Saturday, 30 March 2013

Show of skills by Pandavas , Kauravas and Karna

THE Pandavas and the Kauravas learnt the practice of arms first  from Kripacharya and later from Drona. A day was fixed for a test and exhibition of their proficiency in the use of arms in the presence of the royal family and as the public had also been invited to witness the performance of their beloved princes. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Arjuna displayed superhuman skill with his weapons and the vast assemblage was lost in wonder and admiration. Duryodhana's brow was dark with envy and hate.

At the close of the day, there came suddenly from the entrance of the arena a sound, loud and compelling like thunder the sound made by the slapping of mighty arms in challenge. All eyes turned in that direction. They saw enter through the crowd, which made way in awed silence, a godlike youth from whom light and power seemed to emanate. He looked proudly round him, cast a negligent salute to Drona and Kripa, and strode up to Arjuna. The brothers, all unaware, by the bitter irony of fate, of their common blood, faced one another; for it was Karna.
Karna addressed Arjuna in a voice deep as rumbling thunder: "Arjuna, I shall show greater skill than you have displayed."

With Drona's leave, Karna the lover of battle, then and there duplicated all of Arjuna's feats with careless ease. Great was Duryodhana's exultation. He threw his arms round Karna and said: "Welcome, O thou with mighty arms, whom good fortune has sent to us. I and this kingdom of the Kurus are at your command."

Said Karna: "I, Karna, am grateful, O king. Only two things I seek, your love and single combat with Partha."
Duryodhana clasped Karna again to his bosom and said: "My prosperity is all thine to enjoy."

As love flooded Duryodhana's heart, even so did blazing wrath fill Arjuna, who felt affronted. And glaring fiercely at Karna who stood, stately as a mountain peak, receiving the greetings of the Kaurava brothers, he said: "O Karna, slain by me thou shalt presently go to the hell appointed for those who intrude uninvited and prate unbidden."

Karna laughed in scorn: "This arena is open to all, O Arjuna, and not to you alone. Might is the sanction of sovereignty and the law is based on it. But what is the use of mere talk which is the weapon of the weak? Shoot arrows instead of words."

Thus challenged, Arjuna, with Drona's permission, hastily embraced his brothers and stood ready for combat. While Karna, taking leave of the Kuru brothers, confronted him weapon in hand.

And, as though the divine parents of the heroes sought to encourage their offspring and witness this fateful battle, Indra, the lord of the thunderclouds, and Bhaskara of the in finite rays, simultaneously appeared in the heavens.
When she saw Karna, Kunti knew him as her first born and fainted away. Vidura instructed the maidservant to attend upon her and she revived. She stood stupefied with anguish not knowing what to do.

As they were about to join in battle, Kripa, well-versed in the rules of single combat, stepped between them and addressed Karna:

"This prince, who is ready to fight with thee, is the son of Pritha and Pandu and a scion of the Kuru race. Reveal O mighty armed thy parentage and the race rendered illustrious by thy birth. It is only after knowing thy lineage that Partha can fight with thee, for high-born princes cannot engage in single combat with unknown adventurers."
When he heard these words, Karna bent down his head like a lotus under the weight of rainwater.

Duryodhana stood up and said: "If the combat cannot take place merely because Karna is not a prince, why, that is easily remedied. I crown Karna as the king of Anga." He then obtained the assent of Bhishma and Dhritarashtra, performed all the necessary rites and invested Karna with the sovereignty of the kingdom of Anga giving him the crown, jewels and other royal insignia.

At that moment, as the combat between the youthful heroes seemed about to commence, the old charioteer Adhiratha, who was the foster-father of Karna, entered the assembly, staff in hand and quaking with fear.

Dhuryodhana crowns Karna as king of Angadesh
No sooner did he see him, that Karna, the newly crowned king of Anga, bowed his head and did humble obeisance in all filial reverence. The old man called him son, embraced him with his thin and trembling arms, and wept with joy wetting with tears of love his head already moistened by the water of the coronation.

At this sight, Bhima roared with laughter and said: "O he is after all only the son of a charioteer! Take up the driving whip then as befits thy parentage. Thou art not worthy of death at the hands of Arjuna. Nor shouldst thou reign in Anga as a king."

