Mahabharat Episode 6: The Birth of Devavrata
In this Mahabharat episode, we see the results of the meeting of Shantanu and Ganga, which is tied in with a curse from sage Vasishta.
When the eighth one was born, Shantanu followed Ganga helplessly to the river. When she was just about to drown the child, he grabbed the infant and said, “Enough. Why are you doing such inhuman things?” Ganga replied, “You have broken the condition. It is time for me to go. But I owe you an explanation, so let me tell you why.”
A long time ago, Sage Vasishta was living in his ashram, where there was a certain cow named Nandini, who had divine qualities. One day eight vasus were holidaying in the area. The scripture goes about describing the vasus as people who flew around in vimanas or some kind of crafts. These crafts were self-driven. They even go to the extent of saying how the surface of the crafts was so smooth, like the surface of liquid mercury. They say there were lights inside these crafts, but no fire or oil. The light burned by itself.
These vasus were hanging around and they walked through Vasishta’s ashram, where they saw Nandini. One of the vasu’s – whose name was Prabhasa – his wife said, “I want that cow.” Unthinking, Prabhasa said, “Come, let’s get the cow.” One or two of them said, “But this is not our cow. The cow belongs to a sage. Why should we take it?” Prabhasa’s wife replied, “Cowards always come up with excuses. You can't get the cow so you’re coming up with dharma.” Hearing this, Prabhasa became very macho and with the help of his companions, they went and stole the cow.
When Vasishta realized that his dear cow was being stolen, he caught them and cursed them, “How dare you! You come as guests. We treat you well. And in the end you want to steal my cow and go. May you be born as human beings with all the limitations. Let your wings be clipped that you cannot fly. You have to walk upon this earth, you have to carry physical bodies, you have to be born and you have to die like everybody else.” These eight vasus then begged Ganga, “Make sure we are born in your womb. Make our lives upon that planet as brief as possible.”
Ganga told Shantanu, “I was only fulfilling their desire. They just wanted to be born and be done with the curse. I saved seven of them but you saved the eighth one. Anyway, this is Prabhasa who instigated the theft. Maybe he deserves a longer life upon this planet, but because he is an infant, I will take him with me. When he is sixteen, I will bring him back. I will make sure he has finished his education. All that is necessary for him to be a good king, I will teach him and leave him with you when he is sixteen.” Saying this, she took the child and left.
Shantanu became listless and lost. He walked about forlorn and lost interest in his kingdom. One who had been a great king became a frustrated, depressed man. He simply walked around not knowing what to do.
Sixteen years later, Ganga returned with the boy, who was named Devavrata, and handed him over to Shantanu. Devavrata had learnt his archery from no less than Parashurama himself. He learnt the Vedas from Brihaspati. He had learnt everything from the best possible teachers, and was fully ready to be a king. When Shantanu saw him, all his depression went away and he took to his son with great love and enthusiasm, coronating him as the Yuvraj or as the crown prince.
Devavrata took up the administration and was doing everything well at Shantanu’s behest, so he became free and happy once again. One day, Shantanu went out hunting and again fell in love!
To be continued...