Longevity Of Bhishma And Vyasa

Mahabharata mentions Bhishma and Vyasa to be born during the time of Kuru king Santanu. Bhishma is mentioned as living to see up to the fifth generation of Santanu (Abhimanyu). Vyasa is mentioned as living to see upto 9th generation of Santanu (Janamejaya's grandson Aswamedhadatta). The lineage from Santanu upto Aswamedhadatta is as follows:- Santanu > Vichitravirya > Pandu > Arjuna > Abhimanyu > Parikshit > Janamejaya > Satanika > Aswamedhadatta.

Explanation based on a generation gap of 15 years

Some researchers explain it by considering the gap between successive generations to be 15 years. I find this approach problematic when applied to Bhishma or Vyasa. If we consider that Bhishma was aged 20 when Vichitravirya was born, and we add 15 years for successive generations, we have Pandu born when Bhishma was at 35, Arjuna born when Bhishma was at 50 and Abhimanyu born when Bhishma was at 65. If we add 15 more years we get Bhishma's age during Kurukshetra war to be 80 and Abhimanyu's age then to be 15. In the next year Parikshit is to be born. If we consider the case of Vyasa, we get that he was aged 95 when Janamejaya was born and 110 when Satanika was born and 125 when Aswamedhadata was born. Vyasa is considered elder to Bhishma so if we add 5 years, his age when Aswamedhadatta was born becomes 130. When Janamejaya asks Vyasa to narrate Mahabharata his grandson Ashwamedhadatta was already born. These are the usual assumption many researchers make.

Problem to this assumptions are the following. Only there were a few cases where generation gap was as low as 15. This is especially true in the case of Santanu's line till Aswamedhadatta. As per Mahabharata, the only member of this lineage who became king and married early in life was Vichitravirya. Others became king and married in their prime youth. There are references in many ancient literature dealing with the age at which the successor of a king should be appointed as heir-apparent (Yuva-Raja) and later as a king (Raja). According to these, the minimum age at which one should be appointed as heir-apparent is 20 and the minimum age he should be appointed king is 25. Remember that these were the minimum ages. In case of Parikshit, he became king at the age of 36.

Phases of the life of a prince till he becomes king

Till the age of 6, a prince is considered as a child (Sishu) and lives primarily under the protection of his mother. From the age 6 to 12 he is considered as a boy (Baala). Education of a prince starts at the age of 6. He will be made familiarized with scriptures and various sciences and philosophies which were transmitted by oral traditions. From the age 12 to 24 the prince is considered as a tean-ager (Kumara). A prince become fit for military education at the age of 12. Twelve years is one revolution of the planet Jupiter (Guru) . He is then sent to Guru-Kula (the abode of the Guru) for education. Usually, military education last for 12 years (one revolution of Guru or Jupiter). During this period, his should be a bachelor (Brahmachari) and should not marry and beget children. When he comes out of Guru-kula he is already 24. From then onwards he is considered as a youth (Yuva). If he is the eldest son, he is then installed as the heir-apparent (Yuva-Raja). After a period of time he is installed as the king (Raja). Thus he cannot be a king before he turns 25.

Sometimes the prince is declared heir-apparent before the completion of his life in Guru-kula, while he is being educated. So it is fine, for a prince to become heir apparent at the age of 20. There were also another system in which the 12 years of education (military or other) is considered as starting from the age of 6 to 18. Based on this, a prince is considered as a youth (Yuva) when he becomes 18 or 19 years of age. So the age to become a Yuva (youth) varies between 18 to 24. In any case, he becomes a king and is permitted to end his bachelor life only after his Guru-Kula and thus would have completed 18 to 24 years of his life.

Usually younger brothers of the eldest prince who was supposed to become the king was given education along with the eldest and their ages are not given much weight.

If these norms are to be violated, there should be exceptional circumstances. For example, if the throne is empty due to death of an existing king, his son, if he is beyond 12 years of age, should be immediately made heir-apparent and then king even if he has not attained the age to become king. Some times he is also permitted to marry early. This is what happened in the case of Vichitravirya. Mahabharata mention that Vichitravirya had not attained the age to become king when he was installed at the throne of Hastinapura. He was made to marry as soon as he became king. Unfortunately it was these premature kingship and marriage that contributed to his illness and early death. Since the throne was once again empty while Pandu was supposed to be next king, I guess Pandu too became king early in his life and married early, though this was not explicitly mentioned in Mahabharata, like in the case of Vichitravirya. We see that Pandu too, like Vichitravirya, died early.

Explanation based on missing generations

Below is a table showing the probable ages of the members of the generation from Santanu upto Janamejaya's grandson Aswamedhadatta. It includes the ages of Bhishma and Vyasa. I have considered two Bhishmas (Devavrata of Santanu's time and Bhishma of Pandava's time) and three Vyasas (Vyasa who lived since the time of Santanu up to the birth of Parikshit, another Vyasa who lived since the time of Pandu up to the birth of Satanika and yet another Vyasa who lived since the time of Abhimanyu and lived to ask his disciple Vaishampayana to narrate Mahabharata to Janamejaya). I considered Yudhisthira's age when Abhimanyu was born to be 29 while many others consider Yudhisthira still older when this happened. I consider Yudhisthira's age during Kurukshetra War to be 49, while many other traditions keep his age at this time to be 70 plus which will push Bhishma's age still further to the level of absurdity.