At this outrageous speech, Karna's lips trembled with anguish and he speechlessly looked up at the setting sun with a deep sigh.

But Duryodhana broke in indignantly:

"It is unworthy of you, O Vrikodara, to speak thus. Valor is the hallmark of a kshatriya. Nor is there much sense in tracing great heroes and mighty rivers to their sources. I could give you hundreds of instances of great men of humble birth and I know awkward questions might be asked of your own origin. Look at this warrior, his godlike form and bearing, his armor and earrings, and his skill with weapons. Surely there is some mystery about him. For how could a tiger be born of an antelope? Unworthy of being king of Anga, didst thou say? I verily hold him worthy to rule the whole world."

In generous wrath, Duryodhana took Karna in his chariot and drove away.

The sun set and the crowd dispersed in tumult. There were groups loud in talk under the light of the lamps, some glorifying Arjuna, others Karna, and others again Duryodhana according to their predilection.
Indra foresaw that a supreme contest was inevitable between his son Arjuna and Karna. And he put on the garb of a brahmana and came to Karna, who was reputed for his charity and begged of him his earrings and armor. The Sun god had already warned Karna in a dream that Indra would try to deceive him in this manner.
Still, Karna could not bring himself to refuse any gift that was asked of him. Hence he cut off the earrings and armor with which he was born and gave them to the brahmana.

Indra, the king of gods, was filled with surprise and joy. After accepting the gift, he praised Karna as having done what no one else would do, and, shamed into generosity, bade Karna ask for any boon he wanted.

Karna replied: "I desire to get your weapon, the Sakti, which has the power to kill enemies." Indra granted the boon, but with a fateful proviso. He said: "You can use this weapon against but one enemy, and it will kill him whosoever he may be. But this killing done, this weapon will no longer be available to you but will return to me." With these words Indra disappeared.

Karna went to Parasurama and became his disciple by representing to him that he was a brahmana. He learnt of Parasurama the mantra for using the master weapon known as Brahmastra.

One day Parasurama was reclining with the head on Karna's lap when a stinging worm burrowed into Karna's thigh. Blood began to flow and the pain was terrible. But Karna bore it without tremor lest he should disturb the master's sleep. Parasurama awoke and saw the blood that had poured from the wound.

He said: "Dear pupil, you are not a brahmana. A kshatriya alone can remain unmoved under all bodily torments. Tell me the truth."

Karna confessed that he had told a lie in presenting himself as a brahmana and that he was in fact the son of a charioteer.

Parasurama in his anger pronounced this curse on him: "Since you deceived your guru, the Brahmastra you have learnt shall fail you at the fated moment. You will be unable to recall the invocatory mantra when your hour comes."

It was because of this curse that at the crisis of his last fight with Arjuna, Karna was not able to recall the Brahmastra spell, though he had remembered it till then. Karna was the faithful friend of Duryodhana and remained loyally with the Kauravas until the end.

After the fall of Bhishma and Drona, Karna became the leader of the Kaurava army and fought brilliantly for two days. In the end, the wheel of his chariot stuck in the ground and be was not able to lift it free and drive the chariot along. While he was in this predicament, Arjuna killed him. Kunti was sunk in sorrow, all the more poignant because she had, at that time, to conceal it.

Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Bhima and the Snake poison

THE five sons of Pandu and the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra grew up in mirth and merriment at Hastinapura. Bhima excelled them all in physical prowess. He used to bully Duryodhana and the other Kauravas by dragging them by the hair and beating them.

A great swimmer, he would dive, into pools, with one or more of them clasped helpless in his arms, and remain under water till they were almost drowned. Whenever they climbed up on a tree he would stand on the ground and kick at the tree and shake them down like ripe fruits.

The bodies of the sons of Dhritarashtra would be ever sore with bruises as a result of Bhima's practical jokes. Small wonder that the sons of Dhritarashtra nursed a deep hatred for Bhima from their very infancy.
As the princes grew up. Kripacharya taught them archery and the practice of arms and other things that princes should learn. Duryodhana's jealousy towards Bhima warped his mind and made him commit many improper acts.
Duryodhana was very much worried. His father being blind, the kingdom was ruled by Pandu. After his death Yudhishthira, the heir-apparent, would in course of time become king. Duryodhana thought that as his blind father was quite helpless he must, to prevent Yudhishthira's accession to the throne, contrive a way of killing Bhima.
He made arrangements to carry out his resolve since he thought that the powers of the Pandavas would decline with the death of Bhima.

Duryodhana and his brothers planned to throw Bhima into the Ganges, imprison Arjuna and Yudhishthira, and then seize the kingdom and rule it. So Duryodhana went with his brothers and the Pandavas for a swim in the Ganges.

After the sports they slept in their tents being exhausted. Bhima had exerted himself more than the others and as his food had been poisoned, he felt drowsy and lay down on the bank of the river. Duryodhana bound him with wild creepers and threw him into the river.

The evil Duryodhana had already caused sharp spikes to be planted on the spot. This was done purposely so that Bhima might in falling be impaled on the spikes, and lose his life. Fortunately there was no spike in the place where Bhima fell. Poisonous water-snakes bit his body.

The poisonous food he had taken was counteracted by the snake poison and Bhima came to no harm, and presently, the river washed him to a bank.

Duryodhana thought that Bhima must have died as he had been thrown in the river infested with poisonous snakes and planted with spikes. So he returned to the city with the rest of the party in great joy.
When Yudhishthira inquired about the whereabouts of Bhima, Duryodhana informed him that he had preceded them to the city.

Yudhishthira believed Duryodhana and as soon as he returned home, asked his mother whether Bhima had returned home.

His anxious question brought forth the reply that Bhima had not yet returned, which made Yudhishthira suspect some foul play against his brother. And he went again with his brothers to the forest and searched everywhere. But Bhima could not be found. They went back in great sorrow.

Sometime later Bhima awoke and trudged wearily back home. Kunti and Yudhishthira welcomed him and embraced him in great joy. By the poison that had entered his system Bhima became stronger than before.
Kunti sent for Vidura and told him in secret:

"Duryodhana is wicked and cruel. He seeks to kill Bhima since he wants to rule the kingdom. I am worried."
Vidura replied: "What you say is true, but keep your thoughts to yourself. For if the wicked Duryodhana is accused or blamed, his anger and hatred will only increase. Your sons are blessed with long life. You need have no fear on that account."

Yudhishthira also warned Bhima and said: "Be silent over the matter. Hereafter, we have to be careful and help one another and protect ourselves."

Duryodhana was surprised to see Bhima come back alive. His jealousy and hatred increased. He heaved a deep sigh and pined away in sorrow.

 Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Birth of Pandavas and the demise of Pandu , sati by Madri

ONE day King Pandu was out hunting. A sage and his wife were also sporting in the forest in the guise of deer. Pandu shot the male with an arrow, in ignorance of the fact that it was a sage in disguise. Stricken to death the rishi thus cursed Pandu: "Sinner, you will meet with death the moment you taste the pleasures of the bed."
Pandu was heartbroken at this curse and retreated to the forest with his wives after entrusting his kingdom to Bhishma and Vidura and lived there a life of perfect abstinence.
Seeing that Pandu was desirous of offspring, which the rishi’s curse had denied him, Kunti confided to him the story of the mantra she had received from Durvasa. He urged Kunti and Madri to use the mantra and thus it was that the five Pandavas were born of the gods to Kunti and Madri.
They were born and brought up in the forest among ascetics. King Pandu lived for many years in the forest with his wives and children. It was springtime. And one day Pandu and Madri forgot their sorrows in the rapture of sympathy with the throbbing life around them, the happy flowers, creepers, birds and other creatures of the forest.
In spite of Madri’s earnest and repeated protests Pandu’s resolution broke down under the exhilarating influence of the season, and at once the curse of the sage took effect and Pandu fell, dead.
Madri could not contain her sorrow. Since she felt that she was responsible for the death of the king. She burnt herself on the pyre of her husband entreating Kunti to remain and be a mother to her doubly orphaned children.
The sages of the forest took the bereaved and grief-stricken Kunti and the Pandavas to Hastinapura and entrusted them to Bhishma.
Yudhishthira was but sixteen years old at that time. When the sages came to Hastinapura and reported the death of Pandu in the forest, the whole kingdom was plunged in sorrow. Vidura, Bhishma, Vyasa, Dhritarashtra and others performed the funeral rites.
All the people in the kingdom lamented as at a personal loss. Vyasa said to Satyavati, the grandmother: "The past has gone by pleasantly, but the future has many sorrows in store. The world has passed its youth like a happy dream and it is now entering on disillusionment, sin, sorrow and suffering. Time is inexorable. You need not wait to see the miseries and misfortunes that will befall this race. It will be good for you to leave the city and spend the rest of your days in a hermitage in the forest." Satyavati agreed and went to the forest with Ambika and Ambalika. These three aged queens passed through holy asceticism to the higher regions of bliss and spared themselves the sorrows of their children.

 Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Friday, 29 March 2013

Story of Vidura

THE sage Mandavya who had acquired strength of mind and knowledge of the scriptures, spent his days in penance and the practice of truth.

He lived in a hermitage in the forests on the outskirts of the city. One day while he was immersed in silent contemplation under the shade of a tree outside his hut of leaves, a band of robbers fled through the woods with officers of the king in hot pursuit.

The fugitives entered the ashrama thinking that it would be a convenient place to hide themselves in. They placed their booty in a corner and hid themselves. The soldiers of the king came to the ashrama tracking their footsteps.
The commander of the soldiers asked Mandavya, who was rapt in deep meditation in a tone of peremptory command: "Did you see the robbers pass by? Where did they go? Reply at once so that we may give chase and capture them."

The sage, who was absorbed in yoga, remained silent. The commander repeated the question insolently.  But the sage did not hear anything. In the meantime some of the attendants entered the ashrama and discovered the stolen goods lying there.

They reported this to their commander. All of them went in and found the stolen goods and the robbers who were in hiding.

The commander thought: "Now I know the reason why the brahmana pretended to be a silent sage. He is indeed the chief of these robbers. He has inspired this robbery." Then he ordered his soldiers to guard the place, went to the king and told him that the sage Mandavya had been caught with the stolen goods.

The king was very angry at the audacity of the chief of the robbers who had put on the garb of a brahmana sage, the better to deceive the world. Without pausing to verify the facts, he ordered the wicked criminal, as he thought him, to be impaled.

The commander returned to the hermitage, impaled Mandavya on a spear and handed over the stolen things to the king.

The virtuous sage, though impaled on the spear, did not die. Since he was in yoga when he was impaled he remained alive by the power of yoga. Sages who lived in other parts of the forest came to his hermitage and asked Mandavya how he came to be in that terrible pass.

Mandavya replied: "Whom shall I blame? The servants of the king, who protect the world, have inflicted this punishment."

The king was surprised and frightened when he heard that the impaled sage was still alive and that he was surrounded by the other sages of the forest. He hastened to the forest with his attendants and at once ordered the sage to be taken down from the spear. Then he prostrated at his feet and prayed humbly to be forgiven for the offence unwittingly committed.

Mandavya was not angry with the king. He went straight to Dharma, the divine dispenser of justice, who was seated on his throne, and asked him: "What crime have I committed to deserve this torture?"

Lord Dharma, who knew the great power of the sage, replied in all humility: "O sage, you have tortured birds and bees. Are you not aware that all deeds, good or bad, however small, inevitably produce their results, good or evil?"

Mandavya was surprised at this reply of Lord Dharma and asked: "When did I commit this offence?"
Lord Dharma replied: "When you were a child."

Mandavya then pronounced a curse on Dharma: "This punishment you have decreed is far in excess of the deserts of a mistake committed by a child in ignorance. Be born, therefore, as a mortal in the 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 counsellor 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.

 Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Kunti and Karna

SURA, the grandfather of Sri Krishna, was a worthy scion of the Yadava race. His daughter Pritha was noted for her beauty and virtues. Since his cousin Kuntibhoja was childless, Sura gave his daughter Pritha in adoption to him. From that time she was known by the name of Kunti after her adoptive father.

When Kunti was a little girl, the sage Durvasa stayed for a time as a guest in her father's house and she served the sage for a year with all care, patience and devotion. He was so pleased with her that he gave her a divine mantra. He said: "If you call upon any god repeating this mantra, he will manifest himself to you and bless you with a son equal to him in glory." He granted her this boon because he foresaw by his yogic power the misfortune which was in store for her future husband.

