Friday, June 17, 2016

Chapter 15 - The marriage of Madri and Pandu

Some time after the marriage of Kunti and Pandu, Bhishma collected a huge army and marched towards Valhika, in the kingdom of Madra.
Salya, who was the King of Madra saw the huge army of Hastinapur marching towards his capital. Making a split second decision, Salya immediately invited Bhishma to his own kingdom. Salya was very hospitable to the Kuru general and gave the general all the comforts that his kingdom could afford.
What brings your here, my Lord? Salya asked Bhishma after Bhishma had rested.
I have come here for your sister Madri!” Bhishma told Salya. “I have heard that she is beautiful and virtuous. I choose her as the second wife for Pandu,” Bhishma watched Salya with dangerous eyes. “Ours is a powerful kingdom and we are in every way fit to be considered as a good alliance for you,” Bhishma took a deep breath, studying Salya. “So choose well, Salya.”
Salya frowned and then nodded his head. “My Lord, before you speak further, first hear me out,” Salya started. “Hastinapur is one of the most powerful kingdoms in the country right now and I am more than sure that the alliance that you are offering is perfect for us,” Salya took a deep breath and then nodded to Bhishma, “But please understand. We, in the kingdom of Madra have a custom. The woman in our kingdoms cannot be offered for marriage because someone asks their hand in marriage.” Salya said. “It is our custom that our women are properly appreciated, before they are given in marriage.”
Bhishma frowned for a few seconds as Salya continued. “I am incapable of going against this customs, because this has been followed in our kingdom for many years now.”
Bhishma frowned again. The choice for him was fairly simple – whether he wanted war or not. Bhishma decided that the kingdom of Madra could be useful ally and refrained from going to war. Bhishma went back to his camp and sent to the kingdom of Madra – gold coins, precious stones, clothes, ornaments, gems, pearls and corals and a few thousand elephants, horses and chariots, as a gift for Salya’s sister – Madri.
Having accepted the gifts, Salya decided that the kingdom of Hastinapur would definitely take good care of his sister and decking her up in the finest jewelery, sent her with Bhishma to the kingdom of Hastinapur.
There, Pandu married his second wife Madri amidst great pomp and fair.
For the next month, Pandu was very happy as he enjoyed the company of both his wives.
But then his duty towards the kingdom beckoned Pandu.
After a month, leaving both his wives, Pandu collected a huge army and marched out to protect his kingdom. There were many robber tribes of Asarna which were causing havoc in his kingdom and Pandu marched against the thieves. In no time at all, Pandu was able to destroy the thieves and sent them running. But Pandu did not stop there.
Pandu turned his attention to the Dhirga, the ruler of Magadha.
And there was a small battle there and Pandu killed Dhirga and took everything in the treasury of Magadha, including the chariots and the animals from the kingdom. Now Pandu was in full form and he marched into Mithila and conquered the Videhans and then spread his territory to the kingdoms of Kasi, Sunbha and the Pundra.
Pandu defeated all the kings and they were made the vassals of the kingdom of Hastinapur.
The people of Hastinapur were very happy. Because Pandu had now brought back Hastinapur to its former glory – to the times when the kingdom had been when under the rule of King Shantanu.
And then Pandu came back to the kingdom of Hastinapur bringing with him an immense fortune, starting from gems, precious stones, pearls, corals, gold, silver, beautiful chariots and horses, elephants, and the other animals.
After having reached the capital, Pandu under Dhirdarashtra’s request divided all the riches that he had acquired to all his relatives including Bhishma, the old queen mother – Satyavathi, Ambika and Ambalika – the mothers of Dhirdarashtra and Pandu respectively and then to Vidura.

Dhirdarashtra performed huge sacrifices with the newly found wealth and the kingdom of Hastinapur had another era of prosperity from the new found wealth. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Chapter 14 - The marriage of Kunti

Kunti muttered to herself, the mantra which was fresh in her mind. And unfortunately for Kunti she was doing that as she was staring at the Sun God....
For a few seconds, Kunti was shocked because she heard a sound behind her. Wondering who it was behind her, she whirled around startled and was shocked.....
Standing before her, completely thrilling her in his brightness was Surya, the Sun God. Kunti had no doubt in her mind that this was indeed the Sun God. The aura which emanated from the man was something that only a Deva could have. And the pleasant warmth coming off the man made it clear as to who he was....
Kunti was horrified, wondering what it was that she had done. She was just thinking about the Sun God....Was it....? Suddenly the words of the Sage Durvasa struck her – Any Deva would appear before you....
Kunti was struggling to control her raising panic, as the Surya Deva spoke. ‘Why have you summoned me, princess?’
Kunti was lost for an answer. She...? She blinked at the Sun God unable to reply as the Sun God continued. ‘Why did you invoke the mantra on looking at me?’ the Sun God asked in his melodious voice.
That was when Kunti found her voice. She realized that there had been no misunderstanding. The mantra of Sage Durvasa was devastatingly efficient. ‘It was a mistake!’ Kunti mumbled, falling at the feet of the Deva. ‘Please! It was just the foolish curiosity of young girl! Please forgive me, Arka.’ Kunti said watching the Deva. ‘I invoked the mantra without realizing its power.’
Surya was surprised and then he was perturbed. ‘I am afraid, I cannot leave you. The mantra binds me.’
Kunti was hyperventilating as Surya Deva continued. ‘The mantra which summoned me, requires me to give you a child, who has my powers.’
Kunti blinked as she was watching the worst nightmares come true. ‘NO....’
The Sun God unfortunately did not have much choice in that matter. He blessed Kunti with a son and vanished from there.
**********
Kunti watched the baby and was still reeling from the shock. The baby was powerful and was born with a naturally strong armour around his body. But Kunti was really not admiring the beauty of the child before her. What had started out as a simple case of curiosity was now rapidly out of hand.
She watched her palace and decided to do the most prudent thing, which she could do at that time.
Taking the child, she wrapped the child in her clothes and without anyone noticing, took the child to the river and put the child inside a box and let the box float through the river....
(The box was found by Adhiratha’s wife Radha and they adopted the child immediately. And because the child was born with a natural armour and earrings, they named him Vasusena meaning the one who is born with wealth. Even as a child, Vasusena spent hours praying in the Sun and would give anyone anything that they wanted, when he was praying. Indra, the Lord of the Devas, came to Vasusena and demanded the natural armour from Vasusena. Because Vasusena took away his armour and gave it to Indra, he was called as Karna – the one who peeled his own armour)
***********
Meanwhile back at Kuntibhoja’s household, Kuntibhoja was a worried man. Though his daughter was an unrivaled beauty and extraordinarily intelligent, he still had no offers for her marriage.

