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Mahabharat Chapter 3 - Bhishma's vow

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King Santanu was very happy at the arrival of Devavratha who was soon crowned the yuvaraj (crown prince). The King had given up hunting after meeting and loosing goddess Ganga. Four years passed by, he still pined for her and would often stroll by the banks of the river Yamuna. One day, on one such trips, the air suddenly filled with wonderful divine fragrance. Santanu traced the source to a beautiful lady as divinely beautiful as the fragrance. Rishi Parashar had given her a boon that emanated the divine fragrance. Satyavati was the daughter of the Chief of the fishermen. She often rowed the boat transporting weary travelers from shore to shore. One day Rishi Parashar was sitting in the boat with Satyavati rowing. The boat soon reached the middle of the river Ganga. Rishi Parashar consulted the position of the Sun and the time and deduced that a child born at that moment will go on to give the humanity gems of knowledge. He pleaded Satyavati to bear him a son. "I am a daughter of fisherman. I smell like fish all the time. And now if I become unwed mother, who will marry me? What will become of me?" Rishi Parashar assured her of his powers and said, "Lady, the child will be born instantly without going through the nine months of pregnancy. You will emanate devine fragrance that no king can resist. You will soon meet the King from Bharat clan. He will marry you. As for the child, I will take him with me and raise him. You can call for your son anytime you need him and he will always attend to you."  Satyavati agreed and Rishi Vyasa was born.

As promised by Rishi Parasher, Santanu was smitten by Satyavati's beauty and wanted to marry her. "I am King Santatnu. Who are you O beautiful damsel? I want you to be my queen," said King Santanu. "I am the daughter of chief of fishermen and my name is Satyavati. You will have to ask my father for my hand in marriage."

Satyavati's father was a shrewd man. The information regarding goddess Ganga, Santanu and Devavrata was no secret. He wanted to guard Satayavati's position in the palace. He replied to King Santanu,"You are a worthy match to my beautiful daughter. However, you must promise me, that the child born to Satyavati will be the next king." King Santanu could not take away that right from Devavrata. He declined to make the promise and returned to his Palace.

In the Palace, he could not get Satyavati out of his mind. He was ashamed at his baffled desire for Satyavati and languished in loneliness. Devavrata was a very astute young man. He sensed his father pining. He asked his father about his unhappiness and the source of his secret sorrow. King Santanu could not tell the whole truth to Devavratha, and he could not hold back. He cleverly put forth his predicament, "I am indeed tortured with mental pain and anxiety. You are my only son and you are always preoccupied with military ambitions. Life in the world is uncertain and wars are incessant. If anything untoward befalls you our family will become extinct. Of course, you are equal to a hundred sons. Still, those who are well read in the scriptures say that in this transitory world having but one son is the same as having no son at all. It is, not proper that the perpetuation of our family should depends on a single life, and above all things I desire the perpetuation of our family. This is the cause of my anguish."

Devavrata knew he had to do some digging to find the true cause. He went to the charioteer and asked about the places his father visited. He soon found out about Satyavati and his father's desire. He asked the fisherman his daughter's hand for his father. The fisherman  was firm in his demand. " You are the yuvaraj and will succeed your father as the King. Should my grandchildren be denied the chance of being the King? I can understand your father cannot be unfair to you and remove you as the heir apparent. This stands in the way of the union "

Without a moment' hesitation, Devavrata promised the fisherman, "I relinquish the throne for your grandchildren. The children of my father and your daughter will the next King of Hastinapur."

The shrewd fisherman was taken aback. He was respectful but put forth his knotty doubts, "You are the greatest of the Bharata clan, to renounce the throne. However, you are a great warrior and I have absolutely no doubts that your children will be as great warriors as you are. What happens if they challenge my grand kids? You do not have control over what your children will do."

Hearing this Devaratha who was bent on fulfilling his father's desire made the supreme renunciation, "I relinquish the throne for your grandchildren, I will serve the throne of Hastinapur all my mortal life. I make the severe vow that I will never marry and dedicate my life to unbroken chastity."

"Bhishma, Bhishma, Bhishma" the word filled the air as the gods from the heaven heard the vow and rained flowers. It was a supreme, sever and formidable vow, and Devavratha came to be known as Bhishma.

Santanu married Satyavati and had two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. When Chitrangada died heir less and Vichitravirya married Ambika and Ambalika. Their sons were Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari had 100 sons with Duryodhana being the oldest and 1 daughter Dushala. The sons of Dhritarashtra were called the Kauravas. Pandu had 2 wives Kunti and Madri. They had 5 sons called the Pandavas. Bhishma lived long and had the power to die whenever he wanted. He was well respected by all his grand sires and died at the end of the battle of Kurukshetra.

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Mahabharat Chapter 4 - Amba becomes Shikhandi

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ShikhandiKing Shantanu married Satyavaty and Devavrata became Bheeshma. Shantanu and Satyavaty had two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada was killed in battle with the Gandharvas. Young Vichitravirya was crowned the King and as he was a minor, Bheeshma ruled until he came of age.

