Uttarayan – The Passing of Bhishmadeva

In the epic of Mahabharata, an old warrior had a boon to give up his body at a time of his choice. But, do we have the same luxury? Is it even possible to predict our death? Death might come to us at any time. So, are we prepared for it?


The most ferocious war in the history of mankind, the Mahabharata, saw the downfall of the who’s who of the warrior race. Rightly so, because no one can stand against God and expect the victory to be on their side. Among all was an old warrior, Bhishmadeva who with his extraordinary skills had forced the Supreme conqueror, who had vowed to not take up weapons in the war, to attack him. Later, Arjuna, his beloved great-grandson pierced the old man with arrows all over his body, and he was lying on the bed of arrows, alive.

Bhishmadeva, the “grandfather” of the Kuru dynasty, a dutiful son of King Shantanu, who, to fulfil his father’s desire vowed to never marry and to accept the throne. In return, he was gifted with the boon of being able to die at a time of his choosing. Thus despite hundreds of wounds, he remained alive.

On hearing that Bhishmadeva had decided to quit his body, Pandavas accompanied by Lord Krishna, great sages and purified souls like Narada, Vyasa, Shukadeva Gosvami, Parashurama, Vasistha, Gautama, Atri, Kasyapa, Angirasa and many others, followed by their disciples assembled on the scene. The arrival of all these great personalities was certainly a sign of their great respect and admiration toward Bhishmadeva, a pure devotee of Lord Krishna.

Bhishmadeva Glorifies Lord Krishna

While speaking to Maharaja Yudhisthira, Bhishma praised the exalted position of Lord Krishna. He referred to the Lord as the original Personality of Godhead, the first Narayana. Thus he knew well that Krishna is the source of even Narayana. He also knew Him to be the Paramatma dwelling in everyone’s heart.

Although the Lord is equally kind to everyone, He is more inclined to a devotee who is always surrendered at His lotus feet. Bhishma praised the Lord for exhibiting this quality by graciously coming before him at the time of death. Now, he expressed his desire to constantly see the Lord, absorb his mind in thinking of Him and quit his body in that condition.

Bhishmadeva’s Prayers

As the time of Uttarayana approached, Bhishmadeva stopped speaking, withdrew his mind from everything else and fixed his wide-open eyes upon Lord Krishna. He then offered his heartfelt prayers to the Lord, the object of his attraction.

Lord Krishna had promised not to fight in the Battle of Kurukshetra, but Bhishma, in order to break Krishna’s promise, attacked Arjuna in such a vigorous way that Krishna was obliged to take up a chariot wheel and rush at him in order to protect Arjuna. Thus the Lord did not mind breaking his own promise to protect Arjuna and to fulfil Bhishma’s vow.

Bhishmadeva vividly remembered this scene of the battlefield and glorified this extraordinary quality of the Lord (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.37)


sva-nigamam apahāya mat-pratijñām
ṛtam adhikartum avapluto ratha-sthaḥ
dhṛta-ratha-caraṇo ’bhyayāc calad-gur
harir iva hantum ibhaṁ gatottarīyaḥ

“Fulfilling my desire and sacrificing His own promise, He got down from the chariot, took up its wheel and ran toward me hurriedly, just as a lion goes to kill an elephant. He even dropped His outer garment on the way.”

As a great fighter and a pure devotee, Bhishma was relishing the relation of Krishna in the chivalrous humor and Krishna felt the piercing of Bhishmadeva’s sharpened arrows like a devotee worshipping Him with soft rose flowers.

Bhishmadeva Attains Vaikuntha

Thus Bhishmadeva merged himself in the Lord with his mind, speech, sight and actions and quit his material body and consequently entered the spiritual realm in one of the Vaikuntha planets where the Lord in His eternal form of Partha-sarathi resides.

In this connection, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes in his purports to Srimad-Bhagavatam: The stage attained by Bhishmadeva while quitting his material body is called nirvikalpa-samādhi because he merged his self into thinking of the Lord and his mind into remembering His different activities. He chanted the glories of the Lord, and by his sight, he began to see the Lord personally present before him, and thus all his activities became concentrated upon the Lord without deviation. This is the highest stage of perfection, and it is possible for everyone to attain this stage by the practice of devotional service.

Are we prepared for our Death?

In the Bhagavad Gita (8.5), Lord Krishna says,

anta-kāle ca mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvam yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ 

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.”

Bhishmadeva had the boon to give up his body at a time of his choice, but still, he was very conscious to not forget the Lord even for a moment. And he was fortunate enough to have the Lord by his side at the crucial point of time of his life. Therefore we should be always prepared to face this final exam of our life like Bhishmadeva. The unique situation at Bhishmadeva’s time of death can be attained, even though Lord Krishna may not be personally present. It is possible by practising Krishna consciousness in our life in different ways such as- chanting the names of Lord, hearing the topics of the Lord, remembering the Lord, worshipping Him, etc. Then we will be able to think of the Lord even at the time of death by His mercy and go back to His spiritual abode.