Once, long ago, the kingdom of the Bharatas was faced with drought, famine and disease. Its king, Samvarana, was filled with sorrow on hearing the sufferings of his people.
Then worse news arrived. The Panchala king declared war on him. How could his small, weakened army face the might of the large, stronger Panchala force? But a king’s duty was to take on any challenge that endangers his kingdom. So Samvarana led his soldiers to the battlefield.
It was an unequal war. Samvarana was badly defeated. Unable to bear the humiliation, he, with his ministers and a few courtiers, escaped deep into a forest. They built a fort there, and lived an isolated and miserable life.
One day, the sage Vasishtha came to the fort. Samvarana received him with respect. He washed the wise man’s feet and offered him flowers and scents. Then he said, “Holy Sir, we are leading a lonely and wretched existence here. Please be our guru. This is sure to turn our luck and bring us back our old days of glory.”
Vasishtha replied, “Good king, I will gladly be your guru. But this alone will not mend your fortune. You are living here in exile and disgrace. Only putting in hard, personal effort will work for you. Face the Panchalas again and honourably reclaim your kingdom.”
Vasishtha’s words thrilled Samvarana. As if he had woken from sleep, he called his men to action. With their loyal support, he launched a surprise attack on the Panchalas. He fought with great courage and determination.
As the battle raged, Samvarana didn’t know that someone was watching him. From her home in heaven, Tapati, daughter of Surya, the Sun God, looked down with admiration at the skillful and handsome warrior. Surya was surprised. Never before had he seen a mortal so emotionally affect his daughter. “Do you care for him, my child?” he asked her. “I do, Father. But will he return my feelings?” Surya smiled. “We will see. I have a plan.”
Back on Earth, Samvarana had won back his kingdom. He ruled his people wisely and well. One day, he rode out on a hunt with his men. A deer suddenly ran across his path and rushed away into the jungle. Samvarana raced after the deer. He was soon riding all alone, but the deer was nowhere to be seen. “How fiercely the sun shines today,” Samvarana said to himself. He and his horse drank at a stream.
As he got up, a sight dazzled his eyes. It was a woman. She shone like the sun. Her glow seemed to turn the grass, leaves and trees to gold. Samvarana was amazed at her loveliness. He realised that she had captured his heart. He went towards her, but in a flash, she was gone! Samvarana went almost into pain. “Where are you?” he called out. He searched for her in vain up and down the rough jungle paths. Then, beaten by disappointment, he fell down in a faint.
He was woken by a voice. “O King, get up. A strong man like you should not lose control of himself like this.” It was the lovely lady. “It is you who have had this effect on me,” Samvarana said. “You love me then?’ “More than words can express. Separation from you will break me. Become mine this very moment in a simple marriage ceremony.”
“I have watched you and loved you too. But we need not marry in secret. I have a father who will readily give us his consent.” “Where is your father?” Samvarana asked. “Look up. The shining sun is my father. My name is Tapati. Ask him sincerely for my hand and he will surely agree.” And Tapati disappeared again.
Samvarana at once began to meditate on the sun. He prayed long and devotedly. As if drawn by the vibrations of his prayers, his guru Vasishtha came there. “I will go as your messenger and speak to Surya, “ he said, and rose into the sky.
Surya willingly gave his daughter into the sage’s hands. Vasishtha and Tapati descended to earth and stood before Samvarana. “Kind sage,” Samvarana said, full of gratitude. “You inspired me to regain my kingdom, and changed my life. Now you have brought for me the greatest gift: a partner to share my life with.”
“It is you, Samvarana, who won both through your commitment and dedication,” Vasishtha replied.
Surya and the other gods too came to bless the young couple. And surrounded by the beauty of mountains and streams, Vasishtha conducted their marriage, bringing to a happy conclusion the love story of the mortal Samvarana and the divine Tapati.
Their son would be Kuru, the famed ancestor of the Pandavas and Kauravas.
Retold from The Mahabharata