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Chapter 38

Arjuna Encounters the Kurus

At dawn the next day, the Kaurava army arrived at the opposite side of the city from where the battle with the Trigartas had been fought. Finding herds of cattle grazing there, they immediately seized them. Once again the terrified cowherds, seeing the Kaurava banners, fled into the city. They ran to the royal court crying for protection. Virata’s eldest son, Bhuminjaya, was sitting on the king’s throne in the king’s absence. The cowherd leader came before him and said, “O prince, O mighty hero, we depend on you alone. The mighty Kauravas with Duryodhana in the lead are seizing our cows. Defend the honor of our race. The king has always praised your heroism and power. Taking whatever soldiers that still remain in the city, display your power. You are this kingdom’s greatest support. You resemble Arjuna himself. We beseech you to save us.”

Addressed thus in front of the palace ladies, Bhuminjaya replied proudly, “I will surely display my prowess with the bow today, but I need a skilled charioteer. My own charioteer was recently slain and has not been replaced. Find the best of men to drive my horses, for I will fight a tremendous battle with the haughty Kauravas. Entering into their army of elephants, chariots and horsemen, I will destroy them. After striking terror into the hearts of Duryodhana, Bhīṣma, Karṇa and Kṛpa, I will bring back the cows. The assembled Kurus will see my prowess and will wonder whether it is Arjuna who is fighting with them.

The prince’s brave words circulated through the palace and soon reached Arjuna. Delighted at the chance to confront Duryodhana, he approached Draupadī and said, “Go at once to the prince and tell him that Bṛhannala was formerly Arjuna’s charioteer. O slender-waisted princess, convince him to let me drive his chariot into battle against the Kurus.”

Draupadī went straight to the royal court where she found Bhuminjaya still vaunting his prowess. Unable to bear his repeated references to Arjuna, she stepped forward and said, “The beautiful youth resembling an elephant and known by the name Bṛhannala was once Arjuna’s charioteer. He was the disciple of Pārtha and is himself a mighty bowman. I saw him when I lived with the Pāṇḍavas. It was Bṛhannala who drove Arjuna’s chariot when he vanquished the gods at Khāṇḍava. Indeed there is no charioteer like him.”

Bhuminjaya looked at her in surprise. “How can I ask a eunuch to govern my horses?” he asked.

“Have your sister ask him, O hero. He will certainly do her bidding. Do not hesitate to engage him. With Bṛhannala as your charioteer, you will undoubtedly vanquish the Kurus and rescue the cows.”

Still doubtful, the prince turned to his sister Uttarā and said, “Go at once and fetch Bṛhannala.”

Virata’s daughter nodded and left the court. That lotus-eyed maiden was as beautiful as Lakṣmī herself with her slender waist and well-rounded breasts adorned with pearls. She ran to the dancing hall, her golden ornaments tinkling as she hurried along. Finding Arjuna, she bowed humbly before him. “O Bṛhannala, our cows are being carried away by the Kurus. My brother, full of heroism, is about to confront them with bow in hand. He requires a charioteer. Sairindhrī told him that you formerly drove Arjuna’s chariot. She said that there was none equal to you in the skills of governing horses and driving chariots. Therefore, O Bṛhannala, become the prince’s charioteer. Go quickly! There is no time to lose.”

Arjuna smiled. “I am going.” He immediately left the palace followed by Uttarā, just as an elephant in rut is followed by a she-elephant.

As he entered the court the prince called, “Ah, Bṛhannala, you are here. I have heard that you are skilled in the driving chariots. As you drove Arjuna’s chariot into battle against his foes, so today you should drive mine against the Kurus.”

Arjuna approached the king and glanced downwards, playing with the long braid of hair that hung down his side. “What power do I have to act as a charioteer? Had you wanted song and dance, then I would have been the right choice. How can I drive horses into battle?”

The prince looked at Bṛhannala. Although a eunuch, he was huge-bodied and appeared to possess great power. His arms, covered with bangles and bracelets, seemed like decorated serpents, and his shoulders, draped with white silk, were as broad as a palace door. Having faith in Sairindhrī’s words, Bhuminjaya said, “O Bṛhannala, whatever you may be, drive my chariot today. We shall challenge the wicked Kurus on the battlefield.”

