The Great War - Day 10

For the first time in years, Bheeshma wakes after a restful night. His heart is soaring as never before. He deploys his legions on the Kurukshetra. Across the field of fate, a vast sense of destiny fills the third son of Pandu, who has come out . He decides to set Shikhandi at the head of the army and shield him from the arrows of the enemy. Arjuna is startled at Shikhandi's appearance.

He hardly appears like a man, but a strange and lovely woman, whose every limb is quivering in anticipation of what she would be doing today. Yudhishtra decides to use the most sacred vyuha of all, the Deva Vyuha, the phalanx of the gods. Behind Shikhandi are Arjuna and Bheema. Directly behind him are Abhimanyu and Draupadi's sons. Satyaki and Dhristadyumna, flank the Pandavaputras. Behind them are Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva, who form the heart of the Vyuha, who sole purpose is to attach Bheeshma and those who guard him.

Across the field, the Kauravas form their legions in the Asura Vyha. Bheeshma leads the army. Drona is at his side, together with Duryodhana and his brothers. Seeing the finest Pandava warriors, concentrated at their core, Ashwathama, Bhagadutta, Kritavarman and Kripa also decide to ring around Bheeshma. Bheeshma is radiant on the battlefield, almost as if he is immortal.

The conches sound, and the bloodshed starts again. Today Bheeshma is more terrible than the ninth day. Duryodhana is surprised that his Pitamah is full of energy today. In his heart he is happy that perhaps today was going to be the start of his victories. Shikhandi now rides to Bheeshma and challenges him, 'Fight me now, Devavrata, I have waited two lives for this day.'

Bheeshma scorns him saying, 'You may have a man's body, but I know who you are, I will not fight a woman.'

'They say you are the greatest Kshyatriya on earth. One who fought his guru, Bhargava to spurn a woman's love. But her love, brings you closer to your death on this very Kurukshetra, Bheeshma, fight me.'

He strikes Bheeshma with 5 arrows, swift and sharp. The darts pierce Bheeshma, but he does not raise his bow to fight back. The other Kauravas rush to Bheeshma's support. Arjuna cries to Shikhandi, to ride Bheeshma down. 'We are all with you' was his cry.

Abhimanyu, Dhristadyumna, Yudhishtra, Bheema, Nakula, Sahadeva, Satyaki, Ghatotkacha and Kekayas ring Shikhandi and face the Kaurava fire. Soon Bheeshma turns his attention away and tries to break the rings. Dhrishtadyumna and Abhimanyu attack him. Bhoorisravas sets himself stubbornly between Bheema and Bheeshma. Chitrasena fights Chekitana. Kritavarman covers Dhristadyumna,. Ashwathama attacks Drupada and Virata. Drona fights Yudhishtra, Arjuna and Dusasana duel.

Alambusa faces Satyaki. The rakshasa continues using maya, so Satyaki must use astras against him. This consumes a lot of his mental energy, but still he prevails over Alambusa. Seeing this Duryodhana sends Bhagadutta to help Alambusa. Bhagadutta on his Supritika was a formidable sight, for the Pandava soldiers who were running hither-thither already, due to the assault of Bheeshma on them. Satyaki is quick as thoughts and is as powerful as a Deva, and fights back resolutely. However, using up his energies to fight the rakshasa and with the sun in his eyes, The Yadava is tired. Seeing this as a golden opportunity to kill a powerful warrior, Duryodhana sends another contingent to kill the Yadava, but Satyaki recovers and puts flight to Bhagadutta.

Ashwahthama and Drona fight side by side. Above all the screaming and roaring around them, the Master says to his son, that he sees all evil omens. He senses that something terrible was about to befall their army. He points towards the place where the Pitamah is fighting and says, Look at the way Arjuna is squeezing in Shikhandi between the Pitamah and himself. As Satyaki, Abhimanyu, Dhristadyumna, Bheema, Sahadeva and Nakula fly towards Bheeshma, Drona's heart skips a beat. He says to his son, 'Do not fear for your life. Protect Bheeshma at all cost. Fly my son.. Fly !!!'

Bheeshma feels as if he has cleared the last shred of debt he owes Duryodhana and his blind father. He feels a pure spring of peace within him again. The war looks like a comical game to him. Around him, The Kaurava warriors swarm, Ashwathama and a hundred others, determined to guard him with their lives. He laughs gently at the irony of them being so desparate to save his life, when he so eager to die. Yudhishtra tells Arjuna to instruct Shikhandi to ride at Bheema. Aswathama, Susharma and his brothers, Shalya , Kripa and a hundred others set themselves between Bheeshma and the Pandavas. Paartha rides at them, with full force. Having heard Yudhishtra cry, Bheema, rushes to Bheeshma's side. Satyaki, Dhristadyumna, and Abhimanyu go to help him.

