15. The Two Wives of Pandu

The new king of Hastinapur, Pandey ji (read Pandu) proved to be efficient within a very short time. After more than a quarter of a century, there was finally a king in the court of Hastinapur and he was, for a change, pretty good. And being an old reader of this blog you would know the first thing the kings of Hastinapur did when they achieved something. They got married. Pandu was no different. But the question was to find a deserving queen for Hastinapur.

Far somewhere, in the kingdom of Kuntibhoja was a princess who was probably destined for that. Her name was Kunti (orginally Pritha, but was renamed Kunti since she was adopted by Kuntibhoja. Was it tough to guess anyway?) Kunti’s little known secret to all was that she had given birth to a son (Karna) of the Sun when she was just teenager (read here in detail, only if you want to). Since this secret was a secret that remained secret for long, Kunti’s reputation was in tact and so Bheeshm and other elders of the family deemed her worthy of becoming Pandu’s wife and Hastinapur’s new queen.

A grand wedding took place and Kunti became a part of the royal family of Hastinapur. However, Pandu never got the opportunity to sing the evergreen words that Amitabh Bachchan once did, “Suhaagraat hai, ghoonghat utha raha hoon main…” as there was a military urgency that expected him to leave for a battle immediately after his wedding. He promised Kunti that he will return, and he kept his promise much better than Bhairo Singh. I say “much better” because after winning the battle, he did not return alone, but with a second wife. This second wife was Madri, the sister of Shalya, the king of Madra. Pandu had taken a military procession to subdue Madra but Shalya insisted that they avoided war and rather formed an alliance. Thus Pandu and Madri were married. Kunti certainly did not take this very positively, but there was not much she could do. She had already done something before that she was guilty about, and she could not gather confidence to stand for something that was considered normal by the society standards.

Pandu then decided to go on an extended honeymoon with both his wives at once. Bali was not that hot a destination in those days so he settled with going to nearby forests and enjoyed what he and his ancestors had always enjoyed. Hunting. Pandu’s archery skills were profound and it was the impact of these skills that he formed great alliances across the sub-continent. He forgot that there were better things to do on a honeymoon. His needless desire to try those skills on the helpless animals of the forests proved disastrous – for all the animals you see in the forest are not actually animals. They can be human beings in various forms, sometimes having uniquely weird desires. First, the desires are unique; second, they implement them in weird manners.

I am talking about Rishi Kindam and his wife. The couple lived in the same forest that was Pandu’s honeymoon destination. One day an idea occurred to the couple that they should make love in the open. Imagine, Pandu who was on a honeymoon, that too with two wives at once, hadn’t thought of it but these guys had! If this was not enough, they planned to have it in cervine form so that normal human beings would not be able to make out that this is the great sage Rishi Kindam and his wife doing the act. While they were engaged, Pandu shot an arrow in the direction of the sound the couple was making thinking that it was a deer out in the forest. This was a form of archery known to very few. The arrow struck the couple. They cried in agony, suddenly transformed to their original form and lied wounded on the forest floor.

15. Pandu

Pandu was shocked to see what unfolded before him. Rishi Kindam was dying, but his anger for not being able to do what he had been waiting to do for years burst out on Pandu. He said, “Oh King of Hastinapur, Pandu! You killed a couple while they were making love. It was after my years of tapasya that I was finally uniting with my wife and you interrupted it so violently. Therefore, I curse you that you will die moment you try to make love to any woman.

And so, the future of Hastinapur was again in problem with the kingdom having a king who could not have sons. Pandu was engulfed with the guilt of killing a brahmin and being cursed at the same time (Imagine which affected him more!) He planned to go back to Hastinapur and reveal the matter in the court to seek the advice of the elders.

5. Shantanu and Ganga – A Love Story based on a Promise

There are certain things in life that are preordained, either due to our destiny or due to our karma. The sagacious ones, thus, often say that destiny is nothing but our karma yielding its consequences. On top of that, our ignorance coupled by our momentary passions blended in our ego, ends in cul-de-sac. The greatest human folly does lie in the fact that we don’t learn from History, we repeat it.

