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Chapter 17

Arjuna Slaughters the Kauravas

Some time before sunrise on the thirteenth day of battle, Yudhiṣṭhira rose from his bed, awoken by bards and minstrels singing his praises. Melodious songs were played as the Pāṇḍava king performed his ablutions, assisted by a hundred servants who fetched water in golden jars as well as soaps, unguents, perfumes and other items. His limbs were daubed with pure sandalwood paste as Brahmins chanted holy Vedic mantras. Servants then brought Yudhiṣṭhira his fine white garments and adorned him with fragrant lotus and champaka flower garlands.

Having bathed and dressed, the king faced east and worshipped Kṛṣṇa with Vedic prayers, his heart absorbed in love. After this he went before the sacred fire and made offerings to Viṣṇu and the gods, invoking auspiciousness and praying for victory in battle.

Emerging from his tent, Yudhiṣṭhira saw a number of aged and venerable Brahmins. The old sages, a thousand in number, were accompanied by a further eight thousand disciples. They uttered benedictions and blessed Yudhiṣṭhira, who distributed charity to them. The king gave away jars of gold to each of the Brahmins, as well as cows, horses, cloth, honey, ghee, fruits, and other valuable items.

Then he entered the council chamber. He sat upon a throne made entirely of gold and covered with a precious silk carpet. When he had taken his seat, his orderlies came and decorated him with ornaments of pearl, gold, and priceless gems. The monarch shone like a mass of clouds emitting bright flashes of lightning. He was fanned by gold-handled yak-tail whisks as white as the moon. Bards again sang his praises and the music and voices of the Gandharvas could be heard in the sky. Outside the tent a tremendous clatter of chariot wheels and horses’ hooves resounded as the other kings and warriors came to council. Conch-shell blasts filled the air, and the measured march of infantry seemed to shake the earth as the troops headed for the field.

As the kings took their places in Yudhiṣṭhira’s council chamber after first bowing before him, a guard informed him that Kṛṣṇa had arrived. Yudhiṣṭhira ordered that He be shown in immediately and offered a fine seat by his side. He personally stepped down from his throne as Kṛṣṇa entered and showed Him to His seat. Taking the offering of arghya held out by a Brahmin, Yudhiṣṭhira performed the worship. Kṛṣṇa waved to Sātyaki to sit with Him, and the two Yādavas shared the same large throne next to Yudhiṣṭhira.

When he had again taken his seat, Yudhiṣṭhira began by addressing Kṛṣṇa. “O Madhusudana, have You passed the night in happiness? Like celestials relying on the thousand-eyed Indra, we depend on You alone for victory and indeed for eternal happiness. Our very existence depends upon You. If it pleases You, therefore, we ask that You somehow manage things so that Arjuna’s vow is fulfilled. Help us to cross this ocean of grief and wrath. O Madhava, become our raft so that we do not sink in the vast Kuru sea. All glories to You, O Kṛṣṇa, O Viṣṇu, O Hari, O Janārdana. You are the foremost of all men. Nārada has pronounced You to be the best and most ancient of all beings. You always protect Your surrendered servants, and we seek Your protection today.”

Kṛṣṇa appeared pleased as Yudhiṣṭhira stopped speaking. He replied in a sonorous voice, “In all the worlds, including the heavens, there is no archer like Arjuna. That handsome hero will slay all your enemies. I will drive his chariot and will do everything in My power to assist him. Today you will see Jayadratha compelled to travel that road from which no traveler ever returns. Vultures, hawks and jackals will feast on his flesh tonight. O Yudhiṣṭhira, even if Indra and the gods come to his aid, he will still be delivered to Death’s domain. Tonight, the victorious Arjuna will report to you that he has slain the Sindhu monarch. Dismiss your grief and be attended with prosperity, O King.”

As Kṛṣṇa spoke, Arjuna entered the assembly. He came and bowed before Yudhiṣṭhira, who immediately stood to embrace him. Still holding his brother, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “It is evident, O Dhanajaya, that you will have a great victory today. Your appearance at this moment portends it, as does Kṛṣṇa’s infallible blessing.”

Arjuna touched his brother’s feet and went over to Kṛṣṇa, bowing low with folded palms. He then took his seat and the Pāṇḍavas discussed the day’s strategy. They had heard from their spies of Droṇa’s plans to create a formation surrounding Jayadratha, protected at every point by the foremost warriors. Deciding upon a suitable counter-array, the Pāṇḍavas got up and went out for the battle.

Kṛṣṇa fetched Arjuna’s chariot and equipped it with every kind of weapon. Dressed in effulgent gold armor, He drove the chariot to the royal tent. Arjuna came out and circumambulated the chariot with his Gāṇḍīva in hand. He then mounted the chariot like the sun rising over the eastern mountains. Sātyaki climbed aboard with him and the chariot moved off. Setting out to slay Jayadratha, Arjuna appeared like Indra accompanied by Varuṇa and Sūrya setting out to kill the Asuras.

