13. Darkness in Hastinpur

For years, there was darkness in Hastinapur. Not literally, of course. Actually literally too. Because the prospective future king of the kingdom was blind. Not blind by an accident but blind by birth. He was just a level better than Michelle Mcnally in that context, for he could definitely hear and speak. If this was not enough, this prince was also consumed by the fact that one day he, and only he, will inherit the throne. He was determined to make for his incompetence with the succession to the throne. The blind king was thus further blinded by desire. Certainly, God had switched off all lamps on Hastinapur.

This blind brother was none other than Dhritarashtra. He had the company of his step-brothers, Pandu (born out of Ambalika) and Vidur (born out of Ambika’s maid) at every moment since his childhood. Like Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya, Bheeshm took the responsibility of educating and training the three brothers too. He trained them well in all the arts that he learnt in his growing years – horse-riding, archery, wrestling, scriptures, theatre, spirituality and ‘Bheeshm-knows-what’. As one would expect, the three brothers grew up to be quite capable. Bheeshm tried his best to make out something worthy of the blind-by-birth, weak-by-birth and deprived-of-throne-being-a-maid’s-son.

Dhritarashtra grew up to be extremely powerful and knowledgeable with a hidden lust for succession. Pandu grew up to be skilled in archery and equally knowledgeable as his elder brother but with respect for elders and compassion for the young. Vidur, though skilled in many arts, became profound in scriptures, politics, economics and social-sciences. He came to be known as the most unequivocal voice in the kingdom of Hastinapur, someone who regarded Truth and Dharma over relations and desires.

Time came when the three princes were old enough and it was time to give Hastinapur its new king. Going by the general law, everyone expected that Dhritarashtra would inherit the throne being eldest and the most powerful of Vichitraveerya’s sons. (There were people in the kingdom who realized it was not the best decision but they chose to keep shut till a formal declaration was made) But before that, he had to get married as a king was considered incomplete without a queen.

To bring the most deserving queen for the new king of Hastinapur, Bheeshm went to the mountainous kingdom of Gandhar and asked for the hand of Princess Gandhari for Dhritarashtra. Gandhari was the most beautiful and exquisite princess in the entire mainland at that moment, also a profound devotee of Shiva, and her marriage to Dhritarashtra would have concluded in a relation between Hastinapur and Gandhar that also had many political implications. However, Gandhari’s brother Shakuni, did not approve of the marriage as he could not bear his beloved sister being betrothed to a blind man. But before he could say anything, Gandhari came up with her decision stating that she could reject anything to anyone but nothing to a selfless man like Bheeshm. If he asked for Gandhari’s hand for the blind Dhritarashtra, even that was a matter of respect for her. She gave her consent to the marriage.

However, on that day, Gandhari pledged to tie a cloth on her eyes and never to see the world again. She felt that since her husband was not capable of seeing, it was not right for her to have that advantage as she saw marriage to be a relation among two equals. Many commented that it was her step to avoid herself to get manipulated as there were rumors that Dhritarashtra wanted a pair of loyal eyes in the form of a queen and not genuinely a wife. Since she could not back out after giving a commitment (she was not only a Shiva devotee but also a Salman Khan fan), she covered her eyes with a cloth.

Whatever was the reason, the blind-by-birth prince ended up marrying a blind-by-choice princess. Gandhari chose not to complement her husband, but to replicate his inadequacy. She let the apparent weakness of Dhritarashtra stay a weakness by not becoming his eyes who could view his world for him. Hastinapur thus remained in the darkness. Darkness was there in the eyes of Dhritarashtra, in the actions of Gandhari, in the hopes of Bheeshm and in the heart of an indignant Shakuni.

12. The Shattering of Satyavati’s Dreams

Amba was dead, to be born later as Shikhandi in the kingdom of Panchal.

Meanwhile, in Hastinapur, Vichitraveerya was married to Ambika and Ambalika. As was suspected, there was something lacking in Vichitraveerya that kept him from fulfilling the duties of a king in the court and a husband in the bedroom. But Satyavati was determined to see a great line of kings coming from him. She waited and waited. And waited.

One ‘unfine’ day, Vichitraveerya died of a strange disease, without leaving an heir behind. Satyavati’s dreams were in turmoil. The drastic measures that she and her father had taken to assure that her lineage ruled for generations had been rendered fruitless. Hastinapur did not have an heir; she did not have a grandson. Bheeshm, who had sacrificed all pleasures of the world to remove all conflicts in inheritance, was equally aghast.

Satyavati summoned Bheeshm one day. She told him that the need of the hour was that Bheeshm broke his oath of celibacy, got married and gave Hastinapur its heir. But Bheeshm could not make this deal for anything in the world. The oath, that was the basis of his father’s marriage with Satyavati was now an integral part of his life. He was not living a life of his own, he was living a life for Hastinapur. It was an oath he was living.

When nothing worked, Satyavati saw sense in only one solution. That was Niyog. (For more details on Niyog, click here). She summoned her pre-marital son, Ved Vyas, upon agreement with Bheeshm who saw sense in it as Hastinapur was left with no other option. She ordered Vyas to perform Niyog on both the queens to give them sons. Vyas agreed with it but requested for a period of one year, as his long years in forest had made  his body rough and hair matted. The queens could faint at the first sight of a dark ugly hermit. But Satyavati could not wait any longer. She ordered that the process be completed at the earliest.

So, on orders of his mother, Vyas went to Ambika to bear a son on her. She was so horrified at his first sight that she shut her eyes tightly. Now Vyas was a sage, and sages had a hit rate of 200! Of course a son was born, but it was born blind. He was named Dhritrashtra.

Dissatisfied with the first output of the Niyog, Satyavati sent Vyas to Ambalika. Since she knew what happened with Ambika, she did not close her eyes, but the sight of Vyas turned her pale. The son, thus born was pale in appearance. He was named Pandu.

Still dissatisfied that none of the sons were completely healthy, Satyavati sent Vyas again to Ambika. This time the room was kept dark so that Ambika would not have to see Vyas’ face. She would not have had to anyway, as she had sent her maid instead. But Vyas did what he was told to do, irrespective of who was on the receiving end. Contrary to how the two queens had reacted, the maid welcomed Vyas with open arms and without any fear. The son thus born was completely healthy. He was named Vidur. However, he could never become a king as he was born of a maid and not of a queen.

So you see how things are shaping. Satyavati’s dreams were shattered. The sons who could sit on the throne were not completely fit. The one who was born fit could not sit on the throne. Time and again, the throne was calling for its rightful owner, the one who truly deserved to be the king, the last of the Kuru blood, the mightiest of all, the most deserving one – Bheeshm. Satyavati regretted what had happened, but it was too late. Bheeshm would not go back on his oath and Hastinapur would not get a capable king. Poor Hastinapur!

11. Amba’s Pledge for Vengeance

There are times when we change things our way and there are times when we go with the flow. Had Amba gone with the flow, she would have been one of Vichitraveerya’s queens. But the revelation of her love for the prince of Shalva changed things. It ended in nothing but misery for her!

When she reached Shalva, the prince of Shalva refused to marry her on the pretext that she was won over by Bheeshm during the swayamvar. His Kshatriya pride could not accept anything that was given away to him by another Kshatriya. Also, Bheeshm, who won over so many kings single-handed in the court had specifically defeated the prince of Shalva putting him to shame. At that time, Amba kept quiet and didn’t raise voice in protest. On what basis was she expecting Shalva to accept her back then?

Rejected by the love of his life, an exasperated Amba went back to Hastinapur and stormed into the court like Bheeshm had stormed into her swayamvar. She insisted that Bheeshm married her as he had abducted her from the swayamvar. She was certainly not attracted to Bheeshm; she was only finding a way to avenge her humiliation by making Bheeshm break his vow. For a man of honour, nothing is worse than taking back his word, let alone a vow! Of course, Bheeshm put down her request. Neither did his oath allow him to marry, nor did he feel he was responsible for Amba’s situation as he had already declared that he was only representing Vichitraveerya in the swayamvar! In fact, Amba’s participation in the swayamvar with a pre-decided groom was an act of insult for the other kings who were invited.  But Amba was too angry to realize her end of the mistake.