The kings who inherited the throne of Hastinapur after Bharata repeated the mistakes of their ancestors not once but multiple times, sometimes due to innocence and sometimes due to ignorance.

Once Pratipa, a descendant of the Kuru bloodline, was meditating under a tree when he was approached by the river-goddess Ganga. She requested Pratipa to make her his daughter-in-law for reasons unstated. Not wanting to turn away the beauty who was considered a goddess and had approached to be a part of his family line, Pratipa agreed to it and assured her that his son, Shantanu, would marry her one day. Pratipa addressed Shantanu and made his intentions clear. Shantanu, being an obedient son, agreed to his father’s will without even trying to know the reason.

5.1 Ganga and Shantanu

Years later, the young and handsome Shantanu (if you do not remember what I mean by an italicized “young and handsome” then click here) was out on a hunt near the banks of Ganga when he saw a young beautiful woman. A face as serene as the Gangotri glacier and a complexion as flawless as the pure river Ganga (of those times, not today) captivated Shantanu in an instant. On inquiry, Ganga revealed that she was none other than goddess Ganga in a human form. Driven both by his promise to his father and the uncontrollable desire that was a result of Ganga’s exquisiteness (majorly because of the latter), Shantanu put forward the proposal for Ganga to be his queen. Ganga who was already willing for this readily accepted to the proposal putting forward a condition, much in the way Urvashi had put forward a condition for Pururava (click here to see how).

***

Ganga: Promise me, that you will never ask me any question.

Shantanu: I promise! Neither will I ask a question nor will I ever stop you from doing what you want to.

Ganga: If you ever ask me a question, I will still answer it but will be gone from your life forever.

Shantanu: Such a day will never come. I promise.

***

As you might have guessed, such a day did come but after years and with revelations far beyond Shantanu’s wits.

Shantanu was busy enjoying his married life with Ganga, neglecting his kingdom and focusing only on giving an heir to Hastinapur. The king succeeded and the news spread out in the kingdom that Ganga was ready to conceive Shantanu’s first child. The entire kingdom and Shantanu waited for the maids to bring the news of the birth of a prince/princess. Ganga gave birth to a child and before anyone could have a glance, she was seen to be leaving for the banks of Ganga, with her new-born in her hands.

5.2 Shantanu and Ganga

Ganga, being a goddess wasn’t as weak as usual women get after delivery. The delivery had not had any impact on her appearance or her strength and she moved towards the banks of Ganga without any assistance. Shantanu followed her but didn’t ask her anything keeping with the promise he had made – the promise that was the basis of their marriage. What he saw next horrified him and burnt his heart with agony. Ganga drowned her new-born into the waters of river Ganga and Shantanu could only see and do nothing. Ganga replied to the glaring anger on Shantanu’s brow with her enchanting yet cold smile, the one that had seduced Shantanu in their very first meeting.

Since there was no question to be asked and no answer to be given, Shantanu finally submitted to the queen again and their lives continued like before with thousand questions in his heart but not one on his lips. 

A few weeks later there was news of Ganga being pregnant again and the entire kingdom again became hopeful waiting for an heir while at the same time fearing that the second child would suffer the same fate as the first. The fears did come true. The very next moment Ganga drowned her second child too. Shantanu was aghast to see how a mother could drown her new-born into a river with such ease. He was aghast to see how a wife could deprive her husband of his sons. He was aghast to see how a queen could deprive a kingdom of its heir. Was the woman he married a heartless witch or a demoness seeking some revenge? The Kshatriya, Chakravarti king of kings of the Kuru clan could only ponder upon and do nothing.

One after the other, Ganga drowned seven of her new-born babies in the river not being stopped or questioned by anyone. The entire kingdom was flabbergasted with the queen and deeply annoyed with the king who did nothing out of his promise (many suspected it was his lust that was a slave of Ganga’s pulchritude) to stop her. Shantanu himself lost all hopes of having any heir as he had grown old and he knew that with Ganga as his wife hopes will remain only hopes, never turn into reality.

And then, there was the news that Ganga is pregnant again. With the eighth child in his wife’s womb, Shantanu was determined to have his heir this time whatever it might cost him. On delivery, Ganga proceeded towards the river in the same fashion, but this time Shantanu was not like the earlier one.

“STOP!”, he cried. “What kind of woman are you to have drowned your seven children in the river on their very birth. Even a nagin is better than you to leave its child alive. What have these harmless souls done to deserve this fate? You have already deprived me of my seven sons, I will not allow you take this one from me.” said Shantanu with a voice filled with anger that Ganga had never seen before.

Ganga stopped herself and turned. She saw Shantanu standing there with a pitiable face, not at all characteristic of a Kshatriya, and eyes full of disgust for Ganga. She went to Shantanu with that forever enchanting smile.

Ganga: Today you have broken your promise by asking me a question. I knew this would happen one day. You have suffered enough to see what all you had to.

Shantanu: Why did you do all this? Why did you kill seven of our innocent sons?

Ganga: I did not kill them Maharaj. I just set them free from this world, Mrityulok, where there is so much suffering. It was a curse that I was living, you are living and a curse that your sons were living.

Shantanu: Which curse?

Ganga: In your previous life as king Mahabhishak, you were a great warrior and a friend of the lord of the devas, Indra. You were a more than occasional visitor to his court that is famous for its wine and damsels. One day, I, accompanied by my father Brahma, visited that court where you were already present. In our very first encounter you kept gazing at me and so did I. A wind blew that caused my upper garment to slip from my shoulders that I did not realize. The court full of devas lowered their eyes out of respect but you kept glaring at me unabashedly. I too could not take my eyes off you. This public display of desire angered my father Brahma and he cursed you to be born on earth as a mortal and suffer the pain that mortals do. I too was cursed to descend on earth as a mortal and return only after breaking your heart. Today, after asking me this question you have set me free from my curse, just like I set seven of your sons from their curse.

Shantanu: Which curse were my sons living? Were they too pawns at the hands of the devas?

Ganga: These sons of yours are the eight vasus who were cursed by Rishi Vashisht to be born on earth as mortals and suffer the pain like them. (To read the details of the curse, click here). The eight vasus approached me, the mother of all beings, to save them from this. I promised to give them birth through my own womb and set them free as soon as they were born. That is what you had been seeing all this while, shocked, as you had no idea about your previous life and the curses. The cause of all sufferings is rooted in our past karma.

Shantanu: But at least, I have my one son alive now who will be my heir and three of us can live together happily, now that everything is revealed.

Ganga: I apologize but I do not see that happening, my king. You have broken your promise and this means I will have to leave you now. By obstructing the flow of destiny, you have managed to save your eighth child but happiness is not something that he will know for long. He is a great soul but not destined to be an heir nor to see his progeny inheriting the throne.

Shantanu: That’s not true! I will not let this happen. He is my son and I will ensure that he inherits my throne.

Ganga: Try as you will. What’s written in the destiny cannot be changed. All I can do for you is to take him away and impart him education from the best teachers in the world. He will be a master at politics, philosophy, religion and martial arts. He will follow the code of conduct of a Kshatriya like no other man has ever followed, no other man ever will. After he graduates, I will send him back to his father well prepared. Time will tell the rest of the story. 5-3 Shantanu and Ganga

***

Saying this, Ganga left with her eighth born to return later, leaving Shantanu alone. Shantanu wondered what life had for him ahead and how much of it was now dependent on his past karma that he was still unaware of.

Important Terminologies from Mahabharata

There are a few terminologies that appear as frequently in Mahabharata as cheer-leaders appear in the IPL matches. The only difference is that the terminologies mostly appear for a reason.

I hope knowing these terminologies would help in understanding the Epic more. Dissecting them, however, would not do much good. They can be highly confusing and unbelievably random but that’s true for most of our studies. Isn’t it?

