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Grandsire Bhishma was one of the greatest warriors who fought in the Mahabharata war.He had a boon by which he could not be killed by anybody. And his death had to be as per his own wish.

The details of the final battle between Bhishma and Arjuna are given in Mahabharata,Book:6, Bhishma Parva, Bhagavat-Gita Parva. When Bhishma finally fell, there was not in Bhishma's body space of even two fingers' breadth that was not pierced with arrows.

After the end of that battle{on day 10th of the war}, Grandsire Bhishma lived for 58 days on a Bed of Arrows, waiting for an auspicious day to die, as per his self-wish boon.

Then those Rishis in the forms of swans inhabiting the Manasa lake, quickly rose up, and came together, for obtaining a sight of the Kuru grandsire Bhishma, to that spot where that foremost of men was lying on his bed of arrows. Then those Rishis in swanlike forms, coming to Bhishma, beheld that perpetuator of Kuru's race lying on his bed of arrows. Beholding that high-souled son of Ganga, that chief of the Bharatas, they walked round him, and the Sun being then in the southern solstice, they said, addressing one another, these words, 'Being a high-souled person, why should Bhishma pass out (of the world) during the southern declension?' Having said these words, those swans went away, proceeding towards the southern direction. Endued with great intelligence, Bhishma, O Bharata. beholding them, reflected for a moment. And the son of Santanu then said unto them. 'I will never pass out (of the world) as long as the Sun is in the southern solstice. Even this is my resolve. I will proceed to my own ancient abode when the Sun reacheth the northern solstice. Ye swans, I tell you this truly. Expectant of the northern declension I will hold my life. Since I have the fullest control over the yielding up of my life, I will, therefore, hold life, expectant of death during the northern declension. The boon that was granted to me by my illustrious sire, to the effect that my death would depend on my own wish O, let that boon become true. I will hold my life, since I have control in the matter of laying it down.' Having said these words to those swans, he continued to lie down on his bed of arrows.

What was the Karmic reason why Bhishma had to spend the final days of his life on a Bed of Arrows?

  • It may be related with Bhishma stealing cow in previous birth as Vasu or Bhishma not closing his eyes when clothes of Ganga were blown by air in Heaven when he was Vasu.. but don't know exact reason... – Tejaswee Sep 29 '16 at 16:32
  • I had heard similar story related with Mandavya Rishi. Do not know whether there is Similar story for Bhishma or not... – Tejaswee Sep 29 '16 at 19:06
  • @Tezz - first part is right (cow), second is wrong- that is Shantanu, Bhishma's afther. That is why Shantanu & Ganga were born on earth & married. – ram May 17 '18 at 20:33
10

This section of the Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, which is a commentary on the Mahabharata by Madhavacharya gives an account of Bhishma's previous birth as Vasu Dyu.

TLDR; The Karmic reason why Bhishma had to suffer a death on a bed of arrows is because in his previous life as Vasu Dyu he stole Vasistha's cow for his wife Vaaranagi and was cursed by Vasistha/Brahma for it.

Dyu gets cursed by Brahma (who was in Sage Vasistha's body) for stealing the cow.

tayA dyu nAmA sa vasuH prachoditaH bhrAtR^i snehAt saptabhiH anvitaH aparaiH |

babandha tAM gAm atha tAn shashApa vasishhTha saMsthaH kamala udbhavaH prabhuH || 11 .22||

Then dyu named vasu, one of the eight vasu-s, instigated thus by his wife, and accompanied by the other seven vasu-s, went to the hermitage of vashiShTa and tried to tether that sage’s divine cow nandini.

Then, brahma abiding in the form of sage vashiSTha hurled a curse at them who are trying to make away with the cow. [11-22]

adharma vR^ittAH pratiyAta mAnushhIM yoniM drutaM yat kR^ite sarva eva |

dharmAt chyutAH sa tathA ashhTa aayur ApyatA manye punaH xipram ato vimoxyatha || 11 .23||

“You who resorted to tread the path of unrighteousness shall take birth in human wombs... and, for which dyu named vasu you all have undertaken this unrighteous deed, that vasu, namely dyu, shall get the lifespan of eight people in his human life... and others discard their bodies as soon as they take birth...” so cursed brahma... [11-23]

He also curses Dyu's wife Varaangi to be reborn as Amba/Shikhandi.

prachodayAmAsa cha yA ku mArge patiM hi sA.amba iti nareshhu jAtA |

abhartR^ikA pu.mstva samAshrayeNa patyuH mR^itau kAraNatvaM vrajeta || 11 .24||

“And she who instigated her husband into this wrong path, that varaangi, the wife of dyu, shall take birth in humans by the name of amba... she becomes destitute of a husband, and by bracing herself to maleness she becomes the cause for the death of her husband... [11-24]

And finally there's this additional verse where Dyu is doomed to remain a celibate and die at the hands of his wife suffering eight deaths in agony on a bed of arrows.

bhavatu asau brahma charya eka nishhThaH mahAn virodhaH cha tayoH bhaveta |

sa garbha vAsa ashhTaka duHkham eva samApnutAM shara talpe shayAnaH || 11 .25||

> mR^iti ashhTakotthAm api vedanAM saH prApnotu shastraiH bahudhA nikR^ittaH | [11-26 a]

“And he will be steadfast in his celibacy, [i.e. void of marital bliss...] and there will bitter animosity between those two, himself and his wife, namely dyu and varaangi, in the forthcoming births... and he undergoes the agony of eight births – aShTa garbha vaasa duHkham – enceinte; and diversly gashed with weapons he even undergoes the agony of eight deaths – all while he is laid up on the bed of arrows... [11-25, 26 a]

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