King Shantanu ruled over Hastinapur in the Meerut district, located on the bank of River Ganga. His kingdom was the Doab, the fertile land in between the Ganga and the Yamuna. The economy depended primarily on agriculture and cattle-rearing.
Ganga : Most rivers in India are personified as Devi-s, since a river is the cradle of all human civilization. (Egyptian civilization has River Nile, Chinese civilization has River Hwang-Ho, and the Mesopotemian civillization had Rivers Euphrates and Tigris.) River Ganga was personified as Goddess Ganga.
Shantanu met Ganga on the bank of River Ganga. They married, but their first 7 children did not survive (high infant mortality rate). The 8th son, Devavarata, was somehow saved by Shantanu and his Ayurvadaacharyas (doctors), but Ganga did not survive the delivery (maternal mortality) .
Devavrata was sent to Gurukul (residential school and college), where he Guru Vashishta taught him Law, Ethics, and Morals; Guru Brihaspati taught him Political Science, Rishi Parashuram Bhargav taught him Archery. He graduated and returned home, where he crowned the Yuvaraj (Crown Prince); at 16 years of age. He practised Ashtanga Yoga religiously, rendering himself immune to all diseases, and laying the foundation of great longevity. (Ichcha Mrutyu)
Shantanu fell in love with a fisherwoman named Satyavati, the daughter to Dashraj, the Chief of the fishermen community inhabiting the bank of River Yamuna. Shantanu proposed marriage, but the ambitious Dashraj wanted a royal future for his daughter and her children. He laid the condition that he would agree to the matrimonial alliance only if Satvayati's son ascended the throne. Shantanu refused, but the young Devavrata, on an impulse, gave up his claim to the throne. Dashraj wanted to ensure the royal future of his great-grandchildren also, and Devavrata vowed to remain unmarried. This split-second decision laid the course of the whole of Mahabharat, and earned him the name Bhishma (he who is terrible in his vows).
Unknown to Shantanu, Satyavati had a pre-marital affair with Rishi Parashar, a passenger in the canoe she rowed across Yamuna to transport people. They eloped to an island (dweep) on the Yanuma, where they stayed for a year. Satyavati gave birth to Dwaipayan (he who is born on an island), who graduated in Vedic studies and Philosophy, gained the title Ved Vyas (he who can decipher the Vedas). Parashar returned to his residential research center (hermitage).
Shantanu and Satyavati married, and had two sons. Shantanu sunk in guilt, worried about the future of Bhishma, and died. Satyavati's elder son, Chitrangada ascended the throne, but was slain in a battle with Gandharvas (tribal clans in Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh), led by their king, also named Chitrangada.
Satyavati's younger son, Vichitravirya, became the king of Hastinapur. He was not invited to the Swayamvar ceremony of Kashi Mahajanapad (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh), where the three princesses of Kashi were to choose their husbands from all the invited princes of India. Angry at being ignored by Kashi, Bhishma took this political insult to heart, and abducted the three princesses for his half-brother Vichitravirya.
The younger sisters Ambika and Ambalika married Vichitravirya. The eldest princess, Amba, was already in love with the prince of Salva, and was immediately sent there. Salva rejected the abducted Amba, and she returned to Hastinapur, asked to be married to Bhishma. Bhishma had vowed celibacy, and hence turned her down. Angry at this insult, she vowed revenge on Bhishma, and left for her grandfather's hermitage.
Vichitravirya died young of tubercolosis, issueless, and the royal lineage was at the verge of dying out. Satyavati, the Queen Mother, requested Bhishma to marry Ambika and Ambalika, but his stayed true to his vow of celibacy. Satyavati summoned Ved Vyas, her eldest son, who was busy in research in his hermitage (research center), to sire the children of the two widowed queens (Surrogate fatherhood). Ambika had a blind son named Dhritarashtra, and Ambalika had a pale and weak son named Pandu. Satyavati requested Ved Vyas for another attempt of conception. Ambika and Ambalika both disliked the unkempt look of Ved Vyas (common for an experimental researcher, who even eats and sleeps in his laboratory), and send their maid for the conception. The maid gave birth to a normal male child, Vidur.
The three children were sent to the royal school run by Bhishma, and graduated from there. Dhritarashtra became a powerful young man, Pandu learnt expert archery, and Vidur learnt political science, ethics and law. Due to his blindness, Dritarashtra lost the throne to Pandu. He agreed to Pandu's coronation, but secretly hated it, and considered himself to be the lawful successor of Vichitravirya. Vidur became the Prime Minister. Pandu conquered several kingdoms and extended the borders of Hastinapur east and west, north and south.
Bhishma also led such conquests, one of which was the North-western Mahajanapad of Gandhar (Afghanistan). He established a matrimonial alliance with the kingdom, having the Gandhar princess, named Gandhari, married to Dritarashtra. She blind-folded herself to respect her husband's blindness; but her brother Shakuni, took this marriage proposal as an insult. He traveled to Hastinapur with Gandhari, and stayed in the royal palace for the rest of his life.
Pandu attended the Swayamvar of Kunti, the adopted daughter to Kuntibhoj, the ruler of Kunti, located between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Kunti, ambitious to be the wife of the most powerful ruler of North India, chose Pandu. Pandu continued his conquests and captured Madra (Punjab province of Pakistan). The ruler of Madra, Shalya, struck a compromise by marrying his sister Madri to Pandu (matrimonial alliance between the kingdoms Madra and Hastinapur).
Kunti had a pre-marital affair with Surya, the power resources minister of Indra (the Prime Minister of the Mt Meru, Pamir Knot; capital Amaravati). When she became pregnant, she left the Kunti Kingdom and vacationed for a year at a river-side resort of Ganga in Uttar Pradesh. She gave birth to the illegimiate son Karna, but placed him in a basket and floated him down the river. After a few weeks, the river currents took the basket to Bihar (Ang Mahajanapad), where he was picked up by at Bhagalpur by a chauffeur named Adirath and his wife Radha. Adirath was the royal chauffeur of Hastinapur, and was vacationing in Ang. He returned to Hastinapur, but resigned from his job to look after his adopted son. He was replaced by a new chauffeur, Sanjay.
Back from his conquests, Pandu vacationed in the Garwhal Himalayas with his two queens, Kunti and Madri. Once, he went hunting for a tiger, but accidently killed a Rishi (sage) in the forest. In extreme guilt, he renounced his kingdom and left for a permanent exile to Kumaon (Uttarakhand) with his wives. Dhritarashtra ascended the throne as his representative.
Pandu was born weak and impotent. The trio wanted to have a family, so Kunti summoned Indra and his two ministers for surrogate fatherhood. (Kunti had this previlege granted by Rishi Durvasa). First, Dharma (the Law Minster) sired Yudhisthir. A year later, Pavan (the Wind Energy minister) sired Bheem; and Prime Minister Indra himself sired Arjun the next year. Queen Madri also wanted children, and with Kunti's help, she summoned Ashwini-Kumars, the twin doctors of Amaravati, who sired the twins Nakul and Sahadev.
Back in the capital Hastinapur, Ghandhari bore her eldest son Duryodhan, on the same day was Bheem. She also bore a son named Dushshana and a daughter named Dushshala. They had two half-brothers named Vikarna and Yuyutsu, born of palace maids, sired by Dhritarashtra. In a few years, Pandu died of prostrate cancer, and Madri committed suicide in grief. The helpless Kunti returned to Hastinapur with her five sons.
Kunti was the child of Sursen, the king of Braj (Western Uttar Pradesh). Her brother Vasudev married Devaki, the princess of Mathura, the daughter of King Ugrasen. Devaki's brother Kans, the crown prince of Mathura usurped power from his father in a bloodless coup, and imprisoned Ugrasena. An astrologer predicted that Devaki's eighth child would kill Kans, so he also imprisoned the newly wed Devaki and Vasudev.
Devaki bore six sons in the prison, who were all killed promptly upon birth by Kans. Devaki's seventh conception was transplanted in the womb of Rohini, Vasudev's first wife. She gave birth to Balaram in Gokul, across the bank of Yamuna, opposite Mathura. Devaki wanted to save her eighth son as any cost. Gokul's chief Nand was Vasudev's friend. He poisoned the guards of Devaki's prison, and unlocked it. In the second half of August, the eighth child was born, named Krishna (the dark one) and was immediately taken to Nand'a home in Gokul across Yamuna.
........ to be continued.