(Sambhava Parva continued )
"Vaisampayana said, 'The monarch Santanu, the most adored of the gods and royal sages, was known in all the worlds for his wisdom, virtues, and truthfulness (of speech). The qualities of self-control, liberality, forgiveness, intelligence, modesty, patience and superior energy ever dwelt in that bull among men, viz., Santanu, that great being endued with these accomplishments and conversant with both religion and profit, the monarch was at once the protector of the Bharata race and all human beings. His neck was marked with (three) lines, like a conch-shell; his shoulders were broad, and he resembled in prowess an infuriated elephant. It would seem that all the auspicious signs of royalty dwelt in his person, considering that to be their fittest abode. Men, seeing the behaviour of that monarch of great achievements came to know that virtue was ever superior to pleasure and profit. These were the attributes that dwelt in that great being--that bull among men--Santanu. And truly there was never a king like Santanu. All the kings of the earth, beholding him devoted to virtue, bestowed upon that foremost of virtuous men the title of King of kings. And all the kings of the earth during the time of that lord-protector of the Bharata race, were without woe and fear and anxiety of any kind. And they all slept in peace, rising from bed every morning after happy dreams. And owing to that monarch of splendid achievements resembling Indra himself in energy, all the kings of the earth became virtuous and devoted to liberality, religious acts and sacrifices. And when the earth was ruled by Santanu and other monarchs like him, the religious merits of every order increased very greatly. The Kshatriyas served the Brahmanas; the Vaisyas waited upon the Kshatriyas, and the Sudras adoring the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas, waited upon the Vaisyas. And Santanu residing in Hastinapura, the delightful capital of the Kurus, ruled the whole earth bounded by seas. He was truthful and guileless, and like the king of the celestials himself conversant with the dictates of virtue. And from the combination in him of liberality, religion and asceticism, he acquired a great good fortune. He was free from anger and malice, and was handsome in person like Soma himself. In splendour he was like the Sun and in impetuosity of valour like Vayu. In wrath he was like Yama, and in patience like the Earth. And, O king, while Santanu ruled the earth, no deer, boars, birds, or other animals were needlessly slain. In his dominions the great virtue of kindness to all creatures prevailed, and the king himself, with the soul of mercy, and void of desire and wrath, extended equal protection unto all creatures. Then sacrifices in honour of the gods, the Rishis, and Pitris commenced, and no creature was deprived of life sinfully. And Santanu was the king and father of all--of those that were miserable and those that had no protectors, of birds and beasts, in fact, of every created thing. And during the rule of the best of Kurus--of that king of kings--speech became united with truth, and the minds of men were directed towards liberality and virtue. And Santanu, having enjoyed domestic felicity for six and thirty years, retired into the woods.
"And Santanu's son, the Vasu born of Ganga, named Devavrata resembled Santanu himself in personal beauty, in habits and behaviour, and in learning. And in all branches of knowledge worldly or spiritual his skill was very great. His strength and energy were extraordinary. He became a mighty car-warrior. In fact he was a great king.
"One day, while pursuing along the banks of the Ganges a deer that he had struck with his arrow, king Santanu observed that the river had become shallow. On observing this, that bull among men, viz., Santanu, began to reflect upon this strange phenomenon. He mentally asked why that first of rivers ran out so quickly as before. And while seeking for a cause, the illustrious monarch beheld that a youth of great comeliness, well-built and amiable person, like Indra himself, had, by his keen celestial weapon, checked the flow of the river. And the king, beholding this extraordinary feat of the river Ganga having been checked in her course near where that youth stood, became very much surprised. This youth was no other than Santanu's son himself. But as Santanu had seen his son only once a few moments after his birth, he had not sufficient recollection to identify that infant with the youth before his eyes. The youth, however, seeing his father, knew him at once, but instead of disclosing himself, he clouded the king's perception by his celestial powers of illusion and disappeared in his very sight.
