MBK: 2.27: Bhīma Fights Duryodhana

The Pāṇḍavas returned to their camp after their unsuccessful search for Duryodhana. After entering Yudhiṣṭhira’s tent, they dispatched soldiers to search every part of the battlefield. As they sat awaiting news, guards ushered the hunters in. Falling at Yudhiṣṭhira’s feet the hunters told him everything they had seen and heard. Yudhiṣṭhira rose with a smile. He immediately gave the hunters much wealth. After dismissing them, he went with his brothers to the lake, which was called Dwaipayana. All the Pāṇḍava warriors went with them, roaring out, “We have found Duryodhana. Let us finish him once and for all.”

The three surviving Kauravas, still trying to convince Duryodhana to come out, heard the approaching Pāṇḍavas and called to Duryodhana, “Proud and victorious, the Pāṇḍavas are coming this way. We must leave.”

The three men mounted their horses and rode into the forest just before the Pāṇḍavas reached the lake. They saw that the lake’s waters were perfectly still, charmed by Duryodhana’s mystical powers. Seeing that unusual sight, they realized Duryodhana was hiding like a coward within the lake. Yudhiṣṭhira said to Kṛṣṇa, “Just see how this deceitful man has used his powers of deception to avoid defeat, but he will not escape me now. Even if Indra himself comes to his side, he will die today.”

Kṛṣṇa agreed. “With your own mystic powers, O King, destroy Duryodhana’s illusion. One conversant with illusion should be destroyed by illusion. This is truth. So many Daityas and Dānavas, all masters of mystic power, have been killed by the gods by means of illusion. Therefore, act swiftly so that this wicked man meets his just end.”

Yudhiṣṭhira called to Duryodhana. “Why, O best of men, have you charmed this lake and hidden beneath its waters? How is that you now desire to save your own life, having brought about the destruction of your family and friends and, indeed, millions of kṣatriyas? Arise and fight! Where is your honor? You have been described as a hero in all assemblies, but I think those descriptions have been false. You are nothing but a coward. Just see how you now hide from us to protect your life. O wicked fool, come out and face the consequences of all your evil acts. Do not cower here like a eunuch. Heroes never fly from battle. Rather, they prefer death to dishonor. Do not destroy your honor. Stand for battle. Either govern this earth after gaining victory or sleep on the naked earth, killed by us.”

Standing at the edge of the lake with his brothers and Kṛṣṇa, with all the other Pāṇḍava warriors standing behind him, Yudhiṣṭhira waited for Duryodhana’s reply. He looked around at his surroundings. The large lake gave respite from the heat and dust of the battlefield. Situated in a cool glade, it was shaded by tall trees with many colored blossoms hanging down to its surface. Varieties of water fowl sat in the trees, mystified by the lake’s sudden transformation. A gentle breeze fanned the leaves, filling the air with a soothing rustle that was punctuated by the melodic cries of birds. The Pāṇḍavas felt refreshed simply by seeing the picturesque region, which was the resort of numerous yogīs and ascetics.

After a wait of some moments, Duryodhana called out, “O King, it is no wonder that fear seizes all living beings, but I have not entered this lake out of fear. Bereft of my army and standing alone in the fight, I am tired. Therefore, I sought refuge in this lake to rest. O son of Kuntī, you should also rest. In due course, I will surely fight with you all.”

Yudhiṣṭhira laughed. “O Duryodhana, we have rested sufficiently. The time has arrived for our final battle. Come out and conclude the war either by slaying us or by dying a hero’s death.”

Duryodhana, still saddened by the deaths of Karṇa, Śakuni and all his brothers, spoke with anguish in his voice. “O scion of Kuru’s race, I no longer desire to rule this world, deprived as I am of my kinsmen and friends. All those for whose sake I desired sovereignty now lie dead. I give you this empty earth. Although I wish to defeat you and humble your pride, even my desire for battle is gone when I think of Droṇa and Karṇa and our grandsire, Bhīṣma. I think I will enter the forest, clad in deerskin and bent on a life of asceticism. Go, O King, and rule the earth destitute of monarchs, warriors and wealth. I will remain here.”

Duryodhana’s words held a note of sarcasm that was not lost on Yudhiṣṭhira. Becoming impatient, Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “Do not rave so, O Duryodhana. I feel no pity for you. It was by your greed that everyone has died. I will not accept this earth as a gift, for that is not my duty as a kṣatriya. Nor are you in a position to make such a gift. You have already lost everything.”