Assumptions on the life-expectancy of ancient people

There are several myths about the length of life of ancient people. Some Puranas say that in old days people lived up to a 1000 years and some times 10,000 years! There was also the concept of Chiranjeevees, viz those who live for ever!. What is the reality behind all these? Is there any truth in the belief that people live less in this modern age and lived longer in the ancient age? Some of these are pure fiction but there are some truth in the longevity of certain individuals. A few thousand years back there was no pollution. The atmosphere was clear. The air, water and food were all pure and poison free. People in those days also had to be more physically active. So their bodies were fine-tuned to live up to 120 years of age. No body died in those days due to blood pressure or diabetes. So I consider living up to 100 years was not a problem in those days. I also believe that the number of people who attained the age of 120 was higher in those days compared to what we see today. A lucky few among the ancients lived up to 130. Usually people who lead an ascetic life were able to control their body functions so that their body clock ticked slowly enabling them to live up to 120 or 130 years. There was also practice of Yoga. Yoga is a very ancient practice and I have no doubt that it was practiced during the period of Mahabharata too. Yoga was practiced by ascetics and warriors alike. There was also an efficient system of medicine called Ayurveda which specialized in revitalizing the body when it turned old, making the body youthful again. Ayurveda and Yoga exist today also but their efficiency is reduced. Herbal medicines used in Ayurveda also is subject to pollution now. Yoga also is practiced today with less accuracy.

So I consider that a 100 year old during the Mahabharata era was as healthy as today's 70 year old. However there is danger in generalizing this to every individual. People also age faster due to constant mental agitation. People like Santanu and Dhritatashtra subjected themselves to mental agitation and aged faster. Others like Vichitravirya and Pandu died early in their life due to diseases and con-genital weaknesses in their body. Thus premature deaths due to weak body and disease also was not uncommon in those days. Chitrangada and Abhimanyu died early in battle-fields. Battles were another cause for death (premature or otherwise) of many people in those days. Epics also indicate that in those days there was high level of infant mortality. Out of eight sons of Ganga by Santanu only Devavrata, the eight, survived. Out of eight sons of Devaki only Krishna survived.

On a side note:- Mythological explanation is that mother herself killed her sons by drowning them into river as they were born and spared only the 8th one Devavrata. But the reality seems to be that they were born dead or became dead soon after their birth, so that their bodies were drowned into river. In case of Krishna, instead of the mother, the blame for killing the babies were put on their maternal uncle Kansa. For more about this see the article on Mahabharata-episode2.

Thus we can conclude that though there were high infant-mortality in those days, once people started living, they lived long. People may die due to some weakness in the body due to birth defects or if they were unlucky to catch some contagious disease. They may also die in war or in an accident. Otherwise, if left to live, they lived up to 120 years without any health problems. If the person belong to the warrior class we can discount some ten years from his life, due to wear and tear of his body, on account of the physical exertion in battles. If on the other hand the person is a sage leading an ascetic life, we can add ten more years to his normal life of 120 years, enabling him to live up to 130 years. Thus we can safely assume that the life-expectancy of Bhishma who was a warrior was a minimum of 110 years and a maximum of 120 years. Similarly we can assume that the life-expectancy of Vyasa who was a sage was a minimum of 120 years and a maximum of 130 years.

Table of Ages

Events San tanu Satya vati Deva vrata Bhishma Vyasa Vyasa2 Vyasa3 Chitr angada Vichitra virya Am balika Pandu Dhrita rashtra Yudhi sthira Abhi manyu Parikshit Jana mejaya Satanika Aswa medha datta
Santanu Weds Ganga 25
Devavrata Born 35 0
Vyasa Born 54 16 19 0
Santanu Marry Satyavati 60 22 25 6
Chitrangada Born 61 23 26 7 0
Vichitravirya Born 75 37 40 21 14 0
Santanu dead 83 45 48 10 29 22 8
Chitrangada King 48 51 13 32 25 11
Chitrangada Dead, Vichitravirya King 54 57 19 38 31 17
Vichitravira marries 55 58 20 39 18 17
Vichitravirya dies 62 65 27 46 25 24
Dhritarashtra, Pandu, Vidura born 64 67 29 48 26 0 0
Pandu King 82 85 47 66 16 44 18 18
Pandu Marries 84 87 49 68 18 46 20 20
Yudhishthira born 88 91 53 72 22 50 24 24 0
Pandu dies 92 95 57 76 26 54 28 28 4
Satavati retires to forest 93 96 58 77 27 55 29 5
Abhimanyu born to Arjuna 120 82 101 51 53 29 0
Kurukshetra War, Bhishma dies *140 102 121 71 21 73 49 20
Parikshit born 122 72 22 74 50 0
Janamejaya born *147 97 47 99 75 25 0
Dwaraka War *157 107 57 85 35 10
Parikshit King *158 108 58 86 36 11
Yudhisthira dies *160 110 60 88 38 13
Parikshit dies; Satanika Born; Janamejaya king *172 122 72 50 25 0
Aswamedhadatta born *197 *147 97 50 25 0
Recital of Mahabharata *202 *152 102 55 30 5

*Ages that I consider as impossible or less likely to occur

Assumptions on the Ages of Individuals

Below are some of the assumptions on ages of individuals used to arrive at these figures. This research is ongoing and so the figures shown above or below or the assumptions made are not final.

Santanu's age when marrying Ganga 25
Years since the marriage and birth of 8th son Devavrata 10
Satyavati's age when Vyasa was born 16
Satyavati's age when she weds Santanu 22
Devavrata's age when Santanu weds Satyavati 25
Years since the marriage and birth of Chitrangada 1
Gap between birth of Chitrangada and Vichitravirya 14
Years Santanu lived since birth of Vichitravirya 8
Age of Chitrangada when he became king 25
Years Chitrangada ruled 6
Age of Amvalika while marriage 17
Gap between Vichitravirya's coronation and marriage 1
Gap between Vichitravirya's marriage and and death 7
Gap between Vichitravirya's death an birth of Dhritarashtra 2
Pandu's age when becomes king 18
Gap between Pandu's coronation and his marriage 2
Gap between Pandu's marriage and birth of Yudhisthira 4
Gap between Yudhisthira's birth and Pandu's death 4.25
Age of Yudhisthira when he became heir-apparent 24
House of Lac; Yudhisthira's age 25
Bhima meets Hidimba; Yudhisthira's age 26
Life in Ekachakra; Yudhisthira's age 27
Marriage with Panchali; King of Indraprastha; Arjuna sets for Pilgrimage; Yudhisthira's son from Panchali born; Yudhisthira's age 28
Arjuna weds Subhadra; Bhima's son from Panchali born; Abhimanyu born; Yudhisthira's age 29
Burning of Khandava; Mayasabha construction begins; Arjuna's son from Panchali Born; Yudhisthira's age 30
Nakula's son from Panchali Born; Yudhisthira's age 31
Sahadeva's son from Panchali Born; Mayasabha complete;Yudhisthira's age 32
Jarasandha killed; Yudhisthira's age 33
Rajasuya: Yudhisthira's age 34
Game of Dice; Yudhisthira's age 35
12 year forest life and 1 year ingognito life complete; Yudhisthira's age (lunar years so actually 12 years) 47
War Preparations; Yudhisthira's age 48
Kurukshetra war; Yudhisthira's age 49
Gap between Parikshit's birth and Kurukshetra War 1
Parikshit's age when Janamejaya is born 25
Gap between Kurukshetra war and Dwaraka War 36
Gap between Dwaraka War and coronation of Parikshit 1
Gap Between Parikshit's coronation of Parikshit and death of Yudhisthira 2
Janamejaya's son Satanika born; Parikshit dies; Janamejaya become king; Janamejaya's age 25
Aswamedhadata born to Satanika; Satanika's age 25
Gap between Aswamedhadatta's birth and recital of Mahabharata to Janamejaya 5

Ages of Individuals when Satyavati married Santanu

Assume that Santanu completed his Brahmacharya (bachelor life) and 12 year education at the age of 24 and then became heir-apparent (Yuva-Raja) at the age of 24 and king (Raja) at the age of 25. Assume that Santanu married Ganga at the age of 25. Ganga is mentioned as delivering 8 babies of which only Devavrata the 8th, lived as per Mahabharata. If we consider that the babies are delivered in succession, we can assume 10 years of gap between the marriage and birth of the 8th son, allowing for 5 to 6 months of gaps between birth and conception. Thus we get Devavrata is born when Santanu was 35 years old. When Santanu met Satyavati, Devavrata was already declared heir-apparent (Yuva-Raja). He might have become heir-apparent at the age of 18 or 24 based on when his education ended. Since there was no urgency in making Devavrata, a king, (throne of Hastinapura was not empty; Santanu was still king) we can consider that Devavrata became heir-apparent at the age of 24. Then we can assume that Santanu's marriage with Satyavati happened when Devavrata was 25. This will make Santanu 60 years old. Santanu was living without a wife since Ganga left him. But his focus was now on his son Devavrata. When Devavrata became a youth, and an able future king for the throne of Hastinapura, Santanu's focus turned to himself. When he turned 60 he might have had the urge to have a life-partner. He was then attracted to Satyavati who was then youthful and beautiful.

I presume Satyavati was then a young lady at the ripe age of 22. But we know that Satyavati already had a son viz Vyasa when she married Santanu. Where was Vyasa then? We know from Mahabharata that Vyasa was educated by his father Parasara. As we have seen before, a child is usually not separated from his mother till he turns a boy (bala) or 6 years old. Till Vyasa turns 6 he was just a child (Sisu) and should live with his mother. So we can assume that Vyasa's father Parasara took him from his mother Satyavati when Vyasa was 6 years old. Thus Vyasa might have born when Satyavati was 16 years old. Thus the union between Satyavti and Parasara took place when she was just 15. This also agree with Mahabharata view that Parasara met Satyavati when she was just a girl or not of the ripe age.

Another result of this is that Devavrata was 3 years elder to Satyavati. Mahabharata did not mention if Satyavati was younger or elder to Devavrata. But it was possible in those days for a king to have queens younger than their own elder sons. Sons were supposed to consider women married to their father as their mothers, no matter if they were younger to them or elder to them. This can also be an indirect reason why Santanu hesitated to marry Satyavati and hid it from Devavrata, apart from many other obvious reasons mentioned in Mahabharata.

Age gap between Chitrangada and Vichitravirya

Next vital clue come from the fact that Chitrangada became king when he was fit to be a king. There is no mention in Mahabharata that Chitragada had to grow up to be able to become king. After Santanu dies Chitrangada is installed as the king without any complications. But in contrast, we see in Mahabharata, that Vichitravirya was not grown up enough to become a king, when need arose for him to become the king. This is possible if there is a wide gap between the two brothers. I consider Chitrangada to be 14 years elder than Vichitravirya. I also assume Chitrangada was born immediately after the marriage of Satyavati and Santanu. So when Chitrangada was born, Santanu was 61, Satyavati was 23 and Devavrata was 26. After a gap of 14 years Vichitravirya was born. Then Santanu was 75 years old, Satyavati was 37 and Devavrata was 40. For a man to have children at such old age is not impossible. Available records shows children born to men even at the age of 100 and beyond. However, for a man to have healthy children at the age of 75 is very difficult. But what prompted Santanu to have children at that age? After Chitrangada was born, Santanu's infatuation with Satyavati probably ended and he might have filled with the feeling of guilt. He had married a women younger than his own son. Not only that, he made his son to forgo the right to be the future king of Hastinapura and the right to beget children. Because of this he might have distanced himself from his wife. But as a king it is important for him to have more sons. Since Devavrata pledged he won't be king, and since only Chitrangada was there to inherit the kingdom, he might have felt the throne of Hastinapura was insecure. Satyavati too, might have felt the guilt of keeping Devavrata away from the throne, securing it for her children. But that guilt might have overcome by the insecurity that she have only one son. So she might have continuously urged Santanu for another son. This explains the long age gap between Chitrangada and Vichitravirya.