Kuntibhoja then hoisted a Swayamvara, which was attended by the kings of the country and there, Kunti married Pandu, the prince of the Hastinapur....

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chapter 13 - The daughter of Surasena

Surasena, one of the chief of the Yadavas was a worried man. The promise made by him to his cousin Kuntibhoja, who was Surasena’s paternal aunt’s son, was the reason for the chief’s worry.
Surasena saw his two children – the elder daughter – Prutha and the younger son – Vasudeva
Surasena caressed the baby girl’s cheeks, lovingly, a tinge of sadness in his heart....
He had made a promise and he was bound by it...
Prutha!’ Surasena cooed the baby girl’s name as he cradled her in her arms. Knowing that he could not put off his promise anymore, Surasena carried the child with him to another anxious Yadava chief – Kuntibhoja who was waiting outside the chambers.
Mustering up a smile, Surasena handed over the girl baby to the trembling hands of Kuntibhoja.
She is my first born, Kuntibhoja!’ Surasena said his voice almost cracking with emotion. ‘Just as I have promised, I have given my child to you to raise as your own daughter!
Kuntibhoja took the girl in his hands his heart soaring with the strange emotion....He had no children, which was the sole worry always eating away his heart. He was cradling the child in his arms and saw the beautiful black eyes of the girl child look at him and nearly laughed with joy. Now no one, not one person, shall call Kuntibhoja as childless. He had a daughter, his own daughter....
Kuntibhoja was delirious with joy as he saw Surasena.
Kunti!’ Kuntibhoja said a beautiful smile lit up his features. ‘She is not Prutha anymore! She is my daughter! So she shall be called Kunti, the daughter of Kuntibhoja!’
And with that Kuntibhoja left with his daughter.
(In some versions, it is mentioned that Kunti was adopted when she was a teenager. Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha does not specify whether Kunti was a child or a teenager when she was adopted.)
*****

Kuntibhoja was the very happy man. He felt he was blessed. Ever since the day, he had bought Kunti into his house, his rule had flourished. And Kunti was extremely mature for her age.
Even in her teens, Kunti was responsible and practically looked after all the affairs of the kingdom. So much so that her father had made her in charge of the hospitality given to guests and Brhamins – a post which required a lot of diplomacy and tact.
The young Kunti took the post with the maturity that belied her age.
And it was during that time, that Sage Durvasa, came to the household of Kuntibhoja.
Kunti was very careful while dealing with the man. She had heard of the terrible temper of the sage and the consequences of angering that man. And Kunti gave it her best shot and was even able to keep the sage happy.....
The sage was pleased with the young Kunti and wanted to repay her for her intelligence. And so just before he was about to leave Kuntibhoja’s household, he called the young Kunti aside.
I wish to repay your kindness for looking after me!’ He said without any preamble.
Kunti watched the sage not saying anything. Presumably because there was nothing that she could say to this statement.
There is a mantra! Using this mantra, you shall be able to summon any Deva!the sage continued.
Kunti frowned. Deva? Why would she need to summon a Deva? Kunti wondered. But still she asked nothing.
The Deva shall come and bless you with children!’ the sage finished, a strange smile on his lips.
Kunti was actually aghast and struggled from not showing anything on her face. ‘Why are you teaching me this mantra, sir?’ she asked finally, watching the sage, a growing fear gnawing at her stomach.
The sage smiled. But it was not a happy smile. It was a smile of a man who genuinely knew more than her.
It is important that you know this!was all the sage said.
Kunti did not understand. But she knew that she could get no further explanations from the sage.
A steady fear was growing in her heart as she learnt the mantra that the great sage taught her.
Having completed his work there, Sage Durvasa walked away from the household of Kuntibhoja.
*******

The knowledge that Kunti got from the mantra, seemed too impossibly good for her to believe. Any Deva? The sage had told her that any Deva was bound by her summons! Was the mantra really effective?
Kunti was watching the rising sun from her window as a sudden thought assaulted her. Any Deva! Any Deva she called by the mantra would come to her.....

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chapter 12 - The ruler of Hastinapur

During the times when Bhishma ruled the kingdom of Hastinapur as the regent, the kingdom was made up of Kurujangala and Kurukshetra.
After the birth of the three children, the kingdom of Hastinapur knew some genuine peace.
The crops grew well and trade flourished. Nature was extremely magnanimous towards the kingdom and everything was perfect. The kingdom prospered to almost unprecedented heights. It was said that during this time, the kingdom was so rich and prosperous that there were no robbers anywhere in the kingdom.
It was in these happy circumstances that Dhirdarashtra, Pandu and Vidura grew under the guidance of Bhishma.
Losing his two brothers – Chitrangada and Vichitraviryan, had made Bhishma love the children even more and he brought them up like his own sons. Bhishma taught them everything, right from the Vedas to the use of weapons.
It is said that Pandu excelled in archery like no other person. As predicted by his father, Dhirdarashtra was phenomenally strong.
The quiet Vidura possessing neither the brute strength of Dhirdarashtra, nor the prowess in weapons like Pandu, immersed himself in the studies of Vedas and the Puranas. Vidura became the wisest among people, even at a young age.
As the princes came of age, Bhishma and Satyavathi had a discussion.
'Mother! There is a matter regarding the kingdom! I want your advice on it!' Bhishma said frowning.
The aging Satyavathi nodded her head as Bhishma started. 'I have been ruling this kingdom for the past few years! I have been doing so as the regent of Hastinapur! Because Pandu and Dhirdarashtra were young minors! However now the time has come for me to shed this responsibility! Both the princes have come to age!' Bhishma smiled tightly as he looked at Satyavathi. 'In fact, that is what I wanted your advice about...'
Satyavathi frowned as Bhishma continued. He was never a man who minced words. And with Satyavathi, he knew that he could speak his mind freely. She would understand..
Bhishma took a deep breath as he continued. 'Dhirdarashtra was born a day before Pandu! That makes him the elder prince. Customs demands that he be given the throne! But.....' Bhishma hesitated for a second and then continued. 'I do not think that is a good idea! Though I was the one who trained Dhiradarashtra and I know that he is a very good warrior and a good student of the Vedas, I do not think he should be the king!'
'Because of his blindness?' Satyavathi asked as a quiet wind blew into the room.
Bhishma smiled sadly nodding his head. 'We cannot have a blind man as the king! One of the many duties of a king is to lead his armies to battle at the time of war! Unfortunately, Dhirdarashtra may not be able to carry out that duty!'
Satyavathi thought for a long time. Finally she nodded her head. 'Considering that Dhirdarashtra is blind and Vidura is not from the royal line, I suggest that Pandu, though he is second born...he be crowned as the king of Hastinapur!'
Bhishma smiled as he looked at Satyavathi.
So that was another decisive moment in the Mahabharatha story. The throne which belonged rightfully to Bhishma was taken from him. And bound by his vow, Bhishma, ignoring custom, decided to hand over the throne to the pale Pandu, though he was not the eldest of the family. All because Dhiradarashtra was born blind...
The coronation took place is great pomp and the people were happy - for now the kingdom had a real king. Pandu also relied heavily on Bhishma for ruling the kingdom.
It is said that Pandu was an excellent military general and during his times he fought plenty of successful battles and increased the borders of the Hastinapur to great lengths. Bhishma continued to rule the kingdom and peace and prosperity flourished in the vast kingdom.....

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Chapter 11 - The third son of Veda Vyasa

Long ago, there was a great sage called Mandavya. The sage had given up everything and spent his entire time in meditation of the Brahman (The Force which runs within us all). The sage had taken the vow of silence and spent his entire time with his eyes closed and without talking to anyone. 
Unfortunately, however the sage was caught in one of Fate’s traps…..
A group of thieves had stolen plenty of jewellery, looting the people of a particular kingdom. Unable to take it anymore, the people approached their king to put an end to the menace. The king along with his trusted soldiers hunted the thieves in the forest.
As the soldiers started hunting the thieves, the thieves found themselves being chased towards the hermitage. The chief of the thieves realized that this hermitage which was right in the heart of the forest surrounded by dense trees would be the ideal place to lose the king and his men. As they entered the hermitage, the chief of the gang called his men. ‘The king and his men seem very keen now!’ He panted under the heavy load of the jewels, which the thieves were carrying with them. ‘If you value your lives, take the loot and hide inside the hermitage! The king would not search the hermitage! They value the great sages who live there....’
The other thieves realized the wisdom of the chief and hid inside the hermitage with the loot.
The soldiers arrived at the hermitage before the king and hesitantly searched the hermitage. The plan of the thieves backfired as the soldiers found the thieves and the stolen jewels. They dragged the thieves to the king.
The king looked angrily at the whole lot and turned to his soldiers. 'Are these the only people or are there any more people?'
The soldiers looked hesitantly at each other and finally one of them spoke. 'Well...there was one more sage....I think it was his hermitage, where the thieves hid....!'
The king frowned looking at the soldiers. ‘Where is he?’
Back there! Right in the middle of the hermitage….!’
The king grew more and more perplexed as he heard the soldiers. ‘Why did you not bring him with you?’
He is a sage sir….He looks powerful, we were afraid to disturb his meditation!’ One of the soldiers muttered.
The king was however livid with rage. ‘YOU FOOLS! Hurry up and make sure you catch him! How on earth do you know that the man is a sage? He is probably the chief of the bandits! It was just a simple matter for the chief to disguise himself as a sage and just like he wanted, you left him….’ The king shouted angrily.
The soldiers heard no more and were back to the hermitage and much to their relief they found the sage there. It almost seemed as if the sage was not even aware of what was happening around him….The soldiers asked him repeatedly many questions. However because of the vow of silence and his meditation, the sage did not answer any of the questions. 
However by this time the king himself came to the hermitage. He was very angry at the foolishness of his men and wanted to make sure they were not fooled a second time. He saw the soldiers taking to the silent sage. Probably it was the work of Fate or probably the king was a very foolish man, whatever the reason the king on seeing the entire scene immediately decided that the sage was the chief of the bandits disguised, just to fool him.
That man is the chief of the bandits! Bind that man along with the other thieves and impale him with your spear!’ He commanded angrily, pointing at the sage. The soldiers looked alarmed at the king as he continued. ‘That would serve as a reminder to the other thieves, never to steal from my people!’ He finished.
The king was so furious that the soldiers did not even argue with him. The soldiers carried out the orders and all of them left the place….
The sage was so deep in mediation when the king and his men impaled him. The powers of his mind helped the sage to control his pain to a great extent. The sage stayed that way with the stake inside him and without any food for a long time.....
The other sages in the forest divined that sage Mandavya was in pain and came to visit the sage. Though they tried to remove the spear, they found that the spear was lodged inside the sage's body too deeply and could not be removed.
'Why is this happening to you, my friend?' One of the sages asked sage Mandavya in great anger.
The sage smiled through his pain. 'I am the only one who is to blame for this! No one else....!' He said gritting his teeth.
The news of the wrath of the other sages reached the king and he rushed back to the forest. He realized that only a really great person could stay like this and fell at the feet of all the sages and asked for forgiveness. All the sages coldly refused and said that the only person who could forgive the king was Sage Mandavya himself.
Sage Mandavya opened his eyes from his mediation and out of the purity of his heart forgave the king. ‘Looks like I am destined to undergo this trial!’ The sage wheezed. ‘I do not hold you responsible for this…!’
The king tried to remove the spear, but a portion of the spear was stuck within the sage's body and could not be removed. The king sawed off the remaining portion of the spear hanging out of the body. 
Receiving the forgiveness of the sage, the relieved king went back to his kingdom.
The sage continued with his penances with the spear firmly stuck in his body and it made no difference to him. Since that day, the sage was also called Ani Mandavya (Mandavya with the spear within him)
Through the power of his meditation, the sage was able to achieve great powers of mind, which was not even known to the others. 
With these immense powers, the sage once went to visit Lord Dharma, the Lord of Death.
You are Lord Dharma! You are supposed to make sure that the things that happen to people…. leads the people to understand their mistakes, and make sure people repent for it! …Why..Why did I deserve to be impaled like this? What was the sin committed by me to deserve this?’ The sage demanded.
Lord Dharma bowed to the great man. ‘Sir! When you were younger, out of sheer curiosity, your impaled a butterfly! It was for causing pain to that creature, you underwent that pain!’
Sage Mandavya frowned. 'When did I do that?'
Lord Dharma thought back. 'You were a child then sir! It was a long time....'
Sage Mandavya looked scornfully at Lord Dharma. ‘I was a child, then! I could not even know the result of my action at that time!’ The sage now looked dangerously at the Lord of Death. ‘The Shastra clearly prescribe that any deed done by a child below the age of 12 is not punishable because they do it without understanding it!' The eyes of the sage narrowed dangerously. 'Is that the only reason I had to undergo so much agony?’
Lord Dharma nodded mutely as the sage suddenly looked very angry. ‘The punishment that you have given me, for a crime done when I was young, is too great! Listen to my words, Lord Dharma! You….I curse you that will be born as a human for this injustice!’ Before the terrified Lord Dharma could say anything in his defence, the sage walked out of there…..
It is said that from that time, the age from which the  deeds of the child would be punishable was increased to 14. Anything done by a child below that age was held to be childish prank and forgiven....
The words of Sage Mandavya were so powerful and that was the reason Lord Dharma was born as a human.
Lord Dharma was born as the son of the great sage Veda Vyasa, and was as an extraordinarily intelligent human with complete control over his senses. Though both his step brothers ruled the kingdom of Hastinapur, he never even aspired for the throne….
And because his mother was a servant, throughout the Mahabharatha he was relegated to the position of an advisor, whose advice was unfortunately studiously ignored than followed. 
The man, whose advice if had been followed would have probably averted a lot of calamities in the Mahabharatha, including the war itself….

