Mahabharata Stories: 7 – The Flame of Revenge

Even when a baby is born seemingly perfect, we do not expect perfection from it. For, to err is human. Even the greatest of men commit mistakes, some unwittingly and some otherwise. In order for a person to avoid committing mistakes and be perfect, he needs to be conscious always. The level of consciousness is what distinguishes one man from another. For, when a mistake is committed, whether unwittingly or not, one has to face the consequence of having committed it!

When Vichitravirya, Satyavati’s son, came of age, Bheeshma sought for him the hands of the well-accomplished and beautiful princesses of Kashi, the sisters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. The other princes assembled at the place, little knowing the purpose of his visit, mocked at the apparently improper presence of Bheeshma, whom the world knew as a sworn celibate. An enraged Bheeshma challenged the princes and, putting all of them down with careless ease, carried away the three princesses in his chariot.

Sadly, Bheeshma was not aware of the fact that Amba had set her heart upon Salva, the king of Saubala, and was about to place the garland around his neck. On the way, Salva stopped Bheeshma and challenged him to a fight and consequently faced a humiliating defeat

It was only after they arrived at Hastinapura that Amba revealed her mind. Bheeshma, realising that he had committed a mistake, made elaborate arrangements for the princess to be taken to Saubala. But when Amba arrived, the king turned her down saying: I was defeated by Bheeshma in the presence of many. Hence it is not honourable that I accept you!

Amba, heart-broken and angry, returned to Hastinapura and told Bheeshma of her predicament. Bheeshma tried to persuade Vichitravirya to marry the princess but he declined, saying: I cannot marry someone whose heart has already been given to another!

Sometime later, again Bheeshma sent her to Saubala thinking Salva might change his mind but he staunchly refused to accept her. Amba was furious. She told Bheeshma: You are to blame for my present state. Hence you have to marry me!

But Bheeshma could not marry because of his vow. Amba, holding Bheeshma solely responsible for her painfully severed life, swore to destroy him. She prayed austerely to Lord Subrahmanya and obtained from him a garland of ever-fresh lotuses whose wearer would become the slayer of Bheeshma.

She went with the garland to all the kings famed for their strength and courage. But none of them dared antagonise Bheeshma. Finally she went to King Drupada with the same request but even he refused. She hung the dreaded garland at his palace gate and went away to the forest.

In the forest, she met many ascetics who advised her to go to Parasurama and ask for his help. When Parasurama heard Amba’s sad plight, he offered to induce Salva into marrying her. But Amba said: I care not for marriage or domestic life any more. I only want revenge! Would you please help me?

Consequently, a long and equal combat between the greatest among fighters of the time took place. Ultimately, however, Parasurama had to accept defeat before Bheeshma.

Amba was now desperate for revenge. She underwent tortuous austerities and from Lord Siva received the boon that she would slay Bheeshma in her following birth. Soon afterwards she plunged into a pyre.

She was then born as King Drupada’s daughter. When a child, she saw the garland of ever-fresh lotuses, hitherto left untouched by fear, at the gate and wore it. The anguished king, fearing Bheeshma’s wrath, sent his daughter into exile to the forest. There she practiced austerities and in due course, with the help of a Yaksha, was transformed into a male, the warrior Sikhandin.

In the Great War, Bheeshma, aware that Sikhandin was born a female, did not attack him. On the tenth day of war, Sikhandin took Sri Krishna’s place on Arjuna’s chariot and both of them shot arrows at Bheeshma. The grandsire singled out Arjuna’s arrows as the ones more piercing and painful; thus did his tormented life on earth come to a glorious end!



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