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Today, I will continue the story of Bhishma.
Shantanu and Satyavati had two children: Chitrangad and Vichitravirya. They had an aging father and looked upon Bhishma, their older step brother as a father figure, who in turn, loved them and brought them up as his own sons and ensured that they learned everything required to become future kings. When Shantanu passed away, Chitrangad was crowned as the king and he ran the affairs of the kingdom under the guidance of Bhishma and Satyavati. During this period, Bhishma had an elevated status in the palace and was the king for all intents and purposes, except in name. However, he never even once forgot his vow and misused his position as the one running the show. Satyavati and her children, in turn, had a lot of respect and affection for Bhishma.
Chitrangad grew up to be a great king; however, he was killed by an angry Gandharva king who was his namesake (celestial musician cum warrior) in a duel while Bhishma was away on state affairs. Bhishma was inconsolable when he heard of the death of his beloved brave brother but Satyavati showed grit and resilience and asked Bhishma to crown her younger son as the king as Chitrangad had no children. Bhishma did as advised by Satyavati and put Vichitravirya on the throne of Hastinapur and started running the state affairs in his name, while at the same time teaching him the ropes of ruling a kingdom.
Years later, in the process of finding a bride for his half-brother, the young king Vichitravirya, Bhishma abducted princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika of Kashi from the assemblage of suitors at their swaymvara. Salwa, the ruler of Saubala, and Amba (the eldest princess) were in love; Salwa attempted to stop the abduction but was soundly beaten. Upon reaching Hastinapura, Amba confided in Bhishma that she wished to wed Salwa. Bhishma then sent her back to Salwa, who, bitter from his humiliating defeat at Bhishma’s hands, turned her down. She then retired to Bhishma for Vichitravirya who refused to accept citing the rules that what once given cannot be taken back. Amba then sorrowfully, repair to an asylum of ascetics out of city. She then explains everything to them. They made her meet with Parasurama. Hearing the words of the princess, Parasurama asked her motive. As per the words of ascetics, she asked him to slay that Bhishma of great vows, who is the root of her calamity.
Amba sought refuge with Parasurama, who ordered Bhishma to marry Amba, telling Bhishma it was his duty. Bhishma politely refused, saying that he was ready to give up his life at the command of his teacher but not the promise that he had made. Both mocks each other and upon the refusal, Parasurama called him for a fight at Kurukshetra. At the battlegrounds, while Bhishma was on a chariot, Parasurama was on foot. Bhishma requested Parasurama to also take a chariot and armour so that Bhishma would not have an unfair advantage. Parasurama blessed Bhishma with the power of divine vision and asked him to look again. When Bhishma looked at his guru with the divine eyesight, he saw the Earth as Parasurama’s chariot, the four Vedas as the horses, the Upanishads as the reins, Vayu (wind) as the Charioteer and the Vedic goddesses Gayatri, Savitri, and Saraswati as his armour. Bhishma got down from the chariot and sought the blessings of Parashurama to protect his dharma, along with permission to battle against his teacher. Pleased, Parashurama blessed him and advised him to protect his vow as Parasurama himself had to fight to uphold his word as given to Amba. They fought for 23 days, each knocking out other at a time, used even the celestial weapons, but each was too powerful to defeat the other. Their battle lasted for 23 days. But on 22nd night, he asked the gods to show him a way to vanquish Parasurama, at night. In his dream, his ancestors came and provided him the knowledge of Praswapa weapon, not known to any persons on earth.
On 23rd day of battle, when battle didn’t conclude, Bhishma attempted to use the Prashwapastra against Parashurama. This weapon was not known to Parasurama and would put the afflicted to sleep in the battlefield. Before Bhishma could release it, however, a voice from the sky warned him that “if he uses this weapon it would be a great insult towards his Guru.” Pitrs then appeared and obstructed the chariot of Parashurama, forbidding him from fighting any longer. At the behest of the divine sage Naradaand the gods, Parashurama ended the conflict and the battle was declared stale mate.(effect of any astra on parashurama is not clear as he is avatara of Lord Vishnu and chiranjivi).
In another version, Parashurama himself stopped the fight after twenty-three days, worried that the further use of powerful weapons may lead to the destruction of the world.
Parashurama narrated the events to Amba and told her to seek Bhishma’s protection. However, Amba refused to listen to Parashurama’s advice and left angrily declaring that she would achieve her objective by asceticism. Her predicament unchanged, she did severe austerities to please Shiva. She was cursed by Ganga, during her penances, when she didn’t listen to her words. Lord Shiva assured her that she would be born as a man named (Shikhandi) in her next birth (and still she would recall her past) and could be instrumental in Bhishma’s death, thus satisfying her vow. She then made funeral pyre of woods, on the banks of the Yamuna, setting fire to it herself entered that blazing fire with wrath, uttering-‘I do so for Bhishma’s destruction!’.