The Bharathi Theertha Trust started with the unfailing benediction of His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Shankaracharya, Pontiff of Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham of Sringeri, has been endeavouring to spread the Vedas and Sastras and propagate Sanatana Dharma. Publication of ancient literature is one of the many objectives of this Trust.
In our search for a work that would be worthy of being the first of these publications, we sought refuge at the lotus of His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Bharathi Theertha Maha Swamiji, the Sole Trustee of this Trust. Following His compassionate command that the series should begin with a work in Sanskrit, that ancient and divine language, we have great joy in bringing out Shri Bhishma Vijayam, an outstanding work in charming Sanskrit prose with elucidatory notes authored by the late Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Lakshmana Suri along with an equally captivating English translation by late Sri Nelliappa Iyer. We do believe that ardent lovers of Sanskrit will find this book immensely rewarding.
We acknowledge the wholehearted consent given by Shri T.V. Balakrishna Iyer, Advocate, Madras High Court, grandson of the author, to the publication of this book.
We owe our gratitude to Acharya Bhaishankar Purohit, Principal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Pandit Nagaratna Sharma, Founder member, All India Sanskrit Parishad and Dr.S.M. Bhatkhande, Deputy Registrar, Bombay University for their generous assistance in the proof reading of this edition. Our acknowledgement would be complete only with the recording of our deep appreciation of the enthusiastic and total involvement of the printers, Sudhindra Graphics of Bombay and Shri A.L.Narasimhan of Bombay, to whom the co-ordination of this work was entrusted.
We recall the infinite mercy with which His Holiness made light of the delays on the project, spurring us on at every stage, towards its final completion, while extending His involvement to the level of supervising the smallest of details. We dedicate this book as our humble offering to His Holiness.
The author Late Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Lakshmana Suri whose high and original scholarship in Sanskrit and whose manysided activities and additions to that literary field are things well and widely known, came from a respectable family in the district of Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. He inherited a good portion of the literary skill and taste from his father Punalveli Muthusubba Aiyar who was equally well versed in both Sanskrit and Tamil, was proficient in two Sastras, Vyakarana and Vedanta and had authored a Sanskrit work by name Samkshipta Ramayana.
The literary life of the author began with his karikas on the Upanishads known as the Advaita Darsana series relating to the abstruse subject of Hindu Philosophy, apparently in response to the principal turn of his mind, and the primary importance of the subject. His poetical compositions and his commentaries on the well known Natakas Anargha Raghava and others are also widely known, and are appreciated even in Germany and the United States. Mention need be made here, only with regard to his prose-compositions (Gadya series), inclusive of the one before us.
The object of the author was to inaugurate a new era in Sanskrit prose literature and to supply a real want in that field, by giving a connected history or account in idiomatic and easy prose (on the analogy of the “Englishmen of letters” and other similar series in the West), of eminent personages and characters in the ancient history of the land. The author begins with the life Bhishma, whose indomitable military prowess and notable firmness and fierce vow of self-sacrifice were remarkable indeed, to give him the first place and were sufficient to justify the author in making Bhishma his first hero.
The source of the work has been taken mostly from the Mahabharata, The Epic of The Great War, except some of the incident relating to Sri Krishna, which have been taken from the Bhagavata.
The story begins with the description of Brahmaloka, wherefrom one Maha-Bhisha a Rajarishi who had ascended thither by the force of the merit of his penance and Ganga the daughter of the mountain Himavan, fell down losing their position in consequence of a curse of Brahma; the former is born on earth as Santanu of the Lunar race and the latter comes down with a mortal body. The meeting of Santanu and Ganga on the banks of the Ganges while the king was out a –hunting, their mutual falling in love, the right of independence which Ganga secures to her as a condition precedent to her marrying the king, her cruel and horrible act of throwing the first seven of her sons into the waters of the Ganges against which Santanu could not raise his little finger, being bound as he was by his promise and also afraid lest she would separate from him and lastly her sudden departure away from him with the eighth child (Bhishma) when Santanu remonstrated with a little boldness against the cruel act being repeated the eighth time, are all described in the first chapter.
It also describes the incident which led to the curse of the sage Vasishta on the eight Vasus who in consequence, were born on earth the eight sons of the Santanu by Ganga, the eighth son (Bhishma) being no other than the Vasu known as Dyu who had to serve a life-long period of punishment, while his brother Vasus whose offense was of a more venial nature, were released from the region of bondage immediately after their birth.
