Raudra rasa – Amba and her anger


Read this post about an introduction to the Rasas.

Read this post for the shringara rasa referred to in the Mahabharata – Ganga and her love

Read this post for the hasya rasa referred to in the Mahabharata – Draupadi and her laughter


The King of Kashi had three daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He organized a swayamvara (a ceremony where the bride could choose her own groom from a group of assembled suitors) for his daughters.

On hearing about the swayamvara, Bhishma decided to go there and participate so that he could win the princesses for his half brother Vichitravirya. On reaching the venue, he publicly announced that he had chosen the princesses for his brother and that anybody who had an issue with that would have to face him in battle. Among other kings, Salva, who loved Amba challenged him in battle. However, Bhishma proved to be too strong for all challengers, defeated all of them and rode away with all three princesses.

After reaching Hastinapur, Amba approached him and told him that she and Salva were in love with each other and that she would be unable to marry Vichitravirya. She also told him as to how Salva was present at the swayamvara so that she could choose him as per the traditional custom and get married to him. Understanding her predicament and agreeing with her logic, Bhishma allowed Amba to go to Salva so that she could marry him. The other two sisters, Ambika and Ambalika however were married to Vichitravirya.

However when Amba reached Salva’s palace, he refused to marry her. His kshatriya ego was hurt as she was rightfully won in battle by Bhishma and now belonged to him. He refused to accept a woman who was another’s property. In fact, he went far enough to accuse Amba of happily leaving with her captor without feeling any remorse for his love. When Amba rebuked him and tried to convince him of her true love for him, he accused her of infidelity and rejected her outright.

Amba then had no choice but to go back to Hastinapur. Here, she was rejected by Vichitravirya who stated that he would not marry a woman whose heart belonged to somebody else. When Amba asked Bhishma to marry her, he reminded her of his vow to remain celibate forever. And thus, she was left alone and unwed without finding any suitable grooms.

Amba squarely placed the blame for her plight on Bhishma and swore to destroy him. She approached Parasurama and narrated her tale. She then requested him to defeat Bhishma and kill him in battle. Despite his valiant efforts, Parasurama failed in this endeavor of his.

As a last resort, Amba performed severe austerities and prayed to Lord Shiva, and when the Lord appeared before her, she asked for a boon – “Make me the cause of his death”. The Lord granted her wish, but on the condition that it would be so only in her next life.

To hasten her wish to come true, Amba then jumped into a funeral pyre to end this life of hers and soon be reborn in her next life to fulfill her destiny. She was then reborn as Shikhandi to King Drupada of Panchala who would ultimately be the cause of Bhishma’s death.

Thus, Amba’s raudram (anger, fury) towards Bhishma would end up being the principal cause of his death, despite the fact that he was granted a boon where his death would be of a time of his own choosing.

Image Courtesy: Devdutt Pattanaik’s illustration of Shikhandi and Arjuna in the battle

34 thoughts on “Raudra rasa – Amba and her anger

    • @Rekha, you make an interesting point and might have just given me an idea for a future post 🙂 thanks 🙂

    • @Vishal, this story is one that always reminds us of wronged women in Indian society and is pivotal to the great Bhishma’s story in the Mahabharata

  1. Story of Amba Ambika and Ambalika is one with lots of scope for interpretations. Thanks for reminding me this story again 🙂 Also as for Bhishma’s death, I think he did choose his time of death, after being on a bed of arrows for sometime on the battle field.

  2. This series is AMAZING. I read Mahabharata in seventh grade and your series is helping me jog my memory as well as gain newer insights into the tale. Looking forward to the next one 🙂

    • @Palak, not just this series, but am planning quite a few more series on this wonderful epic as well as other epics from Indian mythology, so have fun reading the posts and rejigging your memory 😀

    • @Rickie, when Amba is wronged, her first recourse is to approach Parasurama, who on hearing her story agreed to try and take revenge on Bhishma fro her sake. However, after a fierce battle which raged for 23 days Parasurama had to concede defeat to Bhishma for various reasons. Maybe I will put up a post on that sometime soon. What say?

      • Actually, I wanted to ask about how Amba knew Parasuram. How did they know each other? How were they related? Why did she approach him with her problem?

      • @Rickie, there are multiple reasons for the same, one was that Parasurama’s sole purpose on earth was to scourge all the evil kshatriyas and their wrong deeds. Since Amba believed that Bhishma’s actions had caused her life to be ruined, she went to him for revenge. Secondly, Parasurama was Bhishma’s guru and did not believe Amba when she first approached him. She however told him that if Bhishma was indeed wrong, then he would be defeated in battle with Parasurama. These were a couple of reasons for her approaching Parasurama.

      • Oh, I saw Kajal’s explanation after I had posted my previous comment to you. The connection between Parasuram and Anna is clear to me now.
        Thanks, Kajal.

    • Parshuram was Bhishma’s guru and Amba thought that Bhishma would listen and obey to his guru but when Parshuram did not oblige her saying that Bhishma cannot do any wrong, Amba convinced him that if he defeats Bhishma in a battle then it would be proven that he is wrong. That is how Amba approached Parshuram.

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