Saturday, June 4, 2016

Chapter 4 - Devavratha becomes Bhishma

On reaching the kingdom, Shantanu studied his son. Over the days it became clear to Shantanu that Devavratha was extremely intelligent. His knowledge of the state warfare was something that even the experienced Shantanu himself did not have. Shantanu also found that Devavratha was very serious and never talked much. Devavratha was more of a doer than a talker. 

Devavratha loved his father and made sure his father was always happy. Father and son were so close. They talked about everything under the sun. Shantanu discussed all the matters of the state and everything else he felt like talking. In Devavratha he found a perfect listener…calm and balanced…

Much to Shantanu’s happiness the people of Hastinapur accepted Devavratha very easily. In him the people found the perfect prince, who would eventually rule them. On an auspicious day, Shantanu crowned Devavratha the crown prince of Hastinapur. The people rejoiced. The kingdom flourished and people were looking forward to glorious years being ruled by Devavratha. 

Shantanu also found that after Devavratha had come to him, he did not miss Ganga as much as before. True, her thoughts sometimes bothered him. But on the whole he felt more complete and mature. He did not feel the pangs of loneliness the way he used to feel before. His heartache was healing – slowly.

Shantanu still visited the jungles – now with more vigour than ever. After appointing Devavratha as the crown prince, Shantanu slowly let Devavratha take over the administration of the kingdom. Devavratha was a natural diplomat and the kingdom prospered well. 

Four years went by.

As Shantanu was galloping through the jungles, he smiled. He heard the flow of the Ganga from the far side of the forest. But of late, he did not feel the urge to visit the river. He asked his charioteer to turn and drive in another direction. The king rode for the long time, thinking happily about the latest achievements of Devavratha. 

The king was so lost in his thoughts that he did not notice that he was the on the banks of a river – another river – it was the Yamuna. Looking at the flowing calm river, Shantanu was still thinking, when a fragrance hit him from somewhere….’Hit him’ was the right word for it. After Shantanu inhaled the fragrance, Shantanu found the fragrance so enchanting that he was not able to think of anything else. The fragrance was so…inviting and alluring… Shantanu asked his charioteer to stop. He got down and looked around…

There, Shantanu blinked….

Sitting on a boat in the river was a beautiful…’beautiful’ hardly did justice to the woman…she was enchanting…. Shantanu studied the rugged dark dress of the woman which was flowing in the wind, her hair waving to the tunes of the wind and the way she sat on the boat with her feet playing in the water, an oar in her hand…. Shantanu for the second time in his life felt his mind go numb again. He slowly walked towards the woman wondering whether she was real or a figment of his imagination….

As Shantanu walked closer he actually expected the woman to disappear. She had this beauty which was unreal…Just looking at her made Shantanu’s head go dizzy. Shantanu inhaled deeply and found that the fragrance he had smelt when he had first come here was coming from the woman.  

The closer Shantanu went, the more hopelessly he felt in love with the woman. He felt that he had to marry the woman…and that without her he would be incomplete….

Shantanu shook his head trying to clear her thoughts. The woman had heard his footsteps and turned to look at him. When the woman saw him, Shantanu felt himself become blank again. 

‘Wh…who areyou?’ He found that he was mixing up all the words.

The woman laughed. Shantanu heard her tinkling laugh and found himself getting embarrassed. She however replied to him, ‘I am Satyavati! I am the daughter of the chief fisherman…’ She said pointing to her right. 

It was only after she pointed, Shantanu noticed small settlements on the right of the river. Satyavati was pointing to what was the biggest house among those small huts. 

Shantanu looked at her, ‘What are you doing here?’

Satyavati did not miss the longing in the king’s eyes. She smiled at him, ‘I ferry people across the river…’ She said pointing at her oar.

As she spoke a whiff of wind whipped up and the king found that the fragrance from her body was overwhelming him…Shantanu looked at her once more and promised himself that he would marry this woman no matter what….

Shantanu felt his heart flutter as he spoke to her again, ‘I am the king of Hastinapur!’ Satyavati nodded her head. She had seen all the royal markings on the man…. Shantanu cleared his throat and spoke again, ‘I want to marry you…are you willing to marry me?’

Satyavati blushed and Shantanu did not need an answer to that question. Satyavati however spoke, ‘You will have to speak with my father, your majesty!’ 

