When I was a child, amongst all the rishis, the one who intrigued me the most was Sage Durvasa (pronounced with the ‘a’ silent), known more for his anger. When I grew up, I found the character of Sage Durvasa all the more intriguing, since he was a rishi, a sage, who ought to have overcome all temptations and emotions, including anger, but not in his case. If knowledge was supreme and the way to all bliss, then why was this sage, known more for his anger than anything else? Why was he referred to as the one who was ready with a curse for offenses as minor as the one Shakuntala got for not responding to him when she was lost in her own reverie?
The cause lies in one of the myths associated with his birth.
According to one of the Purana, once there was a heated argument between Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. There was so much energy in the argument that the gods decided to flee out of fear. This upset Parvati and she complained to Lord Shiva that his anger was creating a lot of trouble for her and the other gods. When Shiva realized it, he decided to ‘deposit’ his anger in to Anusuya, the childless wife of Sage Atri and Durvasa was supposed to have been born out of this. Durvasa was thus a personification of Shiva’s rage and anger, an aspect that Parvati complained about. Durvasa literally means ‘ill clothed’, while some have said that it meant, one who was impossible to live with, which I believe has been taken from the above myth.
Though sage Durvasa was known for his anger and curse at the drop of a hat, his benevolent side has largely been overlooked. His curse to Shakuntala in Kalidasa’s Abhijnanashakuntalam, which changed the destiny of Shakuntala and his curse to Lord Indra which led to the samudra-manthan (read This is Utkarsh Speaking: Kumbh Mela), are some of the curses which have been responsible for his image. However, he has also given boons which have had very positive effect on the benefactors.
The most important boon that he conferred on was the boon of calling any god to beget children to Pritha or Kunti after being satisfied with her services. Irrespective of this being a case of his foresight or a fictional need, there is no denying that the boon was of immense help leading to the birth of six heroes in the epic Mahabharata.
Another lesser known myth has to do with Draupadi’s disrobing. Though popular renditions of the episode of saving Draupadi from the disgrace of disrobing are ascribed to Lord Krishna, a lesser known myth ascribes it to Sage Durvasa. According to the Shiva Purana, once while bathing, Sage Durvasa’s loin cloth floated away in the current of the river and he was left with nothing. At that moment, Draupadi, tore off a piece of her sari and saved the sage from an embarrassment. Pleased with her act, sage Durvasa blessed Draupadi that if she ever was in a similar predicament, there would be an unending supply of cloth for her.
Sage Durvasa has been an important character, who seemed to be a catalyst to many important events in mythology, both good and bad. While he creates a dramatic divide in the Abhijnanashakuntalam, he enables the samudra-manthan, which made the gods immortal. While his boon enabled the birth of the key characters of the epic Mahabharat, he also saved a distraught Draupadi from a public shame.
Before we conclude, here is a relatively lesser known myth ascribed to Sage Durvasa, which I am not sure is a benevolent curse or a harmful boon.
Towards the end of the epic Ramayana, in the Uttarakhand, Lord Brahma sent message to Lord Ram to return to Vaikuntha as Lord Vishnu. The messenger was none other than Yama, the lord of death, who had come in the form of an ascetic. Prior to getting into a discussion with Rama, Yama, made a condition, that while they were discussing, there should be no disturbance, whatsoever else, the person disturbing would lose his life. Rama entrusted Lakshman with the task of not allowing anybody inside the room and stationed him outside the closed door. While the discussions were on, Sage Durvasa came to the palace and asked for an urgent meeting with Rama. Lakshman tried to explain that Rama was in an important meeting with some ascetic and was under strict instructions of not being disturbed. Sage Durvasa was angry that Rama was giving priority to some ascetic over him, and his brother had the temerity to stop him. Durvasa was angry and told Lakhsman that if he did not get to meet Ram immediately, he would burn down the city of Ayodhya. Lakshman reasoned out to himself, that instead of having the whole Ayodhya burn down, it had rather be him.
Lakshman went inside the room and broke the news of Durvasa’s arrival and his need to be met immediately. Ram calmly stepped out of the room, met Durvasa and spent time with him till he left satisfied. But Yama’s condition too could not be broken. Ram instructed Lakhsman to go to the river Sarayu and proceed for the heavens. On reaching the Sarayu, Lakshman was escorted to the Vaikuntha, where he assumed the form of Adishesha, which became the seat of Lord Vishnu and waited for Lord Ram to return to Vaikuntha.
I am left with my doubt – was this act of Sage Durvasa, a curse or a boon? Was this an act of allowing Lakshman to ascend the heavens and wait for Lord Ram or was this to be seen as the cause of Lakshman’s ‘death’? Was this to be viewed as Durvasa creating an unwanted situation or was this the final act of showing Lord Ram’s respect for the learned and keeping his word to Yama, even if that meant the life of his brother?
You tell me!
Picture courtesy Wikipedia
Picture courtesy Wikipedia