Under such ethos and culture, the kingdom of Kuru king Shantanu prospered around Hastinapur. Business and commerce, peace and prosperity, art and literature flourished all around. People both inside the palace and out side were happy. High standard of education, both secular and spiritual, was maintained through the system of Gurukula (students staying with their teacher in an ashrama during their studentship.) Hard work, honesty, and sincerity made these students better citizens. The teacher -Guru- was well versed in all aspects of arts and science related with politics, statesmanship, warfare and economics. Yoga and meditation were routinely included in the curricula.
Once king Shantanu went for hunting. He reached deep into the forest across a river. After many hours of horse ride and laborious chase the tired king instructed his attendants to carry his horse and other possessions, and himself decided to return to his palace in a ferry boat.
The boatman, fisherman by caste, recognized the king and felt honored to have such a distinguished guest on his boat. Such occasions did not come in his life very often. He decided to make most of it. Therefore, he requested the king to accept his hospitality in his humble hut.
The king agreed. Together they reached the boatman's house for refreshments. The boatman tried to make the king as comfortable as he could by offering the king soft cushioned seat, fruits and milk. He called his daughter to serve the honoured guest. And as the fate had it, the king fell in love with the fisherman's daughter (Satyavati) at first sight! Their eyes met and love was exchanged.
King Shantanu made hasty departure and returned to his palace. But the love bug had made his nights sleepless. The constant thought of beautiful daughter of fisherman made him restless and love-sick.
The king started making secret visits to the fisherman's house. Fisherman did not object, why should he! The love between the king and Satyavati blossomed into the dreams of conjugal bliss. The king wanted to marry her.
Shantanu already had one son, named Bhishma, the most powerful, intelligent, and glorious of all the Kurus. His personality was unique and impressive in many ways. His truthfulness, bravery, and righteousness were beyond reproach. If once he decided anything, he was sure to stick to his word at any cost.
The Great Bhishma
As already said, the king wanted to marry the daughter of fisherman - Satyavati. The father was accordingly informed. Here the fisherman became greedy! He thought, "As the tradition goes, Bhishma is elder and will succeed the throne of Hastinapur. My daughter's son will be younger and hence will be denied the chance to become the king. Moreover, when Bhishma marries, his son will succeed to the throne and not my daughter's son."
Hence, the greedy fisherman told her daughter to marry the king only on the condition that (1) Bhishma should never aspire for the throne of Hastinapur, and (2) secondly, he should never marry.
The two conditions were too harsh for king Shantanu to accept. This was clearly a great injustice towards his beloved son Bhishma. Therefore, the king did not accept the conditions immediately. He bought some time to give his final decision.
The days passed by. The king could not forget Satyavati, nor could he do injustice to Bhishma. This dilemma told on his health and performance of royal duties. He lost his appetite and took no interest in the affairs of his kingdom. These changes did not remain unknown to the intelligent eyes of Bhishma.
Bhishma decided to go to the root cause of the unhappiness of his father. He soon came to know all about his father's love for Satyavati and his desire to marry her. Bhishma decided to bring cheers in the life of his father. He went to Satyavati and, after introducing himself, requested her (would be step mother) to marry his father.
Satyavati repeated her two conditions to Bhishma now: that (1) Bhishma should never aspire for the throne of Hastinapur, and (2) secondly, he should never marry.
The firm-minded Bhishma vowed in front of her saying, "O mother, I, upon my word and in presence of this river Ganges, pledge never to marry and never to aspire for the throne of Hastinapur. In addition, till my last breath, I promise that I shall be loyal to the throne of Hastinapur whosoever occupies it." Thus indirectly Bhishma assured the fisher-woman that her son would be accepted as the future king of Hastinapur.
Happy days returned as the king Shantanu married Satyavati. The queen gave birth to two sons named Chitrangad and Vichitravirya.
The Kingdom Of Hastinapur
Days passed by. King Shantanu died natural death of old age. His elder son Chitrangad also died in young age. Hastinapur came under the rule of Vichitravirya and continued to flourish under his rule. Vichitravirya was married to three princesses, but as the fate had it, could not become father. Soon Vichitravirya also was killed in a battle without any issue. His queens were offered a child each from a great sage as a blessing and through his Yogic Power (without physical contact). The two queens followed the instructions and gave birth to Dhritarashtra and Pandu respectively; but the third queen sent her maid to the sage, and Vidura was born of the maid as the third son.
Dhritarashtra was blind from the birth, and therefore Pandu succeeded the throne of Hastinapur. Pandu, Dhritarashtra, and Bhishma grew up as friends and conducted the affairs of the state with great foresight. They all respected each other. Vidura was most righteous of all and was chosen as the Prime Minister of Hastinapur. Pandu married Kunti (aunt of Sri Krishna) and princess Madri; while Dhritarashtra was married to Gandhari, the princess of Gandhar. This noble lady also kept her eyes folded throughout her life as an mark of respect to her blind husband Dhritarashtra.