Today is Bhishma Ashtami (also known as Magha Shukla Ashtami), the day the great warrior and one of the principal characters in the great Mahabharata epic, Bhishma, breathed his last on the Kurukshetra battlefield. As per the traditional Hindu calendar, Bhishma Ashtami falls on the 8th day of Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon) of the Magh month. It falls on the day after Ratha Saptami. As per the Gregorian calendar, this occasion falls in either the January or February months. On this day, devotees conduct the Ekodishta Shradhha for the great warrior. Although the Shraddha is meant to be conducted by sons who have lost their father, it is beneficial for any person to perform it, irrespective of whether their fathers are dead or alive.
Bhishma was born to a king called Shantanu and Maa Ganga. He was the great uncle of Pandavas and Kauravas. He learnt the art of warfare from the great guru Sage Shukracharya. After completing his education, King Shantanu declared him as the heir apparent of his kingdom. After some years, the King got attracted to a lady called Satyavati. However, Satyavati’s father put forth the condition that only Satyavati’s son should become the king of Shantanu’s kingdom and not Bhishma or his children. On hearing this, Bhishma vowed to remain as a bachelor throughout his life and never claim his right to the throne. On hearing the oath taken by Bhishma, his father granted him the boon of iccha mrityu, which means the ability to determine the time of his death. When he was mortally wounded on the Kurukshetra battlefield, Bhishma decided to leave for the heavenly abode on this day, when the sun starts to move to the north direction or Uttarayana.
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