The second chapter begins with the effects which the separation of Ganga produces upon Santanu who took a long time to overcome his mental agonies and sorrows, and now the story turns to the same happy scene on the banks of the Ganges where he beheld with surprise the boy Devavrata (Bhishma) not knowing him to be his own son, stopping the force of the mighty stream with his volley of arrows. To add to the astonishment of Santanu, Ganga comes in and she commits Devavrata (Bhishma) to the care and custody of his father and takes her final leave. Bhishma passes his days of childhood and in due course is installed as the Yuvaraja by his father. In Bhishma’s counsel to his people, the author describes the anxiety which sovereigns of old felt for each order of the subjects attending to their own legitimate duties tending, as it did, to obviate all unhealthy competition and to secure harmony and goodwill amongst the subjects.
The next incident is the meeting between Santanu and the fragrant Satyavati, the daughter of the head of the fishermen, while she was plying the boat on the Jumna. The maiden tells the king her previous history and the origin of the superb fragrance and the king becomes inflamed with the desire to marry her; but unable to comply with the heavy conditions insisted on by her father, as the consideration for giving his daughter in marriage, the king with a sorely affected heart came back to the capital, and tried his best to conceal his sorrow.
Bhishma, his shrewd son, perceives it however and cleverly investigates into and soon enough ascertains the cause of the change in his fathers’ mental equanimity and with the dutiful and filial desire of pleasing his father, goes himself to the father of Satyavati, meets him, and solemnly promises and takes the rare and fierce vow of renouncing for ever the kingdom as well as of ever remaining a bachelor all his life. Under those conditions, Bhishma gets his father married to Satyavathi and the dreadful vow which he then took secured for him from the Gods, the title of Bhishma i.e. the terrible, and, from his father the boon of the power of dying when he chose or (the Will Power in death).
The third chapter begins with Santanu’s demise, and with the account of Santanu’s sons by Satyavathi, namely Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada was killed in a fight with a powerful Gandharva (of the same name), and Vichitravirya became king. Being young, he ruled the country under the advice of his mother and of Bhishma to whose care the whole kingdom had been entrusted. Bhishma sometime after, with a view to get his step-brother married, went to Benares, and attended the Swayamvara of the daughters of the king of Benares, on behalf of his step-brother and according to the custom recognised among Kshatriyas, Bhishma challenged the other Kshatriya princes and warriors who had come to a combat, and took the three daughters of the king of Benares as a prize. His majestic reply to the other princes and his bold and successful fight with the mighty Salva on this occasion, are characteristic of his supreme confidence in himself and of the height of his indomitable courage and military prowess.
Ambika and Ambalika, the younger two of the three daughter of the king of Benaras, are in due course married to Vichitraviraya, but Amba the eldest of the daughters was sent away by Bhishma as she expressed her affection for Salva, while the latter equally discards her on the ground of her having been taken away by Bhishma already, and thus the poor girl is spurned again and again by both Bhishma and Salva. Her fate naturally attracted the sympathy of several persons. The conduct of those concerned in this affair and the pros and cons were discussed at a meeting of certain sages and learned men, convened by a sage, Saikavatya by name. The conduct of Bhishma towards Amba though apparently a little cruel, however on a due consideration only establishes Bhishma’s strict adherence to his vow and principles.
The plight of Amba attracted the attention of the sage Parasurama the very guru and preceptor of Bhishma. The modest and at the same time well-pointed replies of Bhishma to his Guru remonstrating against the guru’s intercession, are clearly suggestive of his high regard to his preceptor and of an equal regard for his vow and moral principles. Parasurama becomes irate, challenges and drives the reluctant Bhishma to fight with him, under the idea that he could subdue Bhishma and thus please the injured Amba. Bhishma consistently with his duty as a pupil tried to avoid the fight with his guru, but finding that to be the only alternative lest he should have to swerve from his vow, and after making due prostrations to his guru, fights boldly observing all the preliminaries and continues the fight with the confidence that his was the right cause.
