Bhishma's Bed of Arrows by Pradip Bhattacharya SignUp
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Bhishma's Bed of Arrows
by Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya
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  Jatindra Mohan Sengupta wrote this Bengali poem in 1928 probing Bhishma's mind and heart as he lies on the bed-of-arrows addressing Chandra. founder of the Lunar Dynasty, at a moment when that line is virtually extinct. The dramatic monologue is unique for the insights it proffers into the inner dynamic of this remarkable enigma of the Mahabharata. Feeling that it needs to reach a wider audience, its first English transcreation has been attempted.

Terrifying battle-clamour
stilled forever in Kurukshetra;
O setting Chandra,
accept Bhishma's last pranam!
O progenitor of my dynasty!
Stand before my eyes,
Your child, at death's door, begs
Your last loving blessing.
You know, Lord, for what secret sorrow
on a bed-of-arrows
child-like lies Bhishma night after day.
Why alone, unhonoured
lie in living-death, I amid the ruins
of my own dynasty!
Why immortality won by Devavrata's own prowess
I spurn lightly—you know it all.
Seven brothers, one by one, drowned
in mother's loving waters,
play-sated, heavenly mother
returned to the heavens.
Alas delusion! yet blind eyes of memory
grope for her face.
A goddess bore a mortal in her womb—
grace enough.

That young heart,
whose throbbing Jahnavi quenched,
Alas, birthed greed for a fisher-wench!
Hoping to atone
for aged father's besotting,
in youth the lust-serpent I bound in vow's noose.
That no brother slay brother for greed of throne
An oath I swore—
You too witnessed, Chandra!
Today, on bed-of-arrows
I recall that silly youth's firm, impossible hope,
and laugh!

Stepmother's sons I brought up
as Kaurava line’s glory.
You know, Lord, how ungloriously
one by one
I got them wives.
"Chandra lineage dies", pleaded stepmother--
the hint's clear; I say—
"Mother, not by me."
Amazed I hear—Sage Vyasa’s my stepbrother
Rishi-fathered!
--However intense the flames,
fire cannot burn ash, alas.
In glaring sunlight, in mid-river,
is quenched a sage’s desire,
Earth ashamed still shrouds herself in mist at times!
Scriptual sanction I hunted out,
sacrificing sound sense.
In my family arrived
blind and anaemic sons.
Hear, O Lord,
my bed-of-arrows’ not without cause.
That sordid act with Kuru wives
burns my heart still.
"Or dharma would have been violated!"--they say,
perhaps that very day
Kuru dynasty would’ve ended;
but with it all Kshatriyas of Bharata
wouldn't be extinct.

Eldest remained shut up in his blind prison,
Puberty brought to Pandu ancestral taint.
Impotently he watched the family insulted,--
his young wives-- gods impregnating!
True, our ancestors took celestial maidens.
Did shrewd gods take revenge
seizing this chance?
A foolish ascetic’s boon
hungry for gods’ grace
and Dharma did adharma
in a foolish man's place.
A Kshatriya dies a eunuch death
on woman's breast in the forest,
A queen returns head bowed, eyes downcast,
five sons in tow.
They say five gods fathered Pandu's five sons!
Arrows pain my every pore,
yet that I've not forgotten.

Conflict created by blindness' son
proud Duryodhan--
At death's door how say I
it was all unjust?
My only regret—
Kshatriya took shelter of deception.
Pandava prowess, no doubt,
held me in delusion.
Even today I've not forgot—
in Panchala svayamvara, Krishnaa's,
thousands of kings ran from a single youth's arrows!
What joy--at dawn I hear it’s Partha!
What shame when next I hear--
at mother's bidding
five brothers share the svayamvara maid.

O ancestral Lord! How many blots
will you bear on your body?
Are five husbands proper? What then is adultery?
Thinking but on dynasty's welfare,
even that poison I held in my throat;--
on bed-of-arrows do penance
for sins of everyone.

Again Kuru-Pandava fought for the kingdom;
Dharma and Pride played at dice!
No wonder I bore in silence.
Losing kingdom at dice, staked his wife!
Statue-like I watched Duryodhan's doings
Mutely I mused—which shame is greater?--
Winning at dice
strip woman nude in royal court, or--
Addicted Dharma in vow's arrogance
watching, a Kshatriya,--wife's waist-cloth pulled?
Bhargava-victor Bhishma that day too erred again,--
not taking up arms to destroy
Kuru-Pandava altogether.

Hence I bore silently when Phalguni,
counting every error,
pierced me pore by pore
weaving a wondrous arrow-armour.

Lord, at Kurukshetra's end,
today have I to tell
why Kuru elder didn't join
Pandavas to fell Kauravas?
In what despair my arms
didn't regain strength on battlefield?
For ten days why I but pretended to fight?
Valour, truth, humanity,
if all are hollow,---
how long can I on earth live on
with but immorality to follow?
Vainly in youth throne and wife I sacrificed
for family's sake;
Truth itself departs from him
who swears for falsehood's sake.
Who opens the path to sin
Gains not renouncing’s merit.
Divine-play is revealed when man loses humanity:--
behind Shikhandi, Partha battles,--
on the chariot Hari smiles,
fortunate Bhishma had the boon
to die only at will.

Haven't you felt how much the grief
why earth I haven't touched again?
Unbearable agony, yet
why no haste to reach heaven?
O silent skiey witness!
To see your dynasty's end
do I lie lidless on this arrow-bed.

Today all ends;--
With dynasty vanishes the battle without-within.
In deep night you too, Chandra, are setting;
in this terrible crematory, corpse-seated
savage carnivore eyes burn!
In this blood-stinking great plain drowses blind night;
vainly souls seeking bodies roam in glow-worm light.
The horizon reveals your deathly horrible portrait;--

Oh, what's that? Suddenly
did a hundred suns flare and die?
Moving darkness engulfs all,
uproar and cry.
Doomsday deluge smashes
all bonds of creation!
What's that again?
Terrible, deathly pale waters of annihilation
the pilot seeks to cross on banyan leaf in desperation!
Narayana! What’s this I'm shown!
Amid dissolution on bed-of-arrows
Bhishma lives on alone!
Forgive, O dynastic Lord, my momentary delusion!
Forgive heart-shaken, mortally struck
Bhishma's consternation
Frustrated in south, the sky-desert's misled deer
Turns to speed northwards tomorrow I hear.
Ever thirsting, heat outworn, with that Tapan—
leaving life I'll journey on death's path at dawn.
Accept my last pranam, O setting Chandra,--
You know now on what bed-of-arrows died Devavrata

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November 24, 2002
More By: Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya
Views: 1892      Comments: 1

Comments on this Poem

Comment Excellent! Bhishma's inner conflict between his own morality and ideals with the horror of the realities confronting him are well depicted in the poem.

Vinita Agrawal
02/17/2014 08:20 AM




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