Countless musical instruments rang out, while bards and Brahmins sang Arjuna’s glories and uttered benedictions. Hearing the chants and cheered by the other warriors as he went toward the battlefield, Arjuna felt confident and eager for the fight. From behind him a delightful breeze blew, bearing the fragrance of celestial blossoms.

Arjuna said to Sātyaki, “I think my victory today is assured. These signs all around us point to it and my mind feels enthused. I will soon penetrate to the spot where Jayadratha stands, passing through all the heroes who desire to see my prowess and then go to Yamarāja’s domain. O mighty-armed one, do not forget your prime duty to protect Yudhiṣṭhira. None can vanquish you in battle, and the king is as safe with you as he is with me. With you by his side, I will be able to attack Jayadratha with a peaceful mind.”

Sātyaki said that he would not leave Yudhiṣṭhira as far as he was able. The two heroes continued to talk as Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot toward the Kurukṣetra plain, where millions of men had already assembled for the battle.

As sunrise approached, Droṇa issued orders for his great formation. Calling for Jayadratha he said, “I will detail Karṇa to stand by your side. He will be supported by my own son, as well as Śalya, Kṛpa and Vrishasena. They will have with them a force of one hundred thousand horsemen, sixty thousand chariots, twenty thousand infantry, and fourteen thousand elephants. This detachment, with you in its midst, will form itself into an array shaped like a needle. The formation will be protected by a second, impenetrable array in the shape of a lotus. I will be at the head of that second formation. The king and his brothers, as well as numerous other powerful warriors, will stand in that array. At the front of these two formations I will create a semi-circular array filled with warriors who will not retreat. At the foremost point before that will be an array resembling a cart, which will serve to draw in and capture any soldiers foolish enough to assail us from that direction. Indeed, I do not think that even Śakra, thunderbolt in hand, could reach you today.”

Comforted, Jayadratha made his way to his position in the army. As he passed through the troops they shouted out their battle cries. “Where is Arjuna?” they cried. “Bring Bhīma here, I am ready to do battle!” The warriors whirled their polished maces and brandished their swords. Maddened with pride, they roared tumultuously. They slapped their arms and blew their conches, proceeding swiftly and joyfully toward the battlefield.

Gradually, carefully following Droṇa’s detailed directions, the Kauravas formed themselves into the strategic array he had designed. It stretched for miles and appeared like a collection of clouds covering the earth. The wonderful configuration appeared so formidable that no one could imagine penetrating it. At its rear stood Jayadratha, heavily guarded on all sides.

Droṇa, clad in a coat of white mail and a beautiful turban, moved about making the final arrangements. Seeing his shining chariot, with its crimson horses and its standard bearing the mark of a Brahmin’s waterpot and deerskin, the Kauravas were delighted.

In the sky the Siddhas and Cāraṇas looked down with wonder at the Kauravas, spread out in their tremendous formation. “Surely they will devour the whole earth with its mountains, oceans and forests.”

Duryodhana looked at his army with satisfaction. He still had many infantry, chariots, cavalry and elephants left. He gazed across at the advancing Pāṇḍava forces. How would Arjuna ever fulfill his vow? His promise had been rash. By sunset the war would be over. Taking up his ornate bow, Duryodhana ordered his charioteer to move off, eager for the battle to begin.

As the Pāṇḍavas approached their enemies they saw Droṇa’s formation with amazement. It seemed to have no end and it appeared like the ocean rolling across the battlefield toward them. Undaunted, Arjuna said, “O Kṛṣṇa, just see Droṇa’s attempt to thwart my vow. The front lines are at least twenty miles across, and it must be twice that distance deep. But I will seek out its weak points and break it apart with fiery arrows. Before Droṇa’s eyes I will cut down the sinful Jayadratha.”

As the two armies converged, one of Duryodhana’s brothers, Durmarshana, came to the front of the Kauravas. Roaring furiously he exclaimed, “Watch as I check Arjuna, like the shore resisting the ocean. Let everyone see the irate and indominatable Dhanañjaya collide with me, like one mass of rocks colliding with another. O warriors, stay or turn back as you wish. I will fight with the Pāṇḍavas alone to enhance my glory and fame.”

Durmarshana rushed across the field to begin the fight. He saw Arjuna’s chariot at a distance, with Hanumān sitting on its towering standard. The roars of the celestial ape could be heard throughout the Kaurava forces. They mingled with the sounds of Arjuna’s conch, which he blew repeatedly as he closed upon his foes. Both sounds filled the Kauravas’ hearts with anxiety as they again remembered how fiercely Arjuna fought when he was angry. Droṇa had his musicians strike up cheering melodies, but a deafening clamor already filled the field.

Arjuna saw Durmarshana charging at him and he said, “Drive swiftly toward the Kaurava prince, O Madhava. I will meet his challenge and send him and all his followers reeling.”

Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot straight into the mouth of the cart formation at the Kauravas’ head. As Arjuna faced Durmarshana he was immediately surrounded by thousands of chariot fighters. Thinking of his son he began to slay them mercilessly. Worked up to the highest pitch of fury, he scattered his shafts in all directions. The opposing warriors’ heads fell like lotuses torn from their stems. Gold armor spattered with blood lay gleaming on the ground. Chariots were smashed, elephants slain, and horses deprived of their riders. Headless infantrymen ran about wildly, still clutching their swords, before falling lifeless to the earth.

After a brief fight, Durmarshana was routed and put to flight. Wounded all over his body, his armor shattered and standard broken, he raced away from his enemy. Arjuna spared his life only to honor Bhīma’s vow.

In a short time Arjuna had slain several thousand of his foes. His chariot hurtled about with such speed that the Kaurava troops felt there were hundreds of Arjunas. In their fear and confusion, they struck and killed each other. Crying in agony and steeped in blood, many heroes lay dying on the field. Whoever came toward Arjuna soon found himself pierced by a fatal shaft. No one could detect any weakness in him as he danced on the terrace of his chariot, his bow always drawn to a circle. Kṛṣṇa’s driving was unrivalled and He constantly thwarted the Kauravas’ attacks.

Droṇa and the other Kaurava chiefs were astonished to see Arjuna annihilating their troops, even as the sun destroys darkness. The killing of Abhimanyu had clearly turned him into a different person. He had been formidable before, but now he was fighting with a frenzied passion, showing no quarter. The warriors surrounding him broke and ran.

Seeing Arjuna pressing steadily through the Kaurava ranks, Dushashana came forward on his chariot and challenged him. He was supported by a mighty division of elephants that quickly surrounded Arjuna. The tuskers had large bells around their necks which clanged as they raced about the field.

Arjuna sent up a fierce war cry and began to kill the elephants with winged arrows that pierced their tough hides. Like a killer whale plunging through the ocean, he penetrated the elephant division and brought them down one after another. He struck each elephant with a hundred shafts and they fell like cliffs broken by thunderbolts. Gushing streams of blood, they dropped, screaming, to the ground. The warriors fighting on their backs were swept off by Arjuna’s shafts, which penetrated two or three of them at once.

Seeing the elephant force in disarray, Dushashana fled. It was impossible to face Arjuna in his present mood. The Kaurava raced up to Droṇa and sought his protection. Droṇa licked his lips and moved through his forces toward Arjuna. Seeing his preceptor advancing upon him with upraised weapons, Arjuna folded his palms and bowed his head. He called out, “O Brahmin, wish me well and bless me. I desire to pass through this impenetrable array. You are the same to me as my own father, or as Yudhiṣṭhira or Kṛṣṇa. Thus even as Aśvatthāmā deserves your protection, so do I. Let me pass. I wish to slay the Sindhu ruler. O lord, O best of men, see to it that my vow is fulfilled.”

“O Bhibatsu, you will not be able to conquer Jayadratha without first defeating me.”

Droṇa then shot a hundred arrows at Arjuna in swift succession. The Pāṇḍava skillfully countered them and replied with a hundred of his own. Droṇa warded off Arjuna’s attack with ease and at once pierced both him and Kṛṣṇa with shafts resembling blazing tongues of fire. He cut Arjuna’s bowstring and covered his chariot with arrows. Arjuna attacked him back with six hundred arrows fired with such speed that it appeared as if he had shot only one shaft. He followed that with another seven hundred, then a thousand, then ten thousand, training them on the warriors who supported Droṇa.

Seeing him again slaying large numbers of the Kaurava troops, Droṇa pierced Arjuna’s chest with a powerful barbed arrow. Hit hard by that shaft, Arjuna trembled like a mountain during an earthquake. Quickly regaining his composure, he broke off the arrow which was embedded in his armor. He focused his attention on Droṇa and sent showers of arrows at him. Droṇa replied by covering Arjuna with shafts. Neither Arjuna nor Kṛṣṇa nor their chariot was visible as Droṇa assailed them with countless arrows, which fell in unbroken lines.

Working hard, Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot away from Droṇa’s arrows. As the chariot came clear of the attack he said, “O Pārtha, there is no time to waste. Jayadratha still stands a great distance from here. This battle with Droṇa could go on all day. Leave him aside and proceed ahead with all speed.”

Arjuna realized that Kṛṣṇa was right. There was little chance of defeating Droṇa, nor did he relish fighting with him. Once again folding his palms, Arjuna called out, “O my lord, I will now take my leave. You are my preceptor and I do not wish to fight with you further. There exists no man in all the worlds who can vanquish you in battle. Please bless me. I am going on.”

Kṛṣṇa urged on Arjuna’s horses and the chariot raced away, leaving Droṇa to the right. As they passed him he shouted, “Where are you going, Dhanañjaya? Have you become afraid?”

Droṇa again released volleys of arrows at Arjuna, but Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot so fast that all of his shafts fell short. With Droṇa still calling, Arjuna sped away, leaving him far behind. He was joined by Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas, two powerful Pañchālas who had fought their way through to him. They protected him on either side of his chariot as he rushed forward into the hostile array.

As Droṇa turned to chase Arjuna, the Pāṇḍava commander, Dhristaketu, challenged him with a roar. Droṇa turned to face him and was immediately struck by a volley of shafts. Droṇa’s horses, chariot, and charioteer were all covered by Dhristaketu’s arrows. Droṇa blazed up like an infuriated mountain lion suddenly roused from slumber. He released a razor-faced arrow that cut apart his opponent’s bow. Dhristaketu then took up another bow and in an instant fired a hundred more arrows. Not minding the attack, Droṇa shot four crescent-headed shafts that slew his enemy’s horses and cut down his charioteer. Dhristaketu leapt from his stationary chariot, mace in hand, and charged Droṇa. Whirling about as he ran, he hurled the mace with all his power and it flew at Droṇa spitting fire. Droṇa at once shot dozens of hammer-headed shafts that smashed the mace to pieces. Dhristaketu then picked up a long lance from the earth and threw it violently, but again the Kuru preceptor cut it down in mid-flight. Droṇa then set a long, anjalika shaft on his bow. Empowering it with mantras, he fired it from his fully-drawn bow and it struck Dhristaketu on the chest. The shaft pierced right through the Chedi king and entered the earth behind him.

Seeing his foe falling to the ground, Droṇa looked around for Arjuna. The Pāṇḍava had disappeared into the throng. Droṇa decided to make his way swiftly toward Jayadratha. No doubt he would get his chance to meet Arjuna there before too long.

After leaving Droṇa, Arjuna plunged into the Kauravas. Like maladies afflicting the body, he afflicted his enemies with fiery shafts. Roaring and blowing his conch, he attacked the Kauravas as if demented. He launched blazing arrows from the Gāṇḍīva end to end. They fell unfailingly upon men, horses and elephants, leaving them floundering. Kṛtavarmā challenged Arjuna, setting at nought their long-standing friendship. The Pāṇḍava and the Vrishni fought. No difference could be detected between the two as they matched weapon for weapon. It appeared as if Yamarāja were contending with Death personified. Arrows charged with mantras collided in mid-air with mighty explosions. Both men circled each other and released a continuous stream of shafts. Both were pierced in all parts of their bodies as they sought for weak spots in their foe.

Kṛṣṇa again said to Arjuna. “Do not spare him. You are losing too much time. Forgetting your relationship with him, crush him at once.”

Charged with Kṛṣṇa’s admonition, Arjuna shot a cluster of shafts at Kṛtavarmā that broke his bow and sent him reeling. Taking his opportunity, Arjuna rushed past him and pressed on into the Kaurava ranks. As Kṛtavarmā came back to his senses, he was assailed by Arjuna’s two protectors, who kept him at bay as Arjuna pushed forward.

Then the Kalinga king, Srutayush, charged Arjuna. Whirling a huge mace, he closed rapidly on the Pāṇḍava. Arjuna sped three dozen shafts at him and the king took up his own bow, sending fifty arrows back. After an exchange of shafts, Srutayush leapt down from his chariot and ran at Arjuna with his mace held aloft. Srutayush, the son of the River Parnasa, had received a boon from Varuṇa that his mace would prove irresistible to all. However, the god had warned him, “Do not attack anyone who is not fighting or this weapon will kill you.”

In the heat of the battle, Srutayush’s forgot Varuṇa’s warning. As he reached Arjuna’s chariot he swung his mace at Kṛṣṇa and dealt him a great blow. Kṛṣṇa received the blow on his broad shoulders without shaking, even as a mountain is unshaken by a tempest. In accord with Varuṇa’s words, however, Srutayush’s mace turned as he lifted it to again strike Kṛṣṇa. It smashed into his own head and killed him. The Kauravas wailed on seeing the hero killed by his own weapon. His army fled, crying out in fear.

Sudakṣiṇa, a Kambhoja prince, challenged Arjuna and fired hundreds of arrows at him. Arjuna warded off the shafts and Sudakṣiṇa hurled a dreadful iron lance, furnished with bells and a long, spiked point. It blazed brilliantly and emitted sparks as it flew. Hit by the lance, Arjuna fell to his knees in a swoon. Kṛṣṇa swiftly circled the chariot around as Arjuna recovered his senses.

Getting to his feet, Arjuna licked the corners of his mouth and glared at Sudakṣiṇa. He drew the Gāṇḍīva back to his ear and shot a volley of shafts that smashed the prince’s chariot. Arjuna then struck him on the chest with an arrow charged with the force of a thunderbolt. With his chariot falling apart all around him, the prince dropped headlong to the earth like a tree cut at its root.

After killing the prince Arjuna encountered the armies of the Surasenas, Abhisahas, Sinis and Vasatis. Driving into their midst, he dispersed them with his weapons. Oblivious to the immense volumes of arrows which fell upon him, which were either struck down by Arjuna’s own shafts or deflected from his impenetrable armor, he annihilated the warriors as if appointed by Yamarāja to bring on the end of the yuga. Continuously pressing forward toward Jayadratha, he left a trail of devastation. Sixty thousand of his antagonists were slain in less than an hour. The survivors turned and fled, crying out to Duryodhana and Droṇa for protection.

