his passion, he picked up a sword and,
advancing to Bhurisravas, sitting in yoga
on his seat of arrows, even when all
around were shouting in horror and before
Krishna and Arjuna, who rushed to the
spot, could prevent him, with one swift
and powerful cut, he struck off the old
warrior's head which rolled down, while
the body was still in the posture of
The gods and the siddhas, who looked on
from above the battlefield, uttered
blessings on Bhurisravas. Everyone in the
field condemned Satyaki's act.
Satyaki maintained he was right, saying:
"After I fell down senseless, this enemy of
my family placed his foot on my prostrate
figure and attempted to kill me. I may slay
him in whatever posture he might choose
to be." But none approved of his conduct.
The slaying of Bhurisravas is one of the
many situations of moral conflict woven
into the story of the Mahabharata to
demonstrate that, when hatred and anger
have been roused, codes of honor and
dharma are powerless to control them.
89. JAYADRATHA SLAIN
"THE decisive hour has come, Karna,"
said Duryodhana, "If before nightfall this
day Jayadratha is not slain, Arjuna will be
disgraced and he will kill himself, for not
having redeemed his oath. With Arjuna's
death, the destruction of the Pandavas is
certain and this kingdom will be ours in
unquestioned and absolute sovereignty.
Dhananjaya swore this impossible oath in
a moment of thoughtlessness, because the
gods had willed it that he should be thus
destroyed by his own hand. It seems my
stars are now in the ascendant. We should
not let this opportunity slip. We must see
somehow that his challenge fails. The
whole thing depends on you. Your great
skill in battle is on trial today. Prove
yourself this day. See the sun has sloped
down in the west. Within the little time
left before nightfall, I do not think it
possible for Partha to reach Jayadratha.
You, Aswatthama, Salya, Kripa, and I
must guard Jayadratha and do all we can
to see that he does not fall into Arjuna's
hands during the next few hours before
"My king," Karna replied "I have been
wounded all over by Bhimasena, and am
so weary that my limbs have no power in
them. Still, I shall put forth all the strength
that is in me. I only live to serve you."
When Karna and Duryodhana were thus
planning, Arjuna was engaged in a great
attack on the Kaurava army and putting
forth all his strength, so that before sunset
he could break through to Jayadratha.
Krishna put his Panchajanya in his mouth
and blew a loud note in the rishabha
swara, which was the signal for his own
charioteer Daruka to arrive at once with
When it came, Satyaki took his place in it,
and attacked Karna vigorously and
skilfully, keeping him fully engaged.
Daruka's mastery of driving and Satyaki's
archery were such as brought down the
gods to witness the combat.
Karna's four chariot horses were disabled
and the charioteer was unseated. Then the
flagstaff was cut asunder and the chariot
was smashed. The great Karna stood
chariotless and the event produced a great
flutter in the Kaurava army.
Karna had to run and climb up into
Duryodhana's chariot. Sanjaya here tells
Dhritarashtra to whom he was relating the
incident: "The greatest adepts in archery
are Krishna, Partha and Satyaki. There is
not a fourth to match them!"
Arjuna broke through the Kaurava
opposition and reached Jayadratha.
Inflamed by the thought of the slaughter
of Abhimanyu, and all the great wrongs
inflicted by the Kauravas, Arjuna fought
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Savyasachin as he was, he discharged
shafts from the Gandiva bow, now using
one hand and now the other. He struck
terror and confusion among his enemies,
who felt as if Death had come to the
battlefield with wide-open jaws.
It is only the poet of the Mahabharata that
can describe the combat that raged
between Arjuna and Aswatthama and the
other great warriors that protected the
king of Sindhu. They fought fiercely but
were all defeated and could not prevent
Arjuna from reaching Jayadratha. The
attack on Jayadratha began and the battle
raged long. Both sides were constantly
looking westwards, for the day was
nearing its end. The Saindhava was no
mean foe, and taxed to the full, Arjuna's
strength and skill were hard put to it.
The sun sank towards the horizon and
reddened, but the battle did not cease.
