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Bhishma (भीष्म) was the eighth son of Kuru King Shantanu, who was one of the most prominent characters of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. He was the grand uncle of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

Origin of name

Bhishma means He of the terrible oath, referring to his vow of lifelong celibacy. Originally named Devavratha, he became known as Bhishma after he took the bhishana pratigya ('terrible oath') — the vow of lifelong celibacy and of service to whoever sat on the throne of his father (the throne of Hastinapur). He took this oath so that his father, Shantanu could marry a fisherwoman Satyavati — Satyvati's father had refused to give his daughter's hand to Shantanu on the grounds that his daughter's children would never be rulers as Shantanu already had a son (Devratha).

His birth and early life

Bhishma was born as the eighth son of the illustrious King Shantanu and Ganga. As per the Mahabharata, Shantanu saw Ganga on the banks of river Ganga (Ganges) and enamoured of her beauty, asked her to marry him. She agreed but with the condition that Shantanu would never question her, no matter what her actions — if he ever broke his promise, she would leave him, never to be a part of his life again. Shantanu readily agreed to this seemingly harmless condition and was thus married to Ganga. Eight children were born in this marriage, the eighth of which was Bhishma himself. The seven siblings born before him were drowned by their mother Ganga in order to break their curse — as they were incarnations of the aforementioned Vasus, who do not like to live the life of Humans. Shantanu silently bore the torture of watching his wife drown his offspring seven times. However, when Ganga was about to drown Bhishma, Shantanu could no longer contain his anguish and burst into protest. Ganga, aware of the eighth child's destiny to live a long life on earth, did not drown the child. However, since Shantanu had broken his promise given to her at marriage, she left Shantanu promising to return the child to him once he is grown up.During his childhood, Devavrata was taught political science and other subjects by Brihaspati and Sukracharya,gurus of the Devas and Asuras respectively; Vedas and religious scriptures by the sage Vasishtha; Sage Markandeya was his spiritual guru. On Ganga's persuasion, Devavrata was taught martial arts, military sciences and the use of weapons by Parashurama. His banner in battle was a golden palm tree.

Bhishma Pitamaha

He was known as 'Bhishma Pitamaha' (Pitamaha meaning the grandfather or grandsire) among the Pandavas and the Kauravas.He was a well known person for his knowledge in politics and many other subjects.He was very good archer and he won a battle against his Guru Parshurama, who is otherwise unbeatble (due to the influence of time and the relationship of God and devotee), after a battle of 23 Days.

In Mahabharata war

Bhishma is the one who witnessed the Mahābhārata completely from the beginning since the rule of Shantanu. In the great battle at Kurukshetra, Bhishma was the supreme commander of the Kaurava forces for ten days compared to Drona's five, Karna's two and Salya's one-the last day. He fought reluctantly on the side of the Kauravas; nevertheless, he gave it his best effort. Each day he was killing around 10,000 soldiers of Pandavas.


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