Sunday, June 1, 2014

The mighty warrior - Part 8

Arjuna watched the Dark Lord leave for Hastinapur with a silent prayer in the lips. He was worried….Duryodhana had already rejected the offer of the learned man, Drupada (the father-in-law of the Pandavas) had sent, to give Indraprastha back to the Pandavas. On receiving the answer of Duryodhana, Drupada and Dhrishtadhyumna (Draupadi’s brother) had started sending messages to their allies to join forces and the kings of the various kingdoms had started arriving with their armies, to pledge alliance to Yudhishtara.
Arjuna had no doubt that Duryodhana was doing the same. But then Arjuna knew that he had to try again…He had to know that he had done everything in his power to avoid the war. That was the reason Krishna was now going to Hastinapur, for another round of talks with Duryodhana, to settle the issue, without any bloodshed.
Arjuna turned to see Abhimanyu beside him and knew that he really wanted to avoid the war. Abhimanyu was sixteen and standing beside him was his newly wedded wife, the spirited Princess Uttara, of the Matsya kingdom. Was sixteen an age to go to war? Arjuna wondered. Because Arjuna had no doubt in his mind, not one, that if the Pandavas went to war, Abhimanyu would join it. Age notwithstanding, his marriage notwithstanding, Abhimanyu would join the war….
Arjuna closed his eyes willing himself not to think about what was going to happen. But it was impossible. No matter what he did to think about something else, his mind always wandered back to Krishna….He said another prayer, hoping against hope that the Dark Lord would pull a miracle and avoid the war…
The Dark Lord argued brilliantly in the court of Hastinapur. Krishna went to the extent of even settling for five villages, one for each Pandava, to avoid the war.
Duryodhana with all his haughtiness refused the offer. He smugly went to the extent of saying that he was not going to give the Pandavas a place as small as the head of needle. Duryodhana in his arrogance, tried to even capture Krishna, who was there only in the capacity of a messenger.
Krishna showed his Vishwarupa to the court of Hastinapur, which effectively put an end to Duryodhana’s foolishness.
And so Duryodhana’s arrogance, put an end to any speculation of peace. There was going to be war…
Duryodhana watched the Pandavas and their army from his own camp and looked at his own army camp, swelling with pride. Agreed, Duryodhana had not expected the Pandavas to gather so many allies, but compared to what he had….the Pandavas army looked positively puny. He watched the grandsire Bhishma as he was checking up with his men, giving orders….Duryodhana went to Bhishma’s tent.
Sir! You have now seen both the armies! I wish you would tell me, who among the Pandava army and our army are ‘Rathas’, ‘Athirathas’ and ‘Maharahtas!’’ (It is a classification among the warriors to determine the best)
Bhishma stopped stringing his bow as he looked at the prince of Hastinapur with something close to pity. For deep down Bhishma realized that the Kuru prince was going to annihilate himself and all his friends in this great battle. Bhishma could not understand how Duryodhana entertained the thought that he could stand up against the Dark Lord and get away with it. It seemed almost laughable to Bhishma.
Bhishma realized that what Duryodhana did not seem to understand was that no matter whom he threw against Krishna and Arjuna, the two would find a way to bring the enemy down….Krishna would make sure of it. 
And to think that it was Duryodhana’s own choice….Bhishma thought almost feeling the bitter taste of defeat. (When the battle was imminent, both Duryodhana and Arjuna had approached Krishna for helping them. As both of them, had asked at the same time, Krishna decided that they both could choose between him and the Yadava army. And so there was Krishna (Krishna would not wield any arms) on one side and the entire powerful Yadava army on the other side. Arjuna chose Krishna and Duryodhana chose the Yadava army.)
