Yayati had been on my mind for 45 years before I got around to writing it. When I read it as a child, I must have been fascinated by the mysteries in it, specially, the interesting incident of the instantaneous exchange of youth and old age! But why Yayati, married to Devayani, falls in love with Sharmishtha or even after the birth of five sons from these two, says, ‘My lust for pleasure is still unsatisfied,’ I just did not understand. On the contrary I was angry with Yayati for robbing his son of youth. I had by then read the story of Babar praying to Allah by his son’s deathbed, to bestow the remainder of his life to his son Humayun. I had melted at such parental love. If at that tender age a publisher had asked me for a novel, it would certainly have beenBabarand notYayati!

The story of Yayati did not really interest me as a tale until I readShakuntala. There, when Shakuntala leaves for her husband’s house Rishi Kanva blesses her thus: ‘May you be as dear to your husband as Sharmishtha was to Yayati.’ These words stuck in my mind but I did not agree that Sharmishtha was dearer to Yayati than Devayani. When Shukra curses him with old age, in asking for his youth back, the mythological Yayati said, ‘I am not yet fulfilled in my marital life with Devayani. I am yet unsatisfied. So have mercy and give me back my youth.’

The explanation that was offered did not carry conviction. I felt that the words, ‘May you be as dear to your husband’ conveyed much more. In life all of us get married, but it does not follow that we love each other ardently.

Kalidas agreed that Sharmishtha was very dear to Yayati. Only a wife who successively treads the path of love by charming her husband through physical pleasure, by inspiring confidence, showing respect and through devotion makes him feel thus. But in the tale of Yayati as given inMahabharata, there was no such indication.

I was on the side of Kalidas. I was unable to reconcile myself to the picture as drawn in mythology. Sharmishtha had made a great sacrifice for her community. A woman, who could go through the ordeal of being maid to Devayani who hated her, must undoubtedly be uncommon. It was impossible that such a person would try to entice Yayati for gratification of sex or that she would endear herself or earn his respect by a clandestine love affair.

I got thinking. Devayani was married to Yayati in the presence of the sacrificial fire and before Brahmins. But did their marriage connote a union of hearts? It follows that Sharmishtha must have brought Yayati something which Devayani was unable to give. He must have found happiness beyond sex and lust from Sharmishtha. The tale of Sharmishtha being very dear to Yayati must have stemmed from this and Kalidas had put it to good use. Following the trail of Kalidas’s words I started constructing Sharmishtha’s life on my own.

From the original story of Kacha and Devayani, with due regard to the essence of it, I pieced together the reasons why the married life of Devayani and Yayati was unhappy. Devayani was really in love with Kacha. He was her first and ardent love. She married Yayati from ambition. She made Sharmishtha her maid to avenge herself. I have accordingly portrayed Devayani in this novel on the pattern of behaviour of a woman who is egoistic, ambitious, spiteful and disappointed in love.

This, in brief, is how the seed of the character sketch of the two heroines, Sharmishtha and Devayani, first took root in my mind. Yayati’s tale is a subsidiary part ofMahabharata. It is not the central theme. A writer of fiction would be guilty of transgression if he made any basic change in the character of Rama and Sita, or Krishna and Draupadi. But the same rule does not hold in respect of secondary characters. The writer of fiction may make changes in the subsidiary characters to suit his theme, even if based on mythology. It is for this reason that the Shakuntala of Kalidas is a little different from that of Vyas. The Rambhadra of Bhavabhuti is not the Rama of the first poet. Following the footsteps of these great authors, I have drawn in this novel a Devayani as she appeared to me and have attempted to paint her in my words.

So it is with Kacha. Thus it is thatYayatithe novel is different from Yayati the character inMahabharata. The Kacha ofMahabharatawho returns to heaven after taking away the power of Sanjeevani is never seen again in the original. But here I have drawn an imaginary picture of his later life. He is linked with Yayati, Devayani and Sharmishtha in different ways. Although one may think of Yayati to be the hero, this story really has two heroes like two heroines.

Sharmishtha, Devayani and Kacha engaged my mind for a long time for different reasons, but when I set out to writeYayati, it was not because of them. The final inspiration came from the character sketch of Yayati himself. I do not know if I would have written this novel, if in the decade 1942-51 I had not been witness to the happenings in the world and in our country — the strange spectacle of physical advancement and moral degeneration going hand in hand. If I had written it before 1942 it would have been a very different story. I would then have confined myself to Sharmishtha’s love affair.

The original portrait of Yayati in theMahabharatais very representative. Yayati is symbolic of the common man in the times gone by. Inspite of much varied happiness, he is always dissatisfied and is blindly running in pursuit of new pleasures. He does not know the difference between happiness and enjoyment. Pleasure, momentary animal pleasure, is mistaken for eternal happiness and he is pondering over how to get it all the time. In his world of emotion there is no other principle. The common man of today is groping like Yayati in the twilight of a world in which the old spiritual values have been swept away and new spiritual ones have yet to be discovered. Blind pursuit of pleasure is tending to be his religion.

In the case of the mythological Yayati the idea of pleasure was limited to that with a woman. Not so today. The whole world, made more beautiful and prosperous by science, machine and culture is spread before us. The various instruments of pleasure tempt us at every step, all the time. Every moment passions are being moved and roused. This is leading to a degeneration of social values and corruption of the human mind. The loss is society’s which I feel very keenly about.

In this novel each character is complex. Devayani is not simply wife and mother; she has a lust for power which guides her thoughts and actions. Sharmishtha is more than a romantic interest of the King. She is always guided by devotion and symbolises sacrifice. Kacha is the spiritual guide whose actions more than his speech serve to set the philosophical tone of the novel, that personal relationships have at times to be subordinate to duty. Yayati is the scholarly, valorous king whose lust for pleasure overpowers all else. I would like the readers to keep this in mind.

A good work of art can at anytime rise to different heights ranging from artistic entertainment, the play of emotions, social education to exposition of life whether subtle or palpable. Only readers can judge whether or not I have done so.

V S Khandekar1959