King Śāntanu was a famous and influential emperor in the Kuru dynasty and he was most chivalrous and religious. His wife, Gaṅgā-devī, gave birth to a son named Bhīṣma, who was a personal expansion of the eighth Vasu. However, she disappeared after the birth of the child due to particular circumstances. Later, while the king was on a hunting expedition, he saw an incomparably beautiful princess named Satyavatī at the home of Dāsarāja, the king of the Niṣādas. This princess had actually been born of the semen of Uparicara Vasu from the womb of a fish, and the king of Niṣāda had nourished and nurtured her as if she were his own daughter.
Mahārāja Śāntanu asked the king for permission to marry Princess Satyavatī, and Dāsarāja consented on the condition that the child born from her womb would be the sole heir to Śāntanu’s kingdom. Mahārāja Śāntanu, however, did not accept this condition and returned to his capital. When Prince Bhīṣma heard about this, he wanted to fulfil his father’s desire. He therefore took a great vow to remain a lifelong brahmacārī, to ensure that Satyavatī’s son would indeed succeed the kingdom. Śāntanu was thus able to marry Satyavatī. In return he gave Bhīṣma the boon that he could die according to his own desire. Satyavatī bore Mahārāja Śāntanu two sons, Citrāṅgada and Vicitravīrya.
After Mahārāja Śāntanu’s death, Bhīṣma made Citrāṅgada successor to the throne, but Citrāṅgada died untimely, and Vicitravīrya ascended the throne. Vicitravīrya, had two wives–Ambikā and Ambālikā–yet he died at a young age, without fathering any children. Mother Satyavatī was doubly distressed, because the death of her sons left the dynasty with no heir. She summoned her first son, the great sage Vedavyāsa, simply by remembering him. To protect the dynasty, on her instruction and with Bhīṣma’s approval, Vedavyāsa begot sons by Vicitravīrya’s wives. Ambikā bore Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Ambālikā bore Pāṇḍu, and the maidservant of Vicitravīrya bore the saintly Śrī Vidura.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra was blind from birth, so his younger brother Pāṇḍu was crowned king. Mahārāja Pāṇḍu was a chivalrous and influential emperor, endowed with all good qualities. He had five sons, of whom Yudhiṣṭhira was the eldest. Of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s one hundred sons, Duryodhana was the eldest. By the influence of time, King Pāṇḍu died while all the princes were quite young, so Grandfather Bhīṣma enthroned Dhṛtarāṣṭra and made him responsible for protecting the kingdom until the princes grew older.
When the five Pāṇḍavas and the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra headed by Duryodhana reached maturity, a great conflict arose concerning who would succeed the royal throne. King Dhṛtarāṣṭra favoured his sons and wanted Duryodhana to be king by fair means or foul. However, the highly religious Grandsire Bhīṣma could not allow this, being pressured by other respected personalities and citizens. Duryodhana, who was born from a portion of Kali, was extremely wicked and irreligious by nature, and he wanted to be the sole monarch, without opposition. To this end, he made various conspiracies to kill the Pāṇḍavas, all with the secret consent of King Dhṛtarāṣṭra.
Despite repeated requests by Maharṣi Vedavyāsa, Grandsire Bhīṣma, Guru Droṇācārya, the saintly Vidura and others, Dhṛtarāṣṭra did not give the Pāṇḍavas their due half of the kingdom. However, for external show, he crowned Yudhiṣṭhira crown-prince of Hastināpura and sent him to Vāraṇāvat, where Duryodhana planned to kill all the Pāṇḍavas by setting fire to a newly-built palace. Dhṛtarāṣṭra approved of this heinous plan but, by the will of the Supreme Lord, the Pāṇḍavas were saved.
In due course of time, the Pāṇḍavas married Draupadī. When Duryodhana discovered that they were still alive, he consulted his father again and invited them to Hastināpura. On the order of Grandsire Bhīṣma and other elders, and at the request of the subjects, the Pāṇḍavas were given sovereignty of Khāṇḍavaprastha (Indraprastha). There, with the assistance of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the demon named Maya, the Pāṇḍavas constructed a wonderful palace and city. Within a short time they conquered all the mighty kings of India and performed a great rājasūya-yajña.
King Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Duryodhana became extremely jealous of the Pāṇḍavas as a result of the opulence and success of this yajña, and they conspired to defeat them in a gambling match. They took the Pāṇḍavas’ entire kingdom, and forced them into twelve years of exile, and then for one more year, they had to live incognito. After this prolonged ordeal, Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Duryodhana still did not return the Pāṇḍavas their kingdom. As the Pāṇḍava’s ambassador, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself went to Hastināpura and conveyed their request that Duryodhana should at least give them five villages. Duryodhana, however, remained unmoved and would not compromise. He told Kṛṣṇa, “What to speak of five villages, I will not even give the Pāṇḍavas enough land to hold the tip of a needle, unless they defeat me in battle.”
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa appeared in this world in order to establish religion, to protect the saintly persons and to annihilate the demons. In the course of the Mahābhārata Battle, He used Arjuna and Bhīma as instruments to assist Him in His plan to relieve the enormous burden weighing heavily upon the Earth.