Mahabharata The Beginning
Learn about the Beginnings of Mahabharata, How Devavrat became Bhishma, The birth story of Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. How 101 Kauravas and 5 Pandavas were born.
Table of Contents
The Story of Mahabharat – The Beginning
There are some episodes in history which change the direction of the world. Mahabharat is one such episode when good triumphed over evil. In the Sanatan Dharma context, Dharma won over Adharma.
The Mahabharat took place in Bharat Varsha during the cusp of Dwapar and Kali Yuga. This war was the culmination of the power struggle between the Kauravas and Pandavas.
It is here that Krishna revealed his true form to Arjun when he was hesitant to fight his relatives. This was the time when Krishna delivered the teachings of life to Arjun, which we know as the Bhagawad Gita.
Birth of Bhishma (Devavrat)
One day, while King Shantanu was on a trip through his kingdom Hastinapur, on the banks of the river Ganga, he saw a beautiful woman and instantly fell in love with her. He asked for her hand in marriage.
She agreed to it on the condition that he would not question her actions. King Shantanu readily agreed and both of them got married.
The Queen soon gave birth to a child, however, she went to the river Ganga and drowned him. This happened seven times. Every time a child was born, she used to drown the child.
When the eighth child was born, King Shantanu could not bear it any longer. He stopped his queen from drowning their eighth child.
The moment this happened, his queen revealed her identity as the river goddess Ganga and explained to him that the earlier seven children of theirs were drowned due to the curse given by Sage Vashishtha to the Asta Vasus i.e., Eight Celestial Vasus as they had tried to steal his cow named Nandini.
The first seven children i.e., the first seven Vasus were to be killed by Ganga immediately after their birth for them to be liberated as Sage Vashishtha had shown mercy on them.
However, the Vasu named Dhruva was cursed to live a long life on earth and is our eighth child whom you have stopped me from drowning.
King Shantanu understood the situation and was in grief. Goddess Ganga names their child as Devavrat. She tells the king that she would take Devavrat away and return him when the appropriate time comes, and disappears.
For many years, she makes Devavrat learn from renowned sages in the art of Science, Warfare, Vedas, Shastras, among many other things.
Many years later, on the banks of river Ganga, Shantanu prays to goddess Ganga for Devavrat to be returned. Goddess Ganga appears before him and returns their son to him.
How Devavrat became Bhishma
After Devavrat was returned to him by goddess Ganga, King Shantanu was very happy that he had found a successor to his throne and that Devavrat would be the King of Hastinapur one day.
A few years had passed. King Shantanu had gone to the banks of river Yamuna during one of his trips. There he met a beautiful fisher woman named Satyavati and fell in love with her. He immediately went to her father Dasharaja who was the fishermen chieftain and asked for her hand in marriage. Satyavati was the adopted daughter of Dasharaja.
The fishermen chieftain Dasharaja said that he would agree to his proposal only if king Shantanu would promise to make the son born from Satyavati to be the future king.
King Shantanu was unhappy with this proposal and left dejected. He was sad that he could not marry Satyavati. Devavrat came to know about this and met Dasharaja, to convince the fishermen chieftain to let King Shantanu marry Satyavati.
To assure the chieftain, he gave his word that he will not claim the throne and also vowed to remain celibate so that he will have no heirs to challenge the throne. On hearing this, Dasharaja was very happy and readily agreed for Satyavati to be married with King Shantanu.
As this Vow by Devavrat was so terrible and strong, he came to be known as ‘Bhishma’.
Hastinapur without an heir
After Dasharaja approved of the proposal from King Shantanu and the vow taken by Devavrat, Satyavati and King Shantanu got married. They had two children named Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. After some years, King Shantanu died leaving the throne to Chitrangada the eldest son of Satyavati. Chitrangada was a strong and wise king. He ruled Hastinapur wisely with the able guidance of Bhishma.
As the fame and glory of the new king Chitrangada started spreading all over, a Gandharva (Celestial Being) who had the same name as Chitrangada felt that there should be only one well known person of the same name alive.
