Bhishma or Devavrata, the sagacious of sacrifice was an institution of morals and ethics. However, in spite of his countless dignified traits, he did cause harm to many, mainly through his unreasonable devotion to his oath and by his blind and slavish commitment to get an heir for the Hastinapur throne.
All for the sake of Father
Devavrata’s promise to Satyawati’s (King Shantanu’s lover and later wife; Shantanu was Devavrata’s father) father that only her son will become the next king of Hastinapur was a spontaneous emotional promise. And to keep this promise, he committed several acts which were not only wrong but also immoral. The abduction of the three Kanshi (now Varanasi) princesses from the Swayamvar for Vichitravirya, his half-brother is one such wrong deed. By this act, he not only stained the life of Amba, the eldest of the three princesses who was in love with King Salva but also his own nobility. The abducted princess was then not accepted by Vichtravirya due to her love for someone else. Salva too rejected her since she was won in the swayamvar by Bhishma after crushing him. The distressed princess who could go nowhere then appealed Bhishma to accept and marry her. However, Bhishma refused as he had taken the terrible oath of remaining ‘Brahmachari’ till death so that he never become eligible for the throne himself. After failing to get any justice, she eventually immolated herself. His oath took a life of an innocent woman – My question is: What is more crucial, self imposed great ethics or life of a person?
When the Terrible Oath became an obsession
It was a ritual among the Kshatriyas to win a princess in the Swayamvar and marry her. However, here Bhishma was not contesting the princesses for him but for his half-brothers. It seemed that he manipulated the Kshatriya laws all in the quest for giving Hastinapur a heir. Being a Brahmachari,it was unethical on his part to venture in to Swayamvara to win ladies for his brother.
During the infamous abduction in Mahabharat, the mighty Bhishma had to defeated several kings. Still, Salva challenged him, by putting his life at a risk. Here, Bhishma should have understood the feeling of Salva for which he was ready to face even him. He loved Amba and she loved him. It was injustice to powerfully take her away from the man she loves to somebody else. Later, it is seen that at the time of the ‘Rajsuya yagya’ Sishupal strongly condemns Bhishma for this action.
What I personally feel is that, the voyage from Kashi, in Uttar Pradesh to Hastinapur in Haryana in a chariot must have taken, if not many then at least a couple of days. Even during the journey he would have not made his intention clear which is why the princesses thought that they were going to marry Bhishma and not his brothers. However, after reaching Hastinapur, they received the shock of their life.
Yet another mistake for the sake of Hastinapur’s Heir
Not that Amba’s curse was less, Bhishma again tried to play with fire, this time for Dhitrashtra, the next heir of the Hastinapur dynasty. He chose Gandhari, the princess of the Gandhar King Bhishma, again risked the life of a woman in his obsession to get a princess for the next contender to the throne so that Dhitrashtra could tie the knot and ascend the throne as early as possible.
By all the above acts, I’m trying to understand Bhishma’s ideologies. As a child, while watching the 80’s Mahabharat and seeing Mukesh Khanna as Bhishma, I couldn’t judge him. His voice, acting and the amazing performance only justified the noble character that Bhishma was.
However, while watching the current show on Star Plus, where model turned actor Arav Chawdhary has been essaying the role, I couldn’t connect with the character well and that’s what prompted me to look at the other side of the coin.
By Deepti Verma
Image Source: By Ramnadayandatta Shastri Pandey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons