by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222
This page describes the Story of Bhishma included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).
From Viṣṇu were descended in the following order—Brahmā-Atri-Candra-Budha-Purūravas-Āyus-Nahuṣa-Yayāti-Pūru-Janamejaya-Prācinvā-Pravīra-Namasyu-Vītabhaya-Śuṇḍu-Bahuvidha-Saṃyāti-Rahovādi-Raudrāśva-Matināra-Santurodha-Duṣyanta-Bharata-Suhotra-Suhotā-Gala-Gardda Suketu-Bṛhatkṣetra-Hasti-Ajamīḍha-Ṛkṣa-Samvaraṇa-Kuru-Jahnu-Suratha-Viḍūratha-Sārvabhauma-Jayatsena-Ravyaya-Bhāvuka-Cakroddhata-Devātithi-Ṛkṣa-Bhīma-Pratīpa-Śantanu-Bhīṣma.
Birth and Boyhood.
Bhīṣma’s name in his boyhood was Devavrata. He was the eighth son of Śantanu, a king of the lunar dynasty and Gaṅgādevī. This boy was the human embodiment of Dyau, one of the Aṣṭavasus. Śantanu, his father was the re-birth of another king, Mahābhiṣeka. The story concerning this, as given in the Mahābhārata is as follows:—
King Mahābhiṣeka after his death, attained Viṣṇuloka. Once he went to visit Brahmā at Satyaloka. At that time Gaṅgādevī was also present in Brahmā’s assembly. In that pious atmosphere, a gentle breeze began to blow and Gaṅgādevī’s clothes were slightly deranged. Just at that moment, Mahābhiṣeka took a stealthy glance at her and she also returned that glance. This was noted by Brahmā who turned both of them into human beings by a curse. Gaṅgādevi begged pardon and Brahmā lifted the curse and blessed her that the Aṣṭavasus would come to the earth to be born as her sons and that afterwards she could come back to Heaven. After that Gaṅgādevī was born as a mortal woman in the world under the name Gaṅgā and she spent her days in the forests near the Gaṅgā river valleys.
In those days the ruler of the Lunar dynasty was a king named Pratīpa. Having no children, he went to the bank of the river Gaṅgā and performed tapas there. Gaṅgādevī who was moving about in the forests nearby, saw the King deeply absorbed in his tapas. She approached him and sat on his right thigh. She wanted the King to be her husband. He explained to her that the right thigh is the proper seat of a daughter-in-law and so she would become his son’s wife in due course. In course of time, Pratīpa had a son, Śantanu, born to him. When Śantanu grew up into a young man, one day he went for a hunt to the Gaṅgā-valley and there he met Gaṅgādevī. He fell in love with her at first sight and courted her. Gaṅgādevī agreed to become his wife on condition that he should not say anything to displease her and if he violated that condition she would leave him. The king accepted the condition and they became man and wife.
At about that time, the wife of Dyo, one of the Aṣṭavasus, happened to see the sacrificial cow of the sage Vasiṣṭha and wished to have it. She expressed her desire to her husband, Dyo. Dyo, with the other seven vasus went and took away by force, Vasiṣṭha’s cow. Vasiṣṭha in his anger cursed the Aṣṭavasus to be born as mortals. They repented and begged pardon from Vasiṣṭha. The sage told them that all of them would be born as the sons of Gaṅgādevī and all except Dyo, who actually stole the cow, would return to Heaven at the time of birth itself. As for Dyo, he would continue to live in the world for a long time, as an adventurous hero.
Gaṅgādevī became pregnant and gave birth to her first child. She carried the child to the river Gaṅgā and threw it into the river. Śantanu who followed her up to the river bank, did not say anything against her, remembering his promise.
Seven children were born to her and she threw all of them into the river in this way. When she gave birth to the eighth child, Śantanu insisted that he would not allow her to throw away that child into the river. As he had violated the condition, the angry Gaṅgādevī left the palace with her child. She named it Devavrata and brought him up in the forest. The sage Vasiṣṭha and Gaṅgādevī taught him all branches of knowledge. Thirtytwo years later, the king went to the same forest for hunting. He saw a handsome boy stopping the flow of the river Gaṅgā. Getting interested in the boy, the King approached him. But by that time he had disappeared. The King prayed to Gaṅgādevī to give back the child. She appeared with the child and after handing over the child to him vanished. The king returned to the palace with the child. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapters 95-100).
The name Bhīṣma.
