Monday, May 21, 2012

The Mahabharata (book 1.LXIII)

Satyavati sat at the back of the boat with both hands gripping the single oar. Her rowing was mechanical and her gaze was fixed on the opposite bank of the Yamuna river. Her passengers sat at the other end of the boat, occasionally looking back at her with disgust in their eyes. She was used to it now, having lived with it for her entire life.

When she was a child, the other children constantly bullied and tormented her. She had no friends, and even adults would approach her with smiles that turned to nausea once they got near. She lived in complete isolation, with only her fisherman father for support.

At night, her grief was often overwhelming and she sobbed uncontrollably, but her father was always there to console her. Putting his arm around her shoulders, she would rest her head against him and listen to his soothing voice, "Don’t lose faith... God will find a way."

She should have been married by now, but felt there was little hope of that ever happening. To occupy herself and help out her father, she began rowing travellers across the Yamuna. She kept a tin for fares at the other end of the boat, so travellers would never have to come near her. However, first time customers always made that mistake, like the people currently in her boat, for she was stunningly beautiful by appearance.

When the water became too shallow for rowing, Satyavati pulled her sari up between her legs and tucked it in at her waist, then jumped out and pushed the boat the rest of the way up onto the bank. Her passengers disembarked, raising two coins in the air for payment. She pointed to the tin, they deposited the money and hurriedly went on their way.

She walked over and picked up the tin to count her earnings, when a man spoke from directly behind her, "Can you take me across?"

She turned and looked up at him smiling sweetly at her. He was tall with a darker complexion, and thick long hair. He wore the simple clothing of a Rishi with a tika on his forehead. She continued to look up at him, waiting for his expression to sour; when it didn’t, she became perplexed and asked, "Can you not smell the foul fish stench emanating from my body?"

"At the moment, your beauty is flooding all of my senses."

Satyavati was taken aback and didn’t know how to respond, as this was the first compliment she had ever received. The Rishi Parasara then asked again, "Can you take me to the other bank?"

Still disoriented she agreed absentmindedly. Parasara sat in the middle bench, facing her as she rowed, then after a short distance said, "Make love to me."


"Make love to me."

He’s crazy! she thought, but not wanting to offend him, searched for excuses instead, "Where? In this boat? With people watching from either bank?" She had stopped rowing, but continued to hold the oar, while the boat began to drift.

Parasara closed his eyes in concentration and in a matter of seconds, the clear sky became overcast and a thick fog descended on the river. Satyavati was in awe, but at the same time started to panic, "Wait! Wait. My family’s name will be sullied and my virginity lost. Please. Please don’t persist... I beg of you."

Parasara opened his arms to the fog that encircled them. "You have witnessed my abilities, so have no fear. I will restore your virginity and no one need know what we’ve done. I will even grant you one wish beforehand, anything your heart desires."

Satyavati filled with hope, which she quickly quelled, for she knew disappointment would be far too painful. She steadied herself, then asked, "If it pleases you to do so, all I ask is that my body emit a sweet scent, rather than the vile one it now has."

"So be it."

She held her breath tensely, too afraid to breathe. At first, Parasara didn’t realize what the problem was, then said, "It’s alright... breathe," and she did. Tears of joy poured from her eyes and her heart filled with gratitude as she looked upon the smiling Rishi. She dropped her oar and threw herself on him, bowling him over, frantically kissing every part of his face, uttering "Thank you" again and again between every kiss.

As they lay on the boat bottom and her kisses slowed, she then remembered what he had wanted in return and proceeded to satisfy him with all of her heart.

As they finished their lovemaking, the boat came aground on a small island in the middle of the Yamuna. Parasara led her from the boat and told her she had conceived a child that would be born shortly. Before she could object, she found herself with a swelled belly and in labour.

The baby boy that was born continued growing miraculously until he was an adolescent. After taking a moment to examine himself, he materialized the clothing of a sage then greeted his parents with joined palms.

Satyavati lay on the beach exhausted as this sage Her son! told her he would go and live in isolation practicing ascetism, but that if she ever had need of him, all she had to do was think of him and he would appear. With that he dematerialized from her view and was gone.

Parasara then told her that their son was named Dwaipayana (island born), but kept from her that their son was also Vyasa (the compiler). Parasara then proceeded to restore everything to as it was before he had interrupted her rowing: the clear sky, their position in the river, her strength and virginity.

It suddenly all felt to her like some strange dream that had never happened, and she would have convinced herself of that, were it not for her new wondrous scent.

As they approached the opposite bank, Satyavati saw a group of men jostling there. When they arrived, Parasara bid her goodbye with a smile and a wink amidst the farmers, merchants and other male villagers vying for her attention. What she didn’t know was that her new scent didn’t only extend a couple feet from her body, but extended for a yojana (eight miles) and also had a seducing effect on all men.

One merchant had just outbid the others for the right to row her across the river when a majestic man appeared from the trees. The sun glinted off his golden armour catching everyone’s attention.

He was tall with broad shoulders; muscular and handsome. It was King Santanu of the kingdom of Hastinapura, standing in the kingdom of Chedi. Satyavati immediately recognized him, as did many others, for he had made a public address at their capital a few years ago to announce an alliance with their king, Uparichara. The entire kingdom had turned out, including her and her father, for Santanu was famous throughout the eastern world.

Through peaceful alliances he had brought his governing principles to dozens of kingdoms, creating prosperity and happiness for people everywhere. Respected by men and adored by women; boys imagined being him, while girls dreamed of marrying him, but Satyavati had never entertained such thoughts... until now.

As Santanu approached her, all of the villagers cleared a path. When their eyes met, she immediately knew what was coming. He took her left hand with his right; then covering it with his left, he bent down on one knee and with deep adoration asked, "Will you marry me?"


1. Derived from: Adi Parva, Section LXIII, p. 127.

2. Santanu's proposal: Adi Parva, Section C, p. 215.