The month of Kartik (Oct 13- Nov12) is considered as the holiest month, the month of Damodara. And the last five days of Karthik, is considered as very sacred. It is called as BHISMA PANCHAKA. The scriptures like Padma Purana, Garuda Purana talks about Bhisma Panchaka. This FIVE days Krishna advised Bhisma Dev to do austerity, fasting to attain two thing: one is to attain liberation (which means not just merging with Brahman but to attain ultimate destination to reach Vaikuntha), and second by observing these severe austerities it will burn lots of sins and Bhisma Pitamaha did that. He was first one to observe this fast by the instruction of the Supreme Lord that is why it is called as BHISMA PANCHAKA.
If we read Srimad Bhagavatham it is full of stories and prayers of pure devotees of Krishna or great personalities, incarnations etc. and many things. Some of the examples cited are as follows
- Queen Kunti’s Prayers
- Gajendra Moksha Prayers
- Prahalad Maharaja Prayers
- Arjuna’s Prayers
- Uthara’s Prayers
If anyone says in this material world that they don’t have time to worship or do devotional service to Lord must really think about the prayers of Gajendra, who was caught by a crocodile and was in a stage of life and death situation, he can die any time but at moment also he found time to worship Lord Narayan by offering a lotus flower. This is pure devotional service trying to worship the supreme lord even though he know he was going to die. Lord Narayana came and saved him. And he attains perfection. We are not in this situation so we should be able to find time to worship the Lord whatever circumstances we are in without fail.
Sometimes when people read these stories from Srimad Bhagavatham casually they think it convey the same message every time that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of God Head, everything comes from him. We should remember him always in good and bad times but if we go deeper in to it we can understand whom the person is offering the prayers, what is their devotional emotion, what is their experience, what is going in their heart, what is the reciprocation of the Lord to them. If we go through these lenses we will get a deeper understanding of all these prayers. It gives true love of god and it will purify our heart. Every personality, every situation is different. The way the Lord reciprocate is very different, we can see the devotional dynamics of great personality offering the prayers in Srimad Bhagavatham. That is the true significance of observing Bhisma Panchaka.
A Brief Introduction of Bhisma Pitamah
Bhisma was son of Maharaja Shantanu and Mother Ganga Devi. Once, King Shantanu fell in love with a fisherman’s daughter called Satyavati. The king wanted to marry the girl, but her father wouldn’t allow it unless his daughter’s future son could ascend the throne. Shantanu couldn’t agree, since Bhisma was his first-born. To resolve this issue, Bhisma promised never to accept the throne. But the fisherman still refused, thinking that Bhisma might marry and have a son who could become king. At that point Bhisma vowed never to marry and decided to live like a celibate. The fisherman then gave King Shantanu the hand of his daughter, and the king was so pleased with Bhisma that he gave him the boon of being able to die at a time of his own choosing. Thus we see that despite hundreds of wounds, by Arjuna’s arrows Bhisma remains alive. Bhismadeva story teaches us if you have to be resilient you have to be strong in these dimensions: Emotional, physical, social, spiritual and family
The Past birth history of Bhismadeva reveals that he was one of Vasu called as Jahu. Once upon a time a long ago in heavenly planet here is a class of devotees called as Vasus. They are very devotional and elevated (The other examples of Vasus are Nanda Maharaj and Mother Yasoda). One time Jahu saw the Surabi cow in Vasishtha hermitage and wanted to get milk to give to her friend living in earth. So she told her desire to her husband who in turn told her desire to other Vasus and they came upon a plan to steal the cow from Vasishtha Muni.
Vasishtha muni got mad and cursed the eight Vasus to take birth in Earth planet. The Vasus asked forgiveness from the muni who gave them the benediction that they will have short life on earth but the master planer who came up with the plan of stealing his cow will live a life span of every other Vasus. And they agreed. And the Vasus have a choice of deciding their own mother.
So they decided they need a mother from heavenly planet itself and approached Ganga Devi, who agreed to be their mother.
At that time Mother Ganga was doing a performance in Brahma Lokha. A powerful king called Mahabhisha happened to attend the dance performance of Mother Ganga and saw her with a lusty eyes so he got cursed and took birth on this earth planet as Shantanu Maharaj. Since Maharaj Shantanu saw Mother Ganga like that she decided to fulfil his desire and she came to Earth planet and they both did Gandharva wedding like exchanging garlands on a condition that Maharaja Shantanu should not disagree with her in any condition of life. Maharaja Shantanu who was blindly in love agreed to her conditions.
