MAHABHARAT - THE STORY
The story starts in the court of King Bharat after whom our country takes its name - BHARAT. King Bharat put a commoner on the throne as his successor; even though he had nine sons of his own. He did so because he believed that a ruler should be brave and jus, so that he can defend his country and be just to his subjects. He gave little importance to the privileges that accrued from and by the virtue of birth. Karma (action) was more important for him than birth. As in his opinion his sons would not have proved themselves to be good and able Kings, he put a Commoner - Bhumanyu on the throne.
However, several generations later, King Shantanu of the same Royal House broke this tradition and thus laid the foundations of the great war that was to be fought at Kuru Kshetra.
King Shanutanu one day came across a beautiful woman on the river bank. He fell in love with her and asked her to be his wife. She gave her consent on the condition that he would never protest or question her for anything she did and that the moment he would break his promise, she would leave him, never to return. "So be it!" said the King and married her. Days passed by; seven sons were born to the King; but every time their mother - Ganga drowned the infant into the river. Bound by his promise the king could not protest; but when the eight son was born the king could no longer contain himself. He protested. Then his wife revealed to him that she was the river godess Ganga and that her children were Vasus (angelic beings)_ who were expelled from heaven for some transgressions and had to live on earth for a while. The killing of the seven sons really enabled them to return to heaven with least delay. Shantanu wanted his eight son as his heir. Ganga consented; but she took him away to educate him after promising the king to restore him to the king as a noble youth and a brave prince. She kept her promise to the king and after some years restored him back to the king as the greatest knight of the times. He was named Devavrata who came later to be known as Bhishma.
Many years after the return of Devavrata to Hastinapur, Shantanu met Satyavati and fell in love with her; but her father did not agree to give her in marriage to Shantanu unless her sons could succeed him to the throne. Since Shantanu had already crowned Devavrata as his heir apparent he could not agree to this condition. His disappointment made him sad, Devavrata could not bear his father's sadness. He approached Satyavati's father who was a chieftain of the fisher-folk to plead with him his father's case. He promised the chieftain to abdicate his right to the kingdom. He also took a solemn vow never to marry so that he had no progeny who could re-claim their right to the throne of Hastinapur. It was this great renunciation, landed by the gods that won him the name Bhishma.
Shantanu got married to Satyavati and had two sons by her. After his death Chitrangad, the elder son succeeded him; but he died in a battle with a Gandharva. Shantanu's younger son Vichitravirya was then installed to the throne. Soon Bhishma learnt that Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, the three daughters of the king of Kasi would be choosing their husbands at a gathering of princes (Swayamwar). Bhishma went there and defying all the assembled suitors carried away the three maidens for his step brother. This seizure by valour also being recognised as marriage by custom. On reaching Hastinapur Amba disclosed that she had been secretly engaged to a ruler named Salva. Bhishma immediately released her and sent her back to Salva who refused to accept her. She then went back to Bhishma and asked him to marry her; when he too expressed his inability to accept her the frustrated and enraged maiden swore Vengeance on him and left. She performed severe austerities and won from Shiva the boon that some day she would become the slayer of Bhishma.
Vichitravirya died early due to dissipation and as he had no issue the royal line was threatened with extinction; so Satyavati requested Bhishma to marry the widowed princesses, Ambika and Ambalika. But Bhishma refused as he was bound by his vow of life-long celibacy. Satyavati then seeks Sage Vyas's help and with his blessings three sons are born in the Royal household. Ambika gave birth to Dhritrashtra who was born blind as Ambalika gave birth to Pandu who was born with a pale complexion as his mother had turned pale on seeing the unkempt looks of Vyas. When Satyavati presses again to go to the Sage she sends her maid to the dark bed-room; the son born to her is Vidur. Bhishma looked after the three boys till they grew up.