Devavrata was anointed, as heir-apparent. One day King Śantanu reached the forest near the Gaṅgā river valley, for hunting. As he was hunting, absorbed in the beauty of the forest scenery, he felt the perfume of musk filling the air in the forest. He wondered from where it could come. He went on and on trying to find out the source of this smell until he reached the cottage of a fisherman. The fisherman had a daughter named Satyavatī. It was from her that the fragrance of musk spread all around.* The king fell in love with her at first sight. He asked the fisherman to give the girl in marriage to him. But the brave fisherman did not yield to the king’s demand immediately. He laid down several conditions, one of which was that Satyavatī’s sons should succeed to the throne of Śantanu. The king was in a fix. Devavrata was the eldest son and heir-apparent. To deny kingship to his sons would be highly improper. Unable to find a solution to this difficult problem, the king returned to the palace, much depressed and gloomy. There he avoided all company and took to his bed, passing his time in sadness and solitude.
When Devavrata knew about his father’s condition, he called the Ministers and asked them about it. They told him everything in details. At once, without informing even his father, Devavrata went to the fisherman’s cottage on the bank of the river Gaṅgā and begged for Satyavatī on behalf of his father. The fisherman repeated his former condition. Devavrata agreed that Satyavatī’s son shall be given the right of Kingship. The fisherman pointed out that disputes were likely to arise between Devavrata’s sons and Satyavatī’s children regarding the right of succession to the throne. At once Devavrata stood up and made a solemn pledge that he would remain a bachelor for life. The fisherman gave Satyavatī to Devavrata to be taken to the King. Devavrata took her to the palace and presented her to his father. The King, when he came to know of the part played by his son in the matter, rose from his bed and embraced Devavrata with tears of joy and gratitude. The gods showered flowers on the scene. Because he had taken such a solemn oath, it was declared that henceforth he would be known by the name "BHĪṢMA". The loving father Śantanu also gave him a boon that Bhīṣma would die only when he wished. (Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 100).
Affairs of the Kingdom in crisis.
Two sons named Vicitravīrya and Citrāṅgada were born to Satyavatī by Śantanu, who died shortly afterwards. As desired by Satyavatī, Bhīṣma crowned the boy Citrāṅgada as king. Although Citrāṅgada’s reign was a prosperous one, it could not last long. Once a Gandharva named Citrāṅgada attacked him at Kurukṣetra and after a battle which lasted for three years, the Gandharva Citrāṅgada killed the King Citrāṅgada. It was Bhīṣma who performed the funeral rites of the King Citrāṅgada. After that Vicitravīrya was crowned King.
It was at that time that the Svayaṃvara of the three daughters of the King of Kāśī, Aṃbā, Aṃbikā and Aṃbālikā, was held. Bhīṣma thought that it would be good if Vicitravīrya married them. So Bhīṣma attended that function. The presence of Bhīṣma who was an old man, at the Svayaṃvara, frightened the girls. The other kings who were present, stopped him from entering the place, since he had taken an oath to remain a lifelong bachelor. The old Bhīṣma stood up and spoke at length about the eight different forms of marriage and after defeating several kings like Śālva, he seized the three daughters of the King of Kāśi and took them with him in his chariot to Hastināpura. Preparations were made for the marriage of Vicitravīrya with the three princesses. Then Ambā approached Bhīṣma and told him that she had already dedicated her heart to the king of Śālva. Bhīṣma generously allowed her to return home. (For the rest of Ambā’s story, see the word "Ambā".
Vicitravīrya married Ambikā and Ambālikā. He ruled over the country for seven years at the end of which he died of consumption. The dynasty faced a crisis, as there was no one to succeed him. Satyavatī approached Bhīṣma with a suggestion to beget children by Vicitravīrya’s wife. But Bhīṣma stood firmly on his solemn oath to continue as a life-long bachelor. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Verse 100-104).
Bhīṣma’s Wire Pulling.
After that Satyavatī summoned Vyāsa to Hastināpura and sons were born to Ambikā, Ambālikā and their maid by him. Ambikā gave birth to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Ambālikā gave birth to Pāṇḍu and the maid gave birth to Vidura. They grew up and Dhṛtarāṣṭra married Gāndhārī and Pāṇḍu married Kuntī and Mādrī. Duryodhana and his brothers were born to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, while the Pāṇḍavas were born to Pāṇḍu. Pāṇḍu died at the Śataśṛṅga vana and Mādrī observed satī by jumping into his funeral pyre and burning herself alive. After that, the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas who lived in the palace at Hastināpura, split up into two blocs. When the palace made of lac was destroyed by fire, the Pāṇḍavas went into the forest and came back to the country after their marriage with Pāñcālī. They ruled over the country with Indraprastha as their capital. In the gambling contest between Dharmaputra and Duryodhana, the Pāṇḍavas lost their kingdom and everything and so they went to the forest again. They lived for twelve years in the forest and spent one year incognito in the palace of the King of Virāṭa. At that time the Pāṇḍavas reappeared in the battle which took place as a result of the theft of King Virāṭa’s cows by the Kauravas. Duryodhana asserted that he would not give so much land to the Pāṇḍavas as to put a dot with a needle. With the failure of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s mediation, the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas encamped on the opposite sides of the field of Kurukṣetra, preparing for a grim battle.
Bhīṣma was the chief protagonist in all these events relating to the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas. At every stage in the story we see Bhīṣma’s influence. The main events in which this superman who used to give shelter to Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas alike, played a decisive role, are given below:—
(3) He brought about the marriage between Vidura and the daughter of Devaka. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 113, Verse 2).
(4) The Maharṣis who were the inhabitants of Śatasṛṅga told Bhīṣma about the birth of the Pāṇḍavas. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 125, Verse 22).
(5) Bhīṣma offered 'Jalāñjali' (worship with holy water) to Pāṇḍu at his death. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 126, Verse 27).
(6) He performed the death anniversary of Pāṇḍu. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 127, Verse 1).
(7) He engaged Droṇācārya to teach archery to the princes. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 130, Verse 77).
(8) He burst into tears and wept bitterly on hearing that Pāṇḍavas were burnt to death in the palace of lac and was about to offer them 'Jalāñjali'. Just then, Vidura came to him and secretly informed him that the Pāṇḍavas were not dead. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 149, Dākṣiṇātya Pāṭha).
(9) He advised Duryodhana to give half the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 202).
(11) He advised Yudhiṣṭhira to give the highest place of honour in that yajña to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. (Mahābhārata Sabhā Parva, Chapter 36, Verse 28).
(12) Bhīṣma ridiculed Śiśupāla (Sabhā Parva, Chapter 33).
(13) Śiśupāla insulted Bhīṣma. (Sabhā Parva, Chapter 41).
(14) Bhīṣma stopped Bhīma who rushed out to kill Śiśupāla. (Sabhā Parva, Chapter 42, Verse 13).
(15) It was Bhīṣma who narrated the life story of Śiśupāla. (Sabhā Parva, Chapter 43).
(16) In the battle against Śiśupāla, Bhīṣma selected powerful Kings to help Śrī Kṛṣṇa. (Sabhā Parva, Chapter 44, Verse 41).
(17) Once Bhīṣma asked the sage Pulastya about the value and importance of pilgrimage. (Vana Parva, Chapter 82, Verse 4).
(18) Bhīṣma advised Duryodhana to be on friendly terms with the Pāṇḍavas. (Vana Parva, Chapter 253, Verse 4).
(19) In the battle which was fought by Kauravas against King Virāṭa, Bhīṣma arranged the regiments in order, after sending Duryodhana to Hastināpura. (Virāṭa Parva, Chapter 52, Verse 16).
(20) A grim fight took place between Arjuna who went to help the Virāṭa army and Bhīṣma. At last, it was the charioteer who removed Bhīṣma, (who had fallen down unconscious) from the battlefield. (Virāṭa Parva, Chapter 64).
(21) When the Kauravas were contemplating to fight against the Pāṇḍavas who had returned after their incognito life, Bhīṣma ridiculed Karṇa and praised Arjuna. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 21, Verse 16).
(22) At that time, he explained to Duryodhana, the greatness of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 49, verse 2).
(23) Duryodhana proposed to bind the hands and feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa who was expected to come as the envoy of the Pāṇḍavas. Hearing this, Bhīṣma in great anger, walked out of the council hall. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 88, Verse 19).
(24) Bhīṣma strongly advised Duryodhana to make a treaty of peace with the Pāṇḍavas. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 125, Verse 2).
(25) He declared that he would not kill the Pāṇḍavas but would kill 10,000 soldiers of the Pāṇḍavas everyday. Udyoga Parva, Chapter 156, Verse 21).
(27) Bhīṣma described all the Mahārathīs of the Pāṇḍava side to Duryodhana. (Udyoga Parva, Chapters 169172).
(28) Bhīṣma told Duryodhana that Śikhaṇḍī and the Pāṇḍavas should not be killed. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 172, Verse 20).
(30) Aṃbā who was allowed by Bhīṣma to marry her lover, King Śālva, was rejected by him and returned to Bhīṣma again. But he did not accept her. Although Paraśurāma pleaded with him on behalf of Aṃbā, Bhīṣma did not marry her. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 178, Verse 32).
(31) In connection with Ambā’s case, a duel was fought on the field of Kurukṣetra between Bhīṣma and Paraśurāma. Bhīṣma started the duel after asking for the permission of Paraśurāma. Pleased with the fight, the Vasus presented to Bhīṣma, the Prasvāpana arrow. But he did not use that arrow against Paraśurāma, since the gods and Nārada prevented him from doing so. At the request of the gods, pitṛs and Gaṅgādevī, Bhīṣma stopped the fight and prostrated at the feet of Paraśurāma. (Udyoga Parva, Chapters 178-185).
(32) Bhīṣma narrated to Duryodhana the story of Ambā who was re-born as Śikhaṇḍī. (Udyoga parva, Chapters 188-192).
(33) Bhīṣma himself told Duryodhana that he had the strength to annihilate all the Pāṇḍavas. (Udyoga Parva, Chapter 193, Verse 14).
(34) Before the beginning of the battle, Yudhiṣṭhira went to Bhīṣma and asked for his permission to start it. Bhīṣma granted him permission and blessed him. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 43, Verse 44).
Bhīṣma in Bhārata Yuddha.
(1) On the first day of the battle a duel took place between Bhīṣma and Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 45, Verse 8).
(2) In the battle Bhīṣma killed Śveta, the son of king Virāṭa. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 48, Verse 3).
(3) There was again a terrible fight with Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 52).
(4) Sātyaki killed Bhīṣma’s charioteer. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 64, Verse 114).
(5) Seeing that the army of the Kauravas was being scattered in all directions by the violent strokes of Arjuna Bhīṣma ordered to stop the second day’s battle. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 55, Verse 42).
(6) Bhīṣma challenged Śrīkṛṣṇa for the fight. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 59, Verse 96).
(7) Fought again with Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 60, Verse 25).
(8) Bhīṣma gave orders to Droṇācārya and Duryodhana to save Bhagadatta who fell in danger. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 64, verse 64).
(10) Bhīṣma praised the greatness of Brahmapūta Stotra. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 68, Verse 2).
(11) Seeing Śikhaṇḍī rushing forward to oppose him, Bhīṣma put an end to the battle. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 69, Verse 29).
(12) A terrible fight took place between Bhīṣma and Bhīmasena. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 70).
(13) There was again a fight with Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 71).
(14) Bhīṣma wounded Bhīmasena and defeated Sātyaki. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 71, Verse 21).
(15) Bhīṣma wounded King Virāṭa. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 73, Verse 2).
(16) Duryodhana who was frightened by Bhīmasena’s deeds of valour, was encouraged by Bhīṣma. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 80, Verse 8).
(17) He deprived Dharmaputra of his chariot. (Bhīṣma parva, Chapter 86, Verse 11).
(18) When Bhīmasena killed Bhīṣma’s charioteer, the horses turned round and ran away, dragging the chariot with them. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 88, Verse 12).
(19) He ordered Bhagadatta to fight with Ghaṭotkaca. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 95, Verse 17).
(20) He swore that all except Śikhaṇḍī would be killed. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 98, Verse 4).
(21) Sātyaki and Bhīṣma fought again. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 104, Verse 29).
(23) Bhīṣma explained to Dharmaputra, the method by which he (Bhīṣma) could be killed. (Bhīṣma parva, Chapter 107, verse 76).
(24) He declared that he would not fight with Śikhaṇḍī, who was neither man nor woman. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 108, Verse 43).
(25) He allowed Yudhiṣṭhira to launch an attack on himself (Bhīṣma). (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 115, Verse 13).
(26) Bhīṣma, shot by Arjuna’s arrow, fell down unconscious. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 117, Verse 64).
(27) Bhīṣma who recovered and rose again, killed Śatānīka, brother of King Virāṭa. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 118, Verse 27).
(28) Bhīṣma routed the Pāṇḍava army most disastrously. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapters 118, 119).
(29) He considered the misery of life and the sweetness of death. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 119, Verse 34).