The impatient curiosity of youth made Kunti test then and there the efficacy of the mantra by repeating it and invoking the sun whom she saw shining in the heavens. At once the sky grew dark with clouds, and under cover of them the Sun god approached the beautiful princess Kunti and stood gazing at her with ardent, soul scorching admiration. Kunti, overpowered by the glorious vision of her divine visit or, asked:

"O god, who art thou?"

The Sun replied: "Dear maiden, I am the Sun. I have been drawn to you by the spell of the son-giving mantra that you have uttered."

Kunti was aghast and said: "I am an unwedded girl dependent on my father. I am not fit for motherhood and do not desire it. I merely wished to test the power of the boon granted by the sage Durvasa. Go back and forgive this childish folly of mine." But the Sun god could not thus return because the power of the mantra held him. She for her part was mortally afraid of being blamed by the world. The Sun god however reassured her:

"No blame shall attach you. After bearing my son, you will regain virginity."

Kunti conceived by the grace of the Sun, the giver of light and life to all the world. Divine births take place immediately without the nine months' weary course of mortal gestation. She gave birth to Karna who was born with divine armour and earrings and was bright and beautiful like the Sun. In time, be became one of the world's greatest heroes. After the birth of the child, Kunti once again became a virgin as a result of the boon granted by the Sun.

She wondered what she should do with the child. To hide her fault she placed the child in a sealed box and set it afloat in a river. A childless charioteer happened to see the floating case, and taking it, was surprised and delighted to see within it a gorgeously beautiful child. He handed it over to his wife who lavished a mother's love on it. Thus Karna, the son of the Sun god, came to be brought up as a charioteer's child.

Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Story of Bhishma - Amba

CHITRANGADA, the son of Satyavati, was killed in battle with a gandharva. As he died childless, his brother, Vichitravirya, was the rightful heir and was duly crowned king, and as he was a minor, Bhishma governed the kingdom in his name till he came of age.

When Vichitravirya reached adolescence Bhishma cast about for a bride for him, and as he heard that the daughters of the king of Kasi were to choose their husbands according to the ancient kshatriya practice he went there to secure them for his brother. The rulers of Kosla, Vanga, Pundra, Kalinga and other princes and potentates had also repaired to Kasi for the swayamvara, attired in their best. The princesses were so far famed for beauty and accomplishments that there was fierce competition to win them.

Bhishma was famous among the kshatriyas as a mighty man-at-arms. At first everyone thought that the redoubtable hero had come merely to witness the festivities of the swayamvara, but when they found that he was also a suitor, the young princes felt themselves let down and were full of chagrin. They did not know, that he had really come for the sake of his brother, Vichitravirya.

The princes began to cast affronts at Bhishma: "This most excellent and wise descendant of the Bharata race forgets that he is too old and forgets also his vow of celibacy. What has this old man to do with this swayamvara? Fie on him!" The princesses who were to choose their husbands barely glanced at the old man and looked away.

Bhishma's wrath flamed up. He challenged the assembled princes to a trial of their manhood and defeated them all, and taking the three princesses in his chariot he set out for Hastinapura. But before he had gone far, Salva, the king of the Saubala country who was attached to Amba, intercepted and opposed him, for that princess had mentally chosen Salva as her husband. After a bitter fight Salva was worsted, and no wonder, as Bhishma was a peerless bowman, but at the request of the princesses Bhishma spared his life.

Arriving in Hastinapura with the princesses, Bhishma made preparations for their marriage to Vichitravirya. When all were assembled for the marriage, Amba smiled mockingly at Bhishma and addressed him as follows: "O son of Ganga, you are aware of what is enjoined in the scriptures. I have mentally chosen Salva, the king of Saubala, as my husband. You have brought me here by force. Knowing this, do what you, learned in the scriptures, should do."

Bhishma admitted the force of her objection and sent her to Salva with proper escort. The marriage of Ambika and Ambalika, the two younger sisters, with Vichitravirya was duly solemnised.

Amba went rejoicing to Salva and told him what had happened: "I have mentally chosen you as my husband from the very start. Bhishma has sent me to you. Marry me according to the sastras."

Salva replied: "Bhishma defeated me in sight of all, and carried you away. I have been disgraced. So, I cannot receive you now as my wife. Return to him and do as he commands." With these words Salva sent her back to Bhishma.

