Aamba is the name that I use to sign my posts, but it is not my real name.
Where did I get the name from? Aamba is a character in The Mahabharata (one of the epics I spoke of yesterday). She is a character who fascinates me and one of my mother's Sanskrit teachers decided that her name should be my "Indian" name for the purpose of his class. People seem to see a similarity between her and me. I don't know if that's a good thing.
Here is the basics of her story:
There is a prince whose name is Bishma. He is his father's only child and stands to inherit the kingdom. However, his father, the king, falls in love with a girl whose family will not allow them to marry unless there is some way to guarantee that her son will be king and not Bishma.
Because his father is so unhappy at not being able to marry this girl, Bishma takes an oath that he will never marry, never have relations with a woman, father no children. That would make him ineligible to be king.
In return for his generosity and selflessness to his father's desires, the gods grant Bishma a gift, the ability to choose the time of his death. No one can kill him unless he allows it.
The king marries the girl and she has a son. Sometime later the king dies and the younger brother is installed as king. However, he is weak and sickly. He needs a wife, but the method for getting a wife at that time was to enter a contest of arms (a swyamvara) to win a wife.
So, Bishma goes and wins three wives for the king. They are sisters. The youngest is Aamba and she is crying. Bishma asks her what is wrong and she tells him that it was not her choice to be up for offer in the swyamvara, that she is in love with someone already. She begs Bishma to let her go to the man she loves.
He agrees and she goes to meet her lover. However, that king is afraid of Bishma and he tells Aamba that he no longer wants her.
By the time Aamba gets back to Bishma's kingdom, the young king she was supposed to marry has died (how he got children to carry on the kingdom is very complicated and i won't go into that here). Aamba tells Bishma that he must marry her since she has been rejected by the man she loves and it is his fault. He won her, she is his.
He insists that he cannot because of the vow he took. He tells her to go back to her father, but she says she will not return to a man who bartered her like an animal.
Instead she takes her own oath. She swears that she will wander the world looking for someone to kill Bishma. Though it is impossible, she does so anyway. In the movie (see more about the movie at the end of the story) she has a very creepy line, "Never forget me, Bishma, I am your death."
She disappears from the main story, but shows up again forty years later, a wandering beggar woman. Her looks have hardly changed and she tells the main characters that her hate keeps her young. She has found no one willing to challenge Bishma.
Eventually she performs austerities in order to get gifts from the gods. She stands on one toe for twelve years and things like that. The gods, impressed with her discipline, speak to her. They tell her that only death can outwit death.
She builds a fire and throws herself into it, holding on as she dies to her one wish, to kill Bishma.
She is reborn as a man and lives a life whose only purpose is to kill Bishma.
In the midst of the great battle, Bishma (who has ended up by fate, not by choice, on the opposite side as the main characters) recognizes her and allows her to kill him.
A very sad story of a passionate woman. She is my namesake.
By the way, if you are interested in the story of The Mahabharata, there is a wonderful western adaptation by director Peter Brook. It is six hours long, broken into two hour segments. It is easy to watch and is quite a wonderful telling. Brook's premise was that this story is not just an Indian story, it is the story of mankind and it is universal.
Along that theme he cast actors from all over the world. One character is played by a French actor, another by an Italian, another by a African, another by an Indian, another by a Japanese. The beautiful accents blend together and weave an entrancing story.
I have shown this movie to many, many of my friends and they have all been riveted by it, whether they have any previous knowledge of Indian mythology or not.
There is also a 24 hour long Hindi mini-series of it. I have not seen it yet, but I hope to.
In the next post I will plan to tell you some other stories, some of the short fables that I grew up hearing.