When Vichitravirya became of marriageable age, Satyavaty entrusted Bheeshma with finding suitable bride for Vichitravirya. King of Kashi was arranging a swayamvara according to the old Kshatriya practice for his three daughters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika to choose their husband. The daughters of Kashi were famed for their beauty. When Bhishma heard about it, he decided to go there for Vichitravirya.

The Kings of Kosala,, Vanga, Pundra, Kalinga and other potential candidates were there in their best attires. When Bheeshma reached there, all the assembled Kings and Princes thought he had come to witness the Swayamvara as a guest. When he declined his seat as a guest, the assembled suitors began to ridicule him not knowing that he was there for Vichitravirya. “The wisest of the Bharata clan is not wise enough to realize he is old and has forgotten his vow.” The princesses of Kashi turned their eyes away from Bheeshma.

This flamed Bheeshma’s wrath. He challenged all the Kings and Princes and defeated them all. Taking the three princesses in his chariot Bheeshma set out to Hastinapur.

On his way to Hastinapur, Bheeshma was intercepted by Shalva, the King of Saubala. He was attached to the princess Amba. Shalva was defeated since Bheeshma was an invincible warrior. Amba pleaded Bheeshma to spare his life and so Bheeshma let Shalva go.

Arriving at Hastinapur with the princesses, the preparations for the marriage began. Everyone assembled for the wedding, Amba addressed Bheeshma mockingly, “You are the wisest of the Bharata clan and have read all the scriptures. I have chosen Shalva as my husband. What do the scriptures say about it, do what is morally right.”

Bheeshma acknowledged the forced abduction and Amba’s argument. The marriage between the Vichitravirya and Ambika and Ambalika, the two younger sisters of Amba was solemnized.

Bheeshma sent Amba with proper escort and respect to King Shalva. Amba was rejoiced at the prospect of marrying Shalva. “I have chosen you as my husband in my mind. I have come here to you, so we can marry according to the sastras.”Amba said to Shalva. However, Shalva refused her proposal, “Bheeshma defeated me in front of every one and carried you away. I have been shamed and I cannot marry you. You have been won by Bheeshma, go back to him and do as he says. I cannot marry you.”

Amba came back to Hastinapur and told Bheeshma what had transpired. Bheeshma advised Vichtrvirya to marry Amba. However, Vichitravirya refused to marry Amba saying that she is already some one else’s wife in her mind. Amba then turned to Bheeshma and asked him to marry her. Bheeshma was sorry for Amba and the situation she was in, but he could not marry her because of his vow. He appealed again to Vichitravirya to marry Amba and solve the tricky problem. However, Bheeshma’s attempts went in vain to change Vichitravirya’s mind. Bheeshma then suggested to Amba to go back Shalva.

Amba was too proud to go back to Shalva and grieved over her situation for four long years in Hastinapur. At last out of sheer desperation she went back to Shalva. Shalva however, adamantly refused to marry Amba. The lotus eyed Amba spend six years in bitter sorrow. All the beauty and sweetness inside her turned into hatred for Bheeshma. She blamed him for the root of all her sorrows. She then began her quest to find a warrior who would fight and kill Bheeshma. She searched long and hard but could not find any one. She then turned to Lord Subramanian and prayed to help find the enemy of Bheeshma. The Lord answered her prayers and gave her a garland of ever-fresh lotus flowers. One who wears the garland will be the enemy of Bheeshma. She took the garland and again sought to find a Kshatriya who will wear the garland. Bheeshma was an invincible warrior and no one wanted to incur his wrath by wearing the garland. Amba was once again dejected. Finally, she went to King Drupad and challenged all the Kshatriya’s , when none came to the front to wear the garland, she hung it by the gates of King Drupad’s palace and went away to the forest.

 In the forest, Amba met some ascetics who advised her to go to Parasuram for help. Amba went in search of Parsuram. When she met him, she told him all that had transpired. Parasurama was moved by her plight and the lack of courage amongst the Kshatriyas to champion Amba’s cause. Due to his abiding hatred towards the Kshatriya race, he challenged and fought Bheeshma. It was a long and equally contested battle. When it seemed like no one was winning and the battle was getting long drawn, the gods intercepted and asked both Bheeshma and Parsurama to stop. Parasurama addressed Amba, “Dear child, I have done everything I can with Bheeshma. I can ask Shalva to marry you.” Amba replied, “I no longer have any desire to marry any one. I am filled with hatred towards Bheeshma. I want to be avenged.”

Filled with grief and rage, Amba began her penance to please Lord Shiva as all human aid had failed. Lord Shiva appeared before her and granted her the boon that she would slay Bheeshma in her next life. Amba was impatient to wait for the rebirth. She lit a pyre and with the hatred in her heart hotter than pyre, she jumped into the fire.

Amba was born again as King Drupad’s daughter. When she grew up and saw the ever-fresh lotus garland hanging by the palace gate, all the memories of her past life came flooding back to her. Enraged that no one had yet worn the garland, she went and wore it herself. Drupad was mortified, at the thought of incurring Bheeshma’s wrath. His own daughter was to be Bheeshma’s enemy. He exiled her to the forest. Amba was baffled that she was born again as a girl. How could she challenge Bheeshma to a fight and slay him. Angry at the cruelty of fate, she began her austerities in the forest to turn into a man. After long tapasya, she transformed into a man and became a great warrior Shikhandi.