Three of Srutayush’s sons then attacked Arjuna, hoping to avenge their father. They were powerful fighters. For some time, Arjuna’s chariot was hardly visible beneath the shower of weapons they launched at him. Arrows, darts and lances rained down on both Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa. They appeared like the twin peaks of a great mountain lashed by a violent storm. Gradually, however, Arjuna checked his opponents’ missiles and his chariot again appeared on the battlefield. Placing a long golden arrow onto the Gāṇḍīva, he invoked the Śakra weapon, presided over by the king of the gods. Thousands of shafts went toward the princes like streaks of lightning, cutting down all their arrows and other missiles. Those deadly shafts struck the princes with terrible force, severing their arms, legs and heads from their trunks. Many thousands of Kaurava warriors supporting the princes were also annihilated.

Having swept away the three Kalinga princes, Arjuna sent up a triumphant cry and charged into the thick array of Kauravas between himself and Jayadratha. While the other Pāṇḍavas and their forces engaged with the principal Kaurava warriors, Arjuna ploughed through their army like a raging fire. All the other Pāṇḍava fighters were left far behind as he battled his way through the enemy.

Hearing that Arjuna was steadily approaching the Sindhu ruler, Duryodhana spoke with Droṇa, who had resumed his position near the Kaurava prince. Droṇa had thought it best to stay near Jayadratha, supporting his generals. He would stand a better chance of checking Arjuna when flanked by Kṛpa, Karṇa and Aśvatthāmā. The Pāṇḍava would be hard-pressed to get past him again.

Duryodhana looked apprehensively at his commander, “O preceptor, Arjuna is crushing our forces. Like a fire among dry weeds, the Dhanañjaya fire, strengthened by the wind of his anger, is swallowing up my forces. The warriors protecting Jayadratha are trembling with fear. You are our only shelter. Everyone came to the fight today believing that Arjuna would not escape with his life when you faced him. O illustrious one, it seems you are attached to the Pāṇḍavas and therefore I have become confused, not knowing what to do next.”

Duryodhana’s tone was imploring. He looked anxiously about the field. Karṇa stood at a distance with his weapons at the ready, but even he would find it hard to check Arjuna in his present mood. Only Droṇa could stop him, if he so desired. There was not a warrior in all the worlds who could overpower Droṇa in battle. As Arjuna’s instructor, he knew everything about his mode of fighting and any possible weakness. There could only be one reason why he had not already slain Arjuna.

Duryodhana frowned. “To the best of my ability I have always tried to please you, great Brahmin, but it seems you do not value my service. O man of infinite prowess, although we are devoted to you, it appears you do not wish us well. Although you live on our bread, still you injure us. I now see that you are like a razor soaked in honey. If you had not assured me, I would not have prevented Jayadratha from returning to his kingdom. Fool that I am, I believed you, and as a result I have virtually offered him as a victim to Death. Indeed, a man might escape even when he enters Death’s jaws, but there is no chance that Jayadratha will escape when he faces the infuriated Arjuna in battle.”

Duryodhana wept tears of frustration, trying by any means to incite Droṇa to attack Arjuna. Afraid that he may have had the opposite effect, he spoke more gently. “O hero, forgive my ravings for I am afflicted by grief. I fall at your feet. Please save Jayadratha, and indeed our army, from the enraged and invincible Arjuna.”

Droṇa looked wearied. How many times did Duryodhana have to be told? “I am not offended by your words, O ruler of men. You are the same to me as my own son. Thus I have tried in every way to assist you. I have tendered you wholesome advice, but you have not listened. I have made vows for your benefit, fully intent on keeping them. Before all men I promised to capture Yudhiṣṭhira, but it was to no avail. Again, I vowed to protect Jayadratha, but how is it possible when we face Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa together on one chariot? I can only endeavor to my full extent; I cannot control the results. Destiny is the ultimate controller, despite man’s exertion, and the Lord of destiny sits by Arjuna’s side.”

Droṇa shook his head and looked around at the thick ranks of warriors protecting Jayadratha. Doubtlessly they would all soon lie dead. Arjuna would spare none in his efforts to slay the Sindhu king, and Kṛṣṇa would do anything to protect his friend’s promise. He had already shown that enough times. Duryodhana, however, was faithless and could not understand this simple truth.

With a sweep of his hand Droṇa indicated the forces surrounding him. “These troops are the last line of defense for Jayadratha. I will not personally confront Arjuna again, as I am needed here. Nor will he fight with me at present. When I tried engaging with him, he simply left me standing.”

Droṇa could understand that the situation was desperate. The Pāṇḍavas had thought out their strategy well. Their forces had pressed ahead behind Arjuna, taking advantage of the chaos he was causing. All the chief Kaurava warriors were engaged in different parts of the field, either fighting or remaining in critical positions for Jayadratha’s protection. Someone had to check Arjuna, but Duryodhana was the only one available.

