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Durvasa Curses Shakuntala

In Hindu mythology, Durvasa(दुर्वास in Devanagari or Durvāsa in IAST, pronounced [d̪urʋɑːsɐ] in classical Sanskrit) or Durvasas, was an ancient Rishi, the son of Atri and Anasuya. He is supposed to be an incarnation of Shiva. He is known for his short temper. Hence, wherever he went, he was received with great reverence from humans and devas alike.

According to local tradition in modern Azamgarh, Durvasa's Ashram or hermitage, where many disciples used to go to study under him, was situated in the area, at the confluence of the Tons River and Majhuee rivers, 6 km north of the Phulpur Tehsil headquarters.

His one famous temple called Rishi Durvasa Temple is located in village-Aali Brahman, tehsil-Hodal, dist.-Palwal, Haryana(Hodal is on the Delhi-Mathura road from where the village and the temple is located at some distance).


According to Chapter 44 of the Brahmananda Purana, Brahma and Shiva once got into a heated quarrel. So violent was Shiva's rage as a result of this quarrel, that the devas fled from his presence in fear. His consort, Parvati, complained that Shiva was now impossible to live with. Realising the disharmony his anger had caused, he decided to deposit this anger into Anasuya, the wife of sage Atri. From this portion of Shiva deposited into Anasuya, a child was born, who was named Durvasa(literally, one who is difficult to live with). Because he was born of Shiva's anger, he had an irascible nature.

The Bhagavata Purana gives a somewhat different account of Durvasa's birth. In this version, Atri performed severe penance to propitiate the Supreme Being in order to obtain a son by Anasuya who would be just like Him. Pleased with him, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva blessed the sage that portions of themselves would be born as his sons. In due course, Anasuya bore Soma(Brahma's incarnation), Dattatreya(Vishnu's) and Durvasa(Shiva's).

Role In The Churning Of The Ocean

In Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana and Padma Purana, a curse that Durvasa laid upon Indra is described as the indirect reason for the famous churning of the ocean. The Srimad Bhagavata and Agni Purana also mention Durvasa's involvement in the episode in passing, without going into the details. Other sources for this story, such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Harivamsa and Matsya Purana, do not mention Durvasa's involvement at all and ascribe the incident to other causes, such as the devas' and asuras' desire for immortality.

The story in the Vishnu Purana goes that Durvasa, while wandering the earth in a state of ecstasy due to a vow he was observing, came by a Vidyadhari(a nymph of the air) and demanded of her a heavenly wreath of flowers she was wearing. The nymph respectfully gave the garland to the sage, whereupon he wore it on his brow. Resuming his wanderings, the sage came across Indra riding his elephant, Airavata, attended by the gods. Durvasa, still in his state of frenzy, threw the garland at Indra, who caught it and placed it on Airavata's head. The elephant was irritated by the fragrance of the nectar in the flowers, so it threw the garland to the ground with its trunk. Durvasa was enraged to see his gift treated so callously and cursed Indra that he would be cast down from his position of dominion over the three worlds, just as the garland was cast down. Indra immediately begged Durvasa's forgiveness, but the sage refused to retract or even soften his curse and went on his way. Because of the curse, Indra and the devas were diminished in strength and shorn of their lustre. Seizing this opportunity, the asuras led by Bali waged war against the gods. The gods were routed and turned to Brahma for help. Brahma directed them to seek refuge with Vishnu. Vishnu in turn, advised them to call a truce with the asuras and work together with them to churn the ocean of milk and obtain the Amrita(nectar of immortality), on the pretext of sharing it with them. Vishnu promised that he would ensure only the devas drank the Nectar and obtained immortality so they could once again defeat the asuras. The devas took Vishnu's advice and called their truce with the asuras and thus did the gods and demons begin planning their great enterprise.

Meeting With Ambarisha

The Sudarshana Chakra(centre) between Durvasa(immediate left) and Ambarisha(immediate right).

In the Bhagavata Purana, Ambarisha was a great devotee of Vishnu who adhered firmly to the truth. He performed a yajna with such great devotional fervour that Narayana was pleased to bless him with his Sudarshana Chakra("Sudarshana" meaning "good-looking" or "beautiful"), as a shield of protection over him. Once, Ambarisha performed a religious rite known as the Ekadashi and Dvadashi vrata, for 1 year(i.e. the king would fast on the 11th day of every lunar month and break his fast the next day). After observing this practice for a year, he took up a final fast of 3 days and nights to conclude the rite. As the moment for breaking this fast drew near, sage Durvasa arrived where Ambarisha was and the king received him with due respect. Durvasa agreed to the king's request to be his honoured guest and asked the king to wait until he had finished his bath in the river Yamuna. The auspicious moment soon arrived when the king had to break his fast to fulfill his vow, but Durvasa had not yet returned from his bath. Ambarisha was in a dilemma, as, on the one hand, it was impolite to take food before serving a guest, but on the other, the time had come for the fast to be broken. After consulting his priests, the king broke his fast by taking a sip of water and awaited Durvasa's arrival to offer him food.

Durvasa felt that Ambarisha had violated the respect due to a guest by breaking his fast before the guest had taken his meal and in his rage created a demon to kill Ambarisha, out of a strand of his hair. Narayana's Sudarshana Chakra intervened, destroyed the demon and started chasing Durvasa himself. Durvasa went to Brahma and Shiva for protection. Both pleaded their inability to save him. Durvasa next went to Narayana himself, who said that he could do nothing as he was bound by the blemishless devotion of Ambarisha and suggested that the sage seek the king's pardon. Durvasa took this advice and returned to Ambarisha, who prayed to Vishnu to recall the Sudarshana and save the sage, whereby the discus ceased to afflict him.

Durvasa & Shakuntala

In the Abhijñānaśākuntalam, written by Kalidasa, when the maiden Shakuntala ignored Durvasa's demands to be welcomed as a guest because she was daydreaming about her lover, Dushyanta, he cursed her that her lover would forget her. Horrified, Shakuntala's companions managed to mollify Durvasa, who softened the curse, saying that Dushyanta would remember Shakuntala when he saw the ring that he gave her as a token of their love. The sage's curse came true of course and was eventually lifted, just as he said it would be. By the end of the play, the two lovers are reconciled and are happy to be together again, along with their son, Bharata.

Durvasa, Rama & Lakshmana

In the Uttara Kanda of Valmiki's Ramayana, Durvasa appears at Rama's doorstep and seeing Lakshmana guarding the door, demands an audience with Rama. At the time, Rama was having a private conversation with Yama(the god of death) disguised as an ascetic. Before the conversation began, Yama gave Rama strict instructions that their dialogue was to remain confidential and anyone who entered the room and saw or heard them was to be executed. Rama agreed and entrusted Lakshman with the duty of guarding his door and fulfilling his promise to Yama. Thus, when Durvasa made his demand, Lakshman politely asked the sage to wait until Rama had finished his meeting. The sage grew angry and threatened to curse all of Ayodhya if Lakshman did not immediately inform Rama of his arrival. lakshman, in a dilemma, decided it would be better that he alone die to save all of Ayodhya from falling under Durvasa's curse and so interrupted Rama's meeting to inform him of the sage's arrival. Rama quickly concluded his meeting with Yama and received the sage with due courtesy. Durvasa told Rama of his desire to be fed and Rama fulfilled his guest's request, whereupon the satisfied sage went on his way. Rama was overcome with sorrow, for he did not want to kill his beloved brother, Lakshman. Still, he had given his word to Yama and could not go back on it. He called his advisers to help him resolve this quandary. On Vasishta's advice, he ordered Lakshman to leave him for good, since such abandonment was equivalent to death as far as the pious were concerned. Lakshman then went to the banks of the Sarayu, resolved on giving up the world through Yoga.

Durvasa & Kunti

In the Mahabharata, Durvasa is known for granting boons to those who had pleased him, particularly when he had been served well as an honoured guest. An example of such behaviour is the episode between him and Kunti(the future wife of Pandu and the mother of the Pandavas). When Kunti was a young girl, she lived in the house of her adopted father, Kuntibhoja. Durvasa visited Kuntibhoja one day and sought his hospitality. The king entrusted the sage to his daughter's care and tasked Kunti with the responsibility of entertaining the sage and meeting all his needs during his stay with them. Kunti patiently put up with Durvasa's temper and his unreasonable requests(such as demanding food at odd hours of the night) and served the sage with great dedication. Eventually, the sage was gratified. Before departing, he rewarded Kunti by teaching her Atharvaveda mantras which enabled her to invoke any god of her choice to beget children by them. It was by the use of this mantra that she was able to call the following gods and to give birth to her three sons with Pandu.(Kunti had first called on Surya before her marriage to Pandu by way of testing the mantra, and was given the son Karna. This son was abandoned and grew up to fight against the Pandavas, ignorant of his blood ties to them.)

