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Chapter 6

Yudhiṣṭhira’s Fear

Sañjaya finished his description of the first day’s battle. Dhṛtarāṣṭra smiled as he heard of Bhīṣma’s incomparable prowess and the slaying of the two Pāṇḍava heroes. Perhaps destiny would favor his forces after all. It was hard to imagine anyone overcoming Bhīṣma in battle. Feeling a surge of hope, the king said, “Your words are pleasing for they describe our victory. The old Kuru chief Bhīṣma is ever devoted to my interests and will never abandon his prowess. My heart feels no shame on remembering our transgressions against the Pāṇḍavas. But that itself is shameful.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra fell silent again for some moments. Sighing, he continued. “Even hearing of our success I cannot condone the battle brought about by my foolish son, O Sañjaya. What good can war do for anyone? Apart from my wicked sons and their equally evil advisors, I do not think there were any who approved of this fight.”

The king’s mind swung between hope for his sons and sorrow at the thought of the Kurus’ inevitable death. Sometimes he was overcome by despair as he pondered on the Pāṇḍavas’ power and virtue. And then there was Kṛṣṇa. Today’s report was encouraging, but Arjuna had still to exhibit his prowess, as had Bhīma and the other Pāṇḍava generals. Many would die before the outcome was settled. He did not doubt that. How could his sons survive?

Waving away the servants who were fanning him, Dhṛtarāṣṭra shook his head and said, “Victory will doubtlessly attend the righteous, Sañjaya, but is our case so clearly wrong? Should not the throne have been mine? Does not Duryodhana have the foremost claim to sovereignty, even over Yudhiṣṭhira?”

Sañjaya did not respond. It had long ago been established that Pāṇḍu was the rightful monarch. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was born blind and that disqualified him from ruling the kingdom. Pāṇḍu’s sons were thus the rightful inheritors of at least half the kingdom, if not all. Sañjaya knew that Dhṛtarāṣṭra cursed his blindness and considered it an unfortunate quirk of destiny that had denied him his rights. In Sañjaya’s mind, it was clearly the Lord’s arrangement. There were none who could match the virtue and kindness of the Pāṇḍavas. The earth could have no better rulers--especially if the alternative was Duryodhana and his brothers.

Struggling with his inner conflict, Dhṛtarāṣṭra went on dolefully, “But there can be no excuse for the cruelty my sons meted out to the Pāṇḍavas and their chaste wife. Soon we will see the fire of their anger blazing on the battlefield. O Sañjaya, thinking of their anger, incited by Duryodhana, I am restless both by day and by night.”

Seated at the feet of his master, Sañjaya spoke frankly, but with affection. “You are the cause of the Kurus’ present plight. Why do you blame only your son? Your present remorse is like the building of a dam after the water has escaped. Listen as I describe how events are unfolding at Kurukṣetra. You will soon be consumed by a lonesome regret as this war takes its inevitable course.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra fell silent as Sañjaya again began to describe the events at Kurukṣetra.

After arriving back at camp at the end of the first day’s fight, Yudhiṣṭhira called a council of war. He consulted with Kṛṣṇa, who sat by his side, wearing golden armor and a jeweled helmet. “O Govinda, behold how the powerful Bhīṣma is consuming my troops as fire consumes dry grass. How can we even look at him as he releases his celestial weapons? Seeing him stationed on the battlefield, my troops are flying away in all directions. Perhaps we may defeat Varuṇa or Vāyu or even the mighty Yamarāja in battle, but I do not think we can overpower Bhīṣma.”

Yudhiṣṭhira’s voice was heavy with sorrow as he went on. “O Keśava, when Bhīṣma is my foe, I think it preferable to retire to the forest. It is wrong for me to sacrifice these kṣatriyas into the fire of his weapons simply for the sake of sovereignty. Look at my brothers! They have all been wounded for my sake. Not only that, but they have been deprived of both happiness and wealth because of the love they bear for me. How can I allow them to suffer further? I will therefore spend the rest of my days practicing asceticism.”

Kṛṣṇa said nothing as Yudhiṣṭhira poured out his feelings. He knew the Pāṇḍava king had no intention of abandoning the fight. The first day had not gone his way, and naturally he was frustrated--especially in the face of a warrior like Bhīṣma. It was not going to be easy to win this war. That much was already clear.

Yudhiṣṭhira continued. “It seems that Arjuna is content to be only a spectator in this battle. Bhīṣma alone remembers his kṣatriya duties and fights with determination. Why, O Kṛṣṇa, does Your friend Arjuna look on with indifference as Bhīṣma annihilates our troops? Tell me who can stop Bhīṣma? We must devise a plan to check him before he destroys the entire army. O Govinda, only by Your grace will we regain our kingdom after killing our enemies.”

Yudhiṣṭhira sat with his head down. Kṛṣṇa replied, “O best of the Bharata race, do not give way to grief. You are surrounded by great chariot warriors who are all dedicated heart and soul to your welfare. I am also engaged in doing you good. You have your brothers, as well as Drupada, Virata, Dṛṣṭadyumna, Sātyaki, Śikhaṇḍī, and many others. All of them are illustrious fighters who will not waver in battle. Śikhaṇḍī will surely slay Bhīṣma in due course. Do not despair.”

Yudhiṣṭhira was heartened by Kṛṣṇa’s assurance. Certainly He could never utter an untruth, and it was obvious that He wanted the battle to continue. Nor could it be checked regardless. It must go on.

Yudhiṣṭhira was concerned that his outpouring of sorrow may have discouraged his troops. Looking at Dṛṣṭadyumna, he said, “O hero, you have been appointed leader of my troops. Even as Kārttikeya leads the celestials, lead our army to victory. Use your prowess to kill the Kurus. I will follow behind you, along with my brothers and all the other kṣatriyas.”

Dṛṣṭadyumna replied, “O son of Pṛthā, it is ordained that I will kill Droṇa. I will now fight with any Kuru who stands before me. Let all those proud kings try their best; I am not afraid of any of them.”

Everyone present cheered. Yudhiṣṭhira then discussed the arrangements for the next day’s battle. His army would arrange itself in the Krauncha-vyuha, the formation shaped like a crow, which Bṛhaspati had devised. After arranging the warriors’ positions, the Pāṇḍava army rested for the night, with the moon casting its glow over their thousands of tents.

As the sun rose on the second day of battle, the Pāṇḍava forces arranged themselves in the Krauncha formation. Seeing this formidable array, with its atirathas and maharathas stationed at key points, Duryodhana asked Bhīṣma to form a counter-array of his own troops. Bhīṣma formed his forces into another mighty vyuha. As countless conches and trumpets were sounded, the two armies attacked. Bhīṣma headed the Kaurava attack personally. He immediately assailed the foremost Pāṇḍava fighters, led by Dṛṣṭadyumna, Abhimanyu, Bhīma and Arjuna.

Under Bhīṣma’s attack, the Pāṇḍava vyuha wavered. Charioteers and horsemen fell in quick succession. Bhīṣma’s gold-winged arrows whistled through the air with deadly accuracy. The Pāṇḍava troops were terrified as the old Kuru hero continuously showered them with his shafts.

Seeing the carnage, Arjuna was infuriated. “Go, O Janārdana, to the place where the grandfather stands. It seems he will annihilate our entire army for Duryodhana’s sake. Therefore, I will kill him.”

“Be on your guard,” Kṛṣṇa cautioned. “I will now take you to Bhīṣma.”

As Kṛṣṇa crossed the field, Arjuna sent arrows in all directions, killing the Kaurava forces in large numbers. The twang of his bow, the slap of the string on his leather fences, and the whistling of arrows leaving his bow made one continuous sound. An endless line of shafts emanated from his chariot in many directions as he whirled about.

Bhīṣma saw him approach. The great chariot with its white horses, huge ape banner, and numerous other celestial flags was easy to recognize. Without delay, Bhīṣma sent eighty long shafts at Arjuna. At the same time, Duryodhana sent another sixty, while Kṛpa fired fifty, and Droṇa twenty-five. Many other powerful warriors supporting Bhīṣma also trained their arrows on Arjuna.

Although struck on all sides, Arjuna was unmoved. He sent his own arrows at his assailants, piercing each of them. Sātyaki, Virata, Dṛṣṭadyumna and Draupadī’s sons came to support him as he targeted Bhīṣma. Each engaged with one or more Kuru heroes, leaving Bhīṣma unprotected.

Unperturbed, Bhīṣma quickly sent another eighty arrows which wounded Arjuna and sent him reeling in his chariot. The Kauravas shouted with joy. This infuriated Arjuna. He quickly regained his stance and had Kṛṣṇa drive his chariot toward the Kaurava heroes, attacking all of them with arrows fitted with heads shaped like calves’ teeth. Suffering Arjuna’s attack, the Kauravas resembled an ocean lashed by a tempest. Their armor was torn off and their bows repeatedly shattered. Arjuna routed them by the thousands and they fled in terror.

Duryodhana quickly rode up to Bhīṣma, who had not followed through on his attack on Arjuna. He called out, “O sire, see how this mighty Pāṇḍava is cutting down our troops like a farmer cutting wheat. How can you allow this? Only for your sake has Karṇa laid aside his weapons. As a result, it seems Arjuna will destroy us all. Act quickly to protect us, O son of Gaṅgā.”

