Vaishampayan said: ‘O king Janamejaya! Most of the kings among your ancestors were virtuous, powerful, and great warriors. King Shantanu was one of them.’ Thus he began his narration———
There was a great and powerful king in the Kuru race, named Pratip. He was blessed with an equally powerful and handsome son- Shantanu. In due course of time, Shantanu ascended the throne as his father took Vanaprastha. He was virtuous, truthful, and free from anger and malice. His valor, justice, and compassion spread like wildfire everywhere. Radiant like the sun, he reigned his kingdom very peacefully. Everybody loved him and his kingship.
Once Santanu went hunting in the jungle. Roaming around the forest, he came across the river Ganga. Being tired he wished for a little rest near that river. Suddenly he caught sight of a beautiful damsel at the shore. Beholding the beauty of the lady, he desired to have her as his wife. Without knowing her identity, he softly asked her, ‘O divine damsel! Would you be pleased to marry me?’
Ganga smiled. She said in a melodious voice, ‘I shall marry you if you agree to my conditions.’
Shantanu was so impressed by her beauty that he immediately agreed and said, ‘As you wish.’
Ganga then said, ‘O best of the kings! Promise me that you will never interfere in my work whatsoever it is, you will not oppose any of my actions, never utter a harsh word to me and never raise a question about who I am or whence I come. The day you break your promise, I will no longer be with you. If you agree to these terms, I will be your wife.’
Without any second thought, the love-struck Santanu vowed to accept all her conditions. The beautiful lady Ganga became the queen of King Santanu. Happily, they spent their time. The king was so much attracted by her modesty, conduct, and beauty that days, months, and years slipped by without his being conscious of them. The heart of the noblest king Santanu was captivated by the divine virtues of Ganga. During this golden time, the king was blessed with eight sons. But the moment they were born, Ganga took them away and threw them into the river Ganga. Santanu was stunned by her cruelty but kept quiet.
It was unbearable for him to see his children being murdered but abiding by his vow he kept silent. When she tried to throw the eighth child, Santanu couldn't resist any longer. Screaming at her, he said harshly, ‘Stop! Stop killing my children ruthlessly, you witch! Who are you? Why are you killing your babies?!’
As the king broke his promise, Ganga retorted triumphantly, ‘O mightiest, noble-hearted king! No longer do I belong to you. But since you desire for your heir to continue your race, I’ll not kill this child of yours. All these children are no other than celestial Vasus. I have not done any sin, rather I have come to rescue them from their curse of the great Brahmarshi Vashistha. They were cursed being charged with the abduction of his divine and ever-immortal cow Nandini and her calf. This eighth child is the main culprit. So he has to live for a longer time. But he will be the most virtuous, intelligent, brave, and strongest warrior in your race. You will get back to your son when the time comes. Till then I’ll raise my child.’
‘But- but, please tell me who you are and how did it happen?’ Santanu urged his divine wife to reveal her secret.
Ganga smiled again and said, ‘O King! I am the daughter of Janhu who is worshipped by Rishis, devas, Gandharvas, and the whole universe. Listen to me carefully about why I killed wn children.
‘Once the eight Vasus with their wives went to the mountain Meru- where the hermitage of the most virtuous Brahamarshi Vashistha stood. The place was always engulfed with peace, harmony, tranquility, and divine love. The day Vasus were moving around, Brahamrshi was not in his abode. His celestial cow Nandini with her calf was roaming around freely. The beauty of that cow was that she could grant any person his every desire. The wife of Dyonai, the eighth Vasu, became crazy after the cow. She insisted her husband steal the cow for her as a boon. At last, without thinking about the repercussions, Vasus kidnapped Nandini and her calf.
In the evening, when Brahamrshi Vashisth returned to his hermitage, he didn't find his cow or calf. With his celestial prowess he could come to know that these Vasus stole his cow. Out of anger he cursed all the eight Vasus to be born as human on earth. Knowing his wrath was inexorable, the Vasus tried their best to pacify the Rishi. Eventually, the kind-hearted Rishi granted them a very short life except for Dyonai who has to live for a long time for his sin. And he will not have any offspring as he will abstain himself from women.
At last, the Vasus requested me to be their mother and make them free as soon as they were born by throwing them into the river. So, I threw the newborn babies. This eighth baby is no other than Dyonai. Now, O noble king Santanu! Wait for a few years. You will get your son back in time.’ After announcing this much, Ganga disappeared with her child.
Regretting his mistake, Shantanu spent his time in grief. He felt sick without his beloved wife Ganga. Years after years passed. His loneliness had increased with the pace of time. But he never neglected his kingship. Once he went to a deep jungle to hunt. He wounded a deer and while chasing it, he came along the bank of the river Ganga. He noticed the flow of the river had shrunk. He was astonished thinking how it could be possible. He followed a little ahead and was stunned looking at an amazing sight! A young boy holding a bow and arrows aimed at the flow of water which made it shrunk. Santanu at first couldn't understand anything. He couldn't recognize his son as he saw him a few minutes after his birth. But seeing his father, the youth clouded his perception by delusion and disappeared from his eyesight. Being surprised, the king asked Ganga(the water flow) to show him his eighth child.
River Ganga transformed herself into a human form standing before the king. She smiled at him, and looked different- divinely beautiful! Holding the hand of her son (that youth) Ganga said, ‘O best of kings! This is the eighth son of ours. He is excellent in every skill. No celestial weapon in these three worlds (Swarg, Martya, and Patttal) is beyond his knowledge. He learned the Shastras, Vedas, and Vedangas from the best of the Gurus- Vashistha, Shukrachaya, and Brihaspati. All the celestial weapons known to invincible Parashuram are well acquired by your son. Now, O king! Take your worthy son- Devavrata as your heir-apparent.’ After handing over his son, Ganga disappeared. Though Santanu was deeply in grief yet he was excited about getting back his son. He returned to his kingdom with his son Devavrata who was also known as Gangeya ( son of Ganga).
Description: King Shantanu felt rejuvenated getting back his son- Devavrata, though he lost his divine wife Ganga. Devavrata otherwise known as Bhishma means- terrible as he undertook the oath! Though he was deprived of his wife, he happily spent his time with his son and installed him as the Yuvraj of Hastinapur.