Yudhiṣṭhira smiled at his brothers as he continued. “Why, O hero, did you not make the offer when Kṛṣṇa requested you to? How is it that you, who once denied me even as much land as could be pierced by a needle, now wish to give me the earth? It is not yours to give. Nor was it ever yours. Come out and win the world or go to the celestial regions after we kill you. For all your sins against us and against the chaste Draupadī, you deserve to die at our hands. I shall not spare you.”

The other Pāṇḍavas then shouted at Duryodhana to come out of the lake. Angry, they rebuked him again and again. All the other warriors roared out their battle cries and waved their weapons.

Hearing the tumult and reflecting on Yudhiṣṭhira’s words, Duryodhana became enraged. He decided to fight but was apprehensive. “O Pṇḍavas, you have friends, chariots and animals. I am alone and without a chariot. How can I stand against all of you? I do not feel this to be fair or in keeping with kṣatriya codes. Allow me to fight with you one at a time and I will come out. I am not afraid of any of you. Like the rising sun destroying starlight, I will rise up and destroy you all. Today I will release myself from the debt I owe to all the slain warriors.”

The Pāṇḍavas cheered when they heard his valorous words. Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “By good fortune you have remembered your duty, O mighty-armed one. By good fortune have you inclined your mind toward battle. Choose any one of us and any weapon. I grant you that if you gain victory with any of us, you may become king. Otherwise, killed by us, go to heaven.”

Duryodhana smiled within the lake. He fingered the mace by his side and said, “Brave as you are, O mighty ones, if you allow me the option of choosing my weapon, then I select the mace I have in my hands. Let any one of you who feels he is a match for me stand against me in battle. I will fight alone and on foot, armed only with a mace. Without doubt I will slay you all, one at a time. Not even Indra can face me when I stand armed with my mace.”

“We will see. Come out and be a man. Death awaits you. Fight in any way you like. You will not escape.”

Unable to tolerate Yudhiṣṭhira’s goading, Duryodhana rose up from the waters. The Pāṇḍavas saw the surface ripple as he came up from the bottom. Emerging from the waters with his mace on his shoulders, he appeared like a mountain crest rising out of the ocean.

The Pāṇḍavas and their followers embraced one other and shouted joyously to see Duryodhana emerge. Now the war could be concluded. The warriors waved their weapons and blew their conches.

Duryodhana glowered at his enemies, insulted by their exclamations of happiness. He bit his lips and breathed heavily. Standing on the shore of the lake with water running from his body, he looked around and thundered, “You will have to bear the consequences of all these insults. I will kill you all and send you to Yamarāja’s abode.”

As he spoke he brought his mace down from his shoulder and struck the earth, making the ground tremble. He stared angrily at Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “Here I am, O descendant of Kuru. Abide by your word and let me fight any one of you. I have only my mace. Send forward my opponent to fight on equal terms. You should referee our contest, because you are well qualified to judge what is right and what is wrong.”

Duryodhana glanced at Bhīma, who stared back at him with unbridled hatred. Both men knew the final contest would be between them. Bhīma stood with his mace by his side, thinking of his vow to kill the Kaurava. He longed to leap forward at once, bringing his death-dealing mace down upon Duryodhana’s head with all his power, but he checked himself, awaiting Yudhiṣṭhira’s order.

Yudhiṣṭhira smiled wryly upon hearing Duryodhana’s request that he judge the fight. The intelligent Pāṇḍava knew what he meant. Bhīma’s promise had been that he would smash his thighs, and in mace fighting blows beneath the belt were forbidden. Well, the Kaurava had been given ample warning. Bhīma had made his intentions clear. He wanted to punish Duryodhana for his long-past crime against Draupadī--he would smash the thigh the prince had shamelessly exposed before her in the assembly hall. There would be no sin in meting out such a punishment.

Yudhiṣṭhira, moved to anger by his recollection of the dice game, replied sternly, “How is it, O Duryodhana, that you did not consider right or wrong when you and your followers killed Abhimanyu? Without doubt the duties of a kṣatriya are harsh and merciless. Otherwise, how could you have slaughtered that child in such an unfair way? Why do you now ask that we fight you one by one? In difficulties, men are ever prone to forget virtue, caring nothing for the consequences of their deeds. However, O hero, I will give you a fair chance. Select any of us as your opponent. If you can defeat any one of us, then you will be king. Otherwise, proceed to heaven.”

