Bhishma Charitra

by Kartik Pandya | 2011 | 48,028 words | ISBN-10: 8171101966

The English translation of the Bhishma Charitra, an important Mahakavya (epic poem) consisting of 20 cantos. This book details the life and legends of Devavrata Bhishma: a major character in the Mahabhara and relative to both the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Bhisma Charitra (Bhismacaritam) was written by Dr. Hari Narayan Dikshit, an important author...


The Sanskrit literature is the most ancient and incomparable literature with any of the literature in the world. It occupies a prominent place in the world by virtue of its great antiquity, amazing magnitude, vast expansion, luxuriant development of various literary forms and a comprehensive range which it amply commands. The constant and never stopping flow of poetry has always satisfied the hearts of people since long.

In the sacred land of saints that of India, sages and eminent poets have been manifesting their matchless imagination through their effective and powerful writing since time immemorial. The fact that it richly reflects our ancient culture and civilization in their manifold aspects, and enables us to have a glimpse into our past, also enhances its value for us, while its intrinsic qualities of literary charm and artistic beauty and stylistic finish are undoubtedly unique. The composition of poetry has never stopped and thus new Dṛśyakāvyas and Mahākāvyas have always been composed. The tradition of composing Mahākāvyas like that of Kālidāsa, Bhāravi, Māgha, Harṣa etc. has been continued by the modern poets of this century also. In this series of great poets, Hari Narayan Dikshit also occupies a prominent place and thus he is making the field of Modern Sanskrit literature richer by his poetic compositions even today. Amongst his compositions, Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra) occupies a special place in the Sanskrit epics in general and in the biographical literature of Sanskrit in particular.

Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra) is an epic composed in 1991 according to the situation of modern time though being based upon traditional account of an epic. There are twenty (20) cantos and one thousand one hundred eighteen (1118) verses in it. At the end of the poem, we find five verses of short introduction of the poet. Therefore, the total numbers of verses in it are 1123 (1118+5) and the total number of pages in it are 456 (16+440). In this epic there is the description of life of Bhīṣma starting from his birth till his death.

By composing an epic on the basis of the life sketch of Bhīṣmapitāmaha, our poet Dr. Hari Narayan Dikshit not only showed his poetic scholarship, but also expressed his specialization concerning to the classical knowledge by manifesting different classical elements in his work. The poet showed himself as an expert of Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Grammar and Poetics. At many places we find poet’s knowledge of Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Grammar and Poetics in his poem. The poet believes in having special knowledge of word and its meaning for grammatical composition as well as in having knowledge of Yogavidyā; which gives physical strength (in composing a poem).

Among the three components of poetry viz., Vastu, Netā; and Rasa, Vastu deserves more importance because on the basis of that only Nāyaka presents his character and role. The theme (story-line) is said to be the physical structure of the poetry. The theme (story-line) of Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra) is famous one. In the main story-line there comes the story of Bhīṣma and in the subsidiary line there comes the story of Devala Muni, ŚrīParaśurāma etc. The poet has described the life of Bhīṣma starting from his birth till death in this epic poem. In it the incidents like the death of Gaṅgā at the time of the birth of his son Bhīṣma, the nurturing and bringing up of the young child Bhīṣma by king Śāntanu, training and learning of young child Bhīṣma, coronation of Devavrata, the infatuation of king Śāntanu by the beauty of Satyavatī, Devavrata’s vow of abandoning his right to the throne and to remain bachelor for life-time to fulfil the condition put by Dāśarāja-the father of Satyavatī just for the sake of happiness of his father by getting him married with Satyavatī, the marriage of king Śāntanu and Satyavatī, the birth of Citrāṅgada and Vicitravīrya, the death of Citrāṅgada while fighting with the Gandharvarāja Citrāṅgada, the marriage of Vicitravīrya with Ambikā and Ambālikā, the death of Vicitravīrya due to tuberculosis, the birth of Dhṛtarāṣṭra from the womb of mother Ambikāand the birth of Pāṇḍu from the womb of mother Ambālikā through Niyogavidhi, the marriage of Dhṛtarāṣṭra with Gāndhārī and that of Pāṇḍu with Kuntīand Mādrī, the war between Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s son Duryodhana etc. and Pāṇḍu’s son Yudhiṣṭira etc., at last the final journey of Bhīṣma etc. are very well portrayed by the poet in it.