The prince had a suit of armor brought for Arjuna. As if to make fun, Arjuna struggled to put it on in various wrong ways. He appeared bewildered and dropped the armor with a loud clatter. The palace ladies laughed and Bhuminjaya came over to help him don the shining mail. He then led Arjuna out to his chariot, which flew a flag bearing the sign of a lion. The prince climbed aboard his chariot, his armor shining brilliantly in the morning sun. Arjuna took his place at the front of the chariot and held the reins. The palace maidens called out to him, “O Bṛhannala, after the prince defeats the Kurus, take from them their fine silks and clothes as a token of your victory. We desire to have those cloths for our dolls.”

“When the prince has overpowered the Kurus I shall surely bring back many beautiful clothes for you,” Arjuna replied, throwing back his hair.

As Bhuminjaya was about to set off for battle, the Brahmins blessed him: “May that great victory which Arjuna obtained at Khāṇḍava be yours today when you meet the Kurus,” and they walked around the chariot with their hands held palms outwards.

Arjuna urged on the horses and the chariot moved off with a deep rumbling sound. Guided by Arjuna, the horses, decorated with golden necklaces and silver armor, seemed to fly through the air. Within a short time the chariot came within sight of the Kurus and Arjuna brought it to a halt. They were not far from the cremation ground where his weapons were kept. The prince and Arjuna gazed at the Kuru army in the distance. It seemed like a vast ocean, or a forest of high trees moving through the sky. The dust raised by the army rose up in a great cloud that screened the sun.

Bhuminjaya’s mouth fell open. He had never seen such a huge army. His hair stood on end and he dropped his bow. “How can I fight such an enemy?” he exclaimed, trembling. “Even the celestials could not face them. The Kuru army has in their midst heroes like Droṇa, Bhīṣma, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāmā, and the heroic king Duryodhana. Simply seeing them from a distance I have become terrified.”

Wailing loudly, the prince ordered Arjuna to return to the city. “It is not wise to confront this army. My father has gone out with the army and I am alone. I have not practiced the skills of warfare. I am only a boy. I cannot overcome those who are expert in arms. O Bṛhannala, head back to the capital.”

Arjuna turned to face the terrified prince. “Why do you increase your enemies’ delight, O prince? You have become pale with fear before you have even begun to fight. Before both men and women you loudly vaunted your powers. You said, ‘I shall defeat the Kurus and bring back the cows.’ Those were brave words. O mighty-armed hero, how can you now return unsuccessful? You will be derided by everyone. As for myself, eulogized by Sairindhrī and commanded by you, I have come here to defeat the Kurus. I will not return without achieving that goal. Stop wailing and let us proceed into battle.”

Bhuminjaya stood shaking in the chariot. “Let the Kurus take our wealth as they please. Let men and women laugh at me. Let the cows go anywhere. Let the city be desolate. Let me fear my father. I cannot enter the battle.”

The prince jumped down from his chariot and began to run back toward the city. Arjuna called out to him, “A brave kṣatriya never flees the battlefield. Better to die in battle than to run in fear.”

Bhuminjaya did not listen. With his long sword swinging from side to side as he ran, he did not even look back. Arjuna sprang from the chariot and ran after him.

Having seen the chariot’s approach, the Kurus had moved toward them. They saw the prince running in fear and an unusual figure pursuing him, his long braid and white silks streaming in the breeze. The Kuru soldiers laughed and said to one another, “Who is this person, who appears to be a eunuch? He is fire concealed by ashes. Although assuming the form of a neuter, he has the body of an elephant. Indeed he resembles Arjuna, with the same head, the same neck, and the same mace-like arms. His movements also resemble those of the Pāṇḍava.”

The Kurus gazed at Bṛhannala as he raced after the prince. Clearly he was no eunuch. Surely it was Arjuna in disguise. Who else would have dared to face the Kuru army alone? Obviously the Matsya prince had ventured to fight simply out of childishness. It seemed that Arjuna was trying to stop him from fleeing. The Kuru warriors watched the scene, not quite certain if they were seeing Arjuna or not.

