India is a land filled with such deep mythology that you can’t tell the difference between myth and reality. Our epics The stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata also resonate with our lives today. There are countless characters presented to us in these two epics, some grays, some whites, and some shadowy blacks, but one character that stands out in these two epics is “Bhishma or Gangaputra or Devavrat”. Its raw power, its exuberance and its ethics still resonate today like the sound of an arc.
Similar to many festivals that are celebrated in and around these epic legends, even he has one festival attributed to him – Bhishma Dwadashi. It falls on the 12the Day of 11e Hindu calendar month (Magha) during the Amavasya to Poornima period known more commonly as Shukla Paksha.
Bhishma had a blessing from his father, that of “Iccha-Mrityu”, that is, to accept death on his own terms. He got this boon because he promised never to ascend his father’s throne in favor of his father’s other children.
During the war at Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Bhima being forced to move towards the throne of Hastinapur had to fight on the side of the Kauravas. Due to his skill, Karuavas began to win in the war, until Krishna-Vasudeva intervened and reminded the Pandavas of Bhishma’s vow – never to fight a woman. To take advantage of this fact, they introduced Shikhandi – who was born a woman but chose to become a man, Bhishma knowing that Shikhandi was born Shikandini a woman does not fight her and is pinned to the ground by Arjuna’s arrows as he uses Shikandi as a shield.
The significance of this day is twofold – one as the day Bhishma accepted death with Lord Surya as his witness (Surya Uttarayan) and two as the day the Pandavas performed the last rites for their great-grandfather ( Pitamah Bhishma). So, on BhishmaDwadasi, people remember his steadfast character by fasting and reading the Mahabharata which they believe leads to happiness and contentment.
(The writer is the author of two bestselling books, “The Monk’s Secret” and “The Midas Touch”)