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Bhishma is the great hero of the epic Mahabharata. He was an exceptionally skilled archer and warrior, a much revered elder statesmen and the dear grand uncle of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes. He also remained the guardian of the throne of Hastinapura.
Bhishma refers to the one ‘who takes a terrible vow and stands by it, at any cost’. He made a supreme sacrifice and took a mighty resolve, for the sake of the happiness of his father and stood by it right through his life, facing immense trials and tribulations in the process. Bhishma had also realized that Krishna, was none other than the incarnation of Lord Vishnu on earth and gave out the famous hymn Vishnu Sahasranama, consisting of the thousand sacred names of Lord Vishnu, in the presence of Krishna himself, while lying on the bed of arrows, in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Mahabharata gives a detailed account about the amazing life and exploits of Bhishma. He was born as Devavrata to king Shantanu and the sacred river Ganges, who personified as a woman. Brought up by his father, the young prince was well trained by many preceptors, sages and warriors like Vasishta, Parasurama etc. and became a versatile master in various fields like Dharma Sashtras, the tenets of righteousness, warfare and principles of governance. And here his life underwent a dramatic change. In order to facilitate the marriage of his father with a fisherwoman Satyavathi which his father intensely desired, Satyavrata took two bhishma prathigyas, the terrible vows, by which he promised that he will never marry and will remain only a celibate right through his life, and that he will never also ascend the throne, but instead, will be at the service of anyone who becomes the ruler. Stunned by this breathtaking sacrifice and astounding resolve of this young man, the heavens celebrated him as ‘Bhishma’, while his father blessed him with a boon by which Bhishma could choose the time of his death.
The children born to Satyavathi and their descendants began ruling Hastinapur. Subsequently, a great enmity broke out between the cousins, the sinful Kauravas and the virtuous Padavas, which lead to a bloody war between them, in spite of Bhishma’s best efforts at mediation. Heart broken beyond words, Bhishma was forced by his own vow to side with the ruling Kauravas in the fratricidal war and command their army against the forces of the Pandavas, who were very dear to his heart.
Keeping aside his intense anguish, he fought like a true warrior causing immense damage to the enemy camp. Pandavas, guided by Lord Krishna, had to resort to a trickery to bring down Bhishma. On the tenth day of the battle, they made Bhishma come face to face with a warrior named Shikandi, who was born a woman in the previous birth and had vowed to kill Bhishma, whom she thought had wronged her very badly. Realizing who Shikandi really was, Bhishma refused to fight him, and at that opportune moment, he was felled by the sharp arrows of the ace Pandava archer, Arjuna.
Though badly injured and thoroughly incapacitated, Bhishma continued to hold on to his life till the end of the war, lying on a bed of arrows, in the battlefield of Kurukshetra itself. The gory war came to an end after eighteen days of intense battle, and saw the total destruction of the Kauravas and the victory of the Pandavas. At last, when he realized that the evil has been wiped out and that his dear land is safe in the hands of the righteous Pandavas, this noble soul ended his momentous journey on this planet on his own will and reached its heavenly abode.
Bhishma symbolized the highest form of resolve, commitment, selflessness and sacrifice. He is counted as one of the noblest of souls born in our land and is still remembered gratefully, as such.