Bhīṣma looked at the agitated prince. “Fie upon the kṣatriya’s duty!” he replied, turning his chariot toward Arjuna. He did not want to face the Pāṇḍavas in battle, but he knew it could not be avoided. As he went toward Arjuna, the Kauravas cheered and blew their conches. Duryodhana, Aśvatthāmā and Dushashana went with him on his two sides and at his rear.

The two atirathas, Bhīṣma and Arjuna, exchanged arrow for arrow. Each fighter released first ten, then a hundred, then a thousand shafts. Arjuna sent so many arrows at Bhīṣma that he seemed to be covered by a net, but the Kuru hero soon dispelled the arrows with his own and quickly counterattacked Arjuna. As they fought both were pleased by the other’s prowess. Neither could gain the advantage.

Kṛṣṇa was struck on the breast by three arrows and blood flowed from His wounds. As He dexterously drove the horses, He appeared like a blossoming kinsuka tree with bright red flowers. Standing on the chariot, He made it advance and retreat with beautiful circling motions. So swift was its movement that Bhīṣma found it difficult to aim at Arjuna. He too wheeled rapidly about the field, confusing Arjuna’s aim.

The earth trembled under the chariot wheels and appeared ready to split open. Those who witnessed the fight were wonderstruck. They could not mark any difference between the two combatants, nor see any flaw in their fighting techniques. Most of the time both remained invisible beneath a network of arrows. In the sky the celestials said, “These two cannot be defeated by any foe, earthly or divine. Surely this battle will be without end.”

While Arjuna and Bhīṣma fought, the two armies continued cutting each other down. Droṇa and Dṛṣṭadyumna contended like two enraged lions. As guru and disciple battled, the contest was no less spectacular than that between Arjuna and Bhīṣma. Both pierced the other’s armor, and both stood as immovable as the Himālayan mountains. Dṛṣṭadyumna, conscious of his destiny to kill Droṇa, constantly sought an opportunity to slay his opponent, but Droṇa repeatedly and fearlessly confounded his attacks. The martial preceptor displayed his unmatched ability as he fought Drupada’s son.

At one point, seeing his chance, Dṛṣṭadyumna hurled a long dart adorned with gold and vaidurya gems. It flew like a streak of lightning toward Droṇa. The moment it was released, however, Droṇa shot three razor-headed arrows that cut it to pieces in mid-air. It fell to the earth like a shower of meteors.

Infuriated, Dṛṣṭadyumna rained down arrows on Droṇa, but the Kuru warrior checked them all and at once cut apart Dṛṣṭadyumna’s bow with a crescent-headed shaft. He then killed his four horses and smashed his chariot.

Clutching a massive mace, Dṛṣṭadyumna leapt from the smashed chariot. Droṇa immediately struck the mace with a volley of arrows and shattered it into small pieces. Dṛṣṭadyumna took out his long sword and, raising his shield adorned with a hundred gold moons, ran at Droṇa. Seeing him charging like a hungry lion running at an elephant, Droṇa checked him with a cluster of barbed shafts. Dṛṣṭadyumna could not take another step but was forced to ward off the arrows with his sword and shield. Bhīma saw him struggling, and he pulled him up onto his own chariot, riding swiftly away from Droṇa.

After Dṛṣṭadyumna had mounted a fresh chariot and turned again to face his opponent, Bhīma encountered the king of Kalinga, Ketumat, and his vast army. Ketumat was supported by another monarch named Srutayush, who was followed by thousands of Niṣadha fighters. The two armies surrounded Bhīma. Finding himself hemmed in on all sides by elephants, chariots and horsemen, Bhīma laughed and began unleashing his arrows in all directions. The arrows, fired by Bhīma’s mighty arms from his huge bow, passed clean through the bodies of men and horses.

But the Kalinga and Niṣadha forces were fearless. Other Pāṇḍava troops moved in to assist Bhīma. The Matsyas, Cediś and Karushas together attacked the armies surrounding him. A terrible fight then took place. The clash of weapons and the screams of men and animals was deafening. Hacking and chopping, the soldiers made the field resemble a ghastly crematorium strewn with flesh and blood. They could hardly distinguish between friend and foe, and warriors slew others from their own side. Gradually, the Niṣadha troops, fighting with demonic fury, forced back the Cediś and Matsyas. Bhīma was left alone on his chariot, still surrounded by thousands of fighters.

Undaunted, the Pāṇḍava stood his ground. He covered the Kalingas with showers of arrows and sent up a great cry. Ketumat and his son Sakradeva rushed upon Bhīma, letting loose numerous shafts. Roaring, Bhīma shook his bow and warded them off with ease. Sakradeva fired a volley of shafts that killed Bhīma’s horses. Remaining on his chariot, Bhīma fended off Sakradeva’s attack. He quickly took up an iron mace and hurled it at the prince. That mace sped through the air as straight as an arrow. It caught Sakradeva on the chest, killing him instantly and throwing him out of his chariot onto the earth some distance away.

