Shikhandin was born a girl, the daughter of King Dhrupad of Panchala. In her previous life, she was Amba, the daughter of the king of Kashi and was in love with the prince Shalva. Before she could choose him to be her husband, Bhishma abducted her and her two sisters from their swayamvara for the prince Vichitravirya. When she told Bhishma of her love for Shalva, he let her go free. As she had been abducted once, Shalva refused to marry her. She went to Bhishma and told him that as he had abducted her, it was now his duty to marry her. Bhishma stuck by his pratigya and refused to marry her. Amba was left for nowhere and she then vowed to be the cause of his death. She did tapa of Lord Shiva who granted her the boon that in her next life she would be born as a girl to become a man later – the one who would be the cause of Bhishma’s death. Upon receiving the boon, Amba did not wait to live her life out but immediately jumped in the fire and killed herself.
Hence, Shikhandin was born a girl; a heavenly voice told Dhrupad that she would become a man one day and hence, was brought up as a boy. She was married to King Hiranyavarma’s daughter as a man, but the daughter came to know of the deceit and left Shikhandin. Shikhandin then went into the forest where she met Sthunakarna, a ‘yaksha’ or demigod. He heard her story and agreed to exchange his manhood with Shikhandin for some time. The Lord Kubera was Sthunakarna’s master and when he heard what had happened, he cursed Sthunakarna that he would only be able to get his manhood back after Shikhandin’s death.
The Pandavas led by Yudhisthira, on the ninth day of the Mahabharata war, go to Bhishma and ask him how they could kill him. Bhishma knew the time had come to repay Amba’s debt and he told them that if a woman came in front of him on the battlefield, he would put down his weapons. Krishna knew that Shikhandin had been born a woman and so asked Arjuna to put Shikhandin in his chariot and fire arrows at Bhishma. On seeing Shikhandin, Bhishma put down his weapons and Arjuna’s arrows felled Bhishma.
The word ‘Shikha’ means the top or the highest point at the top. At the top, one is free of opposites. We live in a world where we are bound by the opposites. Every moment we either like or dislike something and our whole lives we swing from one end to the other hypnotised with events, trying to avoid pain and attempting to run after pleasure. Shikhandin has swung between the two opposites and has freed himself from them, whereas we keep swinging between the opposites our whole life. Our brains are wired in such a way that we can see only one pole. When we fall in love, we think that the love will last forever. We do not see that everybody has a hidden side, and in that hidden side there always is the opposite of love, that is hatred. This hatred comes out sometime after marriage (or relationship) and then we wonder if it is the same person we are living with that we fell in love with. The hatred was always there, only we could not see it. Life is a polarity but in our normal way of thinking, we see only one pole (of the polarity) and we try to make that one part the whole.
What is the significance of Arjuna standing behind Shikhandin in the chariot? In previous articles, we have seen that Bhishma represents the ego in all of us. Whenever the ego expresses itself in anyway the keyword is aggressiveness; many a time this is hidden below a cover of humility. Deep down all of us want our way, all the time. Man represents the aggressiveness or macho behaviour whereas woman represents the receptive energy. Shikhandin, from a woman has become a man; thus, representing the female surrender in the form of man. This is the art of dropping aggressiveness and this can only be done by shifting from aggressiveness to acceptance and surrender.
Once a seeker asked Swami Ramdularay how to dissolve the ego and he replied that “for one year we should go and live with a person who has a much stronger ego than ours”. Normally, when we meet someone who has a stronger ego or is more obstinate, we try to avoid that person. In doing so, we only reinforce our own ego and thus, aggressiveness. When we live with a person with a larger ego than ours, we learn the art of surrendering and thereafter we master the art of unconditional acceptance.
Surrender is not something we do just to a teacher, but something which as students of spirituality we try to live every moment of our lives. Life is a series of events and every event we get attached to, there is a like or dislike. We do not and cannot accept events we dislike, but acceptance is the door to divinity and surrender is the key to acceptance. As we practice dissolving the ego in every situation of life, there comes a moment – a moment within an event, which we would have disliked and run away from, and yet the dislike does not manifest. We remain calm and stable; this is the moment of equanimity which we have practiced for. This balance, or as Krishna calls it ‘samatvam’, is the highest form of yoga.
Shikhandin gets his manhood from a ‘yaksha’. This word means to stir or move; stirring up the power within the disciple to surrender. Many times, people question that should we become mere weaklings and just docilely accept anything and everything. Little do they realise that to surrender requires greater strength, courage, and patience than to just react. What we want to work on is the dislike within and transform this negative emotion of dislike into a powerful strength. How we relate to others outside is the art of relationship, which when there is no dislike within us, we do consciously.