Devavrata’s terrible vows
Devavrata, also known as Bheeshma, was one of the most legendary characters of the Mahabharata. He was a man known for wisdom and great renunciation (sacrificing everything). Like Sri Rama, he made great sacrifices for his father’s sake. He gave up marriage and the royal throne for the happiness of his father.
Birth of Devavrata:
King Shantanu was ruling over his kingdom of Hastinapur efficiently. One evening, when he was strolling on the banks of the Ganga river, he saw a heavenly beautiful lady staring at him intently. Shantanu asked her: “O beautiful lady, who are you? Where are you from? Who are your parents. Will you marry me?” The divine lady’s name was Ganga. She said: “I can marry you and fulfill your desire on one condition that whatever I do, you will not stop me. If you ever break your promise, I will at once leave you.” Shantanu agreed to it. Thereafter, they married and returned to the kingdom. In course of time, Ganga gave birth to 7 kids but killed them immediately by throwing them in the water.
When their 8th son was born, Ganga took him up and was just about to throw him in the river. Anguished king resisted her in doing so. Ganga then revealed her identity: “I am Ganga. The 7 sons, I killed, were in fact the 7 Vasus. I killed them because they had requested me to free them from a curse. This is the 8th Vasu. You will not be able to raise him properly, so I am taking him with me. At the appropriate time I will hand him over to you.” Saying this Ganga disappeared.
One day king Shantanu was strolling along the banks of the Ganga. There he saw a boy who blocked the flow of the river with one arrow only. With the next arrow the river began to flow again. Shantanu was amazed. When Ganga came there, she introduced the boy to him and upon handing him to the king, she disappeared again. That boy was the 8th Vasu who became Devavrata, the son of Shantanu and later came to be known as Bheeshma. Appointing Devavrata as prince that is heir to the throne, king Shantanu became free of worries.
One day Shantanu was strolling on the banks of the Yamuna river. Suddenly he felt a strong, divine scent. He saw an extremely pretty girl who was the source of that divine scent. Her name was Satyavati; the daughter of Nishadaraja, a boatman. King Shantanu fell in love with her. He went to her father Nishadaraja and requested him to give his daughter in marriage. But the witty boatman put forth a condition to accept the king’s proposal that only the son born to his daughter would be king in the future. King Shantanu didn’t accept it and returned to his kingdom. He could not forget Satyavati though. He missed her so much that he fell ill. Devavrata came to know about it and he felt very bad. He decided to convince Satyavati and her father and do whatever it takes to make them agree.
Devavrata went to Nishadaraja and begged him to give his daughter Satyavati to his father in marriage. Nishadaraja uttered the same condition: “O prince, I will agree on one condition. My condition is that only the son born to Satyavati shall become the king in future.” Devavrata knew that accepting Nishadaraja’s condition means giving up his birth rights to the throne. He was little surprised but determined to do the sacrifice. In front of everybody he sweared, “I am Devavrat. I take a vow that I will not claim my rights on the throne of the Hastinapur. I will not become a king. Instead, I will give my services to whoever sits on the throne.” Everyone mesmerized but Nishadaraja still was not convinced. He again asked his doubt: “O prince, I can believe your words. But there is no guarantee that your sons and Satyavati’s sons will not fight for the throne.” Hearing Nishadaraja’s words, Devavrata took another vow, ”Hey Nishadaraja! To avoid that situation I swear that I will not marry and remain a true celibate as long as I live.” Now Nishadaraja got convinced and agreed to give his daughter to king Shantanu.
King Shantanu and all ministers witnessed these two awful vows of Devavrata. Gods from the heaven showered flowers on him hearing his terrible oaths. This gave him immediate recognition among the Gods. It was extremely difficult to keep up such promises. But Devavrata kept up these two promises until the end of his life. Because of his bheeshan pratigya (terrible oaths), he was known as Bheeshma. Everyone started calling him Bheeshma.
Taking two terrible vows, Bheeshma sacrificed almost everything for the happiness of his father, king Shantanu. The king felt obligated. He granted Bheeshma the boon of Ichcha Mrityu (control over his own death — he could choose the date and time of his death). Later Bheeshma became a great archer and a warrior of peerless valour and courage. He considered protecting the king and his kingdom his Dharma. He served the king and kingdom until the end of his life.