Catching Bhuminjaya, Arjuna seized him. The prince cried out, “Let me go! O Bṛhannala, turn back the chariot. Only one who lives can secure prosperity and happiness. When we get back I will give you one hundred coins of pure gold, eight brilliant vaidurya gems, an excellent car drawn by the best of horses, and ten infuriated elephants if you release me.”

Arjuna said nothing. He dragged the prince back to the chariot. He then said, “O repressor of foes, if you do not like to fight, let us swap places. You govern the horses and I will fight the enemy. Protected by my arms you may fearlessly enter into the midst of the dreadful Kuru host. Why are you distraught, O hero? You are the foremost of kṣatriyas and a great prince. Together we will overpower the Kurus and release the cows. Take the reins and we will proceed into battle.”

Bhuminjaya was still terrified, but he became encouraged by Arjuna’s confidence. He sat on the chariot and took the reins. Arjuna directed him to guide the chariot toward the sami tree by the crematorium. Before facing the Kurus he wanted to retrieve his Gāṇḍīva bow.

As the chariot moved off with Arjuna now in the back, the Kurus spoke together. All of them suspected that the so-called eunuch was actually Arjuna. Within the hearing of Duryodhana, Bhīṣma and Karṇa, Droṇa said, “I perceive numerous ill omens. Violent winds are whipping up around us, throwing dust and gravel over our troops. The sky is shrouded with darkness and huge black clouds are forming overhead. Our celestial weapons seem to be jumping from their cases and our horses are shedding tears. Jackals are yelling hideously nearby. All these signs indicate a calamity. Protect yourselves and arrange the army well. Expect a great slaughter and guard well the cows. This great bowman in the guise of a eunuch is undoubtedly Pārtha. O heroic men, surely this man dressed as a woman is Kirīṭī, whose chariot bears the emblem of Hanumān, the destroyer of Lanka’s gardens. Indignant after his long stay in the forest, he will today wreak havoc in battle. I do not see anyone here who can stop him from defeating us and taking back the cows.”

As Droṇa spoke, Karṇa became angry. “Why do you always make light of us and praise Arjuna? He is not even a sixteenth part of either myself or Duryodhana.”

But Duryodhana was smiling. “If this is Pārtha, O Radheya, then my work is done. We have discovered the Pāṇḍavas before their final year is complete. Now they will have to return to the forest. If this is anyone else in eunuch’s guise, I shall soon lay him flat on the ground with my sharp arrows.”

Arjuna’s chariot soon reached the sami tree, out of sight of the Kurus. Arjuna said, “Climb this tree, O prince, and bring down that bundle up there. It holds the weapons I need. Your bow and arrows will not withstand the force of my arms when, worked up with anger, I defeat our enemies. Here are the Pāṇḍavas’ weapons, including the Gāṇḍīva bow, as huge as a palm tree and embellished with gold. It is a celestial bow without blemish, and it is capable of bearing the heaviest weight.”

Bhuminjaya looked up at the bundle high in the tree. “It is heard that a corpse is tied to this tree. How can I, a prince, touch such an unclean thing?”

“Do not be afraid, O prince. This is no corpse. There are only weapons wrapped in that bundle. Bring them down at once. I would not make you perform a cursed deed, born as you are of a noble race and heir to the Matsya king.”

Bhuminjaya reluctantly climbed the tree. He cut the bundle loose with his sword and brought it down to the ground, struggling under its huge weight. Arjuna told him to open the bundle and the prince cut away the deerskin covering. As the weapons were revealed they shone like the sun. Bhuminjaya gasped. The blazing weapons resembled sighing serpents. The prince was awestruck. He reached out to touch them and asked, “To what illustrious hero does this bow, with its hundred golden embellishments, belong? And whose is this one, embossed with shining golden elephants? Surely some powerful warrior owns this bow, decorated with three effulgent suns.”

Bhuminjaya carefully lifted the brilliant weapons. Arjuna’s two inexhaustible quivers lay next to Nakula and Sahadeva’s swords, which had hilts worked with gold. Both swords were sheathed in tiger skins. Arjuna explained who owned the weapons.

