|The Noble Prince|
|Long ago, in the ancient land of Bharata, a king named Shantanu ruled over the kingdom of Hastinapura. Head of the great Aryan clan of the Kurus, he was loved and honored by his subjects because he was wise and just.|
Therefore when he called their representatives together to tell them of his intention to name his only son, prince Devavrata, heir to his throne, they were delighted and praised him for his foresight and good sense.
The people had reason to be happy: Devavrata, though young in years, was famed for his goodness and wisdom. It was said that his mother had been no ordinary mortal, but the river goddess Ganga. Devarata himself had been the immorital Prabhasa, one of the eight Vasu brothers, who had been cursed by a sage to spend a lifetime on earth.
The eight Vasu brothers were gods and had everything they could desire to make them happy. But they constantly craved more possessions. One day they decided to steal sage Vasishtha's cow. However, when the moment came, the seven older brothers got sacred. The youngest, Prabhasa, however stole the cow and together they hid her. When the sage found the cow missing he cursed them.
The remorseful Vasus fell at the sage's feet and begged forgiveness. Vasishtha relented, "I cannot take away my curse," he said. "But I can soften it and make it easier for you to bear".
He told them that the seven older brothers would have a short life on earth the space of only a few hours. But Prabhasa must spend one complete lifetime on the earth as a mortal. Prabhasa wept bitterly, but the Rishi consoled him saying that he would be an extraordinary mortal.
Vasishtha then advised the Vasus to appeal to goddess Ganga for help.
"Help us O goddess! Come down to earth and we shall take birth from your womb. And after our birth, put an end to our lives immediately, so that we may return to heaven."
The goddess agreed to help them.
Thus it was that one day, the young king Shantanu met a beautiful woman upon the banks of the river Ganga. So beautiful was she, that Shantanu was completely smitten by her. Though he knew nothing about her, he went to her and asked her to marry him. She was willing, provided he agreed to her conditions.
"If I am to marry you," said the woman to her royal suitor, "you must promise never to ask about me, nor must you question my action, whether god or evil.
The conditions were very strange, but so infatuated was Shantanu that he agreed.
They married and soon a son was born to them. Shantanu was overjoyed, but in the dead of night, he woke up to see his wife leaving with the child. He followed her until she came to the river. There in the pale moonlight, he saw her throw him into the swirling waters. Horrified, Shantanu opened his mouth to cry out, but, as she turned, he caught the warning look in her eyes. His heart wept, but he remained silent.
A second boy was born and he met the same cruel end. After him came five more sons and she drowned them all. Shantanu was mad with grief and fear. He did not know that his sons were the Vasus, being freed from their curse.
When the eighth child came, he followed her again but was determined to save the child from death, no matter what. And so, when his wife was about to cast the child into the river, he rushed forward.
"Are you human or an evil demoness in human guise? You have destroyed seven children in cold blood. But I have to save this one".
At these words, his wife gave a strange smile. You have broken your promise to me, Shantanu! She reminded him softly.
You have asked me who I am and you have questioned my actions. Now I cannot stay with you any longer.
Shantanu was scared. "Where will you go? What will happen to me?"
Seeing his distress, Ganga gently told him her story. Now that her work was over, she would return to heaven, taking the child with her, for he was too young to be left without a mother. "But one day, when he is older, he would return to rightfully claim his father's throne," she said.