The probability for children born at old age to be unhealthy is high. It seems that Vichitravirya was unhealthy right from his birth. He never participated in any battle. He is never mentioned as supporting his brother Chitrangada when the latter was engaged in a do-or-die battle with the Gandharvas. We may excuse this by considering that Vichitravirya was probably too young for battle then. However, there were no war-songs in the name of Vichitravirya. Even for marriage, he had to depend on Bhishma's valor. No other king is mentioned as depending on others to obtain wife. Usually it was the king or warrior himself who goes to a self-choice (Swayamvara) ceremony and obtain maidens as his wife. In case of Vichitravirya, it was Bhishma who went to the self-choice ceremony to obtain wives for Vichitravirya. All these points fingers at Vichitravirya's health and his ability for physical exhaustion. He also died of a respiratory infection (Phthisis) which is the final clue for his fragile health. His early kingship and early marriage too aggravated his ill-health, which was always with him since his birth from an old-aged father.

Mahabharata mentions the cause of Santanu's death to be old age and mental grief. He did not die in battle. I consider that he was then in his eighties and not in his 120s because he died with constant mental agitation and the feeling of guilt. These always shorten a person's life expectancy. Assume Santanu died at 83. Then Satyavati would be 45, Devavrata 48, Chitrangada 22 and Vichitavirya would be 8 years of age. I consider Chitrangada became heir-apparent (Yuva-Raja) at the age of 24 and king (Raja) at the usual age of 25 after properly completing his 12 year old military education and bachelor life (Brahmacharya). There is nothing in Mahabharata indicating that he became a king prematurely unlike his brother Vichitravirya. But Chitrangada seemed to be busy as a king and a warrior and forgot to marry. As soon as he became king, he went on to military expedition subjugating many kings. Finally he was caught in a 3 year war with the Gandharvas from which he never escaped. I assume Chitrangada spent 3 years for military expansions and the remaining three years of his life engaging in the long war with the Gandharvas. Thus Chitrangada died at the age of 31, when Vichitravirya was just 17 years old. Vichitravirya was then asked to assume the the throne and become king. This matches with the reference in Mahabharata, that he had to become king before attaining the right age to do so. Soon after he became king, he was asked to marry.

There is a reference in Mahabharata at Mbh.1.100 where Santanu is mentioned as enjoying domestic life for 36 years and then retiring to woods! I have avoided this number in my calculation since this was a floating statement. Subsequently it mentions that Devavrata became king after Santanu retired to woods! Thus this is an alternative history on the life of Santanu and Devavrata. I am investigating on this as a separate research-thread, which will be updated on the article on Bhishma. Soon after these statements the Mahabharata narration returns to the main course and describes how king Santanu met the grown up Devavrata for the first time!

Why Amva won't marry Vichitravirya?

I presume Vichitravirya was 18 years old (one year after he became king) when she married Amvika and Amvalika. I also assume Amvalika to be one year younger to Vichitravirya, at the age of 17, her elder sister Amvika at 18 equal in age to Vichitravirya and her eldest sister Amva at 19, one year elder to him. It was fine in those days to marry women younger or equal to your age but never those who were elder. This could be yet another reason why Amva would not marry Vichitravirya. The primary reason she mentioned was that she wanted to marry the Salwa king. If this was the only reason she could have married Vichitravirya after she was rejected by Salwa. After all, two of her younger sisters were happily married to Vichitravirya and she was abducted by Bhishma along with them for the whole purpose of marrying her to Vichitravirya. We can also see in Mahabharata that Amva proposed to marry Bhishma. So this Bhishma was certainly elder than Amva. Devavrata's pledge of life-long celibacy was not a secret. There is no doubt that this was known to Amva also. So I do not think the 'Bhishma' that Amva was referring to at this point was Devavrata. This Bhisma was somebody else who was elder than Amva but not the Devavrata, the son of Santanu.

This is where I introduce the other Bhishma who was a Gangeya like Devavrata and probably related to Devavrata, though a strong blood relation which we do not know what. For more details, please refer my analysis in the article on Mahabharata-episode2 upto episode5 and also my article on Bhishma. The summary of this analysis is that Devavrata and Bhishma were different. Bhishma was not a son of Devavrata but of his son's age, belonging to the same tribe (Gangeya tribe). Due to Devavrata and his pledge, all of the members of the Gangeya tribe were supposed to protect the throne of Hastinapura from threats. In other words, they had to server as the generalissimos of the Kuru-army. In Kurukshetra war, Bhishma indeed served as the commander-in-chief of Kuru army under Kuru king Duryodhana. Bhishma inherited from Devavrata, his objective of protecting the Kuru kings and probably decided to remain celibate like Devavrata. Being a Gangeya, protection of Kurus was mandatory for Bhishma. But I consider Bhishma's choice to remain celibate was optional, unlike the case of Devavrata. This could be the reason why Amva asked Bhisma to marry her. What was then the age of Bhishma? Since Amva choose to marry Bhishma, he is certainly elder to Amva. I consider Bhishma 2 years elder than Vichitravirya and 1 year elder to Amva. He could be older than that, but I took the lowest possible age for my analysis. Thus when this incident was happening Bhishma was 20 years old, Amva was 19 years old and Vichitravirya was 18 years old. This also explain the manner in which Bhishma abducted the brides from Kasi. He newer showed the maturity of a 58 year old (Devavrata would be 58 then, as per our calculations). What he exhibited at Kasi was the strength and virility of a 20 year old together with the brashness and immaturity of that age. He considered abducting of the maidens, against their will and defeating and humiliating all the assembled kings as a means to display his valor. The urge of a young warrior who just want to prove himself! Probably he wanted to prove in his own immature ways, that he was worthy of the title 'Bhishma' awarded to him by Devavrata?

