The source of knowledge for this series of blogs on the Mahabharata, are the talks by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Any error in understanding is mine alone.. Not all situations from the Mahabharata are blogged upon; and for those situations blogged upon, parallels are drawn to day to day living.

MAnvi didn’t even notice her thAthA coming into the room as she was in deep thought after she read of how Devavrata became Bhishma; and Amba became Shikhandi. Devavrata was born as the eighth child to King Shantanu (belonging to the Pauravas dynasty) and Ganga (a celestial born as a human on earth; and left Shantanu and Devavrata to go back to her abode, after the latter was born). Devavrata grew to be a great archer and a master of all martial arts. Shantanu met Satyavati, a fisherman’s daughter and being captivated by her, he wanted to marry her. Satyavati’s father Nishada placed one condition to Shantanu – that Shantanu promise him that the child born to Shantanu and Satyavati would rule the kingdom. As Devavrata was named to be the next king, Shantanu had to refuse Nishada’s condition; but could not get Satyavati out of his mind. His sadness was perceived by Devavrata and when asked for the reason for the sadness, Shantanu told Devavrata that for the sake of continuing the dynasty in case something befalls Devavrata, he needed to have one more child. After finding the background to what Shantanu said, to help his father marry Satyavati and continue the lineage, he made a promise to Nishada that he will not marry at all in his lifetime. This was a vow and a frightening one at that for a young boy to make. Thus Devavrata came to be called Bhishma which means frightening.

thAthA: MAnvi, why the deep thought?

MAnvi (after explaining why): thAthA, what Shantanu did wasn’t right. He could have said that he wanted to marry Satyavati. Why did he have to talk about continuing the lineage and say that he needed another son? That’s not the truth isn’t it?

thAthA: MAnvi, in life sometimes truth hurts the person who is hearing it. Also, Devavrata was a young boy and Shantanu may have wanted to say it in a way that was easier for Devavrata to understand. Satyam bruyAt, priyam bruyAt, na bruyAt satyam apriyam’ – speak the truth, speak with love but if the truth is unpleasant, do not speak it. It doesn’t mean that one has to lie but one should know to speak the truth in a way that it is less hurtful to the listener. That’s what Shantanu did, in the way he thought best. We all do that MAnvi, when we are in a situation where we need to take a decision between two choices that are conflicting. We make a choice based on what we think is the best decision to take. When we convey it to others, we need todo so in a way that it causes less hurt to them.

MAnvi: thAthA, truth always is bitter isn’t it? I guess that it is sometimes better to sugar coat the bitter pill that needs to be swalloed. I feel sorry though for Bhishma alias Devavrata but I feel that what he did wasn’t right either.

thAthA: Why, MAnvi?

MAnvi: thAthA, he was to become the king but what made him give it away? Did he think about it and do it? Did he talk to people and make an informed decision or was it a decision made to please his father? If it is his right to become the king, then he is not claiming his right and that may make him an easy prey as he grows older. If he has done it to please his father that won’t help either; because he is not doing what is right but what will be pleasant for his father. We all face such situations in real life where we don’t claim what is rightfuly ours, because we want relationships to be harmonious. We don’t want to rock the boat. For example – sometimes we find that a friend / relative is not giving the respect that is due to us. We let them talk the way they want to, using foul language and harsh words. We think that speaking up will make things worse and we would rather leave it the way it is. Are we not impacted by the use of harsh words and the foul language? We may be but we don’t want to or we are not ready to rock the boat. However, it is only when we reach a threshold are we willing to push back!! In my view that’s what happened with Amba as well.

thAthA (with a smile that lightened his eyes): Elaborate, MAnvi.

MAnvi: thAthA, Shantanu and Satyavati had two sons – Chitrangada and VichitravIrya. Chitrangada died in a fight. Bhishma on VichitravIrya’s behalf, went for a swayamvara held by the king of Kashi for the marriage of his daughters – Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He informed in the swayamvara that he was going to take all the three princesses and get them married to VichitravIrya. There were two rules in the kshatriya custom

  1. If the princess objected to the marriage, they could say so
  2. If any other king objected to the proclamation of marriage, they needed to fight with the person who was asking for the marriage of the princess. Whoever wins, marries the princess.

Amba who was in love with King Sala (who was also at the swayamvar) did not raise her objection when Bhishma asked for the marriage of the princesses to VichitravIrya. She remained silent. King Sala who wanted to marry Amba, fought with Bhishma and lost the fight.

This is where I think Amba went wrong. She had the opportunity to say no and she didn’t use it. Did she want to be a good girl in the eyes of the others in the swayamvara? Did she not want to hurt her parents by objecting to Bhishma?

thAthA, what happened then in that situation in the Mahabharata continues to happen now as well and in our own lives.

  • What makes us to be quiet when we need to speak up?
  • What is it that drives us to look for harmony in many a relationship that we have?
  • Is there a time when we push back? Yes, when we are willing to say enough is enough and that push back brings in tremendous self-confidence.
  • What is that threshold? That threshold is the point when we think we can handle the situation, come what may.

thAthA: Interesting connection and questions, MAnvi. What may help is for you to rewind to some situations, when you had to speak up and you didn’t. Also think of why you did not speak up. The MAnvi I see of late is far more a bolder person, stands up for what is right and doesn’t mind speaking up even if she is the lone voice doing so. What made the change happen? Introspect and you may have some answers.

MAnvi (remains pensive for a few minutes): You are right, thAthA. I will do that. Coming back to Amba – what also baffles me is Amba blaming Bhishma for what happened, and wanting to take revenge on Bhishma.

thAthA, Bhishma in my perspective was righteous enough to refuse Amba’s request to him to marry her (as he had made a vow to Nishada that he will never marry). He was also compassionate enough to take her to Sala so that Amba and Sala could get married. Sala refused as he was defeated by Bhishma and Amba was already taken. She then was furious. She did not want to marry VichitravIrya and no king was willing to fight with Bhishma and take her away. In her anger at Bhishma, she did her penance. She decided to take her own life after the word from Lord Shiva, that in the next birth she would be the person to cause the death of Bhishma. In the next birth, she was born as a girl. She changed herself to a man and came to be called Shikhandi, who would later be the cause of the death of Bhishma in the battle of Kurukshetra.

thAthA, many times we do what Amba did. We make a mistake and blame someone else for it.

  • Is it because we don’t want to admit to our mistake?
  • Is it because there is someone else who is willing to be the ‘fall guy’?
  • The fact that we made a mistake makes us feel guilty and that is unpleasant for us?
  • We may feel guilty even after passing the blame on to the other person, but it feels consoling to pass the blame. It is like a safe net, though it is a pseudo safe net. We are aware of it but may not want to admit to it.
  • There are times when we take the blame for others’ mistakes and beat ourselves down for it.
  • Like Bhishma, there are some / many of us, who are so comfortable thinking that we are helping others by taking the blame; we live our life as theirs, so much so that we aren’t able to live our life the way we would like to.

thAthA: Silence is a powerful weapon, MAnvi. It can be damaging to oneself and to others, when not used in the right place and at the right time.

MAnvi went completely silent hearing her thAthA’s statements as it was profound and powerful. It would be a few days before she engaged in another conversation with her thAthA, about what she read from the Mahabharata.