Suddenly, as if it was the hand of fate, Dhritadyumna, Satyaki and Abhimanyu are between Bheeshma and his protectors, holding the Kauravas away. Krishna cries to Shikhandi, that the moment has come. Shikhandi flies at Bheeshma. Krishna's chariot is perfectly positioned, at just a hand's width behind Shikhandi's. Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva fly at their Pitamah, their eyes terrible. The Kuru Patriach is now surrounded by his Grandsons. Shikhandi and Arjuna face him.

Bheeshma sess the noble Yudhishtra, who was prepared to take Five villages to prevent this gory war. He sees Bheema, his muscles taut and his face made older by the 14 years in exile. He sees the motherless princes, Nakula and Sahadeva. He sees in his mind's eye, Kunti, crying. He sees the day, when Draupadi was stripped of her clothes, 14 years ago. He sees Arjuna and Krishna. He thinks for a second that he could all of these young princes, if it was not for the Dark Lord watching over them. He then decides that he has done enough killing for a lifetime. In the echoing silence, Shikhandi has already moved closer. The Pitamah sees Amba in Shikhandi's chariot. Young and lovely as she was on the day, he took her away from the swayamvara. It seems to him that she was saying 'You took me by right hand. You are my husband. Make me your wife. Devavrata !'

There are subtle voices everywhere, speaking from the sky and within his heart, unearthly voices. 'Your Time has come Devavrata'

Till now, the Pandava arrows have glanced off the Pitamah's body like flowers. Krishna realises the moment has come. 'Your time has come Amba. Kill him now !!'

Shikhandi cries out, and plunges at Bheeshma. In his chariot, The Grandsire throws down his bow, and folds his hands to Shikhandi. A silence falls on the Battleground. From five sides, the five grandsons ride at their Pitamah, once the bow is down. Their arrows pierce him. Still he stands like a rock before their onslaught. Everywhere fighting stops, except this one. Only Amba's roars break the silence, and from the depths of the Kaurava army, Duryodhana's desperate cries.

Bheeshma still stands, pierced but unharmed, invincible to all the shafts with which they have shot him so far. But, one Pandava is yet to shoot at his Pitamah. Arjuna still hesitates. Krishna roars at him, in the silence. 'Kill him Arjuna, or the war is lost.' As if broken from the slumber, Arjuna cannot resist that command. He raises the Gandiva. With a heartbroken cry, Arjuna loosens the first arrow at his grandfather. Even Shikhandi is quiet now. The silence is broken by the hum of the Gandiva and the soft noise that the arrow makes when it crashes into the Pitamah's body; the sound of skin and flesh being ruptured, of bones giving way, of blood spurting, all in an instant. Bheeshma cries to Dushasana, 'Those are Arjuna's arrows. Yes, Indeed, they are !! How powerful he is, stronger than I ever was...'

Three more shafts shatter his chest. The other Pandavas and Shikhandi shoot at him again, from every side, their barbs now more telling, as Arjuna has broken him. Bheeshma staggers in his chariot. Soon there is not an inch of space on his body where no arrow protrudes. Time assumes an extraordinarily aspect on the field of war, where his own grandsons cut the grandsire down. Arjuna, though trembling, do not err. He strikes Bheeshma with five more arrows. Arrows more potent to destroy more than the whole of Kaurava army. They light up Kurukshetra like five suns. They flash into the Pitamah's chest and lights him up like a God who is being worshipped with lamps. His eyes never leaving the Dark Hued one, Bheeshma falls out of his chariot. The arrows are so many that he does not fall on the earth, but on a bed of arrows. Some are longer than others, and with the weight of his body, they pierce him right through. His face shows no sign of the pain he is in, instead, the smile still creases it.

A shower of rain falls on the battleground. Bheeshma hears divine voices all around him. The voices speak to one another, 'The son of Ganga is the greatest of men. How can he die during Dakshinayana, when the sun moves south. This is not an auspicious time to die.'

Bheeshma says, 'Devavrata has fallen, but he is not dead. My spirit will stay in his body, until the sun resumes his northern course, I must not and cannot die before uttaryana, if I am to be who I was before.'

Bheeshma lies with his eyes shut. His head lolling back. Near him stands a panic stricken Duryodhana. When the Pitamah fell, Dushasana roared in shock and dashed away from the field in terror. He met Drona who was riding towards the alarm, who asked him, what was the outcry about. Dushasana told him. Drona fell down in his chariot. When he regains his consciousness, the first command he gives is to sound the conches to stop fighting.

Ony by one, the Kshyatriyas from both sides begin to arrive at Bheeshma's side. Daylight fades swiftly, but the Pitamah's body glows with its own luster. The Pitamah cries, for a pillow. At once a score men, run to fetch the softest silk pillows. He turns his face away from them in disgust and says, 'I am a warrior fallen on the battleground. Arjuna, give me a pillow for a warrior's head.' Arjuna raises his Gandeeva in the gloom. Three arrows flash donw into the earth, behind Bheeshma. Arjuna gently lifts the Pitamah's head and places it on the shafts.

