Bhishmashtami (falling on 2nd Feb 2020 this year) is dedicated to Bhishma of epic Mahabharata. It is believed that Bhishma, also known as ‘Ganga Putra Bhishma’ (Bhishma, son of Ganga devi) or ‘Bhishma Pitamaha’ departed from his body on this day of his choice. This occurred during the propitious ‘Uttarayan period’; that is, the daytime of devas. Bhishma Ashtami is observed during the month of Magha the Hindu calendar. corresponds to the months of January–February.
Bhishma was a war veteran and the grandsire of Kauravas and Pandavas. Being the son of Goddess Ganga and student of legendary teachers, he was too powerful to be defeated by any warrior of his time. Due to some political reasons, he unwillingly had to fight the war of Mahabharata from the side of Kauravas, but he vowed not to kill any Pandavas. The reason behind this vow was his affection for Pandavas. Moreover, the world knew that Kauravas have been doing injustice with Pandavas for years. During the war, Kauravas often confronted him to break his vow. To liberate himself, he secretly hinted Pandavas on how to kill him. With this help, Arjuna killed him by shooting with countless arrows that penetrated through his whole body and made him lie down on a bed of arrows afterwards. Wounded Bhishma fell thirsty on the battlefield. To satiate his thirst, Arjuna shot down an arrow in the earth, which resulted in a jet stream of water that rose up and went straight into his mouth. Water stream was no one else but mother Ganga, who came to quench the thirst of her son. Since Bhishma had the boon of Ichcha Mrityu (schedule the death), he chose to die when the sun moved into the northern hemisphere. In the meantime, he gathered all this family and disciples around him and preached them about life and how to rule a kingdom. This origin of water stream was converted into a pond known as Bhishma Kund. Bhishma stands for grandsire and kund in English translates to the water tank or pond. Also, a temple was constructed in the premises known as Bhishma Narkatari Temple.
According to the legend associated with the day, Bhishma waited for 58 days before leaving his body. Bhishma Pitamah left his body on the auspicious day of Uttarayana, i.e. on the day when the Lord Surya started moving towards Northward after completing six month period of Dhakshinayana. Hindus believe that the one who dies during Uttarayana goes to heaven.
Rituals observed on Bhishma Ashtami
On this day of Bhishma Ashtami, Hindus observe the ritual of ‘Ekodishta Shraddha’ in the honor of Bhishma. According to the belief, only those devotees whose fathers are not alive anymore can perform this ritual.
People go to nearby river banks and perform the ‘Tarpan’ ritual in order to bring peace to Bhishma Pitamah’s soul. They also honor their own ancestors through the same ritual.
Devotees take holy dips in the Ganges and offer boiled rice and sesame seeds in order to come out of the cycle of life and death and purify their souls.
Devotees observe fast during the day and perform ‘Arghyam’ and chant ‘Bhishma Ashtami mantra’ to seek the deity’s blessings.
Significance of Bhishma Ashtami
Bhishma Pitamah was well known for his celibacy and he observed it all through his life. Owing to his supreme devotion and loyalty to his father, Bhishma Pitamah was bestowed with a power to choose his time of death. When he got injured during the great war of Mahabharata, he did not leave his body and waited for the auspicious day of Magha Shukla Ashtami to meet the supreme soul. In Hinduism, the period when Surya Bhagawan (Sun God) moves in the south direction, is considered ominous and all the propitious activities are postponed till the time Sun God moves back in the northern direction. During the astami of the Magha month, this northern movement is initiated, known as the ‘Uttarayan’ period. The day of Bhishma Ashtami is considered favourable to perform any auspicious activity all day long.
The day of Bhishma Ashtami is also important for people to get rid of ‘putra dosh’. Childless couples as well as newly married couples observe a strict fast on this day, in order to be blessed with a son soon. It is believed that by getting the blessings of Bhishma Pitamah on this day, couples will be blessed with a male child, who will possess the qualities of Pitamah.