With this thought in mind, Chitrangada the Gandharva challenged Chitrangada the King to a fight until death. Chitrangada the King being a Kshatriya (warrior) took up the challenge. During this period, Bhishma was not in Hastinapur and could not stop this fight.
For three long years, both the warriors fought. Ultimately, Chitrangada the King was defeated and killed. When Bhishma came to know about this, he was very sad as he could not save his nephew. As Chitrangada was childless, Vichitravirya was made the king by Bhishma.
As Vichitravirya was weak from childhood and not fully fit to rule Hastinapur, Bhishma was ruling the kingdom on his behalf. Soon, it was decided to find a bride for Vichitravirya. As he was weak and not really fit enough, there were not many suitable proposals.
Meanwhile, Bhishma came to know that the king of Kashi, Kashya has kept a Swayamvara (a ceremony where a princess chose a prince as her husband from a group of King’s and Prince’s) for his daughters Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika.
Bhishma reached Kashi on the day of the Swayamvara to get a wife for Vichitravirya. He told the king of Kashi about his intentions to get all three of his daughters married to Vichitravirya. He took the three princesses and rode away in his chariot.
Most of the Kings and Princes were afraid of Bhishma. However, a few of them followed to stop him.
King Salva, who ruled over the Shalwa kingdom was in love with Amba. Amba was also in love with him. King Salva challenged Bhishma for a fight. Salva was no match for Bhishma and lost badly. Bhishma spared his life and let him go.
After reaching Hastinapur, Amba told Bhishma about her love for Salva. Bhishma freed her and asked her to go to King Salva. When princess Amba approached king Salva, he told her that they cannot get married as he has been defeated by Bhishma.
She leaves for the forest to do severe austerities with the intention of taking revenge on Bhishma.
Bhishma along with Satyavati got Ambika and Ambalika married to Vichitravirya. He loved both his wives very much. Many years passed by; however, Vichitravirya was still childless. About seven years after getting married, Vichitravirya fell ill and died a sad man.
Satyavati was very sad and worried about the future of Hastinapur. There was no heir who could become the king. She asked Bhishma, her step-son to marry Ambika and Ambalika. Bhishma refused and reminded her about his vow to her father, the fishermen chieftain Dasharaja.
Birth of the Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura
Bhishma then suggested that Niyoga could be performed with the help of a revered sage. Satyavati remembered her son Dvaipayana (The one who was born on an island), who had now become Rishi Vyasa (Compiler).
Satyavati sent a message to Dvaipayana (Rishi Vyasa), asking him to reach Hastinapur at the earliest. Upon getting the message, Dvaipayana reached Hastinapur and asked his mother why he has been called urgently.
Satyavati explained the situation to Dvaipayana and asked him to help in performing the Niyoga with Ambika and Ambalika.
Ambika was the first to meet Rishi Vyasa. She was shocked and closed her eyes after looking at Rishi Vyasa, as he was not well groomed due to his stay in the forest for his meditation and study of the Vedas. This resulted in her son being born blind. He was named Dhritarashtra.
Ambalika was the second to meet Rishi Vyasa. She too was shocked to see the un-groomed Rishi Vyasa and turned pale. This resulted in her son being born pale and weak. He was named Pandu.
Satyavati was unhappy with the turn of events and asked Ambika to meet Rishi Vyasa again. Ambika was terrified and did not go, she instead sent her maid Parishrami who was very calm and gave birth to a healthy and intelligent son named Vidura.
In this way, Dhritarashtra and Pandu became heirs to the Throne of Hastinapur.
Pandu the King of Hastinapur
When both of them were old enough, Bhishma got them married. Dhritarashtra was married to the princess of Gandhara Kingdom named Gandhari and Pandu was married to Kunti (originally named Pritha) princess of Kunti Kingdom and Madri princess of Madra Kingdom.
Dhritarashtra was planned to be crowned as the King of Hastinapur, however Vidura argued that Pandu is the right choice as Dhritarashtra was blind and could not defend the Kingdom in any eventuality.
Bhishma also agreed to this and Pandu was made the king. Dhritarashtra was not happy with the turn of events.
