Shantanu running after Ganga to stop her from drowning their 8th child
Credit : Raja Ravi Varma

The Story of Brahma’s Curse and Request of the Vasu’s

Vaisampayana, the student of Sage Vyasa, was reciting Mahabharata to King Janamejaya at his “Sarpa Satra” (Snake Sacrifice) ritual.

Vaisampayana narrated ” Long ago there lived a king, a king who was noble in nature, virtuous in morals and courageous in deeds. A king so powerful, that no one dared challenge him in acts of war. A king who conquered and ruled almost the entire of Aryavarta. A king of the Ikshvaku (Solar) dynasty named Mahabhisha. With all his virtuous and courage King Mahabhisha had performed 1000 Ashvamedha Yagnas and 100 Rajasuya Yagnas to earn himself the title of an Emperor. Pleased by the work of King Mahabhisha, Indradev the King of Gods, granted him a place in the heavens after his death.

One day, when in heaven King Mahabhisha got an invitation to attain the court of Lord Brahma along with all the devatas and other celestial beings. Ganga, the River Goddess, dressed in a white bright saree was also there to pay her reverence to the creator himself. When everyone in court was involved paying their respect to Lord Brahma, a sudden gust of wind blew through the hall, disrobing Ganga’s upper body.
While everyone feeling embarrassed, bent their heads looking away from Ganga, King Mahabhisha was left agape, mesmerised seeing the beauty of Ganga. Witnessing this act, Lord Brahma lost his temper and cursed Mahabhisha saying, “Wicked man, just by the sight of a beautiful woman you lost all your mental consciousness, you no longer deserve a place among the Devatas, and so you shall be reborn as a mortal on earth and live a life filled with enormous hardships.” Ganga, who too did not object to King Mahabhisha’s unconscionable act was also cursed by Lord Brahma saying, “You too will be born among the mortals and shall only be able to return to the heavens after breaking Mahabhisha’s heart and giving him insufferable pain.”

Upset with this entire episode King Mahabhisha requests Lord Brahma to make him born as the son of King Pratipa of the Kuru dynasty. Lord Brahma grants him his requested wish. Meanwhile, Goddess Ganga retreats off the court of Lord Brahma, having developed a sense of longing for King Mahabhisha. On her way back, the river goddess comes across the Ashta Vasus8(The 8 elemental deities, who are the attendants of Indradev). They all looked dispirited, upon asking the reason for their doleful looks the Vasus replies, “O great goddess of rivers, O great life-giver we were waiting for you to come and emancipate us of our misery. Like you, we too have been cursed. Cursed because of our ignorance and stupidity and now only you can free us of this curse.” Unable to understand Ganga asks the Vasus to speak in detail. The Vasus then narrates the entire mishappening from the start_, “Once we Vasus along with our wives were visiting different places on earth and so one such place was the hermitage of sage Vasishta located on a secluded plain on Mt.Meru. When we visited, the hermitage was empty. We looked for sage Vasishta but he was not present. We stayed there for a while dwelling around, admiring the beauty of the place and then of nowhere, a cow caught our eye. It wasn’t any ordinary cow but the cow of plenty Nandini. Nandini is the daughter of Surabhi aka Kamdhenu and Rishi Kashyapa. Like Kamdhenu whoever keeps or owns Nandini, will possess the great fortune of all the riches of wealth as well as health. Seeing Nandani, wife of Dyu(also known as Prabhasa) unable to control her desire of possessing her and began pleading with Dyu to take Nandini along with us. We knew, that the cow belongs to Sage Vasishta and it won’t be the right thing to steal something from a sage, a rishi who already had abandoned all worldly desires and is living in a forest far away from human society. We tried to persuade Dyu’s wife to drop this wretched idea as it would be a sin to steal something from such an illustrious sage and shall only lead to the path of sorrow. But all our persuasion had no effect and she kept pleading and begging to take Nandini along, not for herself but for her friend Jitavati, the daughter of sage Usinara who is a mortal and she wanted her friend to be free from any diseases and free from the frailty of old age. Unable to persuade her, we decided reluctantly to take the cow with us by force, away from Sage Vasishta hermitage. Once, Vasistha returned to his abode and was unable to find Nandini, even after searching the nearby places, then he decides to sit in meditation and using his yogic powers and the powers of his achieved siddhis discovered everything that had taken place at his hermitage while he was away. Filled with extreme rage, the sage losing control over his conscience, cursed all of us saying our transgression of stealing something from a Brahmin without his consent deserves punishment and so he cursed us to be born as mortals in our next life and serve the fate of mortal humans. When we came to know of the curse being bestowed upon us, we immediately reached Sage Vasishta’s hermitage, filled with shame and remorse and narrating the entire episode of our previous visit at Sage’s hermitage begged for forgiveness and relief from his curse. Seeing our honest repentance Sage Vasishta willfully agreed to lessen the effect of his curse. He said, “What you did was not Dharma but seeing you all contrite your actions I have decided to abate my curse. Remember a curse coming out from the mouth of a Brahmin can never be recalled. So to diminish the effect of my curse let me say this, Dyu(aka Prabhasa) who is the main miscreant of the entire wrongdoing will only have to suffer my curse by living a long mortal life filled with regrets and sorrow, but he will become an eminent warrior with time, a warrior whose illustrious feats will get known throughout the world across ages. But this prominent hero will never bear his child and have his own family. For the rest who solely followed the orders given by Dyu will be relieved of the curse soon after their mortal births.” & this is the story of our predicament. Oh great goddess, now as you know the reason of our great sorrow, kindly grant us our request and be our mother in our mortal embodiment and redeem us from our curse once we are born.” Listening to the whole story of the Vasu’s, Ganga agrees to their request and grants them their wish of becoming their mother in their next mortal life.