Rejected from all sides, she went to sage Parshuram to seek justice. Parshuram, on hearing Amba’s story ordered Bheeshm to marry her. Bheeshm, though unconditionally reverent towards his teacher, could not agree to this order as this would mean insult to his parents and Hastinapur. He could do anything for his teacher but break his vow.

The following conversation took place:

Parshuram: If you do not marry Amba, then you will have to fight me. If you lose, you marry her. Deal?

Bheeshm: Dear Sir. You know it very well why I am not obeying your orders. Still, if you want me to fight with you, I will. The world knows that you have depleted the earth of Kshatriyas 21 times; but even you know that none of those Kshatriyas were like this student of yours.  Anyway, since I have no option but to fight you, please shower me with blessings for victory.

Parshuram (with a melted heart): Bheeshm, my son! Your politeness has no parallels. Those who are put to fight their elders should always seek their approval according to Dharma. Had you not requested my approval, I would have cursed you for your irreverence. Be blessed my son! Now go and fight. And fight in a way that you make your guru proud.

A terrible fight followed for days in which both were undefeated. Ultimately, Bheeshm was about to release a terrible weapon when a cosmic voice stopped him from releasing it. Parshuram had no counter-weapon for it and its usage would have put Parshuram to shame. That would have been very unbecoming of someone like Bheeshm. Bheeshm politely stopped the fight and said sorry to his teacher. Even Parshuram could not bring justice to Amba.

11. Amba's pledge for vengeance

An indignant Amba took the pledge that if no warrior on earth could help her, then she herself would become the reason of Bheeshm’s death. She performed strict tapasya and invoked the destructive form of God, Shiva, and asked him for a boon to kill Bheeshm. Shiva revealed that for Amba it was impossible to kill Bheeshm in her present life. He gave her a boon that in her next life she would become the reason for Bheeshm’s death. Not wanting to wait for her vengeance, Amba jumped into a pit of fire only to be reborn later as Shikhandi in the kingdom of Panchala.

10. The three princesses of Kashi – Amba, Ambika and Ambalika

Three has always been a very interesting number. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh are three. Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga are three. Three is more than two and less than four. It is just perfect. Even Abbas Mustan find it apt to keep three actors and three actresses in every Race movie. Three is just awesome!

So the king of Kashi too decided to have only three daughters. No one knows whether the three daughters were from the same queen or from different queens. Even I don’t. But yes, their names were extended repetitions of same consonants and that is why we are discussing them here. Maybe for a little bigger reason.

Amba, Ambika and Ambalika are the three daughters we are talking about. These princesses of Kashi were considered to be the most beautiful of women in the entire Indian mainland. So beautiful, that their father had to arrange a swayamvar where he invited the handsomest princes of India to participate. In today’s world, only Rakhi Sawant has this privilege. Credit goes to her unmatched beauty. Anyway, so the three princesses were supposed to select the prince of their choice and they were supposed to be married to them accordingly. At least, this is what was declared.

However, the king of Kashi made a terrible mistake. While he had extended an invitation to all the kingdoms of the Indian mainland, the invitation was not extended to the most prominent of all, Hastinapur. The king of Kashi thought that after Bheeshm taking the oath of celibacy, there was no worthy prince in Hastinapur left to deserve his daughters. Bheeshm could not bear this effrontery towards his kingdom and his king. He rode to Kashi and stormed into the hall uninvited. The princes gathered in the hall started mocking Bheeshm’s oath of celibacy claiming that the pulchritude of Kashi princesses had brought the downfall of the terrible oath. Bheeshm knew the art of zipping the lips with his arrows well. He displayed an example of it in the hall and that was enough for the remaining princes to shut up (to say the least). He declared that he was abducting the three princesses on behalf of Vichitraveerya and that the three princesses would be Vichitraveerya’s queens. Without delay, he left for Hastinapur with the three Kashi princesses in his chariot.10. Three princesses of Kashi

The eldest of the three sisters, Amba, was in love with the prince of Shalva kingdom and had decided to choose him as his husband at the swayamvar. But Bheeshm’s untimely arrival ruined her plans. She was too afraid to admit the truth in front of the gathered princes and the mighty Bheeshm but later on she regretted her decision. When the processions for Vichitraveerya’s wedding started in Hastinapur, she gathered courage and told Bheeshm and Satyavati the entire truth. Bheeshm, who was physically stronger than a rock was at the same time more compassionate than Mother Teresa. He told Amba that had she mentioned it in the swayamvar he would not have abducted her in the first place. He promised her that she would not be forced to marry Vichitraveerya and would be returned in Bheeshm’s chariot with due respect to the prince of Shalva.

