Son of Anasuya and Atri, the Vedic ascetic sage Durvasa is one of the avatars of Lord Shiva. The morphological origin of the name Durvasa comes from two roots Dur – difficult and vas – clothes, dwelling, which literally means badly dressed or Who is difficult to live with.
In the Mahabharata, Durvasa Muni is described as an ascetic sage with a greenish-red complexion, a long beard, and tall stature; dressed in rags and carrying a stick of the sacred Bilva tree. Wherever he went, he was always accompanied by ten thousand disciples. In his travels, he kept strict vows and ate Durva (Dubo) herb only.
Durvasa Muni was known for his hot temper and indomitable rage. People and Devas treated him with due respect, for they were afraid to anger the sage. Anyone who deviated from the path of dharma, Durvasa punished with a curse using his yogic power, preserving and protecting traditional norms and values.
Curses of Durvasa Rishi
Rishi Durvasa, being of explosive temper, is said to have cursed and bestowed blessings on various deities and notable legends and deities. These curses are well mentioned in Agni Purana, Matsya Purana, Ramayana, Mahabharat, and Srimad Bhagavatam.
Curse to Indra
One of the chapters of Vishnu Purana describes how Durvasa rishi gave Lord Indra a flower garland but he put it on his elephant – Airavata which threw it on the ground. Thus, Durvasa cursed Indra and the gods depriving them of strength, luck, and prosperity. The result of this curse was the churning of the ocean, as a result of which Indra and other Devas finally attained Amrita to regain their power.
This story is very instructive, with a yogic sense. Flower garland, in this case, personifies the energy of growth, creation, and prosperity, they appear from the earth but are drawn to the heavenly light, opening towards it. In the human body, this energy is represented by Kundalini, which originates in the lower abdomen from the Kanda (bud) and rises to the crown of the head, where it blooms in the form of a shining thousand-petalled lotus.
The garland given by Durvasa was a grace from above, and great spiritual power was contained in it. Since the spiritual is inseparable from the physical, the neglect of the heavenly gift entailed the loss of power over all the worlds. We can say that Indra himself imposed a curse on him, and Durvasa simply informed him about it. By pointing out the mistake to Indra, he thereby gave him a chance to correct it, which happened as a result of churning the ocean (Samudra-Manthan).
Curse to Shakuntala
Shakuntala was the child of Vishwamitra and Menaka who was abandoned by Menaka soon after her birth in the forest. Kanva Rishi brought her to his ashram where she grew up.
Once when sage had gone away from the ashram and Shakuntala was walking like usual in the forest with her two friends, then King Dushyanta reached there chasing the hunt. Shakuntala was Menaka’s daughter, an integral beauty, the king was fascinated by her. Shakuntala was also attracted to him. And both of them got married. King Dushyanta returned to his palace after spending a month in a forest with Shakuntala and giving her a ring as a sign.
Once Rishi Durvasa came to the Ashrama but Shakuntala was deep in thoughts of the King. This infuriated Durvasa and cursed her that Dushyanta would forget her. Durvasa later used his mystic power to remove the curse.
Curse to Ganga
The mention of the Goddess Ganga is found in the Rigveda, the oldest sacred text of the Hindus. It is believed that one day sage Durvasa reached Brahmaloka. There was also Ganga in her childhood. Maharishi Durvasa started bathing there when his clothes were blown away due to a strong gust of wind. Young Ganga seeing this laughed out loud. In anger, Durvasa cursed Ganga that she would spend her life as a river on earth and people would take dips in it to purify themselves.
Curse to Rukmini
On returning to the palace, Lord Krishna and Rukmini invited Rishi Durvasa to dine with them in the palace. Lord Krishna removed the horses from the chariot and instead he himself and Rukmini started drawing the chariot.
On the way, Rukmini got thirsty and without seeking permission from the sage, she drank the water. This infuriated Rishi Durvasa and cursed Lord Krishna and Goddess Rukmini to be separated for 12 years. To get rid of the curse, Rukmini did the austerity of Lord Vishnu after which she was freed from the curse.
Curse to his wife Kandali
Kandali is the daughter of sage Aurva and the wife of Rishi Durvasa. Rishi Durvasa had promised Sage Aurva that he would continue to forgive 100 crimes of his wife. One day he asked his wife to wake him up at Brahma Muhurta. However, she failed in the task and Rishi Durvasa cursed her due to which she was reduced to a heap of dust for arguing excessively with him.
Then Durvasa Rishi converted the ashes of Kandali into a tree and gave a boon that from now on it will become a part of every worship and ritual. In this way, the banana tree was born and Kadaliphal i.e. the fruit of the banana became the prasad of every worship.
