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Chapter 31

Bhīṣma’s Instructions

Having heard that the Pāṇḍavas were returning, Hastināpura’s citizens had quickly decorated the city with colorful festoons and garlands. They then lined the streets and threw flowers and rice as the procession passed. Seeing the five brothers again, the people felt as if their consciousness had returned to their bodies. Everyone shed tears and called out in happiness.

As the procession made its way along the road, wealthy ladies threw down silk cloths and gems from the balconies of mansions. The ladies also called to Draupadī, who rode behind her brothers on a chariot covered with a silk canopy, “You are worthy of praise, O blessed princess, who waits by the side of these heroes like Gautami by the side of the seven celestial ṛṣis. Surely your religious acts and vows have borne fruit.”

Yudhiṣṭhira made his way toward the Kuru palace, where he was greeted by pleasing speeches made by leading citizens. “By good luck you have returned to us after defeating your enemies. O best of kings, having regained your kingdom by virtue and prowess, may you remain as our ruler for a century. Protect your subjects like Indra protects the gods.”

Yudhiṣṭhira’s chariot then took him through the broad palace gates and into the compound. Brahmins chanted Vedic mantras to invoke auspiciousness as Yudhiṣṭhira stepped down from his car and went into the temple. He bowed before the Deities, worshipping them with gems, garlands and incense. When he emerged from the temple, he saw Brahmins waiting and carrying sacred articles. They uttered blessings and worshipped him as he made his way to the assembly hall.

Among the Brahmins was a Rākṣasa in disguise. His name was Charvaka, and he was Duryodhana’s old friend. Although he was dressed like a Brahmin, he reviled Yudhiṣṭhira. “O son of Kuntī, all these ascetics have made me their spokesman. They say, ‘Fie on Yudhiṣṭhira! He is a wicked king and he destroyed his kinsmen. It would be best if he now gave up his life.’”

Hearing Charvaka’s words, the Brahmins set up an angry uproar. They then fell silent in shame. None of them agreed with Charvaka, and they looked anxiously at Yudhiṣṭhira, who bowed his head and said, “O Brahmins, be pleased. It is exactly as you say. Do not cry fie upon me, for I will soon cast off my life.”

“These are not our words, O King. We have not said anything of the kind. All prosperity to you.”

Some of the leading sages looked carefully at Charvaka. By their spiritual vision they understood his identity. “This is the wicked Rākṣasa, Charvaka, Duryodhana’s friend.”

With their eyes red with anger, the sages held their sacred threads and uttered the Vedic syllable ‘Hun!’ Charvaka fell like a tree blasted to the roots by Indra’s thunderbolt.

Praised and reassured by the Brahmins, Yudhiṣṭhira entered the assembly hall with a cheerful mind and took his place on a golden throne. On two more golden seats facing him sat Kṛṣṇa and Sātyaki, while Bhīma and Arjuna sat at his sides. Kuntī sat on a white ivory throne with the twins by her side. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and other Kuru elders sat nearby on seats as effulgent as fire.

The hall filled with the sound of sacred chants and the ceremony began. Yudhiṣṭhira was anointed with holy water from golden vessels, as well as with milk, honey, yogurt, and ghee. After he had dressed in pure white silks and put on golden ornaments and bright garlands, he was seated by Dhaumya on a handsome seat spread with tiger skins. With Draupadī by his side, he made offerings into the sacrificial fire. When the ceremony was complete, Kṛṣṇa concluded the rituals by sprinkling sanctified water from a large white conch onto Yudhiṣṭhira’s crowned head.

Yudhiṣṭhira rose, king of the Kurus. Thousands of drums sounded and the hall was filled with cheers and shouts of approval. Yudhiṣṭhira distributed charity to the many Brahmins present, beginning with Dhaumya and the priests who had conducted the ceremony. He gave away heaps of gold and gems and was repeatedly blessed and eulogized.

After giving abundant charity, Yudhiṣṭhira took his place on the royal throne and began to speak. “Great indeed must be that man who receives such praise and worship from all these learned Brahmins. I do not feel worthy of such words. Surely we are your favorites, since you describe us as having accomplished so much. King Dhṛtarāṣṭra is, however, our father and our god. If you wish to please me, obey him and do what he desires. He is the master of the world, of you, and of me. Do not treat him differently than you did in the past.”

