Categories: Hindu Mythology

Amba: From Princess to Avenger

Amba is a pivotal character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Her life story is one of intense emotions, unwavering resolve, and ultimate transformation. As the eldest and most beautiful daughter of King Kashya of Kashi, and the sister of Ambika and Ambalika, Amba’s journey from a princess to a symbol of vengeance is both tragic and inspiring.


The Abduction and the Swayamvara

Amba, along with her sisters, participated in a swayamvara ceremony, where she hoped to choose her husband. However, Bhishma, a mighty warrior and the patriarch of the Kuru dynasty, forcibly abducted the three princesses. His intention was to marry them off to his half-brother, Vichitravirya, the King of Hastinapura. This act set off a chain of events that drastically altered Amba’s life.

The Love for King Salva

Amba confided in Bhishma about her love for King Salva, whom she had already chosen in her heart. Understanding the gravity of her situation, Bhishma allowed her to go to Salva and seek his acceptance. However, Salva, feeling dishonored by her abduction, refused to marry her, arguing that she had been taken by another man, thereby nullifying her previous commitment. This rejection left Amba devastated and desperate.

Bhishma’s Refusal and Amba’s Penance

After failing to convince Salva, Amba returned to Bhishma, imploring him to marry her since he was the cause of her predicament. Bhishma, bound by his vow of celibacy, refused. Amba then sought the help of Parashurama, Bhishma’s teacher and a revered sage, who also failed to change Bhishma’s stance. With no other recourse, Amba decided to undertake severe penance to seek divine intervention.

The Curse of Ganga

During her rigorous penance, Amba visited numerous sacred sites and performed arduous vows. The goddess Ganga, mother of Bhishma, appeared before her and listened to her tale. Angered by Amba’s intentions against her son, Ganga cursed her to become a crooked river, dry for most of the year and teeming with dangerous creatures. Despite the curse, Amba’s intense asceticism allowed her to retain part of her human form, continuing her quest for vengeance.

Shiva’s Boon and Amba’s Sacrifice

Amba’s unwavering dedication attracted the attention of the god Shiva. He granted her a boon, promising that she would be reborn as a man in her next life and would be the cause of Bhishma’s death. Satisfied with this assurance, Amba immolated herself on a pyre, vowing to fulfill her destiny.

The Garland of Ever-Fresh Lotuses

In an alternative version of the legend, Amba performed austerities and pleased Kartikeya, the god of war and son of Shiva. Kartikeya gave her a garland of ever-fresh lotuses, declaring that whoever wore it would kill Bhishma. Amba sought help from various kings to no avail and finally left the garland at King Drupada’s palace before retreating to the forest.

Rebirth as Shikhandi

King Drupada of Panchala, childless and desiring an heir, received a boon from Shiva that a daughter would be born to him who would later transform into a son. Thus, Amba was reborn as Shikhandi. Raised as a boy, Shikhandi faced challenges, particularly when he was married to the daughter of King Hiranyavarna. The truth about Shikhandi’s gender led to conflict, and he sought refuge in the forest.

There, a yaksha (nature spirit) named Sthunakarna helped Shikhandi by temporarily exchanging sexes. Due to a curse from Kubera, the yaksha remained female until Shikhandi’s death, solidifying Shikhandi’s male identity. In the variant involving the garland, Shikhandi wore it, affirming his destiny to slay Bhishma.

The Kurukshetra War

As the great Kurukshetra war erupted between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Shikhandi sided with the Pandavas. Bhishma, leading the Kaurava forces, had vowed not to fight anyone who was or appeared to be a woman. When Shikhandi, acting as Arjuna’s charioteer, confronted Bhishma, the latter lowered his weapons, adhering to his vow. This allowed Arjuna to mortally wound Bhishma, fulfilling Amba’s quest for vengeance. Bhishma acknowledged that it was Arjuna’s arrow that killed him, but it was Shikhandi who facilitated his defeat. Bhishma lingered on a bed of arrows until his death on the holy day of Uttarayana.

Shikhandi’s End

Shikhandi met his end in a fierce battle with Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, and Kritavarma, who attacked the Pandava camp on the final night of the war. His death marked the conclusion of a life driven by the quest for justice and revenge, rooted in Amba’s tragic tale.


Amba’s story, culminating in her rebirth as Shikhandi, is a profound narrative of determination and transformation. Her journey from being a princess wronged by fate to becoming an instrument of destiny showcases the themes of resilience, retribution, and the fulfillment of one’s vows, echoing through the ages as a testament to the complexities of human emotions and divine interventions.


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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