That man was Vidura, the incarnate of Lord Dharma….

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Chapter 10 - The sons of Ambika and Ambalika

I wish I were calling on to my son in happier circumstances....Satyavathi thought as she closed her eyes thinking of her first born son.
She smiled to herself as she fondly remembered the times when she was ferrying people across the Yamuna. It seemed like another life time....almost unconnected with her present life. For a second she wondered whether her daughters-in-law would believe the fact that she, Satyavathi, the present Queen of Hastinapur, was the daughter of the head fisherman. Was she still that same woman? Satyavathi mused as she thought of Sage Parasaran. The sage was the one who was responsible for taking away her fish smell and give her this divine fragrance. The divine fragrance which was responsible for King Shantanu to fall in love with her. Yes...Satyavathi thought nodding to herself. In many ways it was Sage Parasaran who was responsible for her present life, as the Queen of Hastinapur.
Satyavathi thought of her son, her first born son. She had but seen him once in her life. She still remembered her disbelief as she saw her son – a baby grow from a young child to grown up male – all within a span of few minutes. 'Mother! Bless me!' Veda Vyasa had said falling at her feet. Satyavathi still could not believe that the dark, grown up man with wild matted locks, was her son. Even then, Satyavathi could see the knowledge of the Vedas which Vyasa had imbibed shine through him. A gentle soul with passionate eyes. Satyavathi knew that as long as she lived she could never forget that face.
In the present, Satyavathi opened her eyes as she heard a rustling noise. Standing before her was Veda Vyasa, her son exactly as she had imagined him. Satyavathi smelt the fragrance of the fish from him, which had once been a part of her. She smiled with tears in her eyes, as she embraced her son.
For a first few minutes, she seemed incapable of talking as she enjoyed the sheer pleasure of being with her child. Veda Vyasa, divining his mother's feeling kept quiet not saying anything.
That was when Satyavathi realized that Veda Vyasa was standing in her inner apartment. 'How did you get in? Did none of the guards....'
Veda Vyasa chuckled. 'You called me and I came directly to you! Nobody knows that I have come here...'Veda Vyasa looked at the closed door. 'I do not think closed doors or guards can keep me out!'
Both mother and son smiled as Satyavathi made her son sit down. Veda Vyasa studied his mother. 'Why did you call me, mother? Something tells me, motherly affection is not the only reason, you suddenly remembered me...'
Satyavathi smiled to herself a little sadly and she nodded her head. 'How I wish I had spent more time with you...' She said musing a little about her past life. 'What would have happened, if I had not come back to my father for ferrying the people across the Yamuna....Probably then none of this would be happening....'
Veda Vyasa raised his eyebrows. 'You are a queen, mother! The mother of the kings of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world....' Veda Vyasa frowned, as Satyavathi broke out crying as she heard the words of Veda Vyasa.
A mother of kings....Satyavathi felt the irony of the situation as fresh sobs racked her body. 'I am not the mother of kings....not any more..' She said in a broken voice.
Veda Vyasa waited patiently as Satyvathi controlled herself. She took a deep breath and told him everything. Everything from the foolish promise that her father had extracted from Devavratha, Devavratha's promise which earned him the name of Bhishma, the death of Shantanu, the death of Chitrangada, the marriage of Vichitraviryan to the princesses of Kasi and now the death of Vichitraviryan. 'My father took the kingdom away from Bhishma and my sons' have paid the price for this foolishness!' Satyavathi shook her head. 'I begged Bhishma to take the kingdom and marry Ambalika and Ambika....He is Vichitraviryan's brother and he has the right to the throne and he can marry the princesses.' Satyavathi smiled mirthlessly, shaking her head. 'He said his vow is more important to him, and that the vow is his Dharma! He said he would give everything up, but he would stand by his vow!'
Veda Vyasa nodded as his mother continued. 'So now, I approach you!'
'What do you wish me to do, mother?' The sage asked his mother.
Satyavathi told Veda Vyasa of Bhishma's story of Sage Parashurama. 'So a great sage can perpetuate the royal lineage, when the king dies childless. This is a practice allowed by custom!' Satyavathi said looking down, her heart hammering badly, as she clutched her hands in a tight fist to prevent them from shaking. Would Vyasa accept her wishes or would he also....
Veda Vyasa took a deep breath and looked at his mother. 'If this is what you want, I will carry out your wishes!'
Satyavathi's tear stained face broke into a beautiful smile as she heard the words. She kissed him on the forehead and embraced him once more. 'Thank you...Thank....'
'Mother! Please listen to me!' Veda Vyasa said gently as Satyavathi looked at him frowning. 'Your daughters-in-law.....they are princesses! I...I am....' Veda Vyasa took a deep breath and continued. ' I am sage. I have spent my entire life in the forests, performing penance! I have never bothered about my looks and never will! I look wild and have have this smell of fish coming continuously from me....Your daughters-in-law may get scared of me....Please prepare them properly so that they are not caught unawares....!'
Satyavathi nodded, leaving the room. 'Do not worry! I will prepare my daughter-in-law to receive you!' she said leaving the sage alone.
