Mahabharata Stories: 33 – The Uncrowned Ruler

In these days of intense political disarray, it is very common to come across puppet power and proxy rules. These situations are steeped in power-wielding self-interest. In the times of the Mahabharata, there was one who had to rule for long in place of the true king, only he did it for the kingdom: the Great Bheeshma.

When he was twenty years of age and had spent barely four years with his father, King Santanu, he had to give up once and for all his claim to the throne to fulfil his father’s desire of marrying Satyavati. And this, though he was very well trained in arms under the tutelage of the legendary Parasurama and the Vedas and Vedanta under sage Vasishta and the great teacher Shukra.

When Santanu died, he left behind two young sons by Satyavati namely Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Since they were not old enough to take care of the kingdom, Bheeshma took the kingdom under his protection for several years. When Chitrangada was old enough, he was crowned king but, unfortunately, he was soon thereafter killed in a battle with a Gandharva and Vichitravirya became king.


After a few years, Vichitravirya died of consumption leaving behind his two childless widows. Yet again, Bheeshma had to keep enemies at bay and ensure that the two widows bore children through sage Vyasa, who was Satyavati’s son by sage Parasara. Bheeshma also had to take care of the two sons born thereafter, Dhritarashtra and Pandu. So for many years Bheeshma ruled as the unproclaimed king!

Then it was time for coronation and Pandu, though the younger of the two, was made ruler as Dhritarashtra was born blind. But within a few years, Pandu retired to the forest with his two wives, Kunti and Madri to make amends for a misdeed perpetrated by him. Again, the burden of the kingdom had to fall on Bheeshma’s shoulders until Pandu’s and Dhritarashtra’s sons should grow up!

But even then, things did not turn to smooth sailing for the grand old man of the grand old epic. He had to live on to see the bitterest of enmity between the closest in blood relations. And, until the end, he was as pure as his mother, the pristine Ganga, who springs on ever-fresh, ever-pure and, along the way, takes upon herself the turmoil of every soul that comes by her. He lived on for the sake of everyone else but himself until the end – until he merged into the ocean of tranquillity!


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