The noble Yudhiṣṭhira was concerned that Dhṛtarāṣṭra would now be disregarded or even ill-treated. Most people blamed him for the devastation. After making it clear that he would not accept such behavior toward the blind monarch, Yudhiṣṭhira appointed his ministers. Bhīma became Prince Regent, Arjuna commander of the army, and the twins as administrators of justice. Dhaumya was made head priest, and Sañjaya royal counselor. Yudhiṣṭhira then instructed Yuyutsu to care for Dhṛtarāṣṭra and carry out his commands as to any state administration he ordered in his role as ruler of Hastināpura.

Yudhiṣṭhira then arranged for the Brahmins to perform the śraddhā ceremonies for the departed, and ordered that the many widows be given adequate provisions. Yudhiṣṭhira also asked that houses for food distribution, as well as public baths and monuments, be constructed in the names of the slain warriors. Dhṛtarāṣṭra, on behalf of his departed relatives, distributed wealth to the Brahmins.

Bhīma was given the splendid palace which was formerly occupied by Duryodhana, and he entered it joyfully like a mighty mountain lion entering a cave. Dushashana’s more splendid palace was given to Arjuna, and he and Kṛṣṇa went there to rest after the ceremony. Nakula and Sahadeva were given the palaces of Durmarshana and Durmukha, respectively. All of the Pāṇḍavas were as pleased as the gods in heaven as they entered their new abodes.

The morning following the installation, Yudhiṣṭhira thought again of Bhīṣma. It was time to return to the battlefield. The Pāṇḍava king went to consult with Kṛṣṇa. When he entered Arjuna’s palace, he found Kṛṣṇa sitting on a large white sofa bedecked with gems. The dark-hued Kṛṣṇa, clad in yellow silk and adorned with celestial ornaments, resembled a sapphire set in pure gold. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O foremost of intelligent persons, have You rested well? Are Your faculties fully invigorated? O divine Lord, by Your favor we have regained the world and have not transgressed the duties of our order. Please tell me what should now be done.”

Kṛṣṇa made no reply. He appeared to be in meditation. Surprised, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Wonderful it is, O You of immeasurable power, that You are rapt in meditation. Seeing that You have withdrawn Yourself from the world and adopted the fourth state of absorption in the self, I am filled with wonder. As calm as a lamp in a windless place, You appear as immobile as rock, Your bodily hairs standing erect on Your body. If I am fit to understand the cause, O Govinda, be pleased to tell me.”

Returning to external consciousness, Kṛṣṇa replied, “That foremost of men, Bhīṣma, who now lies on a bed of arrows and is like a fire about to be extinguished, is thinking only of Me. Thus is My mind also concentrated on him. My mind is fixed in him, the twang of whose bow and the slaps of whose palms not even Indra could bear. I was thinking of him who carried away the three princesses of Kośala after defeating the world’s kings. I was rapt in thought of he who fought for twenty-three days with Paraśurāma, before the sage finally admitted his inability to overcome that best of his own disciples. Controlling his senses and concentrating his mind fully on Me, Gaṅgā’s son seeks My refuge. It was for this reason that I fixed My mind on him.”

Kṛṣṇa told Yudhiṣṭhira that Bhīṣma would soon depart and thus he and his brothers should leave at once to see him. “When that great man leaves, so all kinds of knowledge about morality and duty will leave with him. No one can deliver instructions comparable to his, not even Me.”

Suppressing his tears, Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “What You have said about Bhīṣma is true. I have heard of his greatness from the Brahmins. Now You, whose words are truth itself, have confirmed the same. If You are pleased to show us favor, O Madhava, then accompany us as we proceed to where Bhīṣma lays. When the sun turns toward the north some days from now, he will leave for the heavens by his own sweet will. Let him see You one more time before then, dear Kṛṣṇa. You are the shelter of the eternal Brahman and the final resting place of all beings.”

Kṛṣṇa turned toward Sātyaki sitting nearby. “Let My chariot be yoked. We will leave at once.”

Yudhiṣṭhira touched Kṛṣṇa’s feet, who then stood up and embraced the Pāṇḍava. He went out of the palace and immediately made arrangements to go to the battlefield. Mounting his chariot, he was driven along Hastināpura’s central highway, followed by his brothers and Kṛṣṇa, each mounted on their own chariots. They soon arrived at Kurukṣetra, witnessing again the awful scene of the eighteen-day war. The field was littered with the wreckage of weapons and chariots. Skulls as white as conches were lying everywhere. Animal bones lay in heaps. The field looked like an abandoned sporting ground used by the Destroyer.

