7. Satyavati – A fisher-woman who wanted to be a Queen

Desire is the seed from which is born all activity, all happiness and all sorrows. Some make sacrifices to fulfill their desires; some make other people pay for fulfillment of their desires. Mahabharata is full of many characters of the latter category, with Satyavati (and her father) being the fountainhead.

Satyavati was the adopted daughter of the head of fisher-folks (Daashraaj). For mysterious reasons (that will be shared here one day), she smelt dreadfully of fish and was also known as Matsyaganda due to this unique quality.

Once, when Matsyagandha was ferrying across the river as a part of her professional routine, there came the Sage Parasara who wished to travel to the other side of the river. Sage Parasara, in the middle of the journey, felt the desire of making love to Matsyagandha and giving to the world a son from their unison.

Satyavati: I do not mind fulfilling the wish of a great sage like you, but please tell me Lord who will marry me after this one ‘day’ stand? I will no more be a virgin, will be tainted in the eyes of the society forever and no man would every marry me – they have anyway never wanted to, since I smell so dreadfully of a fish.

Sage Parasara: Do not worry lass! I am a sage of the highest order. Through the power of my tap I can do things that you cannot even think of. I will make love to you in open but no one will notice, you will become pregnant in an instant, give birth to a child in the next instant and then I will restore your virginity in the very next instant. Moreover, I will transform this smell of fish into the most irresistible feminine fragrance.

(Impossible it might seem, it could happen for he was sage Parasara – a descendant of his is today known as RAJNIKANTH)

Satyavati: So be it Sage! Wish of my Lord will be fulfilled.

Suddenly, a river of smoke enveloped the river of Ganga. The boat of Satyavati was anchored to an island, what was supposed to happen happened in the same order and in the same pace. By the time the river of smoke faded away, the fisher-woman Matsyagandha had transformed from a virgin to a lover to a mother back to a virgin, with a dark child in her hand (who also grew up to be the author of this epic). This child was named Krishna Dwaipayana (later to be known as Ved Vyas for compiling the vedas). Matsyagandha also stopped smelling of fish and developed a very attractive feminine fragrance.The son was born and the sage was gone, with his son, determined to make him one of the most learned men world would see.7. Satyavati - A fisher-woman who wanted to be a queen

After this episode, while on one hand Matsyagandha was glad to have served a sage and develop an irresistible fragrance which she knew could woo the men of strongest will power too, on the other hand she was consumed by guilt of entering into an amorous liaison before getting married. She went to her father and showed her hand to him pleading him to read and tell her future. Her father replied that she need not worry because despite what all happened, he could see that Satyavati was still destined to become a queen and be mother of sons who would be kings of a great empire. This revelation infused into the minds of both the father and the daughter the desire that one day they would be contributing to the royal bloodline.

In due course, they took strong steps to use this knowledge of future to assure that it happpened. But the morons only saw the future across one generation and not a couple more – for they would have realized that their these steps would bring a royal bloodline and along with it and entire nation to a standstill! The root of all human tragedy lies in the irrational human desire.

(All this happened long time before Shantanu’s son Devavrata had grown up. In fact, the episode of Parasara and Matsyagandha took place somewhere near the birth of Devavrata – as it is speculated that there was not much difference in the ages of Krishna Dwaipayana and Devavrata.)

6. Devavrata – The Son of Ganga

Sixteen years later, after Ganga had left him, Shantanu was seated in his palace when a messenger informed that some warrior had dared to obstruct the flow of river Ganga near the capital of Hastinapur. This warrior, with his arrows, had created a barrier in the middle of the river and obstructed the flow of its waters. Shantanu was infuriated at this flagrant display of valour that was causing harm to the organisms inside the river as well as forcing the river-form of his beloved wife to be obstructed.

Shantanu immediately reached the river-bank where this nearly impossible feat was taking place. He witnessed that a young lad was practicing his archery skills on Ganga. An angry Shantanu sought clarification for this. The young lad revealed that he was just practicing his skills on the water of Ganga; by no way did he harm any organisms. But Shantanu was too impatient to listen to anything. He raised his bow and challenged the young lad to fight.

Suddenly, the waters of Ganga moved in a whirlpool, taking a human form and appearing in front of Shantanu. It was Ganga, his long-gone wife.

Maharaj, the young lad that you challenge is no enemy. He is your own son. The same son who I took away sixteen years back to return to you. He was just practicing his archery skills that he learnt from sage Parshuram. His name is Devavrata.”

“What? He’s my son? After sixteen years of isolation, today I am seeing my son. What an auspicious day this is!” Shantanu cried in happiness.

6.2 Bheeshm - The Son of Ganga“Yes Maharaj! He’s the same son for whom you broke your oath. Today I am returning him to you as my duty is over. Today, there is no one in Jambudweep (Indian Peninsula) who is more skilled and knowledgeable than Devavrata. He has learnt the scriptures from Sage Vashishta; Sage Brihaspati and Sage Shukracharya are his teachers in political science and Sage Markandeya is his spiritual guru. On my request, Sage Parshuram made an exception to teach martial arts and archery to this Kshatriya son of yours.  I hand over this son to you Maharaj!” said Ganga to Shantanu.

Turning over to her son, Ganga said, “Your father has seen a lot in his life. Make sure he is never sad with you around. You must live your life and direct your dharma towards your father and Hastinapur. It’s time for me to leave now. Whenever you feel like meeting me, just visit my banks. Your mother will always be there to guide you.” Saying this, Ganga disappeared in her own waters.

The void in Shantanu’s life was partly filled with the arrival of his capable son. Even though the love of his life was not there, at least the heir of Hastinapur was. (His new-found love is about to come in the next post though.) The father and son spent years together discussing the intricacies of kingship, politics, strategies, vedas and the history of ancestors and great kings and warriors. In due course, the young prince gained fame among the people of Hastinapur and considering his knowledge, wisdom and power, Shantanu declared Devavrata as his successor.

After seeing its king Shantanu lonely and depressed for years, the people of Hastinapur finally saw a ray of hope in the form of Devavrata – he who will become the new king and expand the boundaries of the kingdom, will begin a new family and fill the palace with new princes and princesses, the symbol of growth and happiness of the kingdom at large.

What one expects does not always come true! At times things take a different turn on their own; at times one turns them at one’s will. The destiny of Hastinapur and Devavrata were about to take a massive turn that would impact the generations. The impact of Vashishta’s curse would take its effect soon. Time, gritting its teeth in fear, was waiting for the day.