Kṛṣṇa looked questioningly at Yudhiṣṭhira. What had come over him? Duryodhana was famous throughout the world for his skill with a mace. Balarāma himself, the unrivalled master of the mace, had said that Duryodhana was his best student. Perhaps Bhīma could defeat him, but it would be a close contest. And if Duryodhana selected another opponent, then who knew what the outcome would be? It seemed that Yudhiṣṭhira had once again staked everything on a single throw.

Duryodhana laughed and stepped forward. The Pāṇḍava soldiers fetched him a suit of armor, which he quickly donned. Resplendent, he said, “O Yudhiṣṭhira, I will fight with any one of you brothers. What difference does it make? Who can match my strength? I will kill you one after another. There are none among you who can face me in a fair fight. It is not right for me to vaunt my own prowess, but I speak the truth. Within an hour you will see my words proven true. Let he among you who will fight me take up his mace.”

Duryodhana’s pride prevented him from selecting an easy opponent. He felt sure he would not be defeated, no matter who fought with him. He was not even afraid of Bhīma, and his intense hatred for that particular Pāṇḍava made him hope Bhīma would be selected to fight. It was likely. Who else could the Pāṇḍavas choose? Anticipating this day even while still in Hastināpura, Duryodhana had spent countless hours practicing beating an iron image of Bhīma. Now he could exercise his skills against Bhīma himself.

As Duryodhana spoke, Kṛṣṇa went over to Yudhiṣṭhira and said quietly, “O King, you have made a rash promise. What will happen if Duryodhana decides to fight with you, Arjuna, or the twins? Only Bhīma can face him with the mace, but even then the outcome is not certain. Although Bhīma’s strength is greater, Duryodhana’s skills are better, and skill usually wins over strength. I think you have made a grave mistake. Who but you would relinquish a kingdom after winning such a great war and having only a single enemy left? It seems, O King, that Kuntī’s sons are not meant to enjoy sovereignty.”

Bhīma, standing by Yudhiṣṭhira’s side, heard Kṛṣṇa’s words and said, “O Madhava, do not grieve. I will end this war. Yudhiṣṭhira’s victory is certain because the wretched Duryodhana stands before me for battle. Allow me to fight with him. My mace is more powerful than his, and my skills are not lacking. What to speak of Duryodhana, armed with my mace I could fight with the celestials headed by Indra.”

Kṛṣṇa applauded Bhīma and said, “Depending on you, O mighty-armed one, surely Yudhiṣṭhira will regain his prosperity. You have slain all of Duryodhana’s brothers and uncountable numbers of his troops. Go forward and slay this wretch himself. Fulfill your promise, but fight with care. He is a formidable opponent with the mace.”

Bhīma laughed in derision and stepped toward Duryodhana with his mace resting on his shoulder. His brothers cheered him, and he thundered, “I dare to fight with this most arrogant and sinful one. He will not be able to defeat me. Today I will vomit forth the anger which has rankled in my bosom for many years. Today, dear brother, I will pluck out the dart which has long stuck in your heart. O virtuous one, today I will recover your garland of glory. Today Duryodhana will renounce his life, prosperity and kingdom. Today, hearing of his son’s death, Dhṛtarāṣṭra will remember all his sins against us.”

Bhīma roared and whirled his mace, bringing it down with such force that the earth shook. Duryodhana could not brook the challenge and he stepped toward Bhīma raising his fist. He glared at Bhīma, who returned his venomous look. They appeared like a lion and a king of elephants facing one another in the forest.

Staring into Duryodhana’s smoldering eyes, Bhīma went on, “Do you recall how you insulted Draupadī, O sinful man, and how you deceived the pious king Yudhiṣṭhira. Receive now the consequences of those acts and of the other wrongs you inflicted upon us. It is by your fault that Bhīṣma now lies prostrate on the field, that Droṇa has been killed, and that so many other valiant heroes are slain. All your brothers are dead, including the despicable one who seized Draupadī’s sanctified hair. Now you will follow them. Today your pride will be crushed along with your hope for sovereignty. Prepare to pay for your misdeeds.”

Duryodhana sneered. “What is the use of your bold words? I will quell your desire for battle. Why do you disregard me? See my mace, like the summit of Mount Himavat. Not even Purandara, lord of the heavens, could defeat me in a fair fight. Who cares for all my so-called misdeeds? What can you or anyone else do about them? By my might you have already had to suffer so much, even becoming a cook in Virata’s house while Arjuna became a eunuch. I have killed most of your allies and you will be the next to die.”

Bhīma was ready. He seemed to be on fire as he glared at Duryodhana. The Kaurava, remembering Bhīma’s vow, said, “Do not gain victory by unfair means, O Vṛkodara, for that will deprive you of your reputation. Fight honestly with all your strength. Then, defeated by me, you will gain everlasting fame.”

Kṛṣṇa suggested that the fight to death take place near Lake Samantapanchaka, a sacred place created by Paraśurāma. The warriors agreed and made their way to that site. As they moved across the battlefield, Balarāma arrived, just returned from His pilgrimage to the holy places. He was greeted with affection by Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers. Kṛṣṇa bowed before Him and touched His feet, saying, “Witness the skill of Your two disciples, O Rāma. Just now they are proceeding to Samantapanchaka for battle.”

The white-complexioned Balarāma looked like the full moon risen on the battlefield. Clad in blue silks and adorned with gold ornaments, a garland of red lotuses on His chest, He shone as He embraced both Bhīma and Duryodhana, who each offered Him their obeisances.

After inquiring about the welfare of all the kings and kṣatriyas, and hearing how almost all of them had been slain, Balarāma said, “I have already received news of the war from Nārada, who told Me that the fight between these two heroes was about to take place. Thus I have come. Some weeks ago I left for My tour, deciding to side with neither party. I have not changed My decision. I will watch the fight with a neutral heart.”

Balarāma joined the warriors as they went on foot the short distance to Samantapanchaka. Bhīma and Duryodhana, both breathing heavily, strode angrily next to each other, staring ahead with their maces resting on their shoulders.

Reaching Samantapanchaka, where Paraśurāma had excavated a lake and filled it with the blood of slain warriors, they formed a circle around a large expanse of flat, sandy ground. Bhīma and Duryodhana stood facing each other in the center. They challenged one another in harsh tones and roared in anger. Both were joyful at the prospect of the fight, each expecting a quick victory. They looked like an eastern and western cloud, coming together in the heavens and thundering terribly. They hurled insults at each other, circling with maces held at the ready.

As the fight was about to commence, awful omens were seen. Fierce winds blew up and a shower of dust fell from the sky. Claps of thunder resounded in the cloudless sky. Meteors fell and a dark circle surrounded the sun. Jackals howled and the vultures and crows cried. Loud voices seemed to boom out, suddenly rising and falling in a fearful cacophony.

Disregarding the omens, the two enraged fighters rushed at one another with their maces raised high. They met like two furious bulls fighting with their horns. The two maces collided with a deafening crash, sending up a shower of sparks. Cheered by the watching warriors, they exhibited graceful maneuvers, whirling their weapons and spinning around as they fought.

The gods, Gandharvas and ṛṣis came to witness the battle. The celestial beings marveled at the speed and skill of the two fighters as they sought out each other’s weaknesses. For some time, neither could penetrate the other’s defenses and their maces clashed again and again, sounding like thunderclaps.

As the fight wore on, however, they began to strike each other great blows on the arms and shoulders. Hit hard by his opponent, each would reel back, then quickly recover, returning swift blows to his unguarded foe. Both knew every move and displayed the full range of their skills, to the onlookers’ wonder. Everyone who watched the fight gasped and cheered as the two warriors fought.

Bhīma’s flying mace resembled Yamarāja’s rod of death raised for the destruction of all creatures. It fell upon Duryodhana with a sound like the rushing wind. The Kaurava moved about with astonishing dexterity, evading Bhīma’s strokes and countering with terrific speed. His own mace moved with such velocity that it created flames of fire in the air. By his superior skill, Duryodhana began to prevail over Bhīma, repeatedly smashing him with forceful blows.

Although struck again and again, Bhīma stood his ground and appeared unshaken. Brought to the pitch of wrath, he tried to strike back at his opponent with his iron mace, swinging it around with such speed that it could hardly be seen. But Duryodhana expertly baffled Bhīma by leaping high and dodging those blows. He spun around in the air and turned in somersaults as he eluded Bhīma’s wheeling mace. Laughing as he dropped back to the earth, he brought his own mace down on Bhīma’s head with great force. Although struck with such violence, Bhīma did not move, making all the spectators cry out in amazement.

Duryodhana seemed to dance on the field, his mace continuously circling around him and protecting him on every side. Bhīma found all his attacks thwarted and immediately answered by heavy counter-blows from Duryodhana. Balarāma applauded his skill, but the Pāṇḍavas and their followers felt dispirited. They watched in apprehension as Bhīma took a beating from the Kaurava prince.

Bhīma was infuriated by Duryodhana’s evasive tactics. After being struck again by the Kaurava’s mace, he took several steps backwards and then suddenly spun round whirling his mace at waist height. Letting go of the mace, he swung it by its long sling and it rushed through the air with a roaring sound. Duryodhana was caught on his side and he dropped to his knees in pain. A great cheer went up from the Pāṇḍavas, but Duryodhana, unable to tolerate the shouting and empowered by his mother’s glance, immediately got to his feet, shaking off his pain. Screaming in fury he ran at Bhīma and, with a sudden maneuver, struck the Pāṇḍava on the forehead.

Bhīma stood unmoved. Blood flowed from his forehead like temporal fluid trickling from the head of an elephant. Duryodhana was stunned to see his opponent still standing. He took a step backward and Bhīma, seizing his opportunity, struck him powerfully on the shoulder. Duryodhana fell to the earth like an uprooted oak tree. He lay there for a moment in a swoon as the Pāṇḍavas cheered and waved their weapons.

Bhīma waited for his dazed foe to regain his senses. He was amazed that his blow, which could have smashed down a mountain peak, had not killed him outright. Within a minute, Duryodhana leapt to his feet. He was uninjured. His eyes gloated as he saw Bhīma’s astonishment. The queen’s ascetic power was something indeed. Duryodhana laughed loudly, then suddenly darted forward. Dodging Bhīma’s whirling mace, the Kaurava spun around in a complete circle and struck him full on the chest. Bhīma’s armor burst open and he flew backwards, falling to the earth with a thud. Awed, the celestials shouted and rained fragrant flowers on the fighters.

Fear possessed the Pāṇḍavas’ hearts as they saw Bhīma lying on the ground, but in a few moments he sprang to his feet. Wiping the blood from his face, he gazed at Duryodhana with bloodshot eyes. The two men paced, regarding each other with cautious respect and looking for an opportunity to strike.

As they circled, Arjuna said quietly to Kṛṣṇa, “Who do You think is superior in this contest, O Janārdana? What is their respective merit?”

Arjuna, himself an accomplished mace fighter, felt anxious for Bhīma. He had also noticed Duryodhana’s apparent invulnerability and could not see how Bhīma would overpower him. It seemed as if the Kaurava had the upper hand. But Kṛṣṇa, who had saved Arjuna from many such situations, would surely know what to do.

Kṛṣṇa replied with a slight smile, “These two have received equal training. Bhīma is stronger, but Duryodhana’s skill is greater and he has practiced much more. He has also been blessed by his mother’s ascetic power, making the contest uneven. Bhīma will not win a fair fight; but if he resorts to unfair tactics, he will be victorious. Deceit in battle is acceptable against a deceitful foe. Even Indra used deceit to overcome the mighty asuras Virocanā and Vṛtra.”

Watching as the two combatants rushed again at one another, Kṛṣṇa reminded Arjuna of Bhīma’s promise to break Duryodhana’s thigh, a promise which was later reinforced by Maitreya’s curse. He made it clear that this was the only way Bhīma could gain victory.

“The Pāṇḍavas have again been placed in a perilous position due to Yudhiṣṭhira’s fault,” Kṛṣṇa continued. “The learned Shukra has stated that the remnant of a defeated army, rallied and returned to the fight, are always to be feared, being desperate and fixed in their determination. Duryodhana had lost everything and was ready to enter the forest. Yudhiṣṭhira should not have challenged him. Now Bhīma must surely use unfair means to end this fight, otherwise the kingdom will again be lost, O hero.”

Kṛṣṇa knew that Bhīma was endeavoring to defeat Duryodhana by fair means before fulfilling his vow of breaking the prince’s thigh. Arjuna understood his meaning and, catching Bhīma’s eye, he slapped his thigh. Bhīma nodded slightly in understanding. This must be a message from Kṛṣṇa. He had not wanted to strike Duryodhana below the belt until he was overpowered, but perhaps there was no alternative. The Kaurava was fighting with demonic fury, exhibiting every skill and showing no sign of fatigue. Nor did it seem possible to make any impression on him no matter how hard he was struck. Kṛṣṇa’s advice was his only chance.

Bhīma moved about rapidly in front of Duryodhana, displaying his maneuvers and baffling his foe. Duryodhana in turn showed the full range of moves described in the ancient martial scriptures. The two men met savagely, their maces colliding with showers of sparks and huge cracks that momentarily deafened the observers. They fought like a pair of maddened tigers, sweat pouring from their faces and blood running down their bodies.

Again separating, they stood for some moments to lean on their maces and regain their breath. Then they flew at one another with great yells. Both had smashed the other’s armor and now fought only in their loin cloths. Their well-muscled frames gleamed in the late afternoon sun as they swung and lunged and parried.

Taking a step backwards as if to avoid Duryodhana’s mace, Bhīma suddenly hurled his weapon at the Kaurava, keeping hold of its sling. Duryodhana anticipated the blow and sidestepped it. Catching Bhīma with his arms outstretched, he struck him a powerful blow on his side. Bhīma was winded but showed no sign, summoning his patience as he pulled back his mace. Duryodhana did not realize that his opponent was disadvantaged. Exercising caution, he did not aim a second stroke at him.

Bhīma, recovering, narrowed his eyes and rushed forward. He swung his mace and, as he expected, Duryodhana leapt upwards in the maneuver known as avasthana. Bhīma suddenly stopped in front of Duryodhana and swung his mace chest-high in a rapid arc. As the Kaurava dropped back to the ground he was struck across the thighs. The blow carried the momentum of Bhīma’s forward dash, as well as the full power of his two arms. Bhīma’s mace, which could only be lifted by three strong men, smashed Duryodhana’s thighs like a thunderbolt breaking a pair of huge trees.

The ground shook as Duryodhana fell flat, screaming. He lay there writhing in pain. It was obvious that the fight was over. All the Pāṇḍava forces roared in joy. Yudhiṣṭhira embraced his brothers and Kṛṣṇa applauded Bhīma.

The air was again filled with strange omens. Showers of dust and bones fell from the sky. Fierce winds gusted, and a terrific noise issued from the bowels of the earth. The sky was filled with the frightful roaring of Rākṣasas, Yakṣas and Dānavas. Darkness enveloped the four quarters and fierce beasts yelled on all sides.

Bhīma, still seething, approached his fallen foe. “O wretch, recall now how you insulted Draupadī and how you committed so many sins against the sinless Yudhiṣṭhira. Accept the fruits of your actions.”

Bhīma lifted his left foot and kicked Duryodhana. With his foot placed on the Kaurava’s head, he continued, his voice harsh. “By the ascetic penance of Drupada’s daughter you lie here and your army is crushed. Let all those who saw her dragged into the assembly hall witness your defeat. All those who insulted and disregarded the Pāṇḍavas are slain.”

Seeing Bhīma standing with his foot on Duryodhana’s head, many of the Pāṇḍava warriors were shocked and cried out, “Shame!”

Balarāma, witnessing Bhīma’s abuse, was filled with rage. Already aghast at the way Bhīma had struck the Kaurava down, He called out, “Fie on Bhīma! How has he struck such a blow in a fair fight? No stroke should ever be aimed beneath the belt. This is the ancient rule, but this wretch has broken it. Such an act cannot go unpunished.”

Balarāma raised His plow weapon and ran at Bhīma, appearing like Mount Kailāsa rushing toward the Himavat. Kṛṣṇa quickly pursued Him and caught hold of Him. Encircling His elder brother with His powerful arms, Kṛṣṇa stopped Him before He could reach Bhīma. The two Yadu heroes shone beautifully and looked like the sun and moon conjoining in the evening sky.

As Balarāma struggled against His brother’s grasp, Kṛṣṇa said, “O hero, You should not act in this way. Bhīma has served even Our interests. The Pāṇḍavas are Our friends. Indeed, they are the children of Our father’s sister. Duryodhana was their sworn enemy and thus Our enemy as well. His death was to be sought by Us by any means. Furthermore, it was Bhīma’s solemn vow that he would break Duryodhana’s thighs and slay him. The keeping of vows is always a sacred duty, and Bhīma’s vow was confirmed by the words of the infallible Ṛṣi Maitreya. For all this, O slayer of Pralamba, I do not see any fault in Bhīma. Give up Your anger and be peaceful, O foremost of men.”

