Mahabharata Characters 09 – Bhishma 08 – The Grandsire on the arrow bed
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 now going to discuss about the fall of Bhisma. We discussed till the ninth day when this event happened, that is depicted in the picture behind; Krishna charging with upraised wheels towards Bhisma, that event happened, and then Arjuna took a vow. He said, “I take a vow based on the names of my brothers and my sons that I will slay Bhisma tomorrow. Krishna please do not break your words.” Then Krishna became calm, and then that evening in both the Kaurava as well as the Pandava camp the main talk was about what Krishna had done and how he had come to the rescue of the devotees; and in the Pandav camp Yudhisthir was at one level definitely grateful that Krishna had intervened and stopped Bhisma from destroying their whole army. At the same time he was also in anxiety. He said to Krishna, “Oh Krishna, the grandsire is unstoppable. How can we ever counter him? It may be possible to stop Varuna with his noose, it may be possible to stop Yamaraja with his mace, it may be possible to stop Indra with his thunderbolt; but I don’t think that it is possible to stop Bhisma. How can we ever win this war if we cannot stop Bhisma?” When Yudhisthir expressed his anxiety in this way Krishna put his hands on Yudhisthir’s shoulder and solaced him and he said, “O King! I am forever your servant. Just order me and I will personally slay Bhisma. Indeed I will slay the whole Kaurava army and hand over the kingdom to you tomorrow itself.” Hearing this proclamation from Krishna the Pandava spirit lifted. At the same time they knew that what Lord Krishna was saying they would never allow because they could not consider even the possibility that Krishna would be disgraced for their sake; that Krishna would break his word and thereby he would become disgraced for their sake. They did not want that to happen. Krishna understanding their mind said further, “But Arjuna has taken a vow to slay Bhisma. I think he should keep his vow.” Krishna is so sensitive that he not telling that, “I have got my vow and how can I break my vow for you sake?” No, Arjuna has given his word. So, he should keep his word. And then he said further, “There is also the prophesy regarding Shikandi that he will be the cause of the death of Bhisma. Therefore he will also be somehow involved. We just have to work out the strategy.” Yudhisthir looked on at Krishna, and then Krishna said, “Actually Arjuna is my relative, my friend and my disciple. Disciple because he heard the Bhagavad-gita just before the war started. He said, “For him I will cut my own flesh and give. I can do anything, but I feel that he should act to preserve his word.” Yudhisthir looked at Krishna and said, “Yes, certainly O Krishna. There is no question of your raising weapons and Arjuna and Shikandhi should be involved in the death of Bhisma. But how will it happen?” So, Krishna reminded Yudhisthir, “Before the war had started you had gone to Bhisma and had asked him how he could be fell, and he had told to come to him at a later time. There is no way he can be fell unless he reveals the
strategy. Today is the time. Please go to him. We all will go to him.” Yudhisthir agreed, and all the five Pandavas along with Krishna went on that ninth night to the camp of the Kaurava’s, and because both the parties were following the codes of Ksatriya warfare they would often go from one side to the other side without perceiving any threat and they would be received cordially, even respectfully as it befits their status as kings, and then they would talk cordially and they would arrive at amicable conclusion of whatever discussions they were having, and go back and the next day they would fight again. So, the ksatriya warfare was not just about somehow or other win the war and enjoy the spoils of power or the loots. It was a test of skills and both wanted to fight. Both sides wanted to fight and show how they were in terms of military skills better, and because they were better they were victorious. So, it is something like sports. In sports both teams want to win but still there is the spirit of sportsmanship where the teams want to play fare and hard and play to win. They want to play according the rule and it is not that the players are enemies of each other. Sometimes some fans my get some special twist if there is a rivalry between two soldiers or two players, and there are many rivalries between many batsman and many bowlers; or some two players in tennis and some two players in football, and these add special flavor to the excitement in sports, but it is not that this two competitors in sports generally are enemies who want to finish each other. They may want to defeat each other and desperately want to be the victorious on the war, but it is not that they are going to come to each other’s throats. So, there is some spirit of sports also there, there is a spirit of ksatriya warfare also.