“The bow about which you asked first is the Gāṇḍīva. It is equal to a hundred thousand other bows and is worshipped even by the celestials. It was first held by Brahmā, then by Indra and Soma, and now it has come to Arjuna through Varuṇa. The bow next to the Gāṇḍīva, adorned with a hundred golden insects, belongs to Yudhiṣṭhira, and the huge bow next to that is Bhīma’s. The quivers containing winged shafts as sharp as razors belong to Arjuna. Those arrows become inexhaustible in battle. The sword nearby the quivers bearing the emblem of a black bee and carrying the sting of a bee is also Arjuna’s.”

Arjuna described each weapon and its owner to the amazed prince. When he had finished Bhuminjaya said, “These weapons are both beautiful and dreadful, but where are their owners? Where is Arjuna and the noble Yudhiṣṭhira? Where indeed are the twins and the mightiest of men, Bhīma? We never hear of those heroes, who are capable of destroying all enemies but who lost their kingdom in a game of dice. Where is Draupadī, the jewel among women, who followed them faithfully to the forest?”

Arjuna then revealed to the prince his identity and that of all his brothers. The prince looked at him in astonishment. He had never suspected it, but now it seemed obvious. The mighty Vallabha could well be Bhīma, and Kaṅka always had a certain nobility and bearing which outshone the other courtiers. Surely he could be Yudhiṣṭhira. But the prince still needed to be convinced. He asked Arjuna, “I shall believe your words if you can tell me Arjuna’s ten names, which I have heard before.”

Arjuna replied, “Because I conquered many countries and collected their wealth, I am called Dhanañjaya. I never return from battle without defeating my enemy and thus I am called Vijaya. My steeds are white and so they call me Swetavahana. I was born when the constellation Uttarā Phālguna was in the ascendant; therefore, I am Phālgunī. Because I wear the brilliant diadem given to me by Indra, I am called Kirīṭī. I am dreadful to behold in battle and so men call me Bhibatsu. I am named Savyasācin because I can draw the bow with either hand. Being unapproachable and irrepressible, I am known as Jiṣṇu. Arjuna is my name because I always perform white deeds of great purity. My father, out of affection for a black-complexioned boy, called me Kṛṣṇa. These are my ten names, O prince.”

Bhuminjaya fell at Arjuna’s feet with his arms outstretched. “By my good luck I have seen you, O Dhanañjaya. Please forgive anything I may have said to you in my ignorance. You are worthy of my worship. My fears are all removed and I am ready to act as your charioteer. Please order me.”

“I will fight the Kurus and return your animals. Have no doubt,” Arjuna said as he strapped on his quivers. “This chariot will be like your citadel with my arms for its ramparts and the Gāṇḍīva as its unassailable defenses. Simply guide this chariot and have no fear.”

The prince placed the Pāṇḍavas’ weapons in the chariot. “With you in the chariot, how can I be afraid? But I am bewildered as to how you have accepted the guise of a eunuch. It seems incredible that one of your prowess and power should assume such a form.”

Arjuna smiled. “I am observing a vow, both to acquire religious merit and to satisfy another’s will. That vow is now complete, O prince.”

The Pāṇḍavas had calculated that the full term of their exile was completed that day. Thus Arjuna had revealed his identity to the prince without fear. Now he would fight openly with the Kurus. He looked at the horses yoked to the chariot. “Are these horses battle-trained?” he asked.

“These horses are equal to the four horses that draw Kṛṣṇa’s chariot,” the prince answered proudly. “I myself am a skilled driver, no less skilled than Dāruka or Mātali. I will break through the enemy ranks with such speed that the chariot will hardly be visible.”

Arjuna nodded and removed his bangles. He pulled on a pair of iguana-skin gloves that covered his forearms. Tying back his hair with a piece of white cloth, he sat on the chariot and thought of his celestial weapons. They appeared within his mind and said, “We are here, O son of Pāṇḍu. We are prepared to do your bidding.”

“All of you dwell within my memory,” Arjuna said with delight. The thought of battle with Duryodhana was filling him with new enthusiasm and energy. Thirteen years had been a long time to wait. At last he would have the chance to use the weapons he had obtained from the gods. He strung the Gāṇḍīva and twanged it, producing a sound of two mountains striking one another. The earth vibrated, shaking the trees, and fireballs fell from the sky. When the Kurus heard the terrific sound, they knew it was surely Arjuna with his Gāṇḍīva bow.

Arjuna took down the lion banner and meditated on Agni. A celestial banner fell from the sky adorned with gold and bearing Hanumān’s image. After walking around it reverentially, Arjuna hoisted the flag on the chariot’s flagstaff. He ordered Bhuminjaya to drive, and the chariot moved off toward the north in the direction of the Kurus. Arjuna blew his conch shell with all his strength. It emitted a thundering sound which made his horses drop to their knees. The prince, stricken with fear, fell over in the chariot.

Arjuna consoled the prince and told him to take courage. “You are a kṣatriya and the son of a great king. Why then do you tremble at this sound, losing control of the horses? Many times have you heard the sounds of battle, of mighty conches and trumpets being blown. Why are you terrified like an ordinary man?”

The prince got up and took hold of the reins. He brought the horses back to their feet and replied, “Surely I have heard many conches blown, but never one such as this. Nor have I ever heard a bow sounding like the Gāṇḍīva. This celestial banner also fills me with wonder. The monkey seems to be alive and about to leap down from the flag. My mind is simply astonished.”

Arjuna laughed. “Stand firm on the chariot and hold the reins tightly, for I will blow my conch again.”

Arjuna blew his conch and twanged his bow once more. The combined sound filled the four quarters and seemed to rend the mountains. The prince kept his position with difficulty and controlled the terrified steeds.

In the distance Droṇa heard the terrible sounds Arjuna was making. He turned to Duryodhana. “There is no doubt that Savyasācin has come to fight with us. Even more dreadful omens are now visible, portending a great calamity for the Kurus. Your army seems cheerless, as if they are weeping. All our leading warriors stand motionless, bereft of energy. A pall of gloom seems to hang over our forces. Let us make ready for battle. When Pārtha appears, you will have cause to repent your actions.”

Duryodhana scowled. He went over to Bhīṣma and said, “O grand-father, it seems that we have found the Pāṇḍavas before their exile is complete. The condition was that they should return to exile if found in their final year. If this is indeed Bhibatsu, then they will have to spend another twelve years in the forest. You should carefully calculate the time, O Bhīṣma, so that there is no doubt.”

Duryodhana looked around. In the distance he saw the dust rising from Arjuna’s chariot. The Kaurava held his bow firmly. “Whoever it is coming toward us, be it Arjuna or the Matsya king, we will have to fight today. Why then are our leading men sitting panic-stricken on their chariots? We are many and here comes but a single warrior. Our preceptor’s talk of omens and calamities is unbecoming. Our agreement with Susharma was that we would support him in the battle against Virata. We must now keep our promise. O Bhīṣma, arrange our troops for battle. I fear that Droṇa is overpowered by his affection for the enemy. How can he guide or protect us in our hour of danger?”

Karṇa had come up alongside Duryodhana. He spoke loudly so that all the leading Kurus could hear him. “It seems you have all become fearful simply upon seeing Arjuna. Do you not know that Arjuna is no match for me? After spending a long time in the forest, he will be weak in battle. Like a qualified Brahmin receiving charity, he will soon quietly receive thousands of my arrows. By killing Arjuna I will repay my debt to Duryodhana. Today I will extinguish the Pāṇḍava fire, which is kindled by the fuel of weapons and which consumes all enemies. My unfailing shafts will pierce Pārtha like serpents entering an anthill. You will see him lying on the ground like a hill covered with golden karnikara flowers. With powerful javelins I will bring down the screaming monkey from his banner and shatter his chariot to pieces. All of you may fight alongside me or, if you like, go away with the cows. I can face Arjuna alone.”

Kṛpa looked contemptuously at Karṇa. “O Radheya, your crooked mind always desires war. You do not understand things according to time, place and circumstance. Wise men only choose war when all other means have failed and when the signs are favorable. How can it be favorable for us to face Pārtha in an encounter? Alone he vanquished the Gandharvas and alone he withstood the celestial host at Khāṇḍava. Again, he alone defeated the powerful Nivātakavacas and Kalakanyas. Unaided, he fearlessly took away Subhadrā from the midst of the Yadus, exciting the wrath of the invincible Balarāma. Now he has come before us after practicing celibacy in the forest and having acquired from the gods all their divine weapons.”

Arjuna’s chariot had stopped some way off. The Kuru army arrayed itself in a pointed formation facing his direction. At the head of the army Kṛpa continued to speak, admonishing Karṇa who stood fuming on his chariot, his great bow held at the ready.

“Anyone desiring to fight alone with Arjuna is deranged,” Kṛpa said as he pulled on his gloves. “He is like a man who desires to swim the ocean with a rock tied to his neck. O Karṇa, you brag like a foolish child. You wish to take out the fangs of an infuriated serpent with your bare finger, or pass through a blazing fire after smearing your body with oil and dressing in silk. Pārtha will move through our ranks like a Yamarāja with his rod in hand. Let our army, clad in coats of mail, stand ready. Let yourself, myself, Duryodhana, Bhīṣma, Droṇa and his son all stand together. Maybe if we six are united and supported by our army, we will stand a chance, although even then I am doubtful.”

Aśvatthāmā pulled up his chariot behind his father. He had heard Karṇa’s speech and he too spoke derisively. “We have not as yet achieved anything, Karṇa. We have not taken the cows and we have not defeated the enemy. Why then do you boast? Great heroes, even after winning many battles and conquering great kingdoms, do not utter a single word of self-praise. Indeed, silence itself is the quality of the truly powerful. Fire burns silently and silently does the sun shine. The earth bears her great load of moving and non-moving creatures without a word.”

The powerful Aśvatthāmā, always galled by Karṇa’s arrogance, was especially angered by his disregard for Droṇa. Standing in his chariot with his hand on his long sword, he loudly rebuked Karṇa, echoing his father’s sentiments. “What kṣatriya on this earth could be proud of winning a kingdom by deceitful gambling like this wicked and sinful Duryodhana? In what single combat did you or he ever defeat Arjuna or any one of his brothers? In what battle did you conquer Indraprastha? In what encounter did you win Draupadī, O man of wicked deeds, so that you could drag her to the assembly when she was in her period and wearing a single cloth? You have cut the root of the sal tree that is the Kuru dynasty. Arjuna and his brothers will never forgive you for your insult to Draupadī.”

Aśvatthāmā looked across at Arjuna’s chariot, which was waiting in the distance. He remembered their time together in his father’s school. Arjuna had always been Droṇa’s favorite and that had hurt him deeply, but there was no doubting Arjuna’s martial skills. Aśvatthāmā had been forced to grudgingly admit his own inferiority. There was not a warrior on earth who could match Arjuna at bowmanship. Karṇa’s bold words would soon be shown to be little more than idle boasts.

Turning back to Karṇa, Aśvatthāmā continued. “Dhanañjaya never turns away from a fight even when faced with Gandharvas, Rākṣasas or Asuras. Whoever he turns upon is blown away as a tree is knocked over by the force of Garuḍa’s wings. Who would not praise Pārtha, who is superior to you in prowess, no less skilled a bowman than Indra, and equal even to Kṛṣṇa himself in battle? My father’s warning should be heeded. His affection for Arjuna should not be criticized, for the wise say that a disciple is the same as a son.”

Aśvatthāmā then looked at Duryodhana. “O proud man, fight with Arjuna in the same way that you defeated him at dice. Let your uncle Śakuni now show his true prowess in a real fight. The Gāṇḍīva does not cast dice, but it discharges burning arrows. Those dreadful shafts can rend the mountains and pierce the earth. The lord of death, the wind-god, or the god of fire may leave something behind, but Arjuna, worked up with anger, does not. You may challenge him if you wish, supported by the vain son of a suta--but for myself, I see no point in fighting Dhanañjaya.”

