Mahabharat Episode 9: Amba Thirsts For Revenge
In this Mahabharat episode, a desolate and increasingly desperate Amba seeks out someone who will kill Bhishma and avenge her, and sets forth a sequence of events that will culminate many years later at the battle of Kurukshetra.
Bhishma Fights Parashurama
Then Amba went in search of Parashurama. Parashurama was Bhishma’s teacher for arms training, especially archery. When she went and prostrated herself before Parashurama and expressed her plight, Parashurama said, “Don’t worry, I will fix this for you.” He called Bhishma. Bhishma came and prostrated himself. Parashurama said, “Enough! Enough of your vow. Just marry this woman.” For the first time Bhishma said, “You are my guru. If you ask me to take away my own head, I will do it but do not ask me to break my vow. I have taken a vow that I cannot break.”
You will see throughout the story, there are men who will take a vow, and no matter what – life or death, it doesn’t matter what it causes – they want to keep that word. Why this is so is, these are times when people are striving to bring civilization from a totally uncivilized existence. In this effort, a man’s word is the most important thing. There are no constitutions or penal codes written down. In such a condition a man’s word is the most important thing. If I say something, I do it and do it at any cost. When there is no law, a man’s word is the only law.
But Parashurama is not used to disobedience. He is obedient-obedient! When his father asked him to take away the heads of all his brothers and his mother, without a thought he lopped off all four heads. His father was pleased with his obedience and said, “Ask for a boon. What do you want?” Parashurama said, “I want my mother and my brothers to come back to life.” So his father gave them back their lives.
Disobedience is one thing that Parashurama cannot take because that is how he has grown up. When he saw Bhishma is unwilling to obey, he went into a rage and the two of them had a duel – an extra-ordinary duel. But Parashurama had taught Bhishma everything he knew and found that he could not beat him. Both of them fought bitterly for days on end and when they found that no one could be the winner, Parashurama threw up his hands and told Amba, “You have to find somebody else.”
Amba moved into the Himalayan region and went into deep austerities. She sat upon the snow-clad peaks and went into a deep state of sadhana, calling for Karthikeya, the son of Shiva, who is a great warrior. In her mind, she thought Karthikeya would be the one person who would be able to kill Bhishma. Karthikeya, pleased with her austerity appeared and when she said, “You must kill Bhishma” he replied, “My time of killing is over.”
If you do not know this, Karthikeya came down south and in his quest for justice went about slaughtering everything that he saw as injustice. He came to the place which is now known as Subramanya in Karnataka. For the last time he washed his sword and said, “Never again this sword will see blood”. He gave up violence and went up the mountain, which is today known as Kumara Parvata, and left his body there. In his disembodied state, when Amba called him, he said, “I cannot kill Bhishma but looking at your plight and your devotion, I will give you a blessing.” He gave her a garland of lotuses and said, “Take this garland. Whoever wears this garland will kill Bhishma.”
Now, with great hope in her heart, once again Amba went with this garland in her hands – these garlands have always been a disaster for her. The first time she took a garland, something else happened. Once again she took a garland – a lotus flower garland – and walked from town to town, village to village, “Is there anybody who is willing to wear this garland and kill Bhishma?” But no man was willing to touch it.
Her journey with the garland continued and she came to the court of King Drupada, the king of Panchala which was the second largest empire in Bharatvarsh. But Drupada did not even want to come anywhere near Amba because by now Amba’s reputation had spread everywhere. Like a ghost she was walking from village to village, town to town, thirsting for Bhishma’s blood. When Drupada refused to see her, out of total frustration, she hung these lotus flowers on one of the columns in Drupada’s palace and once again desolate and depressed, went straight up to Himalayas. These lotus flowers continued to remain fresh and Drupada was so afraid of this garland, he did not let anybody touch it. Every day they lit lamps and worshipped the garland but nobody touched it, nobody wanted to have anything to do with it.
Amba continued her journey to the Himalayas. She sat there in great austerity. Slowly, the young woman’s beautiful body wilted down to just bones. She sat there, mere bones and skin and called for Shiva. Shiva himself appeared. She said, “You must kill Bhishma.” Shiva replied, “Is it not best that you get to kill Bhishma? Then you will enjoy the revenge more than me killing him” Suddenly her eyes brightened up and she said, “How is it possible? I am a woman and he is a great warrior, how can I kill him?” Shiva replied, “I will bless you, in your next life you will kill him.” Then Amba said, “But in my next life I will not remember all this. So I will not know the sweetness of revenge.” Shiva said, “Don’t worry. I will make sure that you remember. When the time comes you will remember. You will know the sweetness of revenge. For all that you have suffered, you will have it.” So she sat there and left her body, to come back later.
To be continued...
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower September 2015. Download as PDF on a “name your price, no minimum” basis or subscribe to the print version.