Gangaputra Bhishma: The Mahabharat Hero

Bhishma or Devvrata or Gangaputra Bhishma, in the very famous epic, ‘Mahabharat,’ was renowned for Bhishma’s celibate pledge. He was the 8th son of Shantanu, the Kuru King, who received a blessing of wish-long mortality. Bhishma swore to work for the granduncle of Pandavas and Kauravas and the ruling Kuru King. When it came to archery, no one could defeat him. In short, he was unmatched archer and warrior. He is known to have handed over Vishnu Sahasranama to the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira while on the death bed in the Kurukshetra battle. Bheeshma was from Sankriti Gotra, and his name implies ‘fearsome.’ He has various names, and prominent ones are Bheeshma, Devavrata, implying fearsome and the one, who delighted in Gods. In fact, he was pious. Gangaputra implies ‘son of Ganga’ and he was the son of Maa Ganga.

Gangaputra Bhishma

Legends surrounding Bhishma Pitamah

There is a legend behind the birth of Bhishma. Ashtavasus or one of the eighth Vasus visited the ashram of Vashishtha taking the wives. One wife took a fancy to Kamdhenu and asked her husband, Vasu Prabhasa, to steal the wish-fulfilling cow from Vashistha. Prabhasa did the same and was cursed by Vashishtha that he will be born in the human world. Upon appealing for mercy, the seventh of the Vasus who helped in stealing the cow had the curse mitigated and was said to be liberated as soon as he would be born. Prabhasa was the main leader of the theft, and thus, he would remain cursed for a longer time. Prabhasa would live on this earth for long. The curse got lifted to some extent when it was proclaimed that Prabhasa would be the most eminent man of all times. In fact, Prabhasa was born as Bheeshma. After the birth of Gangaputra Bhishma, Ganga took him to various realms, and he was being trained and brought up by the sages. He was taught by great Gurus like Brihaspati, Shukracharya, Parashurama, Indra, Vashishtha and Sanatkumara.

The terrible oath of Bheeshma

The word ‘Bhishma’ implies ‘the man of terrible oath.’ It means the pledge of celibacy for life. After taking the Bhishma Pratigya, the name Devavratha got changed into ‘Bhishma.’ He took this promise simply because his father could marry Satyavati, the fisherwoman. The father of Satyavati refused to marry her to Shantanu simply because he knew that Shantanu’s sons would never become the rulers. After seeing his father dejected for the same, he promised Satyavati’s father that he would remain unmarried and won’t have any offspring to claim or stake the throne. Only Shantanu’s and Satyavati’s son would be the ruler. Hence, he took the lifelong pledge of celibacy. He sacrificed his heir of throne title and denied himself from the conjugal bliss. This act of his gave Bheeshma a great appreciation among the Gods. To this, his father gave him the vow of ‘Iccha Mrityu,’ implying that he would be able to choose the occasion of death. Thus, in a way, he got immortalized. There was a great protest from King Shantanu’s subjects on his act of removing Bheeshma from the crown price title. There was a great worry about Shantanu’s child’s nobility. Hearing all these, Bhishma promised his father that no matter who takes over the throne, Bhishma would see him as his son. Bheeshma promised to serve the future king fruitfully.

The role of Bhishma in the Kurukshetra Battle

Bhishma was the supreme commander in the Battle of Kurukshetra. He was on the side of Kauravas and fought for them reluctantly for 10 years. Among all the warriors of his time, Bheeshma was the most forceful one. Being the son of Ganga, he inherited invincibility and extreme prowess. Gurus also had great influence in his life making him virtuous and immensely determined. At least ten thousand soldiers were slain by him every day. Being the grand-uncle of the Pandavas, he promised that he would not kill the Pandava during the battle. Duryodhana always confronted Bhishma by saying that Bhishma was not really fighting for Kauravas as he was not going to kill the Pandavas. One night Duryodhana, the Kaurav crowned prince approached Bhishma saying that he was not fighting to his fullest potential. Angry and helpless, Bhishma pledged that he will slay Arjuna or make Lord Krishna break his promise of fighting directly. Next day, a fierce battle was held, and Bheeshma went to assassin Arjuna when Lord Krishna picked up the chariot wheel to threaten Bhishma, breaking his vow of not lifting any weapon. Thus, the vow made to Bhishma got fulfilled.

The death of Bheeshma

As Bhishma was unsurpassable in courage, Lord Krishna suggested Arjuna bring in Sikhandhi. Initially, Pandavas were not agreeing to the trick as it would be against ‘Dharma’ but later on agreed. As a result, innumerable arrows were shot at Bhishma when Shikhandi escorted Arjuna on the 10th day. Bheeshma fell on the ground with innumerable arrows. His body was pierced entirely with the help of Shikhandi. Shikhandi is the reincarnation of Amba, who would be the reason of the death of great Bhishma. Amba-reincarnated-Shikhandi was responsible for the condition of Bhishma. As Bhishma fell on the grounds, his entire body was covered by shafts shot by Arjuna. Even the Gods were humbled to see Bheeshma on such a death crib of arrows. They paid him reverence from Heaven. The vigorous warrior was blessed by the Gods. When the young warriors hoarded around him, he said that his entire body was covered by the shafts, but his head was not supported. The adolescent princes brought pillows, but he turned down the offer and told Arjuna to provide him the support, which is fit for the warriors. Arjuna took out 3 arrows to provide support to the head by placing them underneath. To quench the thirst of Bhishma, Arjuna struck an arrow on the ground, and the jet of water went up. It has been told that Ganga arose herself to put out the thirst of her son. Bheeshma gave priority to Dharma, and on the deathbed, he spoke about the commitments of a King to Yudhishthira.

Bhishma was an invincible warrior and was skilled in political science. He manifested all the qualities of an excellent king. His immense goodness and sacrifices made him the best devotee of Lord Krishna. He was a complete warrior, a complete teacher, and a human.