(30) Bhīṣma who was wounded by Arjuna’s arrows, described to Duśśāsana, the heroism of Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 119, Verse 56).
(31) Arjuna shot his arrow at Bhīṣma and made him fall down from his chariot. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 119, Verse 87).
(33) Bhīṣma who fell and lay on a bed of arrows begged for a pillow to the Kings. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 120, Verse 34).
(34) When he found that they were not paying any heed to his entreaties, he asked for a pillow to Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter, 120, Verse 28).
(35) He exhorted the Kings to put an end to the battle. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 120, Verse 51).
(36) Bhīṣma begged for water to Arjuna. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 121, Verse 18).
(37) He advised Duryodhana to end the battle. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 121, Verse 38).
(38) As Karṇa wished for 'Vīrasvarga' (Heaven for the valiant) Bhīṣma permitted him to fight. (Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 122, verse 34).
(40) Bhīṣma said that Śrī Kṛṣṇa was more competent to give advice on "Dharma" than himself. (Śānti Parva, Chapter 52, Verse 2).
(41) When the frightened and ashamed Yudhiṣṭhira approached him, Bhīṣma cheered him up. (Śānti Parva, Chapter 14, Verse 19).
(42) Bhīṣma explained to Yudhiṣṭhira, with the help of various examples and illustrations, "Rājya Dharma", "Āpaddharma", and "Mokṣa Dharma". (Śānti Parva, Chapter 56, to Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 165).
(43) After giving his advice to Yudhiṣṭhira Bhīṣma gave him permission to enter Hastināpura. (Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 166, verse 50).
(44) He gave advice to Dhṛtarāṣṭra regarding his duties and responsibilities. (Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 167, Verse 30).
(45) He asked for Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s permission to renounce his body. (Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 167, Verse 37).
(46) With Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s permission, Bhīṣma renounced his body. (Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 168, Verse 2).
(47) The Kauravas performed the funeral rites and Jalāñjali (purification by sprinkling water) of Bhīṣma (Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 168, Verse 10).
(48) Gaṅgādevī lamented that Śikhaṇḍī, who was neither man nor woman, killed Bhīṣma. (Anuśāsana Parva, 168, Verse 21).
(49) Vyāsa and Śrī Kṛṣṇa told Gaṅgādevī that Bhīṣma died by Arjuna’s arrow. (Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 168, Verse 30).
(50) On a later occasion Vyāsa invoked into the river Gaṅgā, those who died in the battle and among them Bhīṣma was also present. (Āśramavāsika Parva, Chapter 32, verse 7).
(51) After his death, Bhīṣma remained in Heaven as Dyau, one of the Aṣṭavasus. (Svargārohaṇa Parva, Chapter 5, Verse 11).
Other names of Bhīṣma.
Āpageya, Āpagāsuta, Bhāgīrathīputra, Bhārata, Pitāmaha, Bharatarṣabha, Bharatasattama, Bhīṣmaka, Śāntanava, Śantanuputra, Śantanusuta, Śantanuja, Devavrata, Gaṅgāsuta, Gāṅgeya, Jāhnavīputra, Kaurava, Kauravanandana, Kauravya, Kuruśārddūla, Kuruśreṣṭha, Kurūdvaha, Kurukulaśreṣṭha, Kurukulodvaha, Kurumukhya, Kurunandana, Kurupati, Nadīja, Prapitāmaha, Sāgaragāsuta, Satyasandha, Tāladhvaja, Vasu are other names of Bhīṣma used in the Mahābhārata.
*) Satyavatī’s original name was Kālī. The fisherman got her from the stomach of a fish. (See the word Adrikā). Since she had the smell of fish she got the name of "Matsyagandhī." She used to assist a fisherman in his work as a ferryman in the river Gaṅgā. Once the sage Parāśara happened to get into her boat and he fell deeply in love with her. The sage removed the smell of fish from her and gave her the perfume of musk instead. By this mystic power he created a mist at noon and under its cover, he had a sexual union with her. As a result of it the child Kṛṣṇa (Vyāsa) was born. The child immediately left the mother to perform tapas in the forest after promising to return to her whenever she wished for his presence. Although she gave birth to a child, Parāśara blessed that she would again remain a virgin. The whole episode remained a secret. As usual, Satyavatī returned to the fisherman’s cottage in the evening and continued to live with him. It is at this stage that Śantanu was attracted by the perfume of musk and came to the cottage where he met Satyavatī.