You can read the previous post in this series here: Part 8
The Story of Vasu
There was once a great king named Vasu in the Puru dynasty¹. Counseled by Indra, the Deva clan King, Vasu conquered the Chedi Kingdom². Then, he built a thriving capital city on beautiful river banks³. A while later, King Vasu retreated to practice austerities.
“Is Vasu trying to make himself powerful? Is he planning to dethrone me?” Indra⁴ worried.
To get a pulse of the situation, Indra and his entourage approached the ascetic king. Indra said, “Chedi’s monarch, your kingdom is beautiful and prosperous! Why should you leave it and practice such austerities? You ought to enjoy the riches of your land!”
Indra’s sweet speech and various other ploys succeeded in distracting⁵ the monarch. To seal the deal, Indra offered, “I’m gifting you a wagon that we use. It’ll carry you through midair! When the people of your land see you travel by air, they’ll consider you a celestial as well. If that isn’t enough, I will give you many other unique gifts too.”
Disturbed from his austerities, King Vasu⁶ returned to his palace in Chedi. As Indra had predicted, the people of his kingdom were awed to see that flying wagon. So stunned were they that they nicknamed him Uparichara, or the one who travels up!
With time, he fathered five powerful sons through his beautiful wife⁷. When the time was apt, King Vasu handed over one province for each of his sons⁸ to rule.
His first son ruled the Magadha Kingdom. His successor was the infamous Jarasandha, who the Pandavas defeated. King Vasu’s second son became the Prince of Chedi Kingdom. He was the father of Shishupala, who Lord Krishna killed. Not much is known about the third and fourth sons. The fifth was named Yadu⁹.
Many of those provinces played a leading role in the Great War¹⁰ a generation or two later.
The Birth of Satyavati
As was the norm with kings, Vasu was addicted to hunting as well. His hunting expeditions to slay a deer steered him deep into the woods. On one such hunting trip, his lust overpowered him.
He procreated through a fish-like Apsara¹¹ and returned to his kingdom. As fate would have it, a fisher found that fish-like Apsara. Handing over her twins to the fisherman, the Apsara went away on her way.
The fisher presented those kids before King Vasu. The king accepted the male child but let the girl remain with the fisherman.
King Vasu’s son through the Apsara came to be known as Matsya, or of the fish. A truthful and virtuous person, he went on to establish the Kingdom of Matsya¹². That kingdom played a pivotal part in the war and the post-war situations.
The female child, named Satyavati, was raised by the fishers. She was gifted with great beauty. Even so, living in the company of the fishers, she had a lingering odor of fish¹³ on her. Wishing to serve her foster father, she plied a boat on the Yamuna river¹⁴.
That virtuous Satyavati became the mother of Sage Veda Vyasa.
In this section, I’ve decluttered a flowery tale from the epic. The narration suggests that the Apsara turned into a fish due to a curse. She conceived through some weird circumstances. And King Vasu was unaware of fathering children through her. When a fisher caught that fish, the curse was reversed. That Apsara handed over the twins to the fisherman.
There appears to be a pattern in many scriptural texts. The bards and sages exercised great caution while speaking about a king’s negatives. In such narrations, they resorted to flowery language and imaginative tales. Either they feared the monarchs or they didn’t wish to create an uproar in the audience. The story of Satyavati’s birth appears to be one such instance.
Reading between the lines, King Vasu might’ve had a fling with the Apsara. Or, Indra might have offered him the services of an Apsara as a part of his luring away option. In either case, it doesn’t seem like King Vasu was expecting those off-springs to show up at his doorstep!
- Puru dynasty: An ancient Indian dynasty in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. They were also known as Pauravas, the descendants of King Puru. King Porus, who fought against the Greek King Alexander in 326 BCE, is believed to be from this lineage.
- Chedi Kingdom: An ancient Indian kingdom in the current Madhya Pradesh state of India.
- river banks: A river called Suktimati (Ken) flowed by Chedi’s capital city. The capital city was called Suktimati-Nagara in Sanskrit and Sotthivati-Nagara in Pali.
- Indra: This section addresses him as Maghavat. Vat means surrounded by, and Magha implies wealth. Hence, Maghavat could signify that he was the King of a wealthy land. A prosperous kingdom remains vulnerable to external attacks. So, Indra appears insecure in all the scriptures.
- Distracting: The epic doesn’t directly state it. But, implications suggest the involvement of lust. Carnal desire seems to be a massive issue for men in the scriptures. Not just kings, even renowned sages have fallen prey to it. Attacking this weakness of the kings seemed to be Indra’s chief ploy to secure his throne. If he needed something done, he sent an Apsara, one of his courtesans, to do the task for him.
- Vasu: His father was named King Krtaka of the Puru dynasty. Krtaka was a contemporary of the Kuru dynasty’s King Shantanu, who plays an integral part in this epic.
- Wife: I’ve omitted her poetic story. In a nutshell, there was a mountain-like person nicknamed Kolahala (maddened by lust). He captured a woman nicknamed River. That River had two kids. One was Girika, the wife of King Vasu. The other was her brother, who became the commander-in-chief of Chedi Kingdom.
- Sons: They were (in order of birth): Brihadratha (Maharatha), Pratyagraha, Kusamva (Manivahana), Mavella, and Yadu.
- Yadu: It is possible that this Yadu was Lord Krishna’s ancestor. Both Jarasandha and Shishupala had a personal enmity with Lord Krishna. And, those were the two keys players whom Lord Krishna destroyed even before the Mahabharata War.
- Great War: This chapter of the epic is called Adi-Vansha-Avatarana. In Sanskrit, Adi is the source, and Vansha implies lineage. Avatarana means descending. An avatara is someone who has already reached a higher state of existence in a previous birth. Yet, they descend from that state and take birth for the sake of this world. As per Krishna Bhagavatam, Sage Veda Vyasa is an avatara of Lord Vishnu. That Vyasa became the source of a lineage that caused the Mahabharata war. This section covers Sage Vyasa’s story as narrated by his student.
- Apsara: Refers to a courtesan from Indra’s court named Adrika. This epic is poetry, so it gives a lot of poetic descriptions of people. So, fish-like could be referring to some of her physical features.
- Matsya: This was one of the sixteen Maha-Janapadas or territories during the Vedic era. It was in the northeastern region of the modern state of Rajasthan in India.
- Odor of fish: Due to this, Satyavati was nicknamed Matsya-Gandha. That is, the one who smells like fish.
- Yamuna River: A sacred northern Indian river located in the present-day Uttarakhand and the Uttar Pradesh States.
I’ve retained the parts before this to preserve the comments on them. After this, I deleted the pieces on which I had requested my readers not to post any comments.