"There is but a very little time left. It
seems Jayadratha has been saved and
Arjuna's challenge has failed. The vow is
unfulfilled and Arjuna is going to be
disgraced," said Duryodhana to himself in
Then, there was darkness and the cry went
round in both armies: "It is sunset and
Jayadratha has not been killed. Arjuna has
lost." The Pandavas were depressed and
there were shouts of joy in the Kaurava
Jayadratha turned to the western horizon
and thought within himself, "I am saved!"
for he did not see the sun then and thought
the time-limit of danger from Arjuna was
At that moment, however, Krishna said to
Arjuna: "Dhananjaya, the Sindhu raja is
looking at the horizon. I have caused this
darkness. The sun is still up and has not
set. Do your work. This is the moment for
it, for Jayadratha is off his guard."
A shaft flew from the Gandiva bow, and,
like a vulture swooping down on a
chicken, carried away Jayadratha's head.
"Listen, Arjuna," cried Krishna, "send
your shafts in swift relays, so that the head
may be supported from falling to the earth
and borne into Vriddhakshatra's lap."
And Arjuna sent his wonderful arrows
that carried away the head in the air. It
was a strange sight. Vriddhakshatra was in
his ashrama sitting in the open absorbed in
his evening meditation with eyes closed,
when his son's head with beautiful black
hair and golden earrings gently dropped
into his lap.
The old king finished his meditation and
got up, when the head rolled down and
fell on the ground. And, as ordained,
Vriddhakshatra's head burst into a
hundred fragments. Jayadratha and his
father together reached the abode of the
Kesava, Dhananjaya, Bhima, Satyaki,
Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas blew their
conchs and Dharmaraja who heard the
triumphant noise knew that it meant that
Arjuna had redeemed his oath and that the
Saindhava had been slain.
Then, Yudhishthira led his army fiercely
against Drona. It was nightfall, but on the
fourteenth day of the battle the rule of
cease-fire at sunset was not observed. As
the passions rose from day to day, one by
one the rules and restraints broke down.
90. DRONA PASSES AWAY
ALL those who have heard the story of
Ghatotkacha, Bhimasena's famous son by
his asura wife. There are two young men
among the Mahabharata figures who
embody all the qualities of heroism,
amiability. They are Arjuna's son,
Ghatotkacha. Both of them gave up their
lives on the Kurukshetra battlefield.
Towards the latter part of the
Mahabharata fight, the hatred roused on
both sides did not find satisfaction in
battle conducted during the daytime and
close at nightfall. On the fourteenth day,
when the sunset, they did not cease
fighting but went on with it in torchlight.
The Kurukshetra field presented a strange
sight, the like of which had not been seen
before in Bharatadesa. The generals and
soldiers on both sides were engaged in
battle, with thousands of torches burning
and using signals specially devised for
Ghatotkacha and his troops of asuras who
are strongest at night, found darkness an
additional advantage and violently
Duryodhana's heart sank within him when
he saw thousands of his men destroyed by
Ghatotkacha and his demon army moving
in the air and attacking in weird and
"Kill this fellow at once, Karna, for
otherwise, soon our whole army will cease
to be. Finish him without further delay."
Thus begged all the perplexed Kauravas
Karna was himself angry and bewildered,
having just been wounded by one of the
asura's arrows. He had with him no doubt
the spear of unerring effect which Indra
had given to him. But it could be used
only once, and he had carefully husbanded
it for exclusive use on Arjuna with whom
a decisive encounter he knew was
But in the confusion and wrath of that
eerie midnight melee, Karna, impelled by
a sudden urge, hurled the missile at the
young giant. Thus was Arjuna saved, but
at great cost. Bhima's beloved son,
Ghatotkacha, who from mid-air was
showering his deadly arrows on the
Kaurava army, dropped dead, plunging
the Pandavas in grief.
The battle did not stop. Drona spread fear
and destruction in the Pandava army by
his relentless attacks. "O Arjuna," said
Krishna, "there is none that can defeat this
Drona, fighting according to the strict
rules of war. We cannot cope with him
unless dharma is discarded. We have no
other way open. There is but one thing
that will make him desist from fighting. If
he hears that Aswatthama is dead, Drona
will lose all interest in life and throw
down his weapons. Someone must
therefore tell Drona that Aswatthama has
Arjuna shrank in horror at the proposal, as
he could not bring himself to tell a lie.
Those who were nearby with him also
rejected the idea, for no one was minded
to be a party to deceit.
Yudhishthira stood for a while reflecting
deeply. "I shall bear the burden of this
sin," he said and resolved the deadlock!
