Bhishma:The Grandsire of the Mahabharata

Bhishma:The Grandsire of the Mahabharata

Bhishma, also known as Bhishma Pitamaha, is a central character in the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata. He was born as Devevrata and played a pivotal role in the epic’s narrative. Bhishma’s story is one of sacrifice, duty, and unwavering commitment to his principles. From his birth to his remarkable skills as a warrior, Bhishma’s life is intertwined with tales of loyalty, love, and ethical dilemmas.

The Curse of the Vasus

The story of Bhishma begins with the curse of the Vasus, celestial beings who visited the ashram of Vashishta (a sage who belonged to the Saptarshi and 10 Prajapatis). One of the Vasus coveted Vashishta’s divine cow, Nandini, and conspired to steal her. Bhishma, then known as Prabhasa, participated in the theft and was cursed by Vashishta to be born as a mortal. Although the curse was softened for the other Vasus, Prabhasa received a longer life on Earth due to his instrumental role in the theft.

Birth and Early Life

Bhishma was born as the youngest son of Shantanu, the twelfth king of the Bharata dynasty, and his first wife, Ganga. However, his seven elder siblings were drowned by Ganga shortly after their birth, fulfilling the softened curse on the Vasus. Bhishma, raised by Ganga, acquired knowledge and skills from renowned gurus, including political science from Brihaspati, Vedas from Vasishta, and archery from Parashurama.

The Terrible Oath

Bhishma earned his name, which means “He of the terrible oath,” due to a life-long vow of celibacy and service to the throne of Hastinapur. He took this vow to honor his father’s desire to marry Satyavati, who came from a lineage that prevented her children from becoming rulers. Bhishma’s sacrifice earned him recognition among the gods, and he received the boon of Ichha Mrityu, the ability to choose the time of his death.

Skills and Valor

Bhishma’s exceptional skills as an administrator and warrior made him a revered figure among the Pandavas and Kauravas. He mastered various forms of knowledge and was considered undefeatable in battle. Bhishma’s golden palm tree banner became an emblem of his presence on the battlefield, symbolizing his unwavering commitment to duty and righteousness.

Amba’s Curse

Bhishma’s journey faced a significant turning point when Amba, who sought revenge for Bhishma’s interference in her marriage, received a boon to be instrumental in his death. Amba was reborn as Shikhandi, a male, and played a crucial role in Bhishma’s ultimate fate during the Kurukshetra war.

Kurukshetra War

Bound by his oath of loyalty to Hastinapur’s ruler, Bhishma reluctantly fought on the side of the Kauravas in the great battle of Kurukshetra.

Despite his unmatched military prowess, Bhishma’s chivalry prevented him from striking Shikhandi, leading to his grievous wounds inflicted by Arjuna. Bhishma, the longest-standing commander-in-chief of the Kaurava forces, fell on the tenth day, resting upon a bed of Arjuna’s arrows.

Bhishma’s Final Moments

During his last days, Bhishma remained on the ‘bed of arrows,’ reciting the famous hymn to Lord Vishnu, the Vishnu sahasranama, to Yudhisthira. He acknowledged his mistakes and admitted that fighting for Duryodhana was wrong, emphasizing the importance of allegiance to righteousness above all else. Bhishma chose to embrace death only after learning of the Pandavas’ victory, knowing that the throne of Hastinapur would be in capable hands.


The life of Bhishma in the Mahabharata is a tale of sacrifice, duty, and unwavering commitment to principles. From his birth to his exceptional skills as a warrior, Bhishma’s journey is filled with moments of ethical dilemmas and choices that shape the course of the epic. His adherence to the terrible oath of celibacy and his unwavering loyalty to his father’s throne exemplify his character. Bhishma’s valor and prowess in battle, coupled with his ultimate sacrifice, have made him a legendary figure in Hindu mythology. His story serves as a reminder of the complexities of duty and the power of individual choices in shaping destiny.


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