Once, there lived a King named Mahabhisha born in the Ikshwaku dynasty. He was a very generous and righteous person. He performed a lot of austerities including one thousand Ashwamedhas and a hundred Rajasuyas. He made all the gods and Indra very happy. With all his good deeds he was able to go to Brahma Lok (heavens). He enjoyed all luxuries along with all the gods in the abode of Brahma.
One day in the court of Brahma, there was an assembly of the Gods. The river Ganga also came in the form of a woman. Ganga was skimpily clad in a single white garment. Just then, a gust of wind blew her garment exposing her. All the gods immediately lowered their eyes out of respect. However, Mahabhisha continued to look at Ganga with lust. Brahma was extremely angry with Mahabhisha’s behaviour, and he cursed him saying “You will be born in Mrityu lok (earth) as a mere mortal”. Mahabhisha repented for what he did and fell on the feet of Brahma. Mahabhisha then said,
“I know the power of your curse, and that it cannot be recalled. But please grant me at least one request. Let me be born to the very righteous King Prateep in Bhuloka (Earth)”. Brahma agreed to his request.
Ganga was moved by the situation in which Mahabhisha landed, she felt that if it was not for her, he would have been fine. She was impressed by his feelings for her. She started getting attracted towards him. Her love grew for him even more when he was cursed by Brahma. She followed Mahabhisha to Bhuloka. On the way she met with the eight Vasus, they were leaving the Devlok (heavens) and were in a bad state. She asked them what the problem was and where they were headed. They replied saying they were headed to Bhuloka.
“We were cursed by Vasishta to be born to humans because we deared to steal his cow Kaamdhenu. But, we do not wish to be born to any normal woman. We heard about you and are on our way to meet you. Mahabhisha will be born to Prateep as Shantanu. You can be united with him. If you oblige we will be born to you and Shantanu.”
Ganga obliged to their request, Vasus then said “Vashistha has granted short life to seven of us who were abetting the crime, while the eighth Vasu Prabhasa will have to lead a long mortal life. So as soon as we are born, please drown us in your own waters so that we can easily return to the Devlok.” Ganga and Vasus mutually agreed and left for Bhuloka.
Prateep was the King of Hasthinapur, one day he was doing penance on the banks of river Ganga. Ganga came and stood in front of him, she was extremely beautiful, her body was golden in color. Her eyes were very bright and beautiful and her beauty was divine. She looked at him and smiled and sat on his right thigh. Prateep was taken back by this behavior and questioned her
“Why are you sitting on my thigh? Who are you?”.
She said, “I came for you. I like you. I will be your wife”. Prateep replied saying, “This cannot happen. I will not see or touch any other woman other than my wife Sunanda. You cannot be my wife, don’t waste your efforts. Another thing is, a wife can sit on the left thigh and kids should sit on the right thigh. Since you sat on my right thigh you can be my daughter or daughter-in-law”. Ganga approved to what Prateep said.
Among the sons of King Prateep, eldest son Devapi suffered from leprosy and abdicated his inheritance to become a hermit. The second son Bahlika devoted his life to conquer the old Aryan territories and hence Shantanu, the third son, become the King. Prateep left to become a hermit after Shantanu was crowned as King. While leaving he told Shantanu,
“Go and visit the banks of river Ganga. You will find a beautiful woman on the banks. You will have to marry her. Do not ask her whereabouts. Just agree to what she has to say”.
One day Shantanu went for hunting, he was alone during the hunt. He reached the banks of river Ganga. He was enjoying the cool breezes on the banks of the river, he then saw a very beautiful woman sitting on a rock by the bank. She was glowing with feminine beauty, she wore a silk saree and was wearing ornaments worn by gods. Shantanu was taken aback by her divine glow and beauty and thought
“Is she the goddess of the forest? Or does she belong to Naga clan? Or is she a Gandharva? Who is she? How can a human come in to this forest? Who is she waiting for? Her face and smile look very familiar, like I have known her for a long time. Maybe she is the one who my father told me about? No doubt she is the one”.
He wanted to ask her but then he stopped himself. Kamadeva released his arrows and made them fall in love with each other.
“O beautiful woman, my father has mentioned about you. Please be my wife. I have been waiting for you for a long time now”. Said Ganga, “And, I have been longing to meet you but I can marry you and stay with you only on the condition that you will listen to me and never question me for anything I do. The moment you question me, I will have to leave you and go forever”. “I completely agree to your demands” said Shantanu.
And so Shantanu and Ganga were married and the rest as they is history. The first seven Vasus were born and killed by Ganga. The eighth Vasu was born and was about to be killed by Ganga. But Shantanu stopped her and thus broke his promise. This Vasu was not taken away by Ganga and grew to be the handsome lad Devavrat.