In the previous post Understanding Bhishma: Early Days, we learn how Bhishma in the quest to stay true to his oath took extreme measures and ruined several people’s lives, including his own. This article mainly deals with his choices and dilemmas in the later days.
When the Kauravas insulted Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas in the Kuru assembly in Mahabharat, Bhishma remained silent. Was it not his accountability as an elder member of the family to prevent this monstrous misdeed? But, he instead chose to bury himself behind the dispute that ‘Dharma’ is subtle and triumphs personal affectations.
After protecting/serving the race and kingdom of Kurus for so many years, he should have retired at the time of the War. But, he did not. Instead, he accepted the spot of the commanding officer of the Kaurava defence.
Why did he join the Kauravas? Well, agreed that he had promised his father, King Shantanu to guard the kingdom of Hastinapur. But, here in this case, no matter whether the Pandavas won or the Kauravas, a Kuru son would have ascended to the throne. In any circumstance, there was no threat to the Kuru realm from outsiders. If not a retreat, Bhishma should have at least remained neutral just the way Balram, Lord Krishna’s elder brother did. He could have then come back again to serve the Hastinapur throne, once the War was over.
Bhishma’s heart always belonged to the Pandavas, though he felt it was his duty to serve the Kauravas. Still, he refrained from supporting the Pandavas openly.
The verses in the Bhagavad Gita dictate,
“Yadyad Acharti Shrestha
Tadtad eve taro jana
sa yet parmanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate”
It means, whatever a great man does, is followed by others. The standard laid by Bhishma, would be followed by the world.
If only Bhishma had avoided the War, his example would have been then followed by others like Drona, who was indebted to him. In the nonattendance of these two experienced and brave warriors, there could have been two possibilities, both good. One, the war would have been far less destructive and two, maybe there might have been no war, at all. These two towering personalities invited support from other people as well to the Kauravas.
He adored and supported the Pandavas, however served Duryodhana as a duty dictated by the principles of Dharma. He failed to achieve anything positive. This ineffectiveness of his life is well captured by a Hindi poet Dinkar when he writes,
“Pyar pandavo par manse,
Kauravo ki seva tanse,
Sadh payega kaun?
kam iss bikhari hui lagan se”
It means, love for the Pandavas from the heart and mind but duty bound towards Kauravas through body; nothing can be ever achieved by this divided devotion.
The Final Words
Bhishma’s life is a great example of paradoxes because even though he was a Brahmcahri, (celibate), he was greatly attached to the empire. Of course, not for his personal ambitions, but to serve it!
The tradition of the Aryans divides a man’s life into four Ashramas. The first phase is that of a Brahmcharya – Celibate; the next is of Grihasta – Householder, followed by Vanprastha – Forest dweller and lastly Sanyas which signifies total renunciation from everything. Bhishma, somehow, did not fit in this model. How? Well, he deserted the throne and took a terrible oath to become a Brahmachari. By this, he deprived himself the second phase of life. In addition, he never retired even after the next generation grew up and he became old. When Duryodhana matured, the wheels of the power slipped completely from his hand, which was indeed the right time for Bhishma to withdraw himself from politics and retire. Instead, he allowed Duryodhana to take advantage of him, which ultimately landed him in a war against the Pandavas.
Common man who is but a mortal can be easily checked as they are well aware of their own limits. But living legends, cannot. They are in a greater position to do damage. The harm which I am talking is not just in the form of immoral action but by inaction also. Just like Bhishma’s lack of action during the Draupadi’s Cheerharan. By not taking a tough stand against the ill-policies of Duryodhana, Bhishma eventually ended up placing himself fairly accountable for the Mahabharata.
By Deepti Verma