The source of the plot of this epic is Mahābhārata only composed by Veda Vyāsa. Though our poet has composed this epic on the basis of the Mahābhārata, still we can observe some deviations made in the poem by our poet. Some deviations made by the poet are the nurturing and bringing up of the child Devavrata by his father and king Śāntanu himself, Devavrata Bhīṣma’s appointment of spy to know the secret of his father Śāntanu’s love for Satyavatī, the description of the love-sporting of king Śāntanu and Satyavatī, Bhīṣma Pitāmaha’s advice on Rājadharma to the Pāṇḍavas etc. These deviations have helped the poet in the successful presentation of the poem. The main plot in this epic is centered on the character of Bhīṣma. In the form of an innate (incidental) chronicle, the story of Ambā and the conversation between Yudhiṣṭhira (for gaining the victory in a war) and Bhīṣma are taken in ‘Patākā;’;and the stories of Devalamuni, Niṣādarāja, Citrāṅgada and Vicitravīrya are taken in ‘Prakarī;’. The classical (traditional) account of a narrative (chronicle) of the present epic is praiseworthy.

The title of the epic is Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra). From the title itself it becomes very clear that the story goes around the character of Bhīṣma. The rhetoricians have also accepted this tradition of naming the poem on the chief character of the poem. Following this tradition only, our poet has named it Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra) which is very appropriate here. The development of the plot goes through five stages known as ‘Kāryāvasthās’. These are Ārambha (Beginning), Yatna or Prayatna (Effort), Prāptyāśā; (Prospect of success), Niyatāpati (certainty of success) and Phalāgama or Phalayoga (Attainment of the result). The plot has five elements (Arthaprakṛti) designated as the Bīja (Germ), Bindu (the Expansion), Patākā; (the so-called Episode), Prakarī; (the Incidental Episode) and Kārya (the Denouement). From these respectively arise the five junctures (Sandhi), beginning with Mukha (opening) and then, Pratimukha (Progression), Garbha (Development), Avamarśa (Pause) and Upasaṃhṛti or Nirvahaṇa (Conclusion). Thus, the plot of a Mahākāvya overall consists essentially of the five elements of the story, five stages of actions, and five junctures with its various sub-divisions.

The poet is expert in the characterisation of different characters. The poet’s success is seen in the vivacious characterization of the characters. Bhīṣma is pictured as a complete hero endowed with the qualities like a very chaste, a strongly determined, emotional, of generous disposition, etc. Śāntanu is established as the king of Hastināpura and the sage Paraśurāma is established as an expert teacher of the science of archery. Citrāṅgada and Vicitravīrya are portrayed as the future kings of Hastināpura. In female characters, Gaṅgā is described as the first wife and Satyavatī as the beloved and the second wife of king Śāntanu. Ambikā and Ambālikā are described as good wives of Vicitravīrya. In the characterization of the other characters too, the poet’s pen has become successful.

The primary constituents of poetry are Śabda and Artha. Besides these two, the Ācāryas have also laid down certain subsidiary characteristics relating to Rasa, Language and Style, Alaṅkāras, Metres, Descriptions and Narrations of a Mahākāvya. The critics like Bhāmaha, Daṇḍin and Rudraṭa remark that the Mahākāvya should be endowed with all the Rasas, not mentioning any specific Rasa. But Viśvnātha, a later rhetorician, clarifies the position and recommends that in a Mahākāvya, out of Śṛṅgāra, Vīra and Śānta any one should be a principal Rasa, while the rest should be introduced as subsidiaries. In the present poem, Śṛṅgāra, Vīra and Śānta rasas are mainly found. Amongst them too, one sentiment is accepted as a principal sentiment and other two as subordinate sentiments complementing the principal sentiment. In the poem, Vīra rasa is found to be Aṅgī; rasa (Principal) and Śṛṅgāra, Karuṇa, Raudra, Adbhuta and Śānta rasas are described as Aṅga rasa (Subsidiary). The poet has made the mention of Pāṇḍitya, Kṣamā;, Satya, Bala etc. of Vīra rasa apart from the Dāna, Dharma, Yuddha of Vīra rasa. Hence, the character of Bhīṣma is an example of an unmatched strength and sense of emancipation. Therefore, Vīra rasa is represented as the principal sentiment in the poem. In the description of love between the king Śāntanu and Satyavatī, the Sambhoga Śṛṅgāra and in the description of the insult of Draupadīby Duryodhana and Duḥśāsana, the Raudra rasa is employed. Apart from these, Bhāvadhvani, Rasābhāsa, Bhāvaśānti, Bhāvodaya and Bhāvasandhi are also employed.

The Purpose of Bhīṣmacaritam:

First of all Bharata in his Nāṭyaśāstra has given the purpose of Dṛśya-kāvya by telling that the purpose of Dṛśya-kāvya is to entertain people as well as to relieve people of their pain, grief etc.[1] After Bharat, Bhāmaha has also advocated about the purpose of poetry that by composing poetry the poet gets Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa. There comes speciality in different arts, the poet obtains popularity as well as happiness and satisfaction.[2] Ācārya Vāmana has shown two fold purposes of poetry–popularity and happiness. According to him happiness is the direct purpose of composing a poem and popularity is indirect purpose of poetry.[3] Ānanadavardhana has also admitted happiness to be the purpose of composing a poem.[4]

Ācārya Kuntaka has shown the purpose of poetry as follows:

dharmādisādhanopāyaḥ sukumārakramoditaḥ |
kāvyabandho 'bhijātānāṃ hṛdayāhlādakārakaḥ || [5]

Ācārya Mammaṭa has not only accumulated the views of different Ācāryas of previous time in his purpose of poetry, but also presented six purposes of poetry to them who consider poetry to be the object of magical art, who consider them as the means of mental peace or who consider their economic value on the strength of earning.[6]

  1. Fame,
  2. Wealth,
  3. Practical Knowledge,
  4. Welfare,
  5. Complete Happiness,
  6. Advise like Beloved Consort.

Ācārya Viśvanātha has also given the purpose of poetry. He has told that Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa are the four purposes of poetry.[7] While explaining the purpose of poetry in detail Viśvanātha has further given the explanation that even the people of lower intellect can easily understand poetry and thus they can also achieve the four goals of human life i.e. caturvarga (through poetry) even without reading difficult scriptures. Paṇḍitarāja Jagganātha has also given the purpose of poetry, but he has not discussed in detail.

He has defined it in a following single line.

“tatra kīrtiparamāhlādgururājadevatāprasādādyanekaprayojanakasya kāvyasya” [8]

It means that the purposes of poetry are many like popularity, bliss (highest happiness) and the grace of guru, king and god. Here by the grace of guru and god, there will be removal of obstacles and by the grace of king there will be income. By the use of word ‘ādi’ we get the idea about practical knowledge and advice like that of beloved consort.

Different Ācāryas have put their different views on the purpose of poetry. In the definition of the purpose of poetry given by Ācārya Mammaṭa, we find the accumulation of views presented by different Ācāryas. Out of the six purposes given by Ācārya Mammaṭa, some are related with the poet and some with the readers. Popularity and wealth are chiefly achieved by the poet on composing the poem. Practical knowledge and advices are mainly for the readers. Last two–the removal of obstacles and the achievement of the highest happiness are related with the poet as well the readers.

Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra)’, composed by our poet Dr. Hari Narayan, is also full of purposes and not devoid of purposes. The purposes of the present epic poem are as follows:

Acquirement of Popularity (Fame):

Every person wants to be famous through his noble deeds and in that popularity he gets happiness. The poetry is also for the fame and name. The great poet Kālidāsa became famous for his art of composing poems. Our poet has composed this poem on the basis of the great epic Mahābhārata and presented it in the modern context by making everyone so delighted. In the first canto itself the poet has indicated his wish to become popular by composing this poem.[9] The different research works being done on his different compositions show his rate of popularity.

Acquirement of Wealth (Money):

By composing poems the poets make earning also. Long ago the poet named Dhāvaka wrote a play Ratnāvalī; in the name of king Harṣa and earned a good amount of money from him. The present epic is awarded ‘Viśeṣa Puraskāra’ from Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Academy as well as ‘Sāhitya Academy Puraskāra’ from Delhi Sāhitya Academy. Thus in this way the poet’s purpose of acquiring wealth is also fulfilled.

Practical Knowledge:

The poem is for the practical knowledge of day-to-day life. The practical knowledge is not easily available through the study of Itihāsa etc., but it is easily acquired through the study of poems. By the study of the epic ‘Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra)’ one may acquire the practical knowledge like father’s duty for his son, son’s duty for the happiness of his father, Kṣatriya-dharma, Prajā-dharma, Rāja-dharma, following the instructions of a Guru, brother’s love and respect for brother, giving up unrighteous acts and following righteous acts etc.

Unique Happiness:

The poet composes a poem for own happiness. Thus, the poet experiences a special kind of worldly happiness after composing a poem. The readers also delight in studying the poem as much as a poet does in composing it. This happiness is like the highest happiness. The experience of the highest happiness i.e. bliss is after a long austerity, while that of worldly happiness is easily and immediately made after reading or studying the poem. Thus, the composer of ‘Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra)’ and the readers of it can only enjoy the happiness of it.

Advice like that of a Beloved Consort:

The poetry is like a consort which preaches us advice. We get the kind of overt inspiration from the advice of God, friend or beloved wife. Being involved in poem and getting drenched into the sentiment of the poet, the poet and the reader understand the message of the poem. There is no doubt that the readers of ‘Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra)’ also delight in reading it as it teaches the lessons of morality. Through the study, it becomes clear that we should follow righteousness only. Here the advice is given in the form of how to follow Rājadharma, the duty of a son, the rules for soldiers and many others. Few examples are given here.

1. In my opinion the fire in the form of tension and stress of Rājadharma is more tormenting and painful than the fire caused by the separation from the beloved.[10]

2. Our ancient saints and sages have strongly emphasized and said that every son should serve his father like a God.[11]

3. The will-power is strong of one who is born in Kṣatriya family.[12]

4. The warrior who wishes to win the battle should never keep mercy for his enemy.[13]

In short, it can be said that our poet’s composition ‘Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra)’ consists in all kinds of fulfillment of our poet like earning of riches which is very essential for living life, spirituality which is embodied well in the poem and a special kind of happiness through its study.

Metre is an essential ingredient of a Mahākāvya and thus occupies a significant place. It serves as garments of the ideas presented by the poet; just as variety of people use variety of garments for the different occasions, similarly the metres also change in the poetry as there is change in the subject-matter. Dr. Hari Narayan has employed eleven metres in his epic. The art of using proper metres in a Mahākāvya is the main criterion of the quality of the poem. The poet has very aptly employed Vaṃśastha, Viyoginī;, Drutavilambita, Vasantatilakā;, Anuṣṭup, Mālinī;, Upajāti, Indravajrā;, Śārdūlavikrīḍita, Mandākrāntā; and Āryā; metres. At the end of every canto the poet has changed the metre. The poet has taken care of the propriety in the use of metres in his poem. In the description of king Śāntanu’s appropriate governance, the Vaṃśastha metre; in praise of bravery of Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas, the Śārdūlavikrīḍita metre; and in the description of love-making sport of king Śāntanu and Satyavatī, the Upajāti metre is applied. The poet has accurately used different metres according to the descriptions and situations in the poem. Our poet is keen in employing the different fourteen varieties of the Vaṃśastha as well as the Upajāti metre. One more interesting thing is that in the entire epic we find only one example of Indravajrā; metre and it is X.45.

Alaṅkāra is identified with beauty itself, not as instruments of beauty. Therefore, the good poets have applied their minds in framing their verses in such an embellished form that can make the verse beautiful. Though generally viewed as outer trappings, the alaṅkāras are natural to the Sanskrit poetry. However, their judicious use makes the poem beautiful. The use of alaṅkāras (Figures of Speech) in the poem is required for the poetic beauty. The alaṅkāra like Anuprāsa increases the elegance of meanings of words of a poem just like earrings, necklace etc. increase the glamour of the body. The poet has used Śabdālaṅkāras viz. Punaruktavadābhāsa, Anuprāsa and Yamaka in his poem. He has used Arthālaṅkāras like Upamā;, Rūpaka, Utprekṣā;, Sandeha, Smaraṇa, Kāvyaliṅga, Kāraṇamālā;, Preya, Sahokti, Samādhi, Ūrjasvi, Saṃsṛṣṭi etc. Apart from these, he has also used small and less popular alaṅkāras like Sambhāvanā;, Āśīḥ;, Viṣādana etc. In the present poem the alaṅkāras have surged in themselves. Our poet has used more than forty figures of speech in the epic and thus he commands unique mastery over figures of speech and uses them appropriately.

The relation of human and nature has been most intimate since time immemorial. The man has always received the help and support from the nature. He is incomplete without nature. In the present poem, the poet has appropriately made the description of natural resources as well as that of seasons, mountains, birds, animals etc. somewhere in the form of cause, somewhere in the form of passion and somewhere in the form of humanization. The other descriptions like that of war, army, procession, consecration etc. are also very appropriate.

The language and style are the means to judge the ability of a poet to express his thoughts and ideas. The language of the present epic is sensitive and heart-touching. In the present poem, the Prasādaguṇa is presented as the chief Guṇa, though there are present three guṇas viz., Mādhurya, Oja and Prasāda. In the poem, defects like Śrutikaṭutva, Nirarthakatva, Upahatavisarga etc. are also found. But these defects are found negligible due to plenty of Kāvyaguṇas present in the poem. In the application of Rīti, the poet has mainly employed three Rītis viz., Vaidarbhī;, Gauḍī;and Pāñcālī;. Amongst them, the Vaidarbhī; has remained the favourite one of our poet. There is a beautiful insertion of sentiment and language in his poem.

