Bhishma’s Vow

This is not a recent story. It is a very ancient story which occurred thousands of years ago.
Santanu was the king of Hastinapur. He was wise, kind and just. All the citizens loved him and respected him. The river Goddess Ganga was Santanu’s first wife. Santanu had met Ganga at the river bank, fallen in love with her and had proposed marriage to her. But then, Ganga had laid down certain conditions to say “Yes” to her proposal and had warned him that whatever she did, he was not to counter-question her. So desperate was the king to marry her that without a moment’s hesitation, he agreed to obey her conditions.
Ganga was a beautiful woman. She was also a devout wife and looked after the king with love and affection. They were so happy that Santanu even forgot that a year had already passed. He also forgot about his promise to Ganga. Meanwhile, Ganga gave birth to a baby boy. The king’s happiness knew no bounds as he fondly looked at his heir. But his joy was short-lived. The same night Ganga carried the baby and headed towards the river. Santanu was perplexed. So he followed her. By the time he could realise her intentions, she had thrown the baby into the river. Santanu was about to ask her the reason for her attitude when he remembered his promise to her at the time of their marriage. He could not question her about anything. Both of them returned to the palace silently.
Even after this incident, Santanu’s love for Ganga did not diminish in any way. But he was perplexed about her
behaviour.How could she kill her own child? Was she a demon or a human, he wondered. Nevertheless, he decided to forget about this incident and continued to lead a happy life with Ganga. Subsequently, Ganga gave birth to another baby boy. The baby met a similar fate as the first born. Santanu turned pale with worry. But still, he did not have the courage to question Ganga. He felt very sad and depressed.
Ganga gave birth to seven baby boys, one year after another. But all the babies were thrown into the river a few hours ‘after their birth. And it was none other than their own mother who killed them.
When Ganga gave birth to a baby boy for the eighth time, Santanu could no longer bear the situation. By then, he had already been a dejected man. When Ganga was about to throw the newborn into the river, Santanu stopped her and asked her, “Do you know what you are doing? Are you a demon? You have killed seven sons of ours. I can no longer bear it. I wall save at least this child.” He could not control his emotions.
Ganga was angry with Santanu because he dared question her actions. “I wall not live with you even for another moment,” she said. Santanu loved Ganga very much. He was grief-striken. He begged and pleaded with her not to desert him. But Ganga told the king that she had to return to her abode as she had fulfilled her task upon the earth. She then explained to Santanu what her task was.
Long ago, there were eight demigods known as Ashta-Vasus. Once, out of sheer greed, they wanted to steal Vashista’s cow. The youngest of them, by name Prabhasa stole the cow. Vashista was enraged at this and cursed them to be born as human-beings upon the earth. When the Vasus sought to be forgiven, the sage relented and laid down that the seven Vasus could live only for a few hours upon the earth but Prabhasa was to lead his entire life upon the earth.
These’Ashta-Vasus were the babies born to Canga. The seven Vasus were thrown into the river and Prabhasa was the only survivor.
Ganga narrated this episode to Santanu and disappeared after promising him that she would hand over Prabhasa to his care subsequently.
Seven years later, Santanu witnessed a young lad practising archery by the riverside. A strong feeling attracted him towards the boy. At that moment, Ganga appeared before the king and told him, “Here is your son Devavrat. He is not an ordinary person. He will earn fame as a great man. Look after him well.” She then returned to her abode.
Santanu was immensely happy. Hugging the child, his heart swelled with love and affection .He took his son to the palace and looked after him well.
Devavrat grew up to be a brave and courageous boy. Santanu had appointed a master for him. Devavrat thirsted for knowledge and excelled himself in all fields of education. As a true Kshatriya, he also perfected warfare and was hailed as the mightiest of all. Truthful and honest, he gained the respect of one and all. At the opportune time, Santanu crowned Devavrat as the heir-prince.
Meanwhile, Santanu had gone on a hunt. Near the river, he saw an extremely beautiful girl. She was the daughter of Dasaraja, a fisherman. Santanu fell in love with her and sent a messenger to her father asking her hand in marriage.
“I am prepared to have my daughter wed the king,” said Dasaraja. “But I have a condition,” he added, “I want my daughter to be the queen and the child born to her as the future king. If your king doesn’t agree to this, ask him to forget about marrying my daughter.”
Santanu was worried. He found it impossible to live without Satyavati, Dasaraja’s daughter. But how could he marry her? For he had already crowned Devavrat as the heir to the throne. There were none to equal Devavrat for the throne. So, Santanu decided not to accept the condition laid down by Dasaraja. But he felt very depressed about losing Satyavati. He lost interest in the affairs of the kingdom. Even hunting, dance or music did not interest him. Only Satyavati’s immense beauty haunted him.
Devavrat knew his father’s state of mind. So he met Dasaraja and pleaded with him to get Satyavati married to the king. Dasaraja was adamant. “Are you prepared to give up the throne for the sake of your father’s happiness?” he asked.
Devavrat did not hesitate. “If it can bring happiness to my father, I do not want the throne. I am prepared to give it up. I swear,” he said. But Dasaraja was not convinced.
He asked Devavrat, “0! Prince, it is easy for you to say that you do not want the throne. But you will get married and have children. Later on, your children will also have children. And if they claim their right over the throne, what will be the fate of Satyavati’s children?”
Devavrat agreed with Dasaraja’s thinking. He felt that it was a fair question. He thought for a while and said, “Respected Sir, have no doubts about this. I hereby swear that I will be a bachelor throughout my life. I will never get married.”
This decision by young Devavrat to lead his life all alone for the sake of his father’s happiness drew appreciation from all the Suras. This vow came to be known as ‘Bhishma’s Vow.’ Devavrat was henceforth called as Bhishma.
Bhishma returned to the palace and performed the marriage of Satyavati to his father. In the presence of hundreds of citizens, he again proclaimed that he was giving up his rights to the throne. Highly pleased with his son’s sacrifice, Santanu embraced Bhishma and blessed him as Iccha Marani. “Let not death near you as long as you want it,” he wished.
Bhishma lived through the ages as a great son of India.

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