VSN #2 – Bheeshma

by Sahadev Komaragiri

The setting is a battle field where scores of people died for a cause that few understood. Bheeshma, the wise hero of the Mahabharata war, was resting in the battlefield and waiting for an auspiscious day to end an illustrious life. This grandsire of Kuru dynasty was blessed with a boon of choosing his time of death, a boon in return for a vow that was taken in good faith to protect a dynasty without holding any power or position. After a series of unfortunate events a blind king, Dritharashtra, inherited the kingdom after the death of his brother King Pandu.  What followed was a long struggle between the peace loving sons of deceased King Pandu, Pandavas, and the deception incarnate sons of King Dritharashtra, Kauravas.  Pandavas, whose rightful claim to power was stolen from them, were left with no option but to resort to war. For Pandavas protection of dharma is of paramount importance. For Kauravas clinging to power that has no legitimacy is the only purpose of their existence.

This is part of my series of articles on viShNu sahasra naamaM. Announcement of the series is the previous article in this series. The five questions is the next article in this series.

Bheeshma’s loyalty rested with king Dritharashtra who was in power. He was cornered by his own vow to protect a bunch of conspiring thugs he detested. As fate would have it, Bheeshma was destined to protect Kauravas from the Pandavas he so deeply loved. It was a war between those blessed with very high moral values on one side and those deeply entrenched in greed for power on the other side. The lone warrior to struggle between the two extremes was Acharya Bheeshma. Lord Krishna, whom Bheesma worshipped all his life, was not on his side but in the opposition camp. The Lord who loved him too, could not rescue the distressed soul suffering from an unimaginable moral dilemma. When sided by the Lord himself, the only outcome of any war is the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness. The war ended in the defeat of Kauravas. It was a war that raged within one large family and the entire family perished in it. Only Lord Krishna and the five Pandavas survived.

I feel it is important to narrate the great relationship between devotee Bheeshma and his Lord Krishna. At the start of the great Mahabharata war, Krishna promised to participate in the war only as a guide and charioteer for Arjuna and to never use his weapon. But on two occasions when it was getting impossible for the Pandavas to handle the prowess and skill of Bheeshma in the war, Lord Krishna raced towards Bheeshma with His all powerful sudarshana chakra ready to launch against Bheeshma. When He raged forward with His sudharsana chakra, Bheeshma dropped down to his knees with folded hands and begged Lord Krishna to rid him of all his earthly bondages. Why was Krishna, the protector of Dharma, willing to break His own promise? The profound reason was this. Bheeshma knew he can be unstoppable in the war. There was only one way in which he could be relieved from his suffering, and that was divine intervention. When Krishna promised not to use any weapon, Bheeshma promised to himself that he will make it imperative for Him to use the weapon. To ensure that Bheeshma was not disappointed, Lord Krishna resorted to breaking His own promise instead. For Krishna the vows of His devotee are more important than His own! Each time he was close to defeating and killing one of the Pandava brothers, Bheeshma prayed intensely for Sri Krishna to intervene and protect them. The Lord obliged and appeared just in time, along with Arjuna, to help. Such was the love between the Lord and His devotee. It was this Bheeshma, a worthy devotee of Lord Krishna, who was to deliver vishNu sahasra naamaM to King Yudhistir and the rest of the world.

On the advice of Lord Krishna, the newly coronated king Yudhistir, the eldest of the Pandavas, visits Bheeshma who was still lying in the battlefield. Bheeshma is a renowned expert in all matters of importance including the art of war, good governance and the highest forms of spiritual knowledge. Lord Krishna, the five Pandavas and scores of other rishis and noble men were assembled. With the strength provided by Lord Krishna, Bheeshma speaks to King Yudhistir and answers many questions about all aspects of life, moral values, scriptures and Vedantic philosophies. An entire chapter of Mahabharata titled Anushasana Parva is dedicated to this one discussion. It was in Bheeshma Parva that Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna the importance of ones own duty through the aphorisms of the famous Bhagavad Gita. Later in Anushasana Parva it was Bheeshma’s turn to teach the Pandavas on the important aspects of good governance and the essentials of leading a dharmic life. These two chapters of Mahabharata stand out as shining examples of the greatest heights ever attained by human thought and intellect.

This post is part of the series on vishnu sahasra naamaM

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

jagannath girisaballa October 13, 2010 at 11:08 pm

how many days after the battle was bheesma alive?


Sahadev Komaragiri October 14, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Jagan, it is estimated that he was on the bed of arrows for about 50 days. The day the Mahabharata war started is also known as Geeta Jayanthi day, as that is the day on which Bhagavad Geeta was born. That was an Ekadasi day. Bheeshma fell to the arrows of Arjuna on the 10th day of war. Bheeshma waited until the arrival of Uttarayan and passed away on an another Ekadasi day two months after the war started. The war lasted just 18 days!


Priya Kumar October 22, 2010 at 1:56 am


You mentioned Krishna released Sudarshan Chakra twice on Bheeshma. Did he take it back without hurting ? Isn’t it mentioned that Sudarshan Chakra once released will complete the task and only then return? (Correct me if I am wrong)


Sahadev Komaragiri October 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

Priya: Krishna never released the Sudarshan Chakra. Arjuna begged him not to use it and Krishna obliged. Krishna can take back(upasamahara) the Sudarshan Chakra even after it is launched. It was said about Rama that he can but will not take back the arrow once it is aimed at someone or something. He can change the course or target but he will not take it back.


Priya Kumar December 3, 2010 at 4:50 am

Thank you for the clarification.


Praveena October 18, 2019 at 6:36 am

Hi Saha,
I understood that bheeshma was not in a mindset of doing war against his own grandsons, so he actually went to ask krishnadwaiypaya(KDP) about dharma regarding war, when he went there he saw KDP’s Son shuka was died intentionally by leaving food and water.
so after seeing his death bheeshma actually decided to die by leaving food and water, so he made the bed of arrows and sleep over that. arjuna didnt hurt him or killed him

what is your opinion


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