The most striking feature of the poet’s treatment is the inclusion of analogies and comparisons with personalities and situations in the two Sanskrit epics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. The poet gives the mythological allusions as the standards of comparison. This speaks of the poet’s in-depth knowledge of the mythological literature. It helps him to draw striking parallels which generates interest in the minds of the readers. In this way the poet contributes in preserving the ancient and forgotten myths in the age when the literary lore is perishing day by day. Our poet profusely quotes striking parallels from the Rāmāyaṇa. For instance, ŚrīRāmacandra, the best of Raghu race, had gone to the forest renouncing the prince-hood to express his love towards his father in Tretāyuga. All the wise persons respect this ideal of him even today in the world.

Who does not praise Puru in this world, who has become famous by giving away his youth to his father for the fulfillment of sexual cravings? It means all people praise him.

tretākāle raghukulamaṇī rāmacandro mahātmā
tātaprītyai vipinamagamad yauvarājyaṃ vihāya |
tasyādarśaṃ jagati sujanāścādriyante'dhunāpi
siddhyatyasmād yuvanṛpapadaṃ tyājyametanmayāpi ||
pitre datvā nijanavavayaskāmabhogasya tṛptyai
khyātiṃ prāptaṃ purumapi na kaśślāghate'syāṃ dharāyām ?
tasyaivāsminmahati ca kule labdhajanmā yato'haṃ
tasmānnyāyyaḥ khalu mama kṛte tyāgamārgo'nusartum ||
     Bhīṣmacaritam, VIII.35, 36

Further, the poet has adopted the classical way of presentation in which we may observe exaggeration. For instance, in those days, even God Indra and Goddess Indrāṇīwere surprised after seeing their amorous sport; and feeling inferiority complex for themselves, they both thought of studying Kāmaśāstra again. Kāmadeva and his wife Rati, residing in them, were getting very happy on them for their amorous sports; and they were always bestowing on them their blessings while they were having pleasure in a special way.

śacīmahendrāvapi vismayete
smālokya līlā lalitāstayostāḥ |
tṛtīyaśāstrādhyayanāya bhūyo
matiṃ vidhattaḥ sma ca lajjayā tau ||
tad-dehalīnau ratikāmadevau
tadīyalīlābhiratiprasannau |
nityaṃ śubhāśīrvacanāni tābhyām
avocatāṃ keliviśeṣakāle || BC, X.42, 43

The other examples are XI.5, XI.6, XI.7 and XI.8. The other striking feature of the present epic is that we find some examples of day to day routine life. For instance, even in pass time, considering both mildness and fierceness, he should control the minds of his subjects; just as a cook does not keep more or less fire of the stove while cooking chapatti.

sāmānyakāle'pyubhayoḥ samanvayaṃ
śrayannṛpo lokamanāṃsi sādhayet |
na roṭikāpākakṛte svacūlhake
sūdo mṛduṃ vā kurute'nalaṃ kharam || BC, XVII.15

One more interesting thing of the present epic is that our poet has presented the relevant progressive idea through this composition as well as indicated the significance of modern facilities. For instance, it is king’s duty to make his subjects happy by providing them with the construction of step-wells, wells, lakes, reservoirs, temples, restaurants, gardens etc.; and at the places of pilgrimages and picnic spots he should provide them with the facilities.

sarvatra rājye nijapūrtekarmabhiḥ
kalyāṇavṛddhyā sukhayennijāḥ prajāḥ |
tīrthaṣu gamyaprakṛtisthaleṣu ca
prabandhatantraṃ racayetsukhāvaham || BC, XVII.42

People are expected to educate their daughters too like their sons. They should never be partial in that matter. Both in the form of two wheels are equally expected to fetch the vehicle which is in the form of society. They are ever expected not to insult women whether they are mothers or wives; sisters or daughters.

supāṭhanīyāḥ sutavatsutā api
bhedo vidheyo naca tatra kaścana |
gārhasthyayānasya kṛte hyubhāvimā-
vāvaśyakau sto rathacakrasannibhauh || BC, XVIII.26

Thus, in the light of the characteristics of Kāvya directed by different Kāvyaśāstrīs, the present epic Bhīṣmacaritam (Bhishma-charitra) of Hari Narayan Dikshit has become successful in the test.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Nāṭyaśāstra, I.113-115-116.


Cf. Kāvyālaṅkāra, I.12


Kāvyālaṅkārasūtra-Vṛtti, I.I.5


Dhvanyāloka, I.1


Vakroktijīvitam, I.4


Kāvyaprakāśa, I.2


Bhīṣmacaritam, 1.7


Bhīṣmacaritam, VII.58


Ibid, VIII.38


Ibid, XII.21


Ibid, XIV.22

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: