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Maharaja Shantanu was a famous and influential emperor in the Kuru dynasty. He was also very chivalrous and dharmic. His wife Ganga-devi, gave birth to a son named Bhishma, who was a portion (amsha) of the eighth Vasu. However, she disappeared after the birth of the child due to some particular circumstances. Later, while Maharaja Shantanu was on a hunting expedition, he saw an incomparably beautiful princess named Satyavati at the home of Dasaraja, the King of the Nishadas. This princess had actually been born of the semen of Uparicara Vasu from the womb of a fish, and the King of Nishada had nourished and nurtured her as if she were his own daughter.
Maharaja Shantanu asked the king for permission to marry the Princess Satyavati, and Nishadaraja consented on the condition that the child born from her womb be the soul heir to Shantanu's kingdom. Maharaja Shantanu however, did not accept this condition and returned to his capital. When Prince Bhishma heard about this, he wanted to fulfil his father's desire, so he took a great vow to remain a lifelong brahmacari, to ensure that Satyavati's son would indeed succeed the kingdom. Maharaja Shantanu was thus able to marry Satyavati and in return gave Bhishma the boon that he could die according to his own desire. Satyavati bore Maharaja Shantanu two sons, who were called Citrangada and Vicitravirya.
After Maharaja Shantanu's death, Bhishma made Citrangada successor to the throne, but upon the untimely death of Citrangada, the throne was given to Vicitravirya. Vicitravirya, who had two wives called Ambika and Ambalika, also died young without fathering any children. Mother Satyavati was doubly distressed, because the death of her sons left the dynasty with no heir. She summoned her first son Maharshi Vedavyasa, simply by remembering him. To protect the dynasty, on her instruction, and with Grandfather Bhishma's approval, Vedavyasa begot sons by Vicitravirya's wives. Ambika bore Dhritarashtra, Ambalika bore Pandu, and the saintly Viduraji was born from the womb of Vicitravirya's maid servant.
Dhritarashtra was blind from birth so his youngest brother Pandu was made the king. Maharaja Pandu was a chivalrous and influential emperor, and was endowed with all good qualities. He had five sons, of whom Yudhishthira was the eldest. Dhritarashtra had 100 sons, amongst whom Duryodhana was eldest. By the influence of time King Pandu died while all the princes were quite young, so Grandfather Bhishma enthroned Dhritarashtra, and made him responsible for protecting the kingdom until the princes grew older.
When the five Pandavas and the sons of Dhritarashtra headed by Duryodhana grew up, there was a great conflict concerning the succession to the royal throne. King Dhritarashtra favoured his sons, and wanted Duryodhana to be king by fair means or foul. However the highly dharmic Grandsire Bhishma could not allow this because of the pressure from other respected personalities and citizens. Duryodhana, who was born from the amsha of Kali, was extremely wicked and adharmic by nature, and he wanted the kingdom himself without any opposition. To this end, he made various conspiracies to kill the Pandavas, with the secret consent of King Dhritarashtra.
Despite repeated requests by Maharshi Vedavyasa, Grandsire Bhishma, Guru Dronacarya, the saintly Vidura and others, Dhritarashtra did not give the Pandavas their due half of the kingdom. However, for external show he crowned the Prince Yudhishthira as king of half the kingdom. He then sent him to the newly constructed Varanavat city, where Duryodhana planned to kill all the Pandavas by setting fire to the newly built palace there. Dhritarashtra approved of this heinous plan, but by the will of Bhagavan, the Pandavas were somehow saved.
In due course of time the Pandavas married Draupadi. When Duryodhana discovered that they were still alive, he consulted with his father again, and invited them to Hastinapura. On the order of Grandsire Bhishma and other elders, and at the request of the subjects, the Pandavas were given sovereignty of Khandavaprastha (Indraprastha). There, with the assistance of Lord Shri Krishna and the asura named Maya, the Pandavas constructed a wonderul palace and city. Within a short time they conquered all the mighty Kings of India, and performed a great Rajasuya Yajna.
King Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana became extremely jealous of the Pandavas as a result of this Yajna, and conspired to defeat them in a gambling match. They took the Pandavas' entire kingdom, and forced them to undergo 12 years of exile, and then to live incognito for a further year. Even after this prolonged ordeal, Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana did not restore the kingdom to the Pandavas. Shri Krishna Himself went to Hastinapura as an ambassador of the Pandavas, and conveyed their request that Duryodhana should at least give them five villages. However, Duryodhana remained obstinate and uncompromising, and told Krishna that, what to speak of five villages, he would not give the Pandavas enough land to hold the tip of a needle, unless they defeated him in battle.
Bhagavan Shri Krishna appeared in order to establish dharma, to protect the sadhus and to annhilate the asuras. In the course of the Mahabharata battle, He used Arjuna and Bhishma as instruments to assist Him in His plan to relieve the enormous burden that was weighing upon the earth.