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Why did Lord Krishna attack Bhishma (Bhishma Pitamaha), in spite of vowing that he would not pick up a weapon in the Kurukshetra war?

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A related question I have is: I've seen in paintings that Krishna tries to attack Bhishma with a chariot's wheel but in the old Mahabharata tv series they show him trying to attack Bishma with his Sudharshan Chakra. Which is the correct version? – Bharat Jul 6 '14 at 15:31
1  
@RBK wheel...... – Ankit Sharma Jul 6 '14 at 15:47
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Shri Krishna had to attack Bhishma (actually He almost attacked him) because Arjuna was unable to stop the wrath that Bhishma had unleashed. Arjuna promised Shri Krishna to take out Bhisma in battle:

चॊदयाश्वान यतॊ भीष्मः करिष्ये वचनं तव
पातयिष्यामि दुर्धर्षं वृद्धं कुरुपितामहम [MB - 6.102.37]

Meaning
Urge the steeds, O Hrishikesa, to where Bhishma is. I will do as you say. I will overthrow the Kuru grandsire Bhishma, that invincible warrior.

But while battling with Bhisma, Arjuna broke the string of his own bow:

अथास्य तद अपि करुद्धश चिच्छेद धनुर अर्जुनः [45]

So Shri Krishna seeing that Arjuna was fighting mildly and Bhishma was showering arrows, put away the reins of the horses and jumped down from the chariot and proceeded to kill Bhishma:

वासुदेवस तु संप्रेक्ष्य पार्थस्य मृदुयुद्धताम
भीष्मं च शरवर्षाणि सृजन्तम अनिशं युधि [50]

उत्सृज्य रजतप्रख्यान हयान पार्थस्य मारिष
करुद्धॊ नाम महायॊगी परचस्कन्द महारथात
अभिदुद्राव भीष्मं स भुजप्रहरणॊ बली
परतॊदपाणिस तेजस्वी सिंहवद विनदन मुहुः
दारयन्न इव पद्भ्यां स जगतीं जगतीश्वरः
करॊधताम्रेक्षणः कृष्णॊ जिघांसुर अमितद्युतिः
गरसन्न इव च चेतांसि तावकानां महाहवे [MB 6.102.53-55]

Meaning
Abandoning then, O sire, Partha's silver like steeds, and filled with wrath, that great lord of Yoga powers jumped down from that great chariot. Repeatedly roaring like a lion, the mighty Krishna of great energy and immeasurable splendor, the Lord of Universe, with eyes red as copper from rage, and having his bare arms alone for his weapons, rushed towards Bhishma, whip in hand, desirous of slaying him and seeming to split the universe itself with his tread.

But after that, Arjuna pleaded Krishna to not break His vow and promised to kill Bhisma himself. Shri Krishna in anger without saying a word to Arjuna (unlike what we have seen in TV shows) goes back and mounts the chariot.

माधवस तु वचः शरुत्वा फल्गुनस्य महात्मनः
न किं चिद उक्त्वा सक्रॊध आरुरॊह रथं पुनः [70]

Meaning
Madhava, however, hearing these words of the high-souled Phalguni, spoke not a word, but in anger once more mounted upon the chariot.

So from this account of the Mahabharat, it seems that even though Shri Krishna had promised to not use weapons, he was forced to take the step of using one due to the unstoppable wrath of Bhishma which Arjuna had failed to prevent.

On a side note, Shri Krishna did this because His main purpose was not to be known as someone who keeps his vow, but to establish dharma as He had stated to Arjuna in Gita (4.7-8). So when He saw the side of dharma was facing trouble in the battle, He had to interfere in it anyway. Also, He might have done it to please Bhishma as well who was His devotee.

Reference: Mahabharat - Bhishma Parva

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Before the war of Mahabharata had started, Arjuna and Duryodhana both approached Krishna for help in the war. Krishna had himself (with the vow not to use weapons), and his mighty army. He asked the two to take one each. Duryodhana, chose the mighty army of Krishna, while Arjuna humbly begs Krishna to be just his charioteer, knowing that whichever side Krishna is in, will win the war.

When Duryodhana goes back to Hastinapur, he starts bragging about his act, and that Arjuna must be a fool that he opted for Krishna, knowing about his vow. Bheeshma immediately reckons Krishna's plot, and taunts Duryodhana for his ignorance. And argument errupts between the two and leads Bheeshma to vow that he would make Krishna use weaponry in the war.

Bhishma was a true devotee of Krishna, knowing which, Krishna plots to break his own vow, and let Bhishma complete his.

So, just one day before Bheeshma was about to lay on the baadon ki shaiya (bed of arrows), Krishna pretends that he is annoyed by Bheeshma's attacks and Arjuna's reluctant behaviour of not fighting against Bhishma with all the power he has, and goes to attack Bheeshma with a broken chariot wheel. Bheeshma understood that Krishna is staging an act just to uphold Bheeshma's vow, and surrenders to Krishna to kill him.

As the vow is now broken, and Krishna doesn't intend to kill his devotee with his own hands, he enacts that he is melted by Bheeshma's nature, and he goes back to Arjuna. (It is versioned that Arjuna himself begged Krishna for Bheeshma's life, but anyways, Krishna wasn't the one to kill Bheeshma).

As the story goes on, Arjuna slays through Bheeshma, the following day.

This finally justifies that Krishna values his (true) devotees more than himself.

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Shikhandi was Draupadi's brother/sister I thought. – Bharat Jul 6 '14 at 15:29
    
@RBK I dunno what was going through me when I wrote that.. edited :) – Awal Garg Jul 6 '14 at 15:32
    
hmm..seems like the tv version :) – Be Happy Jul 6 '14 at 16:19
    
Bheeshma to vow that he would make Krishna use weaponry in the war. -- is this really true? What's your source? – sv. Jan 12 at 4:57

I am aware of the story in AwalGarg's answer but I always knew a slightly different version of this story, here it goes.

Duryodhana, the sinful son of Dhritarastra, had complained to grandfather Bhishma that he was not fighting to his full capacity against Arjuna. Angered at Duryodhana's proding, Bhishma took a vow that he would kill Arjuna the next day. Only if Lord Krishna took up weapons could Arjuna be saved. The next day's fighting between Arjuna and Bhishma was so severe that Lord Krishna descended from the chariot, took up a broken chariot wheel and rushed at Bhishma to kill him. Lord Krishna had taken a vow not to take up weapons at Kurukshetra, but to protect His dear devotee, Arjuna, Krishna broke that vow. Krishna was going to kill Bhishma, but Arjuna, holding Krishna's leg, begged Him not to. Arjuna promised that he would kill Bhishma. Lord Krishna put down the wheel, ascended Arjuna's chariot and continued to drive it to victory. Later Arjuna fought with Bhishma and caused him to fall from his chariot onto a bed of arrows, thus ending Bhishma's fighting in the Kurukshetra battle. This pastime is mentioned in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata.
(Source: krishnaimages.com).

There is also one rhyme, I used to say in childhood, which describes the event after Bhishma took vow to kill Arjuna. In that rhyme, Krishna told Draupadi to go to Bhishma with covered face and touch his feet and tricked him to give "सौभाग्यवती भव" aashirvad. Now Bhisma got stuck in his aahirvad and vow. To help him Krishna promised him that he will do something to help Bhisma. That's why he used chariot wheel to attack Bhisma so that he doesn't have to break his vow and also complete his aashirvaad. This rhyme is called "Chaliya".

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Actually bhishma was a devotee of krishna and wanted from inside to be killed by Lord krishna only.. Krishna knew this and for his love to bhishma only he was ready to break his wow.. That's a right answer..

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you should cite source – Bhavin Chhatrola Oct 16 '15 at 4:33
Before the war of Mahabharata had started, Arjuna and Duryodhana both approached Krishna for help in the war. Krishna had himself (with the vow not to use weapons), and his mighty army. He asked the two to take one each. Duryodhana, chose the mighty army of Krishna, while Arjuna humbly begs Krishna to be just his charioteer, knowing that whichever side Krishna is in, will win the war. 

Before starting the war of Mahabharata, The Bhishmpitama had affirmed (promised) to himself that " I am not the Shantanu putra (Son of Ganga) till i make force to Krishna to pick weapons in Mahabharata tht's the reason Bhishmpitama attacked on Arjun in full force till the chariot(rath) of Arjun is broken down. So the Krishna Used the wheel of charriot as a chakra in against of Bhishmpitama, and while seeing all this Arjun hold the feets of Krishna that u had promised to not attack on any one's in Mahabharata then Krishna said it was not for your or my sake "it was all about the affirmed of BHISHMPITAMA thts the reason of only attacking

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You should cite source for oath of Bhisha Pitamah. Here are the sources for Mahabharatha. This and this. – The Destroyer Jan 29 at 10:46

just read all the answers and different versions...

i seriously feel... Neither Did Krishna Bhagwan break his promise... Nor Did he show mercy on a leader of Adharmi...

He did keep his vow of not using any of his weapons (which consists but not limited to Shankha, Chakra, Gada, Asi, Or even Padma)...

he has used a wheel of a chariot (Which technically can not be Classified as weapon of any form)... And kept his vow... also... he has maintained his divinely principle of fighting against the Adharma... by not controlling his anger and being steady on the chariot...

in this manner... he has remanifested his promise to Dharmi Janas... of Preventing Adharma from happening to them in any and all circumstances...

Ambadnya

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