Today, I am going to put across my thoughts on Bhisma Pitamah and would describe him and his role in Mahabharat. It is not easy to describe Bhisma, his role in Mahabharat and his character in just a post. But, yes one who knows more or less about Mahabharat would definitely fall in love with the righteous and the mightiest King. There are many characters that I personally adore in Mahabharat, and I place Bhisma at the top of the list. He is regarded as true Khstriya because he always thinks and does the thing that favors well being of an entire Kingdom. He protects and nurtures Hastinapur for years, till he thinks he can now live it in good hands to be taken care of. Lets me now, go into the story of Bhisma.
Once, the eight Vasus (attendants of Indra) or Astavasu namely Anala, Anila, Aha, Pratyusha, Prabhash, Dhara, Soma, Dhruva visited Sage Vashista with their wife. Vashista had the possession of Kamadhenu, the mother cow who had ability to fulfill all the desires of its owner. She could produce warriors to protect the sage and give milk and milk products for everyday use. Prabhas's wife wanted Kamadhenu and persuaded Prabhash to steal her from Vashista. Prabhash persuaded all the Vasus and they planned to steal Kamadhenu. However, they were caught red handed by Vashista. And Vashista cursed them for this action. His curse was that they all have to take Human birth and lead a painful long human life. Open hearing Vashista's curse, all the Vasus pleaded for mercy. Since, a curse cannot be taken back, Vashita reduced the curse. He reduced all the seven Vasus who assisted Prabhash in this activity in such a way that they have to take up birth as human, but they will be liberated of this human birth soon after. However, since Prabhash was the mastermind behind this act, he have to lead a long painful human life. But, he will be illustrious man of his time. All the vasus then prayed to river goddess Ganga to be their Mother.
Goddess Ganga then incarnated herself to a beautiful lady. One day, she was roaming near Ganga basin, when Santanu (king of Hastinapur) saw her and instantly fell in love. Santanu persuaded Ganga to marry him. She asked him to promise her that whatever she will do, he will not complain. Santanu agreed and they both got married. When Ganga gave birth to her first seven sons, she would take them with her and drown in river Ganga. Santanu kept watching her silently. When the eighth son was born, Santanu, could not keep himself restrained and pleaded Ganga to let the child live. This eighth child was Prabhash, who was suppose to lead a long human life. So, Ganga agreed and promised Prabhash to return her son when he attains his youth. He was named Devavrata.
Ganga got Devavrata trained in all the subjects from political science to martial arts from various Sages like Vashista, Markendeya, Brihaspati, Sukracharya and Parsurama. When he attained youth, he had mastered all the knowledges that is required to be righteous King. Ganga now retured him to Santanu.
Santanu, wanted Devavrata to rule and be crowned as the Prince of Hastinapur. After, the crowning ceremony, Devavrata came to know of his father's wish to marry Satyavati,the daughter of fisherman. But, her father did not wish to give her hand to Santanu. Bhisma/Devavrata on hearing the terms and conditions of the king of Fisherman, took the oath to remain unmarried and would not be king, so that the sons of Satyavati could be crowned as King of Hastinapur. Bhisma took oath to lead a life of celibacy so that it will be Satyavati's offspring that would always reign on Hastinapur. Devavrata's vow touched his father's heart and he granted a boon that gave control over his own death( Swechha mrityu). From then on Devavrata was known as Bhisma because of the Bhisan Pratigya ( Strong vow) that he took.
After his father Santanu's death, Bhisma's half brother Chitragad also died and Vichitravira was crowned as Prince. Bhisma went to Kashi on Swayambar of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika (daughter's of King of Kashi) , to get these Princess to marry his half brother Vichitravira. With his strength and intelligence, he convinced King of Kashi to send in his daughter's to marry Vichitravira. However, the eldest princess Amba was in love with another king Salva whom she would have married in Swayambar had Bhisma not been there. When Bhisma came to know about this, he allowed Amba to get married to Salva, but Salva didn't accept Amba as his wife. Amba was furious with Bhisma and wanted to marry him as Bhisma's won all of them in their Swayambar. Since, Bhisma was Bhramachari he could not do so. Furious with Bhisma, Amba went to Bhisma's Guru Parshuram to provide her justice. Parshuram fought with Bhisma for 23 days and he was able to please his Guru Parshuram. Amba did great penance to please Lord Shiva and got a boon that in her next life, she will be born as a man who would be instrumental in Bhisma's death. She was born was Shikandi in next birth.
As Bhisma had vowed, he always remained as a true adviser and protector of the King of Hastinapur. When Kauravs and Pandav's fought for the crown, Bhisma was the only person who wanted always to bring to an end to this war. Even though he was general from Kaurav side, he always tried to minimize confrontation between both groups. He tried to persuade Kaurav and Pandav to come up with a mutual agreement.
He is regarded as a true Khastiya because he always fulfilled his duty towards kingdom, never showed anger and passion. He was a symbol of truth and duty. He saw five generations, and kept himself alive till the power was transffered to Yudhistira. He knew Yudhistira would keep Dharma on front and would fulfill all his duty towards Hastinapur so he accepted death on Kurushetra. He was also true devotee of Krishna. On his death bed, he gave meaningful lessons on Political science and duties of a King to Yudhistira. He was the beloved and most adored of all to both Pandav and Kaurav as their great grand father. Thus, he is known as Bhisma Pitamah , Pitamah meaning great grand father. Below, is a list of his lessons that he gave to Yudhistira on death bed.
Bhismadeva advised for all human beings nine qualifications:
Not to become angry
Not to lie
To equally distribute wealth
To beget children only by one's legitimate wife
To be pure in mind and hygienic in body
Not to be inimical toward anyone
To be simple
To support servants or subordinates.
Bhisma also advises this:
1. To get freedom from anger, one should learn how to forgive.
2. To be free from unlawful desires one should not make plans.
3. By spiritual culture one is able to conquer sleep.
4. By tolerance only can one conquer desires and avarice.
5. Disturbances from various diseases can be avoided by regulated diets.
6. By self-control one can be free from false hopes.
7. Money can be saved by avoiding undesirable association.
8. By practice of yoga one can control hunger.
9. Worldliness can be avoided by culturing the knowledge of impermanence.
10. Dizziness can be conquered by rising up.
11. False arguments can be conquered by factual ascertainment.
12. Talkativeness can be avoided by gravity and silence.
13. By prowess one can avoid fearfulness.
14. Perfect knowledge can be obtained by self-cultivation.
In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.9.27) Bhishma instructs King Yudhishthira in the following dharma:
dana-dharma, or public acts of charity,
raja-dharma, or the duties of a king,
moksha-dharma, or duties for salvation,
stri-dharma, or duties for women, and ultimately
bhagavata-dharma, or pure devotional service to the Lord.
He said to Yudhistira about Dharma as
Tadrisho ayam anuprashno yatra dharmaha sudurlabaha
Dushkamha pralisankhyatum tatkenatra vysvasyathi
Prabhavarthaya bhutanam dharmapravachanam kritam
Yasyat prabhavasamyuktaha sa dharma iti nischayaha.
It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that that which sustains is Dharma.