As little children we are permitted to take almost anything we fancy so long as it does us no harm. As we grow older we are taught to restrain ourselves from taking things that do not belong to us. The more restrained one is, from taking or wanting or wishing to have had things that do not belong to oneself, the better. Those who ask to possess for a while, things that belong to others are borrowers; those who ask things for themselves from others are beggars and those who take things from others for themselves without the other’s knowledge are robbers. Though none of the three qualities is appreciated, it is the third quality that causes the most harm and carries above it sanctions both social and legal. But are not there robbers who go scot-free and have all the enjoyment at the expense of others? When one is unable to explain the suffering of the righteous or the enjoyment of one steeped in vice, what point is there in living a virtuous life?
The eight Vasus and their wives were out in the mountains to enjoy themselves and they happened to come by sage Vashishta’s hermitage. The sage was away but grazing nearby was Nandini – the divine cow. One of the Vasus was drawn much by the cow’s radiant beauty and praised it. His wife too was taken in by the gentle and graceful animal and insisted that they take the cow with them. The rest of the Vasus resisted the suggestion. The allure of the cow’s beauty and his wife’s influence made this Vasu persuade all of them to agree and they forcefully took the cow away.
When Vashishta returned to his hermitage and found his cow gone, he was furious. He found out what had happened. He seeked out the Vasus and cursed them thus: You have committed a crime that least befits your position. Hence you deserve to be born in the lower realms!
The Vasus, terrified, immediately returned Nandini and pleaded with the sage to revoke his curse. However, a curse once uttered cannot be taken back and the sage, now much calmed said: Since only this Vasu yielded to the temptation to steal, only he shall have to live the entire mortal’s life on earth. The rest of you shall be liberated from the curse soon after you are born.
The Vasus then went to goddess Ganga, told her of the curse incurred by them and begged of her to be their mother on earth. She agreed and went down to the earth and married king Shantanu laying down the condition that he shall not question any of her actions.
When the first seven Vasus were born, she flung them all into the river Ganga, thus liberating them soon after their birth. But when the eighth Vasu was born, the king who had hitherto stood by unquestioningly, unable to hold back his fury at his wife’s apparent wickedness, stopped her and questioned of her why she committed such an act. Revealing to the king her true identity and explaining to him the reason behind her actions, the goddess said: Since you have broken the promise given me I shall no longer live with you. This child shall live a full life. I shall now take him with me and return him to you in due course.
The purpose of her advent on earth served, the goddess vanished along with the baby into the waters leaving behind the grief stricken and remorseful king. After a period of sixteen years the child, now a young and learned boy, was returned to the king. This boy was Devavrata later to become the terrible Bheeshma, respected by all and feared by all and who cared for all yet knew no happiness all through his life on earth!