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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Vaisampayana said, ‘There was a king known by the name of Mahabhisha born in the race of Ikshvaku. He was the lord of all the earth, and was truthful (in speech) and of true prowess. By a thousand horse-sacrifices and a hundred Rajasuyas he had gratified the chief of the celestials and ultimately attained to heaven.
“One day the celestials had assembled together and were worshipping Brahman. Many royal sages and king Mahabhisha also were present on the spot. And Ganga, the queen of rivers, also came there to pay her adorations to the Grandsire. And her garments white as the beams of the moon was displaced by the action of the wind. And as her person became exposed, the celestials bent down their heads. But the royal sage Mahabhisha rudely stared at the queen of rivers. And Mahabhisha was for this cursed by Brahman, who said, ‘Wretch, as thou hast forgotten thyself at the sight of Ganga, thou shalt be re-born on earth. But thou shall again and again attain to these regions. And she, too, shall be born in the world of men and shall do thee injuries. But when thy wrath shall be provoked, thou shalt then be freed from my curse.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘King Mahabhisha then recollecting all the monarchs and ascetics on earth, wished to be born as son to Pratipa of great prowess. And the queen of rivers, too, seeing king Mahabhisha lose his firmness, went away, thinking of him wishfully. And on her way, she saw those dwellers in heaven, the Vasus, also pursuing the same path. And the queen of rivers beholding them in the predicament, asked them, ‘Why look ye so dejected? Ye dwellers in heaven, is everything right with you?’ Those celestials, the Vasus, answered her, saying, ‘O queen of rivers, we have been cursed, for a venial fault, by the illustrious Vasishtha in anger.
The foremost of excellent Rishis, Vasishtha, had been engaged in his twilight adorations and seated as he was, he could not be seen by us. We crossed him in ignorance. Therefore, in wrath he hath cursed us, saying, Be ye born among men!’ It is beyond our power to frustrate what hath been said by that utterance of Brahma. Therefore, O river, thyself becoming a human female make us the Vasus, thy children. O amiable one, we are unwilling to enter the womb of any human female.’ Thus addressed, the queen of rivers told them, ‘Be it so and asked them, ‘On earth, who is that foremost of men whom ye will make your father?’
“The Vasus replied, ‘On earth, unto Pratipa shall be born a son, Santanu, who will be a king of world-wide fame.’ Ganga then said, ‘Ye celestials, that is exactly my wish which ye sinless ones have expressed. I shall, indeed, do good to that Santanu. That is also your desire as just expressed.’ The Vasus then said, ‘It behoveth thee to throw thy children after birth, into the water, so that, O thou of three courses (celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean) we may be rescued soon without having to live on earth for any length of time.’ Ganga then answered, ‘I shall do what ye desire. But in order that his intercourse with me may not be entirely fruitless, provide ye that one son at least may live.’ The Vasus then replied, ‘We shall each contribute an eighth part of our respective energies With the sum thereof, thou shall have one son according to thy and his wishes. But this son shall not begat any children on earth. Therefore, that son of thine endued with great energy, shall be childless.’
“The Vasus, making this arrangement with Ganga, went away without Waiting to the place they liked.’”
“Vaisampayana said. ‘There was a king of the name of Pratipa, who was kind to all creatures. He spent many years in ascetic penances at the source of the river Ganga. The accomplished and lovely Ganga, one day, assuming the form of a beautiful female, and rising from the waters, made up to the monarch. The celestial maiden, endued with ravishing beauty, approached the royal sage engaged in ascetic austerities, and sat upon his right thigh that was, for manly strength, a veritable Sala tree. When the maiden of handsome face had so sat upon his lap, the monarch said unto her, ‘O amiable one, what dost thou desire? What shall I do?’ The damsel answered, ‘I desire thee, O king, for my husband! O foremost one of the Kurus, be mine! To refuse a woman coming of her own accord is never applauded by the wise.’ Pratipa answered, ‘O thou of the fairest complexion, moved by lust, I never go in unto others’ wives or women that are not of my order.
This, indeed, is my virtuous vow.’ The maiden rejoined, ‘I am not inauspicious or ugly. I am every way worthy of being enjoyed. I am a celestial maiden of rare beauty; I desire thee for my husband. Refuse me not, O king.’ To this Pratipa answered, ‘I am, ‘O damsel, abstaining from that course to which thou wouldst incite me. If I break my vow, sin will overwhelm and kill me. O thou of the fairest complexion, thou hast embraced me, sitting on my right thigh. But, O timid one, know that this is the seat for daughters and daughters-in-law. The left lap is for the wife, but thou hast not accepted that. Therefore, O best of women, I cannot enjoy thee as an object of desire. Be my daughter-in-law. I accept thee for my son!’
“The damsel then said, ‘O virtuous one, let it be as thou sayest. Let me be united with thy son. From my respect for thee, I shall be a wife of the celebrated Bharata race. Ye (of the Bharata race) are the refuge of all the monarchs on earth! I am incapable of numbering the virtues of this race even within a hundred years. The greatness and goodness of many celebrated monarchs of this race are limitless. O lord of all, let it be understood now that when I become thy daughter-in-law, thy son shall not be able to judge of the propriety of my acts. Living thus with thy son, I shall do good to him and increase his happiness. And he shall finally attain to heaven in consequence of the sons I shall bear him, and of his virtues and good conduct.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘O king, having said so, the celestial damsel disappeared then and there. And the king, too, waited for the birth of his son in order to fulfil his promise.’
“About this time Pratipa, that light of the Kuru race, that bull amongst Kshatriyas, was engaged, along with his wife, in austerities from desire of offspring. And when they had grown old, a son was born unto them. This was no other than Mahabhisha. And the child was called Santanu because he was born when his father had controlled his passions by ascetic penances. And the best of Kurus, Santanu, knowing that region of indestructible bliss can be acquired by one’s deeds alone, became devoted to virtue. When Santanu grew up into a youth, Pratipa addressed him and said, ‘Some time ago, O Santanu, a celestial damsel came to me for thy good. If thou meetest that fair-complexioned one in secret and if she solicit thee for children, accept her as thy wife. And, O sinless one, judge not of the propriety or impropriety of her action and ask not who she is, or whose or whence, but accept her as thy wife at my command!’” Vaisampayana continued, ‘Pratipa, having thus commanded his son Santanu and installed him on his throne, retired into the woods. And king Santanu endued with great intelligence and equal unto Indra himself in splendour, became addicted to hunting and passed much of his time in the woods. And the best of monarchs always slew deer and buffaloes. And one day, as he was wandering along the bank of the Ganges, he came upon a region frequented by Siddhas and Charanas. And there he saw a lovely maiden of blazing beauty and like unto another Sri herself; of faultless and pearly teeth and decked with celestial ornaments, and attired in garments of fine texture that resembled in splendour the filaments of the lotus. And the monarch, on beholding that damsel, became surprised, and his raptures produced instant horripilation. With steadfast gaze he seemed to be drinking her charms, but repeated draughts failed to quench his thirst. The damsel also beholding the monarch of blazing splendour moving about in great agitation, was moved herself and experienced an affection for him. She gazed and gazed and longed to gaze on him evermore. The monarch then in soft words addressed her and said, ‘O slender-waisted one, be thou a goddess or the daughter of a Danava, be thou of the race of the Gandharvas, or Apsaras, be thou of the Yakshas or the Nagas, or be thou of human origin, O thou of celestial beauty, I solicit thee to be my wife!’”
“Vaisampayana said, ‘The maiden then, hearing those soft and sweet words of the smiling monarch, and remembering her promise to the Vasus, addressed the king in reply. Of faultless features, the damsel sending a thrill of pleasure into the heart by every word she uttered, said, ‘O king, I shall become thy wife and obey thy commands. But, O monarch, thou must not interfere with me in anything I do, be it agreeable or disagreeable. Nor shall thou ever address me unkindly. As long as thou shalt behave kindly I promise to live with thee. But I shall certainly leave thee the moment thou interferest with me or speakest to me an unkind word.’ The king answered, ‘Be it so.’ And thereupon the damsel obtaining that excellent monarch, that foremost one of the Bharata race for her husband, became highly pleased. And king Santanu also, obtaining her for his wife, enjoyed to the full the pleasure of her company. And adhering to his promise, he refrained from asking her anything. And the lord of earth, Santanu, became exceedingly gratified with her conduct, beauty, magnanimity, and attention to his comforts. And the goddess Ganga also, of three courses (celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean) assuming a human form of superior complexion and endued with celestial beauty, lived happily as the wife of Santanu, having as the fruit of her virtuous acts, obtained for her husband, that tiger among kings equal unto Indra himself in splendour. And she gratified the king by her attractiveness and affection, by her wiles and love, by her music and dance, and became herself gratified. And the monarch was so enraptured with his beautiful wife that months, seasons, and years rolled on without his being conscious of them.
And the king, while thus enjoying himself with his wife, had eight children born unto him who in beauty were like the very celestials themselves. But, O Bharata, those children, one after another, as soon as they were born, were thrown into the river by Ganga who said, ‘This is for thy good.’ And the children sank to rise no more. The king, however, could not be pleased with such conduct. But he spoke not a word about it lest his wife should leave him. But when the eighth child was born, and when his wife as before was about to throw it smilingly into the river, the king with a sorrowful countenance and desirous of saving it from destruction, addressed her and said, ‘Kill it not! Who art thou and whose? Why dost thou kill thy own children? Murderess of thy sons, the load of thy sins is great!’” His wife, thus addressed, replied, ‘O thou desirous of offspring, thou hast already become the first of those that have children. I shall not destroy this child of thine. But according to our agreement, the period of my stay with thee is at an end. I am Ganga, the daughter of Jahnu.
I am ever worshipped by the great sages; I have lived with thee so long for accomplishing the purposes of the celestials. The eight illustrious Vasus endued with great energy had, from Vasishtha’s curse, to assume human forms. On earth, besides thee, there was none else to deserve the honour of being their begetter. There is no woman also on earth except one like me, a celestial of human form, to become their mother. I assumed a human form to bring them forth. Thou also, having become the father of the eight Vasus, hast acquired many regions of perennial bliss. It was also agreed between myself and the Vasus that I should free them from their human forms as soon as they would be born. I have thus freed them from the curse of the Rishi Apava. Blest be thou; I leave thee, O king! But rear thou this child of rigid vows. That I should live with thee so long was the promise I gave to the Vasus. And let this child be called Gangadatta.’”
“Santanu asked, ‘What was the fault of the Vasus and who was Apava, through whose curse the Vasus had to be born among men? What also hath this child of thine, Gangadatta, done for which he shall have to live among men? Why also were the Vasus, the lords of the three worlds, condemned to be born amongst men? O daughter of Jahnu, tell me all.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Thus addressed, the celestial daughter of Jahnu, Ganga, then replied unto the monarch, her husband, that bull amongst men, saying, ‘O best of Bharata’s race, he who was obtained as son by Varuna was called Vasishtha, the Muni who afterwards came to be known as Apava. He had his asylum on the breast of the king of mountains called Meru. The spot was sacred and abounded with birds and beasts. And there bloomed at all times of the year flowers of every season. And, O best of Bharata’s race, that foremost of virtuous men, the son of Varuna, practised his ascetic penances in those woods abounding with sweet roots and water.
“Daksha had a daughter known by the name of Surabhi, who, O bull of Bharata’s race, for benefiting the world, brought forth, by her connection with Kasyapa, a daughter (Nandini) in the form of a cow. That foremost of all kine, Nandini, was the cow of plenty (capable of granting every desire). The virtuous son of Varuna obtained Nandini for his Homa rites. And Nandini, dwelling in that hermitage which was adored by Munis, roamed about fearlessly in those sacred and delightful woods.
“One day, O bull of Bharata’s race, there came into those woods adored by the gods and celestial Rishis, the Vasus with Prithu at their head. And wandering there with their wives, they enjoyed themselves in those delightful woods and mountains. And as they wandered there, the slender-waisted wife of one of the Vasus, O thou of the prowess of Indra, saw in those woods Nandini, the cow of plenty. And seeing that cow possessing the wealth of all accomplishments, large eyes, full udders, fine tail, beautiful hoofs, and every other auspicious sign, and yielding much milk, she showed the animal to her husband Dyu. O thou of the prowess of the first of elephants, when Dyu was shown that cow, he began to admire her several qualities and addressing his wife, said, ‘O black-eyed girl of fair thighs, this excellent cow belongeth to that Rishi whose is this delightful asylum. O slender-waisted one, that mortal who drinketh the sweet milk of this cow remaineth in unchanged youth for ten thousand years.’ O best of monarchs, hearing this, the slender-waisted goddess of faultless features then addressed her lord of blazing splendour and said, ‘There is on earth a friend of mine, Jitavati by name, possessed of great beauty and youth. She is the daughter of that god among men, the royal sage Usinara, endued with intelligence and devoted to truth. I desire to have this cow, O illustrious one, with her calf for that friend of mine. Therefore, O best of celestials, bring that cow so that my friend drinking of her milk may alone become on earth free from disease and decrepitude. O illustrious and blameless one, it behoveth thee to grant me this desire of mine. There is nothing that would be more agreeable to me.’ On hearing these words of his wife, Dyu, moved by the desire of humouring her, stole that cow, aided by his brothers Prithu and the others. Indeed, Dyu, commanded by his lotus-eyed wife, did her bidding, forgetting at the moment the high ascetic merits of the Rishi who owned her. He did not think at the time that he was going to fall by committing the sin of stealing the cow.