The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Bhishma Swargarohana Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
After the War
After the Kurukshetra war finishes, Bhishma has a lengthy conversation with Yudhishthir, and coaches him on various topics.
The conversation is diverse. Some of the information is presented in the form of stories, whereas in other instances Bhishma prescribes modes of behaviour directly to Yudhishthir.
All of this wisdom is contained in the Shanti Parva and the Anushasana Parva.
After the conversation is finished, Bhishma takes the decision to leave his life and summon his death.
The time has come for Bhishma to bid goodbye to the world of men. We are now in the final stages of the Anushasana Parva, as Vyasa addresses the son of Santanu and says:
‘O Gangeya, the Kuru chief Yudhishthir has been restored to his true state along with the rest of his brothers. He has indeed been educated by you upon various aspects of duty. He now seeks your permission to return to the city.’
Bhishma calls Yudhishthir to his side. ‘Go back to your people, O King,’ he says. ‘Let the fever of grief be dispelled from your heart. Devote yourself to the practices of Kshatriyahood, and honour all your well-wishers at all times.
‘When the hour approaches for my departure, when the sun stops its southward course and turns northward, come back here so that I might bid farewell to you.’
Yudhishthir and his brothers pay their respects to Bhishma, and accompanied by Dhritarashtra and Gandhari and others, they go to Hastinapur. For a few months Yudhishthir rules over the kingdom as supreme king but only in name.
He takes the advice of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari at all times, and consults with his brothers and wife in matters of kingship. Finally, on the fateful day of Bhishma’s passing, they go back to the bank of the river for one final conversation.
Bhishma Says Goodbye
Bhishma says, ‘By my good luck, O Yudhishthir, king of Hastinapur, you have come here with all your councillors. Surya has begun his northward course. I have remained on this bed of arrows for fifty eight nights.
‘But the pain has made it seem longer than a hundred years! The lunar month of Magha has arrived. The long discussions with you on various matters have made my final few days in this world pleasurable. I thank you for this.’
He now turns to Dhritarashtra. ‘You must not grieve for the deaths of your sons, O Kurunandana. That which has been ordained has happened. Yudhishthir and his brothers are as much your sons as they are Pandu’s. Cherish and protect and guide them.
‘The eldest son of Kunti is just and pure-souled. He is devoted to the virtues of compassion, to the duty of obedience. He will be as much your son as Duryodhana ever was.’
Message to Krishna
To Krishna: ‘O Devadeva, O holy one! It is indeed your grace that the sons of Pandu have seen such victories. I counselled Duryodhana to see the truth, that you are the embodiment of virtue upon this planet, but he was not destined to listen.
‘You are the Narayana of Vadari, who sports in the company of Nara amid birdsong and gentle breezes. Sage Narada told me all about you and Arjuna, O Vasudeva. With your leave now, I shall cast off my body. Permit me to attain the end that I deserve.’
‘I give you leave, O Santanava!’ says Krishna. ‘You have not been guilty of a single transgression in your life. You are a royal sage though you have never held the position of king. You are a second Markandeya.
‘It is for this reason that your death comes upon you at your wish. Even death waits upon you, O Bhishma, like a slave eager to serve.’
With this, Bhishma falls silent for a while. He holds forth his life-breaths, successively one after the other as per the indications of Yoga. Slowly, those life-breaths rose up, and the body of the son of Shantanu becomes numb as each limb falls away to the side in its turn.
In the midst of those high-souled people, like Vyasa and Krishna, and in the midst of his kinsmen, like Yudhishthir and Bhimasena and Arjuna and Dhritarashtra, Bhishma finally lets go of his breaths through the crown of his head.
As celestial kettle-drums play and flowers begin to rain upon him, the siddhas and rishis become filled with delight, and they utter exclamations of wonder. Then Yudhishthir and Vidura wrap the body of Bhishma with a silken cloth and numerous garlands of flowers.
Yuyutsu holds an umbrella over the grandsire’s head, while Bhima and Arjuna hold in their hands two white yak tails each. The sons of Madri follow with head gears, even as Yudhishthir and Dhritarashtra take two Palmyra fans and fan Bhishma’s body gently.
Ganga Mourns her Son
As the people of Hastinapur gather around the fallen regent, Ganga appears in her embodied form and addresses the Kurus in a quiet voice. ‘O sinless ones,’ she says, ‘listen to me as I say unto you what has occurred with respect to my son.
‘He was endued with wisdom and high birth. He was the benefactor of his race. He could not be vanquished by even Rama of Bhrigu’s race. Alas, he was slain by Shikhandi.
‘At the groom-choosing of Kasi, he vanquished all the assembled Kshatriyas of the land while fighting from a single chariot. My heart grieves as I recall the manner in which he was slaughtered by that prince of Panchala.’
Krishna steps up to console the lamenting woman. ‘Amiable one, please be comforted. Do not yield to grief. Your son was one of the Vasus, O Goddess! I have no doubt that he has already reached a region of high felicity.
‘It was only through a curse that he had to take birth in the world of men. He was slain not by Shikhandi but by Dhananjaya. The very king of the gods could not slay Bhishma in battle, O Ganga.
‘Indeed, even all the gods assembled together could not defeat him. Do not grieve for him, my lady, for your son – the supreme scion of the Kuru race – has gone to heaven.’
Hearing these words, Ganga is placated, and in due course of time all the kings present there, headed by Krishna, depart from her banks and return to Hastinapur.
With this ends the Bhishma Swargarohana Parva.