Bheeshma had asked Yudhisthira to return after fifty days, on the day Uttarayana began. Yudhisthira arrives along with Dhritharashtra, Kunti, Krishna, Vidura and others. They also come with ghee, chips, incense, flowers, sandal wood and sandal wood paste. Bheeshma welcomes Yudhisthira. 'Come Yudhisthira come! It is fifty eight days since I fell, but it feels like a hundred years! It is the month of magha and shukla paksha, very auspicious.
(There is no mention of more royal visits during the period! It must have rather lonely for Bheeshma pitamaha!)
Bheeshma then addresses Dhritharashtra, 'Maharaja, you are one who knows dharma well. You have served men learned in the vedas, hence do not grieve any further. Whatever had to happen happened! As per dharma, pandavas are also your children. They will be obedient to you and will take good care. Your children adopted wrong methods due to their greed, jealousy and anger and were destroyed. Stop feeling sad for them.' He then looks at Krishna, 'Vasudeva, protect the pandavas, you are their refuge. I had advised Duryodhana to make peace, I had told him that whoever Krishna supports will win. But he foolishly ignored me and paid a price. I was told by both Vyasa and Narada that you are the incarnation of an ancient rishi Narayana. Please permit to leave my body, if you approve, I will attain bliss!'
Krishna permits him, 'I have given you permission Bheeshma! Go and join the astavasus! You are without a fault, pure soul, worshipper of ancestors, a rajarishi and the second Markandeya; hence death is waiting for you like a servant.'
Bheeshma then turns towards all those surrounding them, 'I am taking leave of you, permit me! Be the followers of truth, it is the highest form of strength; practise self-control, non-violence, be virtuous and practise austerities.'
He salutes all with folded hands, becomes still and draws a deep breath. His Prana, breath of life rises from his body. As it starts leaving the body, the arrows which were embedded in his body begin to fall from portions from which life force has departed and in a second his body is free of arrows. Prana breaks away from his forehead like a volcano and disappears into the sky. The celestial drums are heard and flowers shower on the body from the sky.
Bheeshma is cremated with due ceremony by his grandchildren and others. They then go the banks of river Ganga and make sacred offerings to the river. Mother Ganga rises tearfully from the river and speaks about her heroic son and bemoans the fact that he was killed by Shikandi and cries without control. Krishna pacifies her and tells her that it was Arjuna who killed him and not Shikandi. He reminds her that her son was a vasu, who was cursed to be born as a man and has now chosen to go back to join other vasus! Everyone there salute her with respect and leave and mother Ganga gets back into the river and disappears.
The story of Bheeshma became clearer as I read about 'Vasus' and the reason he was cursed to live a hard life on earth. In hinduism, the Vasus are attendant deities of Indra, and later Vishnu. They are eight elemental gods representing aspects of nature, representing cosmic natural phenomenon. The name Vasu means 'Dweller' or 'Dwelling'. They are eight among the Thirty-Three Gods.
While Bheeshma was all that Krishna said of him. He was not all that simple in his earlier life form. He stole a cow to please his wife and unfortunately not an ordinary one and was cursed by the owner rishi Vashishta. So in a way he had it coming!
His punishment seems severe considering the demeanour, but those days stealing a sacred cow must have been a very serious offence. Being a deity must be another reason why, he was given such a stiff punishment as a deterrent.
It still did not explain why he stayed on with Duryodhana! Then I read that Bheeshma had given one more promise that he would serve whoever occupied the throne of kurus.
'The clan Guru then asked who would be held responsible if the future
crown prince isn't capable enough. Bheeshma then took another vow that
he would always see his father's image in whoever sits on the King's
throne & will serve him.'
It is admirable that he kept his promises, but it sad for him that he was so generous with his promises and steadfast in keeping them.