He moved mountains standing steadfast
Prompt Five - Heroes, from Round 5- April, 2016
Of a prince and his pledge
The evening was cool, the sky, blanketed in clear blue. Trees wore green and the buds tossed about their heads joyfully to the tune of the soft wind.
King Shantanu of Hastinapur went out to the river bank for a walk after a busy day at the court. Listening to the problems that perturbed the peace of the land, and maintaining order and discipline among his people kept him constantly engaged. A gentle breeze from across the river cooled his royal brain. The fragrance of spring flowers soothed him further. As he neared the river, he saw a lovely maiden clad in white strolling along the shore. Smitten by cupid’s sudden assault, Shantanu fell for her instantly.
“How may I call you delicious lady?” He asked her.
“I am Ganga.”
“Won’t you marry me, lovely one?” pleaded the King.
“I’ll be your wife on a condition,” said Ganga without much ado.
“I am ready to fulfill any condition if you agree to marry me,” said the enamored king.
“Oh king of Hastinapur! At any time during our marital life, if you question my actions or prevent me from doing what I like, I’ll leave you. Therefore, think well before you consent to my condition, for there’d be no going back once you commit,” warned the maiden.
The love-lorn king had no objections to her wish and married her forthwith.
The couple was blessed with a son a year after their marriage. Ganga took the baby boy to the river and threw him into the swirling waters. Shantanu was aghast. He could do nothing apart from being stunned at this anti motherly act of Ganga.
Thereafter, son after son was consigned to the river till the birth of their eighth son. When Ganga started walking to the river with the eighth baby in her arms, Shantanu could bear it no more and stopped her and pleaded to show pity on the infant. Ganga, as per the pact they made before marriage, was about to depart.
“Please, do not leave me. Try to understand my feelings. I have lost seven sons because I’ve made a promise to you. I couldn’t stand by and watch it any longer,” pleaded a grief-stricken Shantanu.
“Oh king, do not mistake the hand of providence in my actions. All these eight children were cursed to be born on earth and the only panacea to let them return to heavenly abode was to plunge them into the holy Ganges soon after their birth. The eighth child, whom I name Devavrata, seems destined to live long on earth. I’ll take him with me and bring him back to you once he completes his education. Be assured he’d be trained in all the branches of knowledge that a king is expected to excel in.”
A few years later Ganga brought a twenty-year-old handsome, strapping youth back to king Shantanu.
“Here is your son, dear king. He is able and efficient, wise and intelligent. The divine teachers, Brihaspati and Sukracharya taught him martial arts and the Vedas. He is also an expert in statecraft and the rule of law. He is particularly well versed in archery and the strategies of war craft. In brief, he is fit to be the king of the mighty Hastinapur,” said Ganga, joyous to have united the son with the father.
She left them together and returned to the river.
Shantanu’s joy at meeting his son was beyond words. He loved Devavratha and was thankful to God to have blessed him so. He anointed young Devavratha as his successor and declared him the “crown prince” of Hastinapur.
Shantanu started living a life of peace and joy. However, that he was only human, whose desires did not die with retirement was proved on an evening, when he went to the river bank to enjoy the colorful sunset. He saw a young woman rowing a boat. As it banked, he was captivated by her beauty and fell helplessly in love with her. Love made no differences of age, status or family background. Here was the king of the land pining for a common woman of fishing community. Shantanu couldn’t speak out his mind to anyone.
Devavratha noticed the depression of his father and asked him for the reason thereof. Shantanu told him the cause. Without talking further, the young prince rode to the house of the maiden’s father, Dasaraja, the chief of fishing folk. He told him of his father’s intention to marry his daughter, Satyavathi. The fisherman was jubilant at the turn of this unexpected chance to obtain wealth and queenly position for his daughter. He sketched a crafty a plan. Without letting his emotions show, he said to the tall prince,
“Oh, worthy Prince, I am overjoyed at this great blessing that your father, the great king seeks the hand of the daughter of a humble fisherman. I have but one reason to hesitate before this happy occasion takes place.”
“Fear not to speak your mind,” said, Devavrata.
“My young lord, could you promise that the son of my daughter would be the future king of Hastinapur?”
The prince replied promptly, “be assured that I will not be a rival to your grandson, when he attains the age to become the king of the land.”
The greedy man had further plans to confirm this event he conceived.
“Thank you my Lord. Yet, I have a little doubt niggling my mind. Sire, you may not want the throne. But your son or sons may like to claim their right to the throne. What then, will be the condition of my poor daughter and her children?"
Devavrata, in that deciding moment between the present and future, vowed without hesitation,
“I hereby put your fears to rest by taking this vow with the five elements of nature as witnesses that I will never ever marry. May your grandchildren rule the land and I would act as their guardian and guide till the last day of my life.”
By virtue of this lofty promise, Devavrata came to be known as Bhishma from then on.
Bhishma is for a person who has incredible control over himself in fulfilling his vow.
Bhishma dedicated the rest of his life to protect the throne of Hastinapur. His honesty, his extra ordinary control over his mind and heart and steadfastness gave him the power to die as he willed.
Shantanu was grief-stricken when he heard of the terrible pledge that his son took. Yet, he went ahead and married Satyavati. He was a victim of his own uncontrollable desires. The difference between him and his son was evident to all.
King Shantanu had two sons with Satyavati. Bhishma acted like guardian angel to them and supervised their education and training in martial arts. His plans for their bright future never materialized. Both the sons were slaves to debauchery. Shantanu was heartbroken and was consumed in the fire of repentance for his thoughtless act of late marriage and for ruining the chance of a worthy son like Devavrata to ascend the throne of Hastinapur. He died due to depression. Death was a release for his tortured soul, no doubt.
Bhishma thought his young brothers might reform with marriage. With his stepmother’s consent he brought the three beautiful princesses, the daughters of the ruler of Kasi, for their choice. The eldest princess, Amba, asked him to let her go as her affections lay elsewhere. Bhishma obliged her feeling sorry for his rash action. But the king of Salva, whom she desired, rejected her on the grounds that she now belonged to her abductor.
With an intention to lead a stigma-free life, she approached Bhishma and asked him to marry her. Bhishma, a sworn bachelor refused to do so. Heart-broken and angry, she vowed to avenge the injustice done to her.
she undertook a fierce penance to propitiate Lord Shiva. Eventually, Shiva granted her the boon that she would become an instrument of death for Bhishma in the Kurukshetra war. She ended her life to be reborn as the daughter of Drupada of Panchala and disguised herself as a man. She was Shikhandi, a famous warrior.
Little could be done to alter the course of destiny. Soon after their marriages, both the brothers of Bhishma died of disease. Their wives had a child each by the blessings of the sage, Vyasa. The elder princess gave birth to a blind son named Dhritarashtra and the younger, to Panduraja, a child that had a skin affliction. When they came of age, the law of the land ruled that a blind man was unfit to become the king. So under the supervision of Bhishma, Pandu was made the king. Here started the long chapter of feud and bloodshed between the two brothers to continue between their children, namely, the Kauravas, the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and the five Pandavas, the sons of Pandu.
Irrespective of the differences, Bhishma was the stabilizing influence for both the families. For him, protecting the throne and to see that Hastinapur never suffered insecurity were the motives of life. He loved both the Kauravas and the Pandavas equally. However, he openly supported the Pandavas because they were righteous and bore no malice for their infamous cousins despite the differences.
After the death of Pandu, Bhishma advised Dhritarashtra and the council of ministers to divide the land between the Kauravas and the Pandavas equally. After much deliberation both parties agreed for the division. Kauravas played mean and saw to it that Pandavas got the dry and rocky land as their share, which was not suitable for growing staple foods or vegetables. But the Pandavas did not complain. They prospered with hard work and faith. Now, this prosperity was an eyesore for the Kauravas. They jealously and wished them ill.
So they invited the Pandavas for a gambling match and defeated them by playing an unscrupulous game. Having lost the empire, in gambling, the Pandavas retired to forest for a number of years as stipulated prior to throwing dice.
At the end of the exile, the Pandavas sent their well wisher and friend Krishna to ask the Kauravas to return their kingdom. The eldest and the most jealous of them all, Duryodhana flatly refused their rightful demand.
With no alternative in sight, the Pandavas went for war with their vile cousins. Whose side was the grandsire Bhishma? True that he was torn between adversaries emotionally. Yet, he stood firm with his dharma or duty to safeguard the throne of Hastinapur. He fought on the side of the Kauravas.
Unable to conquer Bhishma, Yudhishtara asked him,
" Grand sire, please tell me how may we defeat you?"
Bhishma told him,
" Dear child, send a woman to fight with me. I will drop my bow and arrows. I will never fight with her."
he Pandavas brought Shikhandi to fight with Bhishma. Seeing the half woman in readiness to fight, Bhishma gave up warring. And then he fell to the arrows of Arjuna, the Pandava prince.
As he lay on a bed of arrows, surrounded by the mourning Pandavas, he imparted valuable principles of statecraft and the art of living a fruitful life to yudhishtara, the future king of Hastinapur, the kingdom that had his love and loyalty till the end of his life.
Mythology has it that Bhishma went away to heaven in person. No burial or cremation was necessary for him.
He was considered a hero by generations of Indians in view of his exemplary life and his steadfast belief in principles.
All the characters in the Indian mythologies are said to be symbols of virtues and vices.
Word Count: 1922