There was a great king named Shantanu. His father’s name was Pratip and his mother’s name was Sunanda. Shantanu’s elder brother was Devapi. Devapi became a sannyasi and did not care for earthly name and fame. He did not care for anything. He left the palace and Shantanu had to ascend the throne when King Pratip, his father, died.
Shantanu had a special capacity which nobody else had. When he touched a human being, no matter how old the person was, by his mere touch he could transform that person into a strong and vigorous youth. He did it many times and was always successful.
Shantanu was very beautiful and also pious, truthful, hardworking and dynamic. He was very fond of hunting and was a great hunter. He especially loved hunting deer.
One day, he saw at the bank of the Ganges a most beautiful woman. He became enamoured of her beauty and ran to her saying, “Please tell me who you are. In fact, you don’t have to tell me who you are. Just marry me. I wish to marry you. I am the King. I will give you everything you want just for the asking.”
The beautiful girl, Gangadevi, said, “Are you sure you will be able to fulfil me in every way?”
“Yes, I can and I shall. Your beauty has captured my heart.”
“All right then, I will marry you on one condition.”
“Any condition I shall fulfil.”
“No matter what I do, you will not stand in my way. No matter what I say, you will not stand in my way.”
“Never, never! I shall not stand in your way. Just be my wife. I will be at your beck and call. Indeed, you are beauty incarnate.”
They were married and both King and Queen were happy. Alas, when they had their first child, the mother threw the child into the Ganges. They had seven children, and as soon as each child was born she threw the infant into the Ganges.
The King knew that if he scolded her or stood in her way, she would leave him because that was the condition she made. His love for her was boundless, and for fear of losing her, he remained silent.
But when the eighth child was born, he was sad, disturbed and mad. He said, “How can you do this? Are you not a human being? You are the child’s mother. How can a mother do this? The mother is supposed to be flooded with love and compassion for her children. You are so cruel, so undivine. How can I keep you as my wife?”
The wife smiled and smiled, “So! You have failed to keep your promise. I can’t stay with you anymore. I am going and I am taking my son with me. When this child grows into a youth, I shall bring him back to you — I promise you. Now, I have to take care of him, because it is the mother only who can take care of a small baby. But when he grows up, I shall bring him to you.”
She did keep her promise. The name of that eighth child was Vishma, the unparalleled hero of the Mahabharata.
GIM 158. 8 February 1979↩