Bhīṣma, however, was surrounded by ascetics. His body shone like the setting sun. Seeing him from a distance, the five Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa got down from their chariots and approached him on foot. They offered their obeisances to the ṛṣis and prayed for their blessings, then took seats around Bhīṣma, who lay perfectly still on his arrow bed.

Kṛṣṇa, tears running down His cheeks, said, “O hero, is your mind and understanding still as clear now as before? I hope you are not overwhelmed by pain or grief. Surely it is wonderful that you have been able to maintain your life in such a condition. I do not think anyone else in all the worlds could do it, nor have I heard of anyone as devoted to truth, penance, charity, sacrifice and virtue. None can equal you in prowess nor in Vedic or moral knowledge. O mighty-armed Bhīṣma, the Brahmins have described you as a Vasu, but I consider you more powerful than those gods. Indeed, you are equal to Vasava himself, the great king of the gods.”

Kṛṣṇa had told the Pāṇḍavas how Bhīṣma had formerly been Dyau, the leader of the Vasus. By Vasiṣṭha’s curse, whom the Vasus had offended, they had been obliged to take birth on earth. Although the ṛṣi had granted that they could soon return to heaven, he ordered that Dyau remain on earth for some time, as he was the Vasus’ leader. The Vasus were born as Gaṅgā’s sons, but she had cast each of them into the Ganges at birth so that they could quickly return to heaven. When Bhīṣma was born, however, she had not cast him into the river. Rather, the other Vasus had endowed him with their own power and he had become equal to all of them combined. Thus he was invincible on earth.

After praising Bhīṣma at length, Kṛṣṇa asked him to remove Yudhiṣṭhira’s doubts about his duty. “Dispel the sorrow of Pāṇḍu’s eldest son. He is distracted by grief because so many of his kinsmen were slain in the battle. Other than you, O foremost of orators, none can destroy the doubts that arise regarding duty. Persons like you live only for other’s benefit. Solace Pṛthā’s virtuous son, whose mind is heavy with anguish.”

Bhīṣma raised his head a little and looked into Kṛṣṇa’s face. “Obeisances to You, O divine Kṛṣṇa. You are the creator and destroyer of all things. Everything material and spiritual emanates from and rests upon You eternally. I can now see Your universal form with all its divine attributes. I take refuge in You, O Lord, and beseech Your mercy. Tell me, O all- powerful Supreme Person, what will be best for me now? I desire only to reach Your blissful abode.”

Kṛṣṇa gently stroked Bhīṣma’s head. “I know of your devotion to Me, O foremost of men. Thus I have allowed you to see My divine form, which is only revealed to My devoted servants. You are pure-hearted and have never swayed in your faith or love. You will therefore attain those regions from which one never returns. Fifty-six days remain of your life, O Bhīṣma, after which you will doubtlessly come to Me. When the sun turns to the north, you will quit your body, taking with you your extensive knowledge. Therefore we have all come to hear from you. Be pleased to speak and remove Yudhiṣṭhira’s grief.”

Bhīṣma’s head fell back and he closed his eyes. His face was covered with tears. The Pāṇḍavas were filled with sorrow to see him so pained. They sat with their heads bowed and their palms folded as Bhīṣma replied. “O great one, O Nārāyaṇa. O Lord of all the worlds, my heart is filled with joy upon hearing Your words, but how can I say anything in Your presence? You are the reservoir of knowledge. He who can speak on heaven before Indra will be able to speak about morality and duty in Your presence. Furthermore, O Keśava, I am in too much pain. I am weak and can barely speak. My strength is leaving me and my understanding is clouded. I can hardly discern anything. I think it is only through Your power that I live at all. You should therefore speak for Yudhiṣṭhira’s benefit and for the benefit of the world. How can I speak, a disciple before his guru?”

The autumn sun was warm and Bhīṣma was shaded with a large umbrella. The cries of vultures and hyenas still ranging about the battlefield was covered by the Brahmins chanting auspicious mantras. The Kuru grandfather, who was being fanned with a white chamara, felt overwhelmed by divine love as he gazed at Kṛṣṇa.

Kṛṣṇa smiled. “Your words become you, O powerful one, who are a great soul and the foremost of Kuru’s race. Regarding your pain, hear now the boon I will grant you out of love. From now until you die, you will be free of pain, hunger, thirst and bewilderment. Your perception and memory will remain unclouded and your mind will be peaceful. Your knowledge will be as clear to you as fishes in a still lake. Thus you will be able to answer all of Yudhiṣṭhira’s questions.”