She returned to Hastinapura and told Bhishma of what had taken place. The grandsire tried to induce Vichitravirya to marry her, but Vichitravirya roundly refused to marry a maiden whose heart had already been given to another.

Amba then turned to Bhishma and besought him to marry her himself as there was no other recourse.

It was impossible for Bhishma to break his vow, sorry as he was for Amba, and after some vain attempts to make Vichitravirya change his mind, he told her there was no way left to her but to go again to Salva and seek to persuade him. This at first she was too proud to do, and for long years she abode in Hastinapura. Finally, in sheer desperation, she went to Salva and found him adamant in refusal.

The lotus-eyed Amba spent six bitter years in sorrow and baffled hope, and her heart was seared with suffering and all the sweetness in her turned to gall and fierce hatred towards Bhishma as the cause of her blighted life. She sought in vain for a champion among the princes to fight and kill Bhishma and thus avenge her wrongs but even the foremost warriors were afraid of Bhishma and paid no heed to her appeal . At last, she resorted to hard austerities to get the grace of Lord Subrahmanya. He graciously appeared before her and gave her a garland of ever-fresh lotuses, saying that the wearer of that garland would become the enemy of Bhishma.

Amba took the garland and again besought every kshatriya to accept the garland-gift of the six-faced Lord and to champion her cause. But no one had the hardihood to antagonise Bhishma. Finally, she went to King Drupada who also refused to grant her prayer. She then hung the garland at Drupada's palace ,ate and went away to the forest.

Some ascetics whom she met there and to whom she told her sorrowful tale advised her to go to Parasurama as a suppliant. She followed their advice.

On hearing her sad story, Parasurama was moved with compassion and said: "Dear child, what do you want? I can ask Salva to marry you if you wish it."

Amba said: " No, I do not wish it, I no longer desire marriage or home or happiness. There is now but one thing in life for me-revenge on Bhishma. The only boon I seek is the death of Bhishma."

Parasurama, moved as much by her anguish as by his abiding hatred of the kshatriya race, espoused her cause and fought with Bhishma. It was a long and equal combat between the two greatest men-at-arms of the age, but in the end Parasurama had to acknowledge defeat. He told Amba: " I have done all that I could and I have failed. Throw yourself on the mercy of Bhishma. That is the only course left to you."

Consumed with grief and rage, and kept alive only by the passion for revenge, Amba went to the Himalayas and practiced rigorous austerities to get the grace of Siva, now that all human aid had failed her. Siva appeared before her and granted her a boon, that in her next birth she would slay Bhishma.

Amba was impatient for that rebirth which would give her heart's desire. She made a pyre and plunged into the fire pouring out the flame in her heart into the scarcely hotter blaze of the pyre.
Battle between Shikandi and Bheeshma

By the grace of Lord Siva, Amba was born as the daughter of King Drupada. A few years after her birth, she saw the garland of never-fading flowers that still hung at the palace gate and had remained there untouched by anyone through fear. She put it round her neck. Her father Drupada was in consternation at her temerity which he feared would draw on his head the wrath of Bhishma. He sent his daughter in exile out of the capital to the forest. She practiced austerities in the forest and in time was transformed into a male and became known as the warrior Sikhandin.

With Sikhandin as his charioteer, Arjuna attacked Bhishma on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Bhishma knew that Sikhandin was born as female, and true to his code of chivalry he would not fight him under any circumstance. So it was that Arjuna could fight screened by Sikhandin and conquers Bhishma, especially because Bhishma knew that his long and weary probation on earth was finished and consented to be vanquished. As the arrows struck Bhishma in his last fight, he singled out those which has pierced him deepest and said: "This is Arjuna's arrow and not Sikhandin's." So fell this great warrior

Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Story of Shantanu Satyavati and Bhishma's vow

Shantanu and Satyavati

With joy the king received to his heart and his kingdom the resplendent and youthful prince Devavrata and crowned him as the yuvaraja, the heir apparent.

Four years went by. One day as the king was wandering on the banks of the Yamuna, the air was suddenly filled with a fragrance so divinely sweet that the king sought for its cause, and he traced it to a maiden so lovely that she seemed a goddess. A sage had conferred on her the boon that a divine perfume should emanate from her, and this was now pervading the whole forest.

