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Chapter 20

The Night Battle

As the sun approached the western hills, Sātyaki once again encountered Somadatta. He told his charioteer to bear him toward the Kuru. “His time has come. I will not return from this battle without slaying him.”

Somadatta confronted him without fear. The two kṣatriyas pierced one another with snake-like arrows. They roared furiously and circled one another, each maintaining a fierce assault on his opponent. With blood running from their many wounds, they looked like a couple of kinshuka trees in full bloom. Casting angry glances, the heroes fought relentlessly, looking for weakness in the other.

Somadatta’s father, Bāhlika, rode up to assist his son. Seeing this, Bhīma came to Sātyaki’s aid. Bāhlika met him with a volley of arrows. Shrugging off the shafts, which were deflected by his thick armor, Bhīma raised his bow. He shot hundreds of yard-long arrows at Bāhlika, but the old warrior cut them down in mid-flight. He retaliated with a long steel shaft fitted with a barbed point. Fired with all Bāhlika’s power, the arrow struck Bhīma on the chest and pierced his armor. Bhīma trembled and swooned. Regaining his senses as Bāhlika closed in to press his advantage, Bhīma took up an iron mace and hurled it at his opponent. It sped through the air like a fireball and struck Bāhlika on the forehead. The Kuru general died instantly and he fell headlong from his chariot.

Somadatta, still fighting with Sātyaki, cried out in grief as his father died. He trained his arrows on Bhīma, but Sātyaki showered him with shafts and drew him away from the Pāṇḍava. Somadatta fought in a frenzy. He cut Sātyaki’s bow in two with a broad-headed arrow and struck him with countless more. Sātyaki took up another bow and with a volley of shafts cut down Somadatta’s standard and killed his charioteer and horses. Somadatta stood his ground and covered his foe with arrows that flew in straight lines from his bow. Sātyaki raised a spear and hurled it at Somadatta’s chest with all his power, but Somadatta cut that iron lance with arrows as it coursed toward him. Sātyaki, screaming in anger, again sundered his opponent’s bow. At the same time, he smashed his armor with a number of crescent-headed shafts.

Seeing his opponent momentarily stunned, Sātyaki took up a long arrow resembling a golden spear. He fixed it to his bow and charged it with mantras. The shaft hit Somadatta in the chest and split his heart in two. He fell from his chariot like a sal tree severed at its root. The Kauravas wailed in anguish. Seizing their advantage, the Pāṇḍava forces pressed them back with a brutal assault. Headed by Bhīma, Yudhiṣṭhira and the twins, they flew against their dispirited foes with furious yells.

Duryodhana went over to Karṇa. “The time has now come, O you who are devoted to your friends, when your friends seek your assistance. O Karṇa, save my soldiers. The Pāṇḍavas are roaring in ecstasy and crushing our forces like Indra crushes the Asuras.”

Karṇa reassured the anxious Kaurava. “O King, I will soon destroy the Pāṇḍavas. The time has come for me to kill Arjuna. With him gone, his brothers will be finished and your victory will be assured. I will employ the unfailing dart Indra gave me. Give up your sorrow. After killing Arjuna, I will destroy your other enemies and hand you the earth.”

Karṇa broke away from Duryodhana and roared. He looked at the dart secure in its golden case at the front of his chariot. So far, no opportunity had arisen for him to use it. Arjuna had always been engaged in some other part of the field. But things were coming to a head. The war was reaching its climax and all the great fighters would soon meet in fights to the finish. He would challenge Arjuna to single combat. One way or another, it would be their final encounter.

Kṛpa was nearby and overheard Karṇa’s words. He laughed. “Well spoken, son of Radha. If only words were sufficient, Duryodhana could consider himself successful. O hero, we have yet to see your words backed by action. Whenever you have encountered the Pāṇḍavas, you have been defeated.”

Kṛpa reminded Karṇa of the incident with the Gandharvas in the forest and of the battle on Virata’s field. “Your boasts are like the roaring of rainless autumn clouds. They will cease the moment you face Pārtha in battle. Roar now while you are still beyond the range of his arrows, for when you are pierced by his shafts, you will be silent forever.”