Bhīṣma had been listening to all the speeches. He was sure that it was Arjuna who had appeared before them in the guise of a eunuch. The old Kuru warrior longed to embrace him again. It was tragic that he had to face Arjuna on the battlefield. A kṣatriya’s duties were hard and painful without doubt. There was no way to avoid this fight. Arjuna would certainly not abandon his duty as a warrior. The Kurus would need all their powers united to face him in battle. Their arguments would only weaken them and make it easier for Arjuna to win.

Bhīṣma looked across at Arjuna’s chariot and said, “Droṇa’s son has spoken well, as has Kṛpa. Karṇa speaks his boasts only to incite us to perform our kṣatriya duties. No wise man would find fault with his preceptor. In my view, we must fight. Who would not be bewildered when faced with an adversary as powerful and effulgent as the sun? Karṇa’s words should only encourage us. Aśvatthāmā, forgive him. There is serious work at hand. With Kuntī’s son before us, there is no time for dissension. The wise declare that of all the dangers that face an army, the worst is disunion among the leaders. Aśvatthāmā is right. We should heed Droṇa’s warning, for Arjuna is the best of warriors.”

Duryodhana folded his palms and said to Droṇa, “O preceptor, please forgive us for doubting you and let us be peaceful among ourselves. If you are pleased, then everything can be accomplished.”

Droṇa stood in his chariot, radiant in his bright armor. “Bhīṣma’s words have pacified me. The grandfather has spoken well. We should arrange ourselves with care and protect Duryodhana. I am sure this is Arjuna, and I do not think he will be satisfied merely by recovering Virata’s cows. I am also sure that he would not have shown himself before his exile had expired. O Bhīṣma, tell us your opinion.”

Bhīṣma had already calculated the time. Like Duryodhana, he too had carefully considered the reports of Hastināpura’s spies and concluded that the Pāṇḍavas were very likely at Virata. As he looked across at Arjuna’s chariot, tears pricked his eyes. “Kuntī’s sons are not greedy and will never do anything against virtue,” he declared. “All of them are noble. With Yudhiṣṭhira at their head, there is no doubt that they will keep their word. They do not desire to win the kingdom by unfair means. Otherwise, why did they not show their prowess even at the gambling match? The Pāṇḍavas would sooner invite death than speak an untruth. By my calculation their time is complete. I therefore conclude that we will soon see all five brothers again. If Duryodhana will not restore their kingdom, then our meeting will take place on a battlefield.”

Duryodhana smoldered like a fire fed with oil. He seemed about to burst into flames. His dark eyes turned toward Bhīṣma and he spoke in a low voice. “I will not return the Pāṇḍavas’ kingdom. O Grandfather, please arrange for a battle.”

Bhīṣma was grave. “We should act with caution. I have yet to see a battle in which one side was sure to be victorious. And one party is always defeated. We now face Vijaya. I therefore suggest, O King, that you leave with half the army. Take the cows with you and I, along with the other Kuru leaders, will remain here to hold off Arjuna.”

Duryodhana agreed. Leaving Bhīṣma in charge of half the army, he left with the other half, driving the cows ahead of him. Bhīṣma stood surrounded by Droṇa, Kṛpa, Karṇa and Aśvatthāmā. He ordered them into various positions in preparation for battle. As they moved into position they saw Arjuna’s chariot approach. Hearing a sound resembling thunderclaps as Arjuna twanged his bowstring, Droṇa said, “There is no doubt that that is the Gāṇḍīva. No other bow could emit such sounds. Observe closely the banner on the chariot. There you will see a celestial monkey sending forth terrible cries. Know for certain that it is Arjuna who faces us.”

As Droṇa spoke two arrows fell from the sky and landed in his chariot at his feet. Other arrows touched the chariots of Bhīṣma and Kṛpa.

“Seeing his elders again after a long time, Pārtha is offering his respects,” Droṇa said, holding up his hand to bless Arjuna. “Pāṇḍu’s son shines on the battlefield like a well-tended sacrificial fire. Stand firm, for his next arrows will not be carrying his respects.”