MBK: 2.19: The Kauravas Rally

After Jayadratha’s death, the Kaurava warriors expressed their sorrow. Seeing so many of their number slain, the soldiers condemned Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his son. Censuring them for their wicked policies, the warriors praised Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers. Sunk in despair, Duryodhana rode back to his camp. He sat on the terrace of his chariot with his head lowered. Unable to look at anyone, his mind dwelt only on the day’s events. Surely there was no warrior equal to Arjuna. Neither Droṇa, Kṛpa, nor even Karṇa could stand before him. Indeed, the whole army combined could not stop him from killing Jayadratha. Duryodhana wept in his agony. Entering his tent he took his seat, followed by Droṇa and his other generals. No music played in his camp, and the bards were silent.

Struggling to maintain his composure, the Kaurava prince addressed Droṇa in a voice strained with grief. “O preceptor, behold the carnage among the kings who have come to our side. Even the mighty Bhīṣma lies prostrate on the battlefield. The Pāṇḍavas have slaughtered seven akshauhinis of our troops. Today your disciple fulfilled his vow and killed Jayadratha, even though you opposed him with an impenetrable array of troops. Many lords of the earth, desiring to do us good, have gone to Yamarāja’s abode. How can I repay my debt to them? Being nothing more than a coward, I have destroyed my friends and relatives. The earth should swallow me, covetous, sinful and opposed to virtue as I am. My own grandsire lies on a bed of arrows due to my wicked desires. What will he say when he meets me in the next world?”

Duryodhana stopped speaking and wept openly. He buried his head in his hands and cried out the names of his slain brothers. Karṇa came over and comforted him. Gradually he gained control of himself and sat up. He sat staring straight ahead for some time, wringing his hands and breathing heavily. His mind moved between despair and the desire for revenge. All was not lost. The Kauravas still had Droṇa, Karṇa, Aśvatthāmā, and other powerful heroes. Perhaps they could yet defeat the Pāṇḍavas, or at least capture or kill Yudhiṣṭhira. In any circumstance, surrender was impossible. It would be better to be slain down to the last man than to hand over the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas after all this. That was the least the surviving Kauravas could do to repay their slain colleagues.

With tears running down his face, Duryodhana continued. “O foremost of warriors, I swear that I will obtain peace only by slaying the Pāṇḍavas or by being slain by them. I will follow the path taken by our friends and relatives. Seeing us overpowered by our enemies, our partisans are losing faith in our power. They are openly praising the Pāṇḍavas. With Bhisma fallen and you fighting only mildly, O preceptor, our troops think we have no protector. It seems that Karṇa alone is anxious for our success. Like a fool I have depended on one who is a friend only in words. Greedy for wealth and sinful, my mind blinded by desire, I have placed my hopes where they were bound to be thwarted. As a result, Jayadratha and so many other great kings all lie dead on the battlefield. O Droṇa, permit me therefore to lay down my life in battle, just as all these men have done.”

Droṇa removed his helmet and long gloves, placing them by his side. His sinewy arms were lacerated with arrow wounds, and skilled physicians applied herbal dressings to the cuts, but Duryodhana’s reproachful words stung him more than the wounds. He turned to the prince. “Why, O King, do you pierce me with words as sharp as darts? I have repeatedly told you that no one can defeat Arjuna in battle. Seeing Bhīṣma brought down I am convinced that we are doomed. The dice Śakuni threw against the Pāṇḍavas have returned against us as blazing arrows. Vidura warned you of this, but you did not heed him. He who ignores his well-wishers and goes his own way is stupid and is soon reduced to a pitiable condition. You have brought about this calamity upon us all by dragging Draupadī into the Kuru assembly and insulting her. Such a sinful deed cannot go unpunished.”

Droṇa had heard enough from Duryodhana. He reminded him of every wicked act he had performed against the Pāṇḍavas, making it clear that the Kauravas had no one to blame but themselves for their present suffering. They had been warned many times that fighting the Pāṇḍavas would not result in success. Droṇa looked at Duryodhana and his surviving brothers. Bhīma had already slain half of them. The remainder were a sorry sight in their grief and frustration. Droṇa felt that it was still his duty to afford them whatever protection he could, but there was little hope. Standing up with his hand on his ivory-hilted sword, he said, “Seeing me sinking in the ocean of the Pāṇḍavas’ prowess, you should not enhance my grief, O King. Hear now my final determination. I will not take off my armor again until all of the Pañchālas are slain. My son will kill the Somakas. With those two armies gone, it may be possible for us to defeat the Pāṇḍavas.”