As Kṛṣṇa spoke a shower of flowers fell from the sky. The ṛṣis praised Kṛṣṇa, while the gods played divine instruments. A cool, fragrant breeze blew and everything became peaceful. Even the animals and birds were silent.

The sun was setting. Kṛṣṇa told Bhīṣma that he and the Pāṇḍavas would return the next morning to hear him speak. After they had bowed before the grandfather, they left on their shining chariots, going to their nearby riverside encampment to spend the night.

The next day, Dhaumya led the Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa back to Bhīṣma. As he rode out from his camp on a chariot as bright as fire, Yudhiṣṭhira resembled Kuvera surrounded by the Guhyakas. Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna were seated on the same chariot and they appeared like a couple of resplendent gods. All three were worshipped by Brahmins as they headed out followed by Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī and thousands of other citizens, all of whom desired to see Bhīṣma one last time before he departed.

When the Pāṇḍavas arrived, they dismounted from their chariots and bowed at his feet. Kṛṣṇa bowed with them. The hundreds of ṛṣis surrounding Bhīṣma stood aside to allow Yudhiṣṭhira and his companions to approach. The Pāṇḍavas saw that almost every famous sage from all parts of the universe had now arrived. There was Parvata, Nārada, Vyāsadeva, Bharadvāja, Paraśurāma, Asita, Gautama, Atri, Kaśyapa, Aṅgirāsha and many others, all of them shining like sacrificial fires.

Bhīṣma, who had received and worshipped the sages with his words, also respectfully greeted the Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa as they took their places near him. Kṛṣṇa inquired how he was feeling, and Bhīṣma told Him that his pain and fatigue were gone. “Indeed, O Madhava, by Your grace my mind is perfectly calm and clear. I see all things—past, present and future—as clearly as I would a fruit held in my hand. Soon I will depart from this world, thinking only of You, O Govinda.”

Pāṇḍu’s sons sat silently, overtaken with affection for their dying grandfather. Seeing this, Bhīṣmadeva was himself overwhelmed with love. Tears sprang to his eyes and he said, trembling, “Oh, my dear son Yudhiṣṭhira, what terrible sufferings and injustices you good souls have suffered, even though you are the son of religion personified. Only because you were protected by the Brahmins, religion and the Supreme Lord himself did you manage to survive.”

Bhīṣma spoke reassuringly, trying to dispel Yudhiṣṭhira’s despondency by pointing out how he was under divine protection. Everything was going on according to the Supreme Lord’s will, and no one should grieve for such inevitabilities.

As everyone listened respectfully, Bhīṣma continued. “The many miseries endured by your mother and my daughter-in-law Kuntī are especially lamentable. Upon the great King Pāṇḍu’s death, she became a widow with many children, thus suffering. Later, she suffered more due to your sufferings. In my opinion, this is all due to inevitable time, under whose control everyone in every planet is carried, just as the clouds are carried by the wind. Surely the effects of time are irreversible and all-powerful. How else could there have been such difficulties in the presence of Yudhiṣṭhira, the son of Dharma, and the invincible Bhīma and Arjuna? Above all, how can one suffer when he has as a well-wisher the Supreme Lord?”

Bhīṣma turned his head slightly and fixed his gaze on Kṛṣṇa. “It is this divine and unknowable Kṛṣṇa who controls everything. Time is simply His energy. Surely even the greatest seers and ṛṣis cannot understand His plans. Despite their exhaustive inquiries about Kṛṣṇa’s activities, they remain bewildered. O Yudhiṣṭhira, best among the Bharatas, I therefore maintain that all this destruction is within the Supreme Lord’s plan. Accepting His inconceivable will, you must follow it. You are now the appointed administrative head and thus you should take care of those subjects who have been rendered helpless.”

Bhīṣma knew that this argument would be the most effective in convincing Yudhiṣṭhira to do his duty. All of the Pāṇḍavas were devoted to Kṛṣṇa, but sometimes their intense, intimate love for Him made them forget that, after all, He was the supreme controller of all the events in the universe. Bhīṣma was simply reminding Yudhiṣṭhira of what he already knew. If the Pāṇḍava became fully convinced that the war and its outcome had been Kṛṣṇa’s own plan, he would not hesitate to perform his kingly duties.

Thanks to Kṛṣṇa’s boon, Bhīṣma’s voice had recovered its former resonance. He continued to look at Kṛṣṇa as he spoke. “This Govinda is none other than the supremely powerful original person. From Him comes Nārāyaṇa and all other deities. Still, He has appeared among the descendants of King Vṛṣṇi and moves about this world like one of us. Thus He bewilders us with His own self-created energy.”

Bhīṣma turned his face back toward Yudhiṣṭhira. “O King, only great personalities such as Śiva, the godly Ṛṣi Nārada, and Kapila, the divine sage incarnation, know about Kṛṣṇa’s confidential glories by their own direct relationship with Him. My dear child Yudhiṣṭhira, that personality whom, out of ignorance, you thought to be your maternal cousin, your very dear friend, well-wisher, counselor, messenger and benefactor, is in fact the Supreme Lord of the entire material and spiritual creation.”

Bhīṣma went on describing Kṛṣṇa’s position, whom he explained was present in everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. Equally kind to everyone, He was free from the false concept of differentiation. He did not see other creatures in terms of the body they inhabited. Thus whatever He did was free from material consideration.

Bhīṣma stopped for a moment, overcome by spiritual ecstasy. Tears flowed freely down his face, and Yudhiṣṭhira wiped them away gently with a soft cloth. Recovering his composure, Bhīṣma concluded. “Yet despite being equally disposed toward everyone, that very Kṛṣṇa has graciously come before me while I am ending my life, for I am His unflinching servant. That Supreme Person, who appears in the mind by attentive devotion and meditation, releases the devotee from the bondage of karma when he leaves his material body. May my Lord, who is four-handed and has a beautifully decorated lotus face with eyes as red as the rising sun, kindly await me at that final moment of my life.”

Bhīṣma spoke in a voice that touched the hearts of all present. Kṛṣṇa returned his affectionate gaze and raised His hand in blessing. He glanced across at Yudhiṣṭhira and nodded slightly, indicating that the Pāṇḍava monarch should now place his doubts before Bhīṣma.

Yudhiṣṭhira then began to ask about the essential principles of various religious duties. Bhīṣma responded in detail, repeating the Vedic knowledge which he had imbibed from the celestial ṛṣis and had personally realized. He cited many examples from the ancient histories to illustrate his points, and his audience was spellbound. Even the gods assembled to hear his instructions, and the day soon passed.

At sunset, everyone retired to their encampment, planning to return at sunrise the next day. For more than fifty days, the conversation continued. Bhīṣma first defined all the classifications and duties of the four castes and orders of life in terms of the individual’s qualifications. Then he systematically described how one could become free from material entanglement even while still engaged in work. He further explained acts of charity, a king’s practical duties, and which activities led to salvation.

Bhīṣma answered Yudhiṣṭhira’s questions to the Pāṇḍava’s full satisfaction. At the end of the fifty days, Yudhiṣṭhira felt his doubts and uncertainty cleared. Gradually, the sun moved toward its northern declination. As it passed into the northern hemisphere, the time favored by perfected yogīs for leaving the world, Bhīṣma ended his instructions to Yudhiṣṭhira and thought of departing. Being completely free of material attachment, he withdrew his mind from everything else and fixed his eyes upon Kṛṣṇa, who stood before him, displaying four hands and dressed in glittering yellow garments. Bhīṣma then stopped his sense activity, and he began to pray to the controller of all living beings.

“Let me now invest my thinking, feeling and willing, which were so long engaged in different subjects and occupational duties, in the all-powerful Lord Kṛṣṇa. He is always self-satisfied; but sometimes, being the leader of the devotees, He enjoys transcendental pleasure by coming to the material world—although He Himself creates the material world. He has appeared on earth in His transcendental body, which is blue like a tamala tree. That divine body attracts everyone in the three planetary systems. May His lotus face, decorated with sandalwood pulp, be the constant object of my attraction, and may I not desire any material results for my acts.”

Remembering his encounters with Kṛṣṇa during the war, Bhīṣma continued. “On the battlefield Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot of His intimate friend Arjuna, His flowing hair ash-colored due to dust raised by the horses’ hooves. Because of His labor, beads of sweat wetted His face. He enjoyed all these decorations, intensified by the wounds dealt by my sharp arrows. Let my mind be ever fixed in this remembrance.”

Bhīṣma knew that Kṛṣṇa’s engagement in the battle was simply an aspect of His transcendental enjoyment. Kṛṣṇa enjoyed showing His love for Arjuna by assisting him in ways that reciprocated with Arjuna’s desire. He had enjoyed a similar reciprocation with Bhīṣma, who had relished the sight of Kṛṣṇa rushing toward him in anger. Remembering that loving exchange, Bhīṣma recounted the pastime.

