Once when King Shantanu, was roaming in the forest. There he saw a divine woman. In truth, she was the personification of the river Ganges. She was glancing at the king with her youthful longing eyes, and King Shantanu became attracted to her. He then approached her questioning, O beautiful woman, are you from the race of the Gandharvas, Apsaras, Yakshas,  Nagas or the human race? As yet I have no queen, and your birth seems divine. Whatever your origin, I request you to become my wife.

King Shantanu

The beautiful celestial maiden then smilingly replied, O King, I shall become your wife and obey your commands, but there are certain conditions. You should not interfere with my actions, whether agreeable or disagreeable. Also you should never rebuke me with harsh words. If you approval to my request, I shall live with you. The King, obsessed with love, agreed to her proposals.

Here I found the lady was extremely beautiful and possessive in nature. She made king Shantanu (to some extent king Pratipa also) her puppet. Moreover, I think that the lady had nothing to say about her birth identity.

After marrying Ganga, Maharaja Shantanu passed many years in her association. She satisfied the King by her charm and warmth, as well as by her music and dance; and thus the King passed many seasons unconscious of time. While enjoying himself in her company, he conceived eight children by her that were equal in quality to the heavenly Gods. However, on the birth of each child, Ganga threw them into the river, exclaiming, this is for your good! The King was not pleased with his wife’s conduct, but he dared not speak a punishing word, in case she leaves his company. However, when the eighth child was born, the King could not bear the killing of another child and he spoke harshly, do not kill this child! Why do you kill your own children?

King Shantanu

When accused Ganga with these words, the divine beauty replied, I shall not throw this child into the river, but according to our marriage agreement, our relationship has ended. I am Ganga, the personification of the River Ganges, and I am ever-worshipped by the great sages and common people. My origin is from Lord Vishnu. I have lived with you only to accomplish the purpose of the demigods. The eight Vasus(In Hinduism, the Vasus are attendant deities of Indra, and later Vishnu) were cursed by sage Vashistha, and thus they have appeared on earth as a reaction to that curse. They have pleaded with me to free them from this burden immediately after their birth. I have accompanied you long enough to fulfill my promise to the Vasus. This last child is destined to live on earth for some time. His name will be Devabrata, and he will be famous as a lion among men.

Maharaja Shantanu then inquired from his wife, what crime did the Vasu’s commit for which they were born on earth as human beings? Why, also, is this last child destined to live on earth longer than the others?

Being thus questioned by the King of the earth, Ganga replied to the King, on Mount Meru there are many picturesque forests. In one such forest lives a renowned sage named Vashistha. He is expert in the practice of strictness and meditation. With the help of his Kamadhenu cow, he accomplishes sacrifices to please the Supreme Being. One day, the eight Vasus with their wives headed by Prithu came to that forest. Roaming about, the Vasus entered the hermitage of Sage Vashistha. At that time they spotted the celestial cow. One of the Vasus, whose name was Dyu, along with his brothers, abducted the Kamadhenu cow, forgetting who the actual owner was.

King Shantanu

That evening, when Vashistha came back to his hermitage, he could not find his Kamadhenu cow or its calf. He began to search the forest, but nowhere could they be found. By his spiritual power, he then understood that the cow and its calf had been taken away by the Vasus. When the sage’s anger was sparked, he cursed the Vasus. He cursed them to be born on earth as ordinary mortals.’ The sage then returned to his practice of meditation.

When the Vasus heard of Vashistha’s curse, they came to his hermitage to appease him. They praised him with amiable words and offered to return the cow. However, they failed to obtain mercy from the great sage. The great brahmana Vashistha, who is naturally kind to everyone, then sympathetically said, you will be freed from it shortly after your earthly birth. However, your brother Dyu, who actually stole my cow, shall have to stay on earth for a long period of time. Dyu, though living on earth, shall remain unmarried and have no children. He will, however, be a man of regal quality and will know the essence of the Holy Scriptures.

The Vasus Ganga continued, then came to me and begged an approval. They requested that I immerse them into the waters of the Ganges immediately upon taking their birth. O best among kings, I have fulfilled their desire, but this last child, Dyu, will have to reside on earth for some time to fulfill the curse of Sage Vashistha. Having related the Vasus’ history, Ganga vanished with the child, and the King returned to his palace with a mournful heart.

Here also I am surprised to see that King Shantanu never took his wife at Hastinapur. He spent 8 to 10 years with her (minimum time to reproduce 8 sons) interruptedly and neglecting his kingdom and his subjects. But why?

( Ref: https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/mahabharata/d/doc118367.html )

For a long time King Shantanu had to learn to live in separation from his wife and son. One day while chasing a deer along the bank of the Ganges, the King spotted a handsome, powerful, and heroic youth. The boy was releasing celestial weapons obstructing the flow of the Ganges. This young boy was King Shantanu’s son, whom he had not seen since the boy was born. However, the King could not identify him as such because he had only seen his son for a few moments after his birth. The youth, upon seeing his father, knew him to be so and out of shyness vanished from sight.

King Shantanu

King Shantanu was struck with miracle and imagined that the youth might be his own son. He then continued down the river bank, and there he saw Ganga whom he had not seen in years. As he came near her, he saw the same boy standing at her side. She then informed the king; about their eighth child is standing next to her. His name is Devabrata. He has been trained in the divine planets and has knowledge of all.

  1. Brihaspati: Taught Devabrata the duties of kings (Dandaneeti), or political science and other Shastras ( Shastra is a Sanskrit word that means “precept, rules, manual, compendium, book or treatise” in a general sense).
  2. Shukracharya: Taught Devabrata in political science and other branches of knowledge.
  3. Vashishtha: Taught the Vedas and the Vedangas (Vedanga are six auxiliary disciplines of Hinduism that developed in ancient times, and have been connected with the study of the Vedas).
  4. Sanatkumara: Taught Devabrata the mental and spiritual sciences.
  5. Markandeya: Taught Devavrata in the duties of the Yatis.
  6. Parashurama: Parashurama trained Bhishma in warfare.
  7. Indra: The king of the Devas. He bestowed celestial weapons on Bhishma. (Mahabharata Shanti Parva, section 38).

Now that his training is complete, you may take Devabrata and raise him as your own. Thus commanded by Ganga, Devabrata accompanied Maharaja Shantanu to his capital city.

Maharaja Shantanu became attached to the boy who was gifted with all good qualities. Devabrata also became attached to his father, and it was seen that the two were always together. They talked together, walked together, ate together, slept together, and hunted together. Indeed, they were almost inseparable. Four years passed in this way.

Also read Bhishma-The Tragic Character of Mahabharata- Part I

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