In the Mahabharata, there was a king ruling Kashi (Benaras). He had three daughters named Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. They had reached marriageable age and the king arranged a ‘Swayamvara’ for finding bridegrooms for them. The contenders had to participate in a battle and the victorious princes would marry the princesses.
A king named Shantanu was ruling in another kingdom Hastinavati. Devavrata was his son. The queen had left Shantanu for some reason and the latter wanted to marry again. To fulfil his father’s desire, Devavrata undertook to fulfil two vows – that he would not become a king and that he would not marry. He came to be known as Bhishma signifying these vows. Upon the death of Shantanu, Bhishma crowned his stepbrother Vichitravirya as the king.
Bhishma came to know of the ‘Swayamvara’ of the Kashi king’s daughters and thought it would be a good idea to marry the girls to his brother. He attended the assembly, defeated ail other princes, brought the three princesses and asked Vichitravirya to marry them. Ambika and Ambalika agreed for this proposal.Amba, from the beginning, wanted to marry the king of Salwa. She requested Bhishma to send her to that prince. He accordingly agreed and sent her away. But the Salwa king refused to marry her as she had been taken away after victory in a battle.
Amba came back to Bhishma and entreated him to marry her. An avowed celibate, he did not wish to depart from that state of life.
Amba knew that Bhishma highly respected Parashurama and would not say ‘no’ to the latter’s words. So she went to him and narrated her story. Parashurama thereupon accompanied her to see Bhishma and said : ‘Bhishma, marry this girl.’
‘I cannot do so. If I do, it would be breaking my vow.’
Parashurama and Bhishma thereupon engaged themselves in a battle and the fighting went on for many days. Both were valiant and could not be vanquished. Ultimately,BHISHMA stopped fighting and returned at the behest of Lord Narada AND gANGA mAYI .
Amba, a dejected damsel, threw herself into fire and died. Later she was reborn as Shikhandi and took revenge on Bhishma.
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