Once they had their babies Mother Ganga drowned her baby’s one after the other in the river. Like that way all the seven babies passed away. The king was really worried, he needed an heir for this throne but he was bind by his promise to his wife. Once the eight baby was born Mother Ganga was about to drown the baby Maharaj Shantanu stopped her by breaking his promise and Ganga Devi told him that their eight children were Eight Vasus who were cursed by Vasishtha to be born on earth as mortal humans, and by drowning them she was saving them from the curse of Vasishtha muni and she went back to heavenly planet with her son. He was trained by Brihaspati on politics, then Vasishtha on Vedic knowledge, Parasurama on martial arts then he became an Ajathashatru (One who has no enemy). Then finally when once he grew as a young boy he want to meet his father Maharaja Shantanu who made him the Yuvaraj and promised him he will be the King in future.
From this story we can understand that coming to earth planet is a curse. But in the Kaliyuga, Mahaprabu specially came once in thousand Mahayuga so whoever who took birth in Kaliyuga in this earthly planet are fortunate to participate in the Mahaprabhu movement.
Bhisma decided to get his brother Vichitraveerya married. So he decided to kidnap the daughters of Kashi:-Amba, Ambika, Ambalika. Just before the marriage was to take place Amba confided in Bhisma that she couldn’t go through that marriage because she had already given her heart to Salva. So Bhisma sent her back to King Salva. But Salva refused to marry her and sent her back again, telling he did not need anything as a fee or a charity. Amba was heartbroken she went back to Hastinapur. She approached Bhisma to marry her but Bhisma had taken a vow not to marry. Amba went to Parasurama, as he was teacher of Bhisma and told him everything. He said he will speak to his disciple. Parasurama came to Bhisma and said get married to Amba or fight with him. Parasurama is incarnation of powerful Lord. Finally Parasurama and Bhisma fought for 23 days. Finally Bhisma won. Amba got disappointed again and went to pray to Lord Shiva by doing severe penances and got the blessing from Lord Shiva that she will be the cause of death of Bhisma. Amba was reborn as a daughter of Drupada Maharaj, (as Shikandi) who badly wanted to have a son, but when Amba was born to him, he couldn’t accept the fact that a girl child was born to him and he started to raise her like a son, dressing him like a son and teaching her all the skills needed, and once marriageable age came he got married her to another girl. The girl who got married to Amba realized that she was married to a girl and went to tell her father that they were cheated and the girl’s father decided to fight Drupada Maharaj. Amba was upset went to forest, there she sees a Yaksha. She explained everything and they decided to change sex by mystic potency. Amba became a man and Yaksha became a girl. So Amba as Shikandi was very happy he went to tell her father this good news, the princess who got married to her came back knowing he became a man and family was started. But the Yakska wasn’t able to go back to his kingdom of Kubera, because he did something that a Yaksha was not supposed to do so Kubera cursed the Yakshas he should remain a girl till Shikandi dies. Shikandi was happy in once sense. He lived all the way to Mahabharata war
What are the lessons learned through the life of Bhisma Pitamah
• Bhisma Pitamaha at the time of death bed in Kurukshetra was offering prayers to the Lord. (1st canto of Srimad Bhagavatham 9 th chapter 33 to 42 nd verse). Bhisma Pitamah prayer is microcosm (smaller version) of the entire Srimad Bhagavatham. Bhisma Pitamaha demonstrated how to leave the body, in which consciousness one should leave the body to attain ultimate destination. Sukadeva Goswami spoke about Bhisma Pitamah to Maharaja Parikshit Maharaja so as to teach him how he could leave the body in a right way.
• The importance of fasting is shown in the story. Fasting on Bhisma Panchaka is the toughest .We do fasting on these 5 days of Bhisma Panchaka to imbibe the spirit of austerity and sacrifice that Bhisma Pitamah made for the noble cause. He sacrificed his life for the pleasure of his dad. He took a vow of life time celibate. Not to marry will live like Bramachari and promised, whoever is the king of kuru dynasty he is going to serve them and got stuck with it. Fasting is not done to torture our body and not do anything about it. We have to do fasting according to our own capacity. The idea of fasting of Bhisma Panchaka is to elevate our consciousness like Bhisma Pitamaha how a person should live and leave both. While living and leaving he had the same consciousness. Why it is tough austerity is if you are living in a forest as a sanyasi you can completely renounciate. You are not disturbed by anything there. Can do severe penances. You are following Nivarthi marg. There are 2 paths which you can take, one is Pravarthi Marg and other is Nivarthi Marg, but if we are living among Grahasthas then it is Pravarthi Marg and following renounciated life is a tougher part. Bhisma was a king living in royal opulence but following vows he took was the toughest one. He was following Nivarthi Marg with Pravarthi Marg that is the toughest.
