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Bhisma’s Pratijna

May 21, 2022 - 5:55

Devavrata was the eighth son of Shantanu and Ganga Devi. Shantanu was from the Kuru dynasty, and was the ruler of Hastinapura. Devavrata acquired the name Bhishma after he took a pratinja of lifelong Brahmacharya, and of lifelong service to whosoever sat on the throne of his father.

One of the most popular Pratijnas in Mahabharata, there are many questions that arise here. For instance, did Bhishma do the right thing or did he jeopardize the kingdom through his Pratinja? Was the pratijna an example of the determination and dedication of Bhisma because he took the vow and kept it till his death? Did Shantanu, with his desire for Satyavati, give Bhishma no choice but to take the Pratinja?. Wasn’t the pratijna taken as a result of an emotional response, sprouting from ego and an immense desire to make his father happy, and not from careful consideration or clarity of thought.

Let us briefly examine the circumstances that lead to the vow.

The kingdom was flourishing under King Shantanu, especially with Devavrata declared as Yuvaraja. The people were delighted. Devavrata was a perfect prince and son. One day, while Shantanu was riding along the banks of Yamuna, his eyes fell on a beautiful young woman named Satyavati. Shantanu instantly fell in love and proposed to marry her. Satyavati’s father expressed his honor at the proposition and said that he would happily give Satyavati to Shantanu. But he had one condition. He wanted Satyavati’s son to be king after Shantanu.

Shantanu was dejected, pondering about what would become of Devavrata if he agreed to this condition. The king left them without a word. The king was then a changed and dejected man, and soon this came to the attention of Devavrata. As a responsible son, he enquired as to what was bothering the honorable king. After much insistence, Devavrata understood what was troubling the king. He decided to meet Satyavati’s father. On confronting him, the man repeated the same condition which he had placed before Shantanu himself – that the son of Satyavati should be crowned King after Shantanu.

He continued, “As your father did not agree, I could not give my daughter to him”. Devavrata replied saying that he would relinquish his claim to the throne and the son born to Shantanu and Satyavati will become the next king after Shantanu. Satyavati’s father was not satisfied. He said that he trusted the words of Devavrata, and knew him to be an honourable man, very much devoted to his father. But he doubted the sons that might be born to Devavrata.

Hearing this Devavrata said, “I have already relinquished my claims to the kingdom and now I shall take the pratijna that I shall remain a brahmachari for the rest of my life.” And thus Devavrata became Bhishma.

Devavrata was the Yuvaraja of Hastinapura. He was responsible for the wellbeing of the subjects. His responsibilities were not limited to that of a son alone. We can see thus that this was an irresponsible decision. He was not right in taking this decision before consulting with his father or other ministers, as the decision would have repercussions on the entire kingdom. Moreover the vow was not for a dharmic or noble purpose but merely to satiate the desire of his father for another wife.

At the spur of the moment, Bhishma took a gamble on many uncertainties. At that point of time, there was no way to determine whether Satyavati’s children would have been qualified to lead the kingdom or whether she would have male children at all. With all of these uncertainties he still gave away the kingdom to someone who did not even exist at the point. This again shows how irresponsible the Pratijna was and that it was taken without proper clarity of thought.

The father and son bond between Shantanu and Bhishma was strong. As a righteous father when Bhismhma was declared as Yuvaraja, Shantanu could see that the kingdom was in safe hands, until his desire for Satyavati took over his entire being. He knew very well that Bhishma was a Kshatriya that no one could defeat. Even then his burning desire for Satyavati made him devious. He exclaimed to Bhisma that he feared for the Kingdom and wished for another heir to the throne in case something happened to Bhishma. He was hinting to Bhishma that he wanted to marry again.

This was very irresponsible of Shantanu. He relinquished the throne to his lustful desire and indirectly took the kingdom away from a very righteous leader.

After Shantanu’s death, Bhishma raised his children but both of them died young. Satyavati then asked Bhisma to take charge but here he still holds on to the pratijna. Why did Bhishma do that? All the beneficiaries of his pratijna were gone and there was no one left to take care of the kingdom. Instead of holding on to his pratijna for an entire lifetime, shouldn’t he have focused on his dharma as a kshathriya and of the good of the kingdom.

Here we can witness a great man who ended up being inflexible owing to a dead pratijna. Weighed down by dilemma, he is unable to make the right decision. As his life progresses, he is never able to live in the present, always hanging on to his dead pratijna of the past, unable to confront the evil that was festering in the kingdom – the Kauravas.

Don’t we all take such pratijnas in our daily lives, when we find ourselves in some exigent situations? Sometimes consciously and other times even subconsciously, without even realising it, we take vows “I am never going to talk to him again, as I do not like his behaviour”, “I am never going to listen to him”, “I am going to teach him a lesson”, etc. These are all different forms of pratijnas. It would be worthwhile if you ask yourself as to whether you took the pratijna as an emotional retort or out of intellectual clarity. If it was out of an emotional decision, then you should ask yourself as to whether you should be sticking onto it as Bhishma did.

We will find that often our pratijnas are emotional reactions that we cling to out of a false sense of pride and ego. Often such vows taken in the spur of the moment can lead to irreparable damage in relationships. We should have the intellectual clarity and humility to abandon such pratijnas and move forward in life with a positive attitude.

Whenever we take a pratijna out of an emotional retort, we should examine whether there is any use in sticking on to that pratijna. Taking the bigger picture of things into consideration, if the pratijna is beneficial for us and our society, we could stick to it. Else shouldn’t we just drop it?

This is not to in any way imply that words once given are easily changeable. Neither does it  mean that pratijnas can be easily disregarded upon later reflection. On the contrary, a partitnja can only truly be given the respect it deserves, only when the intrinsic nature of its form benefits  the greater good and when it is taken from a clear and lucid state of mind that is not overcome  or overwhelmed by emotion.

Author Profile:

Shri. Balu Mohandas Menon is a Software Engineer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. He specializes in software applications for machine learning, haptics and data analysis. Currently he is working on computational social science and development of computational tools at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. He is also pursuing his doctoral studies under the School of Sustainable Development here.

Amidst his career goals, he is an enthusiast who vividly reads and discusses Mahabharata, the puranas and the shastras and teachings of Amma, with an aim to guide and mentor students. Currently he is reading Mahabharatha to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of many of its characters, and their varied responses to the life situations as they confront them, with a view to enable students for self analysis and also to empower them to think and act upholding righteousness in life.

Disclaimer : This article belongs to the author in full, including opinions and insights. Amrita University is not responsible or liable for the information contained in this article, or its implications therein

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