Bhisma is perhaps the most revered character in the epic Mahabharata. He stands for truth, selflessness and herculean dedication.
- Who was Bhisma?
Bhisma was the son of Kind Santanu by his wife Ganga. He was originally Prabhasa, one of the AshtaVasus, being reborn as Bhisma. He was earlier known as Devavrata. When the King Santanu, took a second wife, the fisher woman Satyabati, she manipulated him into promising her sons the throne of Hastinapur, where Santanu reigned.
Bhisma seeing his father’s trepidation took the oath of celibacy upon himself and promised never to marry so that the question of his inheriting the throne does not arise. He promised to serve Hastinapur and remain faithful to the Kauravas. The name Bhisma, means, one who has taken a terrible oath. Grateful King Santanu granted him the boon of Ichcha Mrityu or death by will, making him virtually immortal, till he chose to end his life in his own volition.
Long after in order to find bride for his younger brother, he abducted the three princesses called Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. Amba loved someone else and Bhisma sent her back to her beloved. But having been abducted, the beloved refused to take her back. Enraged and humiliated Amba urged Bhisma to marry her who too refused her because of his oath. Amba then took a vow to seek vengeance on Bhisma if that meant being reborn again and again. She, with the boon of Lord Shiva, was born as Shikhandi. Bhisma, aware of Shikahndi who was a woman really in the body of a man vowed never to raise hand on her. This is what paved the way for his demise.
During the battle of the Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and the Kauravas,he was obliged to fight for the kauravas against the Pandavas. Duryodhan implied that Bheeshma was partial to the Pandavas, as they were leading in the battle. Forced by these kinds of innuendoes and to save him from further ignominy, he took up the weapon, which could be countered only by Lord Sri Krishna. Krishna, forced at the turn of events, lifted up the Sudarshan Chakra to kill Bheeshma. However Krishna could not raise his arms against the Grandsire, and Bhisma himself hinted that he would not fight against a woman. Thus armed with Shikhandi, the next day, acting as his shield, Arjuna kept shooting arrows at him indiscriminately. When Bhisma Pitamah fell, his body lay on a bed of arrows or sara sajya.
Since he had the boon of ichcha mrityu, he waited for an auspicious time, when the Suryadev moves back in the North direction or Uttarayan to leave his body. According to the Mahabharata Bhisma laid himself in Sarasajya on this eighth day of the shukla paksha of Magha, which falls in the month of January or February according to the modern day calendar.
- What happens on this day?
Bhisma Ashtami is celebrated with utmost respect and fervor in mostly the Vishnu Temples and the ISKCON temples. The five days spanning from the BHisma Ashtami to the Bhisma Dwadasi are known as the BHisma Panchakavarta. On this day people perform the ekodishtha shraddha for him. People who have lost their fathers are advised to perform this.