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Chapter 18

Kṛṣṇa’s Mystic Power

From some way off, Yudhiṣṭhira heard the blast of Arjuna’s and Kṛṣṇa’s conchshells. Fearful that his brother might be in danger and signaling for help, he said to Sātyaki, “O grandson of Sini, I think the hour has arrived when you must do the duty of a friend. You are wholly devoted to our welfare, and especially to Arjuna’s. O hero, it is said that one who casts off his mortal frame while fighting for his friend’s cause gets the same result as one who twice gives away the entire earth in charity. I think Arjuna may now need your help. He has single-handedly entered the Kaurava array. Please go to where he stands. There is no one else who can assist him better than you.”

Sātyaki felt torn. Arjuna had specifically ordered him to remain by Yudhiṣṭhira’s side and to follow his instructions. Now Yudhiṣṭhira was asking him to leave. What would happen if while he was gone, Droṇa attacked and captured Yudhiṣṭhira? Arjuna would never forgive him. He revealed his doubts. “O lord of the earth, there is nothing I would not do at your command. As you have rightly said, I am ever devoted to Arjuna’s service. Thus I am ready to penetrate even into the ranks of heavenly hosts to assist that foremost of fighters. However, I must remind you of Arjuna’s words to me today. ‘Protect Yudhiṣṭhira until I return from slaying Jayadratha.’ How can I leave you? Surely Droṇa’s threat still hangs over you since he vowed to take you captive.

Sātyaki reassured Yudhiṣṭhira. “Arjuna could not possibly be in any danger because he is with Kṛṣṇa. Who among the Kauravas could even threaten him? Surely he has blown his conch after achieving a great victory. Probably he has come close to Jayadratha. I am sure Arjuna is well, but if you cannot dispel your anxiety, I will follow him. Nevertheless, without leaving you in the care of someone able to protect you from Droṇa, I cannot leave. Therefore, command me as you will, O King.”

Yudhiṣṭhira pointed to the many warriors surrounding him--Bhīma, Dṛṣṭadyumna, the twins, Draupadī’s sons, Ghaṭotkaca, and numerous others. They would surely be able to hold off Droṇa, should he attack. In any event, the preceptor was likely to be occupied in the attempt to protect Jayadratha.

Seeing Yudhiṣṭhira’s determination that he go after Arjuna, Sātyaki felt impelled to leave. After all, what if the Pāṇḍava really did need help? Although it seemed unlikely that Arjuna was in trouble, Sātyaki felt that if he did not follow him, he would be censured as a coward. Looking around at the Pāṇḍava warriors fighting near the king, he said, “In accordance with your order I will depart. May good betide you, O King. Plunging into the hostile army, an ocean teeming with arrows, darts and lances, I will soon reach my teacher and render him whatever assistance he may require. Let your fear be dispelled.”

After going over to Bhīma and asking him to take his place by Yudhiṣṭhira’s side, Sātyaki ordered his charioteer to drive into the Kaurava array in Arjuna’s wake. He soon saw the trail of carnage the Pāṇḍava had left behind. Fighting his way past the remaining troops, Sātyaki encountered Kṛtavarmā and a terrible fight ensued between them. Sātyaki fought intensely, determined to reach Arjuna as quickly as possible, and he soon overcame his opponent. Every Kaurava warrior who came against Sātyaki was swiftly routed. Passing along Arjuna’s path, he made rapid progress. Within an hour he sighted Arjuna’s chariot in the distance, its tall standard appearing high above the battlefield. Seeing this he took out his conch shell and blew a great blast.

Even after sending Sātyaki to assist Arjuna, Yudhiṣṭhira was still apprehensive. He spoke with Bhīma. “Out of my own anxiety I have sent Sini’s grandson into the hostile array formed by Droṇa. I now fear for both him and Arjuna. O mighty-armed hero, you alone are capable of holding the enemy at bay. Therefore, go swiftly after your brother and Sātyaki. When you reach them and find them safe, let go a mighty roar. My mind will then be relieved. With you by their side, nothing will be impossible for Arjuna and his disciple. I will consider Jayadratha already slain.”

Bhīma laughed. “What danger can there be for Arjuna? But if it is your desire, then I will go after him. You will soon hear my shout. Let your mind be at ease.”

Before leaving, Bhīma went over to Dṛṣṭadyumna and said, “I am now proceeding after my brother. Remembering Droṇa’s vow, stay close by the king’s side. You are born for that Brahmin’s destruction. In your presence Yudhiṣṭhira can experience no danger.”

