The Curse of Bhishma – Which You May Consider A Blessing!

What if you were offered a boon to choose the time of your death? This essentially means that you’re immortal! Because if you do not choose to die, death can’t touch you! That’s what the boon of Bhishma was. However, was this a boon at all? Or was this a curse? You decide for yourself after listening to the full story!

Bhishma- The Gangaputra with the curse of eternal life!

Although first, I should tell you a little more about Bhishma. His life story is amazing. So, let’s dive into it!

Who is Bhishma?

Bhishma, also known as Gangaputra or Pitamaha, is a major character in the epic Mahabharata. He acted as the supreme commander of the forces of the Kaurava. Bhishma was the elder brother of both the Kauravas and Pandavas.

He was born to King Shantanu and the goddess Ganga. That’s why he is called Gangaputra or the son of Ganga. He is related to both parties in the Kurukshetra war. Also, he was a respected statesman, although he was never the king because he vowed to his stepmother Satyavati’s father.

However, you don’t need to remember all the details to understand what Bhishma represents in the Mahabharata. Just remember that he was a very important and elderly character.

The Birth of Bhishma

Bhishma is believed to be an avatar of a Vasu (elemental god) named Dyu. He was born to King Shantanu and the goddess Ganga. However, Bhishma’s birth was a curse itself!

It is said in the legends that once King Shantanu was hunting alongside the river Ganga when he saw a very beautiful woman on the river banks. He fell in love with her and asked her to marry him.

Although the woman agreed to marry Shantanu, she gave one condition: he would not question her actions, and if the promise were broken, she would abandon Shantanu! Shantanu agreed to the condition, and they lived happily for some years.

However, whenever the queen gave birth to any children, she drowned them in the river Ganga! One after another, the queen killed seven sons! After this, Bhishma (known as Devavrata during this time) was born.

King Shantanu tolerated the killing of seven of his sons because of the promise he made to the queen. But, when the lady was about to drown Bhishma too, he could not control himself anymore and resisted her and confronted her about murdering their children.

Because the promise was broken, the lady gave up her disguise as a normal woman and revealed herself as the goddess Ganga! Then, she justified her actions by narrating the story of the curse of the vasus!

Hearing the story, Shantanu understood his mistake. However, the promise was already broken, and Ganga abandoned Shantanu with Bhishma. But she promised that she would return Bhishma to Shantanu later in life.

The Iccha Mrityu Boon Of Bhishma

Ganga and Bhishma went to a different realm when Shantanu broke his promise. Powerful sages brought up Bhishma, and he was trained in dharma, warfare, Shastras, Dandaneeti (duties of the king), etc.

After many years, Shantanu one day saw a young man blocking the currents of the river Ganga with a dam made from arrows! Shantanu immediately recognized his son, and Ganga appeared before him.

Ganga returned Bhishma to Shantanu as she had promised before. Now, Bhishma was a very eligible heir to the throne. So, Shantanu promised his throne to Bhishma. Also, the citizens adored him because of his divine background and nature. He was also known as the benevolent Bhishma!

However, later, Shantanu fell in love with Satyavati, the adopted daughter of Matsyagandha, a fishing-tribe chief. But, when Shantanu asked Matsyagandha to marry Satyavati, he denied it for fear that Satyavati’s sons would never be king because Bhishma was supposed to be king.

As Shantanu promised Bhishma the throne, he returned to his palace. This made Shantanu despondent. Bhishma learned the reason behind Shantanu’s problems and immediately visited the fishing tribe of Satyavati.

Bhishma requested Matsyagandha to give Satyavati as his stepmother. Also, he promised never to claim the throne for himself. However, Matsyagandha refused, saying that his descendants would claim the throne even if Bhishma didn’t.

So, Bhishma took a vow of life-long Brammacharya or celibacy! This would mean that he could never get married or have a family. Now, Matsyagandha was satisfied and gave Satyavati to Bhishma.

Bhishma took Satyavati on a chariot and came to Hastinapura. The name Bhishma Pratigya (meaning terrible vow) was given to him because of this extreme vow! When Bhishma informed Shantanu about his vow, Shantanu gave him the boon of Ichcha Mrityu (meaning he could die whenever he wanted, death would not touch him before that!)

However, this boon should also be considered a curse because Bhishma’s human birth was destined to be full of suffering. Also, he had a very long life. Bhishma is the only character to witness the entirety of the Mahabharata!

Bhishma saw his family disintegrate, the throne of Hastinapura fell onto Adharmic people like Duryodhana, and he saw the Kurukshetra war and died a very painful death because of Arjuna’s arrows, all because of this boon! Arjuna shot arrows and almost created a bed of arrows for Bhishma.

Bhishma lived 51 nights with arrows piercing through his body! He waited till the winter solstice or Uttarayana to die. So, his boon is more like a curse to me!

The Curse of Amba

Vichitravirya and Chitrangadaa were Shantanu and Satyavati’s, sons. Chitrangadaa became king after Shantanu died, but he died soon after in a fight with a Gandharva since the two shared the same name.

So the crown passed to Vichitravirya, who had no spouses, but Bhishma learned that the King of Kashi was planning a swayamvara for his princesses Amba, Ambika, and Ambilika. However, Hastinapura was not invited to the swayamvara.

So, the Kurus were somewhat offended. That’s why Rajmata Satyavati asked Bhishma to represent Hastinapura in the swayamvara. Bhishma defeated all the other kings and took all three sisters to Hastinapura.

However, upon reaching Hastinapura, princess Amba finally dared to tell Bhishma that she was already in love with Shalwa- the king of Sauba. So, Bhishma gave her his blessings and sent her to Shalwa.

But, Shalwa refused to take her in because of his pride. He abandoned his love and said he wouldn’t take a woman that another man won! So, Amba comes back to Bhishma and asks him to marry her. However, Bhishma politely refused her as he already took a vow of celibacy! So, he couldn’t marry her as well!

Then, Amba went to the rishis or sages for help, who told her that the cause behind her misery was Bhishma! So, Amba went to Parasurama, who was the teacher of Bhishma. Parasurama promised to help Amba by asking Bhishma to marry Amba or fight him!

Bhishma, however, chose rather fight Parasurama than break his vow of celibacy! But Bhishma had the boon of choosing the time of his death, and Parasurama was immortal! So, Bhishma prayed to his ancestors and was blessed with the Pashupatastra.

Still, the fight came to a stalemate, although Parasurama admitted defeat. Also, Parasurama blessed Bhishma with divine eyes during this fight.

But Amba didn’t get her revenge through this fight. So, she performed many austerities, and finally, Lord Shiva gave her the boon that she would be the cause of Bhishma’s death in her next life. Then, Amba committed suicide by jumping into a fire!

Amba was born as Shikhandi in her later life, who was born a woman but turned into a man later! Arjuna convinced Krishna and used Shikhandi as his shield in the Kurukshetra. Bhishma refused to fight against Shikhandi as he was a woman earlier in his life! That’s how Arjuna was able to defeat Bhishma! Bhishma fell because of his morals!

However, that will be another story; I will tell you later someday!


The story of Bhishma shows us the morality of Dharma. Bhishma fought for the Kauravas, even the leader of the Kauravas, Duryodhan, confronted Bhishma, alleging that he was, fighting for the Pandavas because he wouldn’t kill Arjuna!

Bhishma vowed not to kill any Pandavas because he loved them as their granduncle! Bhishma even gave the Pandavas hints on how to kill him when they visited Bhishma! Lord Krishna instructed the Pandavas to visit Bhishma.

Also, during his fight with Parasurama, Bhishma requested Parasurama take a chariot and armor so that Bhishma wouldn’t have an unfair advantage! This shows how fair Bhishma was!

Bhishma failed to fulfill his duties and correct Duryodhana. Also, a snake cursed him that Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows waiting for death! This shows even the smallest of sins can have devastating impacts.

That’s why the path of Dharma is not easy and full of obstacles. It tests us to our limits!

Nilanjana Das

I love investigating the unknown and exploring the weird and unexplained. I find it fascinating how our minds can create whole worlds of mystery and suspense. What's even more exciting to me is uncovering these mysteries and looking for evidence that they actually exist!

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