WITH joy the king received to his heart and his kingdom the resplendent and youthful prince Devavrata and crowned him as the Yuvaraja, the heir apparent.
Four years went by. One day as the king was wandering on the banks of the Yamuna, the air was suddenly filled with a fragrance so divinely sweet that the king sought for its cause, and he traced it to a maiden so lovely that she seemed a goddess. A sage had conferred on her the boon that a divine perfume should emanate from her, and this was now pervading the whole forest.
From the moment the goddess Ganga left him, the king had kept his senses under control, but the sight of this divinely beautiful maiden burst the bonds of restraint and filled him with an overmastering desire. He asked her to be his wife.
The maiden said: "I am a fisherwoman, the daughter of the chief of the fishermen. May it please you to ask him and get his consent." Her voice was sweet as her form.
He said: "O king, there is no doubt that this maiden, like every other, has to be married to someone and you are indeed worthy of her. Still you have to make a promise to me before you can have her."
Santanu replied: "If it is a just promise I shall make it."
The chief of the fisherfolk said: "The child born of this maiden should be the king after you."
Though almost mad with passion, the king could not make this promise, as it meant setting aside the godlike Devavrata, the son of Ganga, who was entitled to the crown.
It was a price that could not be thought of without shame. He therefore returned to his capital, Hastinapura, sick with baffled desire. He did not reveal the matter to anyone and languished in silence.
One day Devavrata asked his father: "My father, you have all that your heart could wish. Why then are you so unhappy? How is it that you are like one pining away with a secret sorrow?"
The king replied: "Dear son, what you say is true. I am indeed tortured with mental pain and anxiety. You are my only son and you are always preoccupied with military ambitions. Life in the world is uncertain and wars are incessant. If anything untoward befalls you our family will become extinct. Of course, you are equal to a hundred sons. Still, those who are well read in the scriptures say that in this transitory world having but one son is the same as having no son at all. It is, not proper that the perpetuation of our family should depends on a single life, and above all things I desire the perpetuation of our family. This is the cause of my anguish." The father prevaricated, being ashamed to reveal the whole story to his son.
Thewise Devavrata realised that there must be a secret cause for the mental condition of his father, and questioning the king's charioteer came to know of his meeting with the fishermaiden on the banks of the Yamuna. He went to the chief of the fishermen and besought his daughter's hand on his father's behalf.
The fisherman was respectful, but firm: "My daughter is indeed fit to be the king's spouse. Then should not her son become king? But you have been crowned as the heir apparent and will naturally succeed your father. It is this that stands in the way."
Devavrata replied: "I give you my word that the son born of this maiden shall be king. And I renounce in his favor my right as heir apparent," and he took a vow to that effect.
The chief of the fishermen said: "O best of the Bharata race, you have done what no one else born of royal blood has you have done till now. You are indeed a hero. You can yourself conduct my daughter to the king, your father. Still, hear with patience these words of mine which I say as the father of the girl.
"I have no doubt you will keep your word, but how can I hope that the children born of you will renounce their birthright? Your sons will naturally be mighty heroes like you, and will be hard to resist if they seek to seize the kingdom by force. This is the doubt that torments me."
When he heard this knotty question posed by the girl's father, Devavrata, who was bent on fulfilling the king's desire, made his supreme renunciation. He vowed with upraised arm to the father of the maiden: "I shall never marry and I dedicate myself to a life of unbroken chastity."
And as he uttered these words of renunciation the gods showered flowers on his head, and cries of "Bhishma," "Bhishma" resounded in the air. "Bhishma" means one who undertakes a terrible vow and fulfils it. That name became the celebrated epithet of Devavrata from that time. Then the son of Ganga led the maiden Satyavati to his father.
Two sons were born of Satyavati to Santanu, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya, who ascended the throne one after the other. Vichitravirya had two sons, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, born respectively of his two queens, Ambika and Ambalika.
The sons of Dhritarashtra, a hundred in number, were known as the Kauravas. Pandu had five sons who became famous as the Pandavas. Bhishma lived long, honored by all as the grandsire until the end of the famous battle of Kurukshetra.