King Yayati was one of the illustrious ancestors of the Pandavas. He was utterly unacquainted with defeat. He was well conversant with the scriptures. Immense was his love for , the subjects in his realm. Intense was his devotion towards God. Nevertheless, cruel was his fate. His father-in-law Sukracharya, the preceptor of the asuras, or demons, pronounced a curse on him. Sukracharya cursed Yayati with premature old age.
The curse took immediate effect. The inimitable pride of Yayati’s manhood was ruthlessly stricken with age. In vain the king cried for forgiveness. However, Sukracharya calmed down a little. ‘King,’ he said, ‘I am lessening the strength of my curse. If any human being agrees to exchange the beauty and glory of his youth with you, with your body’s deplorable state, then you will get back the prime of your own youth.’
Yayati had five sons. He begged of his sons, tempted them with the throne of his kingdom, persuaded them in every possible way to agree to an exchange of life. His first four sons softly and prudently refused. The youngest, the most devoted, Puru, gladly accepted his father’s old age. Yayati at once was transformed into the prime of his youth.
In no time, desire entered into his body and commanded him to enjoy life to the last drop. He fell desperately in love with an Apsara, or nymph, and spent many years with her. But his insatiable desire could not be quenched by self-indulgence. Never. At long last he realised the truth. He fondly said to his dearest son Puru: ‘Son, oh son of mine, impossible to quench is sensual desire. It can never be quenched by indulgence any more than fire is extinguished by pouring ghee into it. To you I return your youth. To you I give my kingdom as promised. Rule the kingdom devotedly and wisely.’
Yayati entered again into his old age. Puru regained his youth and ruled the kingdom. The rest of his life Yayati spent in the forest practising austerities. In due course Yayati breathed his last there. The soul-bird flew back to its abode of delight.
from Tales of the Mahabharata
by Sri Chinmoy
Published by Citadel Books