At the end of the Mahabharata war, wishing to preserve for posterity the rich repertoire of human values and ethics that Bhishma embodies, Lord Krishna advises Yudhishtira to visit him. Bhishma had won the rare boon of determining the time of his death, and chose to lie on a bed of arrows after he was wounded, to await the Uttarayana Punya Kala.
When Krishna approaches him along with Yudhishtira and others, the doyen is moved by the Lord’s divine presence and breaks forth into a eulogy of the Lord, which is celebrated as a prayer for liberation by many, said Embar Sri Kasturi in a lecture.
Bhishma fought the war on the Kauravas’ side with all sincerity; yet Duryodhana doubted his loyalty. So Bhishma takes an oath that he would make Krishna take up arms and engages in a fierce battle with Arjuna and Krishna. The Lord, who is wounded by Bhishma’s arrows, advances against him like an aggressor. Seeing Krishna now, an overwhelmed Bhishma recalls the Lord’s gesture of compassion to him in a word picture that recreates the battle scene with all the intricate details of sight and sound. Krishna gets down from the chariot, takes up its wheel and without even realising the slipping upper garment, paces towards him like a lion about to kill an elephant. “What boundless compassion to break His oath of not taking up arms during the war, to make true His devotee’s vow,” cries out Bhishma with gratitude.
The philosophical import of Bhishma’s prayer is an eye-opener. Mulling over the disasters that overtook the Pandavas, who were committed to integrity and in the care of Krishna, Bhishma says their unpleasant experiences could be attributed to the “inescapable effect of Time,” that drives even the celestials and all others even as clouds are buffeted by the wind. The Lord’s mysterious ways remain unfathomable even to the greatest of philosophers. He recaptures Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna that imparts the highest knowledge to transcend worldly ties.
Bhishma is overwhelmed that the Lord is present in front of him as he departs — a rare privilege that even the realised souls have found unattainable.