A rarely spoken majority of the epic Mahabharata is dedicated to pre-Pandava times. These were the times before the Pandavas were born, dedicated to the history of the Kuru clan. But even in these times, the divine powers were busy setting up pieces for the battle of Kurukshetra. One such important piece was Amba. Amba was the reason for Bhisma’s death. Bhisma was the most important individual on Kaurava’s side. He was centuries old, righteous, disciplined, vastly knowledgeable of military strategies, and a fearless commander. And all it took was the curse of a woman to kill him.
Bhisma was born from the union of Goddess Ganga and Kuru King Shantanu. After the birth of Bhisma, Goddess Ganga left Shantanu. So he decided to marry Satyavati. Given the fact that Bhisma would rule the kingdom and his grandson would never get to sit on the throne, Satyavati’s father did not agree. For his father’s happiness, Bhisma vowed to never marry or have any child.
From that day onwards, the sole aim of Bhisma became the protection and betterment of the Kuru clan. His half-brother, Vichitravirya was unmarried and depressed. Bhisma decided to take the matter into his hand. He raided the kingdom of Kashi. The King of Kashi had organized a swayamvar for his three daughters. Bhisma kidnapped all three of them and started his journey back to Hastinapur. On his way back, he defeated every prince and king present in the swayamvar, displaying how powerful and formidable he was.
The three princesses he had brought were Amba, Ambika, Ambalika. Ambika and Ambalika were impressed by Bhimsa’s dominance and accepted the request to marry his brother. Amba on the other hand did not agree to the terms. When confronted by Bhisma, she informed him about her love. She and a prince named Salva were already in love and she was planning to choose him in the Swayamvar. Now that his mission to get Vichitravirya married was successful, he respected his feelings for Amba. He returned Amba to the kingdom of Salva as per her desire.
But Salva rejected Amba stating the fact that Bhisma had rightfully won Amba. He had with all fair means, overpowered Salva and hence was superior. So as a rightful Kshatriya he could no longer accept Amba.
Bhisma then dropped Amba at his father’s home where he too rejected to keep her.
Amba’s life had turned upside down. Moments away from being married to her loved one, her life has turned into a nightmare, with nowhere to go. She turned to the man responsible for all this, Bhisma. She asked Bhisma to marry her but Bhisma was bounded by his oath.
Angered by the chain of events, Amba left for the forest. Here she meditated and pleased God Shiva. Shiva blessed her with the boon of killing Bhisma in another life. No other God could have killed Ganga’s son. But Ganga flows through the hairs of Shiva and hence Shiva’s words were accepted even by Ganga.
During the battle of Mahabharata, Bhisma had pledged to not shoot an arrow at a woman. Amba had reincarnated as King Draupad’s daughter Sikhandi and was a transgender. She was tactically made the charioteer of Arjuna.
Bhisma lowered his weapons on seeing Sikhandi while Arjuna fired hundreds and hundreds of arrows. Bhisma lay on a bed made of arrows. Bhisma was also given the boon of choosing his own time of death. He laid on the bed of arrows for days and finally left his body on the auspicious day of Uttarayana.
Amba is not a central character of the story but her story has the most important lesson to teach. Amba was wronged by many men, all of whom thought that they were doing the right thing. But sometimes the right action might not be very righteous. Similarly, wrong acts can sometimes be righteous. This is the very basis of Krishna’s role in Mahabharata. His tricks and treachery against Kauravas might look wrong. But they are part of the bigger picture, a picture where defeating them is the only right thing.