Bhishma was son of Shantanu and the river goddess Ganges. His mother Ganges had left Shantanu after giving birth to Bhishma. That is different story which would be included in appendix.
Having given his word of honour to his step mother, Satyavati, Bhishma remained celibate all through his life. Marriage was never thought of, nor any sensual desire ever arose in his mind. This great Yogi was adept in many Yogas and practice of meditation.
His truthfulness was such that whatever he spoke came true. He knew every martial art and war tricks. He was the most respected person in the kingdom of Hastinapur. Reverentially he was called Bhishma Pitamaha - Grandsire Bhishma.
He served his step mother, then her son Vichitravirya, later his sons Pandu and Dhritarashtra as a mark of loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur. He was well aware of the weaknesses and ethical decline in the character of his grandsons, and could foresee the cumulative tragedy that was sure to befall the kingdom of Hastinapur. Bhishma was well aware of jealousy of Duryodhana towards Pandavas which he at times openly disapproved. But even this righteous behavior of Bhishma was taken as tilt towards Pandavas and dislike for Kauravas. But, lest his reproach be seen as his disloyalty to Hastinapur, he kept quiet as a silent suffering head of the clan. As a silent and helpless witness Bhishma tolerated all this with melancholy. He never made any attempt to become king of Hastinapur, or to dislodge the weak and morally selfish successor to the throne. Vidura as his best friend understood the peculiar predicament and mental state of Bhishma.
Bhishma, Dronacharya, Vidura, Kripacharya, all righteous in their own way, were still at fault because, though helpless, they served and sided with the non-righteous Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra.
Story of Karna 1
Before marriage, Kunti, wife of Pandu, was immersed in god worship, meditation and Yoga. She undertook arduous austere practices to please God. In fact, out of curiosity she was experimenting with the power of Yoga and concentration associated with intense devotion to God. Her prayers and spiritual practices were rewarded with the blessings of Sun God, who granted her a boon by which she, if and when desired, would get a son from luminous deity without physical contact!
To test her newly acquired power, still unmarried, Kunti decided to have a son from Sun God Himself. She prayed and wished as told to her. And wonder of wonders, a most beautiful and powerful son was born to her. He had inborn protective armour over his chest and in his ears - the kavacha and kundalas. This was "Karna", Kunti's eldest son and the most important and controversial character of our future story.
In India, as today, in those days also, teenage pregnancy and unwedded motherhood were great taboo. Kunti, the unwedded mother, became apprehensive to receive Karna as her son. 'What to do with such a lovely child', was a great problem for her. She could not kill the newborn, nor could she keep him. What would the people say? How would the society react to her shameful act, she would shudder to think.
A great blot on her character would be put, blot of premarital sex and promiscuity. Nobody would believe her story that she has received the child from the Sun God out of her power of Yoga.
Kunti, therefore, decided to desert the child Karna. She prepared a wooden basket, provided cushions inside, and put the little Karna in it. She left the basket afloat in the river currents to run off to the unknown destination, away from her life!
After a few days, a couple in a far off town sighted the basket. Both husband and wife were curious to see the basket floating in the river. The man swam down the river and fetched the basket to the bank. They were surprised to find a healthy new-born baby in it! This childless couple was immensely pleased to find a new born in their custody. As if merciful God had gracefully granted them their desired prayer! With tenderness Radha took Karna to her chest. The motherly love produced enough milk in her breast to satisfy the hunger of the starving baby.
Karna, the powerful and radiant as his father - Sun God, protected by the armour of kavacha and kundalas, grew into his childhood. Away from the real mother Kunti, he accepted Radha as her real mother.
Karna's foster parents were charioteers by caste: Adhiratha and Radha by name. (Radha brought up Karna as her son and hence Karna is also known as Radheya. As he was brought up by these low caste parents, Karna is also known as Sut-Putra. Later we shall see how this caste factor plays an important role in his adult life.)
After marriage with Pandu, Kunti wished for three very powerful sons: Yudhisthira, Bhima, and Arjuna. Moreover, Madri had two issues: Nakul and Sahadeva. But the king Pandu and Madri died when all the five children were very young. Kunti promised Madri to look after her Nakul and Sahadeva as her own children without any discrimination. Thus the five brothers came to be known as sons of Pandu -the Pandavas. Their love and affection for each other was (is) set as an example for others, till today also! Thus the five Pandavas grew under the loving care of Mother Kunti. No one knew about their elder brother, Karna - the first son of Kunti born before her marriage.
Dhritarashtra now became the king of Hastinapur. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari had one hundred sons and daughters. These were called as Kauravas. The eldest amongst them was Duryodhana. The second eldest was Dushasana Dushala was their only sister. As cousins they played and grew with Pandavas without any ill feeling or discrimination. Kunti and Gandhari lived like sisters, and each one thought she had 105 sons and daughters!