Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Bhishma - The Grand Old Man of The Kurus


The name Bhishma means one who has taken a terrible oath (and fulfills it). He was an incarnation of the eldest Vasu, Dhyou. He was born as Devaratha, the son of King Shantanu of the Kurus and the Goddess Ganga. He learned the scriptures from Brihaspati, the preceptor of the Devas and the art of war from Parashurama.

When his father could not marry a fisher-woman maiden named Satyavati, as her father wanted her sons to inherit the throne, Bhishma helped his father by renouncing his claim to the throne and taking a vow of celibacy. For this terrible oath, his father granted him the boon that death would not approach him till he himself desired it.

Because of his actions, Amba, the eldest princess of Kashi could not marry Salya, the man she chose. In desperation, she tried to persuade Bhishma to marry her, but her efforts were futile. At her behest, Parashurama tried to persuade his disciple by force of arms, but to no avail. Amba became his enemy.

Later, Amba obtained both a garland that would enable the wearer to kill Bhishma, as well as the boon that she would be the one who kills Bhishma in her next birth. In her next birth she was born as Shikandi, a daughter of Drupada, and was later turned into a man. (Read about these incidents here.)

When war was declared between his grand-nephews, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Bhishma had to support the Kauravas despite his personal preference for the Pandavas, for his duty was to the throne, and to King Dhritharashtra, his nephew who ruled over Hastinapura.

By nearly unanimous consent, he was named the Generalissimo of the Kaurava forces. The lone dissenting voice was that of Karna who was suspicious Bhishma's partiality for the Arjuna. After a heated exchange of words, Karna left the camp, and did not take part in the war till Bhishma's death.

The battle ebbed and flowed as the days progressed. Bhishma wrought great havoc on the Pandava forces, with only Arjuna able to withstand his attack. On the tenth day, Arjuna fought from the same chariot as Shikandi. Using Shikandi as a shield, he showered arrows on Bhishma. His grand-uncle would not retaliate, for he could not fight against Shikandi who had been born a woman. Severely wounded, Bhishma fell from his vehicle to the ground, and the battle came to an abrupt halt.

Though nearly fatally wounded, Bhishma did not die, as he had the boon from his father that he could choose the time of his death. As the sun was still on its southward journey in the heavens, this was not an auspicious time of the year. From his bed of arrows on the battlefield, he observed the battle and saw the utter destruction of the Kaurava forces.

After the war was over, he gave much useful advice to King Yudhishtra about the art of statecraft and on governance. Once the sun started his northward migration, Bhishma gave up his life, and attained the heaven reserved for those who had fallen in battle.


Bhishma Fearsome - here, one who has made a terrible vow
Devavrata Original name of Bhishma
Gangeya Son of Ganga

Last Modified At: Sun Nov 13 23:39:35 2005