Droṇa continued, “O great hero, you are a mighty maharatha, possessed of fame and skilled at defeating your enemies. Go to where Arjuna stands. Challenge him yourself and arrest his progress.”

Duryodhana looked up in astonishment. “O preceptor, how do you honestly expect me to stop Arjuna? I may be able to conquer Indra, armed with his thunderbolt and heading the host of gods, but it will not be possible to conquer Arjuna. He has already overcome you and Kṛtavarmā, as well as slaying all of the Kalinga rulers. He has also slaughtered myriads of fierce barbarian fighters. How will I face him? O great one, I am dependent on you. Please save my honor.”

“What you say is true, O King. No one can defeat Arjuna. Under normal circumstances I would not risk you against him, but we face a dire calamity. Still, you need not fear. I will make you invincible even to Arjuna. I will tie on your armor in such a way that will make it impenetrable to both human and celestial weapons. Even if the creatures of the three worlds come together against you, still you need not fear. Arjuna knows how to do this, but no one else on this battlefield. Take off your armor, O King, and I will tie it on again while reciting the ancient mantras uttered by Brahmā himself. You may then proceed fearlessly against the mighty Pāṇḍava.”

Duryodhana quickly removed his golden armor. After Droṇa had touched water for purification and rinsed his mouth, he replaced it while intoning mantras. When he had finished he said, “You will now be able to face any foe with impunity. This celestial armor, invoked by my prayers, was originally given by Brahmā to Indra. Clad in this armor, Indra fought and defeated Vṛtrasura, who had overpowered all the other celestials. O King, go forward and face Arjuna. There is no time to lose.”

As the sun reached the meridian on the thirteenth day, many terrific battles were being fought between the respected heroes on both sides. Dṛṣṭadyumna was steadily pressing forward, hoping to meet Droṇa in single combat. Bhīma constantly sought out Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons, while Yudhiṣṭhira engaged with Śalya and his division of warriors. Sātyaki encountered Bāhlika, Sahadeva fought with Śakuni, Ghaṭotkaca and his Rākṣasa hordes with Alambusha and his supporters, and the other chief fighters among the Pāṇḍavas fought opponents of equal might. Fighting with human and celestial weapons, the great warriors created a beautiful sight on the battlefield as they attacked and counterattacked each other, displaying all their skills.

Meanwhile, Arjuna continued to plow through the tightly packed Kaurava troops. Hearing news of his progress, Jayadratha shook with fear. Karṇa and Aśvatthāmā stood by his sides, grim-faced. Still some twenty miles from Jayadratha, Arjuna fought on remorselessly. With his fiery shafts he created breaches in the enemy defenses, and Kṛṣṇa would then quickly drive the chariot through. Wherever the chariot went, the Kauravas were driven back like darkness at sunrise. Arjuna’s arrows slew men standing a full two miles away. His well-tempered and polished steel shafts dropped from the sky like showers of meteors. As Arjuna annihilated the troops who opposed him, Kṛṣṇa baffled their attacks by His skillful driving, exhibiting various expert maneuvers as the chariot moved with circular, backwards, and sideways motions.

Sometimes Arjuna’s progress was swift and at other times slow, but no one saw him cease fighting for a moment. His bow was constantly drawn and arrows flew out in endless streams. It took great courage to even look at him. Thousands of warriors, careless of their lives, rushed against him and perished like insects falling into a fire.

As the sun began its downward course, Arjuna was attacked by Vinda and Anuvinda, the two princes of Avantī. Both were maharathas and they came at Arjuna from both sides at once. Roaring in delight, the fearless warriors charged at Arjuna, releasing their long-shafted arrows by the hundreds.

Surprised by their sudden appearance, Arjuna was hit hard by more than sixty arrows. Kṛṣṇa was pierced with the same number and the horses were all caught with twenty arrows each. Blazing in anger, Arjuna shook off their shafts and aimed his own arrows at his antagonists, looking for their vulnerable points. He struck both of them and stopped their forward charge. The two princes screamed out their battle cries and covered Arjuna with a downpour of arrows. Ignoring the attack, Arjuna carefully aimed a couple of broad-headed shafts and cut apart both their bows. With two more arrows he cut off their standards, and with another dozen he slew their charioteers and horses. All this happened in a matter of moments. Before the princes could do anything Arjuna shot a crescent-headed shaft with full force that severed Vinda’s head.

Seeing his brother slain, Anuvinda leapt from his chariot bellowing with rage. Clutching his mace he raced toward Arjuna. Anuvinda swerved from side to side as he ran, determined to avenge Vinda’s death. Reaching Arjuna’s chariot, he brought the mace down with all his power onto Kṛṣṇa’s forehead. Kṛṣṇa remained firm. Utterly enraged to see Anuvinda strike Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna shot five short shafts that cut off his arms, legs and head. The prince fell down like fragments of rocks shattered by an explosion.