Curse to Bhanumati
Bhanumati was the daughter of Banu, the then-leader of the Yadavas. Bhanumati provoked Durvasa while playing in Raivata’s garden, and in response Durvasa cursed her. She, later in life, was kidnapped by Danava Nikumbha. However, Durvasa after being pacified explained that no harm would come to Bhanumati and that she would be saved and marry the Pandava Sahadeva.
Curse to Narayana
As per Swaminarayan Hinduism, Swaminarayan, who was a saint, was born because Narayana was cursed by Durvasa. The story narrates that after Krishna’s demise, Uddhava went to Badrinath, where Nara-Narayana’s discourses were heard by various sages. There, Durvasa arrived and cursed the entire assembly held on Mount Kailash as no one welcomed him. Nara-Narayana’s parents, Dharma and Bhakti, pacified Durvasa, who then reduced his curse. He said that Narayana would be born as their son to relieve them all from the clutches of evil.
Dharma and Bhakti were later born as Hariprasad Pande and Premvati Pande, and Narayana was born as their son named Ghanshyam, who is now known as Swaminarayan.
Nearly cursing the whole of Ayodhya
Saint Durvasa demanded to see Rama, who was in a private meeting with Yama. Yama instructed Rama not to allow anyone to interrupt their conversation or else they would be executed. Lakshmana was guarding the door and asked Durvasa to wait until his elder brother finished his meeting. Durvasa threatened to curse all of Ayodhya if he was not immediately informed of his arrival. Lakshmana had to interrupt Lord Rama’s meeting to inform him.
Rama fulfilled Durvasa’s request, and the sage left satisfied. Rama was sad because he had to keep his promise to Yama and couldn’t go back on his word. He ordered his beloved brother to leave him, and Lakshmana went to the Sarayu river to drown himself.
Curse to Draupadi
The sage Durvasa is known for granting boons, but also for his hair-trigger anger that often results in curses. Duryodhana once manipulated Durvasa into visiting the Pandavas in the forest after Draupadi had eaten her meal, knowing that there would be no food left to feed him. This left the Pandavas in a precarious situation as they were worried about facing the wrath of Durvasa if they failed to serve him.
Draupadi prayed to Krishna for help, who partook of the lone grain of rice and a piece of vegetable from the Akshaya Patra, which was enough to satiate the hunger of Durvasa and his disciples. They quietly left after their bath, afraid of facing the Pandavas’ wrath for refusing the food that would have been served to them.
Story of Sage Durvasa and King Ambarisa
The famous episode of the Srimad Bhagavata Purana tells the story of the Durvasa Maharishi and King Ambarisa, who was a renowned ruler and glorious devotee of Lord Vishnu. Once Ambarisa performed the ceremony of fire sacrifice with such boundless devotion and zeal that Vishnu gave him control over his Sudarshana chakra and its constant protection.
One day, when King Ambarisa worshiped Lord Vishnu and observed the vow of Ekadashi, the sage Durvasa appeared to him. Ambarisa received Durvasa respectfully and invited him to dine. Agreeing, Durvasa, along with his disciples, went to the Yamuna River to bathe during the day. There the sage immersed himself in meditation and did not return for a long time.
Ambarisa, seeing that the time for interrupting the fast was running out, followed the advice of Rishi Vasishtha, one of the Saptarishi (seven sages), and ended the fast by eating a leaf of the sacred Tulasi and drinking some water. Durvasa Rishi felt that the king was disrespectful by eating food without a guest. Returning, Durvasa began to chastise Ambarisa severely, and in anger, the sage created a fiery demon from his hair.
Seeing this, Lord Vishnu sent the Sudarsana chakra to protect the king, which in the blink of an eye destroyed the demon and began to pursue the offended guest. Durvasa tried to hide in Brahmaloka, Sivaloka, and other higher worlds, but he could not hide from the Sudarshana chakra.
Finally, the sage reached the heavenly abode of Vishnu -Vaikuntha and fell at the feet of Narayana, who told him that he won’t be of help, as he was bound by the bonds of devotion with King Ambarisa, and only the king himself could relieve him of the wrath of the Sudarshana chakra. Durvasa took this advice and returned to Ambarisa asking for forgiveness. Then Maharaja Ambarisa offered prayers to the Sudarshana chakra and thereby pacified her.
A curse is a Boon
Sage Durvasa is an example of correct curses, which through outwardly unfavorable events stimulate the spiritual growth of a person. People who were not ready for intense changes scattered in fear when the Rishis appeared, and only the strong in spirit invited him to their place.
Durvasa is the personification of the energy leading to spiritual growth through overcoming external difficulties, which are potentially present in each of us and is waiting for the signal to awaken.