We have heard of modern Indian men suddenly going away as sanyasis, leaving their families in the lurch because they ‘got the call’. But have you heard of a man making it a condition for marriage? And of a woman agreeing to marry him nevertheless? Part of the fascination of old Indian stories is that they seem to cover all kinds of human situations and thus I would like to retell the unusual tale of Kardama and Devahuti and its incredible outcome. Of course, with a divine twist since the story is from a holy book, the Srimad Bhagavatam.
It says that back in the old days when Creation was new, there was a princess called Devahuti who fell in love long distance, like in the stories of Nala-Damayanti and Aniruddha-Usha. It makes you think of today’s dating apps.
In Devahuti’s case, she was told by the wandering sage, Narada Muni, about a tough, handsome, brainy young man called Kardama who lived by the River Sarasvati. She grew so besotted with Kardama that she told her parents that she wanted to marry him. Since he was praised by no less than Narada, they set off to find Kardama. They did, and Devahuti’s father made the proposal.
Kardama said that he was deeply honoured but thought of marriage only as a prescribed social duty. He said upfront that after he had children, he would leave to become a sanyasi in search of his personal spiritual goals. Was this condition acceptable? It was to lovestruck Devahuti, and seeing her determination, her parents agreed. Kardama next asked if a gently raised princess could adjust to his simple life in the woods. Devahuti promptly assented and so they were married.
Many years passed in service by Devahuti to an increasingly austere Kardama. Her beauty faded, her hair grew limp and her eyes lost their sparkle. But her smile stayed sweet because she was happy being with him. One day, however, Kardama noticed the change in her. He thanked her tenderly for her devotion and asked if she wanted anything. “I would like to have children,” said Devahuti with typical directness. Kardama looked at her for a long minute. “Are you sure?” he said gently and Devahuti nodded firmly.
Kardama then asked her to bathe in the river and come back to him. When she emerged from the water, Devahuti found herself restored to her old beauty. A flying chariot awaited her outside their hut. Realising it was all by Kardama’s yogic power, Devahuti let herself be swept away on a long, blissful honeymoon. Nine daughters were born to her and her life was full and busy.
One day, Lord Brahma himself came to their door accompanied by nine strong young men. He persuaded Kardama and Devahuti to accept them as sons-in-law. Since they knew very few people and since it was by divine recommendation, they did so, although with a heavy heart at having to part with their children. Once the girls were gone, Devahuti didn’t know what to do with herself. She moped about morosely. But a bigger blow was soon to fall.
“I am going away for good like I said I would,” said Kardama one day, “It is time.”
“But I am expecting our tenth child! Don’t leave me!” panicked Devahuti.
“Our child will be divine, the Lord’s blessing on us. I have no fears about you. And now I must go,” said Kardama. And he did, just like that.
Devahuti’s mother sent her a maid to help. But Devahuti sent her back, lost in mental and emotional desolation. A beautiful boy was born to her, whom she named Kapila. Devahuti watched him grow with sadness since she knew that he too would go away. When Kapila went to gurukul at age eight, Devahuti went almost mad with loss. She kept herself busy with endless chores but the pain did not lessen.
When Kapila came back, Devahuti rushed about with the old spring in her step. But the dread of losing Kapila, too, for good, made her talk to him one day. “My dear son, you have studied Brahma Vidya, so help me now,” she said squarely. “I have always been clear in my choices. But my attachment to you all is a thorn in my heart. Neither prayer nor work has helped me. I cannot survive alone in the forest like your father. I need to be at peace here, at home. How may I do that?”
“Mother, I noticed that you keep busy all day long,” said Kapila. “You are tireless in body but your soul is crushed.”
“Of what use is my life without my husband and children?” asked Devahuti sadly.
“Mother, it’s not like that! You chose your life, you have been happy. Nothing lasts forever. It’s life.”
“Cold comfort, son,” said Devahuti.
“Mother, it is the mind that causes bondage and freedom. Experience is made of three gunas or qualities—peace, involvement and negativity. When their balance is destroyed, emotions take over and cause misery. So far, the surest way out known to man is through bhakti.”
“It has not helped me,” said Devahuti baldly.
“It needs practice, Mother. We are basically afraid of Time, which gives and takes away from human life. But when we realise that God is Time, it gives us perspective. Gains and losses are inevitable but mean less and less when we make God our true and constant friend.”
Kapila, too, went away soon after. His teaching became known as Samkhya philosophy that endures to this day. Devahuti struggled to come to terms with it. She thought often of God, was gentle to all and practiced charity. Bit by bit, as Kapila promised, she reached a stage of mental calm. She felt a peace that seemed better than the agitation of love and nowhere as chaotic as the torment of loss. When her time came, Devahuti went quietly into the light, her mind as limpid as the waters of the holy Sarasvati.