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Chapter 24

Karṇa’s Prowess

Yudhiṣṭhira saw Karṇa charging at the head of the Kauravas. Turning to Arjuna He said, “Behold, O Dhanañjaya, the enemy’s mighty formation which Karṇa has arranged. Take whatever steps are needed to check them. Today, you must slay the suta’s son.”

Arjuna smiled. At last he would get the chance to slay his mortal foe. He had been waiting for this moment since the day of the tournament in Hastināpura. He would have killed Karṇa then, had he had the opportunity. Perhaps all this death and destruction would have been avoided. Somehow, it had not been sanctioned by fate at that time.

Arjuna saw Karṇa’s banner billowing in the distance. “Everything will be done as you say, my Lord. By killing Karṇa I will bring about the Kauravas’ destruction.”

As Arjuna went forward to encounter Karṇa, Yudhiṣṭhira ordered Bhīma to confront Duryodhana and his brothers, Sahadeva to fight with Śakuni, Sātyaki with Kṛtavarmā, and Pandya, the king of southern Bharata, to fight with Aśvatthāmā. Yudhiṣṭhira decided to fight with Kṛpa.

The two armies converged. On Duryodhana’s order, Arjuna was surrounded by thousands of troops. If possible, the Kaurava wanted to weaken him before he met Karṇa.

Karṇa charged into the midst of the Pañchālas and slew them on all sides. Dṛṣṭadyumna, Śikhaṇḍī and Draupadī’s sons challenged him and fired thousands of shafts. Three of Karṇa’s sons, Bhanusena, Sushena and Vrishasena, came to his assistance. They were all maharathas and they contended powerfully with the Pāṇḍava warriors. Soon Bhīma entered the fray, and Karṇa was joined by Dushashana.

With a razor-headed shaft, Bhīma slew Bhanusena in front of Karṇa. He then attacked Sushena, piercing his chest with three iron arrows that made the prince fall to his knees. Raging, Karṇa struck Bhīma with hundreds of arrows. Oblivious to the attack, Bhīma fired a razor-headed shaft to destroy Sushena, but Karṇa cut it down in mid-flight. Sushena recovered from Bhīma’s attack and rushed angrily against Nakula, who was challenging him.

Other great heroes from both sides entered the fight with joyous roars. In the melee, thousands of warriors were killed or mangled by the deadly shafts that filled the air. Karṇa cut through his opponents and met Yudhiṣṭhira.

Seeing Karṇa before him, Yudhiṣṭhira called out, “O Karṇa, son of a charioteer, hear my words. Vain and arrogant, you always challenge Arjuna and foolishly consider yourself his equal. Now your pride will be crushed. Stand and fight with me. Display your prowess and your hatred for the Pāṇḍavas. I will soon destroy your desire for battle.”

Without replying, Karṇa immediately fired a number of straight-flying arrows that pierced Yudhiṣṭhira’s chest. Infuriated by Karṇa’s contempt for him, Yudhiṣṭhira took up a long golden shaft that was capable of splitting a mountain. Charging it with mantras he released it from his fully drawn bow. It penetrated Karṇa’s side, and Karṇa dropped to his knees and swooned.

The Kauravas cried out when they saw Karṇa’s plight, but then he rose to his feet and stared at Yudhiṣṭhira. Breathing heavily, he released arrows end-to-end that completely covered the Pāṇḍava king. He slew the two warriors protecting Yudhiṣṭhira’s chariot wheels and struck his charioteer with a dozen arrows.

Yudhiṣṭhira fought back valiantly and checked Karṇa’s speeding arrows with his own. Karṇa laughed and stepped up his attack, sending volleys of barbed shafts. Numerous Pāṇḍava warriors surrounded him in order to protect Yudhiṣṭhira. They rained down arrows, darts, lances and spears on Karṇa, who then invoked a celestial missile which filled the sky with blazing shafts.

