IN ancient times, there was a bitter struggle between the devas or gods and the asuras or demons for the lordship of the three worlds. Both belligerents had illustrious preceptors. Brihaspati who was pre-eminent in the knowledge of the Vedas was the guiding spirit of the devas, while the asuras relied on Sukracharya's profound wisdom.
The asuras had the formidable advantage that Sukracharya alone possessed the secret of Sanjivini which could recall the dead to life. Thus the asuras who had fallen in the battle were brought back to life, time and again, and continued their fight with the devas. The devas were thus at a great disadvantage in their long drawn-out war with their natural foes.
They went to Kacha, the son of Brihaspati, and besought his aid. They begged him to win his way into the good graces of Sukracharya and persuade him to take him as a pupil. Once admitted to intimacy and confidence, he was to acquire, by fair means or foul, the secret of Sanjivini and remove the great handicap under which the devas suffered.
Kacha acceded to their request and set out to meet Sukracharya who lived in the capital city of Vrishaparva, the king of the asuras. Kacha went to the house of Sukra, and after due salutation, addressed him thus: "I am Kacha, the grandson of the sage Angiras and the son of Brihaspati. I am a brahmacharin seeking knowledge under your tutelage."
It was the law that the wise teacher should not refuse a worthy pupil who sought knowledge of him. So Sukra acceded and said: "Kacha, you belong to a good family. I accept you as my pupil, the more willingly, that by doing so I shall also be showing my respect for Brihaspati."
Kacha spent many years under Sukracharya, rendering to perfection the prescribed duties in the household of his master. Sukracharya had a lovelydaughter, Devayani, of whom he was extremely fond. Kacha devoted himself to pleasing and serving her with song and dance and pastime and succeeded in winning her affection, without detriment however to the vows of brahmacharya.
When the asuras came to know of this, they became anxious as they suspected that Kacha's object was somehow to wheedle out of Sukracharya the secret of Sanjivini. They naturally sought to prevent such a calamity.
One day, as Kacha was engaged in grazing the cattle of his master the asuras seized him, tore him to pieces and cast his flesh to the dogs. When the cattle returned without Kacha, Devayani was filled with anxiety, and ran to her father with loud lamentations: "The sun has set," she wailed, "and your nightly fire sacrifice has been performed; still Kacha has not returned home. The cattle have come back by themselves. I fear some mishap has befallen Kacha. I cannot live without him."
The fond father employed the art of Sanjivini and invoked the dead youth to appear. At once Kacha came back to life and greeted the master with smiles. Asked by Devayani the reason for his delay, he told her that as he was grazing the cattle the asuras came suddenly on him and slew him. How he came back to life he knew not, but come back to life he did, and there he was.
On another occasion Kacha went to the forest to pluck flowers for Devayani, and again the asuras seized and killed him, and pounding his body to a paste, mixed it up in sea-water. As he did not return even after a long time Devayani went as before to her father who brought Kacha back to life by his Sanjivini, and heard from him all that had taken place.
For the third time again, the Asuras killed Kacha and very cleverly as they thought, burnt his body, mixed the ashes in wine and served it to Sukracharya who drank it, suspecting nothing. Once more the cows returned home without their keeper, and once again Devayani approached her father with her distressful appeal for Kacha.
Sukracharya tried in vain to console his daughter. "Though I have again and again brought back Kacha to life," said he, "the asuras seem bent upon killing him. Well, death is the common lot, and it is not proper for a wise soul like you to sorrow at it. Your life is all before you to enjoy, with youth and beauty and the goodwill of the world."
Devayani deeply loved Kacha, and since the world began, wise words have never cured the ache of bereavement. She said:
"Kacha, the grandson of Angiras and the son of Brihaspati, was a blameless boy, who was devoted and tireless in our service. I loved him dearly, and now that he has been killed, life to me has become bleak and insupportable. I shall therefore follow in his path." And Devayani began to fast. Sukracharya, heart-stricken by his daughter's sorrow, became very angry with the asuras, and felt that the heinous sin of killing a brahmana would weigh heavily on their fortunes.
He employed the Sanjivini art and called upon Kacha to appear. By the power of the Sanjivini Kacha dispersed as he was in the wine which was inside Sukracharya's body at the time, regained life, but prevented by the peculiarity of his location from coming out, he could only answer to his name from where he was.
Sukracharya exclaimed in angry amazement: "O brahmacharin, how did you get into me? Is this also the work of the asuras? This is really too bad and makes me feel like killing the asuras immediately and joining the devas. But tell me the whole story."
Kacha narrated it all, in spite of the inconvenience imposed by his position.
Vaisampayana continued: "The highsouled and austere Sukracharya of immeasurable greatness, became angry at the deceit practised on him in his wine, and proclaimed for the benefit of humanity: 'Virtue will desert the man who through lack of wisdom drinks wine. He will be an object of scorn to all, This is my message to humanity, which should be regarded as an imperative scriptural injunction.' Then he turned to his daughter Devayani and said: Dear daughter, here is a problem for you. For Kacha to live, he must rend my stomach and come out of it, and that means death to me. His life can only be bought by my death."
Devayani began to weep and said: "Alas! It is death to me either way. For if either of you perish, I shall not survive."
Sukracharya sought a way out of the difficulty. The real explanation of it all flashed on him.
He said to Kacha: "O son of Brihaspati, I now see with what object you came and verily you have secured it! I must bring you out to life for the sake of Devayani, but equally for her sake I must not die either. The only way is to initiate you in the art of Sanjivini so that you can bring me back to life after I shall have died when a way is torn out through my entrails for you. You should employ the knowledge I am going to impart to you and revive me, so that Devayani need not grieve for either of us."
Accordingly Sukracharya imparted the art of Sanjivini to Kacha. Immediately Kacha came forth from Sukracharya's body, emerging like the full moon from a cloud, while the great preceptor fell down mangled and dead.
But Kacha at once brought Sukracharya back to life by means of his newly acquired Sanjivini. Kacha bowed down to Sukracharya and said: "The teacher who imparts wisdom to the ignorant is a father.
Besides, as I have issued from your body you are my mother too."
Kacha remained for many more years under the tutelage of Sukracharya. When the period of his vow ended, he took leave of his master to return to the world of the gods.
As he was about to depart Devayani humbly addressed him thus: "O, grandchild of Angiras, you have won my heart by your blameless life, your great attainments and nobility of birth. I have loved you long and tenderly, even while you were faithfully following your vows of a brahmacharin. You should now reciprocate my love and make me happy by marrying me. Brihaspati as well as yourself are fully worthy of being honored by me. "
In those days, it was no uncommon thing for wise and learned brahmana ladies to speak out their mind with honorable frankness. But Kacha said:
"O faultless one, you are my master's daughter and ever worthy of my respect. I got back my life by being born out of your father's body. Hence I am your brother. It is not proper for you, my sister, to ask me to wed you."
Devayani sought in vain to persuade him.
"You are the son of Brihaspati," said she,
"and not of my father. If I have been the cause of your coming back to life, it was because I loved you as indeed I have always loved you as my husband. It is not fit that you should give up one like me sinless and devoted to you."
Kacha replied: "Do not seek to persuade me to unrighteousness. You are enchanting more so now than ever, flushed as you are with anger. But I am your brother. Pray bid me adieu. Serve unto perfection, ever and always, my master Sukracharya."
With these words Kacha gently disengaged himself and proceeded to the abode of Indra, the king of gods.
Sukracharya consoled his daughter.