Seeing his son killed, Ketumat rushed forward backed by his troops. Bhīma took up a long sword forged from the finest blue steel. Holding the sword as well as a massive shield made of bullhide decorated with golden stars and crescents, he leapt from his chariot. Hoping to kill Ketumat, he ran at him with his sword held high.

Ketumat at once released a poisoned dart that sped toward Bhīma. The Pāṇḍava whirled his sword and cut it down as it flew. He shouted in the exultation of battle, and his shout filled his enemies with fear. Ketumat became completely enraged and hurled fourteen more darts at Bhīma, each with heads of sharpened stone. Bhīma cut all of them into fragments with his sword. As he performed this wonderful feat, Ketumat’s brother Bhanumat, who was mounted upon a great elephant, rushed upon him with a lion-like roar. Unable to tolerate that cry, Bhīma shouted even louder. Both yells terrified the troops, and their animals froze in fear where they stood.

Bhīma ran toward Bhanumat and leapt onto his elephant. With a powerful sword stroke he cut Bhanumat into two halves, which fell on either side of his elephant. Bhīma then swept his sword down and severed the elephant’s trunk. As the beast fell like a mountain hit by a thunderbolt, Bhīma jumped clear. He stood on the ground roaring furiously. The Kauravas looked in horror upon Vāyu’s enraged son, no longer considering him human.

Bhīma began to whirl around like a firebrand, cleaving a path through the enemy with his bright, blood-soaked sword. Heads and limbs flew about as he slaughtered innumerable warriors and their animals. He moved around the field with the speed of a hawk. Anyone who came before him was instantly slain. He seemed to be Yamarāja himself at the time of universal dissolution. The Kaurava troops were terrified. They ran about in all directions, screaming in fear.

Bhīma exhibited various motions. He wheeled and whirled. Making side thrusts, leaping high, jumping forward and then back, he moved about like a frenzied dancer. All the while his sword flashed, seeming to cover all sides at once. As he butchered them, the enemy soldiers shrieked. Hundreds of elephants fell with fearful cries. Bhīma hacked indiscriminately into the forces of the Kalingas and Niṣadhas. The ground around him was strewn with broken armor and weapons. Lances, bows, mallets, maces, darts and axes--all cut asunder--lay everywhere. Beautiful golden housings from the backs of elephants adorned the field, along with shining bells and other colorful decorations. The heads and arms of warriors lay about in large numbers, their jeweled ornaments glinting from the ground.

Bhīma could not be checked. The earth around him became a thick mire of flesh and blood. Wanting to save his soldiers, Srutayush came before him on his chariot and shouted out a challenge. He immediately shot a hundred fierce arrows at the rampaging Pāṇḍava. Pierced by the arrows like an elephant pierced by a hook, Bhīma’s anger knew no bounds. His charioteer, Vishoka, came to him with a fresh chariot and Bhīma leapt aboard. Crying, “Wait! Wait!” he rushed at Srutayush, who continuously fired sharp arrows at him. Bhīma took up his bow and sent nine iron arrows at the Kalinga king. Three shafts hit Srutayush with the force of a thunderbolt and threw him lifeless to the ground.

Turning at once to Ketumat, Bhīma similarly slew him with a number of long shafts that left his bow with the sound of thunderclaps. The remaining Kalingas surrounded Bhīma in the hundreds of thousands. All of them rained their weapons on him at once. Bhīma repelled their weapons and then took up his mace. He jumped down from the chariot and resumed fighting on foot. Wielding his huge mace he sent the Kalingas to the region of Death. So rapid were his movements that no one could touch him. He crushed his enemies and they broke and ran.

Seeing his foes fleeing, Bhīma took out his conch and blew repeated blasts on it. The incredible sound reverberated around the field and struck the Kauravas with panic. They trembled and seemed to lose consciousness. As Bhīma continued to move among the remaining Kalingas, they appeared to be in a trance. The whole army shook like a lake agitated by an alligator. Bhīma wiped out their entire army. With great difficulty their commander rallied the few that were left and brought them back to the fight.

Bhīma remounted his chariot and stood ready as more troops came to assist the Kalingas. Dṛṣṭadyumna then came up to Bhīma, followed by large numbers of Pāṇḍava warriors. As the sun approached the western horizon, the fight raged on. When twilight fell, the two armies disengaged and withdrew from the field. As jackals and vultures again gathered around the grisly scenes of carnage, the soldiers made their way back to their encampments.