Adi Parva - 1
The sage Ugrashrava known as Souti narrated the entire story of the Mahabharata to the sages in the Naimisha forest during the sacrifice conducted by Shaunaka and other sages.
The starting point of the story is the Sarpa satra or snake sacrifice being conducted by the King Janmejaya. The sage Vaishampayana, a disciple of Vyasa narrated the story of his ancestors to King Janmejaya.
The demons or the Asuras took birth on earth in various forms and they caused trouble on earth by harassing humans. The Gods then went to Brahma, the creator who told them to take birth on earth. He informed them that Lord Vishnu, the preserver will be born on earth to lead the fight against evil so the burden on earth can be reduced.
The main story features King Shantanu of Hastinapura who marries Ganga who has to come to earth due to a curse. Ganga put a condition that Shantanu should not question her to which the king agrees. Ganga had a son from Shantanu but drowned the child in the river. A shocked Shantanu kept quiet, but this repeated seven times.
When Shantanu stopped Ganga as she is drowning the eighth son, she told him that his sons were the Vasus who were celestial beings under a curse. They were liberated when she drowned them. She then took away the eighth son named as Devavratha and got him trained by the great warrior brahmana Parashurama.
She then handed over Devavratha to the king and leaves to her world. Devavratha was named the heir to the throne. One day Shantanu saw a fisherman’s daughter named Satyavathi and fell in love with her. Her father put a condition that he could marry her only if their son was made the next king.
To ensure his father’s desire was fulfilled, Devavrata took a vow of brahmachari or celibacy for his entire life and promises to serve Hastinapura. For this terrible (Bheeshma) vow, he was known as Bheeshma.
Shantanu had two children Chitrangada and Vichitravirya before he died. Chitrangada became king but his reign was cut short when a Gandharva by the same name killed him in battle. The young Vichitravirya became king with Bheeshma assuming the role of regent.
Satyavathi was anxious to continue the lineage of the Kuru kingdom of Hastinapura. Bheeshma learnt that the king of Kashi had arranged a Swayamwara for his three daughters Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. The king had not sent an invitation to Hastinapura. An enraged Bheeshma defeated the assembled kings and brought the three princesses to Hastinapura.
One of them Amba, wanted to marry Shalva and requested Bheeshma to release her. Amba was released but Shalva refused to marry her. She then asked Bheeshma to marry her but he refused. Amba then brought Parashurama to intercede on her behalf but Bheeshma refused to break his vow. There was a fierce battle between Bheeshma and Parashurama, which ended in a stalemate. Amba later died after taking a vow that she will be reborn to kill Bheeshma in her next life.
Ambika and Ambalika were married to Vichitravirya. Unfortunately, the king suffered from consumption and died after seven years without producing an heir. Satyavati then summoned Bheeshma and asked her to give up his vow, marry the queens, and rule the kingdom.
…. to be continued