It was strange. But when the ocean was
churned at the beginning of the world and
the dread poison rose threatening to
consume the gods, did not Rudra come
forward to swallow it and save them? To
save the friend who had wholly depended
on him, Rama was driven to bear the sin
of killing Vali, in disregard of the rules of
fairplay. So also, now did Yudhishthira
decide to bear the shame of it, for there
was no other way.
Bhima lifted his iron mace and brought it
down on the head of a huge elephant
called Aswatthama and it fell dead. After
Bhimasena went near the division
commanded by Drona and roared so that
all might hear.
"I have killed Aswatthama!" Bhimasena
who, until then, had never done or even
contemplated an ignoble act, was, as he
uttered these words, greatly ashamed.
They knocked against his very heart, but
could they be true? Drona heard these
words as he was in the act of discharging
a Brahmastra. "Yudhishthira, is it true my
son has been slain?" Dronacharya asked
The acharya thought that Yudhishthira
would not utter an untruth, even for the
kingship of the three worlds.
When Drona asked thus, Krishna was
terribly perturbed. "If Yudhishthira fails
us now and shrinks from uttering an
untruth, we are lost. Drona's Brahmastra is
of unquenchable potency and the
Pandavas will be destroyed," he said.
And Yudhishthira himself stood trembling
in horror of what he was about to do, but
within him also was the desire to win.
"Let it be my sin," he said to himself and
hardened his heart, and said aloud: "Yes,
it is true that Aswatthama has been
But, as he was saying it, he felt again the
disgrace of it and added in a low and
tremulous voice, "Aswatthama, the
elephant" words which were however
drowned in the din and were not heard by
"O king, thus was a great sin committed,"
said Sanjaya to the blind Dhritarashtra,
while relating the events of the battle to
When the words of untruth came out of
Yudhishthira's mouth, the wheels of his
chariot, which until then always stood and
moved four inches above the ground and
never touched it at once came down and
touched the earth.
Yudhishthira, who till then had stood
apart from the world so full of untruth,
suddenly became of the earth, earthy. He
too desired victory and slipped into the
way of untruth and so his chariot came
down to the common road of mankind.
When Drona heard that his beloved son
had been slain, all his attachment to life
snapped. And desire vanished as if it had
never been there. When the veteran was in
that mood, Bhimasena loudly spoke
indicting him in harsh words:
legitimate functions of your varna and
taking to the Kshatriya profession of arms,
have brought ruin to princes. If you
brahmanas had not gone astray from the
duties belonging to you by birth, the
princes would not have been led to this
destruction. You teach that non-killing is
the highest dharma and that the brahmana
is the supporter and nourisher of that
dharma. Yet, you have rejected that
wisdom which is yours by birth, and
shamelessly undertaken the profession of
killing. It was our misfortune that you
descended to this sinful life."
These taunts of Bhimasena caused
excruciating pain to Drona who had
already lost the will to live. He threw his
weapons away and sat down in yoga on
the floor of his chariot and was soon in a
At this moment Dhrishtadyumna with
drawn sword, came and climbed in to the
chariot and heedless of cries of horror and
deprecation from all around he fulfilled
his destiny as the slayer of Drona by
sweeping off the old warrior's head. And
the soul of the son of Bharadwaja issued
out in a visible blaze of fight and mounted
The Mahabharata is a great and wonderful
story. The sorrows of human life are
painted with sublime beauty and rolled
out in a grand panorama. Behind the story
of errors and sorrows the poet enables us
to have a vision of the Transcendent
Reality. Thus it is that the Mahabharata,
though a story, has come to be a book of
dharma. This book, in style and substance,
is altogether different from tales and
romances. In modern novels, dramas and
pictures, exciting scenes are enacted, the
hero passes through dangers and
difficulties and finally marries a woman
whom he loves. Or else everything seems
to go on happily but suddenly things go
wrong and terrible misfortune happens
and the curtain drops. This is the art
scheme of ordinary sensational stories.
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are
quite a different kind of artistic creation.
When we read them, our inner being is
seized and cleansed, so to say, by being
passed alternately through joys and
sorrows, and we are finally lifted above
both and taken to the Transcendent and
91. THE DEATH OF KARNA
WHEN Drona died, the princes of the
Kaurava army installed Karna as
Generalissimo. Karna stood up in his
gorgeous war chariot driven by Salya. The
dauntless confidence of his bearing and
his great renown as a warrior heartened
the Kauravas. The battle again began.
