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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Story of Shikandin - Maha Bharatha Series 34

This story starts from Section 174 of Book 5. Bhishma tells the story himself, since he was involved in it from the very beginning. Whatever he was not witness to, he says he got to know through spies he had employed in the territory where Amba (who later became Shikandin) lived and also from Narada.

In short, Amba is the eldest of three daughters of the king of Kasi. The other two are Ambika and Ambalika. Bhishma abducted all three of them (this practice was accepted among the Kshatriyas in those days and is listed as one of eight different kinds of marriages), during their swayamvara. He did that so they can be married to Bhishma’s half-brother Vichitravirya.

Amba had already chosen another king and therefore, she requests Bhishma and Satyavati for her to be allowed to go to her chosen prince. Bhishma agrees. When Amba goes to the prince she had chosen, he refuses to accept her, since she had allowed herself to be abducted by Bhishma. She comes back to Bhisma and requests him to marry her since she now will not have a husband and cannot go back to her father. Bhishma refuses to because of his vow not to marry.

Amba decides to take revenge on Bhisma since he was the immediate cause of her problems. She goes to the forest to do penance. The ascetics try to dissuade her but cannot. It so happens that her maternal grandfather who had taken up asceticism comes by and he wants to use the help of Parasurama, his friend. Since Bhishma was Parasurama’s student, he thinks that Parasurama can get Bhishma to agree to marry Amba.

Bhishma refuses even though he realizes that he is being disrespectful of his teacher. Parasurama who had promised Amba he will make Bhishma accept her gets mad and wants to fight with Bhishma. Bhishma does not want to fight with his teacher, but Parasurama insists and provokes. In the fight that goes for 23 days, neither wins. Both Parasurama’s ancestors (all Brahmins) and Bhishma’s ancestors (all Kshatriyas) intercede and make them stop the fight. Amba is left without a solution for her problem. She is even more angry.

Amba performs intense tapas (meditative sacrifice) which “burns up” Lord Shiva. He gives her a boon that in her next life she will be able to fight with Bhishma. Amba immolates herself.

In the meanwhile, the King of Kasi who wants a son performs penance. Lord Shiva blesses him with a son. But, he is also told that the child will be born a girl, but will become a boy later in life. Knowing this the king and the queen do not let anyone know that a girl was born. They conceal and raise her as a boy. This is Amba in the new birth. This is Shikandi, but goes by the name of Shikandini during life as a girl.

When Shikandini (who will become Shikandi later as per Shiva’s boon) reaches the proper age, the king decides to find a suitable “girl” even though he knew that his child was still a girl. Marriage is performed, the girl finds out the truth, tells her parents. The enraged father of the girl decided to attack Shikandi’s father. Shikandi is sad that all of this happened on “his” account. He goes to a special palace of a Yaksha in the forest. The Yaksha finds out the problem and feels sorry for the girl/boy. The yaksha offers to switch his personal manhood with Shikandini for a brief period.

Shikandini goes back and everyone is delighted to know the prince is a prince, a male (Interesting that he was checked out by girls and women about his manhood. The story does not say how). In the meanwhile, Kubera, the Chief of the Yakshas comes for a visit, finds out what had happened, finds the Yaksha turned into a woman, gets mad and curses that he will remain a girl as long as Shikandi lives.

That is the story. But, the conversations deal with the ethical questions related to the episode. For example, “Human suffering depends on what is destined to happen. But, are there immediate precedent causes which are not part of destiny?”

Abduction was destined to happen. But, Bhishma was the one who did it. Therefore, he is the one who has to be punished. The Salwa king refused; that was only because of what Bhishma did. Therefore, Amba thinks she should not take revenge on that king. Another statement made by the queen of Kasi when the world finds out that their so-called son was actually a girl says:  “Divine grace combined with human effort leads to success”.

So, who was at fault: Amba (for staying quiet during the abduction), her father (for arranging the swayamvara), Bhishma (for abducting her and later refusing to marry her), the King of Salwa who refused to accept her? Later, why should Parasurama interfere and demand Bhishma do what he has sworn against? Can Bhishma refuse his preceptor? Can Bhishma fight with his preceptor who also is a Brahmana?

Rigid stance for their respective positions by Bhishma, Salwa, Parasurama and Amba was at the center of these conflicts. It shows that one should not break a vow for anything. But, rigidity leads to discord. Being flexible may be practical but will result in losing trust in relationships.

All these questions and points of view are discussed in several chapters. I wish the story-tellers (bhagavatars) will spend one session on these chapters and all the ethical points. They only tell the story part. Most folks also are happy with the story and the verbal and memory capacity of the story-teller, not in the substance.

I found two interesting points, in addition to those ethical questions. 1. Throughout Maha Bharatha, “destiny” was given as an explanation for everything, including the war itself. 2. Gods gave boon to people and, also gave conditions under which the boon will work. If the boon was invincibility, there was always a condition in which that invincibility will be lost.

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