Today, the ashtami tithi in the bright fortnight of Magha Maas, is the holy disappearance day of Sri Bhishma dev, one of the most prominent figures in the all time famous history of Mahabharat. Born as the eighth son of Maharaj Shantanu from Ganga Devi, Devavrata was the heir to the throne of Hastinapur, as his previous seven brothers were drowned by their own mother Ganga devi to free them from the curse of a sage. Growing up with his mother in the heavenly planets, where he studied the various shastras and the art of Warfare under the most expert masters in the respective fields, he turned into a most competent and qualified young man to take charge of the Kingdom. Coming back to his father in Hastinapur, he served his father and his motherland with great love and devotion.
Once, when his father, Maharaj Shantanu, was struck with the desire to marry Satyavati, the daughter of a fisherman who was adamant about the sons of Satyavati becoming the heir to the Kingdom, he took up the tough vow to remain Bhramachari and give up all claims to the Kingdom which was rightfully his, just for the pleasure of his father, so that Satyavati could marry him. This austere vow earned him the name Bhishma from the denizens of the heavenly planets, and he thereafter became famous by this name. Being pleased with his devotion for his father, Shantanu blessed him that he would only leave his body when he himself would desire to do so. Thereafter, when others started objecting to the idea of giving the throne to some unborn children, not knowing whether they will be able to protect the Kingdom or not, Bhishma dev promised his father that he would not give up his body till he would be completely satisfied that the Kingdom is safe and in able hands.
The History thereafter is famous, in which the two sons of Satyavati die prematurely without leaving behind any heirs to the throne and the begetting of Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura by Vyasa dev in the womb of Ambika, Ambalika and one of their maidservants. The eldest son Dhritarashtra, who was blind from birth and was also not spiritually very enlightened, felt as if some great wrong had been done to him when his younger brother Pandu was made the King. These feelings of ambition to become the King were transferred to his sons headed by Duryodhana, who becam bitter enemies of the Pandavas headed by Yudhishthir, who were taken care of by Bhishma and Dhritarashtra after the untimely death of Pandu due to a curse. The events that took place due to this hatred in the heart of Duryodhan eventually led to the greatest fight of all time, the war of Mahabharat. Despite knowing the demoniac nature of Duryodhana, the virtuous nature of the Pandavas and himself being a great devotee of Sri Krishna, the situations forced Bhishma dev to fight in the army of Duryodhana. Even though he was physically supporting the Kauravas, his heart was always desiring the Victory of the Pandavas and thus when the time arrived, he himself told the Pandavas of the way in which they could defeat him. Thereafter, the arrows of Arjun pierced the great Grandsire of the Kuru family and made him lie down on a bed of arrows. Then also he did not give up his life till the Pandavas won the battle and Yudhishthir Maharaj was made the King, thus being fully assured that the Kingdom was in able hands. He then gave instructions to Yudhishthir and the rest of the Pandavas on many different subject matters including politics, public welfare, spiritual advancement and other such topics in accordance with the instructions of Krishna. He then fixed his concentration upon the lotus face of Sri Krishna and thus left the world in complete Krishna consciousness on this very day.
Sri Bhishma dev is one of the twelve Mahajans mentioned in the Srimad Bhagwatam and his character is worthy of being followed by the rest of the world. He was worshiping the Lord in the mellow of Chivalry and thus was able to even break the vow of Krishna to not pick up any weapons during the war. May Bhishma dev bestow his mercy upon us all on this day so that we may be able to develop pure love of Godhead.