And these ruled the kingdom

As we move along the Sambhava parva of the Mahabharata, we find the Bharata dynasty in a crisis after the death of Shantanu’s two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. They leave behind no male heirs, and their step-brother, Bhishma, is in no mood to break his vows and accept the throne of Hastinapura.

Published: 06th March 2017 11:04 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th March 2017 04:41 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD:  As we move along the Sambhava parva of the Mahabharata, we find the Bharata dynasty in a crisis after the death of Shantanu’s two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. They leave behind no male heirs, and their step-brother, Bhishma, is in no mood to break his vows and accept the throne of Hastinapura.


The impasse is resolved after a discussion between Satyavati and Bhishma. Bhishma reminds his step-mother of the age-old tradition of allowing brahmins to impregnate kshatriya wives in order to get a male heir for the kingdom.


In a previous eon, Bhishma reminds Satyavati, a sage called Parshurama had annihilated all the male kshatriyas in the world.

Thereafter, the kshatriyas could be remade only after kshatriya women produced offsprings from their union with brahmins. Convinced through these precedents, Bhishma’s proposes that Vichitravirya’s wives be made to unite with a brahmin of high powers such that suitable heirs to the kingdom may be produced.


Satyavati agrees. And believes that her own son (from a pre-marital union with a brahmin), named Krishna Dvaipayana, is the ideal candidate to further the Bharata lineage. It is to be noted that this Krishna Dvaipayana is also titled Veda Vyasa, and is, in fact, none other than the writer of the very tale that we are reading.


Now spare a thought for Vichitravirya’s two wives, Ambika and Ambalika. First, they are abducted from their father’s kingdom in Kashi by Bhishma. They did not like getting kidnapped, one assumes. Then they are forcibly married to Vichitravirya.

They did not like it at first but then grew to accept the circumstances, one assumes that too. Then Vichitravirya dies. Well, they must have grieved. Then, they are asked to have sex with Krishna Dvaipayana, a man so self-consciously ugly that his only condition before 
accepting Satyavati’s command is to say that the royal wives accept his ugliness. They did not like this arrangement either, one can understand easily.


So, during intercourse with Krishna, Ambika shuts her eyes and Ambalika grows pale, and the two thus give birth to the blind Dhritarashtra and the pale Pandu respectively. Dhristarashtra will become ruler by primogeniture, but since he is blind, Satyavati asks Krishna to try again with Ambika.

This time, Ambika 
escapes the ordeal and arranges a consort for Krishna instead. From this union is born Vidura.
One can say that this effort to extend Shantanu’s lineage is ridden with faults, and already contains the seeds of the grand conflict that will come later. 


Dhritarashtra cannot be king because he is blind; Pandu cannot be king because he is not the eldest; and Vidura cannot be king because he is not of the lineage in the first place.

The only person who ought to be king, Bhishma, has already reneged the kingdom through a vow. It is fascinating, though, that two women’s responses during intercourse will determine the fate of the entire world.
(The writer’s first novel ‘Neon Noon’ is now available)

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