Shantanu nodded to her and looked at the hut again…He walked towards the fisherman’s hut, thoughts swirling in his mind…How could such a woman be the daughter of a fisherman? She looks like a woman from the heavens….how could she live here?

The king’s suspicions were correct. However he was not to know the story of Satyavati’s birth. 

[Satyavati was the adopted daughter of the fisherman. She was actually the daughter of the King Vasu and Adrika – a lady from the heavens. Adrika had been cursed to become a fish. A fisherman caught Adrika as a fish. After the fish was dead, Adrika went back to heaven. Inside the body of the fish were a baby boy and a baby girl. The fisherman who found the fish took the children to the king Vasu. King Vasu is said to have taken the boy and asked the fisherman to keep the girl as a gift from him. The fisherman raised the girl as his own. Because the girl was found inside the fish, she always smelt of fish so she was called Matsya Gandhi [‘One smelling of fish’] Exactly how Matsya Gandhi began to have such a sweet fragrance is another story and narrated in another part of the Mahabharatha…]

Shantanu was still thinking as he entered the hut of the fisherman…The fisherman should be glad I am going to marry his daughter…Just for a minute Shantanu felt pangs of guilt…Would Devavratha be angry with him, because he had taken another woman as his wife….But then Shantanu shook his head. Devavratha was very mature and much more grown up than his twenty years. Devavratha would surely understand…. 

Shantanu entered the hut, Satyavati’s fragrance still lingering in the hut…Shantanu was surprised. He was so far away from Satyavati, but he could still smell her….How was that possible….

Inside, a rough fisherman with sly eyes and a crooked smile greeted him, ‘Welcome your majesty! I am grateful, that the great king of the land has set foot on my humble hut….This is indeed a privilege…I must be….’

‘Cut the flattery!’ Shantanu said angrily. Somehow he did not like the fisherman or the way he talked…

The fisherman stopped talking immediately. But his eyes were glinting. He looked at the king waiting for the king to talk. The king felt uncomfortable and then took a deep breath, breathing in the fragrance of Satyavati, ‘Is that your daughter, who ferries people across the Yamuna?’ 

‘I brought up Yojana Gandhi…’ The fisherman said nodding his head. Yojana was a unit measuring distances and Gandhi meant fragrance…Satyavati’s fragrance could be smelt for a yojana? Shantanu again wondered how it was possible…Now was not the time to worry about that…

Shantanu looked at the fisherman, ‘As you know I am the king of Hastinapur! I wish to marry your daughter…’

The fisherman pretended to look like he was surprised, ‘I am so happy, my Lord! You are willing to bless this humble…’

‘Are you willing to let your daughter marry me or not?’ Shantanu asked sharply. He was in no mood to listen to the fisherman. 

The fisherman pretended to look sad and shook his head, ‘My Lord! I have but a small condition…you see I had her horoscope made when she was young…She..Satyavati…According to her horoscope is going to be the mother of kings…I wish that to come true…’

Shantanu stared at the fisherman like he was mad. He felt like he was sharply dragged back to earth from the heavens by the words of the man. ‘So what do you want?’ Shantanu’s voice came out like a whisper. 

‘I want you to promise that Satyavati’s child should be the ruler of Hastinapur after you…’ 

Each word hit Shantanu with a force of a missile. His knees went knobbly and he felt giddy. Shantanu felt like he would swoon to the ground for even listening to the fisherman’s talk….How could the fisherman even impose such a condition…if he agreed to it, his Devavratha would never become a king…Devavratha the one who had learnt politics from Sage Brihaspati…One who was destined to make Hastinapur the greatest kingdom on earth…What the fisherman was asking was inhuman…he would never agree to it…NO! 

Shantanu looked at the fisherman and said haughtily trying to hide his desperation, ‘Look! Ask for anything else – money, jewels…anything….but not this…this is wrong….’ He almost cried out aloud when he said the last words.

But the fisherman was adamant. ‘No, your majesty! This is the only wish I have…If you grant me the wish, Satyavati is yours!’

Shantanu did not even bother replying to the fisherman. Without even as a second glance he walked out of the hut. 

The fisherman saw the retreating back of the king and did not try stopping him. 

