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Chapter 21

Dṛṣṭadyumna Encounters Droṇa

Beholding Bhīma’s son killed and laying like a hill on the battle-field, the Pāṇḍavas shed tears of grief. To everyone’s amazement, however, Kṛṣṇa uttered loud war cries and laughed. Dancing on the terrace of Arjuna’s chariot, He clapped His arms in happiness. He embraced Arjuna with tears in His eyes.

Arjuna looked at Him with surprise. “Why, O Madhusudana, are You showing delight at such a time? Our troops are crying in sorrow. We also are grief-stricken to see Hiḍimbī’s son slain. O all-knowing one, tell me truly why You have lost Your mind. I consider Your fickleness to be as incredible as the ocean drying up or Mount Meru walking.”

With His hand on His friend’s shoulder, Kṛṣṇa replied, “O Dhanañjaya, I feel an overwhelming happiness. Now that Karṇa has discharged his Śakti weapon, you may consider him dead. No person could have confronted him in battle if, like Kārttikeya himself, he stood with the Śakti in hand. By good fortune he has been deprived of his natural armor and now of the dart he received in exchange for the invulnerable coat of mail. He is now like an infuriated, venomous serpent stupefied by incantations, or like a fire with quenched flames.”

Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna that ever since He had heard that Karṇa had received the Śakti, He had been in anxiety. He knew the weapon’s terrible power. Even Arjuna would have been unable to check it. Now it had been spent. Karṇa could not use it again.

Arjuna looked at Ghaṭotkaca. The Śakti must surely be something extraordinary if it had brought down that mighty Rākṣasa. Why, then, had Karṇa not used it earlier against him?

Seeing Arjuna’s mystified expression and understanding his mind, Kṛṣṇa said, “Each day Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons would counsel Karṇa to use his Śakti and slay you, O Pārtha, and he would come out firmly resolved to do so. It was I who confounded his attempts. Keeping you at other parts of the battle, I gave him little chance to release the dart. He was always awaiting his chance. It would not have been long until he encountered you in single combat. O Pārtha, now you need have no fear of that encounter.”

Arjuna realized that it must have been more than just Kṛṣṇa’s tactical maneuvers that had saved him. Karṇa had surely had opportunities to hurl the weapon. His intelligence and memory must have been confounded by the indwelling Supersoul. The Pāṇḍava looked with wonder at Kṛṣṇa. If He desired one’s protection, then how could one be killed? And if He wished for someone’s death, then who could protect him?

Yudhiṣṭhira was sorrowful to witness Ghaṭotkaca’s death. He sat down on the terrace of his chariot and wept. Bhīma, his own heart rent with grief, tried to comfort him. Kṛṣṇa went over to Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “O son of Kuntī, do not give way to grief at such a critical time. In this dread hour of night, our roaring foes are cheering and rushing at us again. Seeing you dispirited, our own men will lose heart for the fight.”

Yudhiṣṭhira wiped his eyes with his hands. “You always see the excellent path of duty, O Keśava. We must surely remain in battle, despite reverses. But remembering the many services and kindnesses Bhīma’s son rendered us, my heart aches. That mighty-armed hero was devoted to us and has laid down his life in our service. The affection I bore for him was no less than the affection I feel for Sahadeva. The suta’s son slew him before our eyes. The evil-minded Karṇa was also instrumental in Abhimanyu’s death.”

As he spoke to Kṛṣṇa, Yudhiṣṭhira looked out into the night. The battle still raged all around the fallen Ghaṭotkaca. Karṇa’s illuminated standard could be seen moving among the Pāṇḍava forces, with fire-tipped arrows speeding away from him in all directions. Yudhiṣṭhira’s face set into firm lines. He got to his feet and took hold of his bow, the hand-carved horn studded with glowing gems.

