Without Bhishma, there would be no Mahabharata. It was his vow of celibacy that set in motion the chain of events that would eventually lead to the ultimate climax on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Bhishma sacrificed the pleasures of the worldly life and his rightful claim to the throne for the sake of his father Shantanu, who desired to marry the daughter of a fisherwoman.
Immensely pleased with his son’s vow and devotion, Shantanu gave Bhishma the boon of ‘Iccha Mrityu’, or death when Bhishma desires. This technically meant that Bhishma could live as long as he wanted to.
So when the arrows of Arjuna became a bed for Bhishma on the 10th day of the Kurkshetra war, the mighty warrior had just one desire – to die at the time he wished.
Being a learned scholar, Bhishma had knowledge of astrology, the Vedangas and the Shastras. He calculated a specific time of death which would free him from the cycle of rebirth and make him attain moksha.
Makar Sankranti marks the transition of Sun from Dakshinayan to Uttarayan, as per Indian astrology.
Lord Krishna says in the eight chapter of the Bhagavad Gita that anyone who dies during Uttarayan attains moksha, but those who die in Dakshinayan are reborn.
अग्निर्ज्योतिरह: शुक्ल: षण्मासा उत्तरायणम् |Advertisement
तत्र प्रयाता गच्छन्ति ब्रह्म ब्रह्मविदो जना: || 24||
धूमो रात्रिस्तथा कृष्ण: षण्मासा दक्षिणायनम् |
तत्र चान्द्रमसं ज्योतिर्योगी प्राप्य निवर्तते || 25||Advertisement
“Those who know the Supreme Brahman, and who depart from this world, during the six months of the sun’s northern course (Uttarayan), the bright fortnight of the moon, and the bright part of the day, attain the supreme destination. The practitioners of Vedic rituals, who pass away during the six months of the sun’s southern course (Dakshinayan), the dark fortnight of the moon, the time of smoke, the night, attain the celestial abodes. After enjoying celestial pleasures, they again return to the earth.”