Today is the auspicious day of Bhishma Ekadashi. Ekadashi is the name of the eleventh day of every lunar fortnight of the Hindu / Telugu calendar. Ekadashi is a day dedicated to Lord Vishnu and each Ekadashi day has some significance, with Vaikunta Ekadashi being the most important and auspicious (you may read two articles I wrote on Vaikunta Ekadashi by clicking on the following links: Vaikunta Ekadashi - 1, Vaikunta Ekadashi - 2). And Bhishma Ekadashi, yet another very important Ekadashi falls in the month of Maga masam, on the eleventh day of the first fortnight, that is Shukla paksham.
Everyone who has read, heard or seen movies on Mahabharata would know Bhishmacharya. Bhishma the son of King Shantanu of the Kuru dynasty was the grand uncle of the Pandavas and Kauravas. With great respect; he is always addressed as Bhishmacharya or Bhishma Pitamah, meaning the great teacher or highly respected elder. He was a very important, famous and great warrior, an unparalleled archer. He was a very wise and knowledgeable man, an expert in warfare and in dharmashastra. He was regarded as symbol of righteousness. It is said that Bhishma learnt political science from Brihaspati, the Guru of the Gods, Vedas from Rishi Vashista and archery from Parusharam. Bhishma’s birth name was Devavrata. He was called as Bhishma after he took the ‘Bhishana Pratigya’ (terrible oath), the vow of lifelong celibacy and of service to whoever sat on the throne of his father. He took this oath as his father desired to marry a fisherwoman named Satyavati and as Satyavati’s father refused to give his daughter in marriage unless Bhishma takes such an oath (implying that Satyavati’s future son is assured of the throne). This oath also meant that Bhishma would remain loyal to the Kauravas. This great sacrifice brought him the boon of ‘Sweccha Mrithyu’ meaning he could chose the time of his death. During the historic Kurukshetra war between Kauravas and Pandavas, he had to be on the side of the Kauravas though he knew that they were wrong, due to his oath. None in the Pandavas including Arjuna could fight him, so by deceit they tricked and injured him. Because of his promise to his father that he would protect the Kuru dynasty forever he did not chose to die in spite of being gravely injured. To prevent the falling on to ground of the highly respected elder and warrior which is considered a bad omen to the welfare of the world, Lord Krishna instructed Arjuna to make a bed with arrows and Bhishmacharya is made to rest on it. Bhishmacharya rested there as the war continued. Lord Krishna felt that in spite of his Gita preaching to Arjuna, Arjuna and the Pandavas had a great deal to learn from the wisdom of Bhishmacharya. As per Lord Krishna’s advice, in his presence, the Pandavas approached Bhishmacharya on Maga Shukla Ekadashi to learn about his life, his wisdom, his experiences, the secrets and facts that made him so great, about life and rebirths, about happiness and bliss and so on. Though weak and exhausted with the injury and pain, Bhishmacharya with the blessings of Lord Krishna enlightened the Pandavas with all the knowledge he acquired over the years. On this auspicious day he also revealed to them his composition, Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stothram that is in praise of Lord Vishnu. Pointing at Lord Krishna he told them that he is Lord Vishnu and praying him with the Sahasranama that is thousand names of Vishnu can make us dear to him and lead us to salvation. It is said that reciting it regularly or even listening to it is itself a great thing that empowers one with strength to overcome all the difficulties and get on to the right path of salvation.
Fasting, praying and reciting or hearing of Vishnu Sahasranamam today is considered highly auspicious and is believed to help in redemption of sins and attaining Moksha.