King Mahabhisha born in the Ikshvaku vamsa (race) achieved glory by conquering many countries and by performing many sacrifices including the Rajasuya, considered the greatest of all sacrifices. Yet, he was brought down by his lust.
There was an occasion during which all the celestials had assembled at a place to worship Brahma, the Creator. King Mahabhisha was a part of the assembly. Many royal sages and Ganga, the sacred river, were also present.
Brahma graced the gathering by appearing before them. There was a sudden gust of wind which momentarily lifted up Ganga’s garment. All the celestials bowed their heads down so as to avoid looking at the exposed part of Ganga’s body. But Mahabhisha, unable to resist his temptation, stared at Ganga.
Angered by Mahabhisha’s conduct, Brahma cursed him to be born on the earth. He ordained that Ganga be born on the earth and cause him mental hurt. When Mahabhisha was sufficiently provoked and showed his anger, he would be freed from the curse, said Brahma.
King Mahabhisha prayed that he be born as the son of King Pratipa, a monarch of great prowess. Ganga felt an attraction towards Mahabhisha caused by his lustrous gaze of her body.
While returning home from the assembly, Ganga met Vasus, a celestial tribe. Intrigued by their despondent looks, she asked them what their problem was.
They said that while walking in the forest in the early hours of the morning, they had inadvertently stumbled on Sage Vasishta who was doing penance, because they were unable to see him in the dim light of twilight. Sage Vasishta had cursed them to be born as human beings.
Learning that Ganga was also to be born as a human being as per Brahma’s edict, the Vasus requested that she be their mother. When Ganga asked them who would they choose to be their father, they mentioned the name of Mahabhisha who would be born as Santanu, the son of King Pratipa.
The Vasus requested that Ganga throw them into the river as soon as they are born so that they would be relieved of the curse quickly. Ganga said that she should leave at least one son to Santanu. The Vasus accepted this. They said that they would each contribute one eighth of their energy to the one that would survive. However, they said that this son would have no children.