A sage named Chyavana prayed and prayed in the forest till he became an old man. He sat doing penance without moving from his position. Over the years, his hair grew white, his flesh became thin and only his bones could be seen. Ants climbed all over his body till they began to infest even his hair. After some years he was covered with mud that the ants carried to build their home on him. Only two holes were left through which the sage could see, if he ever opened his eyes.
The forest was part of King Sanyata’s kingdom. The king had a beautiful daughter named Sukanya who one day happened to visit the forest with her maids. Here she came upon the spot where Chyavana sat praying. He was surrounded by ant-hills and himself sat covered with mud.
Sukanya, on seeing a big ant-hill, drew near it and saw two holes shining bright. She wondered what it could be. She asked one of her maids, “Could this be an ant-hill?”
One of the maids replied, “No princess, it is a mound of earth.”
Another added, “It could be a termite nest.”
But Sukanya was not satisfied with the replies and drew nearer the mound of earth to look closely. “See, this ant-hill. It has two holes which look like an animal’s eyes.”
At this a maid piped in, “It could be a snake with its eyes shining bright. Let’s escape from here.”
But Sukanya would not budge without getting to the bottom of it all. She picked up a stick and poked it into the holes, one by one. At this a loud scream arose and Sukanya jumped back in fear. Dusting off the dirt that had accumulated around him, the sage shouted in pain, “What have you done? You have hurt my eyes. I will not spare you now. I shall have to curse you.”
Sukanya was shocked to see an old man who looked all bones and no skin. She pleaded with him to spare her of the curse but the sage continued to shout at her. At that moment, the king, on not finding Sukanya return home after some time, came to the forest and saw Sukanya arguing with an old man. He asked his daughter what had happened and when the princess had explained the entire episode, the king fell at the feet of the sage. He begged, “Please spare my daughter; do not curse her. She is innocent. She did not know that you were seated inside the mound of earth.”
But the old man refused to relent. The king then offered, “I promise that she shall serve you for the rest of your life but please spare her of any curse that you may give.”
Sukanya was shocked to hear her father’s words and began to tremble with fear, tears running down her eyes.
The old man, pleased to hear what had been said, asked, “Have you first taken permission from your daughter for what you say? Will she accept your proposal?”
The king turned to look woefully at his daughter. Seeing the pain in her father’s eyes, Sukanya replied, “Yes, I will do as my father says. I cannot bear to hurt him.”
The old man was thrilled to hear this and clasping Sukanya’s hand in his gnarled fingers, left for his hermitage deep in the forest.