The terrible fight lasts for twenty-four days, at the close of which Parasurama feeling he was about to lose, rallies all his best powers and proceeds to effect the last and deadly blow upon Bhishma. Then Narada with Richika and other Rishis, with Ganga in advance of them came and intervened in all haste and stopped Parasurama from proceeding further and they did the same toward Bhishma too, who also was ready with his mortal and stupefying missiles to be aimed against Parasurama. Each wished that the other should be required to stop first, but, however, the interveners were able to stop Parasurama first. On that Parasurama had to acknowledge that he was the defeated one, but Bhishma not even in the least exulting over his success, with his usual reverence to his preceptor fell on Parasurama’s feet and begged of him his pardon. Parasurama embracing Bhishma heartily praised his disciple and assured Bhishma that his object in fighting with him (Bhishma) was only to publish his disciple’s incomparable military fame to the world at large and that he was not at all ashamed at his having been defeated by his own disciple.
After showering his benedictions on Bhishma and wishing him long life, Parasurama turned to the helpless Amba and expressed to her his inability to do anything for her and went away to do penance on the peaks of Mahendra. This fight with Parasurama the most difficult of the battles which Bhishma had fought and which proved all the more to the world his strong adherence to his vow and moral principles, at any cost, brings us to the close of the fourth chapter.
Amba on seeing Parasurama’s intercession useless, became dejected and with a determination to spend her life as a maiden for ever and to be revenged on Bhishma if not in that birth, but at least in a future one, she began to do penance. After a long and severe penance, she obtained the necessary boon from the God Maheswara and was born as the daughter of king Drupada. Sometime after she got her female form metamorphosed in a male one by a favour of one Yaksha Sthunakarana by name and was known by the name of Sikhandin. And with knowledge of the incidents of her previous birth, she was waiting to pay the old grudge and be revenged on Bhishma.
Vichitravirya, who had in the due course, married the two girls Ambika and Ambalika, ever since gave himself up to their pleasures a little too much, so much so, that he became erelong sickly and met with a premature death. Then his mother Satyavati, the dowager queen being afflicted at the loss of her only remaining son and overwhelmed with the idea that the lunar race was to become extinct (for which she was to some extent responsible) called on Bhishma the only male survivor of the family, and urged on him the necessity of his marrying and continuing the race. Bhishma, however, with his usual adherence to truth and to his vow of celibacy, sternly refused, but suggested to her the advisability of continuing the line by some preceptor or Rishi being asked to raise issue in accordance with a custom of old permitted under dire and extreme contingencies.
Then the queen remember her own son Krishna Dwaipayana (or Vyasa as he was later on called) born to her of the sage Parasara while she was a maiden and the choice aptly falling upon him, Ambika and Ambalika conceived and brought forth Dhrutharashtra and Pandu respectively.
As Dhritharashtra was congenitally blind and so could not succeed to the throne, Pandu succeeded. Dhritharashtra who had hundred sons of whom Duryodhana was the eldest, and Pandu who had five sons of whom Yudhishtira was the eldest, lived amicably and managed the affairs of the kingdom with the advice and support of their uncle the mighty Bhishma, for a long time.
On Pandu’s death, the cousins divided the kingdom into two halves and while so reigning Yudhishtira performed the Rajasuya sacrifice. On that occasion Yudhishtira sought the advice of Bhishma as to which of the guests assembled, the first mark of respect ought to be shown. Bhishma though himself aware of Yudhistira’s own powers of independent judgment and action, pointed to Sri Krishna, gratified at the opportunity given him to express his own appreciation of Sri Krishna who was not a mere man nor a god but was the very God of Gods. The sacrifice was performed with all due celebrity and was accomplished with great pomp.
Duryodhana and his brothers, on the other hand, being jealous of the Pandu and of the fame which Yudhishtira obtained in consequence of his Rajasuya sacrifice contrived to get their cousin to play dice. In the course of the play he deprived Yudhishtira of all his kingdom, wealth and all, nay, even of the liberty of his brothers, of himself and lastly even of his very wife. When Duryodhana’s brother Dussasana cruelly dragged the miserable Draupadi by her hair and disgraced her in that royal assembly, the unfortunate lady sought the assistance and intercession of Bhishma and the other elders present in that assembly as to whether she had been validly won or not, by the Kauravas; but non did really intercede.
