IT was the tenth day of the battle. Keeping Sikhandin in front of him, Arjuna attacked Bhishma. When Sikhandin's darts pierced his breast, sparks flew from the grandsire's eyes.
For a moment the old warrior's anger rose like flaming fire and his eyes glared as if to consume Sikhandin. But, at once, the grandsire restrained himself.
He decided not to be provoked into fighting Sikhandin, who was born a woman and to strike whom it seemed unworthy of a warrior.
He knew, however, his end was near and calmed himself. Sikhandin went on discharging his arrows, not minding the battle of emotions in his opponent's mind.
Arjuna also steeled his heart, and from behind Sikhandin aimed arrows at the weak points in Bhishma's armor, even while the grandsire stood still.
Bhishma smiled as the arrows continued to come down thick on him, and turning to Duhsasana, said: "Ah, these are Arjuna's arrows! These cannot be Sikhandin's, for they burn my flesh as the crab's young ones tear their mother's body."
Thus did the grandsire look upon his dear pupil's arrows and, while saying this to Duhsasana, he took up a javelin and hurled it at Arjuna. Arjuna met it with three arrows which cut it to pieces even as it was speeding through the air.
Bhishma then decided to end the combat and made as if to dismount from his chariot, sword and shield in hand. But before he could do so, his shield was cut to pieces by Arjuna's arrows.
With arrows sticking all over his body so thickly that there was not even an inch of intervening space, Bhishma fell headlong to the ground from his chariot.
As he fell, the gods, who looked on from above, folded their hands in reverent salutation and a gentle breeze, laden with fragrance and cool raindrops, swept over the battlefield.
Thus fell the great and good Bhishma, the son of Ganga, who came on earth to hallow it and all it bears.
The blameless hero who, unasked, made the great renunciation to give joy to his father. The undefeated bowman who had humbled the pride of Rama of the axe. The selfless worker for righteousness' sake, thus repaid his debt to Duryodhana, and lay wounded to death sanctifying with his life-blood the battlefield. As the grandsire fell, the hearts of the Kauravas also fell along with him.
Bhishma's body did not touch the ground, on account of the arrows sticking out all over his body. His body shone more brightly than ever before, as it lay as on a bed of honor, supported by the shafts that had pierced his flesh.
Both armies ceased fighting and all the warriors came running and crowded round the great hero, who lay on his bed of arrows. The kings of the earth stood with bowed heads round him, as the gods round Brahma.
"My head hangs down unsupported," said the grandsire. The princes who stood near, ran and brought cushions. The old warrior rejected them with a smile and, turning towards Arjuna said: "Dear son Partha, give me a cushion befitting a warrior."
When Arjuna, whose arrows were just then burning the grandsire's flesh, heard those words addressed to him, he took three arrows from out of his quiver and so placed them that the grandsire's head found support on their points.
"Princes," said Bhishma addressing the assembled chiefs, "Arjuna's arrows were indeed what my head required to be supported on. This pillow gives me satisfaction. Now, I must lie thus until the sun turns north. My soul will not depart till then. When I pass away, those of you who may be alive then may come and see me."
Then the grandsire turned again to Arjuna and said: "I am tormented with thirst. Get me some drinking water." At once, Arjuna raised his bow, and drawing, it to the ear, shot a shaft down into the earth near the grandsire on his right side.
Upon the opening made by the arrow, there gushed a stream of pure sweet water to the very lips of the dying man. Ganga came up, says the poet, to quench her dear son's burning thirst. Bhishma drank and was happy.
"Duryodhana, may you be wise!" said Bhishma, addressing the Kaurava prince. "Did you see how Arjuna brought me water to quench my thirst? Who else in this world can do such a deed? Make peace with him without further delay. May the war cease with my exit. Listen to me, son, make peace with the Pandavas."
The grandsire's words did not please Duryodhana. Even when dying, the patient does not like medicine. He objects to the bitter taste. All the princes retired to their camps.