Reassured by Dṛṣṭadyumna, Bhīma charged into the Kaurava ranks. Like Sātyaki before him, he saw the slaughter Arjuna had wreaked. Going along the track made by both Arjuna and Sātyaki, his progress toward his brother was swift. He quickly overcame the fighters who challenged him and soon reached his brother. Seeing Arjuna’s standard at a distance, with Sātyaki’s chariot not far off, Bhīma roared tremendously.

Arjuna, who had already met Sātyaki, heard his brother’s roar and said to Kṛṣṇa, “Here now is the mighty Bhīmasena. I do not see how the Kauravas will be able to protect Jayadratha from me when I am united with my brother and Sātyaki.”

Arjuna had been surprised to see his disciple. At first he had reproached him, fearful for Yudhiṣṭhira’s welfare, but Sātyaki had reassured him that the king was protected. He saw that Droṇa was also tied up in protecting Jayadratha, so there was no immediate danger for Yudhiṣṭhira. Arjuna had then embraced his beloved student, who had performed an amazing feat in passing through the Kauravas in such a short time. Praising his prowess, Arjuna told Sātyaki to help him reach Jayadratha.

Only two hours remained until sunset. Arjuna still had to overcome Karṇa, Aśvatthāmā, and other powerful Kauravas before he could reach Jayadratha. Doubtlessly Droṇa himself would also fight to his full power to protect the Sindhu king. Duryodhana had recovered from his wounds and had come back to the fight with many of his brothers. All of them stood between Arjuna and Jayadratha. It was by no means certain that the Pāṇḍava would fulfill his vow. Now that Bhīma had arrived, however, the Kauravas were shaking like a forest struck by a gale. Arjuna was bad enough, but when he fought with Bhīma and Sātyaki, no one would be able to stop him.

The three Pāṇḍava heroes advanced toward the division which formed Jayadratha’s last line of defense. Karṇa came forward to meet them, and Bhīma challenged him. Karṇa rushed at him, furiously releasing hundreds of arrows. Warding off the shafts, Bhīma replied with a hundred of his own. Both warriors glared at each other with eyes like blazing coals. They circled one another in their chariots, their gaze fixed on the other and waiting for his move. The two antagonists suddenly began shooting showers of deadly shafts. Their bowstrings cracked like thunderclaps and their arrows struck each other’s armor with resounding thuds. Neither flinched under their opponent’s attack nor showed any quarter. The surrounding troops looked on in amazement. Some of them, seeing Karṇa’s dazzling speed, considered Bhīma doomed, while others, seeing Bhīma’s uncontrolled rage, felt that Karṇa’s end had arrived.

Bhīma assailed Karṇa with all his power. He looked at him with unbridled contempt. Here was one of the prime causes of the Pāṇḍavas’ suffering. This was the one who had laughed in the dice game and ordered Draupadī to find another husband. Indeed, it had been he who had suggested she be disrobed. He had always conspired with the Kauravas to bring about the Pāṇḍavas’ downfall. His mocking words as they left for the forest still rang in Bhīma’s ears. Now at last he stood against him in battle. Fearlessly, Bhīma closed on Karṇa, stretching his golden bow back to his ear as he discharged his arrows. He sent so many shafts at his enemy that they screened him from view. Karṇa countered the attack and quickly emerged from the network of shafts. He pierced Bhīma with nine well-tempered steel arrows that flashed from his bow like lightning.

Undaunted, Bhīma went even closer to Karṇa, constantly releasing steel shafts that struck him in every part of his body. Intent on smashing Karṇa with his mace, the Pāṇḍava brought his chariot right up to him. As they came together, Bhīma’s black-hued horses mingled with the milk-white horses of his enemy. The great horses merging together appeared like beautiful black and white clouds combining in the sky.

The Kauravas cried out in anguish as they saw the furious Bhīma resolved on Karṇa’s destruction. The Pāṇḍava swung his mace and Karṇa quickly countered with his own. The two maces collided with a shower of sparks and a sound that deafened the onlookers for some moments. Contending at close quarters, Bhīma and Karṇa appeared like a couple of infuriated mountain lions fighting to the death. Their charioteers pulled back the horses and the two chariots again broke apart. Both men again took up their bows and fired short-shafted arrows and blazing darts at one another. As they circled each other, constantly discharging their weapons, they resembled two clouds discharging rain in the monsoon season. Their arrows, decked with gold, seemed like rows of maddened swans ranging through the heavens.

Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna both felt that a heavy burden had been placed on Bhīma. The enraged Karṇa was a formidable foe. Although he had encountered the Pāṇḍavas on several occasions, he had never been in his present mood. Now he seemed like the lord of death come for the destruction of all creatures. But Bhīma skillfully held off his attack. Everyone cheered him as he countered Karṇa’s innumerable arrows with his own. As Bhīma and Karṇa battled, Arjuna and Sātyaki maintained a ceaseless attack on the Kauravas. Elephants, horses and men fell dead all around them, pierced by their irresistible shafts.

Bhīma suddenly cut Karṇa’s bow in two parts with a razor-faced arrow. He then struck down one of his two charioteers and launched fifty straight-flying shafts at his immobilized foe. Karṇa shrugged off the arrows and took up a lance. Like Indra hurling his thunderbolt, he threw the lance with all his might at Bhīma. Inlaid with gold and gems, it flew with a glaring brilliance, its tip emitting orange flames. Seeing it leave Karṇa’s hand, Bhīma took out seven crescent-headed arrows and fired them in swift succession. They flew end-to-end and cut the lance into eight pieces. With a further twenty shafts Bhīma then struck Karṇa on the chest and sent up a great roar.

Without a second’s delay, Karṇa took up and strung another bow. He released a dozen swift arrows while Bhīma was fixing more shafts on his own bow. Even the celestials were surprised to witness Karṇa’s deftness and skill. Moving his chariot rapidly from side to side, Bhīma’s charioteer Vishoka evaded Karṇa’s arrows, which whistled past the Pāṇḍava. The battle between the two heroes went on like a fight between two mighty elephants for the leadership of a herd. They assailed each other untiringly, roaring all the while. Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they reproached one another, and sometimes they blew their conches. They flashed scornful glances at each other as they fought, each seeking victory over the other.

Bhīma once again cut apart Karṇa’s bow, then immediately slew his four horses and his second charioteer. Summoning all his strength, he sent a terrific downpour of arrows that completely enveloped Karṇa. His horses and charioteers slain, and himself struck everywhere and continuously, Karṇa was confounded and did not know what to do. Seeing his friend in such a predicament, Duryodhana commanded his brother Durmukha to rescue him. Braving Bhīma’s arrows, Durmukha raced over to Karṇa and quickly took him onto his chariot. But even as Karṇa leapt across to the chariot, Bhīma killed Durmukha along with his charioteer and horses.

Shocked, Karṇa quickly circumambulated the dead Kaurava and then ran across to another warrior’s chariot. As a number of Duryodhana’s other brothers came to his support, he resumed his assault on the Pāṇḍava. Smiling to see so many of his sworn enemies before him, Bhīma fought with greater intensity. He killed another three Kaurava princes and yelled out his battle cry, making the rest of them shake with fear. In the distance, Yudhiṣṭhira heard the victorious shout and was relieved. Everything was clearly well with Arjuna and Bhīma.

So fierce was Bhīma’s attack that no one could stand before him. Another four of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons were each killed by a single arrow from Bhīma’s bow. Finally, even Karṇa himself was overpowered and pierced by so many shafts that he turned and fled.

Bhīma fell upon the Kauravas with a manic fury. Targeting Duryodhana’s brothers he began slaying them like a lion slaying deer. The Pāṇḍava’s arrows fell on the Kauravas like poisonous serpents. Remembering all the wrongs they had committed against him and his brothers, he ruthlessly cut them down. As he ranged about the field Bhīma came upon Vikarṇa. He remembered how he had fearlessly spoken in Draupadī’s defense during the dice game. The Pāṇḍavas knew that Vikarṇa felt genuine affection for them and supported their cause, even against his elder brother, but duty had ultimately compelled him to fight for Duryodhana.

Bearing in mind his vow to kill all one hundred brothers, as well as his duty as a kṣatriya, Bhīma did not hesitate to attack Vikarṇa along with his brothers. With golden-winged shafts he cut down the brothers one after another. Finally he slew Vikarṇa with three arrows. As the prince fell to the earth, Bhīma went over to him and circumambulated his body. He felt a twinge of sorrow, but thinking of the exalted destination he was sure to attain, he again became cheerful. The virtuous Kaurava hero had always performed his religious duties and had died in battle while facing his foes. Doubtlessly he had gone to the celestial regions.

