In the epic Mahabharata,
Shantanu was a Kuru king of Hastinapura. He
was a descendant of the Bharata race, of the lunar dynasty and
great-grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas. He was the youngest
son of King Pratipa of
Hastinapura and had been born in the latter's
old age. The eldest son
Devapi had leprosy and gave up his inheritance
to become a hermit. The middle son Bahlika (or Vahlika) abandoned his
paternal kingdom and started living with his maternal uncle in Balkh
and inherited the kingdom from him.
Shantanu became the king of
Hastinapura by default.
Shantanu or Santanu is derived from Sanskrit meaning
"Wholesome". He is best known for being the father of Bhishma, one of
the mightiest warriors of all time.
1 Brahma's Curse & Birth Of Shantanu
Shantanu & Ganga
Shantanu Reunites With His Son
Shantanu & Satyavati
Brahma's Curse & Birth Of Shantanu
In his previous birth, there was a powerful king of the Ikshvaku
dynasty named Mahabhisha. Mahabhisha possessed many virtuous
qualities, and after performing a thousand Ashwamedha Yagnas and a
hundred Rajasuya Yagnas (to qualify as emperor), he had attained
heaven after his death. Once he got an opportunity to visit the court
Brahma where all the Devas and
Ganga were also present. While the
celestials were worshipping Brahma, a wind blew and displaced Ganga's
clothes revealing her body. Everybody present there bashfully bent
their heads except Mahabhisha who kept on gazing at her body. Upon
seeing this act,
Brahma lost his temper and cursed him to be born as
mortals and that
Ganga will cause much emotional pain to him.
Mahabhisha then requested
Brahma to be born as the son of Kuru king
Pratipa and his wish was granted by Brahma.
The Kuru king Pratipa was once meditating, in atonement for the crimes
he had committed in seizing the throne of Hastinapur. At that time
Ganga took the form of a beautiful woman, approached the king and sat
on his right thigh. When he asked her what she wanted,
him to become her husband. Pratipa however refused since he had taken
a vow not to lust for anybody, and also that she had sat on his right
thigh and according to traditions a man's right thigh was for his
daughter or daughter-in-law while the left thigh was for his wife. He
then proposed that she marry his son, to which she agreed.
A child was born to Pratipa and his wife Sunanda in their old age. He
Shantanu because when he was born his father had controlled
his passions by ascetic penances. Pratipa then installed
Hastinapura and retired into the woods to perform penances.
Bahlika who was elder than
Shantanu also gave permission to him for
becoming the king of Hastinapura.
Shantanu & Ganga
Shantanu Meets Goddess
Ganga by Warwick Goble, 1913
Ganga from drowning their eighth child, who later was
known as Bhishma.
Shantanu saw a beautiful woman on the banks of the river Ganges
(Ganga) and asked her to marry him. She agreed but with one condition:
Shantanu would not ask any questions about her actions. They
married and she later gave birth to a son. But she drowned the child.
Shantanu could not ask her the reason, because of his promise, lest
she would leave him. One by one, seven sons were born to them and were
drowned by Ganga. When
Ganga was about to drown the eighth son,
Shantanu, devastated, could not restrain himself and confronted her.
Ganga explained to King
Shantanu about Brahma's curse given
to Mahabhisha and her. Then she told him that their eight children
were Eight Vasus who were cursed by
Vasishtha to be born on earth as
mortal humans however when they pacified him, he limited his curse and
told them that they would be freed from this curse within a year of
their birth as humans. So she released the seven of them from this
life by drowning them all. However the Vasu Dyaus was cursed to live a
long life and to never have a wife or have children. But the sage also
gave a boon to him that he would be virtuous, conversant with all the
holy scriptures and will be an obedient son to his father. that she
will take him to the heavens to train him properly for the King's
throne and status. With these words she disappeared along with the
Shantanu was struck with grief thinking about spending the
rest of his life without her.
Shantanu Reunites With His Son
Painting depicting presentation by
Ganga of her son Devavrata (the
future Bhishma) to his father, Shantanu
Shantanu, filled with grief from the loss of his wife and son, began
to practise Brahmacharya and ruled his kingdom extremely well. By
merely adopting virtuous behaviour,
Shantanu was easily able to
conquer the entire world without lifting weapons. All the kings
Shantanu as Emperor and his reign was a peaceful one.
Shantanu gave up hunting and gained popularity from his subjects.
One day, while walking along the banks of the Ganga,
Shantanu saw that
the river had become shallow. While searching for the cause of this
phenomenon, he came across a handsome young boy who had checked the
river's flow with his celestial weapon. The young boy was his son
however he didn't recognize this because of only having seen him for a
few moments after his birth. The boy recognized that he was his father
however didn't reveal it to him instead disappearing in his very sight
using his powers of illusion.
Shantanu upon seeing this wondered
whether the boy was actually his son and called upon
Ganga to show the
boy to him.
Ganga thus appeared. She then revealed to him that the boy
was actually his son Devavrata and that he was taught the knowledge of
the holy scriptures by the sage
Vasishtha and the art of warfare by
Parshurama. After revealing the truth about Devavrata she told
Shantanu to take him back with to Hastinapura. Upon reaching the
Shantanu crowned Devavrata as the heir-apparent to the
Shantanu & Satyavati
A painting by
Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma depicting
Shantanu wooing the
Devavrata taking the
Four years later,
Shantanu while travelling near the banks of Yamuna
smelled a sweet scent coming from an unknown direction. While
searching for the cause of the scent, he came across
whom the smell of scent was coming.
Satyavati was an adopted daughter
of the chief of the fishermen of her village. Upon seeing her,
Shantanu fell in love with her and desired to her. Upon asking for his
consent, her father agreed to the marriage on condition that
Satyavati's son would inherit the throne of Hastinapura.
Shantanu was unable to give his word on accession as his eldest
son Devavrata was the heir to the throne. However, Devavrata came to
know about this and for the sake of his father, gave his word to the
chief that he would renounce all his claims to the throne, in favour
of Satyavati's children. To reassure the skeptical chief, further he
also vowed lifelong celibacy to ensure that future generations borne
Satyavati would also not be challenged by his offsprings. Upon
hearing this vow he immediately agreed to the marriage of Satyavati
and Shantanu. Devavrata was named as
Bhishma (one who has taken a
terrible vow) by the celestials because of the terrible oath he took.
Upon returning with
Hastinapura he told about his vow to
his father. Upon hearing about this
Shantanu became highly impressed
and gave him a boon that he will only die if he chooses so. Shantanu
Satyavati went on to have two sons,
Vichitravirya. After Shantanu's death,
Vichitravirya became the king
Hastinapura because Chitrangada was killed by a gandharva of same
Shantanu was still alive.
Hindu deities and texts
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali