BhIshmA is one of the great personages of the BharathA clan. He was respected by all as the "grand sire ". He was a great devotee of the Lord and was endowed with an unique spiritual insight and experience. The teaching of BhIshmA to YudhishtrA enshrines the supreme most wisdom. In valour, he was superior to every other hero of his times. It was he who fought with the great Sri ParasurAmA and proved to be his equal in valor.
The MahA BhAratham describes how a king by the name of MahAbhishA was born as Shantanu on account of a curse and married GangA and how the eight Vasus cursed by Sage VasishtA were born as sons to Shantanu and GangA. At the time of her marriage to Shantanu, GangA had imposed a condition that Shantanu should never interfere or obstruct her from doing anything she liked as a condition of marriage to him. She also warned Shantanu that she would abandon him and go away, if he objected to her actions. GangA had promised the Vasus that she will throw them into the river, the moment they were born to free them their curse of having an earthly life. GangA threw into the river the seven children born to her, one after the other, as soon as they were born saying "I make you pleased". The saddened Shantanu did not obstruct GangA, though he was highly displeased. When GangA took her eighth son in her arms to throw him into the river as usual, Shantanu could not bear the familiar sight. He shouted at his wife GangA and asked : "Who are you ? Why are you killing your own children ? Will you not spare this child atleast?". Then GangA revealed her identity and the curse of Vasishta that required her to throw the seven of the eight sons, who were Vasus. She assured Shantanu that the eighth son will be spared and that he would become a great person.It was this eighth son of King Shantanu and GangA who came to be known later as BhIshmA. Mother GangA disappeared then with the child. She saw to it that her son was given the best education and training.
Few years after GangA's disappearance with her newly born son, king Shantanu went for hunting on the banks of GangA river. There, he saw a young boy stopping the flow of the mighty river through a dam formed by his arrows. The king was astounded by the might of that young boy.
At this time, GangA presented herself before the king and presented the boy named DevavratA to him and said : "This is our eighth son. I have taken care of him so far. He is proficient in arms and you can now take him with you." The achievements of the boy were described by Mother GangA as follows: "Do not think our son is an ordinary person. He has studied the VedhAs and VedhAngAs under Sage VasishtA. He has gained mastery in the ancient science of handling weapons. He is an equal to IndrA, when he wields the bow. He is a master of all the ShAsthrAs known to Bruhaspathi. He knows all the weapons known to sri ParasurAmA. He is a master in RAja Dharmam also."
The father returned to his kingdom with DevavrathA. The king's joy was immense and he made DevavrathA as the YuvarAjA or heir-apparent. Time passed on. Once king Shantanu went to the banks of YamunA for hunting and there he came across a beautiful maiden. He fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. The father of that woman was the chief of the fisherman tribe and let the king know that the condition for marrying his daughter was that the king should promise to make the son born of his daughter become Shantanu's successor. Shanatanu could not agree to this condition as he could not ignore his noble son, DeavavrathA. The king returned to his capital broken hearted and pined with love for Satyavathi, the daughter of the chief of fishermen.
In due course, DevavrathA came to know about his father's love for Satyavathi. He approached the father of Satyavathi and made a proposal for the marriage of his father with Satyavathi. DevavrathA took a vow right then and there that he would himself place the future son of Shanatanu and Satyavathi on the heriditary throne as the successor to Shanatanu. He also took a vow that he himself would never marry at all so that there may not be any fear in the mind of Satyavathi's father regarding the claims by anyone for the throne after his death. DevavrathA took this vow: "From today, I will observe the vow of celibacy. The eternal world will be there for me even without possessing a son".
DevavrathA acquired the name BhIshmA because of the unique vow that he took for the sake of making his father happy. Even the Gods admired the supreme sacrifice DevavrathA made and gave him the name of BhIshmA. King Shantanu was so pleased with his son that he granted a boon which made it possible for BhIshmA not to be overtaken by death, unless it was his desire.
