Reading Guide. You already met Satyavati back on the first page of this story, as she is the mother of Vyasa, the composer of the Mahabharata. Now you will meet her again: this time as the new love interest of King Shantanu after he has been deserted by his first wife, Ganga. This episode will repeat once again the story of Satyavati's strange birth, as well as the birth of her son Vyasa, as he is going to play an important role in King Shantanu's dynasty.
Image: The illustration of Shantanu and Satyavati is by the Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma; you can read more about his career at Wikipedia.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [400 words]
When Shantanu had grown old, he sought to marry a young and beautiful bride whom he loved. For one day as he walked beside the Yamuna river, he was attracted by a sweet and alluring perfume which drew him through the trees until he beheld a maiden of celestial beauty with luminous black eyes. The king spake to her and said, "Who art thou, and whose daughter, O timid one? What doest thou here?"
Said the maiden, blessing Shantanu, "I am the daughter of a fisherman, and I ferry passengers across the river in my boat."
Now, the name of this fair maiden was Satyavati. She was of miraculous origin and had been adopted by her reputed sire. It chanced that a fish once carried away in its stomach two unborn babes, a girl and a boy, whose father was a great rajah. This fish was caught by a fisherman, who opened it and found the children. He sent the manchild unto the rajah and kept the girl, who was reared as his own daughter. She grew to be comely and fair, but a fishy odour ever clung to her.
One day, as she ferried pilgrims across the Yamuna, there entered her boat alone the high and pious brahmin Parashara, who was moved by the maiden's great beauty. He desired that she should become the mother of his son and promised that ever afterwards an alluring perfume would emanate from her body. He then caused a cloud to fall upon the boat, and it vanished from sight.
When the fisher girl became the mother of a son, he grew suddenly before her eyes, and in a brief space was a man. His name was Vyasa; he bade his mother farewell and hastened to the depths of a forest to spend his days in holy meditation. Before he departed he said unto Satyavati, "If ever thou hast need of me, think of me, and I shall come to thine aid."
When this wonder had been accomplished, Satyavati became a virgin again through the power of the great sage Parashara, and a delicious odor lingered about her ever afterwards.
On this maiden King Shantanu gazed with love. Then he sought the fisherman and said he desired the maiden to be his bride. But the man refused to give his daughter to the king in marriage until he promised that her son should be chosen as heir to the throne. Shantanu could not consent to disinherit Devavrata, son of Ganga, and went away with a heavy heart.