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.
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
– 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,
prajapatye cha nakshatre
– 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.
– 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.