After paying his last respects to Vikarṇa, Bhīma again launched himself into the fight. Nearby, Sātyaki was driving back Droṇa’s troops, moving toward the preceptor himself, while Arjuna was pressing inexorably toward Jayadratha. Not much time remained until sunset, and the three Pāṇḍava heroes fought to the extreme limits of their power.

Duryodhana was grief-stricken. Bhīma had just killed more than thirty of his brothers. He remembered Vidura’s warnings. Why had he not heeded them? Surely Bhīma was not human, nor was Arjuna. Both of them were annihilating his forces like Indra and Mahadeva wiping out the Asuras. Not far away, Sātyaki was single-handedly destroying the Trigarta army. It seemed that all of the Pāṇḍava warriors were aided by divine power. Perhaps Kṛṣṇa was indeed the Supreme Person. Duryodhana remembered the Dānavas’ assurances. Even if those celestial beings were assisting him, it would prove to no avail against an enemy assisted by God himself. Despite the overwhelming odds, the Pāṇḍavas were steadily crushing his forces. The greatest fighters in the three worlds were among his army, but they could make no impression on the Pāṇḍavas. He too could do nothing, it seemed, even while clad in Indra’s celestial armor.

The prince looked at the sky. The sun was not far from the western horizon. Perhaps all was not yet lost. Arjuna still had to pass Droṇa and his son. If they were supported by other invincible Kaurava warriors, then Arjuna may well be thwarted. Duryodhana urged his charioteer to drive quickly to Droṇa. One last strategic effort was needed. He and the preceptor could form all the great fighters in the vicinity into a solid line to protect Jayadratha. Surely even Arjuna would not have enough time to fight his way past Droṇa, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāmā, Śalya and a dozen other warriors, all standing together.

As Duryodhana raced toward Droṇa, Sātyaki fought with the powerful Kuru hero, Bhurisrava. As they encountered each other both men bore in mind an old enmity between their two fathers. Sātyaki’s father, Sini, had once defeated Somadatta, Bhurisrava’s father, in a fight at a svayaṁvara. Sini had dragged and kicked Somadatta in the presence of many kings. After this, Somadatta had pleased Śiva and received a boon that his son would do the same to Sini’s son. Now the two sons were meeting in battle for the first time. They traded arrows by the thousands, but neither could gain an advantage over the other. Both warriors hurled lances and javelins with all their power, but saw their opponent unfailingly cut them down with well-aimed arrows. Roaring like a couple of bulls, they contended at close quarters. Both men’s horses and charioteers were slain and their chariots smashed to pieces.

The two dauntless fighters jumped clear of their broken chariots. They drew out their sky-blue swords from their jeweled scabbards. Holding bull-hide shields inlaid with gold and silver carvings, they slowly circled one another. As they came together they displayed various skillful motions, describing circles and moving swiftly from side to side. They leapt into the air and swung their great swords, striking each other with all their power. The clash of their swords rang out across the battlefield. Sparks flew up as the weapons collided or fell upon the fighters’ armors. Both warriors thrust and parried with a speed and skill that amazed the onlookers, who shouted out praise and encouragement to both men. Suddenly, with one mighty blow, both swords shattered. Throwing them aside, the two men fell to wrestling. They struck and seized each other, rolling about on the ground with grunts and roars. Displaying every kind of wrestling skill, they fought on, each determined to kill the other.

Gradually, Sātyaki tired. It had taken a superhuman effort to reach Arjuna, and that was now taking its toll. Bhurisrava saw his chance and he seized his opponent’s hair. Dragging him across the field, the Kuru warrior repeatedly kicked and punched him.

Not far away Kṛṣṇa saw what was about to happen and he said, “Quickly, save your disciple who has become exhausted while fighting for your good. See now the danger he faces.”

Arjuna looked across at Sātyaki. Bhurisrava had picked up a discarded sword and was raising it ready to cut off his enemy’s head. Seeing Sātyaki’s perilous position Arjuna at once placed a razor-headed arrow on his bow. Releasing it with full force, he cut off Bhurisrava’s arm just as he brought down the sword. The arm, still clutching the sword, dropped to the earth like a five-hooded serpent falling from heaven. Bhurisrava, with blood spurting from his shoulder, looked around in anger and surprise. Who could have so flagrantly ignored the rules of combat? To attack an enemy without warning was unthinkable.

Seeing Arjuna nearby, Bhurisrava realized it had been him. Shocked, he reproached the Pāṇḍava. “Alas, O son of Kuntī, how could you perform such a cruel and heartless deed? You were not engaged with me, but still you covertly cut off my arm. Have you learned this from Droṇa, Kṛpa, or perhaps Indra? I think not, for none of those personalities could ever approve such an act. Nor could you, born in a noble line, have performed this mean deed of your own accord. I think rather that this was done at the instigation of the deceitful Kṛṣṇa. The Vrishnis are a race of low and mean-minded men, ever given to shameful conduct. Why have you chosen to befriend them, Arjuna? Just see the result.”

Moving closer to Bhurisrava, Arjuna called out, “It is evident that with the body’s decay the intellect also suffers, since, O hero, you have directed so many useless reproaches at us. You know well that I am fully aware of the codes of combat, as well as the meaning of all moral precepts. How could I commit a sinful act? Kshatriyas fight their foes while supported by their own men. Why then should I not protect Sātyaki, who is fighting on my behalf, careless of his own life? Indeed, it is my first duty to afford him protection. Had I stood by and watched you kill him, then I would have been guilty of sin.”

Bhurisrava dropped to his knees and held his wound. He listened in silence as Arjuna continued. “You were prepared to kill Sātyaki when he was weaponless, fatigued, and fallen to the earth. Seeing this I acted swiftly to save him. As Sātyaki was unprepared for your assault, so you were unprepared for mine. You should not censure me. Rather, you should reproach yourself for failing to guard against an attack while standing on the battlefield. Tell me, O mighty-armed warrior, how you would have acted toward your own dependent in such circumstances?”

Bhurisrava, whose lifeblood was quickly ebbing, made no reply. Deciding to give up his life while absorbed in mystic meditation, he used his left hand to spread out a bed of arrows. With difficulty he gathered the shafts and placed them together in a makeshift seat. As he sat on the arrows, his eyes fixed on the sun, all the other warriors on the battlefield stopped fighting out of respect. The Kauravas then rebuked Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna.

Unable to tolerate their abuse, Arjuna shouted back, “It is my solemn vow that no one on my side shall be slain as long as I am in a position to protect them. It is surely not right for you or Bhurisrava to condemn me for saving an unarmed man from an armed antagonist. But, O great heroes, who would not condemn the killing of the unarmed and careless Abhimanyu by a group of powerfully armed warriors standing on their chariots?”

Bhurisrava remained silent. His anger had gone. He and Arjuna were friends from long ago and, hearing the Pāṇḍava’s words, spoken without malice, he could see his own fault. Realizing that his destined end had arrived, he closed his eyes and fixed his mind on Viṣṇu, preparing to observe the sacred Praya vow of meditating until death.

Arjuna spoke again to the fallen Kuru fighter, “O great one, the love I bear for you is equal to that I bear for my own brothers. With my permission, and also that of Kṛṣṇa, go now to heaven.”

Kṛṣṇa added, “You have been devoted to sacrifice and worship of the Supreme Lord. Therefore go to My kingdom, ablaze with effulgence and coveted even by Brahmā. Assuming a spiritual form equal to My own, mount upon the back of Garuḍa, who will carry you to that eternal abode.”

As Kṛṣṇa spoke, Sātyaki recovered from his swoon and rose to his feet. Seeing his enemy seated nearby, he took up his discarded sword and rushed at him. As everyone present cried out to stop him, he swung the sword with all his strength and cut off Bhurisrava’s head.

There was shocked silence. No one praised Sātyaki for killing Bhurisrava, who had already been slain by Arjuna. Some of the Kaurava troops spoke among themselves. “Sātyaki was only the instrument, for this hero’s end had surely been ordained by fate. The Creator himself has moved Sātyaki to kill Bhurisrava, and we should not give way to anger, which is always the cause of man’s grief.”

Others among the Kauravas, such as Duryodhana and Karṇa, rebuked Sātyaki. Turning around with the bloodied sword still in his hand, Sātyaki called out to them, “You sinful men can only speak of virtue, for your acts are never virtuous. Where was your righteousness when Abhimanyu was slain? I vowed long ago to slay any man who threw me down in battle and kicked me. I was always destined to kill Bhurisrava. It is the hand of fate that moves all men. Where is my fault? In ancient times the sage Vālmīki said, ‘One should always act in battle in ways which give pain to the enemy.’”