Seeing both their leaders killed, the Avantī army rushed in a body at Arjuna. The Pāṇḍava slew them with arrows shot from the Gāṇḍīva which appeared like showers of sparks flying up from a great fire. Whirling about in his chariot, he consumed the army like a fire consuming a forest at the end of the summer. Thousands of other troops then came at Arjuna. His chariot was completely lost in the enemy ranks. Kṛṣṇa found it impossible to move in any direction. As the battle raged on, He said, “O Pārtha, such is the intensity of this fight that even our celestial horses are becoming weary. We are still far from Jayadratha and they need rest.”

Fighting continuously, Arjuna replied, “O Madhava, I will create a path through these foes. You may then take the chariot through, unyoke the horses, and let them rest. Draw out the arrows from their bodies while I keep these warriors in check.”

Arjuna directed a great stream of arrows at his enemies and forced them back. He then leapt down from the chariot, still releasing countless shafts, and Kṛṣṇa drove away from him. The Kauravas, seeing Arjuna standing on the ground, felt that their opportunity for victory had arrived. Roaring even louder, they ignored Kṛṣṇa and the chariot and trained all their weapons on Arjuna. Arjuna fought on foot against them. He spun around and shot searing arrows in all directions. The amazed Kauravas could not find any gap in his defenses. To approach him was to rush into a solid wall of arrows. The meeting of Arjuna’s shafts with those of his adversaries created a sheet of fire in the sky. Scorched, the Kauravas fell back.

Arjuna ran over to where Kṛṣṇa had released the horses. Kṛṣṇa told him that they needed water and Arjuna replied, “It shall be done.” Drawing back his bow with a golden arrow fixed to it, Arjuna uttered incantations to invoke the Varuṇastra. He shot the arrow at the earth and at once a large lake appeared, with swans, ducks, and other aquatic birds swimming amid lotuses and lilies. The clear pond had been transported from the heavenly regions and was cool and pleasing. A gentle breeze blew over it and celestial sages were seated on its banks.

Invoking another mystical weapon, Arjuna constructed a shelter on the lakeside made entirely of arrows. Kṛṣṇa laughed and applauded him. He led the horses into the shelter where, after drinking their fill, they lay on the grassy ground. Kṛṣṇa then removed their arrows and gently massaged their bodies.

The Kauravas had rallied and again surrounded Arjuna, who continued to fight on foot. Showers of arrows, darts and lances fell upon him, but he stood as firm as Mount Meru. He received the massive downpour of weapons like a mountain receiving rain. Even as the single fault of covetousness destroys all a man’s good qualities, he single-handedly destroyed his enemies. Contending alone against countless warriors seated on chariots, horses and elephants, Arjuna appeared wonderful. Celestials praised him and the Kauravas themselves applauded his prowess. They marveled at the sight of the lake and the shelter he had created. Despite strenuous exertions, they could not overcome him even though he was disadvantaged by the loss of his chariot. His speed, lightness of hand and agility were too great. As he held off the Kaurava forces, Kṛṣṇa harnessed the horses and drove up to Arjuna’s side. As He did so, the mystical lake, with its birds, aquatics and ṛṣis, vanished.

Mounted again on his chariot, Arjuna sounded his conch. Kṛṣṇa urged on the horses, and the chariot rushed into the thick of the Kauravas, with Arjuna spraying deadly shafts on all sides. Like a storm agitating the ocean, he created havoc among the enemy ranks. The Kauravas were beaten back and unable to check his progress. Some of them called out, “Fie upon Duryodhana! It is his fault that the earth now faces such a calamity. These two heroes will spare no one.” Other Kauravas said, “Dhṛtarāṣṭra should begin the preparations for Jayadratha’s last rites. The Sindhu ruler will be killed today.”

Arjuna pressed forward relentlessly. Only four hours remained until sunset and he still had ten miles of troops to cross. The bravest of the Kauravas rushed against him, but like rivers entering the sea they did not return. Other cowardly warriors, like atheists turning away from scripture, turned back from the fight, thus incurring condemnation and sin.

The fire-colored chariot Kṛṣṇa drove appeared like Sūrya’s chariot driven by Aruna. It tore through the Kaurava ranks. Rested and refreshed, the horses raced ahead, seeming to rise up into the sky at every moment. Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa appeared like two fiery suns risen together at the end of the age. Anyone coming near them was burnt by the fire of Arjuna’s weapons and fell lifeless to the earth. The Kauravas facing Arjuna became dispirited and hopeless. They struggled vainly to check him from reaching Jayadratha, but in less than an hour Arjuna could see in the distance Droṇa’s tall standard. With a triumphant shout he said, “See there the preceptor’s banner, O Madhava. I think we are drawing close to the Sindhu king. He cannot be more than a few miles away.”

Kṛṣṇa again advised Arjuna to circumvent Droṇa so as not to lose time, but Droṇa had already seen him and was shooting arrows that flew more than two miles and pierced both him and Kṛṣṇa. Bleeding from their wounds, they appeared like two flowering karnikara trees. Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot away from Droṇa’s attack, placing a body of Kaurava troops between them. He then moved in a great circle around Droṇa’s division. Arjuna continuously launched his blazing shafts in unending lines that struck down men, horses and elephants alike.