From the moment the goddess Ganga left him, the king had kept his senses under control, but the sight of this divinely beautiful maiden burst the bonds of restraint and filled him with an overmastering desire. He asked her to be his wife.

The maiden said: "I am a fisher woman, the daughter of the chief of the fishermen. May it please you to ask him and get his consent." Her voice was sweet as her form.

The father was an astute man.

He said: "O king, there is no doubt that this maiden, like every other, has to be married to someone and you are indeed worthy of her. Still you have to make a promise to me before you can have her."

Santanu replied: "If it is a just promise I shall make it."

The chief of the fisherfolk said: "The child born of this maiden should be the king after you."

Though almost mad with passion, the king could not make this promise, as it meant setting aside the godlike Devavrata, the son of Ganga, who was entitled to the crown. It was a price that could not be thought of without shame. He therefore returned to his capital, Hastinapura, sick with baffled desire. He did not reveal the matter to anyone and languished in silence.

One day Devavrata asked his father: "My father, you have all that heart could wish. Why then are you so unhappy? How is it that you are like one pining away with a secret sorrow?"

The kind replied: "Dear son, what you say is true. 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 depend on a single life, and above all things I desire the perpetuation of our family. This is the cause of my anguish." The father prevaricated, being ashamed to reveal the whole story to his son.

The wise Devavrata released that there must be a secret cause for the mental condition of his father, and questioning the king's charioteer, came to know of his meeting with the fisher maiden on the banks of the Yamuna. He went to the chief of the fishermen and be sought his daughter's hand on his father's behalf.
Bhishma pratigya

The fisherman was respectful, but firm: "My daughter is indeed fit to be the king's spouse; then should not her son become king? But you have been crowned as the heir apparent and will naturally succeed your father. It is this that stands in the way."

Devavrata replied: "I give you my word that the son born of this maiden shall be king, and I renounce in his fervor my right as heir apparent," and he took a vow to that effect.

The chief of the fishermen said "O best of the Bharata race, you have done what no one else born of royal blood has done till now. You are indeed a hero. You can yourself conduct my daughter to the king, your father. Still, hear with patience these words of mine which I say as the father of the girl. I have no doubt you will keep your word, but how can I hope that the children born of you will renounce their birthright? Your sons will naturally be mighty heroes like you, and will be hard to resist if they seek to seize the kingdom by force. This is the doubt that torments me."

When he heard this knotty question posed by the girl's father, Devavrata, who was bent on fulfilling the king's desire, made his supreme renunciation. He vowed with upraised arm to the father of the maiden: "I shall never marry and I dedicate myself to a life of unbroken chastity." And as he uttered these words of renunciation the gods showered flowers on his head, and cries of "Bhishma," "Bhishma" resounded in the air. "Bhishma" means one who undertakes a terrible vow and fulfils it. That name became the celebrated epithet of Devavrata from that time. Then the son of Ganga led the maiden Satyavati to his father.

Two sons were born of Satyavati to Santanu, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya, who ascended the throne one after the other. Vichitravirya had two sons, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, born respectively of his two queens, Ambika and Ambalika. The sons of Dhritarashtra, a hundred in number, were known as the Kauravas. Pandu had five sons who became famous as the Pandavas.

Bhishma lived long, honored by all as the pater- families until the end of the famous battle of Kurukshetra

Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )

Story of Ganga , Shantanu and Devarata (Bhishma)

"You must certainly become my wife, whoever you may be." Thus said the great King Santanu to the goddess Ganga who stood before him in human form, intoxica- ting his senses with her super human love- liness.
The king earnestly offered for her love his kingdom, his wealth, his all, his very life.

Ganga replied: "O king, I shall become your wife. But on certain conditions-that neither you nor anyone else should ever ask me who I am, or whence I come. You must also not stand in the way of whatever I do, good or bad, nor must you ever be wroth with me on any account whatsoever. You must not say anything displeasing to me. If you act otherwise, I shall leave you then and there. Do you agree?"

The infatuated king vowed his assent, and she became his wife and lived with him.

The heart of the king was captivated by her modesty and grace and the steady love she bore him. King Santanu and Ganga lived a life of perfect happiness, oblivious of the passage of time.