Droṇa indicated Kṛpa. “Here is the invincible ācārya. Our enemies cannot kill him. Let him exert his full power to kill the kings who have sided with the Pāṇḍavas. O Duryodhana, worship Brahmins and offer them many gifts. Make offerings into the sacred fire and propitiate the deities. We will make one last great effort. Tomorrow I will ride at the head of your army with my weapons ablaze. You will see me penetrate the Pāṇḍava ranks like a lion entering a herd of cows.”

Cheered by Droṇa’s words, the Kauravas slowly retired for the night, exhausted from the day’s fighting.

* * *

Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat silently on his throne. By his side Sañjaya gently dabbed his brow with a soft cloth soaked in cool water. The old king had lost consciousness when he heard how Bhīma had slain over thirty of his sons in one day. Returning to consciousness he learned that Arjuna had succeeded in his vow to kill Jayadratha. Struck dumb with grief, he moaned softly. Was there any hope for the Kauravas when their entire force could not prevent Arjuna from reaching the Sindhu king? The blind monarch spoke in a voice barely rising above a whisper. “O best of all my servants, tell me how my surviving sons are now faring, having seen their army routed and Jayadratha slain. Day by day my fame dwindles. Numerous powerful warriors on my side are being killed. All this is due to the adverse influence of fate.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra broke off, shaking his head. “Arjuna smashed into our host, which was protected by Droṇa and Karṇa. Even the gods could not have stopped him. Surely he is as irresistible as the surging ocean. And then there is Bhīma.

“Half my sons are dead. Bhīma will not rest until he has killed the other half. In the meantime, Arjuna, aided by Dṛṣṭadyumna and Sātyaki, will annihilate the other Kuru heroes. It is hard to believe. At the beginning of the war, our army outnumbered the Pāṇḍavas two to one. Now only four of our eleven divisions remain to the Pāṇḍavas’ three. The odds are now almost equal.”

His head down, Dhṛtarāṣṭra listened as Sañjaya described the conversation between Duryodhana and Droṇa. Hearing that the preceptor had again vowed to slay the Pāṇḍava forces, the old king became encouraged. The war was not over. Droṇa and Karṇa were still alive, as well as Kṛpa, Aśvatthāmā, and a number of other warriors. They would be burning with anger and a desire to avenge Jayadratha’s death. Perhaps, too, Arjuna would be fatigued after exerting himself so tremendously. Things may yet turn the other way. Wars had often been won by rallying troops when all had seemed hopeless.

Sañjaya, seeing Dhṛtarāṣṭra looking more hopeful, said, “O King, you should not forget that Kṛṣṇa is the Pāṇḍavas’ guide and protector. It was due to His help that Arjuna succeeded today. Your men have no hope if they oppose Keśava in battle. He is the unfailing defender of the righteous and the annihilator of the demonic. Steeped in sin and ignorant of virtue, your sons are bringing a terrible calamity upon themselves and their friends. Their single hope lies in returning the Pāṇḍavas’ rightful property. However, O King, I fear the opportunity for that has passed. This is your fault. It will result in a massive destruction of kṣatriyas.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra remembered the inconceivable form Kṛṣṇa had displayed in the hall where he now sat. After that, he had heard about Kṛṣṇa’s many glories from the ṛṣis--descriptions he had heard before. Trying to bring the king to his senses, the ṛṣis had again reminded him how Kṛṣṇa had killed numerous Asuras, who were capable of assuming forms at will and who had terrorized even the gods.

Feeling a strange sense of peace as he thought of Kṛṣṇa, Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “Even if by chance we are able to defeat the Pāṇḍavas, we will still have to contend with Keśava. For their interests He will take up His irresistible discus and rush against my forces like the all-consuming fire of universal destruction. After destroying the Kurus He will offer the earth to Kuntī. I do not see how we can attain victory. Duryodhana is ignorant of Kṛṣṇa’s position and power. The faithless fool is a slave to his own senses. He can never understand the Absolute Truth. He is like a child who wishes to extinguish fire with his hands. Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa are united as one soul. Their aims and desires are one, and even the mighty Śiva cannot thwart them.”