The Pāṇḍava king called out to Kṛṣṇa as he moved off. “Karṇa and Droṇa are destroying our army like a pair of infuriated elephants destroying a forest of reeds. O Keśava, I think the time has come for them to die. I myself will advance against Karṇa. I cannot bear to see his prowess any longer. It seems Arjuna does not wish to kill him, so I will do it myself.”

After ordering Bhīma to engage with Droṇa and his supporters, Yudhiṣṭhira instructed his charioteer to take him toward Karṇa. As he left, blowing his conch and twanging his bow, Kṛṣṇa said to Arjuna, “Lo, under the influence of anger your esteemed elder brother is advancing against Karṇa. It is not right that you should allow him to engage in a fight with the suta, whose death you have sworn to accomplish.”

Arjuna told Kṛṣṇa to urge his horses on and to quickly follow Yudhiṣṭhira, but just at that moment, they saw Vyāsadeva appear on the battlefield near Yudhiṣṭhira, who stopped his chariot next to the sage and got down to offer his obeisances. Vyāsadeva touched his head in blessing and said, “O foremost of the Bharatas, it is fortunate that Arjuna still lives, although he encountered Karṇa several times in battle. The Śakti with which Karṇa slew Ghaṭotkaca was meant for Arjuna, and only by good fortune did he not use it on him. If a serious duel had taken place between Karṇa and Arjuna, he would surely have employed the Śakti. A great calamity would then have overtaken you. Ghaṭotkaca has saved you from that today. The Rākṣasa’s death was ordained by destiny. Do not give way to wrath or sorrow. All beings in this world must die.”

Pacifying Yudhiṣṭhira, the sage told him that the war was almost over. “On the fifth day from now the earth will come under your sway. Meditate on virtue. Set your mind on forbearance, charity, truth and asceticism. O son of Kuntī, victory always follows righteousness.”

After comforting Yudhiṣṭhira the sage vanished. The Pāṇḍava king, his anger abated, then called for Dṛṣṭadyumna and said, “The time for which you were born has now come. Go and check the mighty Droṇa in battle. For this express purpose did you spring from fire, armed with a bow and sword, and encased in shining mail. Attack Droṇa at once. Do not fear. Let Śikhaṇḍī, the twins, your father Drupada, Virata, Sātyaki, and all the Pañchālas and Kekayas go with you. Throw down the preceptor and end this ghastly war.”

Arjuna came up to Yudhiṣṭhira, who said, “O Dhanañjaya, I see now that you have been saved from disaster. It is Kṛṣṇa alone who is our protector. You should now exert yourself to destroy Karṇa. Dṛṣṭadyumna is advancing against the preceptor. Only four or five akshauhinis remain on the field. This war cannot last much longer.”

The two brothers looked around the battlefield. It was just past midnight and the troops were tired. Some of them had lain down to sleep wherever they had been fighting, unable to continue any longer. Others fought on, blinded by sleep and swinging out wildly with their weapons. Warriors were slain while almost unconscious from fatigue, not even feeling the blows which ended their lives.

Seeing the soldiers’ condition, Arjuna rode out into their midst and called out, “You men are all oppressed by drowsiness. If you like you may desist from the fight. Lay down your weapons and your bodies. When the sun rises we may resume the battle.”

Praising Arjuna for his compassion, the troops stopped fighting and rested. The entire battlefield gradually became silent as the men lay down to sleep on the ground or on the backs of their slumbering elephants and horses. Others lay on the terraces of their cars, their bows and swords lying next to them. Stilled by sleep, the powerful warriors and their animals lay with their many ornaments gleaming in the moonlight. The field appeared beautiful, like the work of a skilled artist.

Gradually the sky glowed red and the sun rose from the eastern hills. As the sun illuminated the field, the troops stirred and again rose for battle. The two sides were still intermingled in the positions where they had last fought. Stretching their bodies and rubbing their eyes, they bowed toward the east and offered prayers to the sun-god. Then, mounting their chariots and taking up their weapons, they regrouped into their respective divisions and waited for the order to recommence the fight.

Duryodhana had not been happy with the decision to rest for the night, but the other Kuru chiefs had disagreed with him. He had wanted to seize the advantage gained by Ghaṭotkaca’s death. The huge Rākṣasa had killed thousands of warriors as he fell, evening the odds between the two armies. Duryodhana was infuriated that the Kauravas had not been able to gain the upper hand when they had the chance. Going to Droṇa he said harshly, “You should have shown no quarter to our weakened enemy. You should not have permitted our troops to follow Arjuna’s order. Again and again you have spared the Pāṇḍavas. This is my own ill luck.”

Droṇa looked angrily at the prince. “Here I am, still clad in armor and striving to kill your enemies, and I will do whatever can be done by the might of one’s arms. Still, I do not see that we will defeat the Pāṇḍavas, especially Arjuna. If he comes at us in a wrathful mood, we will all be swiftly dispatched to Yamarāja’s mansion. How is it that you fail to understand this truth, O King, when you have seen it so many times with your own eyes?”

Enraged to hear Droṇa praising Arjuna again, Duryodhana replied, barely able to control his voice, “O teacher, today, assisted by Dushashana, Karṇa and my uncle Śakuni, I will slay Arjuna in battle.

Droṇa laughed. “May good befall you, O Bharata. Your words befit a fool. What presumptuous kṣatriya would venture to fight with Arjuna, who stands with Kṛṣṇa by his side and the Gāṇḍīva in his hand? Has any man ever returned safely after challenging Arjuna? Surely you have no intelligence. Suspicious of everyone, you are cruel and rebuke even those who work for your cause. Go and fight, then, and prove your boastful words in battle. You have declared many times that you will crush the Pāṇḍavas. Today we will see you prove your claim. Take your uncle, who prefers to fight with dice, and the vain Karṇa, and stand before Arjuna and his brothers. There they are, waiting for you. Go and do what should be done by a brave kṣatriya. You have enjoyed this life to the full. By offering sacrifices and giving charity, you have no debts. There is nothing to stop you. Go and fight without fear.”

Droṇa turned away. Nothing gave him greater pain than fighting for this arrogant prince. What sinful acts had he performed in previous lives that he was now compelled to side with Duryodhana against the Pāṇḍavas? Riding into the remaining Kauravas, Droṇa gave the order to fight. The warriors cheered, blew on their conches, and beat their drums. Then they moved off in a body toward the Pāṇḍavas, determined to fight to the death.

On that fifteenth morning, Droṇa fought with Drupada and Virata. The two monarchs stood at the head of the Pañchāla and Chedi armies. Disregarding them both, Droṇa began slaughtering their troops. He quickly caused a terrible destruction among the warriors, annihilating five thousand chariot fighters in less than half an hour. The Pāṇḍavas looked at Droṇa as if he were fire. Whichever way he directed his weapons he routed the Pāṇḍava army. None could approach him as he let go his flaming arrows.

A group of three Pañchāla princes, sons of Dṛṣṭadyumna and Śikhaṇḍī, valiantly charged at Droṇa. They struck him with hundreds of fierce shafts, but he did not waver. Licking his lips, Droṇa cut down all three princes at once with razor-headed arrows, and they fell headlong to the earth.

Drupada and Virata charged at Droṇa from both sides. They afflicted him with long shafts that made him rock on the terrace of his chariot. Drupada hurled ten lances in swift succession, followed by ten steel shafts tipped with fire. Droṇa cut down all the missiles and struck Drupada on the chest with three arrows. Drupada angrily threw a dart, decked with gold and gems, at his foe, but Droṇa cut it to pieces with his shafts.

Deciding to slay his opponents, who themselves had killed so many of the Kauravas, Droṇa took out a couple of crescent-headed arrows forged entirely of steel. Uttering mantras, he released the arrows. Drupada and Virata’s heads were severed. As the two old kings dropped lifeless from their chariots, Droṇa returned to slaughtering their armies.