Upset by Kṛpa’s words, Karṇa replied, “Why do you revile me, O Brahmin? Wise men who know their own power roar and speak of their strength. Thus they gain inspiration to perform great deeds. You will soon see the proof of my boasts when I slay Arjuna, together with Kṛṣṇa, Dṛṣṭadyumna and all their followers.”

Kṛpa looked disdainfully at Karṇa. “Your words are little more than a madman’s ravings. Arjuna cannot be slain by any creature within the three worlds, nor can the virtuous Yudhiṣṭhira be conquered. Simply by his angry glance he could, if he desired, consume all beings. It is only his compassion and piety that allows us to live. Kṛṣṇa always protects him and his brothers, and no one can know or approach Kṛṣṇa. It is only your impudence that allows you to think you can face Arjuna in battle.”

Karṇa tried to smile through his rising anger. “No doubt your words are true, twice-born one. The Pāṇḍavas are all this and more. Yet I am greater and will still vanquish my enemy. Do not underestimate me and consider me an ordinary man. I still have in my possession Indra’s infallible dart. It will kill whomever I hurl it at. Indra himself told me that. The gods’ words are never futile. I plan to direct this dart at Arjuna. When I slay him, he will join his father in heaven. His brothers will then be incapable of continuing the fight. This is why I roar, O weak Brahmin, seeing our imminent victory.”

Karṇa lost control of his temper and insulted Kṛpa. He accused him of favoring the Pāṇḍavas and threatened to cut out his tongue if he again spoke in such a way. Raising his voice he went on, “I see no real prowess in the Pāṇḍavas’ feats. We are also destroying their forces. The fact that great heroes like Bhīṣma, Bhagadatta, Bhurisrava, Somadatta, Jayadratha and others now lie on the battlefield is only due to fate. How could the Pāṇḍavas have slain such men, especially in the presence of Droṇa, you, the king, me, and other heroes? Only adverse destiny is to blame; but you, O most base of men, choose to praise our enemies. You will soon see their actual power when they meet with me in battle.”

Aśvatthāmā heard Karṇa insulting his maternal uncle. Droṇa’s son had never had much time for Karṇa, who showed little respect for his elders. Now he had gone too far. Kṛpa was a Brahmin and the Kurus’ teacher. He did not deserve to be mistreated by the charioteer’s son. Aśvatthāmā took out his sword and jumped from his chariot, roaring at Karṇa. “How dare you speak like that, fool! The ācārya spoke the truth about Arjuna and his brothers, but because you are envious you could not tolerate it. O wretch of a charioteer, you brag too much and do little. We have already seen your power when matched against Arjuna. Even the celestials and Asuras could not overcome Arjuna. Still, you hope to somehow defeat him yourself. Besides his own strength, Arjuna has the unconquerable Kṛṣṇa as his ally. O vilest of men, I will not stand by as you insult my uncle. Stand before me and I will cut your head from your body.”

Karṇa came down from his chariot to meet Aśvatthāmā’s challenge. Seeing two of his most powerful fighters ready to fight to the death, Duryodhana became alarmed. He ran forward and stood between them, placing a hand on each of their shoulders.

Karṇa drew out his sword and said, “O best of the Kurus, stand aside. This one of evil understanding shall now taste my power.”

Still holding onto both men, Duryodhana said, “O Aśvatthāmā, please forgive him. Do not be angry with Karṇa. The Pāṇḍavas are shouting out their battle cries and coming at us from all sides. I need you both if we are to overpower them. Be pacified.”

Seeing Duryodhana’s anxiety, Aśvatthāmā calmed himself and said, “O Karṇa, I forgive you. Arjuna will soon enough crush your swelling pride.”

Reluctantly, Karṇa pulled away from Duryodhana and lowered his sword. Still seething, he glared at Aśvatthāmā.

Kṛpa, who was naturally of a mild disposition, said, “O wicked- minded Karṇa, I also forgive you. It is a fact that Arjuna will soon destroy your arrogance.”

While the Kuru chiefs had been speaking, the battle raged around them. The exultant Pāṇḍava forces had pushed forward and were routing the Kauravas.

Karṇa, still furious from Aśvatthāmā’s rebuke, looked around at the Pāṇḍava troops. It was time to show his full power. He remounted his chariot and charged into the fray. Drawing his long bow back to his ear, he began to release shafts that flew like fire-tipped rockets. Charioteers and horsemen fell by the hundreds as the arrows whistled from his bow.