Why Amva became angry at Bhishma?

When Bhishma proclaimed to Amva that he had pledged to remain celibate, Bhishma was reliving the terrible pledge of Devavrata once again. This was yet another terrible pledge. Thus he might have become once again worthy of the title 'Bhishma'. Amva's reaction was surprising. She was shocked by that statement and chose to become an arch-enemy of Bhishma. It is as if that Amva never knew that Bhishma had made such an oath. If it were Devavrata, then the whole world knew that he had pledged to remain celibate. So there was no need for Amva to propose marriage with him and get shocked to know that he was a celibate. This also strengthen our theory that Amva was indeed speaking to a new Bhishma. May be it was the first time the new Bhishma openly proclaimed his intention to follow the footsteps of Devavrata. Perhaps this was needed to remove the fears of Vichitravirya. Since Bhishma was a different person from Devavrata he had a choice not to become a celibate, and beget children though he may be bound due to his tribal roots as a Gangeya, to protect the throne of Hastinapura, on the basis of Devavrata's old pledge. When Amva asked to marry Bhisma, he removed all the fears from the Kuru house, by revitalizing his predecessor Devavrata's pledge of life-long celibacy. Though this terrible pledge would have made Vichitravirya and Satyavati happy, it would have shattered Amva. She knew her only future was in becoming the wife of Bhishma. She was banished both by her lover Salwa and her father, the king of Kasi, since she was abducted by Bhishma in a brash and immature display of valor. She had all the right to demand Bhishma to marry her. But Bhishma shattered all of this in one blow.

Why Devavrata and Bhishma did not help Chitrangada in his three year long battle?

What ever be the impression Bhisma left on others by his impulsive act of abduction, he then became famous as the new and young commander-in-chief of Hastinapura. The intelligent and gentle Devavrata (the old Bhishma and the old commander) gave way to the young and brilliant Bhishma, the new commander! One doubt remain why Devavrata or Bhishma was not mentioned in the three year war of Chitrangada with the Gandharvas. The answer is that when this war started Bhishma was just 16 years old and was undergoing his military training. Chitrangada's obsession with territory expansion and military expedition started much before the three year war with the Gandharvas. It started since he became king. Then Bhishma, as per our calculations, was just 13 years old. But Devavrata was 51 then. When Chitrangada died he would be at 57. These were certainly not the prime ages for a warrior but they were also not the age for a warrior to retire, during those periods. The answer is that Devavrata was never a great warrior who can fight in the front-line of battle. He probably stayed in Hastinapura defending it from any surprise attacks from the enemies. This was probably needed to protect the king's younger brother viz. Vichitravirya from threats. Remember Santanu chose Devavrata to be a king (Raja), not a commander (Senapati), seeing his intelligence, gentleness and his deep filial devotion. The only example for Devavrata's skill in archery, found mentioned in Mahabharata, was not an achievement in battlefield, but an achievement in engineering field. He impressed Santanu by constructing a dam made of arrows in the course of river Ganga.

What happened to Devavrata of Santanu era if he is not Bhishma of Pandava era?

What happened to Devavrata, the old Bhishma? After witnessing the death of his father he might have felt life meaningless. His filial devotion was very strong. After all, Santanu had no problem in accepting Devavrata as his long lost son. He did not question his wife Ganga, if the son that she was returning to him after many years of separation was indeed his own son. People of the kingdom might have doubted on the validity of Ganga's claim, but Santanu never doubted Ganga or his son. Contrast this with Dushyanta, who doubted his wife Sakuntala and son when Sakuntala came to reunite with him along with their son Bharata. Santanu's faith in Devavrata and his mother was returned by Devavrata in the form of his strong devotion to his father. This filial devotion was the motivation for the whole of his life. It is what made him to make the terrible promise by which he sacrificed his right to throne and the right to beget children at one blow. He might have lost the will to live after his beloved father's death. But his sense of duty and his pledge of protecting his father's sons and there by the throne of Hastinapura might have urged him to live on. But when Chitrangada died in battle, Devavrata's promise was part broken! He could not prevent the death of Chitrangada. He might have considered this as his failure. He failed in protecting the throne of Hastinapura! Probably he might have chosen to retire. Probably he installed Vichitravirya at the throne of Hastinapura and retired to woods transferring his title and his pledge to another member of his tribe, viz. the new and young Bhishma.

Another possibility is based on a clue in the form of a boon that Santanu is mentioned as giving Devavrata. In response to Devavrata's terrible pledge that enable him to marry Satyavati, he gave his son the boon to die whenever he wished to do so (Swachanda-Mrtyu). In simple terms, this was the right to commit suicide. Devvrata might have exercised this right after the coronation of Vichitravirya. A third possibility is that he died an infamous death in the war between Chitrangada and the Gandharvas, which the bards won't talk about or sing war-songs about. This will require that Vichitravirya was installed at the throne by the 19 year old Bhishma. Because of this I don't put much weight on this possibility. But if we consider that it was not Bhishma, but some others like a priest who installed Vichitravirya, there is no problem. But Mahabharata explicitly mentions Bhishma's role in the installation of Vichitravirya at the throne and no other than the old Bhishma viz. Devavrata fits into that role.

Ages of individuals during the birth of Pandu

It is mentioned in Mahabharata that Vichitravirya lived 7 years of fruitless married life and died. So his age at the time of death was 25. It was too young an age to die! Then Satyavati would be at 62, Devavrata if alive would be at 65, Bhishma as per our calculation would be at 27, Amva at 26, Amvika at 25 and Amvalika at 24. As per Mahabharata, Satyavati was alarmed by the empty throne of Hastinapura and wanted new heirs for the kingdom as quickly as possible. After one year of mourning, Satyavati would have asked Bhishma to beget children upon the wives of Vichitravirya. But Bhishma stuck to his pledge or remaining a celibate. Then she might have invited her elder son Vyasa for the same task. Based on our calculations, Vyasa then would be aged 47. This explain the strange behavior exhibited by Amviaka and Amvalika when Vyasa entered their rooms. They were used to see Vichitravirya who was at his prime youth. Though Mahabharata mention Vichitravirya as weak-bodied he was mentioned as extremely handsome and very young. Instead they were seeing a 47 year old sage! At most they might have expected that it would be the youthful Bhishma of 28 years of age. But Vyasa at the age of 47 with his matted locks and sage like primitive outlook might have been terrible for them. Since Vyasa impregnated the three ladies, viz, Amvika's servant (Dasi), Amvika and Amvalika within a weeks time, the children viz. Vidura, Dhritarashta, and Pandu might have born more or less during the same year. There is an interesting article about the birth of the three viz. Vidura, Dhritarashtra and Pandu by a writer named Indaajeet here. I tend to agree with most of his findings. The major point of his analysis is that Vidura was the elder than Dhritarashta and Pandu. In any case, age gap between them was a few days. Assuming that they were born two years after Vichitravirya's death, due to urgency of the situation, Satyavti would be then at 64, Bhishma at 29 and Amvalika at 26.

Ages of Individuals during the death of Pandu

Since Dhritarashtra was blind and since Vidura was born of a servant (Dasi), among the three of them, Pandu was chosen as the king. I presume that Pandu too became king at an early age like Vichitravirya, urged by a vacant throne. Vichitravirya became king at 17 and married at 18. Pandu, however had the mindset of a conqueror like Chitrangada (unlike Vichitravirya). Considering that Pandu became king at the tender age of 18 and spend some time in military expeditions and territory expansion like Chitrangada, he might have married at the age of 20. He won Kunti in a self-choice ceremony as his first wife. But he remained childless even after one year. Bhishma might have sensed some problem and chose Madri as second wife for Pandu. When Pandu was at 20, Bhishma would be at 49 and no longer an immature teen-ager when he abducted the Kasi maidens. He was now mature. He went to Madra kingdom and bought Madri by paying money to Madra king Shalya the brother of Madri, as that was the custom prevailed in Madra kingdom. This time there were no battle and it was a peaceful affair. But his basic character remains the same, which is, if a maiden cannot be abducted by force, buy her! He also brought Gandhari from the Gandhara Kingdom as wife for the blind Dhritarashtra. Both Madra and Gandhara were Bahlika kingdoms and lied very close to each other. Their cultures were same. Bhishma probably bought Gandhari by paying money to Sakuni, the brother of Gandhari, the same way he bought Madri by paying tribute to Shalya. We can accept that Bhishma bought a wife for Dhritarashtra since he was blind and there was no other way he could get a wife from a decent royal family. Why did he bought Madri for Pandu? Perhaps Madri was Bhishma's choice for Pandu while Kunti was Pandu's own choice. But when there was no son born to Pandu even in his new wife Madri, after one year of their marriage, Pandu too sensed trouble. This was going like the 7 year long fruitless marital life of Vichitravirya!

This could be the reason why Pandu left to live in a forest-retreat along with his two wives. Assume that Pandu married Madri at the age of 21, after the 1 year long married life with Kunti became fruitless. Assume that 1 year long life with Madri too became fruitless. Then he was at 22. He might have left to the forest-retreat with his two wives at this time. Pandu did not went to forest for performing penance, because he took his wives too. So, in the forest he was trying to mate with his two wives to beget children. Perhaps forest retreat gave him a fresh environment, where he though would make his unions fruitful. Perhaps there were some herbal medicine or a herbal treatment offered by the sages that could cure Pandu's apparent impotency. After 1 year of trials, Pandu (age: 23) might have frustrated and finally opted to follow the route of Niyoga for begetting children. This was the same practice by which Pandu was born. It was the practice prevailed in royal palaces when a king becomes issue-less, his wife was impregnated by other able men. Thus we can assume that Yudhisthira was born when Pandu was 24 years of age. Assume that gap between the birth of Yudhisthira and Bhima was 1.5 and between Bhima and Arjuna was 1.5. The gap between Arjuna and the twins (Nakula and Sahadeva) could be 8 months or less. A gap of 1.5 years are needed for healthy pregnancies of a mother in succession. Since the twins were born to Madri, and Arjuna to Kunti, gap between Arjuna's birth and the birth of the twins can be shorter. When the twins were born, Pandu was thus aged at around 28. There is an interesting article on the birth of Pandavas written by Indrajeet here. The important point I take from Indrajeet's analysis is that Arjuna was Pandu's own son. Though Yudhisthira and Bhima were born of Niyoga, Pandu was finally able to cure his impotency and father Arjuna upon his wife Kunti. When Madri begged for a son, Arjuna was probably not born (may be 8 months old inside womb) and so it would not be clear to Kutni or Pandu that their union had really succeeded. So Pandu might have advised Madri for Niyoga for begetting children. Thus the twins were born by Madri through Niyoga. If Madri had conceived when Kunti's last pregnancy was 8 months old, she will deliver the twins after 9.5 months and Kunti will deliver Arjuna after 1.5 more months, both being healthy pregnancies. Thus Arjuna was only eight months older than Nakula and Sahadeva.

After six months since the birth of the twins, Madri became capable of giving birth to another child. Now it was also clear that Pandu was capable of begetting children. Madri might have wanted a child from Pandu. But their union turned to a tragedy. Pandu might have died of a heart complication probably because of some congenital illness. Mahabharata mentions that Pandu was anemic and hence whitish in complexion. He might have lacked sufficient red-blood cells in his blood. This would have prevented sufficient oxygen flow to his brain while engaged in physical exertion, leading to unconsciousness and death. This could be the reason why he was never able to beget children before and Arjuna's birth was probably a miracle or the result of concentrated medical treatment. This could also be the reason why there was so much of celebration when Arjuna was born.

In any case, we can assume that Pandu was a little above 28 years of age when he died. At that time Yudhisthira was above 4 years old , Amvalika the mother of Pandu was 54 years old Satyavati, the grandmother of Pandu was at 92. We learn from Mahabharata that, after Pandu's death, the sage in the forest sent the Pandavas and Kunti to Hastinapura and then onwards they lived there. One year after that we see that Satyavati (93), Amvika (56) and Amvalika (55) retired to woods at the advice of Vyasa who was then 77 years old. Bhishma was then 58 years old.

Vyasa1 and Vyasa2

Here I make an assumption that the Vyasa of Santanu era too followed Satyavati. This Vyasa might have lived till the age of 122 due to his ascetic mode of life and might have been alive when Arjuna's grandson Parikshit was born. But I guess he was practically retired from the affairs of the world as his mother retired to the woods. Like the original Bhishma (Devavrata), followed his father Santanu in words and deeds, the original Vyasa (Vyasa1) followed his mother Satyavati in words and deeds! I consider Vyasa2 to be born when Vyasa1 was 50 years of age. It is not necessary that Vyasa2 was the son of Vyasa1, but that is also a possibility. I presume, it was Vyasa2 who interacted with the Pandavas and guided them throughout their life.

Since Vyasa1 was still alive, he might have traveled to Hastinapura to advice his son Dhritarashta on rare occasions and also when Bhishma died in Kurukshtra war. He might not have lived beyond the birth of Parikshit at which time he was 122 years of age. Since then, only Vyasa2 remained.

Age analysis though the life of the Pandavas

Let us analyze the crucial incidents during the life of the Pandavas, by counting the age of Yudhisthira. Yudhisthira was 4 to 5 years of age when his father died and he reached Hastinapura. Duryodhana was born to Dhritarashtra, one year after Yudhisthira was born. Thus Yudhisthira was elder and was supposed to be the next king. But Duryodhana was the current king Dhritarastra's son. So the education of the Kauravas and Pandavas might have followed the age of Yudhisthira or that of Duryodhana. Since the difference is only 1 year let us forget about it. Counting based on Yudhistira's age, his normal education started at the age of 6 and military education at the age of 12. After 12 years military education was completed, Yudhisthira was made heir-apparent (Yuva-Raja). Yudhisthria would be then 24 years of age. Add one year each to the following incidents:- Attempted murder of the Pandavas at Varanavata, Bhima meets Hidimba in the forest, 1 year life in Ekachakra village, marriage of Panchali. Yudhisthira's age is now 28. Yudhisthira earned the right to beget the first child upon Panchali, though Arjuna had won the hand of Panchali. This was because, it was regulated that Panchali be the wife of all the five Pandavas and that she should spend one full year with each of them to determine who was the father of each of the children born to Panchali. This would lead to an unhealthy situation for Panchali whose interval between successive deliveries and conception will be as less as 2 or 3 months. However, since this is explicitly mentioned in Mahabharata, I stick to this calculation. Age 28 was very special to Yudhisthira . At this age he obtained Panchali as his queen through the bravery of his brothers Arjuna and Bhima; he became a King (of Indraprastha) and by the end of this year he also obtained a son by Panchali named Prativindhya.

Why Arjuna went for a long pilgrimage?

Though it was Arjuna who won Panchali with the help of Bhima, she started living with Yudhisthira for the first year, following the rule set by Narada and approved by Vyasa. So Arjuna left the palace to search for other wives. Thus I consider there is not much truth in the story of Arjuna going for a 12 (!) year long pilgrimage(!) as mentioned in Mahabharata. Arjuna was actually searching for other women. He in his wanderings married [[[Naga]] princess Ulupi whose territories lied on the banks of river Ganga and princess Chitrangada of Naga-Dravida origin whose territories lied some where in the southern Orissa or northern Andhra Pradesh. The city of Manipura seems to be a Kalinga port-city. From there, after encountering some Apsara ladies in his wanderings he finally reached Dwaraka. There he married Krishna's sister Subhadra. When he returned with Subhadra, to Indraprastha, Panchali had already delivered a son to Yudhisthira and Bhima and by turn Panchali was now his wife and Subhadra was pregnant with Arjuna's son. By this time Ulupi and Chitrangada had already delivered Arjuna's babies. When Yudhisthira was aged 29, Arjuna's son by Subhadra, viz. Abhimanyu was born. After Abhimanyu was born, Arjuna went with Subhadra and Panchali for a pleasure trip at Khandava, along with Krishna and his wife. It was then, the Burning of Khandava happened. In the same year Arjuna's son by Panchali was born. Thus Arjuna's eldest son (excluding sons born by Ulupi and Chitrangada) was Abhimanyu. After burning of Khandava, Maya started construction of the famous assembly hall. It was completed by the time Panchali delivered babies of Nakula and Sahadeva. Then Yudhisthira's age was 32. Jarasandha was killed when Yudhisthira was 33 and Rajasuya was conducted when he was 34. Game of dice happened when he was at 35.

