Sunday, January 29, 2012




Maagha Sukla Ekadasi is called Bheeshma Ekadasi.  It is on this day Vishnu Sahasranama was imparted to Yudhishtira by his beloved grand-father lying on the bed of arrows. Bhagavadgeetaa came out of the discussions that took place between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the first day of the Mahabharata War and Vishnu Sahasranaama on the day when Bheeshma departed from   the mortal world to join his team of Vasus.  On that day Krishna showed for the last time His Viswaroopa to Bheeshma and Bheeshama gave up his ghost chanting his name. Vedavyasa is the author of both of these who managed to include them in the Great Epic Mahaabhaarata while composing it.

Bheeshma had been too long in this mortal world away from his team of Vasus due to a curse. Even lying on the bed of arrows after ten days of fearful battle and waiting for the auspicious day to arrive for his departure seemed as though he had spent Eons on this uncomfortable bed. The presence of Lord Krishna accompanied by Yudhishtra made him comfortable and happy as he was blessed by the divine presence before him. Krishna praised Bheeshma as the one who is unconquered and in-conquerable. Even Yama had no control on his departure. Bheeshma could choose his own death in this world.  Bheeshma was also blessed by Krishna not to have any more pains till he departed so that he could impart Rajaneeti (The wisdom of ruling the country) to Yudhishtra. Krishna told Bheeshma that he had still sixty five days for his departure to get back to his divinity as Vasu on the first day of his visit.

Even though victorious Yudhishtira was not brave to face Bheeshma direct because of his guilty conscious. He was not confident as to how to run the country in the absence of his great Pitaamaha. It was a very heavy responsibility. He had spent all his time in family quarrels and exile after losing his father Pandu early in life.  He needed the divine blessings and elderly advice from his grand-father. Bheeshama could not deny his grand-son his wish even if it were to postpone his departure a few days after Makara Sankranti while Sun was trying to enter Makara and take his Northward journey. His movements were slow with his single wheel chariot with seven horses. Puraanas say that his chariot came to position on Rathasaptami day. That slow movement of Sun suited Bheeshma too. Probably he wanted to depart on an auspicious day of Ekadasi so dear to Lord Vishnu and so to Krishna. He had been on water diet alone ever since Arjuna made a perennial water source, kept permanent flow of it to his mouth at his will. Virtually he was observing Ekaadasi Vrata in accordance with Saastras as he gave up conventional food lying on the bed of arrows and his thoughts were all on the Supreme. He had no more   physical pains or hunger by the grace of Lord Krishna. He had completed his discourse on Rajaniti to Yudhishtira. But Yudhishtira had still six more questions. Bheeshma had no difficulty to answer these six spiritual questions of Yudhishtira though he felt embarrassed to answer them while the Lord himself was there. Krishna cleared his embarrassment telling him that he wanted the world to remember Bheeshma as the noblest warrior, loyal to the Kuru dynasty with selfless service, known for keeping his promise (pratijna) under all difficult circumstances and knowledge of wise governing.

Bheeshma could read the mind of the Lord and so avoided using the word Namah after each name of the Lord as was the norm in Rudram of Rigveda while imparting the thousand names of the Lord.    Krishna came there to pay his obeisance to his greatest devotee and so he would be embarrassed if he were to listen to each word with Namah added to it in his own glorification.  As we all know Rudram consisting of 1008 names of the Lord is the father and mother of all Namaavalees (names in glorification of the Lord Rudra). Vishnu Sahasranama therefore contains all names in the Nominative case only in Sanskrit Language unlike Rudram which is in the objective case  adding  the word Namah after each name.  The names of Vishnu are also in all the three genders as the Supreme Principle cannot be identified with any gender. We all know Brahman is common gender in Sanskrit, neither he nor she. Wherever the term is in neuter gender it means Brahman, the Infinite Reality. Wherever it is feminine it means primordial Energy. Wherever it is masculine it denotes Vishnu, the all pervading, Lord of Lakshmi. The names expressed in Nominative case made the work of Aagamas little difficult. They could prescribe Rudram for Abhishekam but not Vishnu Sahasranamam.  So in Saivite temples they chant Rudram while doing Abhishekam and in Vishnu temples they resort to Purusha Sooktam and so do not use Vishnu Sahasranaamam which they use later for Archana.