Dṛṣṭadyumna, witnessing the deaths of both his sons and his father, screamed out to the troops, “Attack Droṇa! May any man who turns away from Droṇa today lose the merits of all his pious acts.”

Cheered by Droṇa’s killing of the two Pāṇḍava generals, Duryodhana came to his assistance with Karṇa and Śakuni. Duryodhana’s remaining brothers also surrounded Droṇa to protect him from attack. The Kaurava warriors knew that Dṛṣṭadyumna would now try his utmost to fulfill the prophesy that said he would kill Droṇa.

In the meantime, Bhīma became senseless with rage upon seeing Droṇa destroying the Pāṇḍava forces. He came up to Dṛṣṭadyumna and spoke harshly. “What man regarding himself a kṣatriya would stand by and watch his sons and father being slain? Having uttered a terrible oath in the assembly of kings, why do you not act upon it? There stands your sworn enemy, like a sacred fire with arrows and darts for its fuel and the bodies of men for its libations. If you will not slay him, then I will do it myself. Stand aside. I will dispatch this old Brahmin to Yamarāja’s abode at once.”

Bhīma broke away from Dṛṣṭadyumna and rushed into the Kauravas’ midst. He released torrents of shafts that swept away the fighters opposing him. Dṛṣṭadyumna, chastened by the rebuke, followed him, trying to fight his way through to Droṇa, who was now surrounded by a large number of Kauravas. The Pāṇḍava forces came up behind him and the two armies merged in a frenzied melee. As the two armies clashed, the sky was screened with dust and everyone thought night had again set in. The warriors climbed over dead bodies to reach their foes, swinging their swords and thrusting forward with sharp-tipped spears. Chariots could make no progress. Horses reared, unable to move in any direction. Men screamed in pain and then fell, dying, calling out to their loved ones. Many brave warriors lay mortally wounded and filled with joy, awaiting their ascent to the celestial regions.

Arjuna, looking for his chance to confront Karṇa, encountered Droṇa first. As Bhīma and Dṛṣṭadyumna beat a path through the Kauravas toward the preceptor, Arjuna came up behind them. While Bhīma was engaged with Duryodhana and his brothers and Dṛṣṭadyumna was held by Aśvatthāmā, Arjuna sent his gold-winged arrows at Droṇa by the thousands. A mighty battle ensued between teacher and pupil that astonished the onlookers. They appeared like two dancers on a stage, exhibiting their most wonderful motions. Arrows flew through the sky like flocks of swans. Meeting in the heavens, the shafts exploded in showers of sparks and fire.

Droṇa invoked every celestial weapon he knew, but as soon as they issued from his bow Arjuna destroyed them. Droṇa smiled and applauded his prowess. In the sky Siddhas and Gandharvas watched in wonder and praised both warriors. They could not perceive any difference between them as they stood releasing their weapons without pause. Neither could gain an advantage over the other. The gods considered the fight to be as if Rudra had divided himself in two and waged war against himself. “These two are neither humans nor celestials,” they declared. “This is a battle of brahma energy which transcends all earthly powers. If they desired, these warriors could destroy the universe.”

While Arjuna and Droṇa fought, Dṛṣṭadyumna advanced steadily toward them, intent on killing Droṇa. He was followed by the twins, who were met by Kṛtavarmā and Kṛpa. The heroes contended while the armies fought savagely around them.

Sātyaki, following Arjuna’s path, came upon Duryodhana. Long ago in Hastināpura, when Sātyaki had come to Droṇa’s school, they had been friends. Even though Sātyaki had become Arjuna’s disciple, he had maintained his relationship with Duryodhana. The two men gazed at one another across the field, remembering their youthful sports together. Duryodhana called out, “Ho there, dear friend. How cursed is the duty of kṣatriyas. Fie upon might and the desire for wealth. O foremost of Sini’s race, in the days of our childhood you were more dear to me than life itself. Alas, all those days of friendship become nothing on a battlefield. Impelled by rage and covetousness we stand here bent on each other’s death. Alas, where have the carefree days of our youth gone?”

