Amba – Ambika – Ambalika
Other names: Ambaa, Ambikaa, Ambalikaa
Once while hunting in the jungle, King Shantanu saw Satyavati, daughter of Nishadraj and was fascinated by her beauty. Shantanu proposed her for marriage.
Nishadraj put a condition for the marriage that only Satyavati’s son will become the king. Shantanu did not agree to it and returned disheartened. His son Devvrata could not see his father in pain and so he went to Nishadraj’s house. After listening to Nishadraj’s terms and conditions Devvrata took an oath that he will make Satyavati’s son the King and that he will never beget a child so that in future Satyavati’s son can become the king.
Due to this terrible vow, Devvrata became famous in the name of Bhisma (which means terrible). Shantanu and Satyavati got married. They got two sons- Chitragand and Vichitravriya. After some time, Shantanu died. Later, even Chirtagand died.
The King of Kashi had organized a “Swayamvar’ (selection of a husband of her choice by a princess by means of a public ceremony) for his three daughters. Bhisma went to the Swayamvar for his brother Vichtravirya. He defeated the rest of the Kings present at the Swayamvar and came with the three ladies and handed them over to Vichitravirya. Amba, the eldest daughter of Kashi King, told Bhisma that she had considered King Shalya as her husband, and that in the Swayamvar she was going to accept him. She also told Bhisma that as he was a pious man, he should do whatever he feels is right.
Bhisma let Amba go and got Ambika and Ambalika married to Vichitravirya. After sometime Dhritrashtra was born to Ambika and Pandu was born to Ambalika. The sons of Dhritrashtra and Pandu were known as Kauravas and Pandavas respectively.
Meanwhile, Amba went to King Shalya, but Shalya rejected her saying that Bhisma had kidnapped her so he cannot accept her. Distressed and afflicted, Amba went for a deep penance to take revenge with Bhisma. Lord Shiva was pleased with her penance and gave her a boon that she would destroy Bhisma. Amba asked Shiva,
“I am a weak woman, how will I defeat Bhisma in the war?” Lord Shiva said, “You will be reborn as a daughter to King Drupad and after few years you will convert into a man and will be the reason for Bhisma’s death.” Lord Shiva went away after giving the boon and Amba entered the fire in self-immolation.
In her rebirth, she was born as the daughter of King Drupad. King hid the fact that she was a daughter and treated her as a son. He became famous as Shikhandi. Shikhandi was married to Uma, daughter of King Hiranyavarma of Dasharna. After the marriage, when the secret about Shikhandi was revealed, Hiranya Varma attacked Drupad. Shikhandi was distressed and went to the jungle for devout austerity. There she met a Yaksha named Sthunakarna.
Yaksha was a class of demi-Gods led by Kuber who was the treasurer of the demi-Gods. After listening to Shikhandini’s tale of woe, Sthunakarna offered to exchange his manhood with her womanhood for a predetermined period, after which Shikhandini would have to return to the forest to reverse the sex change. The transformation took place and a vigorous, strong and manly Shikhandi returned to the palace to face the test. His father Drupad made him learn archery from Dronacharya.
During the war of Mahabharata, Shikhandi fought from the side of the Pandavas. Bhisma came to know from Naradji about the story of Amba’s penance and the rebirth in the form of Shikhandi. That is why when Shikhandi came in front of Bhisma during war, Bhisma did not strike at her (as striking a woman was against the code of ethics of a warrior) and he was injured by Shikhandi’s arrows and fell on his death bed.
This way, Amba took her revenge and she became the reason for Bhisma Pitamah’s death.