Some of the Pāṇḍava warriors shouted, “Here is Karṇa! O Karṇa, most sinful of men, give us battle.” Others said, “This crooked-minded man is the root of all these evils. He deserves to be killed by every king who values virtue. Arrogant and sinful, he abides by Duryodhana’s order. Slay him at once!”

Yudhiṣṭhira marshaled his troops into a force that surrounded Karṇa. Thousands of warriors rained down arrows, darts, lances and iron balls covered with flaming oil. Seeing himself assailed by so many warriors, Karṇa displayed his skill as he whirled about on his chariot and countered their attack. Thousands of weapons dropped uselessly to the earth as Karṇa fearlessly cut them to pieces with his arrows.

Shaking their bows and roaring, the Pāṇḍavas stepped up their attack. They covered Karṇa with a mass of arrows that screened him from view, but Karṇa broke through the assault by firing his own shafts with blinding speed. Coming clear of the shower of weapons, he launched a counter-offensive. He mowed down the Pāṇḍava troops. Sending arrows inspired by mantras, he slew thousands of warriors at a time. As Karṇa ranged about like the sun pouring forth scorching rays at noon, the Pāṇḍava army cried out. They looked about for a protector and ran here and there in fear.

Bhīma then rushed forward and challenged Karṇa. Karṇa clenched his teeth and shot a powerful shaft that cut down Bhīma’s standard. As the tall pole fell, he fired four more arrows that killed his horses. With another five shafts he pierced Vishoka, who leapt down and ran across to Sātyaki’s chariot, arrows protruding from his body.

Incensed, Bhīma took up a long, steel-tipped lance. Balancing it in his hand he hurled it with all his power. Karṇa cut it down with ten arrows. As the fragments of the lance fell to the ground, Bhīma took up a resplendent sword and a shield decorated with a hundred moons. He leapt from his chariot and rushed at Karṇa, who destroyed the shield with a dozen razor-faced arrows. Undaunted, Bhīma flung the sword and it flew at Karṇa like a dart, hitting his bow and cutting it in half.

Karṇa took up another bow and aimed hundreds of shafts at Bhīma. Bhīma bounded high into the air and landed next to Karṇa’s chariot. Seeing him appear like Yamarāja himself, Karṇa ducked down in his chariot. His charioteer urged on his horses and the chariot pulled away from Bhīma. Karṇa stood again on the terrace of his chariot and launched fifty steel arrows at Bhīma almost as if they were one. Pierced by the shafts, Bhīma ran into the midst of an elephant division. With blows from his fists he felled a number of the beasts, surrounding himself with their bodies to protect himself from Karṇa’s chariot. Seeing Karṇa still trying to reach him, Bhīma lifted one of the elephants and tossed it at him. Karṇa cut the elephant to pieces with arrows and continued his attack. He rained down shafts, trying to slay Bhīma, who had no weapon, but Bhīma nimbly dodged Karṇa’s arrows and leapt into the air.

Maddened, Bhīma hurled horses, chariots, elephant limbs, and anything else he could find on the field, but Karṇa cut everything to pieces with his arrows. Bhīma practically breathed fire. He knew he could kill the charioteer’s son with his bare hands, but he wanted to respect Arjuna’s vow. Therefore, it was not yet time for Karṇa to die. Deciding to leave the fight, he came out from behind the elephants and ran toward the Pāṇḍava warriors. Karṇa did not relent. He struck Bhīma with hundreds of powerful arrows that checked his progress on the field. Remembering his promise to Kuntī, he did not attempt to kill Bhīma. Karṇa knew he could kill only one Pāṇḍava: Arjuna.

Karṇa rode over to Bhīma and hit him on the head with the end of his bow, laughing. “O ignorant and impotent fool, go and fight with others. You are no match for a real man. Your only prowess lies in eating. The battlefield is no place for a boy like you. Rather, you should renounce the warrior’s life and remain in the forest. Go now while I am still inclined toward you. Find Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa and ask for their protection.”