The inaction of Bhishma may be a matter for comment, but the fact seems to be that his regard for Yudhishtira’s perception for Dharma and Duty was so great that he feared to express anything where Yudhishtira had trodden and further Bhishma himself with something of a divine vision foresaw that the scene was simply the prologue of the drama of destruction inaugurated by God Vishnu and he felt himself unable to do anything by way of intercession. Then the Pandavas were forced to spend twelve years in the woods and one more year incognito to redeem their share of the kingdom. This exile for twelve years and the year of incognito passed with great difficulty. Yet, Duryodhana refused to deliver to the Pandavas their kingdom and possessions, and declined to make any settlement whatever inspite of the mediation of Sri Krishna.
Bhishma’s advice to Duryodhana is an excellent exhortation on brotherly duties and affection; but Duryodhana was stubborn and refused to part even with an inch of ground. The matter had to be consequently decided by combat. Duryodhana courted the assistance of Bhishma and requested him to be the commander of the Kaurava force. Bhishma agreed, but however insisted on two conditions-that he shall not fight with Sikhandin and that he shall not mortally wound any of the Pandavas. Duryodana could not but accept him under those conditions. The two forces of the Pandavas and the Kauravas met at Kurukshetra. (In the sixth chapter the fight begins).
The righteous Yudhishtira on seeing Bhishma his mighty old grand-uncle at the head opposite force, out of both reverence and awe, got down from his chariot and made his way through the crowd to where Bhishma was, and prostrated himself at his (Bhishma’s) feet. Bhishma applauded Yudhishtira very highly for the latter’s noble and dutiful conduct towards his old preceptor and relative even at this juncture when they were about to fight against each other and heartily wished Yudhishtira’s success in the very presence of Duryodhana. And before Yudhishtria began to request anything of him, Bhishma anticipated and told, “Yudhishtira, I cannot but be true to the salt of your enemy I have taken and I cannot avoid begin the commander of the Kaurava force”. Bhishma further argued that unless he worked for the Kauravas and cleared the debt off in this life he should have to be born again in this world of Karma. Bhishma however permitted Yudhishtira to ask of him any other requests save of being the commander of the Pandava troops.
Yudhishtira with great reluctance and fear, asked Bhishma as to the way in which they could conquer the latter in as much as he was determined to fight on the side of the Kauravas and as none of the Pandavas, why for the matter of that, none known to them, knew the means of subduing Bhishma in the battlefield. Bhishma replied that he could not see any way to that and that so long as he (Bhishma) held the weapons in his hands, it would be impossible for anybody to vanquish him in the battlefield. And he apologized to Yudhishtira that he was no doubt well aware of Yudhishtira’s deserving to be favoured with, at any cost but told Yudhishtira, “The time of my death is not yet come, Come to me another time”.
Bhishma entered the battlefield, defeated and routed the Pandava forces so thoroughly and effectively that the Pandavas got afraid even of their very existence and that the few remaining men of their large army was but a moment’s work for Bhishma. Yudhishtira feeling the situation quite grave and judging that their last and only hope was by conciliating Bhishma ran at once to Bhishma and implored him once more to suggest the means of vanquishing Bhishma and thus save their life. He took pity on Yudhishtira and resolved to favour the Pandavas even at the cost of his own life. Bhishma’s arguments for preferring Yudhishtira and his brethren to his other kinsmen, on the score of righteousness, are neatly and forcibly put by the author.
With the moral determination to protect the Pandavas at the cost of his very life, Bhishma calmly and coolly told Yudhishtira “Let Arjuna fight with me with Sikhandin in front and obtain victory and happiness. Don’t be sorrowful.” Accordingly, at the suggestion of Yudhishtira, Sikhandin supported by Arjuna and the other Pandavas boldly advanced and pushed his way through the crowd in spite of the enemies’ obstruction, ahead of Bhishma and the noble warrior on seeing the female Sikhandin before him, in the true noble spirit of a Kshatriya, and remembering as he did, also, his own previous history which was the cause of Sikhandin’s very birth, put down his arms, refusing to fight with a female and all his zest suddenly collapsed.
Arjuna though himself unwilling to take advantage of the situation, is urged to throw then three of his strong and fatal missiles on Bhishma. The great warrior thus mortally wounded falls down and a huge cry arose from the multitude, and all with one voice praised the nobility and courage of Bhishma and shouted, “This is the only true warrior on the land” and all admired the noble virtues which Bhishma had made his life-companion.