Satyavathi first approached her elder daughter-in-law Ambika. 'Ambika! I know that you grieve for your husband....' Ambika broke out into fresh sobs as Satyavathi held her tightly. She then looked at her. 'However all that is past! We need to get on with our lives....' Ambika felt scared as she saw the almost single-minded determination in Satyavathis' eyes. Satyavathi took a deep breath continuing. 'The throne of Hastinapur cannot be vacant....The kingdom needs a heir!' Ambika wondered what her mother-in-law expected her to do about it, when Satyvathi continued. 'I have convinced your husband's elder brother to come here....' Ambika frowned some more. She knew only Bhishma as her husband's elder brother. She obviously had no idea as to who Veda Vyasa was and that Satyavathi was referring to him. Ambika wondered how Satyavathi had managed to convince Bhishma to break his vow but she did not say anything....
'He will be coming to meet you!' Satyavathi said continuing completely unaware of the confusion in her daughter-in-law's mind. 'Please be prepared to receive him...Do not be scared of him!' Alarm bells were ringing in Ambika's head now. Why would her mother-in-law expect her to be scared? However Ambika was even more scared of the almost ferocious expression in Satyvathi's face and decided not to ask any questions.
When Ambika first saw Veda Vyasa, she was shocked. The man looked....wild and the smell of fish....Ambika was not able to think anything and closed her eyes tightly as she saw the sage, wishing she never opened them again.....
Satyavathi looked at Veda Vyasa happily, the next day. 'The child which will be born to Ambika....he would be the future king of Hastinapur, won't he?' she asked a hint of desperation in her voice.
Veda Vyasa smiled sadly as he looked at his mother with pity. 'Why did you not tell your daughter-in-law that it was me who was coming to meet her? She got scared of me....she closed her eyes tightly....' Veda Vyasa said sadly. Satyavathi was numbed as she heard Veda Vyasa. She blinked as she tried to think of her conversation. Slowly....slowly she understood her daughter-in-law's confusion and cursed herself for her stupidity. Ambika had not expected to see Veda Vyasa and had obviously been scared out of her wits on seeing him....
Satyavathi blinked as Veda Vyasa continued. 'The child born to Ambika would be strong....Phenomenally strong! But he would be blind!'
Satyavathi looked at Veda Vyasa shocked unable to make sense of her thoughts as they spiraled out of control. 'Ambalika!' She whispered finally. 'I will ask my second daughter-in-law to come and I will tell her everything...Please do not say no to me....Please!' She begged Veda Vyasa.
Veda Vyasa sighed as he finally nodded his head.
Unfortunately for Satyavathi, Ambika had already spoken to Ambalika about the wild man who was Satyavathi's eldest son. By the time Satyvathi spoke to her, Ambalika was so scared of Veda Vyasa that she wanted nothing more than run away from there. But then Satyavathi was the queen of Hastinapur. How could she say no to her?
The next day, Veda Vyasa looked at his mother who was looking at him hopefully. 'Ambalika did not close her eyes, mother....but she got scared....She almost became pale in fear!'
Satyavathi made a chocking voice as Veda Vyasa continued. 'The son of Ambalika would be a brave and bold price....but he would pale....the same colour that his mother went, when she saw me....'
Satyavathi sighed, then she brightened. 'Please son....Come back after the princesses have had the children.....Then....they would not be so scared of you...Probably the child born later on, would become a perfect king of Hastinapur!'
Veda Vyasa almost chuckled looking at his mother. But then he nodded and went away from there.
As Veda Vyasa predicted, Ambika's son was born blind. He was named Dhirdarashtra and he ferociously strong. A day later, Ambalika gave birth to the pale Pandu.
A year later, when Veda Vyasa came back, Satyavathi again approached her daughter-in-law to go to the sage. But Ambika were so completely unnerved of the sage and her mother-in-law that instead of going herself, she sent her maid to the sage.
********
Satyavathi was disappointed because the son born to the maid was perfect in every way but could never ascend the throne.....because he was not the from the royal lineage....The son of Veda Vyasa and the maid was called Vidura, who was considered by many as the embodiment of Lord Dharma....
*********
When Satyavathi requested Veda Vyasa to approach the younger daughter-in-law, for the second time, Veda Vyasa firmly refused. 'Mother, I am a sage! I cannot be here.....I have done what you asked me to do....My work here is done!' So saying Veda Vyasa walked away from Hastinapur without a backward glance.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Chapter 9 - Vichitraviryan and afterwards

So that was the story of the first princess of Kasi. However the Mahabharatha is not just the story of Amba. The story now moves on to Hastinapur. Bhishma had brought the three princesses of Kasi to be married to Vichitraviryan. Amba, as we had seen had seen did not marry Vichitraviryan.
Ambika and Ambalika, the other two beautiful princesses of Kasi were very happy at being chosen to be the queens of Hastinapur.
The two of them married Vichitraviryan and happily lived in Hastinapur. Vichitraviryan though trained well by his brother Bhishma, unfortunately, was not too inclined to look after the kingdom. He was content to leave that in the able hands of Bhishma. And after marriage Vichitraviryan became more focused on his wives than anything else. He spent all his time with his wives ignoring the kingdom completely.
However Satyavati and Bhishma were more than capable of dealing with the kingdom and the people  of the kingdom never complained. Seven years went by and still Vichitraviryan never showed any signs of taking charge of the kingdom.....However letting Vichitraviryan go his way, proved to be a serious error on the part of Satyavati and Bhishma. The excesses of Vichitraviryan went so bad that he came to suffer from tuberculosis.
The people in the court tried calling physicians from all over the country who tried every known remedy and even a lot of unknown cures.....However it was wasted. Vichitraviryan died seven years after the date of his marriage....