Controlling himself with difficulty, Bhīma replied, “O wicked fool, I have repeatedly defeated you and it is only by your fate that you still live. How do you indulge in such vain bragging? Even if you defeated me, what would it prove? The ancients have seen even Indra’s victories and defeats. Come down from your chariot and wrestle with me if you dare. I will show you how I killed Kichaka.”

Suddenly, Arjuna appeared on the battlefield not far from Karṇa. Seeing him standing over Bhīma, who was on foot, he sped a number of arrows at him. Bhīma took the opportunity to escape. Karṇa looked up and saw his antagonist. Licking his lips he glanced down at his Śakti weapon. Soon the Pāṇḍavas would lament.

Arjuna struck Karṇa with a volley of shafts that made him wince and drop his bow. Quickly regaining his senses, he responded with a hundred straight-flying arrows. Arjuna cut them down and continuously struck his foe with countless other shafts. As Karṇa struggled to regain his composure, Arjuna released a long arrow resembling a serpent. Inspired with mantras the shaft flew straight at Karṇa with the speed of the wind. Aśvatthāmā saw the arrow flying for Karṇa’s destruction and, remembering his duty as a kṣatriya and his debt to Duryodhana, cut it down with a razor-headed shaft inspired with mantras. He then turned to attack Arjuna and draw him away from Karṇa, who was fatigued from his fight with Bhīma.

As the armies supporting the principal warriors surged forward, a general fight ensued. Karṇa lost sight of Arjuna as he was engaged by other Pāṇḍava warriors.

The sun was setting, but neither side sounded the retreat. As twilight set in, they continued fighting with full force. More than three-quarters of the warriors on both sides had been slain. It was obvious that the war would soon be over. Darkness fell with both armies frantically seeking victory, contending by the light of thousands of torches. Barely able to distinguish friend from foe, they savagely assailed another. Blazing arrows lit the sky, and the wreckage of burning chariots silhouetted soldiers locked in battle. The moon rose and cast an eerie glow across the battlefield, which rang out with the continuous clash of weapons and the cries of warriors.

Arjuna, having annihilated almost all of the Samshaptakas, turned the full force of his weapons onto the surviving Kauravas. Displaying his long-practiced skill of striking invisible targets, he destroyed his enemies like a fire destroys dry grass. The Kauravas screamed in terror as his arrows came out of the darkness and cut them to pieces. They fled, falling over one another in their haste to escape.

Duryodhana called to his fleeing troops, “Stop! Do not fear. I will destroy Pārtha along with all his brothers. Stand and fight, for you will now witness my incomparable prowess.”

The prince shouted orders and charged in Arjuna’s direction, followed by a large division of charioteers and horsemen. Seeing this, Kṛpa went to Aśvatthāmā and said, “The king has lost all caution in his rage. Recklessly, he is rushing at Arjuna. If he is not checked, Arjuna will burn him to ashes. Go and stop him.”

Aśvatthāmā went after Duryodhana and called out, “O son of Gāndhārī, as long as I am living, you need not fight. I will check Pārtha. Why did you not order me, who am always devoted to your welfare?”

Clutching his bow and a handful of arrows, Duryodhana shouted back, “It seems that your esteemed father is protecting the Pāṇḍavas like his own children. You too have not yet displayed your full power in battle. Otherwise, how could my enemies still survive? Fie on my avaricious self, for whose sake so many kings have died. O son of Kripi, be gratified. Slay my foes with your celestial weapons, which are equal to those of Śiva himself. Who is there who can stay within range of your missiles? O son of a Brahmin, you are surely capable of routing the Pāṇḍavas and all their forces. Go speedily into battle and do us good. We now depend on you.”

Duryodhana had stopped some distance from Arjuna. He could see Hanumān on his banner glowing in the darkness. Arjuna’s chariot roved about the field leaving a trail of destruction as flaming arrows shot out in all directions.

Aśvatthāmā replied, “O Kaurava, it is true that the Pāṇḍavas are dear to my father, just as they are dear to me. We are also dear to them. But in battle, it is different. All friendships are forgotten. Karṇa, Śalya, Kṛtavarmā, Kṛpa, my father and I are doing all we can to defeat them.”

Aśvatthāmā was tired of hearing Duryodhana’s continuous accusations, especially against his father. Seeing the Kaurava prince as his equal in age and accomplishments--and his inferior in caste--he reproached him. “Surely, O King, you are mean-minded and possessed of crooked intelligence. Because you are conceited, sinful and avaricious, you trust nobody. Nevertheless, I will not abandon my duty. Today I will use all my power for your sake. You will see the Pañchālas, Somakas and Cediś totally destroyed. I will send whoever confronts me to Yamarāja’s mansion for their final reckoning.”

Aśvatthāmā’s chariot pulled away from Duryodhana and charged straight into the thick of the battle. Plunging into the Pañchāla forces, he called out, “O mighty chariot-warriors, strike me in a body and show your prowess. Stay in battle and be calm, because I will now display my power.”

Great showers of arrows were immediately directed at Aśvatthāmā, who quickly countered the attack. Before the Pāṇḍavas’ eyes he began annihilating the troops that surrounded him. Dṛṣṭadyumna approached him and shouted, “O preceptor’s son, why are you slaying ordinary soldiers? Here I am. If you are really a hero, then fight with me. I will soon dispatch you to Death’s abode.”

Dṛṣṭadyumna struck Aśvatthāmā with thick flights of dreadful-looking arrows. They pierced his body like maddened bees entering a flowering tree in search of honey. Aśvatthāmā became as furious as a kicked serpent. With blood running from his wounds, he dauntlessly resisted Dṛṣṭadyumna’s attack with his own shafts. Rebuking him in harsh words, he covered him with a volley of steel arrows.

Dṛṣṭadyumna laughed. “O Brahmin of wicked understanding, do you not know my origin and destiny? I will slay your father, and then I will kill you. You can leave today in safety. I will not kill you while your father still lives, for he deserves his death before you. When the sun rises tomorrow, I will cut him down with my arrows. A Brahmin who forgets his duty and takes up arms is a sinful wretch who deserves to be killed by any honest kṣatriya.”

Beside himself with rage, Aśvatthāmā fired innumerable arrows at Dṛṣṭadyumna. The Pañchāla prince stood unmoving on his chariot and warded off Aśvatthāmā’s attack. As the fight between the two heroes continued, the celestials watched in awe from the sky. Both men displayed mystical weapons, which lit up the heavens. Unable to gain the advantage over Dṛṣṭadyumna, Aśvatthāmā suddenly slew his horses and charioteer. He then rushed past him and slaughtered the Pañchāla troops by the thousands. Before anyone could check him, he had sent ten thousand horsemen and infantry to the next world.

Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma and the twins came swiftly to protect the troops, and a general battle ensued by the light of the rising moon. Heroes engaged with heroes and troops battled troops. As they fought on into the night, they recognized each other only by their shouts as they called out their names. With the onset of night, Ghaṭotkaca felt his strength doubled. Having recovered from Aśvatthāmā’s attack, he came back to the fight. Seeing him on the battlefield again, Kṛṣṇa said to Arjuna, “Behold Bhīma’s mighty son. In my opinion, he is the only warrior, other than yourself, capable of defeating Karṇa. We should at once send him against the charioteer’s son. Just see how Karṇa is destroying our troops. He is like the rising sun even at this grim hour. His arrows are mangling our troops. Look, they are fleeing in every direction.”

Kṛṣṇa pointed to Karṇa’s standard, lit up by torches and visible in the distance. Bent on annihilating the remaining Pāṇḍava forces, he ranged about the field with his bow constantly drawn, sending out fire-tipped arrows in unending lines.

Kṛṣṇa continued. “I do not think the time has come when you should confront Karṇa. He still has Indra’s Śakti weapon, which he is preserving for you, O Pārtha. Therefore, summon Ghaṭotkaca and order him to check the arrogant suta’s son. The Rākṣasa chief is conversant with every kind of Asuric weapon and will surely be a great threat to Karṇa.”

Arjuna looked across at Karṇa. He longed for the moment when he would be able to curb his pride once and for all. The Pāṇḍava knew about his Śakti weapon, but it did not bother him. He had faced every kind of celestial missile before in battle. Kṛṣṇa’s infallible advice, however, should be followed. Perhaps the Śakti was more powerful than he thought. Arjuna summoned Ghaṭotkaca and the Rākṣasa soon appeared before him, encased in armor and ready with bow and sword. Offering obeisances before both Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, he said, “Here I am, O rulers of men. Please order me.”

Kṛṣṇa replied, “Take my blessings, O Ghaṭotkaca, and hear what must be done. The hour for you to display your prowess has arrived. I do not see another who can accomplish what you can do. Over there stands the powerful Karṇa, hurling his weapons and scorching our army. None can stand before him but you. Therefore, become the raft which will carry us across the frightful Kaurava ocean, where Karṇa is its shark. Rescue your fathers and uncles, for this is the reason why a man begets sons. You are indeed a worthy son of Bhīma, O Rākṣasa, as you always desire his welfare. Use your illusions and power to check the fierce bowman Karṇa. Pāṇḍu’s sons, headed by Dṛṣṭadyumna, will engage with Droṇa and his forces.”

Arjuna told Ghaṭotkaca that he would send Sātyaki to protect him from other attacks as he fought with Karṇa. He should simply concentrate all his power on the suta’s son and his followers.

Ghaṭotkaca was overjoyed at the opportunity to serve his uncle and Kṛṣṇa. “I am up to this task, O Bharata. I am surely a match for Karṇa and any other powerful hero who cares to face me. As long as the world exists, men will speak of the battle I will fight tonight. Fighting in the Rākṣasa mode, I will spare no one, even those who solicit mercy with folded palms.”

Bowing again before Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa, Ghaṭotkaca then left and rushed toward Karṇa. He launched flaming arrows at him from a distance of two miles and bellowed out his challenge. Seeing the huge Rākṣasa bearing down upon him, Karṇa stopped slaughtering the Pāṇḍava troops and turned to face him. As a violent encounter took place, Alambusha approached Duryodhana and said, “Permit me to engage with the Pāṇḍavas, O King. I desire to slay them and offer their blood as an oblation to my deceased relatives. By some Rākṣasa-killing charm they managed to kill my brother Baka and my father Jatasura, but they will not escape me, for this night hour has doubled my power.”

Duryodhana smiled at the Rākṣasa. “Go and challenge Ghaṭotkaca. He is of your race and is waging a terrible battle with Karṇa. Ever devoted to the interests of the Pāṇḍavas, he is creating carnage among my troops.”

Alambusha looked across at Ghaṭotkaca and licked his lips. “I go at once.” He mounted his iron chariot with its spikes protruding from the sides and, uttering a deafening roar, charged.

Ghaṭotkaca, screaming hideously, maintained an unending assault on Karṇa and, at the same time, destroyed thousands of the warriors who supported him. As Alambusha came at him, he laughed and released a powerful volley of long iron shafts with flaming points. The scorching arrows struck Alambusha and checked his progress. Employing his Rākṣasa powers, Ghaṭotkaca then caused a tremendous downpour of shafts to appear on the battlefield. They fell on Karṇa, Alambusha, and all the Kauravas surrounding them. Alambusha displayed similar skills to produce arrows which countered those of his foe. For some time the two Rākṣasas fought, both exhibiting mystical illusions. Flaming rocks and lances fell from the sky. Ferocious beasts and ghastly-looking wraiths and spirits rose from the ground; their screams terrified the Kaurava soldiers who ran in fear. Even in the dark of night, an even denser darkness suddenly set in, making everything invisible.

As one Rākṣasa created an illusion, the other countered it with his own power. They fired countless arrows at one another and hurled darts, maces, iron balls, axes and lances. They roared in fury, making the earth vibrate. Ghaṭotkaca succeeded in smashing his opponent’s chariot with a number of steel shafts shot in swift succession. Alambusha leapt down and flew at Ghaṭotkaca with outstretched arms. He struck his antagonist with his bare fists, and Ghaṭotkaca shook like a mountain in an earthquake. Raising his own bludgeon-like arm, he dealt a crushing blow to Alambusha that sent him sprawling. Ghaṭotkaca jumped onto his foe and pressed his neck, but Alambusha wrestled himself free. The two Rākṣasas fought hand to hand as the hair of onlookers stood erect in fear. Striking and kicking, they threw each other to the ground. Both changed shapes--one becoming a great serpent and the other an eagle, one an elephant and the other a tiger, then a pair of sharabhas. Rising into the sky, they appeared like two planets colliding. They fought wonderfully, attacking each other with mallets, swords, spears, trees and mountain peaks.