As Arjuna came within a few miles of Jayadratha, he was suddenly met by Duryodhana. With his impenetrable armor shining brilliantly, the Kaurava prince sent up a mighty roar and charged. Drawing up his chariot at a short distance from his enemy, he shouted out a challenge.

Kṛṣṇa stopped the chariot and said, “Behold Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s powerful son standing fearlessly before you. He has constantly hated the Pāṇḍavas and is an accomplished warrior, capable of contending with innumerable warriors at once. I think, O sinless one, that the time has come when you should fight with him. Upon him rests victory or defeat. Vomit upon him the venom of your wrath, O Pārtha. It is your good fortune that has brought him before you alone. Why has he risked his life in this way? Surely he will soon regret his folly. Strike down this evil-hearted one and the war will be over. O Arjuna, kill him and cut the root of the wicked Kauravas.”

Arjuna stared angrily at the bellowing Duryodhana. “Let it be so. Go closer to this wretch so that I may punish him with sharpened shafts. I will now avenge the wrongs he committed against Draupadī.”

Kṛṣṇa drove the chariot toward Duryodhana. Seeing the Kaurava chief exhibiting no fear, even though there was sufficient cause, many warriors looked on and applauded. Others cried out in sorrow, considering Duryodhana to be like a libation of ghee poured into a sacrificial fire. “The king is slain! The king is slain!” they cried in terror.

Hearing their cries, Duryodhana laughed. “Dispel your fears. I will soon send these two to Death’s abode.”

Duryodhana taunted Arjuna. “O Pārtha, let me see your prowess. Release all the weapons you have learned from Droṇa and received from the celestials. Watch as I repulse your attack. Then I will sever your head along with Kṛṣṇa’s.”

Duryodhana immediately pierced Arjuna with three arrows that flew invisibly toward him. With four more he pierced each of his horses, and with another ten he struck Kṛṣṇa. With another well-aimed arrow he cut the whip in Kṛṣṇa’s hand, which fell to the ground in two pieces. Arjuna drew the Gāṇḍīva back to his ear and fired four steel-headed shafts that screamed through the air. Hitting Duryodhana’s armor they fell harmlessly to the earth. Arjuna released another sixteen arrows which were again deflected from his armor. He shot twenty more shafts with even more power, but these were also ineffective against Duryodhana’s armor.

Seeing this, Kṛṣṇa said with surprise, “I have not seen this before. Your arrows, capable of penetrating the earth, are falling uselessly from Duryodhana’s armor. Is everything well with you, O Pārtha? Is the Gāṇḍīva losing its power? Why are you unable to pierce your enemy? This is not the time to fail. What is the cause?”

Arjuna understood. Looking at the laughing Duryodhana, he replied, “I think Droṇa has tied on Duryodhana’s armor today. It contains the might of the three worlds. Only Droṇa knows its secret and he has taught it to me. No weapons can pierce this armor. Surely You know this, O Kṛṣṇa, because You know everything. Yet see how this fool stands before me. He is like a woman clad in armor and does not know how to take advantage of his position. Even though he is protected by an impenetrable coat of mail, I will still defeat him. Watch as I send him reeling from my attack.”

Duryodhana stood fearlessly in his chariot and called to Arjuna derisively, “Try again, O Pārtha. I think you are losing your touch.” He fired a thick volley of shafts that covered both Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa. The Kauravas watching the fight were delighted to see Duryodhana impervious to Arjuna’s attack. They roared and beat their drums.

Fending off Duryodhana’s arrows, Arjuna became incensed. With a taut smile he slew Duryodhana’s four horses. He then broke apart his chariot with a hundred hammer-headed shafts. Taking another four arrows with extended points, he empowered them with mantras and aimed them carefully at the Kaurava. The arrows struck Duryodhana on the tips of his fingers, the only exposed part of his body, as he was releasing his own shafts. He screamed in pain as they went under his nails. Dropping his bow he jumped about on the terrace of his chariot, shaking his hand in agony.

Seeing their leader distressed, other Kaurava warriors rushed to his rescue. They surrounded Arjuna with chariots, elephants and horses. Kṛpa, who had come to Duryodhana’s assistance, took him on his chariot, bearing the emblem of a bull, and carried him to safety.

Arjuna again set to slaying the Kaurava troops. He soon managed to break free from his assailants. As his chariot emerged from the enemy array, both he and Kṛṣṇa blew their conchshells with full power. That sound filled the battlefield and terrified the Kauravas. Jayadratha also heard it in the distance and froze in his chariot, looking fearfully in the direction of the sound.

Elsewhere on the field the other Pāṇḍavas had been fighting and destroying thousands of foes. The losses on both sides were great. The earth again assumed a terrible aspect, with the bodies of slain men and beasts lying about amid the wreckage of chariots, armor and weapons.