Coming clear of his assailants, Karṇa trained his attack on Yudhiṣṭhira. With deadly accuracy he cut off the Pāṇḍava’s bejewelled armor. It fell from his body like a cloud decorated with lightning dropping from the sky.

Yudhiṣṭhira hurled a large iron dart at his antagonist, but Karṇa cut it to pieces before it could reach him. Yudhiṣṭhira followed it with four barbed lances that pierced Karṇa’s armor and made blood spurt from his body.

Karṇa threw the lances aside and assailed Yudhiṣṭhira with countless shafts. Without his armor and with his charioteer slain, Yudhiṣṭhira was unable to stand before the attack. He jumped down from his chariot and fled from the fight. Karṇa pursued him and jeered, “In what family were you born, O hero? It seems you do not know the duties of kṣatriyas. I think you are better suited for the life of a Brahmin in the forest. O son of Kuntī, do not fight again with powerful warriors and use harsh language. Go and give yourself to the practice of asceticism.”

Humiliated and angered, Yudhiṣṭhira ran over to Dṛṣṭadyumna’s chariot and jumped aboard. Not knowing of Karṇa’s promise to Kuntī, he could not understand why he had been spared. Dṛṣṭadyumna bore him to safety in the midst of the Pāṇḍava forces, and other warriors attacked Karṇa.

Bhīma, witnessing his elder brother’s defeat and humiliation, was seized with an uncontrollable rage. He flew toward Karṇa screaming out his battle cry. Those warriors who came before him were instantly cut to pieces by his arrows or pounded to a pulp by his whirling mace. Seeing him approach, Śalya said, “Here comes the second son of Pāṇḍu, raging out of control. I have never seen him display such a terrible form. It appears that he will annihilate the three worlds with all their mobile and immobile beings.”

Karṇa smiled. “I will slay this one at once, and thus bring Arjuna to my presence for our final encounter.”

Karṇa released a cluster of crooked arrows that flew with a twisting motion and had razor-sharp tips. Some of the shafts glanced off Bhīma’s armor, but others pierced his shoulders and arms. The fuming Pāṇḍava felt nothing. He responded with dreadful arrows shot from his fully drawn bow. Rocked by the power of Bhīma’s shafts, Karṇa released a broad-headed arrow that sundered his opponent’s bow. But Bhīma instantly took up another bow and again attacked Karṇa.

Karṇa hit Bhīma with a hundred arrows as a hunter strikes a proud and infuriated elephant in the forest. Senseless with rage, Bhīma took up a single long shaft that resembled a lance. He discharged it from his bow and it hit Karṇa like a thunderbolt hitting a mountain. Stupefied, Karṇa sat down on the terrace of his chariot.

Seeing Karṇa’s condition, Śalya, conscious of his duty as a charioteer, quickly carried him from the fight.

Duryodhana became fearful for Karṇa and he instructed his brothers to go to his assistance. The princes rushed at Bhīma like a swarm of insects approaching a fire. Over twenty of them surrounded Bhīma, backed by a large number of chariot fighters. They covered the Pāṇḍava with arrows, darts, lances and heavy clubs.

Smiling to see himself encircled by Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons, Bhīma set about killing them one by one. He beheaded some with crescent-headed shafts, and with long arrows he pierced the vital organs of others. Killing a dozen of the princes in a matter of minutes, Bhīma sent up a roar that terrified the Kauravas. He appeared like Yamarāja himself. Impervious to all weapons, the marauding Pāṇḍava hurtled about the field shooting arrows on all sides.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s surviving sons fled in terror. Bhīma slaughtered their troops without mercy. He ranged among the Kaurava warriors spreading death and destruction wherever he went.

Regaining his senses, Karṇa re-entered the fray. He rushed against Bhīma and assailed him with countless arrows. Another fierce encounter ensued between the two. Both men continued to slay the soldiers of the opposing army even as they attacked one another.

