top of page

Mahabharata: Adi Parva Part 4

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.


bottom of page