BhIshmA was a witness of a number of events that took place in HasthinApuram such as the death of his father (Shantanou), the coronation of his son, chithrAngadhA, the death of ChithrAngadhA and VichithraveeryA, the birth of DhritrAshtrA, PaaNdu, VidhurA, the birth and growth of PANdavAs and KauravAs. Through out all these decades, BhIshmA was firm in the observance of his vow as a celibiate. His guidance was sought and obtained by all of the generations of kings and their families. It was BhIshmA who gave proper education to the KauravAs and PANdavAs. His words of counsel to the KauravAs were of no avail and the MahA BhArathA war broke out. As a loyal subject of the reigning king, BhIshmA fought on the side of DuryOdhanA in that great war. The pANdavAs were very dear to him and it was cruel fate that aligned him againsthis own grandsons. He was the commander in chief of the KauravA army and nobody could equal him in valor. BhIshmA was indeed an invincible warrior. It was with the consent and the blessings of BhIshmA that YudhishtrA, the eldest of the pANdavAs commenced the war.
BhIshmA was a great devotee of the Lord. He had taken a challenge that he would make Sri KrishnA wield a weapon against His (Sri KrishnA's) own vow of not using any weapon in that war. BhIshmA was fighting fiercely and the pANdavA army was broken up and fleeing in all directions. Though Sri KrishnA was encouraging the warriors and the generals of the pANdavA army, it was of no use. Sri KrishnA in a fit of fury declared that He alone would destroy BhIshmA, DhrONA and others. Then He rushed towards BhishmA -- after jumping down from the chariot of ArjunA-- holding the terror-striking Sudarsanam in His hand.
The reaction of BhIshmA was reverential. He was unmoved and he addressed Sri KrishnA as follows: "Oh MaadhavA, Lord of all the Worlds ! Come and do away with me. I shall gain all auspiciousness, if I am killed by Your hand. I shall be honored in all the worlds on account of this noble death ". Sri KrishnA chose not use His chakram against BhIshmA.
Thus, BhishmA won in this challenge. The pANdavAs had to conquer BhIshmA by means of a plan hinted at by BhIshmA himself.
ArjunA had built a bed of arrows for BhIshmA as he waited for the advent of UttharAyaNam to shake off his mortal coils. After the war was over and after crowning of YudhishtrA, Sri KrishnA advised YudishtrA to approach BhIshmA -- propped up on his bed of arrows-- and receive instructions on dharmA and all other aspects of ruling the kingdom. Sri KrishnA said all that knowledge would be lost, when BhIshmA would die and hence this exhortation was very meaningful.
We see another side of BhIshmA as a great savant and devotee. Lord Sri KrishnA Himself praises him in unique terms. The great saints, stages and savants of the times such as VyAsA, NaradhA, Paila, ShandilyA, Devala and others had assembled around BhIshmA and seeing Sri KrishnA their Lord there, BhIshmA praised Him. This praise is celebrated as "BhIshma sthavarAjA ". Being permitted by BhIshmA, YudhishtrA put him a number of questions to know the supreme secrets of DharmA and BhIshmA answered patiently and expounded the tenets of DharmA. BhismA taught YudhishtrA Sri VishNu Sahasra nAmam and other supreme truths. At the end, BhIshmA set his eyes on Sri Sri KrishnA and sought the Lord's permission to cast his body. The Lord said : "You shall attain the state of Vasus. There is nothing sinful in you. You are a great lover of your father. You are a royal sage. So death is under your control."
The last message of BhIshmA to YudhishtrA was this: 'You must strive for truth. Truth is the supreme strength. One should be ever compassionate. People should be ever devoted to the VedA, righteous conduct and austerities'.
BhIshmA's experience and wisdom were so vast that that his teachings are universal and invaluable. He taught that non-violence, truth, forgiveness and conquest over anger are the charactrestrics of DharmA and that only by following the path of DharmA can one gain happiness.
"Mercy towards all beings and giving protection to all beings form the supreme dharmA. That DharmA is conducive to the good of all and which leads the universe to right action."
"Man should neither talk nor think carelessly of four things (viz) ., evil deeds, harsh deeds, carrying tales and uttering falsehoods".
BhIshmA occupies a glorious position in the galaxy of the personages of MahA BhAratham. He is known for his supreme devotion towards the Lord.He is a great "neethiparA " and was admired even by Lord Sri KrishnA.
Credits: Sri N.S.Anantha RangAchAr