1. Boon / Vardaan

A boon is a promise made by a higher party (a demi-god, rishi or a parent) that grants the receiver a certain power or some kind of advantage. Sometimes the receivers achieve boons by the virtue of their devotion in the party and sometimes just because of their luck. Boons can be highly technical and may come with if-else conditions. Eg., Jaydrath receives a boon from Shiva that one day in a war he would be able to overpower the Pandavs IF Arjuna is away!

2. Curse / Shaap aka Shraap

Curses are the antonyms of boons. They are the most undesirable things or situations that one is bound to suffer mostly because of a mistake he made or a crime that he committed. Eg., Karna is cursed to die in the battlefield unarmed because he killed an innocent cow by mistake. Curses are highly technical too, can be modified and sometimes intelligent people use them to their advantage. Eg., Arjuna was cursed by Urvashi to become a eunuch for life but Indra’s intervention reduced the duration of that curse to ‘one’ year. Arjuna used this curse during the 13th year of his exile when he was required to conceal his identity.

3. The Law of Karma

This law is the actual source from which Newton derived the third law of motion. It simply states that for every action there is a consequence, either in this life or in the next. No person can escape the consequences of his action. An action taken today will yield a result one day and the person concerned will suffer its consequences. If he doesn’t, then his relatives or progeny does. But there is no escape.

4. Niyog

This was the concept of surrogate father which was much prevalent in those days. To ensure a continued and unharmed inheritance kings always desired sons. But some were not lucky enough to effectuate their desires into results. So they summoned higher mortals, and at times immortals, to make their wives conceive sons. Ideally, the chosen man was supposed to be of a higher stature and preferably a stranger who would have no emotional attachment or anything to do with the wife after the moment. The culture considered the husband and not the biological father to be the child’s actual father. It would require data analytic experts years to calculate how many characters in the Mahabharata were a result of Niyog.

5. Brahmastra

This was one of the most potent missiles, the weapon of Brahma, that the best warriors possessed. In Ramayana, Ram, Lakshman and Meghnadh are known to have possessed the Brahmastra. In Mahabharata, Krishna, Bheeshm, Dronacharya, Arjun and Ashwatthama possess it. The scarcity power comes from the fact that a warrior could receive it only from his guru through a mantra after displaying extremely profound learning of archery. If the guru did not find his student worthy, he chose not to give it to him and he could not attain it in any other way. Karna received the Brahmastra from Parshuram but the curse of Parshuram made him forget that mantra. The Brahmastra was close (or probably a little more intense) than the nuclear bomb of today and its use meant nothing but the destruction of the entire world hence it was never practically executed.

6. Pashupatastra

This was another terrific missile, the weapon of Shiva (Pashupati), that was possessed by a few great warriors. Meghnad, Bheeshm and Arjun are known to have possessed it but never practically used it. As opposed to the Brahmastra that destroyed the entire world, Pashupatastra could be focussed even to a needle point but possessed infinite energy to destroy that object within a fraction of a second.

7. Narayanastra:

This was the terrific weapon of Vishnu, with almost equal in impact as the Brahmastra but could also be customized to damage selected areas like the Pashupatastra could be. The major condition of using this weapon that it could be used only against someone who was violent. The weapon wouldn’t harm anyone who was calm. Meghnad and Ashwatthama are known to have possessed the Narayanastra.

8. Prayshchit / Pashchataap:

The English translation of these two words is “Penance”. It is the act of observing severe austerities or inflicting pain on oneself as an expression of repentance of a wrong-doing. Throughout the Mahabharata, there are many characters who underwent through this as a mistake they made. Eg., On discovering that the deer he killed in the forest were Rishi Kindam and his wife, Pandu left the throne of Hastinapur and went to the forest away from all luxuries for pryayshchit. It must me noted that it is a self-inflicted punishment and wasn’t imposed on anyone by the society. A person followed it out of guilt in order to punish himself for his own mistake.