In Hastinapur, the wedding of Vichitraveerya took place with both Ambika and Ambalika. With love for Shalva and respect for Bheeshm in her heart, Amba left in Bheeshm’s chariot for the kingdom of Shalva.

She wasn’t aware what was actually waiting for her!

9. Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya – Undesired fruits of desire

Mahabharata constantly reminds us of one thing – we can wish for something, we can try for it and we can even take brutal steps to ensure that it happens. But what actually happens is never completely in our hands.

When the news reached Shantanu that his eldest son had taken a terrible oath, he was heartbroken. He wanted Bheeshm to take the oath back but it was no ordinary oath and Bheeshm was no ordinary man. Impressed with his son’s devotion towards his father, Shantanu gave Bheeshm the boon to decide the time of his death. Bheeshm promised that the oath was taken for the happiness of his father and the security of Hastinapur so he would not leave the world unless he saw Hastinapur in safe hands.

There was resentment in the people of Hastinapur that why a promise was made to make someone else the king when the most capable of all, Bheeshm was amidst. Bheeshm ensured that his oath would not prevent his service to the kingdom. He passionately argued and convinced the citizens of Hastinapur that he was not facing any injustice, it was his own will and that he would serve the king with utmost devotion and anybody sitting on the throne would be as respectable to him as his father.

Satyavati’s father had foreseen that his daughter would be a mother of kings but he probably didn’t see that how strong or how capable they would be. Had he seen that, probably the father and daughter would not have kept the condition in front of Shantanu that made Devavrata take that terrible oath.

The effects of the oath were terrible, both in the short and long term. As a result of this oath, Shantanu was able to marry Satyavati, but his guilt never stopped eating into his health. In due course, Shantanu and Satyavati were blessed with two sons. The elder one was named Chitrangadha (this has nothing to do with Chitrangadha Singh and I am glad about it.) and the younger one was named Vichitraveerya (this suggests strangely powerful. There are speculations that he was named so because of his doubted masculinity.) A few days later, consumed by guilt and grief for his eldest son, Shantanu breathed his last and left everything behind. Bheeshm was now an unmarried man handling the family of his father that included a mother and two sons. Bheeshm took the responsibility of educating and training Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya.9. Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya - Undesired fruits of desire

Chitrangadha grew up to be a powerful but extremely arrogant man.  Of course, when you are told from your childhood that the throne belongs only to you and you see the most powerful of all warrior like Bheeshm serving as a regent, you are bound to have the illusion of superiority. He was challenged for a duel by a gandharva of the same name for sharing the name and was killed by him. The throne then ultimately went to Vichitraveerya. As his veerta was vichitra, everyone knew that the so-called king is not good for nothing.

Hastinapur’s throne now had a weakling as its king as a result of an oath which was in turn the result of a condition. And we know what happens to the kingdoms with weaklings as kings. Right? They are doomed. And so was Hastinapur supposed to be.

8. Bheeshm Pratigya! – A Terrible Sacrifice of a Son

Devavrata was now an adult and had been declared the heir to the kingdom. Everyone had full trust in his capabilities and Shantanu also relaxed the reigns of Hastinapur into the hands of Devarata.

One day Shantanu thought of taking a break from the daily kingdom chores and go for what Kuru kings did best – hunt! During the hunt in the forest, he reached the banks of Ganga, where a gentle breeze brought to him a heavenly fragrance. The fragrance aroused in Shantanu the desires that he had been unaware of ever since his wife Ganga left him. Shantanu realized that the source of fragrance was a woman who was ferrying across the river; daughter of the leader of fishermen. This woman was Satyavati.

Shantanu ordered his charioteer to stop the chariot and alighted from it to proceed towards Satyavati. He told Satyavati that he had fallen in love with her (Love at first sight is the trend in our generation. In those days love happened at first sniff!)