• Bhisma determination to stick to his vow at any cost is commendable. Besides taking a vow to remain a celibate and to protect whoever rule the Kuru dynasty, he also took a vow that in any warfare he will never hurt a women that was his principle not a Kshatriya principle that If they attack him he won’t retaliate. In the Battle of Kurukshetra, the 8th day of war Duryodhana was upset with Bhisma Pitamah and accused him by telling that he is a disgrace to entire Kshatriya race. Bhisma couldn’t tolerate it. He said to Duryodhana he had made five arrows just for Pandavas by putting all his Shakti and tomorrow the 9th day of the war he is going to kill the Pandavas. Duryodhana took the arrows from Bhisma thinking someone could trick Bhisma so he decided to take the arrows from Bhisma to put it in a safe place and give that to Bhisma the next day. Krishna knew their plan and send Arjuna to go to Duryodhana cabin and ask for a boon. Amazing thing to understand here is the word of honor is very important to Kshatriyas. Now in this material world people make promise and violate it. So when Arjuna came and requested for the arrows humbly to Duryodhana he gave it even though he knew that arrows were meant to kill the Pandavas .That was the Kshatriya Dharma he followed even though he is not a good person and low graded. Duryodhana come backs to Bhisma and tells him that arrows were lost so Bhisma Pitamah promised again to Duryodhana that either he will kill Arjuna the next day or will make Krishna break his promise to take weapon.
• The next day the battle began but Arjuna could not cope up with Bhīma’s arrows and was getting tired so to protect Arjuna, Krishna who is Bhagavan and Bhakta Valsala decided to take the wheel. Bhisma was very happy to be killed by Krishna because perfection of life can be attained. But Arjuna stopped Krishna and said he will kill him tomorrow. On the tenth day of the Battle Arjuna took Shikandi as a Shield as instructed by Krishna to fight Bhisma and shot arrows at Bhisma. Even though Arjuna’s arrow was piercing him still he was advancing to Arjuna it shows how a toughest warrior he is there was not even a finger gap between the arrows on his body. Finally he falls down but he did not die immediately. And waited for the right moment to leave his body. Bhishma Pitamah had got a blessing from his father, Maharaja Shantanu that he will never die until he want to die .The lessons learnt here is to have our Parents blessings is very important. We should act in a way that our parents are pleased with our actions and shower their blessings.
• On the other side of the Pandavas. They won the battle and Yudhishthira was coronated as the Maharaja of Hastinapur, but he was not happy at all that he became a King but so much depressed thinking that he was the cause of the war, the blood shed of millions of people, most of the children lost their father, wives lost their husbands, mother’s lost their sons. Yudhishthira who was so compassionate, sensitive thought that because of his ulterior desire to rule over the kingdom is the cause of it, which actually is not true. Normally people do not want to take blame even if they are guilty. This bewilderment is caused by Krishna for a reason. He knew the heart of Bhisma Dev that he wanted Yudhishthira to be the King. So Krishna wanted Bhismadeva to clear out Yudhishthira bewilderment so as to give credit to his pure devotee (1st Canto of Bhagavatham chapter 9 has the description). ( Another example of Bewilderment is example of Arjuna in the battle field of Kurukshetra where Krishna created this bewilderment in Arjuna so as to speak Bhagavad Gita and wanted Arjuna to fight the battle and win it so that his pure devotee gets the credit not him even though Krishna is capable of killing all Kauravas)Krishna advises Pandavas to make a procession wearing royal clothes and ornaments, decorative horses. All the sages like Narada Muni, Sukadeva Goswami, Parvata Muni, Dhaumya, and Vyasa the incarnation of God, and kings, demigods were assembled including Krishna to offer their love and respects to Bhismadeva
• It shows that Bhisma Pitamah is an exalted personality, a Mahajan, a selfless personality, even though he was severely wounded and suffering lots of pain, he was thinking the pain which Pandavas and their mother Queen Kunti Devi went through due to Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra. This is the true quality of pure devotee of the Lord. Here even though Bhisma know that Kauravas were doing wrong he sided with them in the battle of Kurukshetra. Bhisma knew very well right from the beginning that Krishna is a Supreme Personality of God head he decided to be a puppet in the hands of Krishna or an instrument in the hands of Lord and through Bhisma example Krishna want to teach us a lesson that how great personality or how powerful you are if you side with adharma you will be defeated.(Examples from scriptures are Bharata from Ramayana, due to Mandira poisoning Kaikaye Lord Rama had to leave for forest together with Lakshmana and Mother Sita. He was not consulted but people of Ayodhya was looking him down as he is the cause of Rama’s exile. Then Vibishana was another personality .He was surrounded by Demons and Ravana he lived in that situation always meditating Lord Vishnu. His situation to explain precisely can be compared to tongue surrounded by 32 teeth’s. The fight with Ravana and Lord Rama. Ravana’s army was self-sufficient with weapons like Brahmastra but Lord Rama had army of monkeys who had only clubs and stones still Lord Rama became victorious)
