Devavrata, the lesser known name, is one of the most remarkable characters of the epic of Mahabharata. He was the prince of the kingdom of Hastinapur and of the proud Bharata lineage. King Shantanu, father of Devavrata fell in love with a fisherman’s daughter, Satyavati. Satyavati’s father would not permit the marriage until Shantanu promised that the children of Satyavati, be made the successor of the throne. Shantanu, after much negotiation with an uncompromising father, fell in a dilemma: how could he deny Devavrata of his birth-right.
Seeing his father in much sorrow, the benign Devavrata, decided to step on the negotiation table.
|Fisherman’s concerns||Devavrata’s response|
|Satyavati’s children should be made the successor of the throne||I vow to not accept the throne|
|What if Satyavati’s children are not deserving of the throne||I vow to always remain loyal to the king, whosoever he may be|
|Even if you renounce the throne, your children will surely fight for it||I vow celibacy for life|
And thus Devavrata henceforth came to be known as the great Bhishma. King Shantanu, impressed with his son’s loyalty, granted him the boon of choosing the time of his death (Ichcha Mrityu).
During the gruesome battle of Mahabharata, Bhishma was a formidable force. Bhishma, because of his vow of loyalty to the throne, was to fight on the Kaurava’s side. He vowed to fight until Arjuna, his favourite nephew, dies or Krishna breaks his vow of not raising a weapon throughout the war. Arjuna did not stand a chance against Bhishma, his bow broken, armor crushed and he lay injured. Krishna, seeing the plight, picked up a chariot wheel about to break his vow on unarmed, only to be stopped by Arjuna.
The only way they were finally able to defeat Bhishma was to use Shikhandi, a woman turned into a man, as a shield during the war and attacking from behind. Bhishma, upholding his vow of never attacking a woman turned man laid down his arms and was shot with a range of arrows by Arjuna.
While he lay dying, Arjuna offered him a bed of cotton for his death. Bhishma refused and asked for a pillow worthy of a warrior. Arjuna made him a bed of arrows and shot one on the ground sprouting a stream of water to quench his thirst. From this bed, Bhishma witnessed the battle of Mahabharata and wishfully gave up his life on the last day of Magha Shukla Ashtami.
Bhishma lived a life that was virtuous, conversant with all the holy scriptures and was an obedient son to his father. He lived his life for the betterment of the kingdom, and never sought an ulterior motive from his actions. He had no ego, making him one of the most selfless characters of the epic, a true Pitamaha.