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!

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!