• In our life we find sometimes we are devotees, chanting 16 rounds and doing various devotional service still we are facing lots of problems, worries, anxiety’s etc. and don’t find time to think of God. But Krishna had promised us that he will protect us and his devotees will never perishes. Krishna arranges the situation in such a way that one gets an opportunity to go back to the spiritual world. Always we have to meditate on Krishna to attain liberation. (Example is: How Krishna saves Prahalad Maharaj from his sufferings)
• Even though Bhisma was badly injured and unable to move his body and lying there on an elevated bed of arrows He was only able to move his eyes and tongue and in this condition he is teaching us how to make obeisance’s, how to receive great personalities, how to apply the principles of religion according to time, place and circumstances. How to show etiquette. Here Bhisma Dev by his sweet glance acknowledge the presence of all great personalities who came to visit him
• Krishna is the supreme personality of God head but here we can see that he is paying his obeisance to Bhisma. Here Krishna is teaching us how to offer our respect to senior Vaishnava’s who are elder to you. Also shows that how devotees are very dear to him. Krishna notices whatever service, every little service that we do, and he never forgets. He is performing a Lila in which He is demonstrating by his personal conduct the standards of etiquette. When you are before an elder and senior personality you bow down, whoever you may be, not just in a ritualistic way but fully showing His respect. .
• Bhisma has lots of love for Pandavas and Krishna. Even though he was doing his duty he heart was with Pandavas. Sometimes we are faced with dualities we get perplexed. Perplexity is choice between not only good or bad but when we are in a situation where we have to select between two good or two bad situation. Example from scriptures is during the churning of Nectar, two asuras disguised as Devadas wanted to taste the nectar and Lord Dhanavantri killed them. This shows there is nothing perfect in this world. Between good also there is nothing always good, nothing is bad in the world either. Even poison can be used as a cure. In this world things can change, situations can change. That is lesson learned from Bhisma Pitamah story showing how situations changed for him. Canto 1, 9 th chapter of Bhagvatham chapter 33 to 42 talks about the meditation of Bhisma Dev on Krishna. How Krishna pick up the wheel and approach Bhisma dev, because he had pierced Krishna’s body and blood was oozing out from his body. Krishna is drenched in sweat and his hair changes color. Sometimes it is bewildering to ordinary man that blood coming from Krishna’s body but we should understand that Krishna body is transcendental, he does not have veins. His body and his skin are absolute. There is no differences
• If Bhisma is bad Krishna would not have come to see Bhisma. The time of departure of Bhisma came, the sun was moving to the North and Krishna was personally present in front of Bhisma dev so that he can easily leave his mortal remains by seeing the Lord and attain liberation. We should attain this kind of perfection in our life by remembering Lord.
• The absolute morality perceptive which Bhismadeva was teaching us is Niyamaagraha principle that is following the rules and regulations for the sake of following without understanding the true spirit behind it is dangerous. Bhismadev was following the rule and regulations just like letter of law. When Draupadi was mistreated, dishonored they asked Bhishma Dev to stop it but he was confused thinking that her husbands lost her in the gambling and that she is an object now. Bhismadev was confused. Bhismadev could have protected Draupadi, it does not matter what rule he follows. • Bhismadeva is pure devotee of Lord, he is a Mahajan transcendental perspective then why did he do things like not saving Draupadi. He was often accused for not saving Draupadi when she was dishonored. Because Bhismadev was participating in Krishna Lila where Krishna shows that he is a Bhakta valsala and he himself will come to save the devotees at the time of distress. That is why when Bhisma was leaving his body Krishna was present there.