Thinking of his son, the king again felt sorrow fill his heart. Would he ever see him again? It seemed unlikely. He would probably die in this battle. Yet the ways of fate were inscrutable. Even Kṛṣṇa, it seemed, could not prevent Abhimanyu’s death. Surely He could not have wanted that son of His dear friend and sister to die. Gripped by the duality of realizing the inevitable and yet hoping to resist it, the king rose from his seat and his servants led him away. He told Sañjaya to return the next day and recount any events of the night, and how the battle began again.

* * *

As the sun rose on the fourteenth day, Duryodhana, seething as he recalled the events of the previous day, spoke with Karṇa. “How was it possible for Arjuna to penetrate our ranks yesterday? Before your eyes he slew Jayadratha. Even with Kṛṣṇa’s devious trick, it should still not have been possible. My once vast army has been reduced to a pitiable few by Śakra’s son. Surely this must be Droṇa’s desire. I cannot accept that the preceptor is fighting to his full power. If he had opposed Arjuna with all his strength yesterday, then Jayadratha would not have been killed. Arjuna is exceedingly dear to the magnanimous Droṇa. Fool that I was, I believed him when he promised to protect Jayadratha. Now I am despairing.”

Karṇa did not agree. “I do not think you should blame the preceptor. Heedless of his own life he fights our enemies furiously. It is not his fault that he failed to prevent Arjuna, guided by Kṛṣṇa, from fulfilling his vow. Clad in impenetrable armor and wielding the Gāṇḍīva bow, he is formidable. It was no wonder to me that he overcame Droṇa. Furthermore, the preceptor is old and not so agile or quick. How can he contend with Arjuna on equal terms?”

Karṇa and Duryodhana were riding out on their chariots as they spoke. Ahead of them in the distance they saw the Pāṇḍava forces spread across the horizon. With their armor and weapons glinting in the sun, their army appeared like a sparkling sea. Their roars and conch blasts were answered by the Kauravas’ warriors.

Karṇa put on his helmet as he continued. “In my opinion, destiny is supreme. Despite our efforts and our numbers, and even though our army contains the greatest heroes, still, fate makes our endeavor futile. O King, a man afflicted by adverse fate finds all his exertions useless. We have constantly antagonized the Pāṇḍavas, yet they have always emerged unharmed. I do not see that they are superior to us in either intellect or power, nor do I feel that you have miscalculated through lack of understanding. It is fate alone that controls everything. If destiny has decreed that we should suffer reversals, then nothing in our power can alter that fact.”

Duryodhana remained silent. Perhaps Karṇa was right. Fortune had surely favored the Pāṇḍavas. But fortune was always flickering. Surely it was time it favored him. Droṇa had sworn to annihilate the Pañchālas and Somakas, the major remnant of the Pāṇḍava army. If he kept his vow, then they might still attain victory. The prince clenched his teeth and looked at Droṇa, who was busy marshaling the troops into formation. It would not help if he censured him any more.

Duryodhana’s chariot reached the other Kuru leaders and he issued orders and made arrangements. Having agreed upon a strategy for the day’s fighting, the Kauravas formed themselves into an array shaped like a turtle. In response, the Pāṇḍavas aligned their troops in an arrangement resembling a shark. The two armies came together cheering, their weapons clashing as a huge cloud of dust rose above the battlefield.

Determined to end the conflict as quickly as possible, Bhīma sought out the remaining Kaurava princes. As he charged into the enemy ranks, he was surrounded by elephants and horsemen, who rained down their weapons on the roaring Pāṇḍava. As a fierce battle began, Dṛṣṭadyumna and the twins rushed against the Madraka army. Susharma and the remainder of the Samshaptakas, remembering their vow, challenged Arjuna. Sātyaki stayed close to Yudhiṣṭhira, protecting him along with Śikhaṇḍī and other chariot fighters.