Birth of the Kauravas
Gandhari was very courteous and had got a boon from Rishi Veda Vyasa that she will have 100 children. Soon she became pregnant, however did not give birth to a child even after completing the full term of her pregnancy.
In the meantime, she came to know that Kunti had given birth to her eldest child. Out of frustration she hit her stomach which resulted in a hard mass of flesh like a ball coming out of her womb. She was annoyed and angry and decided to throw it away.
At that time Rishi Vyasa arrived and stopped Gandhari from throwing the ball of flesh away. He asked her to get 100 pots filled with Ghee (clarified Butter). Then, the ball of flesh was cut into 100 parts to be put into these 100 pots.
When Rishi Vyasa was about to put the 100 pieces into the pots, Gandhari told Rishi Vyasa that she desired to also have a daughter. After hearing this, Rishi Vyasa cut one more piece and made the total pieces 101.
After some months, 100 sons and 1 daughter were born.
Birth of the Pandavas
Pandu was married to Kunti and Madri. Due to Pandu being pale and weak he was not able to impregnate Kunti or Madri. One day when Pandu was hunting in the woods, he shot a deer with an arrow and injured it grievously. It was in the process of mating with its doe.
This deer was actually sage Kindama in a deer form and the doe was his wife. Before sage Kindama left his body, he cursed Pandu that he would die the moment he mated with any women including his wives.
Pandu repented his deed of killing sage Kindama and stepped down as the king and made Dhritarashtra the new king of Hastinapur. He decided to live the life of an exile and left for the forest with his two wives.
Pandu was sad that he could not become a father due to the curse given by Rishi Kindama. Kunti confided in him that she knew about a child bearing mantra that was given to her by Rishi Durvasa.
Pandu’s joy knew no bounds. He immediately asked Kunti to invoke the mantra. He asked for Yama raja or Dharmaraja to be invoked first as he wanted his son to be a follower of Dharma.
As soon as the child bearing mantra was chanted, Dharmaraja appeared in front of Kunti and gave her a son with the required qualities. He was named Yudhishthira.
Next Pandu asked for Vayu to be invoked as he wanted a son who was very powerful. As soon as the child bearing mantra was invoked in the name of Vayu dev, he appeared in front of Kunti and gave her a son with the desired qualities. He was named Bheema.
Next Pandu asked for Indra to be invoked as he wanted a heroic son. As soon as the child bearing mantra was invoked in the name of Indra dev, he appeared in front of Kunti and gave her a son with the desired qualities. He was named Arjuna.
When all of this was happening, Madri was watching silently and seemed unhappy. Pandu requested that Kunti share this mantra with Madri so that she can also become a mother.
To fulfill her husband’s wish, Kunti shared the child bearing mantra with Madri. Madri immediately invoked the child bearing mantra in the name of Ashwin twin gods, they appeared in front of Madri and gave her twin sons with the desired qualities. They were named Nakula and Sahadeva.
Death of Pandu
Pandu was very happy that he was now a proud father of 5 children. His happiness knew no bounds. He was living the best days of his life.
One day, in this sheer abundance of bliss, he forgot that he was cursed by sage Kindama. He was filled with desire for loving Madri and could not control his desires in spite of multiple warnings by her.
This resulted in the death of Pandu as per the curse of Rishi Kindama. He was cremated in the forest. Madri felt that she was responsible for her husband’s death and was full of remorse.
She could not bear the thought of she being the reason for her husband’s death. One day she handed over her two sons to Kunti and left her body forever.
Return of the Pandavas to Hastinapur
Kunti now had the responsibility of taking care of her five children. Also, there was no reason for her to continue staying in the forest. Both Pandu and Madri were no more.
She returned to Hastinapur with her five children. Bhishma and Vidura were happy to see Kunti and the 5 children of Pandu.
Dhritarashtra was not happy about Kunti returning due to his insecurity of losing his throne. He wanted his son Duryodhana to succeed him as the king after him. He always thought that he got a raw deal when Pandu was made the king of Hastinapur.