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.

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.