Mahabharata Characters 07 – Bhishma 06 – The heartbreaking conflict among loved ones
This talk is a part of the “Fascinating Mahabharata Characters” series. To know more about this course, please visit: bhakticourses.com
Transcribed by : Sadananda Das
We are discussing the life of Bhisma. We finished the discussion of the battle of Virat and how Bhisma refused to let Duryodhana again use the dates as a tactic to reject their claim to the Kingdom. After the Virat battle the Kuru’s being defeated returned back to Hastinapur and the Pandavas returned back to Virat’s kingdom and court where he honored them profusely, and then Virat’s daughter Uttara was married to Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu, and thereafter the peace messengers were sent. First Drupada had come there and Drupada’s Brahmin advice minister was sent; his chief Brahmin was sent as a peace messenger. Then Dritarastra sent Sanjaya as a peace messenger requesting peace but not offering any kingdom. Then Krishna himself went as a peace messenger. At this time Bhisma very strongly counseled Dhritarastra; first he tried to speak sense to Duryodhana, but when saw that Duryodhana was not ready to see any sense, then he spoke to Dhritastra and told him, “If you don’t work for peace then the whole dynasty will be destroyed. There is no chance of victory against the Pandavas.” While all this discussions were going on, the various kings were taking sides because more or less the war seemed inevitable, and Duryodhana chose very gleefully the Narayani sena leaving aside Narayana. When Bhisma came to know about this he realized that this was in consonance with Duryodhana’s character and materialistic mentality where he valued the world and its resources more than God. Then Bhisma Pitama told him, “With Krishna on the opposite side there is no chance of victory for you.” Then he again requested him, “Have peace.”
When Krishna came as a peace messenger or shanti duta, at that time Dritarastra first suggested that they offer him choice gifts and flood him with such a glorious reception that would become amenable to their cause, and then there would be peace on their terms, and their terms were that they would not give any kingdom to the Pandavas. Duryodhana said, “I don’t think this will work, but I have another plan.” And he spoke his plan. He said “When Kesava comes here he will be unarmed and unprepared. We will arrest him and if we arrest him, then with him out of the war, the scales will tilt dramatically in our favor, and the Pandava’s would be so grief stricken that they will lose their moral to fight also.” When he spoke this the whole assembly gasped and Bhisma was infuriated. He said, “What you are contemplating is immoral beyond words. First of all it is the time honored Ksatriya code that a messenger is never to be harmed because the messenger doesn’t intend any harm; the duta is always to be honored, and all the more so when the messenger is as respectable as Krishna. First of all he is our relative, he is our well-wisher and he is such an exalted person. What you are contemplating is too terrible beyond words. I cannot hear this anymore. I will be no part of this.” And saying this he strode out of the assembly in silent fury after that.
Of course Duryodhana because of his attachment did not pay any attention to all these and continued with his evil plans, and we will discuss when we are talking about Duryodhana, how his plan was foiled by Krishna’s displaying the Virat Rupa, but here we are discussing how Bhisma did whatever he could to stop Duryodhana from his evil ways, but Duryodhana was set in his stubborn obstinacy, and then finally of the war came, and then when the two armies were assembled right in front; at that time – this the
time in the Bhisma Parva. The Bhisma Parva is the longest Parva among the war parva’s. Till now what we have discussed is the first five parvas: the Adi parva when the Pandavas are born and then they come to Hastinapur; the Sabha Parva where they lose in the gambling match and they are exiled; the Vana parva where the stay in exile; then the Virat Parva where they stay in Ajnata Vas. That is why the Virat war happens, and the fifth is the Udyog Parva where the Pandavas industriously try for peace. Then with the battle begins the Bhisma Parva, and right in the Bhisma Parva before the war starts there is the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad-gita spoken. Chapter twenty three to forty or chapters twenty five to forty two depending on the resention of; resention means that sometimes the chapters are classified differently and accordingly depending on how the chapters are named the chapter numbers are sometimes different. Variation in the scriptures based on slight differences in manuscripts are called resension.
