Bheeshma Nirvana

When did Bheeshma leave his mortal coil?

The Day was, 18th January, 3066 BCE.

Firstly, let us know a little about this great hero from the Mahabharata, before arriving at his Date of Nirvana.

Bheeshma, the grand sire of the Kuru family, the grand uncle of the Pandava and the Kaurava, had been leading the Kaurava Army against the Pandava, much against his heart. Yet he had to, as he was duty bound to fight for the kingdom of Hastinapura.

He knew that the Kaurava were wrong. Yet he had to fight for them, as he was duty bound to pay his allegiance to the ruling army and the ruler of Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kaurava.

He was one of the greatest warriors of all times. Yet he had to fight hard, to the best of his abilities since Arjuna, inspired by Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita Upadesha, had set aside the pangs of affection for his kith and kin and was fighting fiercely for the sake of righteousness to reign in the land.

But alas, he fell to the ground, struck by arrows in his combat with Arjuna. Yet he had a feeling of pride that he would be dying a warrior’s death, on the battleground.

With Bheeshma’s fall, the Pandava had scored a major victory. Yet Arjuna was struck with grief as he was going to lose his grand uncle. As a respect for the great warrior and as a grand nephew, he immediately went to his side.

At Bheeshma’s request, Arjuna created a befitting bed of arrows for Bheeshma to rest and shot an arrow in the ground to create a water spring to quench Bheeshma’s thirst.

In the chapters dealing with the war, Bheeshma Parva, in verses 6.114.86-100, after being mortally wounded, we find Bheeshma saying that he would wait until Uttarayana to die.

Again in the same Parva, in 6.116.13, he repeats that he is waiting for the return of the sun and the moon to breathe his last. He calls the alignment as Sasi Surya Yoga. Sasi is another name for the moon and Surya means the Sun.

Bheeshma then tells all those who had gathered around him that the time for him to depart from this world had not yet come. Due to the boon granted by his father, he had the power to choose the moment of his death.

As it was that time of the year when the sun was moving in the southern direction, Bheeshma announced that he would wait till the sun turned north, Uttarayana, to depart from the earth.

From the day he fell, to the day he finally breathed his last, Bheeshma lay in his bed of arrows. He was updated every day with the goings on in the battlefield. He was pleased when he heard of the victory of the Pandava, the victory of righteousness. He was also grieved at the same time over the loss of the Kaurava and many others in the battlefield.

After the battle, Yudhishtra, the eldest of the Pandava princes was crowned the king of Hastinapura. He then went with his brothers and retinue, to Bheeshma, to take his blessings and to learn from him good practices in administration as well as worldly and ethereal truths.

Finally, Bheeshma deemed the purpose of his life to have been achieved. He was relieved that he was leaving Hastinapura in the just hands of Yudhishtra. He also saw that the sun had turned northward in its journey in the sky.

Blessing everyone around him and taking blessings from Krishna, in whom he saw the cosmic divine, Bheeshma takes permission to leave the earth. He breathes his last and with that ends the saga of one of the greatest personages of the Kuru family and the Mahabharata period.

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Bheeshma lying in the battlefield on a bed of arrows

In the Mahabharata text, Bheeshma’s expression of the knowledge of the Universe before his death has been given as much importance as the Bhagavad Gita.

The fall of Bheeshma has been considered by many as an important clue for the dating of the events of Mahabharata and from thereon, the dating of Krishna, since the text contains descriptions of the events that led to his fall and what happened thereon till he breathed his last.

The Date of Bheeshma Nirvana

In Anushasana Parva, the chapters after the war, in the Mahabharata, we find Bheeshma mentioning the exact number of days as well as the particulars of the lunar month, day and phase.

The relevant verse reads as,

Parivrtto hi BhagavansahasransurDivakarah

Astapancasatamratryahsayanasyadya me gatah

Saresunisitagresuyathavarsasatamtatha.

Magho’yamsamanupraptomasahsaumyoyudhistira

Tribhagasesahpakso’yamsuklobhavitumarhati.

Mahabharata 13.153.26-28

The translation reads as,

The thousand-rayed maker of day, the radiant Surya has turned around on his northward course. I have spent 58 sleepless nights. But it feels as though it has been a century since I have lain stretched on these sharp arrows. O Yudhishthira, the lunar month of Magha has come. This is the lit fortnight and remainder three parts ought to be.