Gradually, Ghaṭotkaca’s superior strength began to tell. Seeing Alambusha tiring, he seized him by the hair. He dashed him to the ground and dealt him a great kick. Taking hold of a shining scimitar, he jerked his head upwards and severed it from his trunk. Ghaṭotkaca got onto his chariot still holding the head. He went over to Duryodhana and tossed it into his chariot. Seeing the blood-soaked head, its face contorted and hair disheveled, Duryodhana was shocked. He looked over at Ghaṭotkaca, who shouted, “Just see your friend, O King, whose great prowess you have personally witnessed. You are destined to see Karṇa and indeed yourself meet a similar end. The scriptures say that one should never go before a king with empty hands. Accept, then, this head as my gift to you. Be free from anxiety only for as long as I do not slay Karṇa.”

Ghaṭotkaca turned away from Duryodhana and resumed his attack on Karṇa, who was hemmed in by Pāṇḍava warriors striving to hold him in check. The Rākṣasa sent a stream of shafts at Karṇa and the fight between them carried on in earnest. Like two tigers tearing each other with their claws, they mangled each other with their lances, arrows and darts. Their blazing shafts lit up the battlefield. No one could look at them as they released their weapons. Covered with wounds and steeped in their own blood, they resembled two hills of red chalk with rivulets flowing down their sides. Even though both were endeavoring to their utmost, they could not make the other flinch. The twang of their bows filled the four quarters like the continuous rumbling of thunder.

Realizing that he could not overpower his foe with arrows, Ghaṭotkaca invoked the Rākṣasa weapon. Karṇa was immediately encircled by a force of demons armed with large rocks, lances, trees and clubs. Other Rākṣasas appeared in the sky and rained down an incessant shower of javelins, battle-axes and iron wheels on Karṇa and the Kaurava army. Everyone fled in alarm. Only Karṇa, proud of his strength, did not flee. With tens of thousands of arrows he checked the Rākṣasa illusions and countered their weapons. Ghaṭotkaca rushed at Karṇa with his mace whirling above his head. Karṇa cut the mace apart with a dozen arrows and pierced his chest with twenty more. Stopped in his tracks, Ghaṭotkaca hurled at Karṇa a razor-edged discus adorned with jewels and shining brilliantly. Karṇa again cut the weapon to pieces almost as soon as it left the Rākṣasa’s hand.

Seeing his discus fall in fragments, Ghaṭotkaca blazed up in anger and covered Karṇa with arrows as Rāhu covers the sun. Karṇa countered his attack and sent a similar number of shafts at his foe. Ghaṭotkaca rose into the sky and soared above Karṇa’s head. He dropped rocks and trees on him by the hundreds, but Karṇa smashed them to pieces with his arrows. Invoking a celestial weapon, Karṇa pierced Ghaṭotkaca all over his body with so many arrows that he appeared like a porcupine with erect quills.

Ghaṭotkaca used his own illusory powers to counter Karṇa’s weapon, then disappeared from view. Suddenly, showers of arrows began to appear from all parts of the sky and from every quarter. They fell upon the Kauravas and Karṇa from all sides. Karṇa invoked other divine weapons, but Ghaṭotkaca appeared in a form with many huge heads and swallowed them. He ranged about the heavens and on the ground, seeming to be in many places at once. At one moment he was seen in a vast form and in the next he was as small as a thumb. He entered the earth and went high into the sky. Appearing at a great distance, he suddenly reappeared right next to Karṇa.

Ghaṭotkaca created a mountain on the battlefield which issued forth a shower of weapons. Karṇa, unruffled, broke the mountain to pieces by means of a celestial missile. The Rākṣasa then created a dense blue cloud above Karṇa that dropped a thick shower of boulders. Karṇa blew the cloud away with the Vāyavya weapon. With limitless arrows, he continuously destroyed the Rākṣasa illusions. Thousands of demons then attacked Karṇa with every kind of deadly weapon. Karṇa checked all his attackers with swift shafts shot with such speed that they could not be seen until they struck their target. The afflicted Rākṣasa forces appeared like a host of wild elephants assailed by an angry lion. Karṇa destroyed them like the god of fire burning down all creatures at the end of creation. Only Ghaṭotkaca could stand before the enraged Karṇa as he released his weapons.