When the war was about to start – the Bhagavad-gita starts describing Duryodhana trying to diplomatically incite Drona to fight very strongly saying that, taba sisyena dimata; that it is your disciple who has expertly arranged for the Kaurava’s to be faced by the Pandava’s. This is referring to Dhristadumya being trained by Dronacharya despite Dhritadumnya being ordained to be the killer of Dronacharya; and he was doing all these diplomatic to and fro’s trying to insight Drona while also pleasing him, trying to encourage Bhisma while also encouraging everyone else, and while he was doing all these Bhisma felt that all the diplomacy of Duryodhana has not worked and will not work. The time for action has come, and so let us fight.
Bhisma blew his conch shell and this sound of the conch shell which indicated the readiness and the eagerness for the war to begin increased the jubilance of Duryodhana. The grandsire of the Kuru dynasty was elderly but still he had tremendous power; it was like a roar of a lion. The valiant grandsire of the Kuru dynasty blew his conch shell. So, he is glorified in two ways: simhanadam and Pratapavan. Valiant Pratapan; simhanadam – like a lion. This was Bhisma; and then as they were about to start shooting, then Arjuna requested Krishna to bring both the sides in between, and as they were about to start fighting Arjuna lost heart, and then the Bhagavad-gita was spoken, and because the shooting had not yet started the commander stopped. Bhisma told, “Stop”, and everyone stopped, and the Bhagavad-gita was spoken and Arjuna became ready to fight, and then as the fight was about to start, at that time Yudhisthir suddenly got down from his chariot and went towards the Kaurva’s unarmed and single. Everybody in the Pandava side were shocked, but Yudhisthir went to ask for blessings, and he went to every one of the elders. And he went upto Bhisma and he offered his obeisance’s to Bhisma, and he said, “I am about to fight. Please bless me.” Bhisma had tears in his eyes. He couldn’t but contrast the humble, gentle, respectful demeanor of Yudhistir with the harsh, obstinate, impudent behavior of Duryodhana. It is so sad that he had to fight against Yudhishira instead for Yudhisthira. He raised his hands in blessings and he said, “O Yudhisthira, if you had not come to seek blessings I would have cursed you to be defeated. But my heart has been touched. Ask for some blessing from me. Except for fighting for your side I will give anything.” And here Bhisma speaks a very enigmatic word. He says, “Money is not the slave of anyone, but everyone is the slave of money, and because I am bound by the money of the Kauravas I have to fight on their side.” Here Bhisma is actually expressing his humility. A devotee doesn’t want to brag about the special service that the devotee has been doing. That is why he doesn’t say that, “Krishna has asked me to fight against you so that he can experience Virya rasa.” There are multiple
levels of understanding, and we will discuss about Virya rasa later, but here Bhisma takes the humble position. Actually he was fighting on their side because he had taken a vow to protect the ruling Kuru monarch and he had also been inspired by the Lord to demonstrate the principle that anyone who goes against the Lord, no matter how powerful the person may be will be defeated. But he didn’t speak this. Out of his humility, feeling that he was not able to assist the Pandavas in their virtuous cause, he ascribed his unwillingness to his bondage to wealth. That is actually a very superficial reason because Bhisma was the elder in the family, and it was not that he was bound by their wealth. He had actually taken care of all of them. As this conversation went forward the Pandava’s and Yudhisthir felt like that their heart was breaking because they had to fight against their venerable grandsire, and when he said, “Ask for some blessing.” Yudhisthir said, “It is our duty that we have to fight against your grandsire, but no one in the world can ever defeat you. How is it possible that we will ever be able to overcome you? Then Bhisma stood firmly on his chariot with bow in his hand and he said, “As long as my weapons are raised aloft nobody can overcome me, and as long as I am fighting on the side of Kauravas there is no way you can win. So, strive your utmost to defeat me, but know that how I will be defeated – the time has not come for me to be defeated. How I will be defeated? Ask this question to me at another time later and I will tell you at that time.” So, the Pandavas left and Bhisma said, “I will bless you. Althought I cannot fight for you I will bless you and pray for your victory.” This is the extraordinary nature of this war that their hearts were on the side of the Pandavas; this happened with Bhisma and this happened with Drona also, and even to Kripa also, but Bhisma had to fight on the side of the Pandavas, and then when the war started the first day Bhisma was utterly unstoppable. He just charged around the war field and he seemed to be like a fire that was consuming dry wood. Wherever he went the Pandava ranks just shrank, fled or were killed. And all the warriors on both sides were assigned different warriors to fight with, but Bhisma broke the ranks and he was alone overcoming the Pandava warriors. Finally Abhimanyu came and he heroically fought against Bhisma and he fought so fiercely that Bhisma was completely checked, and then as Bhisma was checked Shalya came to assist Bhisma. Actually before the war started one more important incident had happened because of which Karna was no longer in the war