"You must certainly become
my wife, whoever you may be." Thus said the great King Santanu to the
goddess Ganga who stood before him in human form, intoxicating his senses with
her superhuman loveliness.
The king earnestly offered for
her love his kingdom, his wealth, his all, his very life.
Ganga replied: "O king, I
shall become your wife. But on certain conditions that neither you nor anyone
else should ever ask me who I am, or whence I come. You must also not stand in
the way of whatever I do, good or bad, nor must you ever be wroth with me on
any account whatsoever. You must not say anything displeasing to me. If you act
otherwise, I shall leave you then and there. Do you agree?"
The infatuated king vowed his
assent, and she became his wife and lived with him.
The heart of the king was
captivated by her modesty and grace and the steady love she bore him. King
Santanu and Ganga lived a life of perfect happiness, oblivious of the passage
She gave birth to many children;
each newborn babe she took to the Ganges and cast into the river, and then
returned to the king with a smiling face.
Santanu was filled with horror
and anguish at such fiendish conduct, but suffered it all in silence, mindful
of the promise be had made. Often he wondered who she was, wherefrom she had
come and why she acted like a murderous witch. Still bound by his word, and his
all-mastering love for her, he uttered no word of blame or remonstrance.
Thus she killed seven children.
When the eighth child was born and she was about to throw it into the Ganges,
Santanu could not bear it any longer.
He cried: "Stop, stop, why
are you bent on this horrid and unnatural murder of your own innocent
babes?" With this outburst the king restrained her.
"O great king," she
replied, "you have forgotten your promise, for your heart is set on your
child, and you do not need me any more. I go. I shall not kill this child, but
listen to my story before you judge me. I, who am constrained to play this
hateful role by the curse of Vasishtha, am the goddess Ganga, adored of gods
and men. Vasishtha cursed the eight Vasus to be born in the world of men, and
moved by their supplications said, I was to be their mother. I bore them to
you, and well is it for you that it was so. For you will go to higher regions
for this service you have done to the eight Vasus. I shall bring up this last
child of yours for some time and then return it to you as my gift."
After saying these words the
goddess disappeared with the child. It was this child who later became famous
as Bhishma. This was how the Vasus came to incur Vasishtha's curse. They went
for a holiday with their wives to a mountain tract where stood the hermitage of
Vasishtha: One of them saw Vasishtha's cow, Nandini, grazing there.
Its divinely beautiful form
attracted him and he pointed it out to the ladies. They were all loud in praise
of the graceful animal, and one of them
requested her husband to secure it for her.
He replied: "What need have
we, the devas, for the milk of cows? This cow belongs to the sage Vasishtha who
is the master of the whole place. Man will certainly become immortal by
drinking its milk. But this is no gain to us, who are already immortal. Is it
worth our while incurring Vasishtha's wrath merely to satisfy a whim?"
But she was not thus to be put
off. "I have a dear companion in the mortal world. It is for her sake that
I make this request. Before Vasishtha returns we shall have escaped with the
cow. You must certainly do this for my sake, for it is my dearest wish."
Finally her husband yielded. All the Vasus joined together and took the cow and
its calf away with them.
When Vasishtha returned to his
ashrama, he missed the cow and the calf, because they were indispensable for
his daily rituals.
Very soon he came to know by his
yogic insight all that had taken place. Anger seized him and he uttered a curse
against the Vasus. The sage, whose sole wealth was his austerity, willed that
they should be born into the world of men. When the Vasus came to know of the
curse, repentant too late, they threw themselves on the sage's mercy and
Vasishtha said: "The curse
must needs take its course. Prabhasa, the Vasu who seized the cow, will live
long in the world in all glory, but the others will be freed from the curse as
soon as born. My words cannot prove ineffective, but I shall soften the curse
to this extent."
Afterwards, Vasishtha set his
mind again on his austerities, the effect of which had been slightly impaired
by his anger. Sages who perform austerities acquire the power to curse, but
every exercise of this power reduces their store of merit.
The Vasus felt relieved and
approached the goddess Ganga and begged of her: "We pray you to become our
mother. For our sake we beseech you to descend to the earth and marry a worthy
man. Throw us into the water as soon as we are born and liberate us from the
curse." The goddess granted their prayer, came to the earth and became the
wife of Santanu.
When the goddess Ganga left Santanu and disappeared with
the eighth child, the king gave up all sensual pleasures and ruled the kingdom
in a spirit of asceticism. One day he was wandering along the banks of the
Ganges when he saw a boy endowed with the beauty and form of Devendra, the king
of the gods.
The child was amusing himself by
casting a dam of arrows across the Ganges in flood, playing with the mighty
river as a child with an indulgent mother. To the king who stood transfixed
with amazement at the sight, the goddess Ganga revealed herself and presented
the child as his own son.
She said: "O king, this is
that eighth child I bore you. I have brought him up till now. His name is Devavrata. He has mastered the art
of arms and equals Parasurama in prowess. He has learnt the Vedas and the
Vedanta from Vasishtha, and is well versed in the arts and sciences known to
Sukra. Take back with you this child who is a great archer and hero as well as
a master in statecraft."
Then she blessed the boy, handed
him to his father, the king, and disappeared.