Later, King Mahabhisha fulfilling his curse was born as the youngest son of King Pratipa and was named Shantanu. Shantanu at a young age was crowned as the King of Hastinapur, since the eldest son of King Pratipa, Devapi became infected with leprosy and had to give up his right to the throne and leave Hastinapur, detaching himself from the human populace to live the life of a hermit, whereas the second born of King Pratipa, Bahlika (or Vahlika) also left Hastinapur early to live with his maternal uncle in Balkh(now a province in Afganistan) and later on inherited his uncle’s kingdom after his death. So Shantanu was the only one left to inherit the kingdom of his father and so became the King of Hastinapur.

One day, King Shantanu was strolling alone at the banks of river Ganga when his eyes caught the sight of a young radiant beautiful woman, she was non-other than Goddess Ganga herself. Shantanu right then fell in love seeing Ganga for the first time and asked her to marry him. Ganga would agree to King Shantanu’s proposal but under one condition which was to never ask her any question about any of her actions and if and when this condition is broken then, Ganga would leave Shantanu forever. King Shantanu being in love readily agrees to Ganga’s demands. Soon after their marriage gets solemnized and the entire Hastinapur celebrates the coming of their new Queen Ganga. Both Shantanu and Ganga lived happily and peacefully after their marriage and then one day Ganga becomes pregnant with their 1st child. King Shantanu’s happiness knew no bounds after knowing he was to become a father for the 1st time. But Ganga shared no such exuberance as she had always remembered the curse inflicted on her and her granting the Vasu’s requests and so after the birth of their 1st child, Ganga would instantly carry the baby onto the river shore and drown him. King Shantanu was left stunned and traumatized when he came to know of Ganga’s recent vulturous misdeed. But keeping to his word, Shantanu would not enquire with Ganga about her heinous actions. In future, Ganga would drown another six of their newborns but King Shantanu still would remain silent and not ask Ganga any single question, bearing all the grief and sorrow in his heart. But when Ganga was about to drown their eighth child, Shantanu running after Ganga could no longer bear and see the crimes being done by his wife and breaking his oath of not asking any questions, screams at Ganga and commands her to stop and asks her for an explanation. Ganga then narrates the entire incident that had happened in the court of Lord Brahma and her meeting the eight celestial Vasu’s and also narrating the story of the of Vasu’s, how they were cursed and her agreeing to becoming their mother in their mortal incarnation and agreeing to free them from their transient life right after birth, she tells Shantanu everything. After ending this discourse, Ganga as per her given condition leaves Shantanu alone at the shore and disappears into the water, she also takes with her their only remaining son. The seven newborns Ganga drowned right after their birth were the seven brothers of Dyu(aka Prabhasa) who were now liberated from Sage Vasishta’s curse, whereas the eighth son of Shantanu and Ganga was the incarnation of Dyu himself who later would become the great warrior Bhishma(Devavrata), who would never marry his entire life and never bear a progeny.

About the author

Amitabh Dhar

An Engineer by profession, a laid back lazy person by physical activities, a socially aloof person by nature, but an extremely active and also reactive person in my mind, so that's me.

Sharing my love & interests for History, Mythology, Science and many other genres through my blog

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