“Vaisampayana said, ‘The monarch Santanu, the most adored of the gods androyal sages, was known in all the worlds for his wisdom, virtues, andtruthfulness (of speech).
The qualities of self-control, liberality,forgiveness, intelligence, modesty, patience and superior energy everdwelt in that bull among men, viz., Santanu, that great being endued withthese accomplishments and conversant with both religion and profit, themonarch was at once the protector of the Bharata race and all humanbeings. His neck was marked with (three) lines, like a conch-shell; hisshoulders were broad, and he resembled in prowess an infuriated elephant.It would seem that all the auspicious signs of royalty dwelt in hisperson, considering that to be their fittest abode. Men, seeing thebehaviour of that monarch of great achievements came to know that virtuewas ever superior to pleasure and profit. These were the attributes thatdwelt in that great being–that bull among men–Santanu. And truly therewas never a king like Santanu. All the kings of the earth, beholding himdevoted to virtue, bestowed upon that foremost of virtuous men the titleof King of kings. And all the kings of the earth during the time of thatlord-protector of the Bharata race, were without woe and fear and anxietyof any kind. And they all slept in peace, rising from bed every morningafter happy dreams. And owing to that monarch of splendid achievementsresembling Indra himself in energy, all the kings of the earth becamevirtuous and devoted to liberality, religious acts and sacrifices. Andwhen the earth was ruled by Santanu and other monarchs like him, thereligious merits of every order increased very greatly. The Kshatriyasserved the Brahmanas; the Vaisyas waited upon the Kshatriyas, and theSudras 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, andlike the king of the celestials himself conversant with the dictates ofvirtue. And from the combination in him of liberality, religion andasceticism, he acquired a great good fortune. He was free from anger andmalice, and was handsome in person like Soma himself. In splendour he waslike the Sun and in impetuosity of valour like Vayu. In wrath he was likeYama, and in patience like the Earth. And, O king, while Santanu ruledthe 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 andwrath, extended equal protection unto all creatures. Then sacrifices inhonour of the gods, the Rishis, and Pitris commenced, and no creature wasdeprived of life sinfully. And Santanu was the king and father of all–ofthose that were miserable and those that had no protectors, of birds andbeasts, in fact, of every created thing. And during the rule of the bestof Kurus–of that king of kings–speech became united with truth, and theminds of men were directed towards liberality and virtue. And Santanu,having enjoyed domestic felicity for six and thirty years, retired intothe woods.
“And Santanu’s son, the Vasu born of Ganga, named Devavrata resembledSantanu himself in personal beauty, in habits and behaviour, and inlearning. And in all branches of knowledge worldly or spiritual his skillwas very great. His strength and energy were extraordinary. He became amighty car-warrior. In fact he was a great king.
“One day, while pursuing along the banks of the Ganges a deer that he hadstruck with his arrow, king Santanu observed that the river had becomeshallow. On observing this, that bull among men, viz., Santanu, began toreflect upon this strange phenomenon. He mentally asked why that first ofrivers ran out so quickly as before. And while seeking for a cause, theillustrious monarch beheld that a youth of great comeliness, well-builtand amiable person, like Indra himself, had, by his keen celestialweapon, checked the flow of the river. And the king, beholding thisextraordinary feat of the river Ganga having been checked in her coursenear where that youth stood, became very much surprised. This youth wasno other than Santanu’s son himself. But as Santanu had seen his son onlyonce a few moments after his birth, he had not sufficient recollection toidentify 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 anddisappeared in his very sight.