frame. So, before the war started Duryodhana asked Bhisma to assess the warriors on both sides. Actually he wanted to make sure that Bhisma would be firmly committed to his side. So, he told Bhisma that you become my commander; and of course Bhisma was the foremost warrior and he was also in age the senior most. So, it was natural that he would become the commander, but to seal his commitment and also because of another motive Duryodhana ordained him as the commander. And then he told him, “Please tell me the strengths of both the sides.” and he started assessing both the parties and at this time he told the whole story of Shikandi how she was ordained to kill; and he said that, “I will not fight against Shikandi. If he raises weapon I will not counter the weapons because I see him for what he was in his previous life; that wa s a woman Amba. And therefore I will not fight against him.” Then he said, “I will fight only according to the codes of Ksatriya.” And Bhisma and Dhrstadumya met before the war and they both agreed that they will fight according to the Ksatriya codes, but Dhristadumnya was perceptive. He knew that the Kauravas would not hesitate to stoop to low means to achieve their ends. So, he told, “We will not be the first to violate the Kstatriya codes, but if the Kauravas violate the Ksatriya codes, then we will not hasitate to violate retaliation.” Bhisma agreed. While assessing the armies Bhisma reminded that everybody should fight by fair means and he told that on the side of the Kauravas there was himself, Drona, Aswathama, Bahalika, Shalya, Kritavarman; all of them were maharathas. And he said, “Duryodhana you are also a formidable mace warrior, Dusasan is also a great warrior.”, and while he was
assessing all these things he came to talk about Karna. Normally Karna was also a considered an athiratha. There is maharatha and there is atiratha, and below this is ardharatha. Bhisma said that Karna is a ardha ratha because he has lost his kavacha which has been taken away by Indra and also because he has been cursed by a Brahmin as well as by Parsuram. We will discuss about these stories when we will discuss about Karna. Therefore he doesn’t have much power and therefore he is ardhratha. When Karan heard this he just leapt up in fury. He just couldn’t tolerate. He said, “What wrong have I done that you are always demeaning me like this? Why are you always deriding my prowess? I have always offered you respect and I always desire the good of Duryodhana.” Then he got even more angry and he said, “I believe that you are actually the enemy of the Kauravas in the guise of their friends. By assessing the various warriors in this way and by deriding some warriors you are creating dissention in the forces and by creating dissention you are undermining our party’s unity.” And then Karna got carried away in his anger and he said further that, “I can win against the whole Pandava army but when I fight and win by my strength – the credit when a war is won doesn’t got to any individual warrior, but it goes to the commander; and because you have discredited me in this way, therefore I don’t want to give you credit for the victory that I attain. Therefore as long as you are on the battlefield I will not fight.” Duryodhana was disturbed to hear this from Karna, but he also understood Karna’s Ksatriya pride and Duryodhana was calculatively thinking, Karna or Bhisma? He felt that Bhisma was far more experienced and Bhisma was far more expert, and he knew that Karna’s commitment would always be there by his side. Now if he chose Karna now, then Bhisma would go away and Bhisma would not come back, but if he chose Bhisma afterwards Karna will be there for him later. So, he didn’t speak anything against Bhisma, but when Karna said that he will not fight Bhisma got angry as Karna was going on his barrage like this. Then Bhisma said, “From the day you have appeared in the Kuru kingdom you have brought inauspiciousness. Indeed the whole Kuru dynasty suffered one reversal after another since your appearance. I knew that this war was going to come and there was going to be a great calamity, and to take care of the responsibilities of the Kaurava army that I have shouldered- while doing this responsibility I have no desire to sow dispute and it is only because I desire the wellbeing of the Kaurava army that you live right now. After the words that you have spoken I can challenge you to war right now. Although I am old still I can quench your desire for war and I can finish you right now.” Duryodhana got alarmed and he got up, and he said, “Oh please calm down. O son of Ganga – Please calm down Karna; I need both of you. Please the war has to be fought with the enemies, not among all of us.” And Duryodhana very diplomatically calmed them down, and then after that later on Bhisma warned Duryodhana again. He said, “Among the Pandava’s Yudhisthir although he is not as powerful as a warrior, but his strength is in virtue, he is a maharatha, and Bhima is filled with enormous power right from his birth and now he is even more powerful because of his anger. You should be especially careful of him. Arjuna is the foremost warrior. He has performed great austerities, he has attained heavenly weapons on top of the formidable skills that he has as a warrior, and now that he has Narayana on his side, there is no warrior who can face Arjuna and counter him or even live. He said, “Oh Duryodhana! You should stay away from him. In the war except for me and the preceptor nobody will be able to combat Arjuna.” As he described this the Kaurava warriors felt as if the shorn of power.
Duryodhana then kept talking and he asked, “How long do you think it will take for you to finish off the whole army?” Bhisma said, “I will fight diligently everyday exercising my full prowess. I can fight and kill the whole army and destroy the whole army in one month.” Then Drona said it will take him one month
and Kripacharya said that it will take him two months.” Then Aswathama was very bold. He said, “It will take me ten days.” And Karna bolder still said, “I can finish the whole army in just five days.” Bhisma snorted at him, “Words are cheap O Karna! We have yet to see your prowess in action in the war.” And Karna could barely control himself. This is the background before the war started.
In the first day Karna was not there; and although in the Bhagavad-gita at the start when Duryodhana speaks, he mentioned Karna’s name, bhavan bhismas ca karnas ca; he mentions Karna’s name because he is thinking that although Karna is not in the war field but Karna is very much in his mind, and he knows that Karna is on his side. That is why he thinks about him and mentions him. Now after this when the war started Abhimanyu using all his prowess held Bhimsa and Bhisma although he is fighting fiercely, but still he could not feel joy, admiration and pride to see the heroism and expertise of Arjuna’s son, and as they kept fighting, the finally Shalya came to the assistance of Bhisma when Bhisma was temporarily overwhelmed, and then Abhimanyu started fighting with Shalya and then Sweta came; Sweta was another Maharatha who came in the side of Abhimanyu to assist, and then a general war broke out; and then as Sweta and Salya were fighting and fighting, Sweta overpowered Shalya and he would have almost killed Shalya; at that Bhisma again intervened, and then Bhisma and Shweta had a fierce fight. On that Bhisma was just going around ravaging; Abhimanyu just got caught while fighting with others, and then after a long fight Bhisma finally used the Brahma astra and killed Sweta. Along with that he killed another Maharatha, and he killed thousands of soldiers, and so fierce was the assault throughout the day, so great were the damage throughout the day, and at the end of the day when Sweta was killed the Pandava forces were demoralized. In fact so great was the demoralization of Yudhisthir specially that when they assembled in the camp, at that time Yudhisthira told Krishna, “Now there is no way we can against the grandsire. It is better that I renounce the kingdom and to the forest and live as a mendicant rather than offer this great warriors and soldiers as sacrifices in the fire of the arrows of Bhisma.” As he lamented like this Krishna went and put his hands on his shoulder and solaced him and encouraged him. Krishna knew that Yudhisthira had no intention of giving up the war now, but the day had been hard for them, and indeed Bhisma was very difficult to deal with. Krishna said, “Oh king, do not lose moral and do not cause the moral of our forces to be lost by words like this. Wars are such that sometimes there is victory and sometimes there is defeat, and we need to plan how to deal with Bhisma.” And he spoke softly and encouragingly, and the next day the war went on. The next day the Pandava’s fortunes were slightly better; and then as the battle went on Bhisma kept fighting fiercely. Now Arjuna was supposed to fight against Bhisma, but Arjuna just did not have the heart. He just couldn’t consider the idea of fighting against his grandsire, and even when he could confront it was a half-hearted conflict, not a whole hearted conflict. Like this the war went on; and especially on the fourth day Bhima and Duryodhana fought with each other, and they fought using arrows and Bhima severely wounded Duryodhana. Then assisting Duryodhana was a whole elephant division and that elephant division was also completely destroyed by Bhima singlehandedly, and several brothers of Duryodhana came to assist him and they were all killed by Bhima; and in this way Duryodhana was severely wounded not just physically but also emotionally and egoistically. Physically definitely he was wounded, but to be vested by his arch rival was a big blow to his ego, and his moral was also shaken because he saw an entire division being killed and annihilated single handedly by Bhima. He also saw several of his brothers being slaughtered by Bhima, and that evening he went to the camp where they would assemble at the end of the day to review that day’s war and to plan for the next day strategy. At that time Duryodhana turned to Bhisma and he said,
“How is it that when we have such a powerful force with us. We have eleven akhaunis and they just have just seven; almost as if we outnumber them by one to two.” He naturally wanted to exaggerate. Not exactly the double. It was about 1.5. It was nearly double the forces. “Now on top of that we have warriors like yourself, Drona, Kripa, Aswathama, Salya, Bahalika, Kritavarman. How is it possible that our army is facing defeats like this? Bhisma silent and grave said, “I have told you in the past. In fact I have cried myself hoarse to tell you that as long as Kesava is on the side of the Pandava’s, there was not, there is not and there will be not any warrior who can fight and defeat the Pandavas. He is the greatest person and because he is on the side of the Pandavas, that no matter how many warriors that we have we will be defeated.” Although Bhisma had spoken this repeatedly in the past, but on this particular day Duryodhana’s response was muted. In the past Duryodhana would just scowl and huff and push away any ideas of Krishna’s glory. Even after seeing Krishna’s virata rup also he had just thought that this is just some magic or some mystic power exhibition. He had not taken it seriously. But seeing how the Pandavas were winning he became subdued and he asked, “Tell me more about Krishna.”
Normally devotees want to hear about Krishna, but this is one occasion when even a person of a demoniac mentality wanted to hear about Krishna, and then Bhisma’s heart felt with joy at this opportunity to glorify Krishna, and he spoke enormously the glories of Krishna, how right from his childhood he had killed so many demons, and then he spoke something more. He said, “When my mother Ganga had taken me to the heavens, at that time the sages told me of an ancient story. They said, “When the earth was burdened by various demons, at that time she along with the Devatas went to Brahma, and Brahma along with her and the devatas went to the banks of the ocean in the celestial regions, and there he prayed to Visnu pleading for an incarnation to restore order in the world, and at that time it was told that the Lord will soon appear. That person who was in the past Narayana, and that person who was Nara will appear again. He said, “Narayana has come now as Krishna and Nara has come as Arjuna. They have defeated great demons in the past, and whenever they come they are always successful. Now also they have come to rid the world of the burden of the demons and anyone who opposes them they are of a demoniac mentality, and anyone who doesn’t understand their glories that is also because of their demoniac disposition, and he went so far to say that, “O Duryodhana! Because you do not accept Krishna’s position, because you do not accept his will I consider you to be a rakshasha of evil mentality.” Now although this could have been taken as an insult to Duryodhana; the beating that he had received that day still kept him subdued and he was thoughtful, and then he dismissed the assembly as he departed, and he started thinking, “Could Krishna really be God. No, but not possible. If he was God how could God come in a human form? And even if he comes in a human form why would he be against me? I am not such a bad person. Of course people think that I am bad, but they all misunderstand me. Why would God fight against me?” And as he thought like this; that night as he was sleeping he just bowed down to Krishna and said, “If he is God there was no harm in bowing down to him.” He did not want to bow down to his will; he was just bowing down to him. He thought, “Maybe that would do no harm, maybe it will bring some good fortune to me also.” As he felt Krishna’s glories and as he contemplated on Krishna’s glories he felt a strange kind of peace overcoming him, a kind of peace that he had not felt for a long time. But his attachments were so strong that those attachments overcame his feelings of submissiveness that were induced by hearing the glories of Krishna from Bhisma, and then the next day he decided, “Hostilities will continue. Now that the war has started there is no way we can stop.” And of course Bhisma knew this, but still he had spoken because he naturally
liked to glorify Krishna, because he hoped that somehow Duryodhana might see sense and this deadly carnage could be avoided. So, Bhisma knew that the war would have only one end and that would be the end of all the Kaurva warriors and the victory of the Pandava’s because Krishna was by the side.