Some way off from the fight, Arjuna’s great banner flew. He was surrounded by thousands of Kaurava troops. In the midst of those warriors, Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa appeared like the sun and moon covered by dense clouds. The Gāṇḍīva’s twang and Hanumān’s roars combined to create a sound so terrifying that it paralyzed the Kauravas’ horses.

Assailed by innumerable burning arrows, the Kaurava warriors pressed forward toward Arjuna like men advancing into a tempest. Hundreds of thousands were cut down, but they continued to close on Arjuna with their swords and maces held high. They began clambering up onto his chariot and dealing both Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa violent blows. Dozens of warriors took hold of Arjuna, but he shook them off and fought back with his steel saber. Throwing the Kauravas down from his chariot, Arjuna took up a golden arrow decked with gems and invoked the Nāga’s Paridava weapon. Suddenly, the Kauravas found themselves bound by their legs and unable to move. Great snakes, brought into being by the celestial missile, held them fast as they struggled to get free.

Arjuna remorselessly slew his immobilized foes even as Indra formerly annihilated the demons with his Vajra weapon. Seeing his soldiers tied down, Susharma invoked the Suparṇa weapon. Suddenly, thousands of vultures descended from the sky and devoured the snakes holding the warriors. The serpents fled as the vultures came at them, their talons outstretched.

Freed from their bonds, the Kauravas again assailed Arjuna with all their strength. The Pāṇḍava withstood their attack and invoked the Aindrastra. Waves of blazing shafts swept across the battlefield. Sorely afflicted, the Kauravas cried out and fell in lines as the flaming arrows tore into them.

Seeing his enemies routed and fleeing, Arjuna said, “It seems that this army has been overpowered, O Madhava. They are running like deer at the sight of a lion. Surely it is time I encountered the suta’s son. I see his banner moving among Yudhiṣṭhira’s division with alacrity. Leaving aside these warriors, O Govinda, take me to that mighty hero. I shall finish his battle career at once.”

“Let it be so.” Kṛṣṇa then urged on the horses and the chariot moved off toward Karṇa, stationed two miles away. Many powerful Kauravas came before Arjuna to check his progress, but he swept them ruthlessly aside with his weapons. The Pāṇḍava steadily approached Karṇa, cutting down countless charioteers, horsemen and elephants on the way. Twenty-five thousand warriors soon lay slain by Arjuna. The fierce barbarian armies of the Kambhojas, Yavanas and Sakas were pressed back and crushed as Arjuna made his way across the field. Another twenty thousand of their number were cut to pieces by his straight-flying arrows.

Karṇa, having broken away from Bhīma, slew the Pāṇḍava forces even as Arjuna killed the Kauravas. His arrows, with a touch like poison, felled his enemies by the thousands. Other Kaurava heroes supported him and rained down arrows on the Pāṇḍavas, who in turn sent an immeasurable volume of shafts back at their foes.

The battlefield presented a ghastly scene, with mutilated bodies lying in heaps. Headless torsos ran about with blood spurting from their necks. Their severed heads lay with staring eyes and clenched teeth. Warriors slipped and fell as they fought in the blood-soaked mire, pitilessly hacking at one another.

Karṇa once again attacked Yudhiṣṭhira. Seeing this, Mādrī’s two sons challenged him and immediately covered him with arrows. Karṇa smiled and fearlessly fought against the three Pāṇḍavas together. He cut apart both Nakula and Sahadeva’s bows and struck Yudhiṣṭhira on the chest with a cluster of powerful shafts that rendered him senseless. With another dozen arrows, he killed Nakula’s horses and charioteer. Striking both Nakula and Sahadeva with a relentless stream of shafts, Karṇa placed them both in difficulty.

Seeing the plight of his maternal nephews, Śalya said, “Why are you wasting your time? You are supposed to fight with Arjuna, now that you have vaunted your prowess. It seems you are intent on avoiding him. Do you not see him coming toward you? If you are powerful, then train your weapons upon him. Do not tarry here with the others.”

