Other names: Shukraacharya, Shukra, Shookracharya
Guru Shukracharya was the son of Bhrigu Rishi and Ushana, also known as Usha, the daughter of Hiranyakashyap. Shukracharya was the preceptor of the Asuras (the demons). Shukracharya had been to Maharshi Angarishi for education but dropped out upon seeing his excessive favoritism towards his son Brihaspati. He then went to study with Rishi Gautam instead.
Shukracharya undertook an arduous penance and invoked the blessings of Shiva. He asked for a mantra, which would ensure that the demons never lost. Shiva agreed to do so, but Shukracharya would have to perform a certain ritual for a thousand years and live only on smoke during this period. Shukracharya began this ritual in order to get the mantra from Shiva.
Meanwhile the devtas (deities) learnt of Shukracharya’s plans. They decided to destroy the demons while Shukracharya was away and before he acquired the divine mantra. As instructed by Shukracharya, the demons were residing at the hermitage of Sage Bhrigu, Shukracharya’s father. The demons pleaded that they had given up their weapons and were leading a peaceful life and hence it was unfair for them to be attacked at this time. But the devtas carried on regardless. Since Bhrigu was away, the demons requested his wife, Usha, to come to their aid. Summoning her mystical powers she rendered Indra, the King of the devtas, immobile. The other devtas fled to Vishnu and implored him to rescue Indra. Usha threatened to reduce both Indra and Vishnu to ashes, but before she could complete the incantation, Vishnu released his Sudarshan chakra (a disc like weapon which revolves around index finger) and beheaded Usha.
When Bhrigu returned and saw the decapitated body of his wife, he cursed Vishnu. Since Vishnu was guilty of killing a woman he would have to take birth on earth time and again. This provided the basis for the incarnations of Vishnu. Bhrigu then used his divine powers to rejoin the head and body of Usha and gave her fresh life.
After his failure with the demons, Indra turned his attention to Shukracharya. He sent his daughter, Jayanti, with instructions to either distract Shukracharya using her charms or win him over with her service. Jayanti’s modest behavior prevented her from seducing the Sage, so she followed the second option. For the remaining part of the thousand years Jayanti devotedly served Shukracharya. When the period of the penance was over, Shiva appeared and taught Shukracharya a mantra that would bring a dead person back to life. This mantra was known as the ‘Mritsanjivni’ or ‘the one which brings the dead to life’.
Having achieved his mission, Shukracharya turned his attention to Jayanti. He promised Jayanti a boon for the selfless manner in which she had attended to the needs of his penance. Jayanti asked that he live with her as her husband for ten years and Shukracharya willingly accepted.
Indra now hatched another plan. He told his teacher, Brihaspati, that the demons were expecting Shukracharya, but unknown to them Shukracharya was living with Jayanti. Indra asked Brihaspati to impersonate Shukracharya and live with the demons. Some fortune would chance upon them sooner or later. Brihaspati did so and over the next ten years he won the demons over completely.
After ten years when Shukracharya returned, he was aghast to see that an imposter had taken his place. As expected accusations were traded, but Brihaspati had replicated Shukracharya so accurately that it was impossible to tell who was the real Shukracharya. Finally the demons settled for the man who had been guiding them for the last ten years and chased the real Shukracharya away.
Shukracharya could not bear this insult, especially after the thousand-year penance he had undergone for their benefit. He was a hot-tempered person and immediately cursed the demons that they would never be able to conquer the devtas (deities). Indra heaved a sigh of relief and Brihaspati assumed his true form; the demons realized that they had been tricked but now had no recourse. Shukracharya had always supported the demons. In the battle between the devtas (deities) and demons, he used to bring the dead demons back to life with the power of his knowledge, with which the devtas (deities) were defeated by the demons.
After this, Brihaspati sent his son Kacha to Shukracharya to learn the Mrita-Sanjivani Vidya. Shukracharya accepted Kacha as his student. But other demons didn’t like it. As the time progressed Kacha fell in love with the daughter of Shukracharya, Devyani. This annoyed the demons even further. One day, in the absence of Shukracharya, the demons killed Kacha. This news upset Devyani a lot. On the request of his daughter, Sage Shukracharya brought Kacha back to life with the help of “Mritsanjivni” knowledge. From there on the love between Kacha and Devyani grew day by day.
One day while Kacha was alone in the forest, the demons killed him for the second time. They burnt his body and mixed his ashes in a drink, which they gave to Shukracharya. When Devyani came to know about this she was shocked. She requested her father to revive Kacha for the second time. The agony of his daughter was unbearable for Shukracharya. Again he used his powers to bring life back to Kacha.
As a result Kacha came back to life and came out from inside the stomach of Shukracharya. But Shukracharya had to give up his own life to bring him out. Now this was Kacha’s turn to bring life back to his Guru. He did the same. It was from this day forward that wine is forbidden for those engaged in the pursuit of wisdom. Realizing his mistake of consuming Sura (wine), and its harmful aftereffects, Shukracharya prohibited the Brahmins from consuming it and warned them that it would destroy their religiousness and that they would acquire the sins similar to that of killing a Brahmin and would be condemned both in this world and the other world. Devyani was happy to found both of them alive. But a new problem erupted. Kacha declined to marry Devyani on the grounds that since he was reborn from the stomach of Shukracharya he was now his son, and so he could not marry his daughter Devyani. This was a bitter shock for her.
She cursed Kacha that from now he would never be able to use this knowledge. Kacha cursed Devyani in return, that no Brahmin would marry her. Shukracharya had another wife named Gou with whom he had four sons. All these four sons were killed during the battle with the devtas (deities). Shukracharya was very proud of his knowledge and spiritual power, and so he always hated Brihaspati, the guru of the devtas.
There is a mention of Shukracharya in the incidents during the Narsinha incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap tried many ways to kill his son Bhakt Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Shukracharya, who was against Vishnu, helped Hiranyakashyap in this shameful act. Devi Ganga had asked Shukracharya not to indulge himself in this sinful act but Shukracharya did not desist from his support of the demons. Similarly, during the Vaman incarnation of Lord Vishnu, when King Bali was donating the land to Lord Vaman, Shukracharya shrunk himself with his powers and sat in the spout of the vase, from which water has to be poured to seal the promise to the deity in disguise. Lord Vishnu, in the disguise of Vaman, understood immediately what was happening, and picked up a stalk of durva grass and stuck it in the spout, poking out the left eye of Shukracharya in the process.
Shukracharya, the preceptor of the demons, despite his dislike of the devtas (deities), the Saints and devtas respected him because of his knowledge, wisdom and power acquired by religious austerities. In the Indian tradition of knowledge also Shukracharya is remembered as a great scholar.