Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Mahabharata (book 1.CII part 2)

Bhishma was thinking of king Vichitravirya's upcoming wedding amidst the pounding hoofbeats and jostling of the chariot when an arrow flew by and grazed his ear. Startled, he turned and saw Salya in hot pursuit. Commanding the women to take cover, he readied his bow and took aim at Salya. Hesitating to shoot, he had to instead dodge another one of Salya’s incoming arrows. Drawing his arrow again, Bhishma commanded his driver to veer left, then released. The arrow flew with extreme precision between Salya’s galloping horses and impacted on his chariot’s axle, severing the left wheel.

Salya’s chariot ground to a halt as his left wheel continued rolling on its own. He leapt out and ran after Bhishma screaming, "Come back you coward and fight like a man!"

Bhishma knew he should have let the comment go, but when he looked into the eyes of his charioteer and the three princesses, he knew he couldn’t. Commanding the charioteer to stop and keep an eye on the princesses, he began walking back towards Salya.

Salya saw him coming and began marching out to meet him. They stopped within arrow shot of each other, and stood with eyes locked under the blazing sun. Salya went for his arrows first and Bhishma didn’t move. He fired five arrows in succession which Bhishma easily dodged. Seeing that Salya had stopped, Bhishma drew his own arrow and fired.

As Salya moved to dodge it, the arrow suddenly multiplied into dozens of arrows that were now impossible to dodge. Salya quickly threw up his arms to protect his chest and face, but the arrows pierced him everywhere else. Their force on impact threw him backwards to the ground and blood poured from multiple wounds all over his body. Though in incredible pain, Salya tried to get back to his feet, but his limbs were too weak and he fell back to the ground. He screamed in frustration, for Amba was to be his bride, but now she was lost to Bhishma.

Bhishma returned to his chariot without a word, and returned to Hastinapura with the three princesses without further delay. The waterfall stopped and the other kings found the defeated Salya. They helped him back to Kasi where his wounds were bandaged such that he was able to return to his own kingdom.

When Amba saw Bhishma climb onto the stage at the self-choice ceremony, she was startled by his majestic stature and handsome features. When their eyes met she felt a special connection she had never felt before. She also felt the power in his arms when he lifted and carried them away, and observed his supernatural ability with his bow to effortlessly defeat any number of foes. Her heart had swooned through it all, while her mind completely forgot about his vow of celibacy.

Once at the palace though, Bhishma introduced the three princesses to Satyavati and their soon-to-be husband: the frail and weak Vichitravirya. It was at this moment that Amba realized the reality of her situation. There was no way she could marry someone so weak and frail, and if Bhishma was committed to celibacy then certainly Salya would take her as his bride. He had made his desire clear during their visit to his palace, and his valiant attempt to defeat Bhishma was also likely driven by the same desire. She too, was also ready to choose Salya at the ceremony . . . before Bhishma interrupted everything.

Amba quickly formed a plan, then while her sisters were talking with Vichitravirya, she discretely turned to Bhishma and whispered, "May I speak with you privately?"

Bhishma led her to another room and asked, "What is it?"

Amba took a deep breath and began, "At heart I had chosen king Salya for my husband. He had, in his heart, accepted me for his wife. At the self-choice ceremony, I would have also chosen him as my lord. As someone conversant with all the dictates of virtue, I have full faith that you will act wisely with this knowledge."

Bhishma was somewhat relieved that Amba wanted to leave, for he couldn't shake the strange sensation he got every time he looked at her. But Vichitravirya still needed at least one wife, so he replied, "Assuming that your two sisters will remain and marry Vichitravirya, then you are free to go."

Amba's sisters had no interest in Salya and his obsession with horses, so they said their goodbyes to their sister and she left on a chariot arranged by Bhishma to king Salya's palace.

The next day, Vichitravirya married Ambika and Ambalika in a quiet ceremony at the palace.


1. Derived from: Adi Parva, Section CII, p. 220-222.

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