Balarāma laughed dryly. Kṛṣṇa was always expert in providing arguments. But He was not convinced. Still held by Kṛṣṇa He replied, “In my view, Bhīma has sacrificed religion for the sake of material gain. This can never lead to success and happiness.”

“Surely You are famous for Your devotion to righteousness,” Kṛṣṇa answered, “but there is no unrighteousness in Bhīma. He has carried out his promise and requited the debt he owed his enemy. Know, O powerful brother, that the terrible age of Kali is at hand, marked by fierce acts and the loss of religion.”

Balarāma slackened and Kṛṣṇa released His grip on Him. Still angry, He said in a resounding voice, “For this dishonest act, Bhīma will henceforward be known as a cunning warrior. The righteous Duryodhana, on the other hand, will be known as a fair fighter. The Kaurava king has performed sacrifice and given much charity to the Brahmins. Having at last offered his life as a libation into the fire of his foes, he will attain the regions of lasting happiness.”

With that, Balarāma strode away from Kṛṣṇa and mounted His chariot. His charioteer urged on His horses and He sped away, like a white cloud speeding through the heavens.

Bhīma folded his palms and bowed his head as his martial teacher left. He had stood passively as Balarāma had rushed toward him. Death at His hands would have been glorious. After watching Him ride swiftly away, Bhīma turned again to Duryodhana, who was almost fainting from the pain. He raised his foot to kick him one more time. But Yudhiṣṭhira caught hold of Bhīma and said, “Desist, O mighty hero. You have wreaked your vengeance and gained your ends either by fair or foul means. Let him be. Do not act sinfully. Duryodhana is a king, he is your kinsman, and lord of the Kurus. He is ruined--his brothers are slain, his kingdom is lost, his troops are destroyed, and he is reduced to a pitiable condition. How can you offer him more insult? People always say that Bhīma is righteous. Do not act in a way that is not becoming, dear brother.”

Restraining Bhīma and kneeling by Duryodhana’s side, Yudhiṣṭhira said to the Kaurava, “O brother, you should not grieve. Truly you are suffering now the terrible consequences of your own deeds. This, O King, is the universal law. None can avoid the results of their acts, either in this life or the next. Surely everything has been ordained by the Creator, responding to our own desires. Through your avarice, pride and folly, you have suffered this calamity. Having caused the death of all your brothers, sons, companions and followers, you must now meet death yourself. Millions of heroes have gone to death’s abode. You must follow them, O hero. Such is the course of destiny.”

Yudhiṣṭhira felt genuine compassion for Duryodhana, seeing him as a foolish younger brother. Wanting to comfort and console him, he went on, “You are not to be pitied, O Kaurava, for you have met an enviable death in righteous battle. It is we who should be pitied. We will have to drag on a miserable existence devoid of our friends and kinsmen. Alas, how will I see my relatives’ widows overwhelmed with grief? You, O King, are departing from this world and going to regions of bliss. On the other hand, we will have to remain in this world of pain and suffering.”

Yudhiṣṭhira sighed and tears rolled down his cheeks. He stood up and walked away from Duryodhana, who said nothing. Yudhiṣṭhira’s sentiments were noble, but they only gave the Kaurava more pain. He did not want to be pitied. Screwing up his eyes, he lay gasping.

Kṛṣṇa, who had also disapproved of Bhīma’s abuse of the fallen Duryodhana, went to Yudhiṣṭhira’s side and spoke consolingly. Placing His arm round his shoulder, he said, “O King, you have won a great victory. Do not grieve. All this has come about ordained by Time. Duryodhana has been consumed by the fire of Bhīma’s anger. The war is over.”

Bhīma, his anger subsiding, moved away from Duryodhana and stood before Yudhiṣṭhira, addressing him with folded hands. “O King, the earth is now yours with all its thorns removed. He who was the root of these hostilities, that wretched and deceitful being, now lies on the bare ground. All those sinful men who supported him and uttered cruel words toward us are slain. The earth, filled with riches, today approaches you as her lord.”

Yudhiṣṭhira embraced his brother and replied, “The war is now over. Duryodhana is overcome and we have conquered the entire earth through Kṛṣṇa’s instructions. By good luck you have paid off your debt to your mother and to your anger. By good luck you are victorious and your enemy is killed.”

All the Pāṇḍava warriors roared and waved their upper garments. Some twanged their bowstrings and others blew their conches. Others beat drums and laughed loudly. Jumping about and sporting, they praised Bhīma, applauding him for striking down Duryodhana and even for placing his foot on his head.