The Pandavas were safely and respectfully escorted to Bhisma’s tent; and when Bhisma saw them he welcomed them. His face lit up especially on seeing Krishna and his beloved sons of Pandu. He welcomed them and offered them a seat, and all the Pandava’s offered their obeisance’s to him. Then he asked, “O king, what can I do for you?” He asked Yudhisthir and Yudhisthir felt like his heart was breaking. He has asked this question once before the war had started and now he has to ask again. He said, “O grandsire, with you standing in the helm of our enemy forces there is no chances for us to win. Therefore as per your words we have come to you again to ask how we can defeat you.” Bhisma agreed and he said, “Yes, as long as I have raised my arms nobody will be able to defeat me, but I will never fight unfairly. I will never fight against one who is unarmed, one whose arms have been shattered, one who has only one son, one who is a woman or one who bears the name of a woman.” Like that although he was such a fierce warrior he was also a principled warrior and he stuck to his principles. He looked at the Pandavas, and the way they were looking at him with such affection and such reverence, his heart went out to them; if only the Kauravas were like this, then there would have been no need for this terrible war. But unfortunately they were just opposite of the cultured, gentle, virtuous Pandava’s, and he said, “If Shikhandi shoots
arrows at me then I will not counter attack because I consider him to be a woman; the woman that he was in his previous life. And let Shikhandi attack me from the front and because I will not shoot arrows at him he will be able to attack me continuously and let Arjuna be behind him and let Arjuna shoot arrows from behind Shikandi, and in this way you will be able to bring me down. Only after you bring me down will you be able to attain victory in the war.” The Pandava’s nodded their heads gravely and offered their respects to Bhisma and left, and as they were leaving Arjuna started talking with Krishna and he said, “O Krishna when I was a small child I would come home after playing and Bhisma would be sitting on a throne and I would run up to him and climb on his throne and soil his clothes with my dirty feet, and playing with his beard I would say, “Father, father.” And he would ruffle my hair and caress by back, and he would smile and he would say, “O child I am not your father. I am you fathers father.” That was the grandsire who loved me so much. How can I ever kill him? There were tears in the eyes of Arjuna as he spoke this, reminiscing the sweet, old times with his beloved grandfather. Krishna’s voice was however stern; his demeanor was grave and he told Arjuna, “O Arjuna, this is not the time for sentimentality. You have a duty to do. In fact not only do you have a duty to do; you have a promise to keep.” Duty is something which we are obliged; there are certain social conventions and there are certain social relationships in which we are expected to do certain things. So, duty is also important to do, but over and above the duty that you have to do, you have yourselves taken a promise to slay Bhisma. How can you abandon your duty and let your promise be falsified? Remembering that for a ksatriya killing, performing sacrifices and ruling virtuously and for that sake punishing the wrong doer’s also; all these are to be done as duties. That’s what the scriptures ordain and all these should be done without maliciousness. So, without maliciousness Krishna told Arjuna to emphasize the point that when one ksatriya is fighting with another, the ksatriyas have to hate each other. So, Arjuna would still be loving Bhisma, but as a duty he would have to fight, and he told that in the ancient times Brihaspati had said that even if a relative or an elderly relative or a venerable elder comes with an attacking intention to kill, then one should not hesitate to fight against him and kill him. In fact anyone who comes with a intention to destroy; whatever be the relationship of that person, that person can be killed and now the grandsire has sided on the side of the evil, and therefore it is your duty to kill him.” As Krishna’s firm words calmed Arjuna; and Sanjaya had his mystic vision by which he could see whatever was happening in the warfield. Therefore he told Dhritrastra; when Dhritrarastra heard this that Bhisma had told how he could be killed he cried out in sorrow and dismay. He said, “Oh Alas! Why has the grandsire told about how he can be killed. How could be telling such a thing be his duty? Oh now we are ruined. How will my sons ever survive living out the battle if Bhisma dies?” And he started lamenting loudly with his blind eyes; his head moving here and there unable to see anything,
hoping against hope. Now Dhritarastra was in a predicament. He hoped that somehow he would win although he knew that he could not win. Then Sanjaya looked around the court and there was the throne on which Bhisma had always sat and he knew that the throne would never be graced by the magnificent form of Bhisma ever again.
