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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bhishma Falls - Maha Bharatha Series 39

The description of the battle in detail is mostly repetition of the same words and occupies several sections of Book 6. Hidden in those words are interesting episodes and conversations. For example, when Arjuna hesitates to engage Bhishma in battle, forgetting his own vow to kill him, Krishna gets angry , jumps down from his seat as the Charioteer for Arjuna, and runs towards Bhishma. Arjuna gets anxious and runs after Krishna and pleads with him. Arjuna says: “ Please do not do this. I promise I will engage Bhishma in battle. If you do this you will be breaking a promise you made (that he, Krishna, will help the Pandavas but will not personally engage)”.  Krishna cools down and gets back to His duty!

Then, after routed by Bhishma one day, all the Pandavas meet and how they can ever win the battle as long as Bhishma is fighting. Yudhishtra says that the best is to go to Bhishma himself and ask him how to defeat him! Yudhishtra says: “I know our grandsire will want us to get the kingdom which belong to us. He cares about us and he will tell what is beneficial to us”. This is a lesson in itself.

Then they go to Bhishma’s tent in the Kaurava camp. This is another lesson on the rules of engagement in war. What a noble path they followed and how "uncivilized" and cruel we have become! 

Bhishma , in turn, acts true to his noble character and tells the Pandavas how he may be killed. He says that he will not fight against the following people: “One who has thrown away his weapons, one who has fallen down, one whose armor has slipped off, one whose standard is down, one who is running away, one who is frightened, one who surrenders and one who is a female or has a feminine name and one who is no longer capable of taking care of one's self, one who has only one son. In your army you have a warrior by name Sikhandi. He was a female at one time and was known as Sikhandini. Therefore, I will not fight with him. I cannot be defeated by any one except Krishna and Arjuna. Let Arjuna keep Sikhandi in front of him and fight.  Using that opportunity, let Dhananjaya (Arjuna) pierce me on every side with his shafts”. (Book 6; Section 108). I get tears in my eyes reading these words!

And, as requested, Bhishma is felled, but not killed, mostly by Sikhandin, but the final darts were those of Arjuna – reincarnation of Vishnu as Nara with Narayana as Krishna. This is described in Section 120 of this version (Ganguli Translation).

Bhishma falls down but does not touch the ground since he has so many arrows stuck to him. He also says that he has received a boon to decide when he wishes to die. Since it was still dakshinayana when he was felled, he plans to “keep” his life till the sun starts its northward journey (uttarayana). Both the Kauravas and the Pandavas stop the battle and come to where Bhishma is laying with his head hanging down. He asks for a pillow. Only Arjuna understands and gives him a pillow made of three arrows. When he asks for water, he calls for Arjuna again. Arjuna pierces the earth with his special Parjanya arrow just “south” of Bhishma’s face. Water springs from that spot just right into Bhishma’s lips.

Bhishma uses these two events to tell all those assembled to show that Arjuna is the Lord Himself and that he is the only one (other than Krishna) who knows all the celestial weapons. He asks Duryodhana to stop the war since no one can win against the Pandavas with both Nara and Narayana on their side. He asks Duryodhana to give half of the kingdom to the Pandavas with Indraprastha (modern day Delhi) as the capital. He pleads: “Let this war end with my death”!

Later, Karna learns of Bhishma’s death and comes to see Bhishma on his bed of arrows. He asks for forgiveness. Bhishma says that he is pleased to see him alone when they can talk. Bhishma forgives Karna and tells him: “You are actually the brother of the Pandavas and you should make peace with them. Let this slaughter end with my death. I know your prowess as a remarkable warrior. You are great in giving gifts (dana) and you will never refuse anything when someone asks (that is how you gave away your invincible body armor to Indra). I do not have dislike for you. But I treated you badly just so you will not get into this battle, to control your pride. Because of the circumstances of your birth, your pride and your association with low-thinking people you have come to this state. Stop this fight”.

Karna says: “I know I am Kunti’s son. But she left me helpless. I was raised by Radha and Atiratha. And I was protected by and fed by Duryodhana. I owe them allegiance and my duty is to fight for my protector. Please let me fight and keep my honor and die as a Kshatriya should”. Bhishma says: “If that is what you wish to do, I give you my permission. But, fight without pride and discharge your duty with moksha (attainment of Kshatriya heaven) as your goal”

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