Bhīma’s son then created a chariot created by his own powers of illusion. The chariot resembled a hill and was yoked to a hundred goblin-headed asses as big as elephants. They drew Ghaṭotkaca close to Karṇa, and the Rākṣasa hurled a celestial lance at him that blazed through the sky like a lightning bolt. Amazing all the onlookers, Karṇa caught the lance and threw it back at Ghaṭotkaca. The surprised Rākṣasa leapt clear and the lance hit his chariot, smashing it into a thousand flaming pieces and killing its horses and charioteer. As his chariot exploded, Ghaṭotkaca rose again into the sky. Karṇa directed numerous celestial weapons at him, but he avoided them all by his agility and illusory powers.

He multiplied himself into a hundred forms so that Karṇa could not distinguish which of them was actually his enemy. Then he made ferocious animals appear from all directions. Lions, tigers, hyenas, fire-tongued snakes and iron-beaked vultures issued forth and ran screaming or roaring at Karṇa and the other Kauravas. Packs of wolves and leopards with gruesome features rushed across the field, along with numerous ghosts, pishachas, jinn and men with beasts’ heads. Karṇa remained steadfast on his chariot and struck all the creatures with straight-flying shafts. Uttering incantations sacred to the sun-god, he burned up his assailants by the tens of thousands. Struck by Karṇa’s mantra-charged arrows, their bodies fell to the earth in charred and mutilated pieces.

Ghaṭotkaca vanished from sight and boomed out at Karṇa from across the sky, “Your end is near, wretch. Wait and I will slay you.”

Karṇa, unable to see his opponent, covered the sky with arrows. Suddenly, a great red cloud appeared in the heavens, casting a red glow over the battlefield. It emitted flashes of lightning and tongues of fire. The cloud roared as if thousands of drums were being beaten simultaneously. From it fell countless gold-winged shafts, spears, heavy clubs, spiked bludgeons, razor-edged discuses and numerous other weapons. They dropped on the surviving Kauravas, who wailed in distress. From out of the cloud flew thousands of Rākṣasas clutching spears and battle-axes. They ranged about the sky like flying mountains. With blazing faces and sharp teeth, the monstrous demons struck terror into the Kauravas’ hearts. Descending onto the battlefield, they slaughtered Duryodhana’s forces without mercy. A confused din arose in the gloom of the night battle as thousands of brave warriors lost their lives. Unable to stand against their attackers, the Kauravas fled. As they ran they cried, “Run! All is lost! The gods with Indra at their head have come to destroy us.”

Karṇa alone, covered by arrows, remained fearless. He fought back against the Rākṣasas, warding off their attack and sending his blazing steel shafts into the sky and in all directions. Closing on his intrepid foe, Ghaṭotkaca hurled four irresistible lances that slew Karṇa’s horses. Karṇa saw him swiftly approaching, his scimitar held high. All around him he heard the Kauravas’ wails and cries: “O Karṇa, use Indra’s weapon to slay this colossus. Otherwise, he will kill us all with his mighty illusions.”

Karṇa reflected. There was no alternative. The Rākṣasa was consuming all his celestial weapons. Nothing could stop him except the infallible Śakti. Seeing that Gatotkacha would also slay him, he forgot about Arjuna and snatched the Śakti weapon from its gold case. Placing it on his bow he aimed it at the Rākṣasa while uttering the mantras. The battlefield around him became brilliantly illuminated, as if the sun had risen. Fearful winds blew and thunder resounded in the heavens. Karṇa released the weapon and it flew like a fireball at Ghaṭotkaca. The Rākṣasa saw his end approaching and suddenly expanded his body to an immense size. Towering above the battlefield, he was struck full on the chest by the Śakti. It passed clean through his body and flew up into the sky, disappearing into the heavens to return to Indra.

Slain instantly, Ghaṭotkaca fell toward the Kauravas. His huge frame crushed a complete division of warriors as he hit the ground. As he died, his frightful illusions vanished. Seeing his opponent killed, Karṇa roared with joy. Duryodhana and his brothers shouted with him and the Kauravas beat drums and blew conches. They surrounded Karṇa and praised him with cheerful voices.