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
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
"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
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
"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
74. KARNA AND THE GRANDSIRE
WHEN he learnt that Bhishma lay
wounded and dying, Karna hurried to the
place and fell at his feet and said:
"Eldest of the race. Radha's son, who,
through no fault of his, incurred your
great displeasure, humbly prostrates
himself before you."
When after humble salutation Karna stood
up, the grandsire, greatly moved, tenderly
placed his hand on Karna's head and
"You are not Radha's son, young man," he
said in loving tones: "You are Kuntidevi's
own first born. Narada, who knows all the
secrets of the world, himself revealed this
to me. Son of Surya, truly I entertained no
dislike for you. But I was grieved to see
your increasing hatred of the Pandavas
although they gave you no cause for it. I
know and admire your valor and your
open handedness. And I know also that
you belong to the class of Phalguna and
Krishna in prowess. It is proper that you
befriend the Pandavas. Therein lies the
right path for you who are their brother.
With the closing of my part in this war,
may the chapter of your enmity also close.
This is my wish, Karna."
Karna listened respectfully and replied:
"Grandsire I know I am Kunti's son, and
not charioteer born. But I have eaten
Duryodhana's salt and must be true to
him, to be true to my own lineage. It is
impossible for me to go over to the
Pandavas now. You must permit me to
repay with my life, if it so be the debt I
owe to Duryodhana for his love and trust.
I have erred greatly in word and deed.
You must forgive me for it all and give
me your blessings."
The great acharya, who knew all the laws
of right conduct and what Karna said,
replied: "Do reflect for a while and then
do as you wish, for that is the right way."
Even when Bhishma was mortally
wounded and lay dying, the battle did not
cease. Discarding the grandsire's words of
wisdom, the Kauravas resumed the battle.
Deprived of Bhishma's leadership, the
Kaurava forces felt like sheep without a
shepherd when Bhishma no longer led
them. Indeed, even as Bhishma fell
wounded, the men shouted:
"O Karna, you are the one left to lead and
The Kaurava warriors felt that, if but
Karna would agree to take up the
command, victory was certain. During the
first ten days when Bhishma led the
forces, the son of Surya kept away from
As already narrated, deeply hurt at the
grandsire's contempt, Karna had said: "So
long as you are up fighting, I shall keep
aloof. If you slay the Pandavas and bring
victory to Duryodhana, I shall be glad.
And I shall then, taking the king's leave,
go to the forest. But, if you be defeated
and go to the abode of the brave, I who
am not deemed by you as an adhiratha
(master of chariot warfare) will ride my
chariot and oppose those whom you deem
to be of greater prowess than myself. And
defeating them, bring victory to
Thus had Karna sworn and, with
Duryodhana's consent, kept aloof from the
battle during the first ten days. Now he
went on foot to Bhishma who lay on his
bed of arrows waiting for his end and,
saluting him, addressed him thus:
Parasurama, you lie on the field of battle,
struck down by Sikhandin. If you, who
had reached the summit of right living and
were an embodiment of purity itself, must
lie wounded in this manner, it is clear that
no one can attain in this world what he
deserves by his merit. You were the one
boat on which the Kaurava princes
depended for crossing the flood of their
troubles. Heavy indeed will be the blows
that the Pandavas will now deal at the
Kauravas and great will be their
consequent distress. Like fire and wind
burning down the forest, Arjuna and
Krishna will destroy the army of
Kauravas. This is certain. Turn your
gracious eyes on me and bless me, who
have accepted the command of the
Karna."You are like the good earth to the
seeds, like rain clouds to living beings,
ever dependable, firm in your loyalty.
Serve Duryodhana and save him. You
vanquished the Kambojas for him. You
put down the Kiratas of the Himalayan
fastnesses for him. You fought the
Girivrajas on his behalf and defeated
them. Many more things you have
accomplished for him. Take charge of the
Kaurava army now as your own rich
possession and guard it well. May you
lead Duryodhana's forces to success! May
you have every good fortune! Fight your
Karna, having received the benediction of
the grandsire, mounted his chariot and
rode to the battlefield. When the valorous
Karna entered the field on his war chariot,
Duryodhana's joys knew no bounds. His
sorrow, at having lost Bhishma, was in
some degree alleviated.
75. DRONA IN COMMAND
DURYODHANA and Karna held counsel
as to who should be put in supreme
command of the forces.
"Well, everyone of these princely warriors
fighting on your side is great enough to be
put in charge of our forces as supreme
commander," said Karna.