During the war of Mahabharata, Shikhandi faced Bheeshma. Knowing that Shikhandi was born a girl, Bheeshma refused to raise his arms against a woman as was his code of chivalry. Screened by Shikhandi, Arjuna was able to fell Bheeshma. Bheeshma as he fell was able to tell the arrows that came from Shikhandi and those that came from Arjuna his favorite grand sire.

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Mahabharat Chapter 5 - Story of Vidura

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Vichitravirya married Ambika and Ambalika while Amba; enraged at her plight went on to become Shikhandi.

Unfortunately shortly after the marriage, Vichitravirya died heir less. Satyavaty sent for Rishi Vyasa to help Ambika and Ambalika have children through his yogic powers. Rishi Vyasa was in the middle of Ugra Tapasya and therefore had a very Ugra (terrible, frightening) appearance. He fore warned Satyavaty that now was the right time for him to help. However, Satyavaty was eager and insisted on Rishi Vyasa to come. Ambika was the first one to go. She was so frightened at Vyasa’s appearance that she closed her eyes. Rishi Vyasa told Satyavaty that the child of Ambika would be blind since she closed her eyes. Dhritarashtra was born to Ambika and he was blind from birth.

Satyavaty sent Ambalika and warned her to be calm and not close her eyes. Ambalika turned pale due to fear. Vyasa told Satyavaty a sickly child will be born and due to his health will not be fit enough to rule. When this child was born he became known as Pandu. Vyasa told Satyavaty to send one of them so that a healthy child may be born. Both Ambika and Ambalika did not want to go so they sent a maid instead. The maid was calm and composed during the yogic process. The child born was named Vidura who was the incarnation of Dharma. This is how Dharma came on earth as a mortal.

Sage Mandavya spent his days in long penance and meditations. One day he was under the mauna vrata and deep in meditation, a group of robbers came to his hermitage. They had stolen from the King’s palace and were being chased by the King’s soldiers. They entered the hermitage and saw Rishi Mandavya in deep meditation oblivious to what was happening. They hid the loot in his hut and ran away. A little while later, the soldiers came there and asked Rishi Mandavya if he had seen any robbers. Rishi Mandavya was out of his meditation by now but could not speak due to his mauna vrata. And also, he was oblivious to what had happened and did not know anything. The soldiers rushed in and saw the loot. The commander of the soldiers took the loot and went to the king. “I have found the chief of the robbers and the loot. The robber is wearing the garb of a Brahmin sage and pretending to be in mauna vrata.” Instead of verifying the facts, the King issued orders for Sage Mandavya to be speared. The commander speared the sage and hung him by the tree.

The virtuous Sage Mandavya did not die due to his yogic powers. Sages living around his hermitage soon got to know about what had happened and came to Sage Mandavya’s hermitage. They brought him down and asked him what had happened and who was to blame. “Who do I blame, the soldiers for carrying out the orders or the King for getting the facts wrong?”

The King soon came to know about his mistake and rushed to Sage Mandavya’s hermitage to beg for forgiveness. Sage Mandavya was not angry on the king. He went to Dharma and asked “I have led a pious and virtuous life, yet I was subject to his punishment. What did I do wrong that I was punished thus?”

“You have tortured birds and bees. It is law of Karma. Any bad or evil deed will beget bad or evil.” replied Dharma.

“When did I torture birds and bees?”asked Mandavya

“You tortured the birds and bees as a child,” replied Dharma.

Sage Mandavya was incensed, “Dharma, your punishment far exceeds the sins committed as a child in ignorance. I am cursing you to be born in the mortal world.”

Lord Dharma who was thus cursed by the sage Mandavya incarnated as Vidura and was born of the servant-maid of Ambalika, the wife of Vichitravirya.

This story is intended to show that Vidura was the incarnation of Dharma. The great men of the world regarded Vidura as a mahatma who was unparalleled in his knowledge of dharma, sastras and statesmanship and was totally devoid of attachment and anger. Bhishma appointed him, while he was still in his teens, as the chief counselor of king Dhritarashtra.

Vyasa has it that no one in the three worlds could equal Vidura in virtue and knowledge. When Dhritarashtra gave his, permission for the game of dice, Vidura fell at his feet and protested solemnly: "O king and lord, I cannot approve of this action. Strife will set in among your sons as a result. Pray, do not allow this."

Dhritarashtra also tried in manly ways to dissuade his wicked son. He said to him: "Do not proceed with this game. Vidura does not approve of it, the wise Vidura of lofty intellect who is ever intent on our welfare. He says the game is bound to result in a fierceness of hate which will consume us and our kingdom."

But Duryodhana did not heed this advice. Carried away by his doting fondness for his son, Dhritarashtra surrendered his better judgment and sent to Yudhishthira the fateful invitation to the game.

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