India is a land filled with mythology so deep that one can’t differentiate between myth and reality. Our Epics Ramayana & Mahabharata’s tales too resonate with our lives today. There are innumerable characters introduced to us in both these epics, some grey, some white & some shady black but one character which stands out in both these epics is “Bhishma or Gangaputra or Devavrat”. His raw power, exuberance & ethics resonate like the twang of a bow even today.
Similar to many festivals which are celebrated in & around these legends of the epics, even he has a festival attributed to him – Bhishma Dwadashi. It falls on the 12th Day of the 11th month of the Hindu calendar (Magha) during the period from Amavasya to Poornima known more commonly as Shukla Paksha.
Bhishma had a boon given to him by his father, that of “Iccha-Mrityu”, i.e., to accept death on his own terms. He was granted this boon because he promised never to ascend his father’s throne in favour of his father’s other children.
During the war at Kurukshetra between the Pandavas&Kauravas, Bhima being duty-bound towards the throne of Hastinapur had to fight from the Kauravas side. Because of his skill, Karuavas started gaining in the war, till Krishna-Vasudeva intervened & reminded the Pandavas of Bhishma vow – to never fight a woman. To take advantage of this fact they introduced Shikhandi – who was born a woman but chose to become a man, Bhishma knowing that Shikhandi was born Shikandini a female doesn’t fight her & is pinned to the ground by Arjuna’s arrows since he uses Shikandi as a shield.
The significance of this day is twofold – one as the day Bhishma accepted death with the Lord Surya as his witness (Surya Uttarayan) & two as the day the Pandavas performed the last rites for their great grandfather (Pitamah Bhishma). So, on BhishmaDwadasi people remember his resolute character by fasting & reading the Mahabharata which they feel leads to happiness & contentment.
(The writer is an author of two best-selling books, 'The Monk’s Secret', and 'The Midas Touch')