Bhishma shook his head, trying to stop thinking in this way. He was a general of the Hastinapur army. It was his duty to keep the spirits of his men up…no matter what he personally believed. But as Bhishma saw his grandson, he wondered whether there was way he could convince Duryodhana to stop the foolishness…
Bhishma continued in a quiet voice. ‘You and your brothers, my prince, are foremost of Rathas!’ Duryodhana listened as Bhishma continued. ‘Shalya, the maternal uncle of the Pandavas, who is fighting on your side, in an Athiratha!’ (Shalya was the brother of Madri, the mother of Nakula and Sahadeva, the Pandava twins. However by Duryodhana’s manipulating, Shalya was forced to fight on behalf of the Kauravas, against his own nephews.)
Bhishma continued to rank all the warriors of the Kauravas. He ranked Bhurisravas as equal to two Rathas, the five royal brothers of Trigarthas as Rathas. Bhishma ranked Lakshmana, Duryodhana’s son and Shakuni as equal to a Ratha. Bhishma equaled Drona, Vrishasena (Karna’s son) and a rakshasa – Alambusa as Maharathas.
Surprisingly, Bhishma had a very interesting observation regarding Ashwattama, the son of Drona. According to Bhishma, Ashwattama had the capacity to be a Maharatha. Bhishma firmly believed that Ashwattama could destroy the three worlds if he so wished. But then Bhishma added a caveat – Ashwattama was too fond of living and because of which Bhishma said that he could not rank Ashwattama either as a Ratha or a Maharatha.
Duryodhana decided that his grandfather was purposely silent about his best friend and said arrogantly. ‘What do you think of King of Anga?’
Bhishma was quiet for a long time saying nothing. Duryodhana looked impatiently at Bhishma. Bhishma saw Karna who was just passing by. ‘Your friend Karna….I would rank him as half a Ratha!’
Both Karna and Duryodhana looked shocked as Karna’s face changed colour to beet red. ‘Why are you…’
Were you not cursed by your Guru Parashurama, when you finished your education?’ Bhishma asked sharply.
Karna did not say anything.
Did you part with your kavacha and kundala, the armour which would have made you invincible, out of some foolish sense of being ‘the right thing to do!’’ Bhishma asked again as Karna remained tongue tied.
Were you not defeated by Partha (Arjuna) when you were captured by the Gandharva – Chitrangada? Were you not defeated by the very same Partha when you attacked the Matsya kingdom? Haven’t you learnt your lesson atleast now?’ Bhishma’s question was a whiplash. ‘You are no match for Arjuna when he was alone and now he has Krishna with him too!’
Karna remained silent almost bursting with anger.
You boast! That is all you do!’ Bhishma said viciously. ‘Trusting you, Duryodhana has walked down this path of destruction and you are not even worthy of fighting!’ Bhishma said angrily.
Karna was about to say something when Duryodhana interrupted angrily. ‘I wish to know about the Pandava warriors!’ Duryodhana said hurriedly. The last thing Duryodhana wanted was that his soldiers watch two warriors of the Kaurava army fight each other. The soldiers were already staring at the tent curiously.
Karna looked at Duryodhana and the other soldiers and kept his mouth shut and walked away from there. Watching him go, Bhishma continued. 'As you asked, my prince, I rank Yudhishtata, Nakula and Sahadeva as Rathas! Similarly, Shikhandin is also a Ratha! Though Drupada and Virata are old, they are Maharathas! The five sons of Draupadi are obviously Maharathas!'
'What about Falguni (Arjuna)?' Duryodhana quietly.
'Just him alone, I would not rate him! He is beyond all the warriors I just mentioned to you! my prince, have made Arjuna very angry! You humiliated his wife...before the entire Hastinapur Court....' Duryodhana looked tight-lipped as Bhishma continued softly. 'And Arjuna has the Dark Lord with him! Nothing can stop them! Nothing!'
Duryodhana was sitting shell-shocked as Bhishma said in a solemn voice. 'I almost forgot, my prince! Abhimanyu! Arjuna's son and Krishna's nephew! He is equal to both of them! If there was someone who equal to both Krishna and Arjuna in battle, it is Abhimanyu!'
