Reading Guide. Do you remember Amba and her vow to seek revenge, bringing about Bhishma's death in her next life? You will now see the dramatic conclusion of that story.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [600 words]
On the next day Bhishma was like a lordly elephant which treads down the marsh reeds; he was like a fire which burns up a dry and withering forest. In his chariot he advanced triumphantly, and great was the carnage which he wrought.
Yudhishthira was in despair, and spake to Krishna when night fell. Krishna said, "Bhishma has vowed that he will not slay one who had been born a woman, knowing that the righteous would defame him if he slew a female. Let Shikhandin be therefore sent against him with Arjuna."
Arjuna said, "Alas! I cannot fight behind another, or achieve the fall of Bhishma by foul means. I loved him as a child; I sat upon his knee and called him 'Father.' Rather would I perish than slay the saintly hero."
Said Krishna, "It is fated that Bhishma will fall on the morrow, a victim of wrong. As he hath fought against those whom he loveth, so must thou, Arjuna, fight against him. He hath shown thee how kshatriyas must ever wage war, although their foemen be hated or well beloved."
Arjuna, being thus admonished, went forth on the tenth day with Sikhandin, born a woman and made a male by a yaksha.
Once again Duryodhana sought to prevail upon Bhishma to give place to Karna, and Bhishma answered him in anger, "This day will I overcome the Pandavas or perish on the field of battle."
Then the ancient hero advanced and challenged Arjuna. A terrible conflict ensued, and it lasted for many hours; all the warriors on either side stopped fighting and looked on. At length Shikhandin rushed forward like a foaming billow, and when Bhishma saw him his arms fell, for he could not contend against one who had been born a woman. Then the arrows of Arjuna pierced Bhishma's body, and the peerless old hero fell from his chariot wounded unto death. The sun went down, and darkness swept over the plain.
There was great sorrow on the blood-drenched plain that night. Arjuna wept as a son weeps for a father, and he carried water to Bhishma. Yudhishthira cursed the day on which the war began. To the dying chieftain came Duryodhana and his brethren also. Friends and enemies lamented together over the fallen hero.
Bhishma spake to Duryodhana, saying, "Hear the counsel of thy dying kinsman; his voice speaketh as from the dead. If thy heart of stone can be moved, thou wilt bring this slaughter of kinsmen by kinsmen to an end now. Restore unto Yudhishthira his kingdom and make thy peace with him, and let Pandavas and Kauravas be friends and comrades together."
He spoke in vain, for his words stirred the heart of Duryodhana to hate his kinsmen the Pandavas with a deeper hatred than before.
Karna came to the battlefield, and Bhishma said unto him, "Proud rivals have we two been, jealous one of the other, and ever at strife. My voice faileth, yet must I tell thee that Arjuna is not greater than thou art on the battlefield. Nor is he of higher birth, for thou art the son of Kunti and the sun god Surya. As Arjuna is thine own brother, ’twould be well for thee to bring this strife to an end."
But Bhishma spoke in vain. Karna hated his brother, and thirsted for his life.
A guard was set round Bhishma, who lay supported by a pillow of arrows, waiting the hour of his doom. Nor did he die until after the great conflict was ended.