Bheeshma thus states that,

  • the Sun had turned around and Uttarayana, i.e northern movement of the sun had commenced
  • the lunar month of Maghahad arrived
  • it was the bright fortnight – implying that it was Shukla Paksha

The last part of the verse mentions “3 parts” but seems to be shrouded in ambiguity on whether 3 parts have gone by or whether 3 parts are yet to come by. Also 3 parts of what, is not very evident either. This has stirred up many a debate among scholars and one finds many interpretations of this line.

However, this ambiguity is sealed by a verse in the Shanti Parva, which reads,

Shukla pakshasyaashtamyam

Maghamasasyaparthiva

prajapatye cha nakshatre

madyampraptedivakare

Nivritamatretvayane

uttarevaidivkare

samaveswhayadatmanam

atmanyevsamahitah

 – Mahabharata, Shanti Parva 47 – 3

“In the ashtami of shuklapaksha of Magha month, in Rohininakshatra, when the sun was at zenith, around noon, when the sun had turned Uttara already, i.e. when the Sun had turned north, Uttarayana had begun, Bheeshma’s soul joined the Supreme Divine.”

i.e. Bheeshma breathed his last on the 8th phase in bright fortnight of Magha, i.e. on Magha Shukla Paksha Ashtami, now known as Bheeshma Ashtami.

The Mahabharata text describes the night of Bheeshma’s Nirvana further as mighty Saturn had stationed itself near Rohinistar, i.e.Aldeberan in Taurus constellation.

Bheeshma Nirvana 2

– Mahabharata 6.2.32

These are very exact statements and have to fit in the sequence of dates arrived at, through any method of dating.

From the details about Bheeshma’s demise, Bheeshma Nirvana, searching the past for such a time window which not only meets above descriptions from the text, but also fits with the time frame of the other events, we find that the winter solstice, Uttarayana, had occurred in lunar month of Magha, on Shukla Paksha Sapthami, 7th phase, brighter half, on 17th January, 3066 BCE.

Bheeshma therefore breathed his last on the next day, Ashtami, 8th phase of the moon, 18th January, 3066 BCE.

More on Bheeshma in our book, Historical Krishna.

Historical Krishna_3_Vol

Mattu Pongal / Kannu Pidi

Animal Festivals

Celebrating festivals with Nature is not only for the humans. The people not only realized but also cherished the animals as part of nature. The domesticated animals had their own festivals every year which was celebrated with gusto and gaiety.

Worship of Animals

Different parts of India had their own festivals in which they worshipped the animals and had animal races. The cows, the oxen, the buffaloes are washed, painted, anointed with Turmeric, Kumkum, taken round in processions in festivities.

In Tamil Nadu and Andhra, the cows and oxen festival is celebrated the day after Shankaranti, Pongal as the festival of Mattu Pongal.

Mattu Pongal

Pongal being a harvest festival, the cows and the oxen that help in the harvest are the key components of Mattu Pongal. As part of the festival the oxen are washed, decorated and paraded with tilak on their forehead. The oxen are also offered the fresh food in appreciation of their contribution to the harvest.

Kannu Pidi

This festival Kannu Pidi also known as Mattu Pongal is specially celebrated in Tamil Nadu, one day after Pongal. The varieties of rice dishes prepared from the newly harvested rice is taken by the women of the house to their mother’s or brother’s house and made into ceremonial rice bowls. These are then fed in the courtyard to birds-the crows, house sparrows, squirrels and such other domestic creatures.

Recognizing Animals

This festival has twin perspectives. When you feed the birds and the squirrels, with the remnants of your rice dishes after your major festival Pongal in a ceremonial way, then you recognize your coexistence there with these birds and squirrels that live with you in the same living space.

We then tend to look at them as people who share the space and not as people who compete for the same space. This brings in our heart a sense of live and let live. A sense of compassion for our fellow creatures. If we do it one day of the year in a ceremonial way, then we tend to continue this practice through the year.