Age of Individuals at the time of Kurukshetra War

After the game of dice, the Pandavas were banished for 12 years of forest life and 1 year of incognito life. But these years were calculated by Bhishma using lunar calender while Duryodhana calculated it using solar calender, which made him believe that he discovered the identity of the Pandavas before their 1 year incognito life was completed. Thus this whole period lasted only 12 solar years or less than that. Thus Yudhisthira was 47 after the one year of incognito life. One year went in war preparations and peace talks. So when the Kurukshetra war happened, Yudhisthira was 49 years of age. At this time Bhisma's age was 102 and Abhimanyu's age was 20. Based on our general analysis about the age of people during the Mahabharata war, this age was not a hindrance for Bhishma for participating in the war and survive it for full 10 days as the commander-in-chief of the army. For a modern day 100 year old this feat might be near impossible. But considering the fact that the number of people who lived up to the age of 120 was higher in those days in comparison to modern days, Bhishma's age of 102 is acceptable. He could have lived upto 110 years if he did not die in the battle, discounting 10 years from 120 years for the life expectancy of Bhishma, owing to his life as a warrior. But if we check the life of Devavrata, he would have turned 140 at this age if he was ever alive. Vyasa1 as per our calculation would be now 121 years nearing his death. Probably Vyasa1 might have visited Bhishma as he lay dead in battle field. Vyasa1 might have lived one more year to hear the news of the birth of Parikshit and then might have died soon at the age of 122.

Vyasa2 and Vyasa3

At the time of Kurukshetra war, Dhritarashtra was aged 73. Vyasa2 was aged 71. I here introduce Vyasa3 too. Probably he was now aged 21. I assume Vyasa3 to be born when Vyasa2 turned 50. Thus Vyasa2's age was comparable to the age of Dhritarashta, Vyasa3's age was comparable to Abhimanyu.

On an average, as per my calculations, the generation gap of members of Santanu's lineage was around 25 and that of Vyasa's lineage was around 50. Even this difference in generation gap is sufficient to create an illusion that the members of Vyasa lineage were living longer or that they were Chiranjeevees (those who live for ever), especially from the point of view of a member in the lineage of Santanu. This, coupled with the fact that successive generations of Vyasas chose to identify themselves as 'Vyasa' instead of promoting their own individual identities, might have lead to the myth of a long living Vyasa, who lived for many centuries! Members of Vyasa's lineage still exist in India, so do members of Valmiki's lineage. Similarly there are Vasisthas, Bharadwajas and Gautamas too in modern day India. These surnames are still alive. Thus as a family, Vyasa is still alive!

From Parikshit to Aswamedhadatta

As per Mahabharata, Parikshit was born 1 year after Kurukshetra war. We also learn from Mahabharata that 36 years since the Kurukshetra War, there was a war at Dwaraka. After this the Pandavas retired to woods and Parikshit became king. When Parikshit was born, as per our calculation, Yudhisthira was 50 and Dhritarashtra was 74. Assume that Janamejaya was born when Parikshit was 25. Then Dhritarashtra was 99, and probably now retired to woods. Yudhisthira was then aged 75. When Dwaraka war broke out Dhritarashtra was already dead. Yudhisthira was then 85, Parikshit at 35 and Janamejaya at 10. Vyasa1 was then dead (if alive was 157), Vyasa2 at 107 and Vyasa3 at 57. Soon after that Parikshit became king at the age of 36. Then Yudhisthria and brothers retired to woods. Then Yudhisthira was aged 86. He probably died after 2 years of wanderings since his retirement at the age of 88. How many years Yudhisthira lived after retiring to woods really do not affect our calculations much. Assume that Parikshit prematurely died at the age of 50 when Janamejaya was 25. Janamejaya then becomes the king. At this time Vyasa2 would be 122 years of age and nearing his death or already is dead. Vyasa1 if alive would be then 172 years of age!. Vyasa3 was then 72 years of age. Thus I consider the Vyasa who was born to Satyavati and interacted with Bhishma and fathered Dhritarashtra was Vyasa1, while the Vyasa who interacted with the Pandavas was Vyasa2 and the Vyasa who interacted with Parikshit and Janamejaya was Vyasa3. Suka was probably the son of Vyasa3. It was Suka who narrated Bhagavata to Parikshit. The nucleus of Bhagavata was probably authored by Vyasa3 which he then described to Suka. Then Vyasa4 alias Suka might have developed it further and his sons, grandsons and members down the line might have converted it into a Purana, which we now know as the Bhagavata Purana. Bhagavata is thus considered a Purana where as Jaya (Mahabharata) is an Itihasa. In the article Purana and Itihasa I have explained the difference between a Purana and an Itihasa. The former is composed several centuries after the incidents happened and the latter is composed as and when (or within a few years after) the incidents occur.

Jaya which later became Mahabharata was probably authored by Vyasa2 who always interacted with the Pandavas during their life-time. He might have taught it to Vyasa3 who then taught it to his disciples. When Mahabharata was narrated to Janamejaya by Vaishampayana, a disciple of Vyasa3, Janamejaya's son Satanika already had his son Aswamedhadatta born. If we consider Satanika was born around the time Parikshit died and Janamejaya became king, and assume that Aswamedhadatta was born when Satanika was 25, we get Janamejaya's age at that time to be 50. Assuming that Aswamedhadatta was a 5 year old kid when Mahabharata was recited we get the age of Janamejaya when Mahabharata was recited to be 55. Then Vyasa1 if alive would be 202 years old and Vyasa2 if alive would be 152 years old and Vyasa3 would be 102 years old. Thus I consider during the recital of Mahabharata only Vyasa3 was alive.

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Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 22 May 2010 15:09 and updated at 30 Jul 2010 15:26

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