Meanwhile the heavenly swans came down and intimated to Bhishma the message which they brought from his mother Ganga who and all the Gods were struck with the heroism of Bhishma and with the height of self-sacrifice he put himself to on account of the Pandavas and the swans urged on Bhishma, as the period then was Dakshinayana, he ought not to shuffle off his mortal coil then, lest he lose the eternal bliss which he richly deserved and which he by his terrible vow and self sacrifice had already become entitled to. Bhishma lying on the bed of arrows in the battle field, makes use of the boon of the will power of death given to him by his father and keeps on his life for about two months passing all his time in deep yoga and meditation on God Sri Krishna till the Uttharayana came. When he fell down, victory as a matter of course became that of the Pandavas who got back soon all their properties, possessions and independence.
In the last two chapters, the godliness and the religious excellence of Bhishma who was not a mere worldly minded warrior but was one of the foremost of yogis, are well brought out and concisely described.
Yudhishtira, inspite of success, was exceedingly sorry for the death of his kinsmen and for the terrible and huge bloodshed caused on his account and went to meet Sri Krishna. When Yudhishtira found Sri Krihsna absent-minded and totally inattentive, Yudhishtira became perplexed. On being questioned, Sri Krishna, in the end, explained to Yudhishtira the circumstances that it was the deep meditation of Bhishma and his yoga-power that had temporarily drawn the mind and soul of his Sri Krishna’s away to the battle field where Bhishma was lying on the bed of arrows.
Yudhishtira’s admiration for his old grand uncle became all the more heightened and he, accompanied by Sri Krishna went to meet Bhishma. Bhishma, when he saw Sri Krishna perceived the supreme lord in him, praised the lord and prayed for eternal bliss being favoured him. Sri Krishna before doing that asked Bhishma to impart to young Yudhishtira all his knowledge of politics and other Sastras particularly as Yudhistira was sorely troubled in his mind at the death of his kinsmen and as he was not willing to wield the sovereignty though laid at his feet.
Bhishma’s advice to Yudhishtira which is one of the most didactic, clearly argued and an all comprehensive one and which forms the subject of a separate canto in the Mahabharata, is reproduced here in a simple and at the same time, in a concise form by the author. After the exhortation came to a close, they went back to the town only to return in all haste to where Bhishma was. Immediately after, the Utharayana came in, and when the bright fortnight of the Magha month arrived, Bhishma sought the permission of the Lord to cast off his physical frame which till then he had been retaining with great difficulty by the sheer force of the boon of will-power favoured by his father and he prayed for the beatification of his soul.
Sri Krishna gladly responded and hailed Bhishma in the presence of the gods and all others who had come to witness the solemn scene that he would, without any obstruction whatever, reach the position of the Vasus. Bhishma’s stotra or the song of praise on the lord Sri Krishna clearly indicates the strength of faith and the religious excellence of our hero and the chaste, musical and dignified style in which the author has put it further adds to the solemnity and grandeur. While so praising the lord, Bhishma, in the form of a divine effulgence, starts forth from his physical frame and ascends the Heavens and regains his previous position of a Vasu in the celestial regions.
The style of the author is peculiarly one of his own and is of a new and felicitous kind, remarkably fit to be imitated for more reasons than one. A close observation may not be requisite for one to be impressed with the beauty and the excellent diction of the author, which in my opinion, combines all that is desirable for a good prose Sanskrit composition. A student of Sanskrit while justly proud of the abundance of sublime and majestic poetry, has, at the same time, to feel the lack of good, flowing and classical prose which is after all the most essential factor that goes to make up any good, living language.
The author has very aptly met this want and while he combines happily modern tastes and introduces new and original ideas, he has not to the slightest extent departed from the classiscal and chaste diction of old.
The remarkable feature of the style, is its faultless ease principally due to the period sentences-a style serving equally for narrative, conversational as well as for descriptive purposes. The result is to bring the effect, to the mind most prominently without its being lost in the length of long and weary sentences like those of Bana and to afford a pleasant and sustained reading, without any violence being done to the idiom of the language. The dialogues and the discussions are also brought out in a most easy but telling style which forms also an additional beauty of the author’s inimitable style. The figures of rhetoric are all well chosen and very appropriate but at the same time varied in kind.
The literary finish throughout is one of an uniformly exquisite and sustained degree, the excellency and beauty of which could more easily be enjoyed than described.
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