Satyvathi was inconsolable. The death of Vichitraviryan had hit her bad and she lived like an automaton....without emotions or without having to think.....And then after all the funeral rites of Vichitraviryan were completed....the irony of the situation hit Satyavathi so suddenly that she came to sob uncontrollably....Unable to pacify her, the guards summoned Bhishma.
'Mother! What is it?' Bhishma asked as a whiff of her powerful perfume swept over Bhishma. Bhishma wondered for the millionth time about how Satyavathi had the heavenly divine perfume on her body and gave it up. The queen never spoke of it and Bhishma had smartly never asked. Over the years both Bhishma and Satyvathi had developed enormous respect for each other as they had both seen each other through all the sorrows which had plagued the Kuru family.
Satyavathi saw Bhishma and fresh tears filled her face. She shook her head unable to speak. Bhishma was alarmed. He knew enough of Satyavathi to know that she was a really tough person and did not break easily. Bhishma led Satyavathi to the chair and made her sit down and waited till Satyavathi regained some control over herself.
'This is so wrong.....This is all so wrong....' Satyavathi said murmuring looking at the strong and handsome face of the fierce man before her. Bhishma looked at Satyavathi not saying anything. 'You should have ruled this kingdom, Bhishma! This kingdom belongs to you! It always has....! All the things which are happening....' Satyavathi said wringing her hands in anguish. 'All these bad things are happening, because you were robbed of your kingdom! If only my foolish father had not imposed such a condition, then you would have been the king of this kingdom and I would have had both my sons with me.....!' Satyavathi said feeling like as if someone was poking her heart with a rather blunt instrument. 'Do you know Bhishma, after Vichitraviryna had....' Satyavathi choked and burst into fresh tears. However she shook her head and picked herself up. 'I thought of ending my life! I mean what use do I have! My husband is dead and both my sons have died....'
Bhishma looked rigid for a few minutes and said gruffly. 'You are the queen of Hastinapur! You cannot entertain such foolish thoughts!' Satyavathi looked at Bhishma not saying anything for a few minutes. For any passerby Bhishma looked the same – strict, proud and stubborn....However Satyavathi knew Bhishma better. From his sunken dull eyes, she knew exactly how much Bhishma missed Vichitraviryan. She knew that Bhishma loved Vichitraviryan like his own son and grieved him as much as she did...probably more...
Satyavathi smiled wryly through her tears as she heard what Bhishma had said. 'Trust me, that was exactly what prevented me from taking my life!' She shook her head hastily. 'I could not leave my kingdom just like that! Though I am a fisher woman by birth, I am now the queen of this kingdom! I cannot just forsake it!' Satyavathi looked at Bhishma straight in the eye. 'And that is the reason I want to talk to you now!'
Bhishma frowned. There was a subtle change in Satyavathi's behaviour just now. Until now she had just been his father's wife. Now she looked.....regal, like the queen of Hastinapur. 'I want you to break your vow and marry your brother's wives!' She said quietly.
Bhishma was beyond stunned. That was the last thing he had expected from Satyavathi. Though Bhishma was numb, a portion of him could not help but marvel at the woman before him. She had put her own grieving aside and had asked him this because of her love for her kingdom.. to make sure that her kingdom was not without a heir....Bhishma felt his respect for Satyavathi grow a little more.
But then he shook his head gravely. 'I am afraid, I cannot break my vow! You should know that by now!' Bhishma gave a peculiar look and Satyvathi knew exactly what that meant. They were both thinking of Amba. Amba with all her beauty, intelligence and stubbornness had wanted the exact same thing from Bhishma and Bhishma had resisted her not for one...two or three years but six years. The chances of Satyavathi succeeding where Amba had failed were exceedingly remote.
However the queen of Hastinapur did not give up easily. She took a deep breath. 'It was for the protection of Dharma that you took the vow, Bhishma! It is for the same Dharma that I am asking you to break it! The kingdom cannot be without a heir and you know it! You cannot just forsake Dharma and pretend that your vow is more important than that!' Satyavathi clutched her fingers tightly in a fist as she hoped.....really hoped that Bhishma could be made to see reason.
Bhishma looked stunned for the second time, as he looked at Satyavathi and suddenly images of his own mother came to him. He had no doubt that the majestic Ganga and this woman were more alike than anyone knew. He had images of his own learning of how Sage Parashurama had taught him....Bhishma shook his head. Focus! That was when he realized why these things were coming to his memory....
'Parashurama!' Bhishma breathed suddenly. Satyavathi looked completely puzzled unable to understand. Bhishma continued rapidly. 'Don't you see! That is your answer!' Satyavathi shook her head looking worried.
'Parashurama's father Jamadagni was killed by King Arjuna of the Haihaya clan! That is the reason Parashurama does not like warriors and kings! He hates all of them!' Before Satyavathi wondered what this had to do with her, Bhishma continued rapidly. 'And so Parashurama started his battle against all the warriors of the world. He killed not only King Arjuna but every single warrior in the world!' Satyavathi looked horrified as Bhishma continued. 'And soon all the kingdoms in the world were left without either the king or an heir to continue the kingdom and it was at that time that the queens of the kingdoms approached learned men....sages, rishis! It was an accepted custom for the queens to have children with sages and rishis!' Bhishma said his eyes suddenly smiling. 'That customs follows till now!' He said happily. 'So if you know of any powerful sages....they may be able to continue the Kuru line, as per your wishes!'
Bhishma looked alarmed as Satyavathi suddenly fell silent. Satyavathi's eyes had a mixture of guilt, shyness, and an emotion which Bhishma could not identify. She seemed so still that Bhishma wondered whether she had heard even a single word of what he had said. Satyavathi took in a deep breath. 'There is something I have to tell you!'
Satyavati looked at the floor probably seeking inspiration from it. 'I do not know the story of my birth, but it was said that I was found inside a fish!' Bhishma looked startled as Satyavati continued. 'I used to smell of fish continuously....that was the reason I was even called 'Matysagandhi'. The heavenly perfume from Satyavati (also called Yojanagandhi because of it) wafted towards Bhishma as he found himself listening to the story in rapt attention. 'My father as you know is the head fisherman. As I grew older I ferried people across the Yamuna in my boat!' Satyavathi took a deep breath as he continued. 'Once....the great sage Parasaran came to the banks of the Yamuna and I ferried him across...' Satyavathi said blushing slightly.
Satyavathi cleared her throat and continued the story. 'The sage fell in love with me....He created a mist which totally obscured the banks from the boat. And there in the island in the middle of the river, Sage Parasaran and me had a son!' Satyavathi said shyly. 'The son was no ordinary mortal! As I saw the son grew up before my very eyes! In a matter of minutes he crossed his childhood and reached manhood! My son was born with the knowledge of the four Vedas and he was the one who divided it into four. That was the reason he was called Veda Vyasa (Vyasa means one who divides.). He was black and was called Krishna because of that and because he was born on an island he was called as Dwaipayana.'
'Krishna Dwaipayana Veda Vyasa is your son?' Bhishma asked incredulously.
Satyavathi nodded her head with pride in her eyes. 'Yes! Veda Vyasa left for the Himalayas to meditate but he told me that if ever I needed him, all I had to do was think of him and he would appear before me!'
'After my son left, Sage Parasaran blessed me that the the smell of the fish which was always on me, would go away and I would have this perfume which could be smelled for miles around....Sage Parasaran also left after that!' Satyavathi shook her head as the memory faded. She turned her attention to Bhishma. 'So....Veda Vyasa is also Vichitraviryan's brother and he is a great sage! Do you think it would be a good idea to call him here....'