Karṇa looked across the field and saw Arjuna’s chariot not far away. He also saw Bhīma, who had been waging a battle with Duryodhana. Kuntī’s second son had overpowered the Kaurava prince and placed him in a precarious position.

Remembering again his promise to Kuntī, and realizing that he could not kill any other Pāṇḍava than Arjuna, Karṇa raced to Duryodhana’s assistance. At the same time, Aśvatthāmā, Kṛpa and Kṛtavarmā came to support their king. Bhīma, backed by Dṛṣṭadyumna and Sātyaki, assailed the Kaurava heroes with arrows resembling steel spears.

Yudhiṣṭhira, afflicted by Karṇa’s attack, left the battlefield with the twins protecting him. He made his way in shame back to his camp, unable to continue the fight. His armor was smashed and his body covered with wounds. As expert physicians tended him, he told the twins to return to the fight. They charged back to the battle, where they found Karṇa releasing the Bhārgava missile. That celestial weapon caused thousands of arrows to shoot forth in streams from his bow. Those kanka and peacock-feathered shafts mowed down the Pāṇḍava soldiers. Nothing was visible on the battlefield except the dense sheet of arrows.

Under such a fierce attack, the Pāṇḍava forces cried out and ran about in terror. They repeatedly prayed to Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa to save them. Hearing his troops’ piteous cries, Arjuna said, “Behold the mighty Bhārgava weapon, O Keśava. No one can withstand it in battle. See the charioteer’s son resembling Death himself performing dreadful feats. The time for our final meeting has come. Death or victory are now the only options left for us both.”

Kṛṣṇa steered the chariot clear of Karṇa’s hail of shafts and replied, “Yudhiṣṭhira has left the field badly wounded. I think you should first see him and ensure that all is well. After that, kill Karṇa.”

Kṛṣṇa suggested that while they were seeing Yudhiṣṭhira, Karṇa would wear himself out by fighting others. He also desired to reassure Yudhiṣṭhira, whom He knew would be feeling anxiety after seeing the destruction caused by Karṇa. Agreeing to Kṛṣṇa’s suggestion, he went over to Bhīma and asked him to protect the army in his absence. Bhīma replied, “Go at once to see the king. I do not know if he survives. Have no fear for us. I will check all the suta’s weapons. When you return, you can easily slay him.”

Arjuna thanked his brother and went swiftly to Yudhiṣṭhira’s tent. Finding him well and resting, he was relieved and bowed at his feet. As he rose, Yudhiṣṭhira, thinking that Karṇa must have been slain, said, “I am indeed glad to see you, O Arjuna. Pleasing too is the sight of Keśava. That both of you are hale and hearty even after standing before Karṇa is a wonder. That suta was like a deadly serpent with his fangs ever-exposed. Energetic and powerful, no one could resist him in battle any more than one could resist the ocean. O Achyuta, O Arjuna--Karṇa and I fought, but he reduced me to this pitiable condition. Addressing me in harsh words, he cut me to the quick. Now by good fortune you have slain him.”

Arjuna was dumbfounded. He stepped back in surprise as Yudhiṣṭhira went on addressing him in joy. “O Dhanañjaya, for thirteen years I have lost sleep thinking of Karṇa’s prowess. Even while awake I would see an illusion of Karṇa. It appeared as if the whole universe was filled only with him. Surely I rushed at him impelled by Death himself. Vanquished by him, I was released and allowed to live. Alas, what use is my life after such humiliation? Only the fact that you have killed him gives me relief.”

Yudhiṣṭhira smiled broadly at Arjuna. He forgot the pain of his wounds as he went on eagerly questioning him. “Tell me how you overcame the wicked one. I want to hear all the details. Tell me how he now lies besmeared in blood and mangled by your shafts. Without doubt, the fool Duryodhana now laments and sees his imminent defeat. That the dull-headed Karṇa, who insulted Draupadī so grievously, now lies killed gives me more pleasure than ascending to heaven. O Dhanañjaya, describe everything to me.”

Arjuna took a deep breath. “O King, you are not aware of the facts. I have been under attack by hordes of Kaurava warriors. Numerous great heroes have charged at me roaring out their battle cries. Dispatching all those fighters to Yamarāja’s mansion, I pressed on toward Karṇa. Finally reaching the indomitable hero, I found him annihilating our troops with his weapons. I then learned that you had been overpowered and made to retreat. Thus I came here at once to be sure of your welfare before killing Karṇa.”

Yudhiṣṭhira’s head fell to his chest. “Alas!” he cried.

Arjuna placed a hand on his elder brother’s shoulder. “O illustrious King, do not despair. I will immediately carry out your heart’s desire. Even as Śakra encountered Vṛtrasura, I will encounter Karṇa and end his life. Do not doubt it, for it is my solemn vow. Come and witness the fight. I beg your blessings, O King. Only say to me, ‘May victory be thine’ and Karṇa is as good as dead. Let me return to the fight.”

Yudhiṣṭhira, still pained by his humiliation at Karṇa’s hands, was suddenly seized by anger. Shaking his head, he said, “Your birth in Kuntī’s womb was in vain, my brother. How could you leave the field without killing Karṇa? Surely it was out of fear that you have come here, seeking to avoid the suta’s son. How has your promise proved false? If you had told me in the forest that you could not kill Karṇa, then I would never have left that place. All our hopes have been frustrated, like a man expecting fruits from a tree and receiving flowers instead. For thirteen years we have expected much of you, like men who have sown seeds and await the rains to fall.”

Yudhiṣṭhira got to his feet. The Brahmins tending to his wounds stood back as he raised his voice against his brother. “Why, O wretch, did you not make over the Gāṇḍīva to Keśava? He would have slain Karṇa without delay. If you are unable to face him in battle, then give your famed bow to another warrior who may be equal to the task. Due to your failure, the world will see us with all our relatives sunk into the fathomless abyss of hell. It would have been better if you had come out of Kuntī in the fifth month as an abortion rather than being born in a royal line and then showing your back on the battlefield. Fie on your Gāṇḍīva! Fie on the strength of your arms and your numberless arrows. Fie on your Hanumān emblem, and fie on Agni’s chariot.”

Yudhiṣṭhira slumped back onto his bed. He gazed up at his younger brother with eyes red with anger. Arjuna said nothing. He breathed heavily and clenched his fist around the hilt of his sword. Pulling out the long gleaming blade, he raised it to kill his brother. Kṛṣṇa quickly stepped in front of him and grasped his arm. Preventing him from advancing toward Yudhiṣṭhira He exclaimed, “Here, O Dhanañjaya, I see no adversary to try the strength of your steel. You have seen that Yudhiṣṭhira is well and should now be rejoicing. Why then do you suddenly seize your sword? What makes you yearn for fight at this time, or have you lost your mind? In a sullen mood you are drawing your sword with no apparent cause.”

Arjuna stared past Kṛṣṇa at his older brother. Breathing short and hot breaths, he replied, “I have made a vow to behead anyone who tells me to give up my Gāṇḍīva. In Your presence the king has uttered these words and I cannot forgive him. I will run my sword through this pious king and redeem my vow. What else can be done now, O Keśava? You know everything. I depend on Your advice.”

Arjuna was now in a dilemma. His anger had abated when Kṛṣṇa intervened, but he could not break a vow under any circumstances. But how could he kill Yudhiṣṭhira? Lowering his sword he waited for Kṛṣṇa to speak.