Sātyaki lowered his bow and called back, “That he must fight even with his preceptor has always been a kṣatriya’s duty. O King, do not hesitate. If you love me, then slay me without delay. By doing so, you will launch me into the regions of the righteous. Display your full prowess. I no longer wish to witness my friends’ slaughter.”

Tears fell from Sātyaki’s eyes as he spoke. He knew the days of friendship he had enjoyed with the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas were gone. Their friendly fights of the past were now in earnest. Bending his bow he shot a series of long shafts at Duryodhana, who immediately replied with his own arrows. The two men pierced one another repeatedly and roared in anger. A battle resembling that between Arjuna and Droṇa developed. The sky was filled with arrows as both warriors invoked their celestial weapons. Gradually, Sātyaki prevailed over the Kaurava and Karṇa came to Duryodhana’s rescue. Assisted by Karṇa, the king pulled clear of Sātyaki, his body lacerated by arrows.

Droṇa continued to destroy the Pāṇḍava army as if appointed by Death for their destruction. The oppressed troops’ screams filled the air as he assailed them with countless blazing shafts. Witnessing Droṇa’s power, Yudhiṣṭhira felt he could never become victorious. He met Arjuna and Bhīma and revealed his anxiety. “It seems that Droṇa will consume us. No one can check that mighty hero.”

Kṛṣṇa replied, “What you say is true, O King. Droṇa cannot be checked as long as he stands with his weapons raised. But if he lowers them, he can be slain. I think if he hears that his son has been killed, he will lose all heart for the fight. Tell him that Aśvatthāmā is dead. Then he will lower his bow and we will kill him.”

Arjuna was shocked. “I cannot accept this, O Madhava.” But Bhīma, upon hearing Kṛṣṇa’s words, immediately broke away. He raced into a nearby Kaurava elephant division. At its head rode Indravarma, the Malava ruler. Bhīma knew his elephant was named Aśvatthāmā. Whirling his iron mace, the Pāṇḍava smashed the beast and slew it and its rider together. He then rushed over to Droṇa and bellowed out, “Aśvatthāmā is slain! Aśvatthāmā is slain!” As he deceived Droṇa, his voice was tremulous and his heart wavered, but he knew it was Kṛṣṇa’s instruction, so he called out again and again, telling Droṇa that Aśvatthāmā was dead.

Hearing Bhīma’s words, Droṇa stopped fighting. His limbs seemed to dissolve like sand in water. However, recalling his son’s prowess, he decided it could not be true. Bhīma was known to be capricious. It would not be beyond him to speak an untruth in anger or in jest. Droṇa rallied himself and resumed his assault on the Pāṇḍavas. Dṛṣṭadyumna had reached him and they had begun to fight again. Holding off Dṛṣṭadyumna’s attack, the Kuru general continued annihilating the Pāṇḍava forces. He invoked the terrible Brahmā weapon. Warriors fell to the earth like trees uprooted in a tempest. Heads and arms flew about as Droṇa’s arrows fell on his enemies. In a short time, he had killed ten thousand chariot fighters before Yudhiṣṭhira’s eyes, even while Dṛṣṭadyumna assailed him with all his strength. Droṇa stood on the battlefield like a blazing fire without a single curl of smoke.

As Droṇa surveyed his ravaged foes, there suddenly appeared in the sky above him a group of ṛṣis headed by Agni. His own father, Bharadvāja, along with Vasiṣṭa, Viśvāmitra, Gautama, Kaśyapa, and many other celestial sages stood in the sky in subtle forms. They addressed Droṇa in a single voice that only he could hear. “You are fighting unfairly, O Droṇa, using celestial weapons against lesser warriors. It is now time for you to die. Cast away your weapons. You are a learned Brahmin and such cruelty does not become you. By employing the Brahmā weapon to kill ordinary men, you have earned disrepute. Stop these sinful acts and stop fighting. Your days are now at an end.”