Bhishma vigorously nodded his head, part of him reeling from the story he had just heard and the other part happy that Satyavathi was not going to be after him for marrying his brother's wives.....

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Chapter 8 - Shikhandi

Satyavathi sighed as she saw the glowering figure of the Kasi Princess Amba in the palace of Hastinapur.

As was the practice among the warriors, Bhishma had abducted the princesses of Kasi on the very day of their swayamvara and he had brought the three princesses of Kasi for Vichitraviryan. Ambika and Ambalika had married Vichitraviryan and were very happy with him.

Princess Amba.....however that was another matter.

Satyavati felt a little sorry for the princess. First she was spurned by Shalva, the man she loved, for the reason that Bhishma had defeated him and taken her away. Then Vichitraviryan refused to marry her saying that Amba had already chosen Shalva as her husband and he could not marry her now....

Because Bhishma had defeated Shalva, Amba was now forcing Bhishma to marry her....Well atleast trying to...Satyavathi thought sighing again. Amba had stayed in the palace of Hastinapur for the past six years and was trying to get Bhishma to marry her...Satyavathi smiled sadly. Bhishma was named that [Bhishma meant 'The firm”] because he had made a terrible promise of never to marry and Satyvati knew that nothing....absolutely nothing could change his mind. As far as Satyvati knew Bhishma had never thought of any woman and Satyvati was sure that Amba could not change Bhishma's mind.

But nowadays looking at Amba, Satyavathi was getting a little nervous. Satyavathi sensed that the six long years in Hastinapur and probably watching her two sisters happy with Vichitraviryan, had changed Amba irrevocably. Amba was now a woman who never smiled and gradually all the frustration she was feeling was becoming into hatred. Satyvathi realized with a growing uneasiness that Amba's hatred had found a target – Bhishma. Amba was blaming Bhishma for her misfortunes thinking that he was the reason she was not living like her sisters....Such things never boded well for any kingdom, Satyavathi realized. But she did not know what to do. She could not just have Amba thrown out of Hastinapur....

It was because of this that Satyavathi was stunned the next day to find Princess Amba missing from her quarters. A quick search revealed that Princess Amba was nowhere to be found. Satyavathi realized that Amba had left them. But Satyavathi was too shrewd to know that this definitely was not good. If Amba had left that meant that she was going to explore other alternatives to get what she wanted. And with two people as determined and stubborn as Amba and Bhishma, 'the alternatives' could not be simple or easy....

************

Satyavathi was perfectly right in her assessment of Amba. Amba was no longer the innocent young girl whom Bhishma had brought to the kingdom of Hastinapur. She was now a woman with a mission. She was going to destroy Bhishma. It was because of him that she was now being ridiculed by everybody. It was because of him and his cursed vow that she would never know the pleasures of marriage or motherhood....The man had singlehandedly destroyed her and now Amba was going to return the favour....

Amba realized that she was not powerful or trained enough to fight and win against Bhishma and that she needed someone else. Someone else who was trained and powerful and who would be willing to fight for her. And so Amba set out. She traveled all over the kingdoms to implore the princes and the kings of the other kingdoms to fight against Bhishma for her.....But it was a task easier said than done. Everyone knew of the great Bhishma and no one......not one person was willing to stand up and fight against him.

Disgusted, Amba left for the forests. The pathetic humans are all afraid. None of them had the guts to stand up against Bhishma. The Devas were the only option I have....So she decided to turn to the Gods for help. She prayed to Lord Karthikeyan focusing all her hatred towards the penance. Lord Karthikeyan appeared before her within a surprising short time.

'Lord! I need someone to fight against that wretched Bhishma and win! I want that man dead!' Amba said with utter hatred in her heart. Lord Karthikeyan realized that Amba was so lost in her hatred that she was beyond redemption. He pulled out a garland of flowers which never withered and handed it over to her. 'Take this! Whoever wears this garland would be the one who would destroy Bhishma!'

