Guru bhakti is a central tenet of Sanatana Dharma . Surrender to the Guru , Guru seva and willingness to give up one’s life if the Guru commands – are some of the values demonstrated repeatedly in our scriptures. Be it the story of Eklavya who gave up his thumb , killing his ambition for life or Sri Krishna who went in search of  Guru Sandipani’s sons or Pandavas who took on the mighty army of Drupada to fulfil their obligation of Guru Dakshina – following a guru’s commandment is considered one’s natural Dharma .

The power of Sankalpa cannot be over stated in Sanatana Dharma . Numerous scriptural references apart , our own beloved Swami ji has written so much about it . Sanklapa – a vow made to oneself or commitment made to others is considered to be that irrevocable bond that cannot be broken no matter what the consequences . रघुकुल रीत सदा चली आई, प्राण जाए पर वचन न जाईis the famous line from Goswami Tulsidasa which unpderpins how the entire life of Sri Rama unfolds because he decides to honor and  live by his father’s commitments .

It is not for no reason that Bhishma is considered the epitome of making and keeping a vow. He made a vow to not marry and never take the throne of Hastinapura, giving up his natural birth-right , giving up the pleasure of a family life and even incurring the wrath of his Guru for the same . While ordinary mortals like you and me struggle to keep the vow we make to ourselves of completing a Sadhana or pursuing meditation or fitness  journey or getting up early or not scrolling endlessly on Instagram or Twitter – here is one epitome of willpower and strength – Bhishma who kept his vow of not taking the throne yet protecting it  even at the cost of his life . We give up our sankalpa ( 5 malas seem too long , let me do just 1 ; its very cold today I will go for a run tomorrow ) at the smallest concern or temptation , Bhishma resisted a life time of temptations , braved ridicule and provocation and even took on his own guru , the 6th avatara of Sri Hari- Parashurama to protect his vow . That is the story I want to share today with you all. inspires you to have micro habits which enable to you to take sankalpas which are doable and whose incorporation will make your life so much richer and fulfilling . As you read this story – do reflect on what is your sankalpa . Mine is to get 30 mins of exercise everyday and 30 mins of meditation every day !.

The story comes from Adi Parva in Mahabharata

Central characters:

Bhishma – The grand old man of the Kuru dynasty. Son of Emperor Shantanu and Ma Ganga , he made a vow renouncing the Hastinapura throne when King Shantanu wished to marry Satyavati and her father wanted to ensure the throne for his grandson. Bhishma further vowed to never marry and produce an heir when Satyavati’s father challenged that while  Bhishma might give up the throne but his heir may still want it .

Parashurama – Considered the 6th avatara of Vishnu , Parashurama is the regarded as the protector of  righteous actions. Son of  Rishi Jamadgni , he killed the King Kartiveerya Arjuna and indeed all living Kshtriyas 21 successive times to avenge the slaughtering of his father . The foremost warrior , a Chiranjeevi ( immortal) he is the Guru of Drona, Bhishma and even Karna in Mahabharata . Bhishma became a formidable warrior, feared by kings across the  country thanks to the skills he learnt at Parashurma’s feet

Back ground – Bhishma abducts 3 Kashi princesses- Amba, Ambika and Ambalika  as brides for Vichitraveerya the  younger son of Satyavati and Shantanu . Before getting married Amba reveals to Bhishma and Satyavati that she and King Shalwa are in love with each other . On hearing this Satyavati and Bhishma allow her to proceed to Shalwa’s court to marry him instead .

The story 

On reaching Shalwa’s court -she was granted an interview and bowing before him she pleaded, “I have come to take shelter of your mighty arms, O brave King ! Please accept me as your queen.” King Shalwa laughed to hear Amba’s request and informed her, “I no longer desire you as my queen, for you have been touched by another. It is Bhishma only who can marry you. When Bhishma abducted you, you followed him instead of revolting . How can a king like myself, who is acquainted with Vedas   and is supposed to rule in line with them , accept into his palace a woman who is intended to marry another? O princess of Kashi, you may go wherever you like, but I cannot accept you as my queen !”

Amba was aggrieved by King Shalwa’s rejection. She pleaded again, “O Lord, it is not as you say. Bhishma took me away by force. I was not abducted willingly. I am attached to you, alone .I beg you to accept me. The scriptures declare that a king should not abandon one who is dependent on him. I swear, that I have never thought of any other man except you. Bhishma has vowed not to marry , and my two sisters have been married to Vichitraveerya already . Therefore, O King, accept me as you wife for I have no other shelter.”

Although she repeatedly solicited King Shalwa, he would not accept her and ordered her to leave his kingdom. Thus Amba left the kingdom of Shalwa, lamenting her destiny and blaming Bhishma for her miseries!

Amba decided to inhabit the forest and practice austerities and penances for the rest of her . She came across an ashrama of great sages and stopped over . It so happened that she met her maternal grandfather Rishi Hotravahna there and broke into tears telling him her sordid story . Hotravahana melted and was despondent over her grand daughter’s situation. He advised her to plead to Parashurama who was to arrive at the  ashrama the very next day . He was supposed to be the protector of righteousness and even the Guru of Bhishma and hence Hotravahana was confident that he will help out Amba and command Bhishma to marry her .

The next day Parashurama arrived at the ashrama and Amba related to him the events of her abduction by Bhishma and her rejection by King Shalwa. She requested the great sage to slay Bhishma. Parashurama felt sorry for the girl  but he couldn’t take up arms without reason . He gave her hope by saying, “O daughter of Kashi, I will not take up weapons except to protect those that follow the Vedas . Tell me, therefore, what I can do for you. Both Bhishma and Shalwa are obedient to me. I can grant you any other boon you want  .” Amba however was insistent on her request of either marrying or killing Bhishma. Another Rishi reminded Parashurama of the sacred duty of protecting those who seek their refuge and finally the great sage relented .

Parashurama, the avatara of Sri Hari and the  annihilator of the Kshatriyas, then went to Kuru kingdom , and when Bhishma learned that his preceptor and Guru  had arrived, he went out of the city to greet him. Bhishma worshipped him according to his position and then waited for him to speak. 

To be continued in Part 2 

But before we go forward dear readers , do ponder on the following questions and I would be really grateful if you could share your thoughts in comments 

  1. What are the micro habits/ sankalpas that you plan to adopt?
  2. Why do you think women needed to prove their chastity with so much effort whereas men had no such obligation !