Droṇa encountered the Pañchālas and showered them with tens of thousands of arrows. Invoking celestial weapons, he swiftly cut them down. A powerful king named Sibi, charging at the head of the Somakas, roared out his battle cry and challenged Droṇa. He struck him with thirty arrows and slew his charioteer. Droṇa was infuriated and replied with ten arrows made of steel. He slew Sibi’s four horses, cut down his standard, and severed the king’s head as he stood in the fight.

Duryodhana ordered another charioteer onto Droṇa’s chariot, and Droṇa continued to fight the Pañchālas and Somakas together.

Bhīma was surrounded by a number of Kaurava princes. They assailed him from all sides with arrows. Not concerned about their attack, Bhīma jumped down from his chariot and ran over to one of them. Leaping onto his chariot, he smashed him with his fists. With all his limbs broken the prince toppled lifeless from his chariot. Bhīma leapt down and raced over to another prince, striking and killing him in the same way. Karṇa came to the Kauravas’ protection, hurling a flaming dart at Bhīma as he ran across the field. Bhīma faced that dart and caught it, immediately hurling it back at Karṇa. As it flew toward Karṇa, Śakuni cut it down with a razor-headed shaft.

Oblivious to the Kauravas’ arrows, Bhīma caught hold of another prince and killed him with one mighty slap. He then remounted his chariot and blew his conch. With a volley of gold-winged shafts he smashed the chariot of Durmada, another of Duryodhana’s brothers. Durmada ran over to his brother Duskarna’s chariot and leapt aboard. Both princes stood together firing their straight-flying arrows at Bhīma by the hundreds. Bhīma rushed at Duskarna and demolished his chariot with a single mace blow. The two princes jumped clear, but Bhīma leapt down and pounded them with his fists. Struck repeatedly by Bhīma they both fell dead, their bodies pulverized.

Seeing Bhīma ranging among them like an all-destroying tempest, the Kauravas cried out in fear. “Surely this is Rudra himself come as Bhīma for our annihilation! Let us flee for our lives.”

The soldiers ran wildly from Bhīma. No two were seen to be running together as they fled without looking back. Returning to his chariot, Bhīma fought with Duryodhana, Kṛpa and Karṇa. As he battled alone, a number of other Pāṇḍava warriors came to his support and a violent struggle ensued.

Elsewhere on the battlefield Somadatta encountered Sātyaki. Enraged at his son’s slaughter, the Kuru leader bellowed, “Why, O Satvata hero, have you forgotten the religious codes of warfare and taken to evil practices? How can a virtuous person strike one who has laid aside his weapons? This will lead to your downfall, O mean-minded one. You will now suffer the consequences of your vile act. I swear by my two sons that I will either kill you or be killed by you today. If this does not come to pass, then may I fall into dreadful hell. Stand ready, wretch, for I will now let go my deadliest weapons.”

Somadatta blew his conch and roared like a lion. Sātyaki was infuriated by his speech and he thundered back, “O descendent of Kuru, I am not afraid of you or your empty words. Why should one conversant with kṣatriya duty quake when confronted by such threats? Fight to your utmost power, either alone or with your supporters, and I will slay you. I killed your son along with many other powerful Kurus. Indeed, they have all been slain by the anger of the virtuous and ever-truthful Yudhiṣṭhira. Having chosen him as your enemy, O lord of men, you too will follow the path they have taken. Guard yourself. I swear by Kṛṣṇa’s feet and by all my past pious acts that I will kill you today.”

Both men began to discharge volleys of arrows. Observing the fight from a distance, Duryodhana sent a large division of horsemen to support his old uncle. Ten thousand of them hemmed in Sātyaki and covered him with arrows. Dṛṣṭadyumna saw Sātyaki’s position and came to his aid, along with a great force of Pāṇḍava warriors. A deafening tumult arose as the two armies met. Somadatta concentrated his attack on Sātyaki, sending a cluster of blood-sucking shafts at him. The Vrishni hero responded with arrows that pierced Somadatta’s armor and made him swoon. His charioteer carried him away from the fight.

