Chyavana was a rishi in Hindu mythology. He was son of Bhrigu and is known for his rejuvenation through a special herbal paste known as Chyawanprash, which was first prepared. According to the Mahabharata, he was powerful enough to oppose the Vajra of Indra and was responsible for the Ashvins getting their share of the sacrificial offerings. He created a demon, Mada, to achieve it.
Chyavana is mentioned in the Rigveda as Chyavana. He is described as an aged and feeble person whose youth and strength was restored by the twin Ashvini Kumar brothers, who were the Rajya Vaids or ‘State Doctors’. According to a hymn of this text (X.61.1-3), Chyavana seems to be opposed to Turvayana, an Indra worshipper Paktha king as he was closer to the Ashvins.
According to one tradition, he married Vaivasvata Manu’s daughter Arushi and their son was Aurva. According to another tradition, he married Sukanya, daughter of Vedic king ‘Sharyati’ and granddaughter of Vaivasvata Manu. They had two sons Apnavana and Dadhicha. He is also considered as father of Harita.
According to an account found in the Mahabharata (Adi Parva, Ch.5-6), when Bhrigu’s wife Puloma was pregnant and lived in her hermitage, a Rakshasa harassed her. Puloma’s child slipped from her womb, called a ‘chyut’ child in Sanskrit, (early delivery) and thus received his name Chyavana. The Rakshasa released the mother after seeing the child drop but immediately converted into ashes.
Chyavana studied the Vedas from his father Bhrigu and later acquired the knowledge of Vedas from Brahma. He subsequently became a Brahmarshi.
Penance and rejuvenation
The earliest version of the narrative of Chyavana’s practice of austerities and subsequent restoration of youth is found in the Brahmanas. A later version of this narrative is found in the Mahabharata. More later versions are found in the Bhagavata Purana and the Padma Purana.
In the Brahmanas
In a narrative found in the Satapatha Brahmana (IV.1.5.1-13), Chyavana is mentioned as a descendant of Bhrigu. While, all the Bhrigus, the descendants of the Angirasas, were away, Chyavana with senile body was living in his Ashram. Once, King Sharyati, son of Manu came for hunting near Chyavana’s Ashram (hermitage) with his army. Sharyati’s daughter Sukanya along with friends was also with him. She went to Chyavana Rishi’s Ashram, where the Rishi was in meditation. White white-ants had covered his body and only his eyes were visible. Not knowing it was a human, Sukanya pierced the Rishi’s eyes. Chyavana was in pain and became furious and his curse created discord amongst Sharyati’s army. When Sharyati found the cause of his misfortune, he offered his daughter Sukanya for marriage to Chayavana, so that she could take care of revered saint.
Later, the Ashvins came to his Ashram and tried to seduce Sukanya. Sukanya who refused to leave her husband, instead asked the Ashvins to restore Chyavana’s youth. Following their advice, Chyavana’s youth was restored by a combination of three treatments. Certain herbs were put into a pond and the Rishi was asked to have a dip in the pond. A herbal paste was prepared for application on the body of Rishi, which was part of ‘Kayakalp’. And a special herbal paste, Chyawanprash was prepared for Rishi to take as medicine.
In return, the Ashvins obtained a share in the sacrificial offerings in Kurukshetra on her suggestion. In the Aitareya Brahmana (VIII.21.4), the inauguration of Sharyata by him is compared with the Indra’s coronation.
In the Mahabharata
Sukanya praying to Aswini kumaras to reveal her husband identity
According to the narrative found in the Vana Parva (Ch.122-5) of the Mahabharata, Chyavana was so absorbed in practising austerities on the side of a lake that white ants built up their nests all over his body and only his eyes were left. Once, Sharyati along with his army and the harem came to visit the place. Sukanya, daughter of king Sharyati, seeing only two bright eyes in what seemed to be an anthill, poked them with a stick. Chyavana felt excessive pain and became furious. He obstructed the calls of nature of Sharyati’s army. He was pleased only after the king gave him his daughter in marriage. Subsequently, the Ashvins came to the hermitage of Chyavana. They saw Sukanya while she was bathing and tried to convince Sukanya to reject old and ugly Chyavana and accept one of them as her husband. They also promised to restore the youth of Chyavana first so that she could make an unbiased choice amongst Chyavana and one of them. Sukanya rejected their proposal and informed Chyavana. Later, at the behest of Chyavana, Sukanya requested the Ashvins to do so. All three took bath in the lake and came out with the same youthful divine look. Each of them requested Sukanya to be his bride, but she identified Chyavana and selected him only. In gratitude, Chyavana assured the Ashvins that he will ensure that the Ashvins get shares of the sacrificial offerings. Accordingly, Chyavana, while officiating as a priest of Sharyati in a soma sacrifice, offered the share of the sacrifice to the Ashvins. Indra objected to it as the Ashvins wandered amongst men as physicians. He tried to hurl his vajra towards Chyavana, but his arms were stayed by Chyavana, before he could do so. Chyavana by virtue of his ascetic energy, created a huge demon, Mada, with four fangs. Mada was on the point of devouring Indra, when he became afraid and finally accepted the right of the Ashvins to have share of the offerings.
Chyavana and Kushika
King kushik with sage Chyavan.
In a narrative found in the Anushasana Parva (Ch.52-56) of the Mahabharata, Chayvana exacted many menial offices from king Kushika and his queen for 21 days. Later, he was pleased by their devotion and rewarded them by creating a magical palace of gold and predicting the birth of their grandson endued with great energy, Vishvamitra, who would attain to the status of a Brahmana.
According to the Padma Purana (Patala Khanda, Ch.8), his hermitage was on the Satpura Range, near the river Payoshni. According to another tradition, his hermitage was in Dhosi Hill in the Vedic State of Brahmavarta, near Narnaul in Mahendragarh district. Another place claimed to be the location of Chyavana’s hermitage (ashram) is Chaunsa in Buxar district of Bihar.