Read this post about an introduction to the Rasas.
While most of us associate the beginning of the Mahabharata with Santanu falling in love with Ganga (I blame BR Chopra and his wonderful TV Serial of the 1980s for that), the story actually begins a lot earlier than Santanu himself.
This post shall talk about Pratipa, Santanu’s father and how the rasa of shringaram (love, attractiveness) played a part in his story.
The king Pratipa was a wise and benevolent ruled and was loved by one and all. He spent many years in asetic penance on the banks of the river Ganga. One fine day, Ganga, assuming the form of a beautiful woman rose from the waters and sat on Pratipa’s right thigh.
Upon being disturbed from his penance, Pratipa asked her what she desired to which Ganga replied that she had fallen in love with the handsome countenance of Pratipa and wanted to marry him. Pratipa responded to Ganga’s proposal by gently refusing her offer and stating that while he appreciated her beauty, it was beyond him to agree to her offer.
When Ganga asked to know the reason why, he replied stating that he had taken a vow of abstinence and that he would be committing a sin by breaking the same. He further went on to state that she had chosen his right thigh and that the right thigh was reserved as a seat only for daughters and daughters-in-law. It was only the left thigh that was reserved for wives.
Hearing this, Ganga replied stating that it would be her honor to be the wife of Pratipa’s son as being a wife of somebody from the Bharata race was an honor in itself. She also stated that after becoming his daughter-in-law, her actions could not be judged for propriety by her son and that he would attain heaven as a consequence of the sons that she would bear him, and due to his actions and conduct.
Thus, the attraction that Ganga had for Pratipa was one of the reasons that she would go on to marry Santanu in the future which most popular versions of the Mahabharata begin with.
Image courtesy : Devdutt Pattanaik’s illustration of Ganga