Everyone remained silent. None on either side considered Sātyaki’s act noble. They all praised Bhurisrava in their minds, for he had gone to the highest and most holy regions. They looked at his head lying on the ground, which, with its curling blue locks and eyes red like a pigeon’s, was charming even in death.

After a moment of respectful silence, the warriors on both sides blew their conches and the battle began in earnest. Taking up the Gāṇḍīva, Arjuna said to Kṛṣṇa, “Urge on the horses, O Madhava. The sun is fast falling toward the western hills. The Sindhu ruler is well protected by the foremost Kuru fighters. My task will not be easy. O mighty-armed one, drive the horses in such a way that I may not be thwarted.”

Arjuna’s chariot rushed off toward Jayadratha, whose standard was just visible beyond the thick array of Kaurava troops. At once Duryodhana, Karṇa, Śalya, Aśvatthāmā, Kṛpa and Vrishasena attacked. They were supported by tens of thousands of charioteers, horsemen and elephants. All the warriors charged Arjuna like a stormy sea crashing onto the shore. With his razor-headed arrows Arjuna at once severed the limbs of fighters all around him. As the sun assumed a crimson hue he relentlessly slaughtered the Kaurava troops. Although they were being decimated, the Kauravas were cheered to see the sun almost on the horizon. Surely the Pāṇḍava would fail in his vow.

Determined to hold Arjuna back, Kṛpa and Aśvatthāmā attacked him from both sides. They rained countless arrows on both him and Kṛṣṇa. At the same time, Duryodhana, still encased in his impenetrable armor, assailed him from the front with Karṇa. From Arjuna’s rear Śalya roared out his challenge and immediately sent hundreds of shafts at him. Arjuna moved with blinding speed. Whirling about on the terrace of his chariot he sent arrows at every one of his assailants. All of them were either pierced or had their bows shattered by Arjuna’s shafts. Bhīma again tackled Karṇa, and at the same time annihilated the troops supporting him. Sātyaki took on Śalya and Vrishasena, killing thousands of their soldiers.

Arjuna slowly forced back the Kauravas who stood before him. Faced with an endless stream of blazing shafts, they struggled vainly to hold him in check. Both Aśvatthāmā and Kṛpa displayed masterful skills, but Arjuna checked every one of their weapons with his powerful arrows. He pierced his attackers with burning missiles launched from the Gāṇḍīva with all his power. The sky appeared as if illuminated by a constant shower of meteors. In his wrath, Arjuna resembled the eternal Śiva slaying the Asuras with his divine Ajagara bow.

Numerous monarchs and warriors came forward to attack Arjuna, clutching bows, lances, maces and swords. Advancing furiously on the Pāṇḍava, they were destroyed in moments by his irresistible arrows. The twang of the Gāṇḍīva, continuously resounding, resembled the roar of clouds seen in the sky at the end of the epoch. Warriors were dispatched to Death’s kingdom by the tens of thousands.

The Kauravas began to panic. They called to one another amid the confusion and carnage. Blood-spattered bodies lay everywhere in tangled and twisted heaps. The cries and moans of dying men mingled with the roars and battle cries of the surviving fighters. Wherever the warriors looked they saw Arjuna’s standard carving through their ranks. His snake-like arrows fell from the sky as if rained down by Indra. Even Droṇa, coming against Arjuna with all his strength, could not check him. He called out to his troops, who were starting to flee, trying to rally them back to the battle.

Less than half an hour remained until sunset. Droṇa ordered his son, Kṛpa, Karṇa, Śalya, Duryodhana, and a number of other maharatha warriors to stand before Arjuna, who could now see Jayadratha. They all began hurling weapons at the Pāṇḍava, screening him from Jayadratha. Arjuna, although so close to his foe, began to despair. Only minutes remained till sunset, and he could hardly see Jayadratha, so thick was the shower of arrows, darts and lances thrown by the Kaurava heroes.

Kṛṣṇa saw His friend’s predicament. He raised His right hand and immediately His Sudarśana chakra appeared at the end of His outstretched finger. Throwing that disc, He covered the sun like an eclipse and at once darkness enveloped the field. Thinking that the sun had set, the Kauravas cheered. Jayadratha was still alive. Now Arjuna would enter fire. Surely the war was over.