Shantanu: Marry me and be my queen. The kingdom of Hastinapur has not had a queen in quite some time.

Satyavati: Maharaj, I am not the one who can decide this on my own. If you wish to marry me, you should ask my father for my hand in marriage.

Within an hour, Shantanu and Satyavati were in the cottage of the head of the fisher-folks, Daashraaj. Shantanu told Daashraaj that he wished to marry Satyavati. Daashraaj was more than happy at knowing this but he had to refuse Shantanu. On being questioned, he said that since his daughter was destined to become a mother of kings, marrying Shantanu who had already declared Devavrata his heir would be a hindrance to that prediction. The revelation infuriated Shantanu. Even though he was madly in love with Satyavati, he could not deprive his beloved Devavrata of his rights for anything.

Shantanu: Kurus are not famous for taking back their words and depriving the rightful people of what they deserve. If you have such a condition, then I shall not marry your daughter.

Shantanu left the cottage without looking in Satyavati’s direction for even an instant. On that day, and on the following days Shantanu again felt the void that had been created ever since Ganga left him. In his old age, the void seemed to hurt more and he was also losing his capability of hiding his sorrows.

Devavrata could not see his father sad and so he tried to investigate but Shantanu never told anything. He then went to Shantanu’s charioteer expecting that the charioteer might reveal to the prince what the father was not revealing to the son. The charioteer told the entire story to Devavrata.

On the very evening, when the thick clouds were eclipsing the moon desperate to shower themselves on the city of Hastinapur, the fisher community heard the sound of armies proceeding in their direction. The fisher-folks were convinced that the audacity of their chief had succeeded in incurring Devavrata’s wrath and that he had come to savage the entire village that dared to harm his prospects of inheriting the throne.

Powerful men are usually understood by the weak.

Devavrata summoned Daashraaj, who came along with his daughter and asked him what stopped him from giving his daughter’s hand to the king of Hastinapur. Daashraaj explained the foretelling and its implications.

Devavrata: It was not wise on your part to have asked from my father what is mine, Daashraaj. My father could not promise to your grandsons the throne of Hastinapur because he has already given it to me. And if this is what is keeping my father away from happiness then I promise you that I will never sit on that throne. You can now proceed with the arrangements of the wedding. Mother Satyavati shall marry my father with no further delay.

Daashraaj: That’s very kind and brave of you my prince! History will always remember your sacrifice. But I have a question. If your father had no right to promise on your behalf, then how come you have the right to promise on the behalf of your sons? What if your sons raise swords against my grandsons for this very throne. How can I be sure of their future?8. Bheeshma Pratigya - A terrible sacrifice of a son

Devavrata: You are right dude! I cannot decide and promise on behalf of my sons. But I can certainly decide something for myself. And so to remove all your doubt and apprehensions about future of your grandsons, I decide never to marry. May Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hear it today; may the devas and asuras hear it today; may all the directions hear it today; may all organic and inorganic forms of matter hear it today; may earth, fire, wind and water hear it today clearly – I, Devavrata, the son of Ganga and Shantanu, pledge never to marry and father children on any woman. I SHALL LIVE WITHOUT A WIFE AND A SON AND I SHALL DIE WITHOUT A WIFE AND A SON. THIS IS MY ULTIMATE PROMISE TO YOU!!!

The pledge disturbed the rhythm of the cosmos, the clouds burst into heavy rains and the devas descended on Earth to shower Devavrata with flowers and blessings. Time had never seen such a terrible oath being taken by anyone. Time would never see such a terrible oath being taken by anyone. There were tears in the eyes of every soldier that had accompanied Devavrata. Princes were known to slaughter the weak to show off their might and here they had the mightiest of their leaders sacrificing everything for the sake of his old father and his kingdom’s future. They felt blessed to have seen the most historical moment in time.

This terrible oath, also known as Bheeshm Pratigya in Hindi, earned Devavrata the title of Bheeshm. Though Bheeshm sacrificed everything to ensure that the king of Hastinapur stayed well and so did Hastinapur, he did not foresee the implications that this terrible oath would have and how his rigidity towards his oath would cost Kuru clan dearly. There were certain things only time could tell and this was one of those.