And so the war started. 
As the days progressed, the Pandavas were steadily gaining advantage. Abhimanyu fought the war with the same brilliance as his father and was able to raze plenty of soldiers of the Kaurava army. But however Krishna and the Pandavas realized that as long as Bhishma was alive, they could not hope to defeat the Kauravas. And so on the tenth day of the battle, Arjuna had Shikhandi with him in the chariot. (Shikhandi, in his previous life, was Amba, a woman who loved Bhishma and was spurned by him. Shikhandi was born with the specific purpose of killing Bhishma. Bhishma would not attack Shikhandi, because he had been a woman once. Bhishma felt it was against his warrior code to attack Shikhandi because of this.)
And so Bhishma was brought down on the tenth day of the battle.
As Dronacharya was the eldest person after Bhishma, he was made the general of the Kaurava army after Bhishma fell. Unlike Bhishma, Dronacharya unfortunately, was easily swayed by Duryodhana's taunts. (Duryodhana believed that none of the elders of the Kuru kingdom fought to the best of the abilities because they all supported the Pandavas. Duryodhana very often taunted Bhishma about this. However Bhishma was rarely bothered by his grandson's outbursts. Dronacharya was however another matter.)
On the eleventh day of battle was when Karna joined the war. (Bhishma had imposed a condition that Karna should not fight as long as he was the general of the Kaurava army.) It seemed to the Kaurava army that Karna was almost flying at the enemies at taking them down at will.
However there was one warrior who even made Karna's feat pale by comparison - Abhimanyu. From the minute the battle on the eleventh day started, it almost seemed like he was everywhere. Almost no one could stand before him.
King Paurava, one from the Kaurava army challenged Abhimanyu and even went to the extent of breaking Abhimanyu's bow. Unfazed, Abhimanyu picked up his sword and fought with the king and in no time had defeated Paurava.
Jayadratha was extraordinarily proud and arrogant of himself. He always thought that he was the best swordsman and seeing the young Abhimanyu with a sword made way towards him and challenged the boy. 
Jayadratha had picked the wrong fight. In no time, the young boy had broken Jayadratha's sword in two. Abhimanyu was about to come forward when Jayadratha ran towards his chariot.
Seeing the Kaurava soldiers run from Abhimanyu, Shalya attacked Abhimanyu and the two warriors meet every arrow for arrow. In the end when all the arrows were exhausted, Shalya pulled out his mace. Abhimanyu was about pick his mace when Bheema came and joined the fight, pushing Abhimanyu to a side.
Another brilliant warrior on the battlefield was Vrikshasena, Karna's son. It took all the five of Draupadi's son to hold back Vrikshasena who had been joined by Ashwattaman. 
As the five sons of Draupadi fight, Dronacharya decided that if he had to stop the battle, he had to take Yudhishtara captive. However Dronacharya was thwarted by Arjuna.
Duryodhana angrily went to his guru's tent in the evening of that day. 'You are all talk! How can the great Drona, who is the teacher of both the Kauravas and Pandavas, not be able to defeat the Pandavas...If I did not know better, I would say you are not fighting the war to the best of your abilities! You support the Pandavas!' Duryodhana said angrily.
Dronacharya was shocked by the words of the prince. He took a deep breath trying to control himself. 'I did everything, I could....Arjuna....' He started.
'Tomorrow, the Trigarthas, the five kings have said that they would lead Arjuna away from Yudhishtara...What can you do then?' Duryodhana asked challengingly, almost in a contemptuous voice.
Dronacharya was actually stung by Duryodhana's words. 'Tomorrow! Take Arjuna away from Yudhishtara! I will bring Yudhishtara captive to you...or....'
'Or what?' Duryodhana asked sharply.
'I will cause the death of one of their Maharathas!' Dronacharya said sharply.

Dronacharya had spoken out of anger that Duryodhana had not trusted him. However Dronacharya had no idea about the effect of the promise he had just made....