Duryodhana calls for the Royal Physicians to attend to the Pitamah. They have come to remove the arrows from his body and smear his body with potent herbs. Bheeshma asks them to be sent away. He is tired and shuts his eyes again. He must rest, if he is to live to see the sun turn north again. Bheeshma says through his bloody lips, "Water, Duryodhana, I am parched with thirst"

Duryodhana rushes away and brings sweet water and syrups and wines that were his grandsire's favorites, but the old man, refuses. He calls for Arjuna, 'Only he can give me the water I crave. Arjuna comes running when he gets word. Bheeshma whispers,' Arjuna, my Child, Water .. Only you can get me the water that I want."

Arjuna runs to his tent for the Gandeeva. He invokes a mantra for Parjanyastra, the weapon of rain. Arjuna drills the arrow into the ground beside Bheeshma. The earth trembles under them, and then suddenly opens up, and from it, like amrita and scented like nectar, water rises. It rises onto Bheeshma's lips, bathing his face, letting him drink where he lies, whenever he wanted.

The light on his face is brighter after he has drunk. The water seems to have quenched his pain, as well. Bheeshma smiles more easily at them. Bheeshma tries to advise Duryodhana for one last time. 'Only Arjuna and Krishna know the mantra for Parjanya. They are Nara Narayana. You cannot vanquish them. Look how Arjuna has cut me down, as not even my guru Bhargava could. Give back Yudhishtra half the kingdom. I am a dying man, and I beg you to listen to me. End this war tonight.' Duryodhana's eyes smolder in the torchlight and by the look in them, his dying grandfather knows that his plea has been fruitless. Bheeshma must lie on Kurukshetra for 60 days and nights more, before the sun turns north at the solstice and he can finally leave the world.

In his tent, Karna gets the news of Bheeshma's downfall. At midnight, Duryodhana comes to Karna's tent. Duryodhana has not shed a tear yet, but when he sees Karna, he breaks down, and then falls asleep. Karna sits in the dark, gazing at his sleeping friend. He knows that, with the sun rising, he must taken the field against his brothers. Bheeshma had fallen and now no one stood before him and the war. Dawn is not more than three hours away, when suddenly an irrrestible compulsion to go out in the night seizes him.

Karna walks across the Kurukshetra. There are corpses strewn everywhere. Karna's is terrified inside his heart. He know the patriach never liked him. Even the memory of the Pitamah's voice makes him shudder, but Karna knows that Bheeshma is as much his grandfather as Duryodhana or Arjuna's. Karna falls at his Pitamah's feet and sobs. Karna rises and crosses to where Bheeshma can see him and says, 'It is I, Karna, whom you hate, my lord. I would have come earlier. except that I feared what you might say to me when the others were here.'
'I never hated you my child, How could I when I have always known you are my grandson'
Karna was shocked. The Pitamah continues,
'Long ago, Vyasa told me. But I had to keep the secret, and Vidura also had to. I spoke harshly so as to curb your pride, so that it may not lead you to ruin. If you were not with Duryodhana, he would never have dared fight with the Pandavas, for fear of Arjuna. He believes you are a great archer, and perhaps he is not wrong. Why do you think I made it a condition that you would not fight, when I did ?. Not because I hated you, my child. It was because, I could not bear to see you go to war against your brothers. Karna, know that I loved you as much as I do Duryodhana or Yudhisthtra...

My Poor child, Only God knows, why, but from the first day of your life, fate has been cruelest to you. But now, everything is clear. I beg you. Cross this field of death, join your valiant brothers. That will shock Duryodhana, into abandoning this bloody war. You are the eldest of your generation Karna. Let it be you that makes peace and my dying fruitful.'

Karna is shocked. He says, 'Pitamah, you are the last of the Kurus. None of us is your blood, perhaps that is why this house is at war against itself. Pitamah, how I wish I could do as you ask, but it is too late for that. I do not have the strength to stand against time, Time that is fate and destiny, or the strength to betray Duryodhana. I love him more than a brother. Fate herself conspires to darken the age. Who are we to fathom her purposes, or to oppose her.'

Bheeshma speaks, 'I bless yoy, my child. Few men have suffered as you have and so alone. I bless you so that you die like a kshatriya on the field of war and find heaven for yourself. Your name will be remembered and your fame will last as long as the stars shine down on this earth.'

'I have a boon to ask you, Pitamah'
'Ask me for anything that I can still give you.'
'Let my secret die with me. I beg you not to tell Duryodhana or Yudhishtra who I am to stop the war.'
'There is no Kshyatriya on earth like you Karna. Of all my grandsons, I am most proud of Karna.'
Kissing his Pitamah's hand one last time, Karna returns to his tent, at peace, after seeing Bheeshma. He falls into a slumber, unaware that this is the first night of Kali Yuga.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Hari
Categories: , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply