arabhyaikadasim panca dinani vratamicaret;
bhagavatpritaye bhismapancakam yadi saknuyat.
yadi saknuyatditi kamyatvamiti dik
- Srila Sanatana Goswami
"If one is capable the Bhisma-panchaka vow will be observed for the sake of love of God for the five days from the eleventh day (of the bright lunar fortnight in Kartika) up till the fullmoon day. The prescriptions for this have been given in the Vrata-Khanda-Kartika Mahatmya of the Padma-purana, in the Skanda Purana and in the Visnu-rahasya."
Lord Siva said that the Supreme Lord Himself has given these five days to Bhisma and it is therefore called the five days of Bhisma or Bhisma Pancaka. This fast on these last five days of the light part of Kartik was previously performed by Vasistha, Brighu, Garga, etc., in Satyayuga. Ambarisha Maharaja performed this fast and gave up all of his royal happiness in Tretayuga. Celebrated brahmanas perform this fast with chanting of japa and performance of sacrifices, according to the scriptural rules and regulations. So do ksatriyas and vaisyas who are following truthfulness and cleanliness. This five day fast is difficult for those who are hypocrites and not serious.
The fasting starts on the Utthāna Ekadasi day and will continue until the Rasa purnima day (last day of caturmasya, last day of kartik, first day of Hati procession). The fasting is broken at sunset (or at moon rise) on Rasa Purnima day. Generally it is recommended to do full fast on Ekadasi and then the following four days fruits and roots fasting. Or one can do five day fruits and roots fasting.
Levels of fasting:
Devotees can choose whichever level of fasting as is convenient to them. It should not disturb their normal devotional service(s) and daily sadhana.
One can consume products of the cow (pancha-gavya) each for each day:
- First day: cow dung (Gomaya);
- Second day: cow urine (Go-muutra);
- Third day: cow milk (Kshiira);
- Fourth day: cow yoghurt (Dadhi);
- Fifth day: all products of the cow mixed (Pancha-gavya).
If one can't follow level 1, one can take fruits and roots fruits with many seeds should be avoided like guava, pomegranate, papaya, cucumber etc. Boiled potatoes, raw banana and sweet potato can be taken boiled or baked. We can use sea salt for taste. Cashew nuts, raisins, dates can be taken. We shouldn't take milk and milk products in this level of fasting. Coconut water and grated coconut can be taken.
If one can't follow level 2, one can take "Havishya."
References: Padma Puraana, Brahma-khanda, Chapter 23; Skanda Puraana, Vishnu Khanda, Kartika Mahatmya section, Chapter 32; Garuda Puraana, Purva Khanda, Chapter 123.
Ingredients for Havishya as mentioned in Sri Hari-bhakti-vilasa (13.10-13):
The following are ingredients that can be used in making Havishya, which is like a khichari made with these items.
- Aatap rice
- Ghee from cow
- 'Saindhava' salt (salt from ocean)
- Milk from cow
- Milk with cream
- Ripe banana
- Fruits (Skanda Puraana, Naagara Khanda says they must be with a small seed or with few seeds only)
- Labali fruit
- Roots except 'keaa' (a type of grass or root)
- Ikshu-dravya or sugarcane derivatives (other than gur or mollasses)
- No oil
The following ingredients are normally part of Havishya but have to be avoided in the month of Kaartika:
- Mung dal
- Til oil
One should take bath in Ganges or a holy river every day and should offer tarpana 3 times for Bhismadeva by saying the following mantra:
om vaiyaghra padya gotraya
samkrti pravaraya ca
arghyam dadami bhismaya
om bhismah santanavo birah
Offerings to the Lord:
Devotees may offer the following flowers to the Deity:
- On the first day, one must offer padma (lotus) flowers to the feet of the Lord.
- On the second day, one must offer bilva (wood-apple) leaves of the thigh of the Lord.
- On the third day, one must offer gandha (scents) to the navel of the Lord.
- On the fourth day, one must offer java flower to the shoulders of the Lord.
- On the fifth day, one must offer malati flower to the head (siro-desa) of the Lord.
When there is a overlap of days then the flowers for both days can be offered in the same day.
Reference: Garuda Purana.