Kartikeyas Garland

Shikhandi: The Reincarnation of Amba

- October 31, 2022

By Srinidhi Murthy

The story of Amba, the princess of Kashi, continued even after her death. She was reborn as King Drupada’s daughter to avenge the humiliation she bore in her previous birth. The connection between her two lives was a garland given by Lord Kartikeya. Read more to find out how Kartikeya’s garland helped the princess fulfill her mission.

Chaos at the swayamvara 

Amba was the daughter of the king of Kashi. She wished to marry Shalva, the king of Saubha. When a swayamvara was arranged for Amba and her sisters, Ambika and Ambalika, the princess was delighted as she had already chosen Shalva as her husband. To the surprise of everyone, on the day of the swayamvara, Bheeshma, the chief of the Kurus, entered the hall. He announced that he was going to take the three brides with him to Hastinapura for his brother, Vichitravirya. He challenged the suitors to defeat him in a battle if they had any objections. The enraged suitors attacked Bheeshma but he defeated all of them. When Shalva tried to stop Bheeshma on his way to Hastinapura, the Kuru chief defeated the king with ease.

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Amba’s vow

The three Kashi princesses received a warm welcome in Hastinapura. Ambika and Ambalika agreed to marry Vichitravirya but Amba expressed her wish to marry Shalva to Bheeshma. Bheeshma permitted Amba to go back to Shalva as he never wanted to keep her in Hastinapura against her will. 

Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

But to Amba’s shock, Shalva refused to marry her and asked her to return to Bheeshma. Amba was heartbroken as she became uncertain of her future. When she returned to Hastinapura, Vichitravirya refused to marry her as the princess had chosen Shalva as her husband. Hence, the princess asked Bheeshma to wed her as she was left with no other choice. Bheeshma told her that he had taken a vow to not marry anyone ever and thus refused to marry her. Amba was filled with rage and held Bheeshma responsible for her humiliation. She took a vow that one day, she would be the cause for his end.

Kartikeya’s garland

In the following days, Amba performed severe austerities to invoke Lord Kartikeya. Pleased with her penance, Kartikeya appeared before her with a garland of lotuses. He told Amba that the warrior who wears the garland would become the cause of Bheeshma’s end. Amba took the garland with her and reached out to many warriors and kings. However, all of them refused because they feared Bheeshma. Amba finally reached the court of Drupada, the king of Panchala. When he refused to wear the garland, Amba hung the garland on the palace gates and left Drupada’s city in anger.

Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

No one dared to touch the garland for years. Meanwhile, when all her attempts to defeat Bheeshma failed, Amba performed a penance to please Lord Shiva. Shiva appeared before her and told her that she would become the cause of Bheeshma’s end in her next birth.

Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal
Princess reborn
Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

Amba could not wait to be reborn. Hence, she built a fire and walked into it. Soon, she was reborn as Drupada’s daughter. Years passed. The princess grew up into a beautiful maiden. Due to Shiva’s boon, she also remembered every detail from her previous birth. One day, the princess saw the garland when she was walking through the palace gardens. Since no one had worn it in a long time, the princess wore the garland herself. Drupada was furious when he learned about the incident. Since he didn’t want the enmity of Bheeshma, the king banished his daughter from Panchala. The princess obeyed her father’s orders and went deep into the forest.

Shikhandi birth
Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

The princess performed severe penance in the forest. One day, a Yaksha named Sthunakarna saw the princess and asked her the reason for her presence in the forest. The Panchala princess narrated her story to the Yaksha. Moved by her story, he agreed to help her. Sthunakarna asked her to exchange her sex with him as it would be easier for her to fulfill her revenge as a man. The princess turned into a man and came to be known as Shikhandi. Later, in the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna, following the advice of Krishna, rode with Shikhandi on the tenth day of the battle. As the Kuru chief declared that he would not attack someone who was born as a woman, Shikhandi and Arjuna shot arrows at Bheeshma, which led to his fall. With Bheeshma’s death, Shikhandi avenged Amba’s humiliation in her previous life and fulfilled his mission. 

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