Reading Guide. Even though Bhishma obtained wives for Vichitravirya, this did not result in sons who could carry on the Bharata dynasty: Vichitravirya died before Ambika or Ambalika had any children. In this story, you will see how Satyavati proposes a solution, calling upon her own first-born son, Vyasa — remember Vyasa? He is the author of the Mahabharata).
As a result, you will meet two of the most important characters in the epic: Dhritarashtra and his brother (half-brother) Pandu; the sons of these two men — the Kauravas and the Pandavas — will fight the Great War that is the epic's climax. You will also meet their half-brother Vidura, and he too will be an important character in the story.
Image. When Vyasa comes to the princesses, he has been practicing austerities. He is thus a sadhu, and I have included a photograph of a modern sadhu to suggest what he might have looked like.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [300 words]
Now it was the custom in those days that a kinsman should become the father of children to succeed the dead king. So Queen Satyavati spake unto Bhishma, saying, "Take thou the widows of my son and raise up sons who will be as sons of the king."
But Bhishma said, "That I cannot do, for have I not vowed never to be the sire of any children?"
In her despair Satyavati then thought of her son Vyasa, and he immediately appeared before her and consented to do as was her desire.
Now Vyasa was a mighty sage, but, by reason of his austerities in his lonely jungle dwelling, he had grown gaunt and repulsive of aspect, so women shrank from before him; fearsome was he, indeed, to look upon.
Ambika closed her eyes with horror when she beheld the sage, and she had a son who was born blind: he was named Dhritarashtra.
Ambalika turned pale with fear: she had a son who was named Pandu, "the pale one."
Satyavati desired that Vyasa should be the father of a son who had no defect, but Ambika sent her handmaiden unto him, and she bore a son who was called Vidura. As it happened, Dharma, god of justice, was put under the spell of a rishi at this time to be born among men, and he chose Vidura to be his human incarnation.
The three children were reared by Bhishma, who was regent over the kingdom and was yet subject to Queen Satyavati. He taught them the laws and trained them as warriors. When the time came to select a king, Dhritarashtra was passed over because that he was blind, and Vidura because of his humble birth, and Pandu, "the pale one," was set upon the throne.