Shantanu and Ganga

Story of King Shantanu and the river goddess Ganga. Learn about their struggles between love and duty, and how their choices shaped the destiny of an entire kingdom. Listen to the audio above.

Shantanu and Ganga



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King Shantanu was a prominent king in the Kuru Vamsha.

He married twice; first Ganga and then Satyavati.

It was Satyavati’s daughters-in-law Ambika and Ambalika who gave birth to Dhritarashtra and Pandu.

Their biological father was Veda Vyasa.


Here, we are going to see how Shantanu met Ganga, their marital life, and how they separated.


King Shantanu loved hunting.

He was once hunting near the river Ganga.

He saw an exquisitely beautiful woman there.

First, he thought that it must be some apsara.

Then he realized that it was Ganga Devi herself.

It was love at first sight for both of them


Shantanu went near her, looked into her eyes, and said, “You are so lovely; I want you to be with me forever. I am King Shantanu of Hastinapura. Without you, my life would be incomplete.”

Ganga put up a condition, “you should never question me. If you ever displease me, I will leave.”


They got married.

Shantanu found Ganga to be the perfect partner.

As time went on, Ganga gave birth to a son and Shantanu was overjoyed.

But he was shocked to see Ganga take the child and walk out of the palace.

She went to the river and threw the child into it.

Her expression seemed to indicate that this was just a duty she had to perform.

Shantanu remained mute; he had promised never to challenge her, and he felt powerless to break it.

Ganga conceived six more times.

She without mercy threw all the newborns into the river, every time.

Shantanu was extremely anxious; how will the Kuru dynasty have a successor to carry on their legacy?


Then the eighth child was born.

Ganga was heading towards the river with the child and Shantanu stopped her.

“How can you be so cruel? Are you a mother? Enough is enough, give that child to me.”

Ganga said, “You have broken your word. I should go now. I am taking the child with me, but I will give him back to you at the appropriate time.”

“Now, let me tell you why I have drowned my seven children.”

“I had no choice.”

“I came to earth because of a curse.”

“In your previous birth, you were king Mahabhisha.”

“You had come to Indra’s court.”

“You gazed at me with passion.”

“Indra didn’t like it.”

“He cursed me to take birth on earth and marry you.”


“But then, why are you killing our children?” asked Shantanu.

“These eight children are the eight Gods called the Ashta Vasus.”

“They once tried to steal the divine cow Nandini from Vasishta.”

“They were cursed by Vasishta to take birth on earth.”

“Seven of them could just take birth and then come back to Swarga.”

“The eighth, the real culprit in the stealing episode will have to live on for more time.”

“I was given the duty of giving birth to these eight children.”

“I have only been doing good to them by giving them relief from the curse.”

“Since they have taken birth on earth, they have to die someday; the sooner the better for them.”

“Now please don’t have any ill feelings towards me.”


Ganga went away with the child.

Sixteen years later she gave him back to Shantanu.

That was Bhishmacharya also known as Devavrata and Gangeya.

In the meantime, he had learned the Vedas and Vedangas from Vasishta, Neeti shastra from Brihaspati, and archery from Parashurama.

Bhishma became an example of diligence, wisdom, righteousness, and strength for generations to come.

Knowledge Bank

How was Ganga related to Shantanu?

Ganga was Shantanu’s first wife. In his previous birth, Shantanu was a king called Mahabhisha. In Indra’s court, he looked at Ganga passionately. Indra got irritated and cursed Ganga to take birth on earth. Then she married Shantanu.

Why did Ganga leave Shantanu?

At the time of marriage, Ganga had made Shantanu promise her that he would never question or challenge her. Ganga went on drowning seven children who were born to them one after another. When she was about to drown the eighth child, Shnatanu stopped her. Ganga left because Shantanu broke his promise. Those children were Vasus who were cursed to take birth on earth. She was only giving them relief from the curse.


Who was Veda Vyasa to Satyavati?
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