Confounded, Arjuna looked around, but Kṛṣṇa reassured him. “O Pārtha, there is still time. Fix your eyes on the southern quarter, where Jayadratha stands. The Kauravas have lowered their weapons and the Sindhu ruler now stands unprotected. In a moment he will come before your sight. Place upon the Gāṇḍīva an arrow charged with Brahmā’s power and sever his head.”

Arjuna immediately did as he was told. As he raised his bow with the brilliant golden shaft attached, Kṛṣṇa said, “This monarch has received a boon from his father. The old Sindhu king, Vridhakshatra, blessed him that whoever makes his head fall to the earth will himself die, his own head shattered in a hundred pieces. I know that Vridhakshtra now sits some miles from here at Samantapanchaka Lake, deep in meditation. Therefore, empower your arrow to carry Jayadratha’s head to his father’s lap.”

After saying this, Kṛṣṇa withdrew His chakra. Suddenly it was light again, the sun clearly visible just above the western horizon. Arjuna instantly released his arrow. It flew like a comet straight at Jayadratha, who was standing fearlessly on his chariot, caught unawares by the sudden reappearance of the sun. Severing his head from his neck, the arrow carried it high into the sky and out of the sight of all the warriors. After traveling a great distance, it deposited the head on Vridhakshatra’s lap. Startled, the monarch quickly stood up. As his son’s head fell on the ground, his own head broke into a hundred pieces and he fell dead.

The Kauravas cried out in grief. They realized the darkness had been Kṛṣṇa’s illusion. Duryodhana fell to his knees in his chariot. He dropped his weapons and hot tears flowed from his eyes. All of his warriors were struck dumb as they slowly left the battlefield.

Overjoyed at the success of His friend, Kṛṣṇa embraced Arjuna. “By good fortune you have slain Jayadratha and his wretched father, a constant enemy of the gods. I do not think that even Kārttikeya could have achieved this. You killed an entire akshauhini of soldiers. Your prowess resembles Rudra’s. Today Duryodhana and his followers are surely realizing that their end is near.”

Still perspiring from his prodigious efforts, Arjuna smiled. “By Your favor only has all this been achieved. O Kṛṣṇa, it is no wonder that one whom You support gains victory. Yudhiṣṭhira will surely regain his kingdom. My brothers and I are ever at Your service.”

Kṛṣṇa once again embraced Arjuna and then drove the chariot toward their camp. As they headed back, they surveyed the large number of warriors lying all over the field. The earth seemed to be filled with men, horses, elephants and chariots. Thousands of servants and physicians came from the camps to tend the wounded, who lay moaning with arrows and lances protruding from their bodies. Millions of shining arrows were strewn across the ground, along with broken maces, swords and armor. Bright gold ornaments gleamed amid fragments of shattered chariots. As darkness fell, the earth seemed as resplendent as the autumnal sky studded with countless stars.

Kṛṣṇa blew His conch loudly, gladdening the hearts of the Pāṇḍava warriors. Reaching Yudhiṣṭhira, Arjuna folded his palms and worshipped him with a joyful heart. Yudhiṣṭhira dismounted from his chariot and embraced Arjuna with tears in his eyes. Kṛṣṇa got down from the chariot and touched Yudhiṣṭhira’s feet in respect. The Pāṇḍava king embraced Him and said, “O Govinda, it is by Your grace that we stand victorious today. Our enemies are drowned in a sea of grief. Everything is certain for those You favor. Simply by seeking Your shelter, one is assured of all good fortune. Those who desire to please You never meet with sin or reversal.”

Trembling with transcendent happiness, Yudhiṣṭhira went on praising Kṛṣṇa for some time. When he had finished, Kṛṣṇa replied, “The wretched Jayadratha has been consumed by the fire of your anger. Duryodhana’s vast and proud armies are gradually being annihilated, O Bharata. Having insulted and angered you, the low-minded Duryodhana faces destruction, along with his followers. Those who have chosen to become your enemies are already defeated, although you bear no malice toward any living being.”

Bhīma and Sātyaki, their bodies covered with arrow wounds, came and stood before Arjuna. After embracing them both, Arjuna said tearfully, “By good fortune do I see you both, freed from the Kaurava ocean, in which Droṇa is an invincible alligator and Kṛtavarmā an invincible shark. It was fortunate that you made Karṇa, Kṛpa and Śalya flee. Both of you are as dear to me as my own life. With you as my support and protectors, I have no fear.”

The Pāṇḍavas headed joyfully back to their camp, blowing their conches and praised by bards and eulogists.