"King Santanu, wondering much at what he saw and imagining the youth to be his own son then addressed Ganga and said, 'Show me that child.' Ganga thus addressed, assuming a beautiful form, and holding the boy decked with ornaments in her right arm, showed him to Santanu. And Santanu did not recognise that beautiful female bedecked with ornaments and attired in fine robes of white, although he had known her before. And Ganga said, 'O tiger among men, that eighth son whom thou hadst some time before begat upon me is this. Know that this excellent child is conversant with all weapons, O monarch, take him now. I have reared him with care. And go home, O tiger among men, taking him with thee. Endued with superior intelligence, he has studied with Vasishtha the entire Vedas with their branches. Skilled in all weapons and a mighty bowman, he is like Indra in battle. And, O Bharata, both the gods and the Asuras look upon him with favour. Whatever branches of knowledge are known to Usanas, this one knoweth completely. And so is he the master of all those Sastras that the son of Angiras (Vrihaspati) adored by the gods and the Asuras, knoweth. And all the weapons known to the powerful and invincible Rama, the son of Jamadagni are known to this thy illustrious son of mighty arms. O king of superior courage, take this thy own heroic child given unto thee by me. He is a mighty bowman and conversant with the interpretation of all treatises on the duties of a king.' Thus commanded by Ganga, Santanu took his child resembling the Sun himself in glory and returned to his capital. And having reached his city that was like unto the celestial capital, that monarch of Puru's line regarded himself greatly fortunate. And having summoned all the Pauravas together, for the protection of his kingdom he installed his son as his heir-apparent. And O bull of Bharata's race, the prince soon gratified by his behaviour his father and the other members of the Paurava race: in fact, all the subjects of the kingdom. And the king of incomparable prowess lived happily with that son of his.
"Four years had thus passed away, when the king one day went into the woods on the bank of the Yamuna. And while the king was rambling there, he perceived a sweet scent coming from an unknown direction. And the monarch, impelled by the desire of ascertaining the cause, wandered hither and thither. And in course of his ramble, he beheld a black-eyed maiden of celestial beauty, the daughter of a fisherman. The king addressing her, said, 'Who art thou, and whose daughter? What dost thou do here, O timid one?' She answered, 'Blest be thou! I am the daughter of the chief of the fishermen. At his command, I am engaged for religious merit, in rowing passengers across this river in my boat.' And Santanu, beholding that maiden of celestial form endued with beauty, amiableness, and such fragrance, desired her for his wife. And repairing unto her father, the king solicited his consent to the proposed match. But the chief of the fishermen replied to the monarch, saying, 'O king, as soon as my daughter of superior complexion was born, it was of course, understood that she should be bestowed upon a husband. But listen to the desire I have cherished all along in my heart. O sinless one, thou art truthful: if thou desirest to obtain this maiden as a gift from me, give, me then this pledge. If, indeed, thou givest the pledge, I will of course bestow my daughter upon thee for truly I can never obtain a husband for her equal to thee.'
"Santanu, hearing this, replied, 'When I have heard of the pledge thou askest, I shall then say whether I would be able to grant it. If it is capable of being granted, I shall certainly grant it. Otherwise how shall I grant it.' The fisherman said, 'O king, what I ask of thee is this: the son born of this maiden shall be installed by thee on thy throne and none else shall thou make thy successor.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'O Bharata, when Santanu heard this, he felt no inclination to grant such a boon, though the fire of desire sorely burnt him within. The king with his heart afflicted by desire returned to Hastinapura, thinking all the way of the fisherman's daughter. And having returned home, the monarch passed his time in sorrowful meditation. One day, Devavrata approaching his afflicted father said, 'All is prosperity with thee; all chiefs obey thee; then how is it that thou grievest thus? Absorbed in thy own thoughts, thou speakest not a word to me in reply. Thou goest not out on horse-back now; thou lookest pale and emaciated, having lost all animation. I wish to know the disease thou sufferest from, so that I may endeavour to apply a remedy.' Thus addressed by his son, Santanu answered, 'Thou sayest truly, O son, that I have become melancholy. I will also tell thee why I am so. O thou of Bharata's line, thou art the only scion of this our large race. Thou art always engaged in sports of arms and achievements of prowess. But, O son, I am always thinking of the instability of human life. If any danger overtake thee, O child of Ganga, the result is that we become sonless. Truly thou alone art to me as a century of sons. I do not, therefore, desire to wed again. I only desire and pray that prosperity may ever attend thee so that our dynasty may be perpetuated. The wise say that he that hath one son hath no son. Sacrifices before fire and the knowledge of the three Vedas yield, it is true, everlasting religious merit, but all these, in point of religious merit, do not, come up to a sixteenth part of the religious merit attainable on the birth of a son. Indeed, in this respect, there is hardly any difference between men and the lower animals. O wise one, I do not entertain a shadow of doubt that one attains to heaven in consequence of his having begotten a son. The Vedas which constitute the root of the Puranas and are regarded as authoritative even by the gods, contain numerous proof of this. O thou of Bharata's race, thou art a hero of excitable temper, who is always engaged in the exercise of arms. It is very probable that thou wilt be slain on the field of battle. If it so happen, what then will be the state of the Bharata dynasty, It is this thought that hath made me so melancholy. I have now told thee fully the causes of my sorrow.