On the tenth day the war started with the Pandavas placing Sikhandi right at the forefront of their formation and Bhima and Arjuna protected him on his two sides. On the opposite side Bhisma was at the head of the Kaurava formation, and Duryodhana knowing the danger to Bhisma, knowing that the Pandava’s would be targeting Bhisma arranged for Dusasana especially to be the protector of Bhisma, and along with Dusana several other warriors were told to be at the side of Bhisma available for his protection. And Arjuna urged Sikhandi to charge towards Bhisma, and Shikhandi bellowed out a challenge to Bhisma and started shooting arrows. Bhisma turned disdainfully towards Sikhandi. He said, “O Sikhandi, you are to me the same person that the creator had made you in the past. You are by no means equal to me and I will not fight with you. “ Sikhandi felt infuriated; every ksatriya want to fight and exhibit the prowess. So, he felt infuriated and he said, “You are a wretched sinner. You watched passively while Draupadi was being disrobed, and for that you deserve to die. Take a last look at the world because today my arrows will shoot to kill you.” Seeing Sikhandi attacking Bhisma and Bhisma not retaliating at all – and he was engaging with other warriors. Several other Kaurava warriors came to the side of Bhisma and they challenged Sikhandi, and as Sikhandi was drawn aside Bhisma went to the other side, and then Arjuna and Bhima fell with a maniac fury on the Kaurava warriors who had come to assist Bhisma, and the Kaurava armies started breaking and fleeing, and as they were terrorized Bhisma was elsewhere fighting fiercely; Bhisma knew that this was probably going to be his last day and as a ksatriya he could not go down passively. He decided to make on final and supreme effort, and as he fought fiercely the Pandavas watched on with amazement, admiration and dismay to see his extraordinary prowess. So, Bhisma was wrecking havoc on one side of the battlefield and Arjuna and Bhima were wreaking havoc on another side of the battlefield. Eventually several other warriors came and fought and engaged Bhisma; while Bhima and Arjuna were destroying other warriors who were trying to stop them from reaching Bhisma.
Duryodhana seeing his army getting the worst of the confrontation went over to Bhisma and he said, “O grandsire! I cannot believe that the Pandavas can destroy my army like this while you are in charge. Please do not let me down like this. Please fight to the fullest of your prowess and protect me. I have come to you for your shelter.” Duryodhana would never take advice when Bhisma would give him advice, but now he was seeking shelter. He would do whatever was needed to satisfy his hunger for power. So, Bhisma raised his hand in silent assent and he said, “I had taken a vow that I would
unrelentingly slaughter ten thousand warriors everyday; I have kept that vow. Listen now I take as a final vow. Today I will kill either one of the Pandavas or I will die myself.” Saying this Bhisma charged away, and as Bhisma charged away into the animal ranks breaking them apart Arjuna with Sikhandi came towards him, and as Arjuna and Sikhandi charged towards Bhisma Dusasana intervened, and Dusasana fought fiercely to protect Bhisma, but Arjuna’s attack was so severe; and Arjuna was a far more skilled archer than Dusasana; Dusasana’s chariot was shattered, his charioteer was killed, his horses were killed, his armor was shattered and he had to flee from his chariot and he ran on to the chariot of Bhisma. So, the person whom he was to protect became his protector, and Bhisma using his formidable prowess checked Arjuna for some time, and then Dusasana went and retreated and covered, and got another chariot and charioteer and horses to return to the fray. On another side of the battlefield Drona was fighting and Drona looked at the sky. Aswathama was fighting close to him and Drona turned towards Aswathama and said, “Can you see in the sky all the inauspicious omens?” and he looked at, and pointed to various omens that were there and he said, “This indicates that today the grandsire will fall. O son, this is not the time when the dependents should think of their own lives and their own wellbeing, they should do whatever is required for repaying their debt to their elder. Go forthwith to the side of Bhisma and assist him.” So, Aswathama ran towards Bhisma and charged him on his chariot, and seeing Aswathama coming several Kaurava warriors joined him, and they all checked the marauding onslaught of the Pandava warriors, and when Arjuna and Sikhandi were checked Bhima came to their assistance; Abhimanyu came, Pandu’s sons came and a fierce fight broke apart, and finally the Kaurava warriors were repelled, and Arjuna charged forward unrelentingly pressing on towards Bhisma. Dusasana came again and again he fought fiercely trying his best to stop Arjuna from reaching Bhisma, but he was no match and again he was routed and he fled. This time he ran away with his charioteer ruined and finally Arjuna and Sikhandi came towards Bhisma, and Arjuna and Sikhadi started shooting arrows after arrow; Sikhandi was ahead and he was shooting arrows and from behind Arjuna was shooting arrows, and because Bhisma was not ready to attack Sikhandi he was neglecting the attack from that side because from that same side Arjuna’s arrows were also coming, so he was not countering those arrows also and eventually his body became filled with arrows on all sides and as he was fighting he looked up and he saw a sight which nobody else in the warfield could see. He saw celestial beings, he saw the vasus, he saw the sages and they told him, “O Bhisma, now your time for fighting has come to an end. Desist from war, lay down your weapons, enough is enough.” Bhisma looked at this he knew the time was there. He looked and he saw Krishna on the other side taking care of Arjuna’s chariot. He knew that as long as Krishna was on the opposite side there was no hope for him to win and he decided to lay down his bow. As he was lost in deep thought Arjuna shot severely
hundred arrows at him; jolted by those arrows Bhisma raised his weapons and he said, “I will fight one last time.” He started fighting fiercely, and although Arjuna and Sikhandi had driven away all the Kauravas and they were fiercely attacking Bhisma, Bhisma held them and started wounding other Pandvas also, and Dusasana again came to assist Bhisma and Bhisma called out Dusasana and he said, “Oh Dusana! I can feel the arrows hitting me and just by the impact of the arrows I can make out which are the arrows of Arjuna and which are the arrows of Sikhandi. Sikhandi’s arrows cannot harm me, but Arjuna’s arrows are falling upon me like thunderbolt. They have the power of the vajra of Indra or a rod of a Brahmin; a Brahmin doesn’t have martial power but a Brahmin has higher spiritual power by which a Brahmin can destroy a person by cursing or a Brahmin have their own rod which they touch and can destroy; and he says, “Like poisonous snakes biting into my body it is sucking away my strength. These arrows are sucking away my strength. O Dusasana fight on for now I have come to the end of my time; and as the Kaurava warriors watched on Bhisma was attacked again and again, and eventually no place in his body was left not covered with arrows. One could not put two fingers in between two arrows. So densely was his body covered by arrows, and in front of the incredulous eyes of the Kaurava warriors as Arjuna’s arrows kept hitting, Bhisma fell from his chariot, and he fell on the ground but he did not fall on the ground because the arrows had pierced to his body and they had stuck on his body. His flesh was so strong that the arrows did not pierce entirely, it did not go clean through but got stuck in his flesh and he fell on the arrow bed, and as he fell on the arrow bed the celestial voice cried out, “How is it that this great soul will die at a time when it is dakshinayan?” there is a consideration that when a person wants to die and he dies at a very auspicious time, it is considered to be very good; if a person dies at an inauspicious time then that person may have an inauspicious destination. In the eight chapter of the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that dying in the Uttarayan time is good when the sun is in the northern side, and when it is in the southern side, then it is not a good time to die. When Bhisma fell he was so expert that even when he was falling he maneuvered himself in such a way that he fell with his head pointing towards the east which is considered to be an auspicious direction, and Bhisma said, “I have not yet died and I will not die till the right times comes.” Bhisma was such a great devotee that whenever he would have died he would have attained the supreme perfection of life, but Bhisma wanted to demonstrate that one who devotes oneself to the Lord is not deprived of anything. Such a person gets results whatever are ordained; for those who do dharmic activities. In the last verse of the eight chapter of the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that, whatever are the results of the various rituals and other various practices, those results the yogi will get, and beyond that the yogi will get the supreme destination, and Krishna says, the best among all the yogi’s is the bhakti yogi. That was already told in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. Bhisma was such a bhakti yogi, and he
already demonstrated what had been taught in the scriptures and what had been taught by Krishna just before the Bhagavad-gita, that the devotee is not bereaved and deprived of the results that are given to those who practice the other paths successful.