Droṇa looked around. Dṛṣṭadyumna was still near him, roaring out his challenge. Perhaps the time for the prophesy’s fulfillment had arrived. Droṇa’s arms fell to his side. He could not continue. Bhīma’s words still troubled him, and the sages’ speech pained him even more. Could Aśvatthāmā actually be dead? Who could he ask and be sure to receive the truth? Seeing Yudhiṣṭhira not far away, the Kuru general went toward him. He was the one to ask--Yudhiṣṭhira would speak no lie.

Kṛṣṇa saw Droṇa coming toward Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “Save us from Droṇa, O King. If he fights for even a half day more, your army will be finished. Under the circumstances, falsehood is better than truth. Speaking falsehood in order to preserve life is not a sin.”

Kṛṣṇa cited a scriptural passage that sanctioned lying under certain circumstances, including times when life was endangered. Yudhiṣṭhira reflected on Kṛṣṇa’s words. He could not ignore them. He had never in his life spoken even an ambiguity. The thought of a lie was difficult to face. Yet if Droṇa was not checked, his forces would be defeated. The Pāṇḍava remembered Droṇa’s own prophetic statement at the beginning of the war: that he would be overpowered at a time when he heard something disagreeable from a creditable source. Reluctantly, Yudhiṣṭhira agreed to Kṛṣṇa’s suggestion. As the Kuru preceptor approached him, he gave him the false news. “Aśvatthāmā is dead,” he called out, adding inaudibly at the end, “the elephant,” as he could not tell an utter untruth under any circumstances.

Until that time, Yudhiṣṭhira’s horses seemed to move across the field without touching the earth. After he lied to Droṇa, his horses descended to earth. The sages looking on wondered why that was so. Some said that Yudhiṣṭhira’s lie had been the cause, while others argued that his reluctance to obey Kṛṣṇa’s order was the reason.

As soon as Yudhiṣṭhira spoke, Droṇa felt his heart sink into fathomless grief. His agony was compounded by the sages’ words, which made him feel like he had offended the Pāṇḍavas. Distracted by sorrow, he moved away from Yudhiṣṭhira with his weapons lowered. Dṛṣṭadyumna attacked. Droṇa was struck all over, but he did not resist. He was plunged into despair. Dṛṣṭadyumna attacked him with even more force and the old Kuru chief, incited to anger, finally raised his bow to fight back. Displaying his incomparable lightness of hand, he cut down all of Dṛṣṭadyumna’s arrows. He chanted mantras, invoking celestial weapons to destroy Dṛṣṭadyumna, but they no longer appeared at his command. Marveling, he fired volleys of ordinary arrows at his foe. Suddenly, he saw that his stock of shafts, inexhaustible for the last fifteen days, was empty.

Despondent, Droṇa decided to give up his life. He dropped his bow and repeatedly cried out his son’s name. Looking over at the other Kurus, he called out, “O Duryodhana, O Karṇa, O Kṛpa, fight with all your power. I will now lay aside my weapons.”

Droṇa sat down in his chariot and assumed a meditative posture. With his eyes half-closed and arms outstretched, he fixed his mind on Viṣṇu. As he entered into trance, he intoned the sacred syllable Om. The celestial sages, still stationed in the heavens, saw Droṇa leave his mortal frame and ascend toward the higher regions. It seemed to them as if another sun was rising in the sky as the Brahmin rose upwards.

Dṛṣṭadyumna, unaware that Droṇa had already departed, saw his chance. Taking up a razor-edged saber he jumped down from his chariot and ran toward the Kuru preceptor. All the warriors witnessing this called to him to stop, but he was not deterred. Amid cries of “Alas!” and “Fie!” he jumped onto Droṇa’s chariot with the sword held high. Grabbing hold of Droṇa’s knotted hair, he dragged him and, with a great sweep of his saber, severed his head. He then threw the head toward the Kauravas and roared in joy, whirling his blood-soaked sword in the air.