Keeping up Bond with family

The Kannu Pidi festival has another important aspect packaged into it. The lady of the house takes these house dishes and visits her mother’s house, maternal house, brother’s house to offer these dishes to the birds. This act keeps up the bond of the married women with her parents and siblings.

Breaking the Ice

In villages and small towns, where families live in close proximity through the year, there could be instances where frictions arise between families. These frictions could drift the families apart. On Kannu Pidi occasion, the married lady visits her estranged mother’s, brother’s house; then it is an opportunity to break the ice and get back to a congenial relationship.

These two nice aspects of oneness with the creatures living in the house area and continuing the relationship on the maternal side is built in beautifully in this one festival Kannu Pidi.

Thiruvalluvar Day

Thiruvalluvar is a Tamil poet well known for his work Thirukkural. He lived around 2000 years ago. Thiruvalluvar day is observed every year on January 15, in the Thai month of Tamil Calendar, in honour of this literary giant.

Thiru Valluvar

Thiruvalluvar is also called as Valluvar as he belonged to Valluvar jathi, the weaver class. The word ‘Thiru’ is honorific to the name Valluvar. He is respectfully referred to as Thiruvalluvar.

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Thiruvalluvar as a Weaver

While it is not conclusive, Thiruvalluvar may have belonged to the Jain Religion.

A Towering Personality

As one of the towering personalities of this land, in the field of literature, his statues can be found all across the Tamil land. His statue at Kanyakumari is one of the prominent symbols of Tamil Nadu.

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Thiruvalluvar Statue in Kanyakumari

In Indian stamps and coins

He has also been featured on stamps, coins and Indian currency.

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Thiruvalluvar featured in Indian Coin and Stamp

Conferences and Courses in his name

Much like the conferences and university courses for Shakespeare, there exists the same for Thiruvalluvar, where the depth of his work and influence is researched and analyzed.

Thiruvalluvar Calendar

There is also a calendar in his name, the Thiruvalluvar Calendar which starts from his birthday. It is recognized as one among the official calendars of Tamil Nadu government.

A honour that no poet or literary giant enjoys!

Thirukurral

Thirukurral, a major work of Thiruvalluvar in Tamil has been a guiding light on human morals and behavior to the people of this land for centuries.

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A Palm leaf Manuscript of Thirukurral

Thiru means revered and Kural is a style of poetic writing. This revered work consists of 1330 couplets in 70 chapters and deal with many aspects of life, not just philosophy, but also about worldly matters. It is available in 37 major languages of the world, including foreign languages like Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Japanese and Spanish among others. Probably, the most translated work after Bible.

On this day, let us imbibe atleast a few morals that this great poet brings out in his couplets, in ‘just 2 lines’.

Army Day

The Indian Army is the third largest army in the world after the People’s Liberation army of China and the US Army, with 1,129,900 Active personnel and 960,000 Reserve personnel.

The roots of the Indian army can be traced to the Madras regiment.

This was the first regiment formed in 1746. It was raised under Major Stringer Lawrence. This has grown into the Indian Army of today.

In 1746, there was a war in the outskirts of Madras called the Adyar War. It was fought between the French commanders who had thousand soldiers on his side against the local Nawab who has a 10,000 strong army. The local Nawab was routed at the Adyar Estuary. The handful of British who were present there were bystanders during the war.

Major stringer Lawrence who was present then collected all the local soldiers post this battle, made them into a fighting force and called them the Madras Army.

This is the genesis of the Indian Army.

Here is an interesting anecdote on how it became a fully Indian army post Independence and then grew from strength to strength.

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Army Day is celebrated on 15 January every year in India, in recognition of Lieutenant General K. M. Cariappa’s taking over as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from General Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander-in-Chief of India, on 15 January 1949.

Asiatic Society

The Asiatic Society was founded by Sir William Jones on 15th January, 1784 to carry our Oriental research.

The senior members of the East India Company based out of Calcutta then, met on 15th January 1784 at the Grand Jury Room of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. They were Warren Hastings, Governor General, Jonathan Duncan, who later became the Governor of Bombay, Charles Chapman, Hasting’s emissary to Vietnam, Justice John Hyde Cunningham Charles Wilkins and William Jones, judge of the Calcutta Court.

William Jones in his inaugural speech of the Society had said,

“Asia is the nurse of sciences, and the inventors of delightful and useful arts. Our investigations will be bound by only the geographical limits of Asia, encompassing Man and Nature; whatever is performed by the one, or produced by the other.”

He ended his address by proclaiming that the organization shall be called “The Asiatic Society”.

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Asiatic Society of India

In 1837, James Prinsep took charge of the society. He is credited with deciphering the Brahmi script

In 1789, Sir William Jones made this famous speech at the Asiatic Society,

“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is a wonderful structure more perfect than the Greeks; more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either.”

The Asiatic Society later got its permanent residence at 1, Palk Street, Calcutta. In the last 200 years and more, the Asiatic Society has done yeomen service not only in translating the Indian language works into English but also in furthering the priceless heritage of India to Indians and foreigners.

For this effort, William Jones has been respectfully referred to as “The Orientalist.”

William Jones also wrote books on, The laws of Hindoos and Mahomedans, the history of the ancient world, proofs and illustrations of the scriptures, traditions concerning the deluge, modern politics and geography of Hindustan, Arithmetic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiatics, Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians, natural products of India, poetry, rhetoric and morality of Asia, music of the Eastern nations, the best accounts of Tibet and Kashmir, trade, manufacturer, agriculture, and commerce of India.

Makara Jyothi

Commonly people think of it as a star and it is celebrated in Sabarimala as Makara Vilakku.

D K Hari and D K Hema Hari discussed about Makara Jyothi in an interview.

Q. What is Makara Jyothi ?

Commonly people think of it as a star and it is celebrated in Sabarimala as Makara Vilakku.

This very word  Makara Jyothi has 2 words – Makara and Jyothi. What is Makara ? In the sky, we have 12 Rasis or Zodiac signs or constellations. The Sun is in one rasi for a month and transits through to the next rasi in the next month and so in. Like  this the sun covers all the 12 Rasis in a year. As per the Indian calendar, the Sun moves into the Makara Rasi on  January 14th or 15th. This movement of the Sun into the Makara Rasi is called as Makara Sankranti. This event is part of the  annual celestial calendar.

Q. If the sun is moving every month into the next Rasi, what is so special the Sun moving into the Makara Rasi ?

The sun is constantly moving between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricon which is called in the Indian context as Uttarayanam and Dakshinayanam. Makara Sankranti falls in the period when the Sun, which is in the Tropic of Capricon in the Southern Hemisphere, has started  moving northwards towards us in India. Which means we start having longer days. We are starting to come out of the cold season to warmth and it is this Change, new beginning of the seasonal cycle that we celebrate.

uttarayan

Q. The other word – Jyothi . What  is the significance of the Jyothi with Ayyappa who is prayed to as Makara Jyothi ?

As we have seen here, when the sun is in Southern Hemisphere, we are in the darker period. In darkness it is the Jyothi that lights us all up.

Ayyappa as the name suggests is the embodiment of 5 pre -mordial elements.They being – Akasha ( space ), Vayu  ( air ), Agni ( fire ), Apah (water) and Prithvi ( earth ). That one visible to us is JyothiTejas (fire or light).

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In the long dark nights what stands out is Jyothi or light. It is but appropriate that, during these long dark nights, when we celebrate a fresh breath of life, we celebrate it with light or Jyothi.

Ayyappa is also known as an embodiment of Dharma .Dharma is not just noble deed but means the very characteristic of Nature itself. This celebration of Makara Sankranti every year, brings to our focus, our understanding of the annual turning of the Sun , of the changes taking place in Nature and new hope of life.

The very name Ayyappa in the South Indian languages, denotes the embodiment of 5, the 5 Primordial elements of which this Universe or Prapancha is made of.

Celebrating the festival of this Makara Sankranti in association with Ayyappa, brings to our attention that we and everything in this Prapancham is made up of Panchabhuta – the  Primordial 5 elements.

So when we say, Ayyappa Saranam, we pay obeisance to these 5 Primordial elements themselves. We pay obeisance to Ayyappa, son of Shiva the cause for the manifestation of matter and Vishnu, the all pervading force which together keep this Universe conforming to the Dharma of the Universe and Nature.

sabarimali