The six questions Yudhishtira posed to his grand-father are as follows:

1)      Who is the greatest Lord in the World?
2)      Who is the one refuge for all?
3)      By glorifying whom can man reach auspiciousness?
4)      By worshipping whom can man reach auspiciousness?
5)      What in your opinion is the greatest Dharma?
6)      By meditating (Japa) on what can living beings go beyond bonds of Samsaara (material world)

 It was not difficult for Bheeshma to answer to all these questions to the satisfaction of Yudhishtira as he was a constant devotee and admirer of Krishna. It is after this conversation Bheeshma gave out all the thousand and odd names of the Lord Vishnu, without elaborating on them for time was running out.  It was his last minute revelation of thousand names of the Lord. In his hurry he repeated some names and even shot the mark of 1000 for there are 1031 names in Vishnu Sahasranaama.

In all probability, Vishnu Sahasranaamam should be the last imparted knowledge to Yudhishtira. Bheeshma had the Viswaroopadarsana (Revelation of the Universal Person) before his final departure on that day. Mahaabhaarata War lasted for 18 days. Bheeshma fell at the end of the tenth day and waited on his bed of arrows waiting   for the Sun to turn towards Northern solstice.  It took a month for Pandavas to cremate all their relatives and pay their last homage rites.  The coronation of Yudhishtira should have also taken some time! After that when Krishna met  Bheeshma lying on the bed of arrows  for the first time, Krishna told him he has still 65 days to live in this world. When Krishna met him for the last time Bheeshma says that the month of Maagha has already arrived and it is time for him to bid good-bye to all. From this it is clear that Bheeshma did not leave this world on Makara Sankranti Day, which falls on Pushya Krishna Amaavasya, as many think.  Bheeshma Ekaadasi is always in Magha month in Hindu calendar.   Many also believe that on Vaikuntha Ekaadasi Day the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna took place which became the subject matter for Bhagavadgeetaa, whose author was Vedavyaasa. This day is celebrated as Geetaa Jayanti day by Geeta Bhavan, Sivananda Aasrama and others. Though the lapse of more than ninety-five days cannot be justified between Vaikuntha Ekadasi and Bheeshma Ekaadasi, it seems safe to assume Bheeshma Ekaadasi as the day in which Vishnu Sahasranaama was imparted to Yudhishtira by Bheeshma. But panchangas confuse again saying that Bheeshma died on Bheeshma Astami day which comes after Ratha Saptami.  If Bheesham passed away on the eighth day how did he deliver Vishnu Sahasranaama to Yudhishtra three days after, on Bheeshma Ekaadasi day?

The last Anuvaaka of Chamakam of Sri Rudram has only numbers in Nominative case in Sanskrit language to meditate upon Supreme Principle with no clue as to what it means. This has been explained in a separate discourse “Significance of Odd and Even Numbers in Chamakam” with our limited knowledge. Since these numbers are all in Nominative case in the Sanskrit language there is no provision to add the word “Namah” at the end as in Namakam of Rudram where the word ‘Namah’ is added to the word of the Lord in dative case. Vishnusahsranaamam, as given out by Bheeshma, has also words only in the Nominative case and therefore here also the word “Namah” has no place. The concluding Mantra of Namkam mentions “Om Namoh Vishnave”.