“Fie on you, Arjuna! Now I can understand that you have never waited upon venerable elders, since, O mightiest of men, you give way to anger at an inappropriate time. Those versed in the subtleties of religion would never contemplate what you are considering, O Pārtha. One who performs such a heinous act is certainly the vilest of men. Surely you are a stranger to the scriptures as you do not know what is right and what is wrong. How can you rush upon your elder brother, intent on killing him, oblivious to the fact that he is your worshipable lord? He is not an aggressor nor even an enemy; he is not engaged in a fight and, as your superior, is seeking your shelter. For these as well as other cogent reasons, you cannot slay him without incurring sin.”

Arjuna replaced his sword in its scabbard as Kṛṣṇa continued. “O Pārtha, your vow was made out of childishness. Now hear from me about the higher principles of religion. Out of a desire to preserve truth, you are ready to kill your brother, but you do not know that even truth should not be uttered where it will produce an adverse result.”

Kṛṣṇa cited a Vedic verse which described instances when speaking untruth was not considered sinful. In those instances, truth was actually considered untruth. Such times were when life was threatened, when a Brahmin was in danger, or if one’s entire fortune was at stake. At those times, to lie was not considered sinful.

Kṛṣṇa added, “In all cases, O Pārtha, the highest virtue lies in not harming other creatures. Killing in righteous battle and murdering another for one’s own purposes are different and produce quite different results. Indeed, untruth which protects against the latter may be considered truth. Your adherence to so-called truth in this case simply shows your ignorance of true morality. Any act free from the motive to injure any being is surely true morality. The moral precepts exist for this purpose. Morality cannot be ascertained by logic, nor even in every case by a study of the scripture. One must seek the guidance of experienced and wise elders to learn its subtleties. All this I have heard from the ṛṣis, O Pārtha.”

Arjuna’s head fell. His anger had completely subsided. Kṛṣṇa raised His hand toward Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “Now tell e, O hero, if you feel this virtuous king deserves to be killed by you.”

Tears fell from Arjuna’s eyes as he replied. “O Kṛṣṇa, You have spoken as a man of great wisdom and intelligence would speak. Who knows the subtleties of truth better than You? Surely You are like our father and mother. You are our only sanctuary and Your words are always beneficial. Again You have saved us from a terrible calamity. I admit that the righteous Yudhiṣṭhira cannot be killed, but, O Keśava, I am in a dilemma. Whether my vow was right or wrong, it nevertheless stands. How will my words not prove false? All my vows will be worthless if I find reason to evade even one of them. At the same time, I cannot kill Yudhiṣṭhira and myself remain alive. How, then, can I preserve my vow and also the king’s life?”

Kṛṣṇa placed His arm around Arjuna’s shoulder. “O valiant one, Karṇa has harassed the king. Heavy at heart, he spoke angrily to you. He also hoped to provoke you to slay the suta’s son without delay. Dharmarāja sees none other capable of killing Karṇa. Thus he used harsh words out of frustration and disappointment. O Pārtha, you should fulfill his desire and slay the wicked-minded Karṇa in battle. As far as your promise is concerned, here is how you may be saved.”

Kṛṣṇa quoted a scriptural injunction that stated that an elder should never be addressed disrespectfully. One so addressed by his inferior is said to die at heart. Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna to insult his brother. “Thus you will kill him without taking his life. After this, you can gain his forgiveness by falling at his feet and worshipping him.”

Realizing that this was his only recourse, Arjuna reluctantly agreed and insulted Yudhiṣṭhira. He compared him unfavorably with Bhīma, deriding his power and calling him a coward. Accusing him of being addicted to gambling and of being the cause of the war, Arjuna suggested that he should not become the sovereign. As he spoke words he had never before uttered, his heart sank. He felt disconsolate and shameful, considering himself covered by sin. Sighing heavily, he again unsheathed his sword.

Seeing Arjuna with sword in hand once more, Kṛṣṇa said in surprise, “What is this? Why do I again see your sword, lustrous like the blue skies, drawn? If you still have doubts, then speak them out. I will settle them for you.”