Bhisma had the power of Iccha mrityu and by Iccha mrtyu means choosing the moment of death and by that power he chose that he would not die till an auspicious time came, and he decided to lie in that same situation in the arrow bed without shedding his body; and as the news spread in the Kaurava side the Kaurava soldiers were stunned. Tears started to come in some of the soldiers eyes, some of them froze, some of them panicked and fled, some of the swooned, and Duryodhana got up his chariot and ran shamed face on the side of Bhisma. It was his fault, it was his greed because of which the war had taken place, and because he had not been able to protect now his grandsire was dying. In spite all of his greed he still had affection for his grandfather; and the news reached Drona and although he had spoken about this, still when the news came to him, it was such an impossible news that Drona swooned and the hostilities were called off for the day and all the warriors came by the side of Bhisma to offer respects to him, to circumambulate him, and when Bhisma fell on the Pandava side Bhima started dancing, “Yes, now we will win. Bhisma has fallen.” Arjuna however remained sober and he told Krishna to take his chariot towards Bhisma, and he got off his chariot and he folded his hands and offered obeisance’s to Bhisma, offered his respects.
At that Duryodhana had ordered physicians to come; Brahmins expert in the application of herbs as well as in chanting of mantras came there. Both could be used to heal the body; some mystical mantras as well as some healing herbs. Bhisma was fallen and he could not move his hands also, he could not move any part of the body practically. Still he spoke to Duryodhana with whatever strength he had. He said, “I will no longer take any treatment. My time is over in this world. I just want to wait till the time is right for me to depart. After honoring these venerable Brahmins and rewarding them properly please ask them to leave. I will not take any of their medicines.” Arjuna folded his hands and asked his grandsire if he could do anything for him. He said, “O Arjuna, just see how my head is hanging.” His whole body had been pierced by arrows and his head was hanging. He said, “Please provide me a pillow that is worthy of a warrior. Arjuna understood the import of what Bhisma was saying, and he shot arrows just under where Bhisma was, and those arrows became upright right under his head and they became a pillow for him, and the Kauravas and the Pandavas stood around him for sometime; and then the Kauravas shaking their heads with tears and disbelief and dismay departed. The Pandavas departed with mixed feeling in their heart of sorrow and joy; sorrow that the grandfather had been fell, but the joy that now they had attained critical victory in the war.
Yudhisthir turned towards Krishna and he said, “O Krishna for those who take shelter of you nothing is impossible. It is only by your grace that we have been able to bring about the downfall of Bhisma. We are all forever surrendered to you.” Krishna smiled and he told, “Such words could have fallen from only your lips O Yudhisthir, and you are such a virtuous king.” In this way both the parties retreated. In the early morning next day before the war started Karna went and met Bhisma, and Kanra told Bhisma… he apologized to Bhisma; they had often exchanged hot words, and as Bhisma was lying there with closed eyes the Kauravas had arranged that some people will be there to guard Bhisma, because in the war field often the vultures and jackals and other animals would come and Bhisma was lying right in the same warfield. Some guards had been arranged to protect him and Bhisma was lying there all alone. Karna went in and said, “I am the son of Adirath. My name is Karna. I have come to offer my respects to you.” Bhisma opened his eyes and said, “You are not the son of Adirath. You are actually the son of the mighty sun god begotten through Kunti. Both Narada and Vyasa have told me this.” Karna nodded and said, “Yes, Kunti has told this to me.” Then Bhisma said, “You do not deserve to fight on the side of the Kaurava’s and die on the side of unrighteousness. Please cease the hostilities. You are the oldest of the Pandava brothers. Please go on their side and attain what was denied to you at the time of birth.” Karna’s expression became hardened and he did not reply. Bhisma said, “You are in every way as powerful as Arjuna.” These words gave great solace to Karna because always Bhisma had derided him. Then he said, “Seeing that you were offensive towards the Pandavas for no reason at all I tried to curve your pride so that there would not be any unnecessary confrontation between the two.” Then Bhisma said,
“Your birth was attended by sin; and that’s why due to no fault of yours your mentality was twisted. So, what was twisted from birth I wanted to connect, and that’s why I would chastise you. I know and respect your military prowess but I just wanted to avoid an unnecessary confrontation, and that is why I spoke the harsh words that I spoke to you; but I am your well-wisher O Karna.” And Karna had never expected such words to be spoken by Bhisma to him. He said, “I beg forgiveness to you for whatever harsh words I have spoken.” Karna had always respected Bhisma as a formidable warrior although his advice and words had been harsh at times, but he respected him for his nobility and his heroism. Then he said, “Duryodhana has done so much for me. I cannot abandon him now. Please give me permission to enter the war.” Bhisma looked at Karna and saw that his face was set in grim lines. Then he said, “If that is what you have decided to do then fix your mind on heaven, offer charity to the Brahmins and fight to your fullest capacity.”
Actually Bhisma tried his best even in the tenth night when he had fallen; and Duryodhana had come in front of him in a remorseful mood. Even at that time being a tireless well-wisher of his family members he told him, “O Duryodhana! You have seen
what the prowess of the Pandavas is. Although I have exerted myself to the fullest of my capacity still I could not overcome the Pandavas. Let the hostilities end with my fall. Give the Pandavas the share of their kingdom and live in peace with them. Victory over them is impossible. Do not cause destruction O child.” Bhisma spoke compassionately even at that moment not feeling angry that he was in such terrible pain, not feeling angry that he was going to die, but even then considering and hoping and trying to persuade so that Duryodhana could see sense, but Duryodhana absolutely refused, and Duryodhana said that he could not stop fighting, “O grandsire, the war must go on.” And then Bhisma reluctantly agreed, “So be it.”
And then the next morning after Karna had departed, then the Pandava and the Kaurava warriors came to offer their respects, and as the Pandavas came there and asked, “Can I do anything for you?” Bhisma said, “I am feeling thirsty. When Duryodhana wanted to be he could be a diligent host; he had already brought people with jugs of water and food, and when he signaled them they started rushing towards Bhisma. But Bhisma said, “No, I have already passed from the world of the human beings. I am here just to wait for the right moment for death. So, I will not accept any of the delights that are accepted by human beings. O Arjuna! You know best how my thirst can be slaked. Arjuna looked at Bhisma and he understood. He circumambulated Bhisma and he took several arrows, invested them with mystic powers, chanted mantras and shot the arrows right near Bhisma’s head, and the arrows pierced into the earth, they went deep under the earth where there was water below the water table level, and as the arrows created a pathway the water surged upwards, and that water came right through the earth, and crystal clear, shining pure water came out of the earth’s crust upwards springing up, and in a shower it came and went right into the mouth of Bhisma. Bhisma opened his eyes and saw his mother Ganga in that water. He offered her respects and drank that water. Seeing this extraordinary prowess of Arjuna the ksatriyas on the Kaurava side shuddered and on the Pandava side cheered. Bhisma drank the water to his heart’s content and he blessed Arjuna, and then the hostilities continued.
This is how Bhisma who was such a gallant warrior, seeking the well-being of others demonstrated to Duryodhana and his cohorts the prowess of Arjuna; he tried to do the good for everyone and the supreme good that he did not just for the Pandava’s but for all of humanity was what would happen at the end after the war got over; when Bhisma gave extraordinary and exhaustive instructions called Rajdharma.