Durvasa & Duryodhana Visit To The Pandavas

Another example of Durvasa's benevolent side is the incident when he granted Duryodhana a boon. During the Pandavas' exile, Durvasa and several disciples arrived at Hastinapura. Duryodhana with his maternal uncle Shakuni managed to gratify the sage. Durvasa was pleased enough to grant him a boon. Duryodhana, secretly wanting Durvasa to curse the Pandavas in anger, asked the sage to visit his cousins in the forest after Draupadi had eaten her meal, knowing that the Pandavas would then have nothing to feed him.

So Durvasa and his disciples visited the Pandavas in their hermitage in the forest, as per Duryodhana's request. During this period of exile, the Pandavas would obtain their food by means of the Akshaya Patra, which would become exhausted each day once Draupadi finished her meal. Because Draupadi had already eaten by the time Durvasa arrived that day, there was no food left to serve him and the Pandavas were very anxious as to their fate should they fail to feed such a venerable sage. While Durvasa and his disciples were away bathing at the river, Draupadi prayed to Krishna for help. Krishna immediately appeared before Draupadi saying he was extremely hungry and asked her for food. Draupadi grew exasperated and said she had prayed to Krishna precisely because she had no food left to give. Krishna then told her to bring the Akshaya Patra to him. When she did, he partook of the lone grain of rice and piece of vegetable that he found stuck to the vessel and announced that he was satisfied by the "meal". This satiated the hunger of Durvasa and his disciples, as the satisfaction of Krishna(portrayed here as the Supreme Being who pervades the entire universe) meant the satiation of the hunger of all living things. The sage Durvasa and his disciples then quietly left after their bath, without returning to the Pandavas' hermitage, for they were afraid of facing what they thought would be the Pandavas' wrathful reaction at their impolite behaviour of refusing the food that would be served to them.

Durvasa & Swaminarayan

Durvasa curses Narayana

According to the followers of Swaminarayan Hinduism, Narayana took birth as the saint Swaminarayan due to a curse by Durvasa. The story goes that shortly after Krishna's passing, Uddhava proceeded to Badrinath, the abode of Nara-Narayana. He joined the many divine sages and saints who were there listening to Nara-Nayana's discourses. As Nara was speaking, Durvasa arrived at the assembly from Mount Kailash, but no one noticed him because they were all so engrossed in the discourse. He waited for one ghadi(about half an hour), for someone to welcome him with the respect he felt he was entitled to, but still no one realised he was there. Seeing no one rise to receive him, he took this as an insult and cursed the entire assembly, saying that they would all be born as humans and suffer insults and agony from the wicked. Purna Purushottam Nar-Nayan parents, the god Dharma and goddess Bhakti, pacified Durvasa, who then softened his curse saying that Narayana Himself(again, represented here as the Supreme Being) would be born as Dharma and Bhakti's son, and His birth would relieve them all from the clutches of evil. So saying, Durvasa made his way back to Kailash.

Dharma and Bhakti were eventually born as Hariprasad Pande(a.k.a. Dharmadev) and Premvati Pande(a.k.a. Bhaktidevi). Narayana was born as their son, named Ghanshyam, who is now known as Swaminarayan. The story is limited to Swaminarayan Hinduism and no other Hindu scriptures support the tale.

Major References

  • The Vishnu Purana - translated by Horace Hayman Wilson(1840)
  • Srimad Bhagavatam - translated by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabupada, Copyright(c) The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
  • Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana): The Story of the Fortunate One - translated by [1]
  • Ramayan of Valmiki - translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith, M.A.(1870–1874)
  • Srimad Valmiki-Ramayana (With Sanskrit Text and English Translation) - Part I(9th Edition), Gita Press, Gorakhpur
  • Srimad Valmiki-Ramayana (With Sanskrit Text and English Translation) - Part II(9th Edition), Gita Press, Gorakhpur
  • The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa - translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli(1883–1896)
  • Kalidasa: Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works - by Arthur W. Ryder(1914)
  • Sacontala - translated by Sir William Jones(1789)
  • Was Draupadi Ever Disrobed? - by Pradip Bhattacharya(taken from the Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 86, 2005, printed in 2006)
  • Swaminarayan Satsang: Portal of Swaminarayan - Under Shree Narnarayan Dev Mandir Bhuj, at [2]
  • The website of The Original: Shree Swaminarayan Sampraday - Under His Holiness Acharya 1008 Shree Koshalendraprasadi Maharaj, at [3]
  • The website of the Shree Swaminarayan Gurukal, Rajkot, at [4]

In Azamgarh, a pilgrim place is named Durvasa where the temple of Durvasa is located. As per the priest of the temple, Durvasa took samadhi at this place in a shivalinga.