Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Can Krishna defeat Bhishma?
On two occasions during the Mahabharata war, Krishna leaps off the chariot of Arjuna and launches into an attack of Bhishma. Both times, Bhishma throws away his bow and welcomes Krishna’s blow. This suggests that Krishna is powerful enough to defeat Bhishma – and that Bhishma knows this.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Krishna can defeat Bhishma.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
An Incarnation of Vishnu
Krishna, in the Mahabharata, is considered the incarnation of Vishnu. During Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Bhishma describes Krishna as all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-moving – and therefore deserving of the honour that the Pandavas give him.
As such, Krishna is powerful enough to defeat the entire army of the Kurus in the blink of an eye – including Bhishma.
Since he is the creator, protector and destroyer of the universe, since he is the universe, he is of course powerful enough to defeat or even kill Bhishma if he wishes.
However, if we view this claim of an all-powerful Krishna with scepticism and insist on looking at evidence alone, Bhishma is no pushover. Even at hundred years old during the Kurukshetra war, he leads Duryodhana’s army with distinction, and during his ten days at the helm, wreaks much havoc.
Son of Ganga
From the point of view of pedigree alone, Bhishma is as destined for great deeds as any of the Pandavas. Like each of the sons of Kunti, he is also a demigod. While the Pandavas have divine fathers and a human mother, Bhishma has a divine mother – the river Ganga – and a human father – Shantanu.
In addition to being the son of a goddess, Bhishma also enjoys the privilege of being raised – during the first sixteen years of his life – on Mount Meru, where all the celestials and sages reside.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 3: Amba, Ambika and Ambalika.)
Here, Bhishma gets access to all the great teachers. For instance, he is trained in the Vedas by Vasishtha, and in the art of weapons by Parashurama.
During these years, he also likely has access to the nectar of immortality that gives the dwellers of heaven long and healthy lives. It is not unreasonable to suppose that this sustained consumption of the fluid aided Bhishma’s longevity too.
In his prime, Bhishma is known to perform various incredible feats. For instance:
- He goes to the swayamvara of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika in a single chariot, defeats all the assembled suitors, and brings the princesses back to Hastinapur.
- He defeats Sage Parashurama in a duel to settle Amba’s grievances. This is a battle that he fights reluctantly – not least because Parashurama is his preceptor – but wins with relative ease.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 38: Amba and Shikhandi.)
- He serves as the regent of the Kuru house for more than eighty years, during which the kingdom becomes the most powerful one in the land. He does not lose a single battle in all this time.
- During the war, Bhishma displays such tremendous skill with his bow and arrow that only Arjuna among the Pandavas is understood to have any chance of defeating him.
Given all of this, a battle between Krishna and Bhishma is likely to be hard-fought.
Krishna’s Intended Attacks
On two occasions during the first nine days – the second of these occurs on the ninth afternoon – Krishna gets frustrated with Arjuna’s reluctance at fighting Bhishma, and decides to take matters into his own hands.
Both times, he leaps off the chariot in the battlefield, holding his Sudarshana Chakra aloft in his hand, and advances toward Bhishma as if meaning to kill him.
(Suggested: Why did Arjuna kill Bhishma?)
Whether Krishna intends to actually attack Bhishma here or whether he is only trying to fire up Arjuna, we do not know. But Bhishma, for his part, welcomes Krishna’s attack. He puts aside his bow, adopts a pose of surrender, and says: ‘I will be a lucky man to be killed by you. Come, Madhava. Send that discus flying at my neck.’
From these two instances, we can infer that: (a) Krishna believes himself to be strong enough to kill Bhishma, and (b) Bhishma does not have the desire to fight Krishna no matter what the provocation.
Format of the Battle
Given all of the above, a battle between Krishna and Bhishma is an unlikely proposition.
But assuming that both warriors are willing to fight and that the cause over which they’re fighting is significant enough, we will still need to know a few other aspects of the duel that may have bearings on the outcome. Like:
- Is Bhishma the young warrior that Ganga brings back from Heaven after training him for sixteen years? Is he the seasoned warrior who won the hands of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika on his own?
- Are the warriors allowed to use their magical weapons or are they expected to fight only with their earthly ones?
- Bhishma is nearly the best archer in the world and Krishna’s weapon of choice is the Sudarshana Chakra. If the duel happens on chariots with bows and arrows, will Krishna be powerful enough to win?
Like all hypothetical battles of this sort, a lot will depend on the circumstances surrounding the battle for us to ascertain who is likely to win. Here are a few scenarios that may play out differently from one another:
- When Bhishma is forced to fight to defend his beliefs, he brings out the most formidable avatar of himself – as evidenced by the way in which he fights and defeats Parashurama.
- Krishna, on the other hand, is a reluctant fighter, content to rely on diplomacy and cleverness to mould situations to his benefit. For him, personal violence is an absolute last resort. If he doesn’t believe it is necessary, therefore, he will not fight at his best against Bhishma.
- Krishna is always a powerful fighter, but he becomes almost invincible after he procures the Sudarshana Chakra. In his fight against Bhishma, therefore, if he is denied the use of his discus, he might struggle.
- Though Bhishma gives a good account of himself as an old man on the field of Kurukshetra, fighting Krishna as a younger man – around Draupadi’s disrobing, say – would give him better odds.
Overall, if we play out a hundred simulated fights between Krishna and Bhishma, keeping all the above variables in play, we might expect Bhishma to win ten.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story