Kṛṣṇa held up His hand disapprovingly. “O kings, it is not right to kill an already slain enemy with such words. This sinful, shameless and covetous wretch has received the results of his own folly. Now he is no more. He has become like a piece of wood. We should regard him as neither friend nor foe. No further energy or thought should be expended on him. Let us leave this place at once. By good luck the wicked and cruel-hearted Duryodhana is killed, with all his ministers and counselors.”

Duryodhana heard Kṛṣṇa’s words from where he lay and hauled himself onto his elbows. Supporting himself with difficulty, he contracted his eyebrows and looked angrily at Kṛṣṇa. Like a snake spitting out venom, he said, “O son of Kaṁsa’s slave, it seems You have no shame. Have You forgotten the sinful way by which I was defeated? How could You? It was on Your instigation that Bhīma struck his sinful blow. Do You think I did not notice? It has been by Your deceitful machinations that so many heroes have been unfairly killed. Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa and Bhurisrava were all killed thanks to Your cunning. Without Your wily advice, the Pāṇḍavas would have stood no chance in the war.”

Duryodhana gasped in pain and dropped back to the ground, his face covered in perspiration. As he lay there panting, Kṛṣṇa replied, “You, O son of Gāndhārī, have been killed with your brothers, sons and kinsmen only because of your own sinful deeds. O fool, it was I who requested you to return the Pāṇḍavas’ share of the kingdom, but out of sheer avarice you refused. You have committed so many wicked acts against your cousins. When you insulted the sinless Draupadī in the assembly hall, you should have been slain then and there. For that crime you are now killed. O sinful wretch, for the crime of assailing Abhimanyu in an unfair encounter you are slain. You have never respected your elders and heeded their advice. Thus do you now lie here on the bare earth. Do not rail uselessly. You are suffering nothing but the consequences of your own evil acts.”

Duryodhana’s voice, wracked with pain, croaked in response. “What do I care for Your words? Having studied the Vedas, performed sacrifice, given charity and governed the earth, I am now dying a glorious death. That end which is always sought by virtuous kṣatriyas is mine. I have enjoyed pleasures worthy of the gods and attained the highest prosperity. Who is as fortunate as me? With all my brothers I will ascend to heaven, while you Pāṇḍavas will remain here, torn by grief and continuing to suffer.”

As Duryodhana spoke, a shower of fragrant blossoms dropped from the sky. The Gandharvas and Apsarās played musical instruments and sang, while the Siddhas cried out, “Praise be to King Duryodhana.”

The celestials looked with wonder at the scene below. Duryodhana’s fall before Kṛṣṇa was all-auspicious. Although the Kaurava remained envious toward Kṛṣṇa, the mere fact of his contact with that eternal Supreme Deity conferred upon him the greatest possible blessing. Everyone killed in Kṛṣṇa’s presence doubtlessly reached regions of everlasting happiness.

As celestial music filled the sky, a disembodied voice called out that Duryodhana had been unfairly killed, as had Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa and Bhurisrava. Hearing the invisible voice, the Pāṇḍavas felt ashamed. Remorseful for the way the five heroes had been slain, they looked at Kṛṣṇa. Seeing their affliction, Kṛṣṇa reassured them, speaking in a grave voice as deep as the rumbling of clouds. “Do not grieve, O best of men. There was no other way these men could have been slain. For doing you good, as well as for lifting the burden of the earth, I applied My illusory powers so that victory would be yours. In a fair fight it would have been impossible to slay those atirathas. Even the guardians of the universe would not have succeeded. Do not feel guilty for the deceitful way they were killed. Such means are acceptable when one faces a powerful enemy, and especially when that enemy is himself deceitful. Ultimately, all the Kauravas were Duryodhana’s followers and thus were as sinful as he was. For this reason they have been defeated and you, O virtuous men, have been crowned with success.”

Kṛṣṇa’s heartening words were met with roars of approval from the Pāṇḍava warriors. All five brothers, who were ever acquiescent to Kṛṣṇa, felt consoled by His arguments. Seeing that the sun had set, Kṛṣṇa suggested that they return to camp. Headed by Yudhiṣṭhira and Kṛṣṇa, the Pāṇḍavas slowly departed, leaving Duryodhana where he lay. With both thighs shattered, he would not live much longer. Awaiting death, the prince lay back, moaning in pain.