Arjuna had been shouting at Dṛṣṭadyumna to capture Droṇa and bring him alive to Yudhiṣṭhira. He was mortified by Dṛṣṭadyumna’s viciousness. His heart melted with sorrow at the cruel killing of his beloved teacher. Bhīma, however, cheered and ran over to joyfully embrace Dṛṣṭadyumna. Yudhiṣṭhira was afflicted by different emotions. Overjoyed that the hostilities would soon end, he was nevertheless full of misgivings that Droṇa’s death had been brought about by deceit. Like Arjuna, he was also saddened to see Dṛṣṭadyumna mercilessly butcher his preceptor.

The Kauravas were struck by grief and fear. Their all-conquering general was dead. Unable to believe it, they fled. Duryodhana, Karṇa, Śakuni, and the Kuru chiefs were overwhelmed by sorrow, and they ran along with their troops. As they rushed from the cheering Pāṇḍava forces, they encountered Aśvatthāmā moving in the opposite direction, like an alligator swimming against a river’s current. Surprised to see the Kauravas retreating, he stopped Duryodhana and asked, “Why do I see our army flying, O King? Why are you and all of our other heroes running away? Surely some unthinkable calamity has befallen us.”

Duryodhana could not tell Aśvatthāmā the news. He looked down and said nothing. Kṛpa came up to his side and Duryodhana said, “O son of Saradwata, tell Aśvatthāmā why we are fleeing.”

With tears flowing down his face, Kṛpa said, “With that foremost of men Droṇa at our head, we have waged a great battle with the Pañchālas, during which he has slain not less than fifty thousand of their number. Penetrating into the Pāṇḍava ranks, your father scorched our enemies like the Destroyer himself. None could stand before him. Therefore, the Pāṇḍavas decided upon an unfair means to check your father. Informing him that you had been slain, O child, they deprived him of his senses and power. Dṛṣṭadyumna, when he saw him anxious and desisting from the fight, flew at him with sword held high. Even as the preceptor sat in mystic meditation, and as many warriors shouted at him to stop, Drupada’s son lopped off his head. Thus did your father suffer death at the hands of a heartless warrior. This is why our troops are fleeing.” Aśvatthāmā cried out. His bow dropped from his hand and he fell to his knees. Insensible with rage, he shook like a tree in a tempest. His body burned and he knelt with his head between his knees for a few moments. Gradually regaining his composure, he stood up and said, “O Duryodhana, how have the so-called virtuous Pāṇḍavas committed such an act? Today they will reap the consequences. Disregarding me, Dṛṣṭadyumna has committed a heinous deed. I swear by truth that the earth will soon drink his blood, as well as that of Dharma’s son. If I do not slay every last one of the Pañchālas, I will not drag on my burdensome existence any longer. By any means, fair or foul, I will bring about the end of Dṛṣṭadyumna and his followers.”

Aśvatthāmā’s face glowed as he spat out the words. “Turn, O heroes, and fight our enemies. I will charge at your head and annihilate any who come before me. Today you will see me discharging fearful weapons equal to those of Rudra or Viṣṇu. I have in my possession the Nārāyaṇa weapon, which my father gave me, and which was given to him by Śiva. He was told by that unfailing god that the weapon will destroy any at whom it is directed. I will use it today to crush the entire Pāṇḍava army. It can only be discharged once, and I have saved it for such a moment of desperation. Now the world shall see its power.”

Aśvatthāmā roared repeatedly, inspiring new life into the Kauravas. They cheered him and rallied the retreating troops. To the beating of drums and the blasts of thousands of conchshells, the Kaurava army turned back toward the Pāṇḍavas.