She gave birth to many children; each new-born babe she took to the Ganges and cast into the river, and then returned to the king with a smiling face.

Santanu was filled with horror and anguish at such fiendish conduct, but suffered it all in silence, mindful of the promise be had made. Often he wondered who she was, wherefrom she had come and why she acted like a murderous witch; still bound by his word, and his all-mastering love for her, uttered no word of blame or remonstrance.

Thus she killed seven children. When the eighth child was born and she was about to throw it into the Ganges, Santanu could not bear it any longer

He cried: "Stop, stop, why are you bent on this horrid and unnatural murder of your own innocent babes?" With this outburst the king restrained her.

"O great king," she replied, "you have forgotten your promise, for your heart is set on your child, and you do not need me any more. I go. I shall not kill this child, but listen to my story before you judge me. 1, who am constrained to play this hateful role by the curse of Vasishtha, am the goddess Ganga, adored of gods and men. Vasishtha cursed the eight Vasus to be born in the world of men, and moved by their supplications said, I was to be their mother. I bore them to you, and well is it for you that it was so, for you will go to higher regions for this service you have done to the eight Vasus. I shall bring up this last child of yours for some time and then return it to you as my gift." After saying these words the goddess disappeared with the child. It was this child who later became famous as Bhishma.

This was how the Vasus came to incur Vasishtha's curse: they went for a holiday with their wives to a mountain tract where stood the hermitage of Vasishtha. One of them saw Vasishtha's cow, Nandini, grazing there. Its divinely beautiful form attracted him and he pointed it out to the ladies. They were all loud in praise of the graceful animal, and one of them requested her husband to secure it for her. He replie "What need have we, the devas, for the milk of cows'? This cow belongs to the sage Vasishtha who is the master of the whole place. Man will certainly become immortal by drinking its milk; but this is no gain to us, who are already immortal. Is it worth our while incurring, Vasishtha's wrath merely to satisfy a whim?"

But she was not thus to be put off. "I have a dear companion in the mortal world. It is for her sake that I make this request. Before Vasishiha returns we shall have escaped with the cow. You must certainly do this for my sake, for it is my dearest wish." Finally her husband yielded. All the Vasus joined together and took the cow and its calf away with them.

When Vasishtha returned to his ashrama, he missed the cow and the calf, because they were indispensable for his daily rituals. Very soon he came to know by his yogic insight all that had taken place. Anger seized him and he uttered a curse against the Vasus. The sage, whose sole wealth was his austerity, willed that they should be born into the world of men. When the Vasus came to know of the curse. repentant too late, they threw themselves on the sage's mercy and implored forgiveness.

Vasishtha said: "The curse must needs take its course. Prabhasa, the Vasu who seized the cow, will live long in the world in all glory, but the others will be freed from the curse as soon as born. My words cannot prove ineffective, but I shall soften the curse to this extent." Afterwards Vasishtha set his mind again on his austerities, the effect of which had been slightly impaired by his anger. Sages who perform austerities acquire the power to Curse, but every exercise of this power reduces their store of merit.

The Vasus felt relieved and approached the goddess Ganga and begged of her: "We pray you to become our mother. For our sake we beseech you to descend to the earth and marry a worthy man. Throw us into the water as soon as we are born and liberate us from the curse." The goddess granted their prayer, came to the earth and became the wife of Santanu.

When the goddess Ganga left Santanu and disappeared with the eighth child, the king cave up all sensual pleasures and ruled the kingdom in a spirit of asceticism. One day he was wandering along the banks of the Ganges when he saw a boy endowed with the beauty and form of Devendra, the king of the gods. The child was amusing himself by casting a dam of arrows across the Ganges in flood, playing with the mighty river as a child with an indulgent mother. To the king who stood transfixed with amazement at the sight, the goddess Ganga revealed herself and presented the child as his own son.

She said: "O king, this is that eighth child I bore you. I have brought him up till now. His name is Devavrata. He has mastered the art of arms and equals Parasurama in prowess. He has learnt the Vedas and the Vedanta from Vasishtha, and is well versed in the arts and sciences known to Sukra. Take back with you this child who is a great archer and hero as well as a master in statecraft." Then she blessed the boy, handed him to his father, the king, and disappeared.

Excerpts from the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji )