She had just one thought. She hoped that she would remember everything from this life that she was giving up. All the fear, all the hurt and most importantly, the fury.
With Shiva’s name on her lips, she stepped into the scorching pyre.
The girl looked around furtively. No one was around. Neither her parents, nor the courtiers, not even the guards. She was prepared this time. Dragging a spear, twice her height and multiple times her weight, she poked the garland. Trying to dislodge it. She poked and prodded for what seemed like an eternity until the garland, fell – right over her neck.
Ever since she had lain eyes on them, she had wanted them. She was curious and a little bit scared, because everyone else in the palace revered it to the extent of praying in front of it. For what felt like a few minutes, she fingered the lotuses on the garland. The never-fading lotuses. A rich blue in colour. Unlike any of the other lotuses she had seen. She patted them with fondness and a sense of victory at her achievement.
Suddenly she heard a rustle. Frightened, she looked around. No, there wasn’t anyone here. Again, she heard it, stronger this time. She felt the lotuses move under her fingers. Almost as if in a daze, she held them up. The rustling grew louder. There was only word that was being repeated. She knew that word. From within the layers of her subconscious, the images flowed. She was caught in a whirlpool of memories. She knew that name.
Not knowing where to go or what to do, Amba sat down by the riverside. Returning to her father’s kingdom was out of question. There was nowhere she could go, none she could turn for solace to. She looked at the flowing river and wondered the course her life had taken. From what she was to who she was now.
[Pic courtesy: http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/yoga-meditation/history-of-yoga/mahabharat-ep8-ambas-plight/ ]
Crown Princess of Kashi. The eldest born. Sister to Ambika and Ambalika. Lover of Shalva.
These were the adages one could assign to her. Her life, a fairly peaceful one, her future, a fairly predictable one but in line with what she wanted. She had been looking forward to the swayamvar. She knew who she wanted and she had been ready to garland Shalva, when a commotion broke out. She heard rumours, about Bhishma, who was also attending the swayamvar. She had heard the murmurs and the whispers of jeer directed at him, ridiculing him at showing up at a swayamvar when he had taken an oath of celibacy.
And then all hell had broken loose.
Shikandini walked around the palace aimlessly. Ever since she wore the garland, her father, King of Panchala, seems a little wary of her. He had been keeping a safe distance, unwilling to meet her eye and he kept eyeing the garland as though it may catch fire at any time.
She couldn’t concentrate on her classes, her archery or her pastimes. She had been getting flashes of regressed memories, and things were slowly becoming clearer. She now had another name to focus upon.
She tried asking her father about him, in an attempt to retrieve more memories. The lashing she received in return, shook her to her very core. She had left the palace grounds in a fit of anger, and now upon realizing that dusk had fallen upon her, she looked around to see herself in a forest clearing. She had no idea how she had ended up there, and why it seemed extremely familiar to her.
Amba was at the verge of breaking down. She was now drawing up on the last vestiges of her strength, trudging her tired and inert body from Saubala back to Hastinapura. She had been taunted and rejected by Shalva, on the basis that she could no longer belong to him or anyone else since Bhishma abducted her and her sisters for marriage to his brother, fighting and winning over the rest of assembled kings. The Kshatriya pride in him was slighted, he said.
She was ready to wed Vichitraveerya, if only to regain whatever remained of her dignity. Upon returning to Hastinapura, she found her sisters in wedded bliss, and she felt the same scornful expression emanating from Vichitraveerya, albeit under the reasoning that her heart belonged to someone else. Brushing aside her ego, she now turned to Bhishma, who was watching the proceedings. Yet, Bhishma too, refused her proposal, stating that he was bound by his vow. However, he said she could stay on at the palace. Snubbed, she left Hastinapura.
She didn’t blame Shalva, she only felt disgusted at him. As for Vichitraveerya, he was merely a puppet at the hands of Bhishma. Her wrath was only directed at Bhishma. She was in this unfavourable situation only because of him and his actions. Hell, hath no fury like a woman scorned. Her anger at Bhishma knew no bounds. The burning need for revenge kept her going.
She walked for days, foraging whatever food she could find, drifting along kingdoms asking for help to fight and defeat Bhishma. She passed by riverbanks and forests. At one of the forests, she met sages who advised her to forget the past and appease the higher powers, becoming a tapasvini. She couldn’t let go of her anger, however, she had now found a way.
(to be continued)