Story of Bharata
Bharata’s parents are Shakuntala and Dushyanata. Shakuntala is the daughter of Vishwamitra and Menaka. Vishwamitra was growing in power, in tapas shakti, and Indra was a bit afraid of him and sends the apsara Menaka. Vishwamitra is seduced by Menaka and out of that union is born Shakuntala. Menaka leaves Shakuntala in bhooloka and returns to her place. Shakuntala is brought up by Kanva Maharishi. King Dushyanata reaches Kanva Maharishi’s ashrama and wishes to pay his respects to him.But the rishi is not there at the time. Shakuntala treats Dushyanta very well. Dushyanta develops a liking for Shakuntala. So, as per the Gandharva Vivaha, they marry. When Kanva returns, he discovers what has happened and blesses Shakuntala. In the meantime, Dushyanta returns to his capital. After a period of time, Shakuntala delivers the boy Bharata, who is so powerful and so strong,that all the animals of the forest bow down to him.He can,with a single fist,punch a tiger and make it bow down to him. He is that powerful. He is the born lord of beings. Shakuntala, at an appropriate time, takes Bharata to the capital city, to the sabha of Dushyanta and introduces herself and Bharata. And to her big surprise(shock,actually) Dushyanta pretends as if he does not recognize Shakuntala and Bharata. He asks, “Who are you lady?I am a raja who follows Dharma. I would not have committed such an act”. Actually, he was testing Shakuntala. Shakuntala is completely saddened and in utter shock. She walks out of the hall. Finally, when she is about to leave, a celestial voice-ashariri(disembodied voice)-speaks and attests to the truth that Shakuntala has spoken and hence the sabha is convinced. Dushyanta agrees that it was for this reason that he acted as of he did not recognize Shakuntala and her son. Because if he had attested to Shakuntala’s words, the sabha might not have been convinced. In those time, kings had their responsibility and duty towards their subjects-towards the people. The people could not impute any false behavior to the king ‚because that is Raja Dharma. It was very unlike the scenario of current political leaders. And so, since ashariri has spoken, Shakuntala and Bharata are accepted into the kingdom as queen and prince. That’s how the line of Bharata goes. Bharata is so exceptional that the land of India is now called ‘Bharatavarsha’ in his memory.And that’s how the story comes to be called ‘Mahabharata’-because it is a story of his descendants.
Story of Yayati
Likewise if we trace back, there is this story about Yayati. Yayati is the son of Nahusha. Yayati is a famed king. He marries Devayani, who is Sukracharya’s daughter. Sukracharya(Venus) is the Guru of the asuras. Brihaspati(Jupiter) is the Guru of the devas. The devas and asuras are cousins, as we have already seen. The devas and asuras fight against each other and whenever asuras die, Sukracharya revives them with the Sanjeevani Mantra. Hence Brihaspati sends his son Kacha to learn the Sanjeevani Mantra from Sukracharya. He is accepted as a disciple. He serves Sukracharya dutifully for a thousand years. Thousand years! Devayani is in love with Kacha. The asuras try to kill Kacha in so many ways. Everytime, Sukracharya revives him because Devayani is fond of Kacha. Finally he has to teach Kacha the Sanjeevani Mantra in order to revive him. So,Kacha learns the Sanjeevani Mantra . After learning the mantra, taking Sukracharya’s permission, Kacha is about to leave when Devayani addresses him saying “I have fallen in love with you, you need to accept me as your wife”. Kacha says “No!I have come out of your father’s stomach. We are actually siblings. I am your brother. How can I marry you?”. Devayani curses him saying “You cannot use the mantra for yourself”. Kacha simply says “I will teach others.No problem.” And he leaves. Devayani is heart-broken, but she cannot do anything. Now, Vrishaparvan, the asura who Sukracharya is the Guru of, has a daughter named Sarmishta. Once,Devayani and Sarmishta are in a playful mood. They are playing in a pond. Due to some event ‚their clothes get mixed up. Devayani happens to wear Sarmishta’s dress and Sarmishta is extremely abusive of her. She throws Devayani into a well and goes away. Devayani is in the well, cold and shivering and without clothes, when Yayati comes that way and finds her in the well .He helps Devayani get out. Since he has held her hand, Devayani says “You need to be my husband”. And it is so arranged. Before that, Devayani is very angry with Sarmishta for having done this. So she tells Sukracharya in no uncertain terms,”Father,you need to go away from the asuras.The asuras have become extremely haughty .Sarmishta has insulted me badly.” Sukracharya tries to explain, but Devayani has her way. When Vrishaparvan comes to know of this, he begs of Devayani “Please don’t do this. A Guru is everything. Without a Guru, there is no clear path to be followed. Nobody knows what to do”. That is the role of a Guru. ’Guru’ is made up of the syllables ‘gu’ meaning ‘darkness’ and ‘ru’ meaning ‘one who dispels it’. Hence, a Guru is one who dispels the darkness of ignorance. So a Guru is extremely important. Devayani says very clearly that Sarmishta had to be her slave. Vrishaparvan agrees because, for the sake of a nation, a single girl can be sacrificed. Devayani is married to Yayati and, in the retinue, Sarmishta goes along as the slave of Devayani. Now,Yayati and Devayani have a very good time. Yadu and Durvashu are born to Devayani and Yayati. Sarmishta approaches Yayati and says “I am in season. Please give me a child”. Yayati cannot refuse because it is Kshatriya Dharma to take care of it.Three children are born of the union of Sarmishta and Yayati.Devayani comes to know of this and she is wild. She runs back to her father and her father curses Yayati “You will lose your age. You were so arrogant of your youth that you did not follow proper behavior. You will grow old”. Yayati is not ready to grow old. He still has many desires that are unfulfilled. So he approaches his sons, his five sons. Nobody agrees to the request. The last son, Puru agrees to his request to exchange their ages. So Yayati gives Puru his age and Puru gives Yayati his youth. Yayati enjoys for a thousand years, conducts many sacrifices, does all that he needs to do as per religion-Dharma, and he is very happy. Finally, it dawns on him that desires never get quenched. So, finally, he comes to this realization, and makes Puru his successor and not the other children. So that’s how Puru becomes the successor of Yayati. Yayati after a lot of tapas, goes to heaven. There,Indra asks him, in a one-to-one discussion “Do you see any equal in your ascetic penances?”. Yayati confidently replies “No,I do not see anyone equal to me in my austerity”,which is a sign of the ego. And hence,he is thrown out of heaven.He loses religious merit because ego can lose merit. So,Yayati falls from heaven. That is another story. It is extremely interesting to understand so many dimensions. Looking at these stories logically, just based on our experience, makes them seem almost fantastic, but when we follow the storyline clearly, we will begin to see that they are not fantasy. In fact, they are not even symbolic.They are literal. We have forgotten our past “What was I before my birth as a human being?”-and hence all these episodes seem fantastic. It is very interesting to know about so many dimensions of this existence.
Birth of Bheeshma
In Puru’s lineage, comes Shantanu, who is Bheeshma’s father. Hence,Bheeshma is called a Paurava‑a descendant of Puru. Now this is where the actual storyline starts, because there is a direct relevance and a direct continuity to our story. Shantanu is actually the Rajarishi Mahabisha. When he is in Brahma loka, he eyes the celestial river Ganga in her embodied form and desires her. Hence he has to spend time on earth, because he has earthly emotions. He is born as Shantanu, in the line of Prateepa. He falls in love with Ganga and she delivers children. Each child she delivers, she drowns immediately into the river Ganga. Now ‚this is unacceptable. But, Shantanu cannot ask any question because of a pact-an agreement-they had made before their marriage,that he must not question any of Ganga’s actions.If he questioned her, Ganga would walk out of the relationship. So,Shantanu stays patient even though he suffers tremendously. In fact,the entire kingdom suffers. No one can question Ganga’s actions. When the eighth child is born, Shantanu cannot take it and questions Ganga. She says “Now you have questioned me and I have to leave. But just to give you the background, there were these eight vasus. The wife of the last vasu-Diu wanted Nandini, the cow of Rishi Vasishta. Diu actually stole Nandini for her. Upon coming to know of this, Vasishta cursed the vasus saying “Since you have had earthly emotions, you be born on earth”. But the other vasus get reprieved and they have to spend less than ten months on earth. The last vasu who actually committed the crime is blessed(actually cursed) with a long life of prosperity on earth — and that is Bheeshma. But it is also said that Vasishta curses him saying “Since you have been misled and your understanding obfuscated, owing to the company of a woman, your wife, you have to undergo the earthly existence without a feminine company”. Now, if vasus-those divine beings need to take birth on earth, they need an appropriate womb. So they approach Ganga and Ganga agrees to be their mother-their earthly mother. The first seven vasus have been cursed to spend less than ten months on earth, and most of that time is spent in the womb. So Ganga liberates them as soon as they are born by drowning them in the Ganges. The eighth child, Bheeshma, born as Devavrata, is taken good care of by Ganga. After sixteen years of training, she hands him back to Shantanu. Devavrata is also called Gangadatta as he is the son of Ganga. Shantanu is very happy with him. But,somehow,in his heart of hearts, he wants a queen. So, one day he happens to view Satyavati and falls in love with her. He approaches her father, and her father lays down conditions which Shantanu is not ready to meet. And hence he comes back to his kingdom, Hastinapura. Devavrata comes to know of this. He pursues Satyavati’s father and asks for Satyavati’s hand in marriage for his father. Satyavati’s father lays down his first condition-that Satyavati’s children should become the heirs of the kingdom. Devavrata agrees to this. Satyavati’s father is not done. He says “You might agree. But what if your children next compete for the throne?”. Now Devavratta sees his point. He sees through the cunningness of that person and he says “That is not a problem. I will not marry. I will be a life long brahmachari”. This is a terrible vow! In the prime of youth, a kshatriya taking such an oath-from then on, he is called ‘Bheeshma’-the terrible ‚because it is a terrible vow to keep. And so Satyavati is married to Shantanu and they give birth to Vichitraveerya and Chitrangada.