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Analysis of Mahabharata Characters - Bhishma

Bhishma is one of the powerful characters of the epic, Mahabharata that contains and shows a pious way of life to the mortals living on earth. I am starting this Analysis of Mahabharata Characters with Bhishma as he is the oldest character in the epic/saga and has tremendous influence on the other characters of Mahabharata. Bhishma was the son of king Shantanu and Ganga (the river Ganges in female form). Bhishma was considered one of the eight Vasus (rishis) who had to take birth on earth due to a curse. Before we analyze the character, let us take a quick look at the story of Bhishma according to the Mahabharata.

Background Of Bhishma

Bhismha is considered one of the eight Vasus who stole a cow named Kamadhenu from a sage. When the sage cursed them to take birth as humans, all Vasus asked for his forgiveness. The sage, for seven Vasus who helped the main Vasu to steal the cow, reduced the curse to death just after birth. However, the main Vasu who actually stole the cow was to stay on earth as a mortal.

Shantanu married Ganga on the condition that he would not interfere with whatever Ganga does. For each of the first seven children she bore (the seven Vasus), she drowned them in the river form to relieve them of the curse. However, Shantanu could not stop himself when Devvratha was born and stopped Ganga from drowning him in the river. Thus, the eight Vasu had to live. Ganga left Shantanu and took Devvratha with her as well. Devvratha had his education and returned after many years. Meanwhile, Shantanu was in love with a woman named Matsyagandha (Satyavati). Since the father of Satyavati wanted Satyavati's kids to access throne, Devvratha gave up his claim to the throne. Not only that, he took a vow of celibacy so that his sons do not claim access to the throne and kingdom. He further vowed that he will always take care of the person sitting on the throne as he would see his father's figure in the king. The father granted him a wish of Death Upon Wish, i.e., Bhishma (as he came to be known after taking the vows) could take his own time and decide when and where to die. There are many other incidents that formed his character and I will mention them when and where required.

Bhishma's Love For His Father

 Obvious from the above narration, one can find that Bhishma has a lot of love and respect for his father. He gave up not only the claim to the throne, he also took a vow of celibacy so that his sons don't fight for the throne. This shows that he was very caring when it came to his father and his father's desires. He further vowed that he will always protect the kingdom and king by seeing his father's image in the king. The vows brought him the name of Bhishma.

He was not asked to take those vows. He simply came to know that his father wanted to marry Satyavati (Matsyagandha) and based on what the father of Satyavati said to him, he took the vows on his own to please his father's desires.

Renunciation Of Worldly Things

One may consider that Bhishma never had any desire for worldly things. People fall for power and money. However, he gave up all those at a small age and removed himself from claim and accession to the throne. He never married though was asked by many. His vow of celibacy was never broken. He once kidnapped Amba, Ambalika and Ambika from their swamyamwar (marriage) for sons of Satyavati. Amba told him she loved some other king, upon which, he returned her to the king. It was a different matter that the king now suspected Amba and did not accept her. Upon this, Amba pressurized Bhishma to marry her. But stating his vow of celibacy, he did not marry her. Amba went on to become Shikhandi who later was brought into Mahabharata for killing Bhishma.
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Bhishma's Commitment To The Throne and King

Bhishma was so committed to the throne and king that he had to oblige for unworthy or rather, bad decisions of the king. In his presence was Druapadi humiliated but since the then king, Dhritrashtra, did not say anything, Bhishma though he knew it would have bad impact later, could not and did not do anything to save her (Draupadi). His commitment to the king made him blind towards the bad going on in the entire epic of Mahabharata.

He had to fight from the side of Kauravas in the grand Mahabharata war as he was committed to the throne. He was under pledge (as mentioned above) to save the king and his throne. Thus, though he knew that what he was doing is wrong, he did it anyway - just because he had to keep his word (vows).

Weakness of Bhishma

The love or the sense of duty towards the person occupying the throne was one weakness of Bhishma. Though one can argue that it was because of his vows, was it wise to keep quiet knowing that the king might come to harm? Bhishma was quiet when Draupadi was insulted. He knew that it will backfire and that Pandavas will avenge the insult. But Bhishma turned a blind eye towards it.

Another case where Bhishma was quiet was when Lord Krishna showed his Vishwarupa (his godly form) to him and others at the court. Krishna had come to negotiate prior to  war. He wanted to prevent the war. Totally understanding that god was on Pandava's side and that the king had no chance of winning the war, Bhishma did not or could not use his influence to stop the war. Instead, he went ahead to wage war on behalf of Kauravas. What can we call such an attitude if not his weakness?

This analysis of Bhishma, the Mahabharata characters, is not complete. Bhishma played a huge role and I will update this post when I find other traits on own and based on your comments. Please comment to inform me if I left out anything.


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