Overjoyed Amba took the garland with her and this time asked the princes to wear the garland and fight Bhishma. But Amba should have known better. None of the princes felt confident enough to take on Bhishma even with the garland. Amba last approached the kingdom of Panchala which was ruled by King Drupad.

After King Drupad also refused to help her, Amba became thoroughly disillusioned and left the garland hanging outside his palace and went back to the forests....

************

A sage from the hermitage in the forest saw the regal lady getting ready for penance. The woman was beautiful....but her eyes....they looked...the sage shivered as he studied the lady, the eyes of the woman looked dangerous to say the least.

'My Lady! Who are you? What are you doing in this forest? You look like someone who has had a royal upbringing! What are you here for?' he went to her.

The lady frowned as she looked at the sage. The sage realized that the woman's face looked like it had lost the capacity to smile 'I want a man dead!' She said so simply that the sage was shocked. 'The wretched 'brave' kings and princes do not have the guts to stand up against him...I have realized that it is useless to rely on other people so I am going to pray to the Three-eyed Lord (Lord Shiva) for a boon to destroy him!' She continued.

As the woman spoke the sage realized that the woman was not someone who could be reasoned with. The woman was beyond all that. 'Who is this man?' The sage asked inspite of himself.

'BHISHMA!' The woman snarled as the sage looked appalled at the ferocious expression of her face.

Bhishma? The Kuru Bhishma? The sage wondered. No wonder the woman had found anyone to fight against him. The man was a legend. Why there was not one person....The sage suddenly blinked as he looked at the woman. 'My Lady!' The sage stammered. 'You could ask Lord Parashurama! Sage Parashurama is in a hermitage near mine! He hates all kings and warriors and he is a brilliant warrior...Why don't you....?'

'Where is he?' Amba was on her feet, her eyes shining with hatred even before the sage finished speaking.

Mutely the sage pointed as Amba thanked him and left the place, now filled with a new purpose.

*************
Amba went to the hermitage of Parashurama and told him the entire story. Sage Parashurama who was in fact Bhishma's teacher, decided that Amba was right and accepted to fight for her.

Amba accompanied with Parashurama went to the gates of Hastinapur....

'Come out Bhishma!' Parashurama bellowed outside the palace. The guards outside tried to calm down the furious sage but it was of no use. Bhishma heard the commotion and he came out. Seeing his teacher he rushed forward happily but stopped short when he saw the ferocious expression on his teacher's face. That was when Bhishma spied Amba standing beside the sage.

Taking a deep breath he went towards Parashurama. 'Welcome to Hastinapur! I....'

'I am not here to enjoy your hospitality or listen to your flattering words Bhishma!' Parashurama yelled. Bhishma said nothing as he watched the sage. 'I am here as a representative of Princess Amba! You have wronged her!' Sage Parashurama narrowed his eyes and said in an icy cold manner. 'The only way you can right the wrong done to her, is by marrying her!'

Bhishma took another deep breath to calm himself. 'Gurudev! I am bound by my vow! I cannot marry....'


'TAKE YOUR WEAPONS OUT!' Parashurama shouted pulling out his weapons. 'We fight!'

And so they fought. Sage Parashuraman and Bhishma fought as Amba watched the entire scene with bated breath. The battles was one of the most evenly matched and glorious fights ever. Anything that Bhishma was able to come up, Sage Parashuraman was able to counter and Sage Parashuraman was not able to put any past Bhishma's defences.
The battle lasted for a total of 23 days and in the full time neither side yielded an inch. Finally Bhishma pulled out his deadliest weapon and aimed the arrow at Parashuraman.
For a moment the world stood still.
Sage Narada and the other sages appeared before the two of them. 'You cannot use this weapon Bhishma! Using this weapon would cause the world to end! The world cannot end right now!'
Bhishma relaxed his hands on the bow. The sages turned to Parashuraman. 'This fight would not have any result. Please give it up!'


Finally Parashuraman realized that the fight could go on indefinitely without any result. He went to Amba. 'I am sorry! I cannot fight and win against him!'
Amba looked at him with tears in her eyes, 'But...!'
Sage Parashuraman shook his head. 'He is a powerful man! Our fight would not yield any result....I will talk to Shalva and ask him to....'
Amba gave Sage Parashuraman a withering look. 'I do not want your pity!' She turned and saw the proud and haughty Bhishma for the last time and then walked away from there without a backwards glance.
Amba followed her original plan. She decided to meditate and pray to Lord Shiva with the same determined and single minded hatred that she had developed over the years.
Lord Shiva appeared before her. 'My Lord! I want to destroy Bhishma!' Amba said without any preamble.
Lord Shiva who knew Amba's purpose smiled sadly at her. 'In your next life, you would be the reason of Bhishma's death!'
Amba looked angrily at the three-eyed God but did not say anything. Once the God vanished from there she looked furiously around...Next life? I cannot wait to destroy his life! I will end my life now and here! The sooner I end this life the sooner my next life starts...
The woman was so muddled with her hatred that she did not really mind ending her life. Without a second thought Amba killed herself....
********

King Drupad of Panchala had a daughter.
His daughter walked outside the palace as she watched a garland of fresh flowers which always hung outside palace. Looking at it she always felt so....odd.
One day unable to take it anymore, she pulled down garland. The minute she touched the garland, she felt dizzy. A wave of memories washed through her...Amba...Shalva....Satyavathi....her sisters....BHISHMA...All the emotions that Amba had, were fed into the girl. She looked around furiously. From that time till now, no one has had the guts to wear this. Disgusted the girl pulled it and wore the garland herself.
King Drupad who saw his daughter wear the garland was scared stiff. He knew the history of the garland. This girl would bring doom to the kingdom. By wearing the garland she had invited the wrath of Bhishma. If he attacks my kingdom, I may not be able to protect it...King Drupad decided that the only way he could protect the kingdom was to banish his daughter to the forest. Without a second though Drupad banished his daughter to the forests....
The girl roamed through the forests....That her father banished her did not bother her. The old passion and hatred was back in her eyes. How on earth can I fight with Bhishma now? How can I bring about his death....

The girl there met a yaksha. There with the blessings of the yaksha the girl was transformed into a man. The daughter now became a man – a man who wore the garland of non-withering flowers....He came to be known as Shikhandi....