Droṇa rushed into the battle hoping to slay Sātyaki. Shouting out his battle cry, he hurled powerful weapons at the Vrishni warrior, who was contending with the thousands of other fighters all around him. Yudhiṣṭhira and the twins, seeing Sātyaki under attack by Droṇa, roared in anger and entered the fight. They assailed Droṇa from all sides and diverted his attack from Sātyaki. Bhīma and Dṛṣṭadyumna joined them, and Duryodhana, Karṇa and Kṛpa came to support the Kauravas. With the heroes on both sides backed by numerous troops, a fierce and confused fight ensued. Arrows, darts, lances and other weapons flew through the air. Maces collided in showers of sparks and swords clashed. Wrathful warriors hacked and lunged at each other. The heads, limbs and entrails of slain warriors covered the ground. With screams and roars they fell upon each other, blinded by rage.

Some way off, Ghaṭotkaca was moving across the field. The Rākṣasa was mounted on an eight-wheeled chariot made of black iron and spread with bearskins. Furnished with all types of weapons, it emitted a terrifying noise as it moved across the field. It was a celestial chariot, and it was drawn by beasts of the underworld who resembled elephants but who had horns and blazing red eyes. On its banner was a great black vulture with outspread wings and feet, and it gave off frightful screeches. Around its sides were red flags and rows of bones. Ghaṭotkaca stood on the chariot like a dark mountain. With his long fangs, arrow-shaped ears, unnatural eyes and bald head, his sight sent the Kaurava troops dashing away in terror. He was surrounded by an akshauhini of Rākṣasa warriors armed with maces, spears, rocks and trees. They advanced into battle with roars that shook the earth.

Seeing him advance, Aśvatthāmā came before him. Proud of his ability with weapons, he stood unmoving as the Rākṣasas approached. Ghaṭotkaca laughed and used his mystic powers to make a shower of rocks fall on Aśvatthāmā and the soldiers supporting him. With the stones fell arrows, spears, axes and clubs. Releasing an arrow charged with mantras, Aśvatthāmā checked the downpour. Ghaṭotkaca then released fifty shafts that dug into Aśvatthāmā’s armor and body. Droṇa’s son, maintaining his equilibrium, replied with a dozen arrows that cut into the Rākṣasa. Ghaṭotkaca, rocked by the assault, took up a thousand-spoked wheel with a razor-sharp edge. It shone like fire and was studded with gems. Spinning it, the Rākṣasa hurled it at Aśvatthāmā.

With twenty crescent-headed shafts, Aśvatthāmā broke the wheel to pieces. It fell uselessly to the ground like the purposes of a man under the influence of adverse destiny. Ghaṭotkaca followed the attack with a volley of shafts that completely covered Aśvatthāmā. The Rākṣasa’s son, Anjanaparva, then came to his side and joined the assault on Aśvatthāmā. He attacked him with hundreds of long arrows fitted with barbed heads and soaked in oil.

Swallowed by shafts, Aśvatthāmā appeared like Mount Meru drenched by a shower of rain. His charioteer swiftly wheeled his chariot around, and as he came clear of the onslaught, he released an arrow that cut down Anjanaparva’s standard. With two more shafts he slew his two charioteers. He then killed his horses, and with another razor-faced arrow cut apart his bow.

Anjanaparva leapt from his chariot brandishing a scimitar embellished with golden stars, but he had hardly fixed his gaze on Aśvatthāmā before Droṇa’s son cut the weapon apart with three arrows. The Rākṣasa took up a mace decked with gold. Swinging it around, he hurled it at Aśvatthāmā, who broke it to pieces with his arrows. Anjanaparva jumped into the sky and rained down trees and rocks onto his opponent. At the same time, Ghaṭotkaca fired thousands of fire-tipped shafts at Aśvatthāmā. Simultaneously countering Ghaṭotkaca’s attack and fighting Anjanaparva, Aśvatthāmā shot arrows into the air which pierced Anjanaparva all over his body. As the Rākṣasa descended to the ground, Aśvatthāmā released a broad-headed shaft with all his strength. Empowered by mantras, the shaft tore off Anjanaparva’s head, which fell to the earth like a black boulder, its bright earrings gleaming like seams of gold.

Shaking with grief and rage, Ghaṭotkaca roared, “Stand and fight! You will not escape alive from me today.”

Aśvatthāmā lowered his bow and replied derisively, “O celestially powerful one, you should fight with others. As Bhīma’s offspring you are like my son. It is improper for me to fight you, nor do I feel angry with you. Leave now while I still feel kindly disposed toward you, for a man excited by rage may kill even his own self.”

