Sage Cyavānā

Sage Cyavānā worshipping the tantric form of Goddess Lakshmi seated atop a corpse; from a Tantric Devi series ca. 1660 – 1670; Pahari; Basohli, Punjab Hills. Freer Gallery

Sage Cyavānā (च्यवन) is a celebrated sage of the Bhārgava dynasty, descending from Sage Bhṛgu, mentioned in the Rg Veda:

च्यवाना सुमतिं भुरण्यू (cyavānā sumatiṃ bhuraṇyū) Rv.6.62.7.

युवं च्यवानमश्विना जरन्तं पुनर्युवानं चक्रथुः शचीभिः (yuvaṃ cyavānamaśvinā jarantaṃ punaryuvānaṃ cakrathuḥ śacībhiḥ) Ṛv.1.117.13.

The Ṛiṣi is restored to youth by the Aśvin twins, therefore “cyavānā” came to be synonymous with youth.

The Story of Sage Cyavānā is as follows:

Bhṛgu was the son of Brahmā born of Agni at the Brahmayajña conducted by Varuṇa. The beautiful and virtuous lady Pulomā was the wife of Bhṛgu. Even before Bhṛgu married her she was loved by the demon Pulomā and her marriage with Bhṛgu embittered him and he waited for an opportunity to kidnap Pulomā. One day, when Bhṛgu went to the river for his bath Pulomā entered the āśrama and there he found his love Pulomā being watched over by Agni. Pulomā compelled Agni to tell him whether Bhṛgu had married Pulomā according to scriptural rites. Agni confessed that it was not so and then Pulomā, taking the shape of a boar, carried away Pulomā who was then in an advanced stage of pregnancy. On the way, the wife of the Sage delivered and the babe dropped to the ground. Because the babe was born with a fall (Cyavānā) from the womb, the boy was named Cyavānā. The radiance of the boy burnt the demon into ashes. Pulomā weeping profusely with tears rolling down her cheeks returned to the āśrama. Her tears ran into a river and the river got the name Vadhūsarā. Bhṛgu, on knowing how all happened, cursed Agni saying that Agni would thereafter be an omnivorous eater. (eating anything and everything). (Ādi Parva).

When he was very young Cyavānā commenced practising austerities. He went to the forests and sat in meditation without food or sleep, oblivious to what happened outside. Years went by and Cyavānā did not stir. Gradually, earth began to cover him and soon he was completely enveloped. Creepers grew all around and birds made nests, yet, Cyavānā did not know anything about it. One day a King Śaryāti with his wives and children came to the same forest for an outing. Sukanyā, daughter of King Śaryāti, along with her companions separated from the King and roamed about in the forest making merry. They soon came to the place where Cyavānā sat in penance. There was an unusual radiance around the heap of earth there, and Sukanyā, out of curiosity, began striking down the earth to reveal what was underneath. Then from inside came Cyavānā’s voice advising her to stop, but Sukanyā ignored his advice and dug to reveal the source of the voice. She then saw two points of light, and then, taking a thorn, pricked at those points and left with her companions.

Those glowing holes were actually the eyes of Cyavānā and Cyavānā this felt insufferable pain when his eyes were thus pierced. But he neither became angry nor cursed the girl who was responsible. Cyavānā went on with his penance. Soon, the kingdom of Śaryāti began to experience the ill-effects of this evil deed. People were afflicted with a debilitating disease, and from men and women, disease spread to the animals as well. The country was in a chaos and the subjects flocked to the palace to complain to the King. Śaryāti knew that somebody must have in a some way tormented the pious and learned Sage Cyavānā, and enquired whether anybody had knowingly or unknowingly caused pain to Cyavānā. Then, Sukanyā ran to her father and confessed what she had done. The King immediately went to the place where Cyavānā was doing penance and struck the earth, prostrated before the sage who was sat beneath, in a great deal of pain. The King apologised to Cyavānā and requested him to pardon his daughter.

Cyavānā then told the King that they would be forgiven if he gave his daughter in marriage to him in expiation of the harm done. The King was shocked to hear this for Cyavānā was not only ugly but now blind as well. The King returned to the palace, worried about what to do. But Sukanyā approached her father and agreed to be the wife of Cyavānā. The King with great reluctance took his daughter to the forest and gave her in marriage to Cyavānā.

Cyavānā attains eternal youth:

Indra banned the Aśvinīdevas from Somapāna (drinking of the ritual libation, sōma). Discontented, they roamed about in the forests and soon came to the neighbourhood of the āśrama of Sage Cyavānā.

Sukanyā spent her life devoted to the service of her venerable husband Cyavānā. One day Sukanyā was returning from the river after her bath, and on the way she came across the Aśvinīdevas. They were astounded to see such a beautiful damsel in the forest and they accosted her and requested her to select one of them as her husband. Knowing her identity they advised her to forsake her old and blind husband and come and live with one of them. She flew into a fury when she heard her husband spoken of so slightingly and chided them for the unrighteousness of their request. Then they told her thus: “You are aware we are the physicians of the devas. We can restore your husband’s eyesight and make him as beautiful as one of us. But after that, though the three of us may appear identical, you must select one among the three as your husband.”

Sukanyā was immensely pleased as well as surprised to hear the offer and was eager to see her husband young and beautiful. But the last condition frightened her. She promised to make a decision after consulting her husband and ran to the āśrama to tell Cyavānā. Cyavānā advised her to accept the offer of the Aśvinīdevas and Sukanyā ran back to the Aśvinīdevas and brought them to her husband accepting their terms. The Aśvinīdevas took the aged and blind Cyavana along with them to the river nearby and the three plunged into the river. When they rose after their dip, the three emerged as young, lovely and charming young men, difficult to be distinguished from one another. When Sukanyā stood before the three to select her real husband she prayed to the goddess and the Devī gave her the power to identify Cyavānā and so she correctly chose her husband from the three. (from the Saptama Skandha of the Devī Bhāgavata).

Source: Puranic Encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani

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