Filled with remorse, Arjuna replied, “I will destroy my body, for it has sinned grievously against the pious king.”

As Arjuna turned his sword toward his heart, Kṛṣṇa said urgently, “Stop! O slayer of foes, this is an act as condemned as the killing of Yudhiṣṭhira. You are surely seized with some false religious zeal in that you were first ready to slay the king and now yourself. Do not give way to sin in the name of virtue. O Pārtha, if you loudly recount your own glories, that will be the same as self-destruction, for no cultured man glorifies himself.”

Once more checked by Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna sheathed his sword and did as Kṛṣṇa suggested, speaking his own praises. He then hung his head in shame and said to Yudhiṣṭhira, “O King, be pleased with me. My life is devoted to you. Forgive my foolishness and my unwarranted words. I will now go forth and kill Karṇa.”

Dropping to his knees, Arjuna took hold of Yudhiṣṭhira’s feet. “Please bless me with success,” he said, placing his head on his elder brother’s feet.

Yudhiṣṭhira got up from his bed and spoke without cheer. “O Arjuna, dear brother, I am at fault. Because of me you have been put into danger. Only by Keśava’s interference were you saved. I deserve to be killed. Who is more wretched than I? A dull-headed sinner and coward, I’ll repair at once to the forest and let Bhīma take the throne. Your harsh words rang true, O Pārtha. I am unfit to rule the earth. Let me go to the forest.”

Yudhiṣṭhira stood to leave. He tightened his cloth and walked toward the door of his tent. Kṛṣṇa quickly stepped in front of him and bowed at his feet. As Yudhiṣṭhira reached down to lift Him up, Kṛṣṇa said, “O King, where are you going in such a somber mood? You should not take Arjuna’s rebukes seriously. He could never hold such thoughts in his heart, and he spoke them only to avoid the unthinkable act of killing you. Both he and I have acted in an unmannerly fashion, O best of men. I beg your forgiveness. Be peaceful. Today the earth will drink Karṇa’s blood. Do not doubt it.”

Pacified, Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “O Govinda, I accept what You say. Indeed, You have saved me too. I was steeped in ignorance and You have rescued me, for You never lose Your intelligence. You have carried Arjuna and I over the ocean of grief and remorse.”

Turning to Arjuna, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O hero, go and slay the suta’s son with your infallible shafts. This will surely bring about our success and satisfy Keśava.”

Arjuna was still consumed by shame for what he had said to Yudhiṣṭhira. Seeing his elder brother so deeply affected made it even worse. He fell at his feet weeping, begging his forgiveness in a choked voice. “O King, nothing of what I said was true. It was spoken only to save me from falsehood. I have hurt you most grievously. How can I ever be forgiven?”

Yudhiṣṭhira raised his brother and embraced him. He assured him that he had taken no offense. Arjuna then set his face in determined lines. Assuming a fearful expression, he said coldly, “The evil-minded one will reap the fruits of insulting you, dear brother. I swear by truth that he will fall in battle today, cut down by arrows released from the Gāṇḍīva.”

Yudhiṣṭhira held up his hand to bless Arjuna. “May you attain unfading fame and eternal life. May victory attend you and may the gods grant you continuous prosperity. Go forth, my child, and shatter Duryodhana’s hopes. I too will soon return to the fight.”

Arjuna asked Kṛṣṇa to prepare his chariot and then took his leave from Yudhiṣṭhira. After receiving blessings from numerous Brahmins, he mounted his chariot and set off for the battlefield. He blew a terrific blast on his conch shell and repeatedly slapped his arms. Seeing the mighty archer heading out in an angry mood, everyone felt that Karṇa was already slain. Various auspicious omens surrounded Arjuna as he rode out to the fight. Ahead of him flew a number of vultures, hawks and ravens in anticipation of food. Arjuna, impatient to meet Karṇa, clasped his Gāṇḍīva and stared ahead as the chariot picked up speed.