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Devavrata who was endued with great intelligence, having ascertained all this from the king, reflected within himself for a while. He then went to the old minister devoted to his father's welfare and asked him about the cause of the king's grief. O bull of Bharata's race, when the prince questioned the minister, the latter told him about the boon that was demanded by the chief of the fishermen in respect of his daughter Gandhavati. Then Devavrata, accompanied by many Kshatriya chiefs of venerable age, personally repaired to the chief of the fishermen and begged of him his daughter on behalf of the king. The chief of the fishermen received him with due adorations, and, O thou of Bharata's race, when the prince took his seat in the court of the chief, the latter addressed him and said, 'O bull among the Bharatas, thou art the first of all wielders of weapons and the only son of Santanu. Thy power is great. But I have something to tell thee. If the bride's father was Indra himself, even then he would have to repent of rejecting such an exceedingly honourable and desirable proposal of marriage. The great man of whose seed this celebrated maiden named Satyavati was born, is, indeed, equal to you in virtue. He hath spoken to me on many occasions of the virtues of thy father and told me that, the king alone is worthy of (marrying) Satyavati. Let me tell you that I have even rejected the solicitations of that best of Brahmarshis--the celestial sage Asita--who, too, had often asked for Satyavati's hand in marriage. I have only one word to say on the part of this maiden. In the matter of the proposed marriage there is one great objection founded on the fact of a rival in the person of a co-wife's son. O oppressor of all foes, he hath no security, even if he be an Asura or a Gandharva, who hath a rival in thee. There is this only objection to the proposed marriage, and nothing else. Blest be thou! But this is all I have to say in the matter of the bestowal or otherwise, of Satyavati.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'O thou of Bharata's race, Devavrata, having heard these words, and moved by the desire of benefiting his father thus answered in the hearing of the assembled chiefs, 'O foremost of truthful men, listen to the vow I utter! The man has not been or will not be born, who will have the courage to take such a vow! I shall accomplish all that thou demandest! The son that may be born of this maiden shall be our king.' Thus addressed, the chief of the fishermen, impelled by desire of sovereignty (for his daughter's son), to achieve the almost impossible, then said, 'O thou of virtuous soul, thou art come hither as full agent on behalf of thy father Santanu of immeasurable glory; be thou also the sole manager on my behalf in the matter of the bestowal of this my daughter. But, O amiable one, there is something else to be said, something else to be reflected upon by thee. O suppressor of foes, those that have daughters, from the very nature of their obligations, must say what I say. O thou that art devoted to truth, the promise thou hast given in the presence of these chiefs for the benefit of Satyavati, hath, indeed, been worthy of thee. O thou of mighty arms, I have not the least doubt of its ever being violated by thee. But I have my doubts in respect of the children thou mayst beget.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'O king, the son of Ganga, devoted to truth, having ascertained the scruples of the chief of the fishermen, then said, moved thereto by the desire of benefiting his father, 'Chief of fishermen, thou best of men, listen to what I say in the presence of these assembled kings. Ye kings, I have already relinquished my right to the throne, I shall now settle the matter of my children. O fisherman, from this day I adopt the vow of Brahmacharya (study and meditation in celibacy). If I die sonless, I shall yet attain to regions of perennial bliss in heaven!'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Upon these words of the son of Ganga, the hair on the fisherman's body stood on end from glee, and he replied, 'I bestow my daughter!' Immediately after, the Apsaras and the gods with diverse tribes of Rishis began to rain down flowers from the firmament upon the head of Devavrata and exclaimed, 'This one is Bhishma (the terrible).' Bhishma then, to serve his father, addressed the illustrious damsel and said, 'O mother, ascend this chariot, and let us go unto our house.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Having said this, Bhishma helped the beautiful maiden into his chariot. On arriving with her at Hastinapura, he told Santanu everything as it had happened. And the assembled kings, jointly and individually, applauded his extraordinary act and said, 'He is really Bhishma (the terrible)!' And Santanu also, hearing of the extraordinary achievements of his son, became highly gratified and bestowed upon the high-souled prince the boon of death at will, saying, 'Death shall never come to thee as long as thou desirest to live. Truly death shall approach thee, O sinless one, having first obtained thy command.'"