"All these kings are of equal prowess,
strength, energy, skill, courage, valor,
ancestry and wisdom. They cannot all be
put in joint command and, if any of them
be chosen, each of the others would feel
hurt and may not put forth his whole
strength in the cause. Thereby we stand to
suffer. So, my advice is that we install
Dronacharya, the teacher of all these
princes and warriors, as supreme
commander. He indeed is the greatest of
all those that carry arms today. No
kshatriya equals him in the qualities
required for leading our army. Let us
therefore install him."
Duryodhana agreed that this was the right
thing to do, and so it was decided.
Duryodhana went to Dronacharya and, in
the presence of the assembled warriors
and princes, bowed and addressed him:
"Revered Master, you are unrivalled
among all those assembled here in caste,
ancestry, knowledge of sciences, age,
wisdom, valor and skill. I beg of you to
accept the supreme command. Under your
command, this army will be victorious."
The assembled kings received this
proposal with loud cheers and war cries
that gladdened Duryodhana's heart.
Drona was installed in due form amidst
thunderous acclamation. The praise of
courtiers and the sound of trumpets that
accompanied the ceremony, made the
Kauravas feel as though they had already
vanquished the enemy. So great was their
enthusiasm and confidence in Drona's
Drona arrayed the army in circular
formation. Karna, who had till then stood
aside was now seen moving about in his
great chariot on the battlefield and this put
new courage and joy into the hearts of the
The talk went round in the army that the
great Bhishma did not wish to slay the
sons of Pandu and therefore had not put
his whole heart in the fight. But now that
Karna was in the field, it was certain that
the Pandavas would be destroyed.
Dronacharya was in command for five
days of the battle. Though of advanced
years, he was everywhere in the field and
displayed the fierce energy of a young
warrior. Whenever he led an attack, the
Pandava forces were scattered like clouds
before a storm.
He personally engaged the greatest
warriors on the Pandava side in battle. He
Dhrishtadyumna, Abhimanyu, Drupada
and Kasiraja and defeated them on many
He harassed and inflicted severe
punishment on the Pandava army during
the five days he was in command.
76. TO SEIZE YUDHISHTHIRA
AS SOON AS Drona assumed command
of the Kaurava forces Duryodhana, Karna
and Duhsasana sat in council and decided
on a plan. And Duryodhana went to
Dronacharya to put it in operation.
"Acharya, we desire that you should
capture Yudhishthira alive and give him
over to us. We desire nothing more, not
even a total victory. If you achieve this for
us, we shall all be exceedingly satisfied
with your conduct of the war."
When Drona heard Duryodhana address
him thus, great was his joy, for he hated
the very idea of slaying the Pandava
brothers. Even though, to fulfil his
obligation, the acharya loyally joined the
Kaurava side against the Pandavas, he
loved the sons of Kunti and especially the
So, when he heard Duryodhana request
that Yudhishthira should be captured
alive, he felt greatly relieved.
"Duryodhana, may you be blessed!" the
acharya said. "Do you too wish to abstain
from killing Yudhishthira? How it
gladdens my heart! Truly, Yudhishthira is
one without an enemy and the name
Ajatasatru, which the people have given to
Kunti's eldest son, has been justified by
your great decision. When even you have
made up your mind that he should not be
killed but should be captured alive, his
unrivalled glory has become ten times
"I see, dear Duryodhana, what you
intend," Drona continued. "You wish to
defeat the Pandavas in battle and then give
them their share in the kingdom and live
in peace and amity with them. I see this
clearly from your desire to capture
Drona was exceedingly glad and he said
again: "Indeed Yudhishthira is the most
fortunate man on earth. The gods are
showering their favors on Kunti's good
son. So has he won the hearts of even
But Duryodhana's motives in wishing to
take Yudhishthira alive were far different.
And as soon as Drona acceded to his
proposal and gave his pledge that he
would do his best to capture Yudhishthira,
he began to reveal his real intentions.
If Yudhishthira were slain, nothing would
be gained by it, and the anger of the
Pandavas would be all the greater. The
battle would rage more fiercely than
before. And Duryodhana knew that it
would only mean the utter defeat of his
Even if the fight were to be continued
relentlessly until both armies were
destroyed, Krishna would still remain
alive and he would put either Draupadi or
Kunti in sovereign possession of the
What then was the point in killing
Yudhishthira? On the other hand, if
Duryodhana thought, the war would end
more speedily and victoriously for the
Thereafter, he could surely play on
Yudhishthira's goodness and his loyalty to
the traditional code of kshatriya conduct.
It was pretty certain he could be drawn
into the battle of dice again and sent to the
forests once more.
Ten days of fighting had demonstrated to
Duryodhana that further fighting would
only result in the destruction of the race,
not the fulfilment of the desires.
When Duryodhana made his motives clear
to Drona, the acharya was greatly
disappointed and he cursed Duryodhana in
his heart. But whatever the reason for it,
he was glad that Yudhishthira was not to
The news that Drona had given a solemn
assurance to Duryodhana that he would
take Yudhishthir a prisoner, was carried
by their spies to the Pandava army.
The Pandavas knew that, when the
acharya was determined on something and
gave his pledged word for executing it, his
unrivalled eminence in the art of war and
his valor made it a most serious affair.
So, they soon got busy and so arrayed the
forces that Yudhishthira was never left
unsupported. Whatever movements might
take place, they always took care to leave
sufficient protection against any surprise
attack on Yudhishthira.
In the first day's battle under the
leadership of Drona, the acharya amply
demonstrated his great skill and energy.
He moved about destroying the Pandava
forces like a fire burning up dry logs. His
rapid movements made the Pandava army
feel as if Drona was everywhere at the
same time showering arrows like rain and
converting the battlefield into a stage for
the dance of the God of Death. He cut the
Pandava army in twain where
Many were the single combats among
renowned warriors. There was a fierce
battle between Sahadeva and Sakuni
skilled in illusion warfare. When their
chariots broke, they alighted on the
ground. And, like two hills sprung to life
and motion, they struck each other with
maces and closed with one another in
single combat. Between Bhima and
Vivimsati there was a great battle in
which chariots were broken on both sides.
Salya fought his nephew Nakula and
harassed him exceedingly, smiling most
provokingly all the time. But, in the end,
Salya had his car smashed and his flag
brought down, and he withdrew admitting
defeat. Between Kripacharya and
Dhrishtaketu there was a battle in which
the latter was worsted.
So also was there fierce fighting between
Satyaki and Kritavarma and between
Virata and Karna. Abhimanyu's valor was
also demonstrated as he fought Paurava,
Kritavarma, Jayadratha and Salya single-
handed and made them withdraw.
Then there was a great combat between
Salya and Bhimasena in which Salya was
defeated and made to retire. The Kaurava
forces began to lose courage and the
Pandava army, who saw this, attacked the
Kaurava army with renewed energy and
broke its ranks.
When Drona saw this, he decided to
restore lost morale by leading a straight
attack on Yudhishthira. His golden chariot
went forward, drawn by four noble Sindhu
horses, in the direction of Yudhishthira.
Yudhishthira answered with barbed
arrows, feathered with eagle-feathers. But
Drona did not mind, and advanced at great
speed. Yudhishthira's bow was cut down
and Drona was coming very near.
Dhrishtadyumna tried to intercept Drona
but in vain. The whole army shouted:
"Yudhishthira has been taken!" So near
Suddenly, then, Arjuna appeared on the
battlefield, the earth rumbling under the
wheels of his chariot, as it coursed swiftly
over the bloody field, over bones and
bodies lying in heaps. Drona held back,
for Arjuna had come on the scene. From
his Gandiva bow issued a continuous
stream of arrows. No one could see the
shafts taken out of the quiver or placed in
position. It seemed as if, from out of the
great bow, an unending flood of arrows
battlefield was darkened by flying
Drona retreated. Yudhishthira was not
taken. The battle was stopped for the day
and the Kaurava forces went to their camp
in chastened mood.
The Pandava army marched proudly to
camp and behind them walked Kesava
(Krishna) and Arjuna conversing. Thus
closed the eleventh day of the battle.
77. THE TWELFTH DAY
THE attempt to capture Yudhishthira alive
failed. Drona was speaking to
Duryodhana about this. "It is clear we
cannot succeed in our efforts to seize
Yudhishthira so long as Dhananjaya is
nearby. It is no want of interest on my
part. If by some stratagem we could draw
Arjuna away to some other part of the
field, I could pierce the Pandava
formations and capture Yudhishthira. I
promise to seize him and deliver him to
you provided he does not flee from the
battle, renouncing honor. If he does that,
then also we win indeed, do we not?"
The chief of the Trigartadesa who heard
Drona say this talked it over with his
brothers, and they made a plan. They
resolved to take the samsaptaka oath and
challenge Arjuna to battle and draw him
away from Yudhishthira's side.
Accordingly, together with a large force,
they gathered, and sat before the fire,
dressed in matted grass, and went through
funeral gifts and ceremonies for
themselves as if already dead, and took
their oath: "Not till we have killed
Dhananjaya will we turn back. If we flee
in fear from battle, may we be punished as
for deadly sin!"
Having adjured themselves thus before the
sacred fire, they marched south for that
was the direction of Death, and shouted
"O Arjuna!" challenging him to battle.
It was a great suicide squad organized to
achieve what Drona had pointed out to be
essential. Arjuna turned to Yudhishthira
and addressed him thus: "King, the
samsaptakas are calling me to battle. I am
pledged to accept a challenge thus thrown
out. Susarma and his men are calling me
to battle. I shall destroy them all and
return. Permit me to go."
"Brother beloved," said Yudhishthira,
"you know Drona's intentions. Keep that
in mind and do whatever you think fit. He
has promised Duryodhana to take me
alive. He is a matchless warrior, brave,
strong and skilled in, every branch of
archery. He knows no fatigue and nothing
escapes his watchful eyes."
"King, here is Satyajit, standing in support
of you," replied Arjuna. "As long as he is
alive and by you, nothing can happen to
you." So saying Arjuna asked the
Panchala prince Satyajit to stand guard by
Yudhishthira's side and marched off like a
hungry lion to meet the samsaptakas.
"There, Krishna, see the Trigartas
standing, cheerful under the intoxication
of their oath, though they know they go to
certain death. Indeed they are full of the
exultation of approaching swarga." So
speaking to his great charioteer, Arjuna
approached the large samsaptaka force.
This was the Twelfth Day of the great
battle. It was a fierce fight. After a time,
Arjuna's attack began to tell and the
Trigartas fell in swathes before him but
Susarma reminded them of their oath.
"Heroes, we have taken our oaths before
the fire and in the presence of the whole
army of warriors. Having sworn terrible
resolves, it is unworthy to flinch. Let us
not fall into public ridicule." The
samsaptakas cheered their leader, and
faced Arjuna with the sublime courage of
"Hrishikesa, they are resolved on fighting
to the last. Drive on," said Arjuna.
Driven by Madhusudana (Krishna)
Arjuna's chariot moved like Indra's car in
the great war of the gods against the
asuras. It went here and it went there and
wherever it went, Arjuna's great bow, the
Gandiva, scattered death among the
The burst of blood in their compct ranks
was like the burst of Palasa blossoms in a
springtime forest. The fighting was
severe. At one time Arjuna's car and
flagpole were immersed in darkness under
the downpour of arrows.
"Are you alive, Dhananjaya?" shouted
"Yes," replied Arjuna, and pulling the
string of his Gandiva, discharged shafts
that dispelled the arrow-shower. It was
like the Rudra dance of dissolution. The
field was full of severed limbs and
headless bodies and presented a terrible
As Arjuna proceeded to oppose the
samsaptakas, Drona gave orders for a
violent assault on the Pandava forces at
the point where Yudhishthira stood.
Yudhishthira saw this movement and
"The brahmana is coming to seize me.
Look after the forces with vigilance."
The son of Drupada did not wait for
Drona to advance but marched forward in
his car himself to meet Drona.
Dronacharya avoided Dhrishtadyumna,
for well he knew that his death was
destined to be at his hands and that death
was not yet due. And he wheeled his
chariot in another direction where
Drupada was leading his forces.
punishment at Drona's hands and blood
flowed in streams on the battlefield.
Drona, then, again turned his attention to
Yudhishthira. The Pandavas stood firm
and answered Drona's attacks with
showers of arrows.
Satyajit made a charge on Drona's car and
there was a fierce combat in which
Drona's figure assumed the grimness of
the Destroyer. Many a warrior was slain
by him in succession. Vrika, a prince of
Panchala, as well as Satyajit, fell dead.
Seeing this, Satanika, son of Virata,
marched against Drona. In a moment,
Satanika's severed head rolled on the
ground with the golden kundalas shining
in the earlobes.
Ketama, another chief, followed the attack
but he too perished. Then, Vasudhana
rushed forward to stop the advance of
Drona, but he too fell dead. Yudhamanyu,
Satyaki, Sikhandin and Uttamaujas who
came to push Drona back, were repulsed
and all these great warriors had to retreat.
Drona was now almost within reach of
At that moment, Panchalya, another son
of Drupada, rushed madly up to stop the
acharya and fought most desperately. But,
he too was mortally wounded and fell
from his chariot like a failing star.
Then, Duryodhana was delighted and said
exultingly to Karna:
"Radheya, do you see the valor of our
mighty leader? No more will the Pandavas
be inclined towards battle. See how their
army reels under Drona's blows."
Karna shook his head. "Do not be so
confident," he said. "The Pandavas are not
to be so easily vanquished. They will
never surrender. The wrongs they have
undergone are too great to be forgotten.
You tried to poison and kill them. You
tried to burn them alive. You have grieved
and humiliated them at the game of dice
and you have forced them out to live in
the forest for long years. They will not
surrender. See there, their army has rallied
and all their forces are leading a combined
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