Shantanu never knew when he was inside the chariot and when it had started. He was looking lamely around at everything and nothing. His mind was numb. He was cursing himself….How could he be so foolish…How could he have fallen in love with Satyavati…How dare that silly fisherman impose such a condition…His head told him that accepting to such a condition was foolishness….but his heart….that was all together another matter….His heart was in no condition to even listen to his head… He felt he had to marry Satyavati, otherwise he would always feel incomplete….

Shantanu stared blankly and wondered when he had left the forests and entered the kingdom of Hastinapur. As he entered the kingdom, he saw Devavratha come and greet him. Devavratha looked smiling, energetic and regal…. Looking at him, Shantanu felt inadequate. He tried not to think…but the the words came to his mind…If Devavratha was not there, he could have married Satyavati now….NO

Shantanu felt angry at himself even thinking like this… At his age he was thinking about marrying another woman, when right now he should be bothered more about getting his son married…Shantanu took a deep breath trying to remember what a wonderful son he had in Devavratha…I have to forget Satyavathi…But then Shantanu suddenly remembered the heavenly fragrance when he had been near Satyavati…

Shantanu angrily shook his head confused and angry. But try as he might Shantanu could not forget Satyavati. Without even being aware of it, Shantanu started hating Devavratha. Devavratha started talking something, when Shantanu held up his hands, ‘I am tired Devavratha…I do not want to talk with you…’ Shantanu said the words angrily without realizing that he had spoken angrily. Shantanu saw Devavratha look at him quietly a little bewildered…

Curtly Shantanu entered his room and banged the door shut. 

Devavratha watched his father a little hurt and a little puzzled. His father had never spoken to him like this…His father had gone to the jungles countless number of times… after each trip, his father looked happy and complete. Devavratha had guessed that his father loved being in the forests surrounded by wild animals…But today his father had looked at him angrily…Devavratha did not even know what it was that he had done wrong….Whatever it was he would wait for his father to tell him….Devavratha took a deep breath stared at the closed door for some time and then left for his own room. Devavratha tossed and turned in the bed wondering what might have happened to his father….

Shantanu was also not able to sleep. Though he had told his son that he was feeling tired, the image of Satyavati and the fisherman’s words kept him awake for almost the entire night. It was almost dawn before he could fall asleep…

The next few days were very difficult between the father and son. Every time Devavratha tried talking to his father, Shantanu would pretend to be interested in something else or ignore his son. In the evenings, Shantanu would retire to his bed very early so that he did not have to face Devavratha….

Finally Devavratha could take it no more. He went to his father’s charioteer, the man who had driven Shantanu to the forests… 

The charioteer bowed to Devavratha, ‘My prince!’ The charioteer looked at the determined angry face of the young prince and knew what was coming. He remained silent and waited for the prince to speak.

‘My father is behaving very strangely since the day he has come back from the forests…’ Devavratha said looking at the charioteer studying his face closely. ‘Before he went there, he loved me and told me everything….now it looks as if he hates me and does not want me here…’ Devavratha’s said the words unemotionally. But his heart felt like it was going to break into a million pieces when he was speaking. ‘What happened in the forests?’

The charioteer licked his lips and hesitated. 

‘Speak Now!’ Devavratha thundered. The charioteer quailed under Devavratha’s angry look and stammered out, ‘A…woman…he saw a woman, there…’

Devavratha looked at the charioteer and slowly nodded his head. He nodded his head asking the charioteer to continue. The charioteer told him everything, ‘…that silly fisherman was asking for his daughter’s children to become the ruler after him….’ The charioteer stopped talking looking at the prince. He was sure the prince was going to start shouting at him for bringing such bad news. 

The charioteer was stunned, but not because Devavratha shouted at him…but because Devavratha was laughing…. ‘My father…’ he said laughing, ‘could not marry the woman, because of that…’ Devavratha shook his head. He reached a decision and looked at that charioteer, ‘Take me to the fisherman now!’

The charioteer looked at the prince. The prince now looked dangerous. It was as if he had made up his mind and was going to do something terrible. The charioteer shuddered, ‘My prince! Whatever you are going to do, please reconsid…..’

Devavratha gave the charioteer a look which just silenced him. The charioteer knew that no amount of talking was going to convince the prince. Haughtily Devavratha got on the chariot. ‘Drive me to the fisherman…’ The charioteer realizing that he had no choice drove the chariot.