Readers of the stars were consulted and
the Pandavas chose the propitious hour for
grim battle. Arjuna led the attack on
immediately behind his chariot.
Duhsasana made a concentrated attack on
Bhima and sent a shower of arrows at
him. Bhima chuckled and said to himself.
"I have this wretch now safe in my hands.
I shall today redeem my promise to
Draupadi. Too long has my oath waited
As Bhima thus bethought himself of what
Duhsasana had done to Draupadi, the
anger within him blazed up uncontrollably
and throwing down all his weapons, he
jumped from his chariot and leapt upon
Duhsasana like a tiger on its prey, hurled
him down and broke his limbs.
"Wicked beast, is this the wretched hand
that held Draupadi by the hair? Here, I
tear out the root from your body. If there
be any here wishing to help you, let him
come forward and try!"
Glaring hatefully at Duryodhana as he
roared this challenge, Bhimasena tore
Duhsasana's arm out and threw the
bleeding limb on the battlefield.
And then he fulfilled the terrible oath he
had taken thirteen years before. He sucked
and drank the blood from his enemy's
body like a beast of prey and danced on
the bloody field, mad with passion. "I
have done it!" he roared. "The oath I
swore against this great sinner has been
redeemed. It only remains to redeem my
oath as regards Duryodhana. The
sacrificial fire is ready. Let that victim
The scene made everyone shudder. Even
great Karna was shaken as he saw Bhima
in this ecstasy of wrath. "Do not flinch,"
said Salya to Karna. "It does not befit you
to show any sign that may be mistaken for
fear. When Duryodhana stands quivering
in despair; it is not right that you also
should lose heart. After the great
Duhsasana's death, the army's hope rests
solely on you. You must now bear the full
burden. Like the gallant warrior you are,
seek single combat with Arjuna, and win
eternal glory on earth or the soldier's
heaven!" At these words, Karna recovered
his courageous spirit. With eyes red with
wrath and unshed tears, he bade Salya
drive the chariot towards Arjuna.
"Enough of fighting," said Aswatthama
addressing Duryodhana earnestly. "Let us
terminate this disastrous enmity. Beloved
friend, make peace with the Pandavas.
Stop the battle."
"What? Did you not hear the words that
the stubborn Bhima uttered when like a
ravening beast, he drank human blood and
danced over my brother's mangled body?
What talk can there be now of peace?
Why do you speak vain words!" said
Duryodhana. Saying thus, he ordered a
fresh disposition of the forces, and gave
the command for attack.
Then followed a great battle. The son of
Surya sent a dazzling arrow, which spat
fire and made for Arjuna, like a serpent
with its flaming double-tongue out. Then
Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer, at the nick of
time, pressed the vehicle down five
fingers deep in the mud, so that the
serpent shaft just missed Partha's head but
struck off his helmet! Arjuna was red with
shame and anger and he fixed a dart on his
bow to make an end of Karna.
And Karna's fated hour was come, and as
had been foretold, the left wheel of his
chariot suddenly sank in the bloody mire.
He jumped down on the ground to lift the
wheel up from the mud.
"Wait a minute!" he cried. "My chariot
has sunk in the ground. Great warrior as
you are, and knowing dharma as you do,
you would certainly not take unfair
advantage of this accident. I shall
presently set my car right and give you all
the battle you want."
Arjuna hesitated. Karna was now
somewhat perturbed on account of the
mishap. He remembered the curse that had
been pronounced on him, and again
appealed to Arjuna's sense of honor.
Krishna intervened. "Ha, Karna!" be
exclaimed, "it is well that you too
remember that there are things like
fairplay and chivalry! Now that you are in
difficulty, you remember them indeed.
But when you and Duryodhana and
Duhsasana and Sakuni dragged Draupadi
to the Hall of Assembly and insulted her,
how was it you forgot them utterly? You
helped to inveigle Dharmaputra, who was
fond of play but was unskilled at it, to
gamble, and you cheated him. Where had
your fairplay hidden itself then? Was it
fairplay to refuse to give to Yudhishthira
his kingdom when according to the pledge
the twelve years of forest life and the
thirteenth year incognito were duly
completed? What had happened to the
dharma you appeal for now? You
conspired with the wicked men who
sought to poison and kill Bhima. You
acquiesced in the plot to burn the
Pandavas alive when sleeping in the
palace of wax into which they had been
lured. What had happened to dharma all
that time? What did dharma tell you when
violent hands were laid on Draupadi and
you were looking on enjoying the sight?
Did you not then mock at her saying:
'Your husbands have left you unprotected,
go and marry another husband'? The
tongue that was not ashamed to utter those
words now talks of chivalry. Chivalry
indeed! When a mob of you surrounded
the young Abhimanyu and shamelessly
slew him, was that chivalry? Wicked man,
do not talk now of chivalry and fairplay,
for you have never honored them!"
When Krishna was denouncing him in this
manner in order to urge Arjuna to prompt
action, Karna bent his head in shame and
uttered not a word. Karna silently
ascended the chariot leaving the wheel
still stuck in the mud and took his bow
and sent an arrow at Arjuna with unerring
aim and such power that it stunned him
for a moment.
Karna utilised the respite won, to jump
down again and hurriedly tried to lift the
chariot wheel up. But the curse was too
strong for him and fortune had deserted
the great warrior.
The wheel would not budge, though he
strove with all his great strength. Then he
tried to recall the mantras of mighty astras
he had learnt from Parasurama, but his
memory failed in the hour of his need,
even as Parasurama had foretold.
"Waste no more time, Arjuna," cried
Madhava. "Send your shaft and slay your
Arjuna's mind was wavering. His hand
hesitated to do what was not chivalrous.
But when Krishna said this, the poet says:
"Arjuna accepted this command of the
Lord and sent an arrow which cut and
severed the head of the Radheya."
The poet had not the heart to impute this
act to Arjuna who was the embodiment of
nobility. It was the Lord Krishna that
incited Arjuna to kill Karna when he was
vainly trying to raise his chariot out of the
mud in which it had stuck. According to
the code of honor and laws of war
prevailing then, it was wholly wrong.
Who could bear the responsibility for
breaches of dharma except the Lord
Himself? The lesson is that it is vanity to
hope, through physical violence and war,
to put down wrong. The battle for right,
conducted through physical force leads to
numerous wrongs and, in the net result,
WHEN Duryodhana beheld Karna's death,
his grief knew no bounds. Kripacharya
was deeply moved by Duryodhana's
anguish of heart and said: "Moved by
ambition and greed we placed too great a
uncomplainingly borne it and laid down
their lives on the battlefield and attained
the happy regions above. There is but one
course left to you to make peace with the
Pandavas. Do not, O King, any longer
continue this ruinous fight."
Even at that moment of deep despair,
Duryodhana did not relish this counsel.
"Perhaps, there was a time for that, but it
is long past. What talk can there be of
peace between the Pandavas and us with
all this inexpiable blood between us, the
blood of our dearest and theirs? If I
surrender in order to escape death, how
can I escape the contempt of the world?
What happiness can I hope to have in a
life so ignobly saved? And what joy can I
hope to find in sovereignty, secured by a
peace after my brothers and relatives have
all been slain?"
These words of Duryodhana were lustily
cheered by the others. They supported his
stand and they chose Salya and gave him
the supreme command from then on.
Salya was mighty of limb and as brave as
any of the warriors who had been killed.
The army was arrayed under his
leadership and the battle raged fiercely.
On the side of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira
now led the attack personally against
Salya. It astonished everyone to see how
the man, who was till then the very
incarnation of gentle ness, fought so
The battle was equal for a long while,
when Yudhishthira hurled at Salya, his
spear that went straight and struck him.
Like the great flagstaff at the end of a
festive function, Salya's body lay lifeless
on the field, crimson with blood.
When Salya, the last of the great generals,
fell dead, the Kaurava army lost all hope.
The surviving sons of Dhritarashtra,
however, joined together and attacked
Bhima from all sides. He slew them all.
The son of Vayu had nourished his
burning anger for thirteen years from the
time Draupadi was insulted in the Hall of
Assembly. He said to himself now: "I
have not lived in vain, but Duryodhana
still lives," and smiled grimly.
Sakuni led the attack on Sahadeva's
division. After a while, Sahadeva
discharged a sharp-edged sword-arrow
saying: "Fool, here is the reward for your
great sin." It went straight and cut through
Sakuni's neck like a sword. And the head,
which was at the root of all the wicked
deeds of the Kauravas, rolled on the
Left leaderless, the wreck of the broken
army scattered and fled in all directions,
pursued and slaughtered to a man by the
"'Thus utterly was destroyed thine army of
eleven Akshauhinis, O! Bharata, out of
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