Three Kashi princess Amba, Ambika and Ambalika
King Shantanu and Satyavati had two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada became king of Hastinapura after the death of Shantanu. Once Gandharvas king came to challenge Chitrangada. A fierce battle took place between the two warriors war lasted for three years. In the end, Gandharvas defeated Chitrangada and killed him. Now Bhishma had to crown Vichitravirya on the throne of Hastinapura. Vichitravirya was still a child at that time, so Bhishma ruled on his behalf until Vichitravirya grew up. When he had reached manhood, Satyavati wanted to find a bride for Vichitravirya’s marriage.
During the same time, Kashi king had three daughters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He had arranged swayamvara (swayamvara is a process of selecting a husband by placing a flower garland around the neck of the man of her choice from a group of suitors and wedding was held immediately after) for his daughters. Long ago, Shantanu had rejected the proposal of Kashi king’s sister to Bhishma, which Kashi king felt insulted by, and he wanted to avenge this insult, so he deliberately did not send an invitation of swayamvara to Hastinapura. Kashi kingdom was low in power, merit and status in comparison with Hastinapur. Kashi king invited all other kings except Hastinapur, The intelligence and the beauty of these three princesses had spread throughout the country, Kings from all over attended swayamvara.
When Bhishma came to know about the swayamvara, he felt it was an insult to the Hastinapur kingdom for not receiving the invitation of swayamvara. Bhishma attended swayamvara of Kashi princesses on behalf of his stepbrother Vichitravirya under Satyavati’s command. Amba was the eldest daughter of the Kashi king, Amba who was already in love with prince Saubala, king of Salva. Amba was about to select king Saubala as her husband in that Swayamvara. But suddenly Bhishma arrived in Swayamvara & abducted all the three princesses and challenging the assembled suitors to stop him. Salva challenged Bhishma to a duel, but Bhishma defeated him, but spared his life and took all three girls away. Unaware of Amba’s feelings, Bhishma proceeded to Hastinapur and presented them to the queen-mother Satyavati, who made arrangements for their marriage to Vichitravirya.
When Amba met Satyavati, she revealed that she was in love with Saubala, the prince of Salva kingdom. Amba begged in front of Satyavati to let her go to her love. Bhishma allowed Amba to return to Salva kingdom and marry a person of her choice. Meanwhile, Bhishma arranged a grand wedding of his brother Vichitravirya with Ambika and Ambalika. Amba went to Salva king, but the king rejected her saying he was Khastriya by birth and Khastriya cannot accept anything which they have lost in a battle, since Bhishma had defeated him in a duel. According to Khastriya code, she belongs to Hastinapur.
Heartbroken Amba returns to Hastinapura only to find her younger sister married to Vichitryavirya. If Amba married Vichitryavirya, she would be his third wife, Since Amba is elder to Ambika and Ambalika. So Amba went to Bhishma and requested him to marry her. Bhishma was the one who won swayamvara and rightful person to marry her. But Bhishma had pledged to be a Brahmachari, so he could not marry her. Infuriated Amba appealed to various kings to defeat Bhishma and do her justice, but no king was ready to fight with Bhishma. Distressed and afflicted Amba sought shelter with a group of ascetics and narrated her tale to them. Among a group of ascetics, there was a sage called Shaikhavatya, who consoled Amba and promised to guide her in her austerities. Next day, the sage Hotravahana who happened to be her maternal grandfather was passing by that place. Upon listening to the tale of Amba’s ordeal, the sage advised her not to return to her father and instead approach the sage Parashurama. Hotravahana introduced Amba to Akritavrana (Parashurama’s disciples). Amba asked Akritavrana to decide who was her culprit. Akritavrana agreed with Amba that Bhishma was the root cause of her plight and should be the target of her revenge. Akritavrana and Hotravahana explained Amba’s predicament to Parashurama. Even though Parashurama was a teacher of Bhishma, Parashurama gave his word to Amba that he would slay Bhishma.
Parashurama came to Hastinapur and commanded Bhishma to accept Amba, but Bhishma refused. There was a fierce battle between Guru and disciple, which continued until 23 days without any result. On the 24th day Bhishma decided to use a deadly weapon, at the behest of the divine sage Narada and other gods, the conflict ended with the battle declared as a draw, Parashurama told Amba to seek Bhishma’s protection. However, Amba refused to listen to Parashurama’s advice and left the place with angry, declaring, that she would achieve her objective by asceticism.
Amba undertook a severe penance without having food and water, for six years. She also carried out a year of penance underwater. She ate only dry leaves and meditated standing on her toe. Amba continued her penance for 12 years, and her energy started affecting the worlds. Ganga got to know about this and told her that it was impossible to kill Bhishma. Amba was distressed and roamed the lands. Ganga cursed that she would become a river in the kingdom of Vatsa, because of which a portion of Amba became a river. But the rest of her continued the penance until Shiva appeared before her and gave her a boon that she would be the reason for Bhishma death in her next life and lord Kartikeya, gave her never fading lotus garland. Lord Kartikeya, told her whoever wears this lotus garland will be the enemy of Bhishma. Amba made one more attempt to seek the help of many kings and princes to wear this lotus garland, but all of them refused to wear lotus garland. Finally, she arrived in Drupada’s Panchala kingdom. Even King Drupada refused to wear that garland, finally, out of frustration, she hangs that garland on Drupada palace gate. Amba entered the fire in self-immolation. No one dares to touch that garland which was hanging on the palace gate. Ambika and Ambalika spent seven years in their husband Vichitravirya who then died from tuberculosis. After Vichitravirya’s death, they had sons of Rishi Veda Vyasa from the custom of Niyoga. While Ambika became the mother of Dhritrashtra and Ambalika became the mother of Pandu. After the death of Pandu, Ambalika accompanied her mother-in-law Satyavati and sister Ambika to the forest and spent the rest of her days in spiritual retreat. Whereas, Amba was reborn as a daughter of King Drupada.