The sage of the Rudropanishad should have in his mind the names of Vishnu only when he started mentioning in Chamakam odd figures in the series 1-3, 3-5, 5-7 etc and ended it at 33. He should have realized the rate at which he was going he may not be able to complete all the names of Vishnu. Then he tried even numbers in the sequence of four 4-8, 8-12, 12-16 etc to hasten the process.  There too he should have found out it would not be possible to exhaust the list in his mind. So he gave up after 48. Bheeshma should have remembered this last Anuvaka and started reciting the names of the Lord normally to complete all the 1000 names he had in his mind, looking at the Visvaroopa of Lord Krishna, to Yudhishtira but in the process went beyond to 1031 names. As you all know Rudra is the celebrated deity of Kurus and Gaandhari worshipped Rudra.  Bheeshma had not yet completed the list as it was ever growing but his time approached to leave the Mother Earth as he was still reciting. Explanation to these mere names required all the knowledge and wisdom of Sankaracharya to come out with his commentary which he also stopped at 1000 names. Had he continued he would have never been able to finish his work on Upanishads in his short span of life! Thus no one can fathom the names of Vishnu as to where it begins, how it should be and where it ends! Vishnu means all pervasive—universe and beyond. What is known is one forth; what is unknown is beyond our imagination! Purushasookta says 10” remain always beyond our imagination however much we try to understand him.

 It remained for Sankara to come out with his Bhashyam (commentary) on Vishnu Sahasranama, his very first spiritual work. Sankara when got initiated to four Mahaavaakyas of Upanishads wanted to take up the work on Upanishads to bring out his elucidations on it. But driven by divine instinct and prompted by his Guru Govindapaadaachaarya he decided on this master-piece of work—commentaries on Vishnu Sahasranaama. Proper understanding of these terms will gradually open our vision to the wisdom of Vedas. Contemplation on these names with proper understanding can deepen the faith and   broaden our devotion to understand the all pervading Reality, Vishnu. Govindapaadaacharya was overwhelmed with Sankara’s elaborate explanation of 1000 bare names even beyond his capacity; He was confident that Sankara will eventually do an excellent job on his proposed work of commentaries on Upanishads and gave his consent.

 Ardent devotees of Vishnu generally perform Vishnu Sahasranaama Archana daily. If that is not possible  they perform this worship at least on their own birth-days, on eclipse days and on the day on which the Sun moves from one Zodiac to another (the Sankraanti Day). This Archana mode of worship is prescribed   for warding off the evil effects of the planets, ward of the wrath of the rulers, prevention of incurable diseases, elimination of ruthless enemies etc., as stated in the Phalasruti which seems to be a later addition. The highest effect however is for purifying the mind for inward focus for meditation and progress towards Liberation. In Vishnu Temples Sahasranaama Archana is performed after Abhishekam, as also on special days like Vaikuntha Ekaadasi, Makara Sankraanti, Chitra Vishu and Bheeshma Ekaadsasi for the general welfare of all the people.

It may be asked how Bhishma could have lived fifty-six days after the close of the war, if only fifty days had elapsed from that time to the winter solstice when Bhishma hoped to give up his life-breath. But the explanation appears to me to be simple enough; though the winter solstice occurred fifty days after the close of the war, Bhishma does not seem to have died on the solstice day, when the arrows were extracted from his body but appears rather to have lingered on till the sixth day after the winter solstice. We have seen that the solstice took place then on the fifth lunar day after new moon in the month of Magha. It was on the sixth day from this, that is, on Magha Sukla Ekadasi, that Bhishma, “that pillar of Bharata’s race,” seems to have “united himself with eternity.” Tradition asserts that Bhishma died on this very day, and our almanacs even now make note of the fact and call the day by name of “Bhishma Ekadasi.” To this day, death on the eleventh lunar day of the bright fortnight of the month of Magha is held in great esteem, and next to that, death on such a day of any other month. Possibly the supposed religious efficacy rests on the memory of the day of the royal sage’s death.

  Om Namoh Bhagavate Vaasudevaaya



(Dark fortnight)
(Bright fortnight)

{Adhika maasa}

Utthaana or Rama
Mokshada (Vaikuntha Ekaadasi in Sri Rangam)+
Sat Tilaa
Bheeshma or Bhaimi

*Geetaa Jaynti Day in Guruvaayur Temple.  This is called Vrischika or Guruvayur Ekadasi. This is the day Geeta Jaynti is celebrated in North Indian States and ISKCON temples.
+Observed as Geeta Jayanti day in Sivaananda Ashram, Geetaa Bhavan etc.