“Fulfilling my desire and sacrificing His own promise, He got down from the chariot, took up a wheel, and ran toward me just as a lion goes to kill an elephant. That image is forever fixed in my mind—Kṛṣṇa’s beautiful blackish face smoldering in anger as He charged toward me with His bright yellow garment falling to the ground. His armor was shattered by my arrows and His body was smeared with the blood of His wounds. May that Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Person who awards salvation, be my ultimate destination.”

The old Kuru hero felt sorry that he had attacked Kṛṣṇa, although he knew that his arrows could not have harmed Him. Becoming silent for some time, he meditated deeply upon the incident. He had felt an intense ecstasy when Kṛṣṇa had come at him in anger. Kṛṣṇa Himself had obviously been experiencing pleasure, enjoying the mood of chivalry created by the fight. Bhīṣma found himself swimming in the remembrance of that feeling. Surely the exchange with Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield had been the most sublime moment of his life. Now here was that same Supreme Person, mercifully standing before him despite the fact that Bhīṣma had assailed both Him and His intimate friend Arjuna during the war.

The sun was reaching the meridian and Bhīṣma knew his departure was near. He controlled his mind, absorbing it in thoughts of Kṛṣṇa alone. Thinking of Kṛṣṇa’s many divine pastimes during His presence on earth, he spoke one final time.

“I can now meditate with full concentration upon that one Lord, Kṛṣṇa, visible before me, because I have transcended the misconception of duality. It is this Kṛṣṇa who is present in everyone’s heart and who is the ultimate destination for all transcendentalists, including those who accept the absolute truth as being simply the Brahman. Even though the sun may be perceived differently by different people in different parts of the world, the sun is one. I therefore surrender myself fully to that all-powerful, omnipresent Kṛṣṇa. May all be well with the worlds.”

After saying farewell to Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, and instructing them to always worship the Brahmins and remain fixed in truth, Bhīṣma fell silent and stopped breathing. Suddenly his life air shot out from the crown of his head and went into the sky like a blazing comet. The ṛṣis present could see that he had left his body in a brilliant spiritual form and entered into Kṛṣṇa, thus going to the eternal transcendental atmosphere where Kṛṣṇa forever displays His loving pastimes. They folded their palms and uttered praises of Kṛṣṇa, then became silent out of respect for Bhīṣma. The Pāṇḍavas sat silently shedding tears, seeing that their beloved grandfather had departed.

A few minutes later, the gods sounded their drums to honor Bhīṣma. The kṣatriyas blew their conchshells and also beat drums. Demonstrations of honor and respect were made by all present, and showers of flowers fell from the sky.

The Pāṇḍavas gazed mutely at the old Kuru leader, unable to move for some time. Finally they fought back their tears and personally collected the wood to build the funeral pyre. Bhīṣma’s body, wrapped in a silken cloth, garlanded, and smeared with fragrant scents and sandalwood pulp, was placed on the pyre. Yuyutsu stood at his head holding a shining white umbrella. Bhīma and Arjuna fanned him on either side with cāmaras, while Yudhiṣṭhira and Dhṛtarāṣṭra fanned him at his feet.

The Brahmins performed the last rites, offering libations into the fire on Bhīṣma’s behalf and chanting hymns from the Sāma Veda. They then handed a flaming torch to Yudhiṣṭhira, who lit the pyre. As the flames consumed Bhīṣma’s body, the women cried out in grief.

After Bhīṣma had been cremated, the Kurus and the Pāṇḍavas returned to the Ganges. Bhīṣma’s ashes were cast into the holy waters and everyone made offerings. Suddenly, the goddess Gaṅgā rose up from the river. Radiant in her white silks and gold ornaments, she wept for the death of her son.

“Alas, where has my son gone? Of royal conduct and disposition, he was devoted to virtue and to serving his elders. Even the great Paraśurāma could not defeat him. In Kashi he single-handedly overpowered the world’s kings and took away the princesses. Now he has been slain by the heartless Śikhaṇḍī.”

Seeing Gaṅgā grieving, Kṛṣṇa spoke to her and consoled her. He reassured her that Bhīṣma had attained the highest destination. His fame on earth would last forever, and now he was gone to a place from which no one returns.

Comforted, the goddess cast off her grief. The Kurus then worshipped her and obtained her permission to return to the city.