The nail of bed a snake charmers were two popular images which defined India as an exotic destination in the sixties. The Nail of bed drew the attention of westerners, once again, a decade back, this time as a therapy. The New York Times even ran an article about this trend in 2014. During the colonial era, it must have been a great thrill for a Britisher to encounter an occasional ascetic sitting on bed of nails. But, the story of the nail of bed goes back several millennia in the collective memory of India. The Mahabharata text documents in detail the incidents surrounding the decision of the great warrior Yogi Bhishma to lay on a bed of arrows while awaiting his death.
Bhishma, the great warrior Yogi had received a boon during his youth to chose the time of his death. In his ripe old age, he fell down from his chariot, with mortal injuries, in the great war. He choose a bed of nails and awaited for the right time to drop his mortal body. As a great Yogi, he had great insight into the connection between the time of death and the nature of the following birth. Bhishma knew that he had taken birth because of a curse. He did not want a prolonged chain of births on the planet. The Sapthami day, when the moon is in her 7th waxing phase in the month of Magha would be the right guaranty for this. Such a combination occurs now in late February when the moon is in close proximity to Aldebaran. This combination is revered in India as the Ratha Sapthami day. The following day is called Bhishma Ashtami in the memory of an enlightened warrior and his life of sacrifice.
The record of Ratha Sapthami in the Mahabharata is an archeoastronomy marker. Together with a few other such markers in this text, researchers and archeologists are today able to affirm the time of the great War in India.