Ghaṭotkaca was even more incensed and he seemed to blaze as he bellowed, “What!? Am I like an ordinary man that you are trying to frighten me with your words? I am the emperor of the Rākṣasas. My prowess is no less than that of the ten-headed Rāvaṇa. O son of Droṇa, stay for only a moment more in this fight and I will put an end to your life.”

The maddened Rākṣasa fired his long arrows at Aśvatthāmā, but Droṇa’s son struck them all down before they could reach him. Both warriors released clouds of arrows which appeared to fight each other in the sky. The shafts collided, creating sparks and fire that illuminated the battlefield. By his mystic power, Ghaṭotkaca disappeared from view and suddenly assumed the shape of a towering mountain abounding in peaks and trees. At its summit was a fountain that incessantly showered spears, darts, swords and heavy clubs.

Remaining calm, Aśvatthāmā invoked the Vajra weapon which destroyed the Rākṣasa’s illusion. Ghaṭotkaca again appeared in the sky wielding his bow. With his numerous gold ornaments he seemed like a blue cloud adorned with a rainbow. He invoked a weapon that sent a thick shower of rocks onto Aśvatthāmā. The heavy stones shook the earth as they fell. Reciting ancient incantations, Aśvatthāmā at once invoked the Vāyavya weapon. Unlimited numbers of arrows flew from his bow and smashed all the rocks as they fell from the sky. With the divine wind weapon Aśvatthāmā went on to assail the Rākṣasa army and destroyed thousands of them.

Ghaṭotkaca returned to the ground and mounted his chariot. Surrounded by a host of Rākṣasas, who had the heads of lions and tigers and rode upon fearful-looking animals, he charged. Aśvatthāmā stood firm as the hordes rushed toward him screaming in discordant voices. Led by Bhīma’s son, they appeared like an army of hideous-looking ghosts and spirits with Rudra at their head.

Ghaṭotkaca released ten arrows that struck Aśvatthāmā like thunderbolts. Aśvatthāmā rocked in his chariot, but kept his balance. Ghaṭotkaca fired another shaft that broke Aśvatthāmā’s bow, but he strung another one in a matter of seconds. By means of celestial weapons he shot hundreds of thousands of sky-ranging shafts with golden wings. Sorely oppressed by those arrows, the Rākṣasa forces looked like a herd of elephants attacked by a lion. The shafts fell upon their broad chests and arms, piercing through their armor and digging into their leathery skins.

Aśvatthāmā became like Śiva when he had destroyed the powerful Asura Tripura in a long past age. His celestial weapons claimed the lives of countless Rākṣasas. More and more of the demons appeared on the battlefield, rising up from the nether regions to join Ghaṭotkaca. They rushed in a body at Aśvatthāmā, wielding spiked maces, scimitars, clubs, lances, axes, and many weapons unknown to men. They hurled them at Droṇa’s son and roared exultantly. Seeing all the weapons falling on Aśvatthāmā, the Kauravas felt distressed, but Droṇa’s son soon dispelled the attack with thousands of his own shafts. He emerged from the shower of missiles and destroyed the Rākṣasas by celestial weapons. Fiery darts from his bow consumed the Rākṣasa army. Aśvatthāmā annihilated Ghaṭotkaca’s forces.

With his eyes rolling in anger, Ghaṭotkaca ordered his charioteer to charge Aśvatthāmā. He discharged arrows like poisonous serpents at Aśvatthāmā and checked his attack. Completely covering Droṇa’s son with shafts resembling long barbed poles, Ghaṭotkaca sent up a great roar. Other warriors entered the fight, some supporting Ghaṭotkaca and others Aśvatthāmā. Dṛṣṭadyumna came up to Ghaṭotkaca, while Śakuni and his followers supported Aśvatthāmā. Drupada and his army attacked the Kauravas surrounding Duryodhana, with Bhīma following him on his chariot, his mace whirling as he rushed into battle.

As a fervent battle ensued between the armies, Aśvatthāmā suddenly released a shaft that looked like the rod held by Death personified. Charged with the force of Indra’s thunderbolt, it struck Ghaṭotkaca on the chest and threw him to the ground. Dṛṣṭadyumna saw him fall and he quickly took him up onto his own chariot and carried him away.