Soon they reached the banks of the river Yamuna. Devavratha smelt the fragrance of Satyavati and looked at her. I now know why my father fell in love with this woman… Devavratha thought. He nodded her head at her and then looked at the tiny settlements.  

He walked straight to the largest hut as Satyavati followed him anxiously.

‘Is Satyavati your daughter?’ Devavratha asked the reclining fisherman, who was looking around the house idly.

The fisherman sat up and looked at the determined prince. Feeling a little nervous he swallowed and got up. He bowed to the prince and said, ‘Yes sir! I brought her up!’

‘Why did you not let my father marry her?’ Devavratha asked the fisherman coming directly to the point. 

The fisherman swallowed again. His heart was thumping painfully. He was briefly considering whether to say anything or not. But in the end, greed won out and the fisherman spoke. ‘My prince, I only asked that my daughter’s children should be the king after him…I want nothing at all for myself…Your father could not promise me that…so…’ The fisherman said defensively.

Devavratha looked at the fisherman contemptuously and spoke, ‘My father could not promise you that, because it was not his promise to give…He has already used that right and appointed me as the crown prince…so he cannot give you something that he has already given me…’

The fisherman was very afraid and did not know what to say. He just looked at Devavratha just praying that he would get out of this mess with his life…What if the prince suddenly got angry and killed him…The fisherman shook his head trying to clear his thoughts. 

Devavratha looked at Satyavati and then at the fisherman, ‘I, Devavratha, the son of Shantanu and Ganga promise to give up my throne in favour of the children born from Satyavati and my father!’

The declaration was met by silence. The only noise which could be heard was the loud ‘NOOOOOOO!’ of the charioteer, who was watching the whole scene from outside the house. The charioteer was opening his mouth like a fish but no sound was coming out of it. 

Devavratha looked at the charioteer and with an angry stare silenced him. As he was turning to look at the fisherman, he saw Satyavati’s face, which had tears in her eyes. She was shaking her head wordlessly, muttering to herself.

The fisherman could not believe that he had heard right….Surely this could not have been so easy…The fisherman felt like he was in seventh heaven, when suddenly a thought occurred to him. He vigorously shook his head, ‘No this will not do…this will not do at all…’

All the other three looked at the fisherman with blank expressions…The crown prince had just given up the throne….. what more could the man want….

Devavratha recovered first, ‘What is it? You doubt my word?’ Devavratha looked angrily at the fisherman.

The fisherman’s voice was hoarse. He was almost sure that what he was going to say was going to get him killed. ‘Prince! I know you have never gone back on your word and never will….it is something else….’

Devavratha was silent and waited for the man to continue. The fisherman licked his lips and spoke haltingly, ‘You will keep your word, but what about your children, the children you will have….’

Devavratha looked dangerously at the fisherman, his eyes narrowed, ‘What about them?’

‘They will fight with the children of Satyavati! You will train your children in warfare and they will definitely be better warriors than a fisherman’s grandchildren….they will fight and take the kingdom away from my grandchildren….Then what will I do?’ The fisherman said almost wailing.

Devavratha thought for a second, ‘I will train them not to go for the throne.’

The fisherman definitely shook his head, ‘No my prince, that is not something that you can control…I am sorry!’

Devavratha bent down and studied his feet for a full second and then looked at the fisherman. The fisherman almost recoiled when he saw Devavratha’s face. In the face was an expression he did not know…was it determination or was it power….

Devavratha’s proud haughty face studied the fisherman, ‘I know I cannot promise for my children….but I can promise you not to have any children…’

Satyavati gasped…looking at Devavratha shaking her head. 

The charioteer looked like someone had yanked the world from under his legs. 

The fisherman looked fearfully like he had done something terrible. ‘What do you mean, prince?’ He whispered.

‘I, Devavratha, promise that I will never look at any woman and never have any children of my own, in this life…’ 

The declaration was met with a shower of flowers from the heavens. The Devas rained flowers on Devavratha and a voice was heard from the heavens. ‘Devavratha has kept terrible vow! He will not break it, now or ever…For keeping the vow, he will be called as ‘Bhishma – the firm’.

The fisherman looked at the entire spectacle with an awe that he could not explain. Silently he handed over Satyavati’s hand to Bhishma. 

The charioteer fumbled with the horses many times as Bhishma and Satyavati got on the chariot not believing what he had just now seen…. 

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