Chitravirya and Vichitravirya were the sage-king Shantanu’s sons, but they were not born out of the womb of any woman. They were born of pictures of women. They were cursed by Ganga, Shantanu’s wife, for no fault of theirs. This is their sad story:
Ganga knew that she had married the wrong person in Shantanu and not Shiva, the god of the gods she had been waiting for, for years. She had to free herself from her marriage. She worked out a plan for it almost when the wedding rituals were going on. She extracted a promise from Shantanu that no matter what she did, however sinful or unacceptable her doings might be, he must never get angry with her. He must never deny her, must never rebuke her and must not speak to her rudely or even impolitely. The moment he broke his promise, she would leave him, she warned the king. She made Shantanu’s life utterly miserable in many ways, hoping that in an angry moment he would break his promise deliberately or accidentally and be hurtful to her in action or word.  At that very moment she would leave him. She hoped that that blessed moment would come for her soon.  Ganga’s story as Shantanu’s wife is narrated in some detail in the post “Ganga” posted in this blog on May 6, 2008. 
She would force him to have sex with her and would deny him when he desired it, craved for it. One day he was so aroused that when she refused him union, in desperation he experienced sex with the portrait of a beautiful woman hanging on a wall. From that union a baby was born right then and the happy father named him Chitravirya because he was born of a chitra, a portrait. Terribly scared that Ganga might harm the baby, he left him in the care of sage Pareshwara (more known as Parashara) and his wife Satyavati. Incidentally Satyavati was never Shantanu’s wife. Her story is in this blog, posted on May 22, 08.
Ganga conceived and gave birth to their first son. Overwhelmed with joy, Shantanu entered her private chamber to see his son. Right in front of him Ganga cut the baby into two pieces. Terribly shocked, Santanu uttered “Narayana”, “Narayana”, as he came out of the room.
He was very upset with Ganga but he controlled himself. If her baby did not matter to the mother, who had undergone pregnancy and child birth, he must not lose his calm, he consoled himself. One day after this incident, Ganga denied Shantanu once again when he was very much excited.  Very rudely she pushed him out. The poor husband experienced union with the picture of a beautiful woman and as earlier, a baby was born. Shantanu named him “Vichitravirya”. Fearing Ganga he again clandestinely took the baby to Pareshwara and Satyavati and left him under their care and protection. They looked after both Chitravirya and Vichitravirya.
On an auspicious day, Shantanu and Ganga went to the sea near Chandrabhaga for a ritual bath and sage Pareshwara and Satyavati went there too for the same reason. Neither knew about the other’s visit. Their destiny brought them together. They both were having their holy bath at the same time and in close proximity to each other. The children saw their father and came running towards him, saying “father”, “father” and prostrated at his feet. Shantanu was scared. Ganga was there standing next to him. She asked him whether they were his children, they looked so very much like him, she said. Afraid that she might do the same as she had done to their eldest born, Shantanu said no. Who could he get a child from, he replied, since she was his only wife? But Ganga was no ordinary woman, she knew what all had happened and what all would happen. Wild at Shantanu for his lie, she cursed the children, who he had hidden from her, that they would die issue-less. In the belief system articulated in Sarala Mahabharata, dying issue-less would arrest one’s progress in the higher worlds. Sage Pareshwara and Satyavati took the little ones away from Ganga’s angry presence. The innocent children had to pay for their father’s karma (doing). In Sarala Mahabharata, there are those who suffered or gained in their present life because of their karma in some earlier existence. This takes away agency from the one who curses or blesses and renders one a mere nimitta or instrument of destiny.  Sarala Mahabharata does not relate the curses on the two children to any karma of theirs in their previous birth. Thus it leaves Ganga unredeemed. 
Immediately after the birth of their last child, Ganga left Shantanu. Shantanu named the baby Bhishma. He lived with his three sons. Satyavati came to live with them. When their children reached their marriageable age, sage Pareshwara’s son, sage Vyasa, was married to the beautiful Padmavati, the daughter of Bharadwadasa. Now King Padmanabha, the ruler of Padmadala, who was a great devotee of Narayana, had four beautiful, well bred daughters: Amba, Ambika, Ambalika and Ambilika. Ambika chose to marry Chitravirya. At the auspicious moment, Shantanu and brothers Pareshwara and Bhurishrava accompanied the bridegroom when he left for Padmadala for the wedding.  Not one, but two weddings took place there: Chitravirya married Ambika and Vichitravirya married Ambalika. Later, arrangements were made for the marriage of Bhishma with Amba, but it did not take place. That’s a story we will tell some other time. 
After their wedding, there isn’t much to tell about the unfortunate Chitravirya and Vichitravirya. They performed jajnas, gave ritual gifts, etc. for a child. But goddess Ganga’s curse could not be undone. Then they fell victim to a deadly form of leprosy. No treatment was of any help. Chitravirya died of it. In order to absolve himself from the sin of being issueless, Vichitravirya went to Prayag tirtha (place of pilgrimage) and sacrificed himself at the sacred Triveni, where the three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet.  


  1. Sir, I'm not a learned person like others, but I have a doubt about the birth of bhishma…Some say ASHTWASUS of Amaravati were cursed to be born on land In order to relocate in amaravati or devine heaven..In order for their birth Goddess Ganga mata married sage-king Shantanu. After marriage they bore a child which was left to drown in River Ganga… after repeating the cycle for six children, raja Shantanu, stops her drowning the eightth chid who was named Bhisma(gangeya) after the great oath he took.According to the story that written here there'll be no consequences for Bheeshma shaptha(or the great oath that took by Bheeshma).Hindu mythology there was no gange forcing anyone for sex or she had no intention of marrying lord shiva….


  2. Kindly correct me if i'm wrong…If Gange seen chitravirya and his brother why did she bother to stay with shantanu knowing the fact…If she gave birth to beeshma after knowing about chitravirya and his brother, why did bheesma was arranged to marray eldest daughter of padmadala(according to your writing). Isn't she should marry chitravirya.Ok…I provided my point…I kindly wait for your reply….your humble reader Naveen.


  3. What you say is right. This is essentially the story in Vyasa Mahabharata. Later when poets in regional languages retold the story they made modifications in the Vyasa version, retaining of course the fundamentals of the original story. This is true of the retelling of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in our regional languages. When Sarala Das retold the story, he made use of the Mahabharata narrative to describe the lila of Krishna. He made modifications in the Ganga story. Would you please read the Ganga post in this blog (one of the earliest posts, posted in 2008, I think). Also the latest one “Shantanu and Ganga”. Connected with the Ganga story is the story of Satyavati. There is a post on Satyavati here, posted again in 2008, if I can recall. Sarala's Ganga story is internally coherent. In his narrative too, the Vasus were cursed and were redeemed by Ganga. But only six of them, unlike in Vyasa Mahabharata. The seventh was saved in a different way. The eighth one lived – he was Bhishma. In Sarala Mahabharata Bhishma took the same oath, but in a different context. His oath had the same consequences. Would you please see the post on Amba posted again I think in 2008.Ganga is closely related to Bhagawan Shiva (she lived /s in his matted hair). Different poets have given form to this relationship in different ways. Sarala Mahabharata gives form to the same idea in terms of marrying. There is no evidence in Sarala's narrative that she indeed married Shiva later. She longed for him, wanted to marry him, but probably did not succeed. As for her violence, the violence theme is there in Vyasa Mahabharata too. She killed seven children. She knew the purpose. The world did not. So in others' eyes she did something violent. Here in Sarala Mahabharata that violence has a similar (freeing the Vasus from the curse) and at the same time a different (freeing herself from a bondage) purpose. There is more to be written on this idea. God Willing some day I will tell you. Hindu mythology is an evolving entity. As it has evolved, it has accommodated new concepts, new ideas and their expression in narrative and other forms, but has retained a great deal of what existed earlier. If you study the worship of Bhagawan Jagannath, you would see how it has evolved and how mutually contradictory ideas and practices have been fused together. I would only request you to read a retelling of our classics (be it Kamban's Ramayana or Tulsi das's Ramcharit Manas or Sarala's or Kumara Vyasa's Mahabharata in their own terms. We will see how creatively the Sanskrit narratives are retold and with what rich diversity, in our regional languages by our celebrated poets. As Tulsi Das said, Hari is ananta, as are his kathas!


  4. Naveen ji, Please read my response above to another friend, although it may not be directly connected with your comments. My response to your question about why Ganga did not leave Shantanu after discovering that he had two children is this: she knew by her divine power what had happened. She knew there was no other woman in Shantanu's life, no one for her to be jealous of. For what had happened, she must have understood that her husband was not at fault at all. She could not leave her husband just like that. The condition for her leaving was that Shantanu must not do or say things that would humiliate her and he must not stop her from doing whatever she wanted. In this particular case, nothing had happened for which she could walk out of the marriage. The princess who Chitravirya married had chosen to marry him. So it wasn't exactly an arranged marriage. So Shantanu's eldest son married a younger sister of Amba. Thanks for your comments.


  5. You should refrain from trying to be the judge between facts and proclaiming the truth on old scriptures or literature. Every truth can become a literature but every literature is not necessarily the truth. Every poet or composer exercises his own poetic license and freedom to write “stories” and not “history”. There is a difference. Today many pulp fiction books are written using mythological figures. Tomorrow someone may try to say that “Chhota Bheem” cartoon is the factual representation of Bheema in a parallel universe. The truth or history is only that comes from the mouth of God or Brahma or those ordained by Brahman who experience the voice of God through them, like Valmiki or Ved Vyasa. Even Tulsi Das simply tried to translate Valmiki Ramayana and not create another piece of pulp fiction (“literature”) and his work stood the test of scrutiny of the highest mortals of his time (“Ramcharitmanas” appeared at the top of the stack of all scriptures kept behind closed doors in front of God's murti in a temple). Many poets of varying capabilities (read, varying levels of “corruption” or “imperfection”) have appeared and created various works. Their works are only as “authetic” as their “selves” (reflecting same degree of piousness or imperfection). Next, don't claim that Homer's Illiad or Shakespeare's stories were “real”. You are a translator and why don't you stick to that? Treat literature as “literature” without playing a pious man ordained by ME to give such commentary as the the factual correctness of literature that the author may himself not have intended.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: