Bhishma, the grand-uncle of Pandavas and Kauravas is central to the Mahabharata or Jaya Samhita. In the Chandra vamsha (Lunar dynasty) that ruled Hastinapura, Pradipa was a renowned king. The river goddess Ganga when asked to take a human form for a folly, approached Pradipa and requested a marriage. He advised her to approach his son Shantanu when he comes there in the future. She does the same and gets married to Shantanu on the condition that he shall not object to her doings.
Ashta (eight) Vasus who were to take lives on earth become children of this couple. As promised to them, Ganga throws the first seven into the river and they get liberated. The eighth Vasu, Prabhasa had to live long. When Ganga was about to take this eighth child to the river, Shantanu objects. Ganga leaves Shantanu with a promise that the child shall be returned after basic childhood. This eighth child is called Gangeya (son of Ganga) and he returned to his father Shantanu after learning war skills from sage Parashurama.
Shantanu desired to marry Satyavati. Her father asked for the kingdom for her future children. Gangeya arranges for this wedding by promising that he shall abdicate the kingdom and shall not marry so that his children won’t claim the kingdom in the future. This Bhishana (stern) stand of taking Pratigya (vow) made him known as “Bhishma”. He became the guardian, and mentor for the Hastinapura kings and served them, initially his brothers, and later their children with all affection and loyalty.
In the Kurukshetra war when Bhishma got injured, he waited on the “bed of arrows” for the auspicious Uttarayana period to “move on”. Krishna encouraged Yudhishtira and his brothers to learn the ruler’s dharma from Bhishma. Yudhistara also asks Bhishma “kim japen” (what to recite?) for liberation. Bhishma gave Pandavas the Vishnu Sahasra Nama stotram, which describes the thousand names of Vishnu. On the eighth day of Magha month during the waxing fortnight (Shukla Ashtami), Bhishma chose to leave his body. In his honour, the following Ekadashi (three days later) came to be known as Bhishma Ekadashi. Bhishma is revered, tarpanas are offered in his honour, and his character is reminisced during this period.
Prof S Ainavolu is a teacher of tradition and management. He is with VPSM, Navi Mumbai. Views are personal. You may read more at https://www.ainavolu.in/blog
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