“King Santanu, wondering much at what he saw and imagining the youth tobe his own son then addressed Ganga and said, ‘Show me that child.’ Gangathus addressed, assuming a beautiful form, and holding the boy deckedwith ornaments in her right arm, showed him to Santanu. And Santanu didnot recognise that beautiful female bedecked with ornaments and attiredin 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 beforebegat upon me is this. Know that this excellent child is conversant withall weapons, O monarch, take him now. I have reared him with care. And gohome, O tiger among men, taking him with thee. Endued with superiorintelligence, he has studied with Vasishtha the entire Vedas with theirbranches. Skilled in all weapons and a mighty bowman, he is like Indra inbattle. And, O Bharata, both the gods and the Asuras look upon him withfavour. Whatever branches of knowledge are known to Usanas, this oneknoweth completely. And so is he the master of all those Sastras that theson of Angiras (Vrihaspati) adored by the gods and the Asuras, knoweth.And all the weapons known to the powerful and invincible Rama, the son ofJamadagni are known to this thy illustrious son of mighty arms. O king ofsuperior courage, take this thy own heroic child given unto thee by me.He is a mighty bowman and conversant with the interpretation of alltreatises on the duties of a king.’ Thus commanded by Ganga, Santanu tookhis child resembling the Sun himself in glory and returned to hiscapital. And having reached his city that was like unto the celestialcapital, that monarch of Puru’s line regarded himself greatly fortunate.And having summoned all the Pauravas together, for the protection of hiskingdom he installed his son as his heir-apparent. And O bull ofBharata’s race, the prince soon gratified by his behaviour his father andthe other members of the Paurava race: in fact, all the subjects of thekingdom. And the king of incomparable prowess lived happily with that sonof his.
“Four years had thus passed away, when the king one day went into thewoods on the bank of the Yamuna. And while the king was rambling there,he perceived a sweet scent coming from an unknown direction. And themonarch, impelled by the desire of ascertaining the cause, wanderedhither and thither. And in course of his ramble, he beheld a black-eyedmaiden of celestial beauty, the daughter of a fisherman. The kingaddressing her, said, ‘Who art thou, and whose daughter? What dost thoudo here, O timid one?’ She answered, ‘Blest be thou! I am the daughter ofthe chief of the fishermen. At his command, I am engaged for religiousmerit, 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 herfather, the king solicited his consent to the proposed match. But thechief of the fishermen replied to the monarch, saying, ‘O king, as soonas my daughter of superior complexion was born, it was of course,understood that she should be bestowed upon a husband. But listen to thedesire I have cherished all along in my heart. O sinless one, thou arttruthful: 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 coursebestow my daughter upon thee for truly I can never obtain a husband forher equal to thee.’
“Santanu, hearing this, replied, ‘When I have heard of the pledge thouaskest, I shall then say whether I would be able to grant it. If it iscapable of being granted, I shall certainly grant it. Otherwise how shallI grant it.’ The fisherman said, ‘O king, what I ask of thee is this: theson born of this maiden shall be installed by thee on thy throne and noneelse shall thou make thy successor.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘O Bharata, when Santanu heard this, he felt noinclination to grant such a boon, though the fire of desire sorely burnthim within. The king with his heart afflicted by desire returned toHastinapura, thinking all the way of the fisherman’s daughter. And havingreturned home, the monarch passed his time in sorrowful meditation. Oneday, Devavrata approaching his afflicted father said, ‘All is prosperitywith 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 sufferestfrom, so that I may endeavour to apply a remedy.’ Thus addressed by hisson, Santanu answered, ‘Thou sayest truly, O son, that I have becomemelancholy. 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 engagedin sports of arms and achievements of prowess. But, O son, I am alwaysthinking of the instability of human life. If any danger overtake thee, Ochild of Ganga, the result is that we become sonless. Truly thou aloneart 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 ourdynasty may be perpetuated. The wise say that he that hath one son hathno son. Sacrifices before fire and the knowledge of the three Vedasyield, it is true, everlasting religious merit, but all these, in pointof religious merit, do not, come up to a sixteenth part of the religiousmerit attainable on the birth of a son. Indeed, in this respect, there ishardly any difference between men and the lower animals. O wise one, I donot entertain a shadow of doubt that one attains to heaven in consequenceof his having begotten a son. The Vedas which constitute the root of thePuranas and are regarded as authoritative even by the gods, containnumerous proof of this. O thou of Bharata’s race, thou art a hero ofexcitable temper, who is always engaged in the exercise of arms. It isvery probable that thou wilt be slain on the field of battle. If it sohappen, what then will be the state of the Bharata dynasty, It is thisthought that hath made me so melancholy. I have now told thee fully thecauses of my sorrow.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Devavrata who was endued with greatintelligence, having ascertained all this from the king, reflected withinhimself for a while. He then went to the old minister devoted to hisfather’s welfare and asked him about the cause of the king’s grief. Obull of Bharata’s race, when the prince questioned the minister, thelatter told him about the boon that was demanded by the chief of thefishermen in respect of his daughter Gandhavati. Then Devavrata,accompanied by many Kshatriya chiefs of venerable age, personallyrepaired to the chief of the fishermen and begged of him his daughter onbehalf of the king. The chief of the fishermen received him with dueadorations, and, O thou of Bharata’s race, when the prince took his seatin the court of the chief, the latter addressed him and said, ‘O bullamong the Bharatas, thou art the first of all wielders of weapons and theonly son of Santanu. Thy power is great. But I have something to tellthee. If the bride’s father was Indra himself, even then he would have torepent of rejecting such an exceedingly honourable and desirable proposalof marriage. The great man of whose seed this celebrated maiden namedSatyavati was born, is, indeed, equal to you in virtue. He hath spoken tome on many occasions of the virtues of thy father and told me that, theking alone is worthy of (marrying) Satyavati. Let me tell you that I haveeven rejected the solicitations of that best of Brahmarshis–thecelestial sage Asita–who, too, had often asked for Satyavati’s hand inmarriage. I have only one word to say on the part of this maiden. In thematter of the proposed marriage there is one great objection founded onthe fact of a rival in the person of a co-wife’s son. O oppressor of allfoes, he hath no security, even if he be an Asura or a Gandharva, whohath a rival in thee. There is this only objection to the proposedmarriage, and nothing else. Blest be thou! But this is all I have to sayin the matter of the bestowal or otherwise, of Satyavati.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘O thou of Bharata’s race, Devavrata, havingheard these words, and moved by the desire of benefiting his father thusanswered in the hearing of the assembled chiefs, ‘O foremost of truthfulmen, 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 thatthou demandest! The son that may be born of this maiden shall be ourking.’ Thus addressed, the chief of the fishermen, impelled by desire ofsovereignty (for his daughter’s son), to achieve the almost impossible,then said, ‘O thou of virtuous soul, thou art come hither as full agenton behalf of thy father Santanu of immeasurable glory; be thou also thesole manager on my behalf in the matter of the bestowal of this mydaughter. But, O amiable one, there is something else to be said,something else to be reflected upon by thee. O suppressor of foes, thosethat have daughters, from the very nature of their obligations, must saywhat I say. O thou that art devoted to truth, the promise thou hast givenin 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 leastdoubt of its ever being violated by thee. But I have my doubts in respectof 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 offishermen, thou best of men, listen to what I say in the presence ofthese assembled kings. Ye kings, I have already relinquished my right tothe throne, I shall now settle the matter of my children. O fisherman,from this day I adopt the vow of Brahmacharya (study and meditation incelibacy). If I die sonless, I shall yet attain to regions of perennialbliss in heaven!’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Upon these words of the son of Ganga, the hairon the fisherman’s body stood on end from glee, and he replied, ‘I bestowmy daughter!’ Immediately after, the Apsaras and the gods with diversetribes of Rishis began to rain down flowers from the firmament upon thehead of Devavrata and exclaimed, ‘This one is Bhishma (the terrible).’Bhishma then, to serve his father, addressed the illustrious damsel andsaid, ‘O mother, ascend this chariot, and let us go unto our house.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Having said this, Bhishma helped the beautifulmaiden into his chariot. On arriving with her at Hastinapura, he toldSantanu everything as it had happened. And the assembled kings, jointlyand individually, applauded his extraordinary act and said, ‘He is reallyBhishma (the terrible)!’ And Santanu also, hearing of the extraordinaryachievements of his son, became highly gratified and bestowed upon thehigh-souled prince the boon of death at will, saying, ‘Death shall nevercome to thee as long as thou desirest to live. Truly death shall approachthee, O sinless one, having first obtained thy command.'”