The Great War - Day 15

The battle of the fifth day of Drona's command begins grimly. There is no definite vyuha today. Krishna sees the enemy legions now divided into two. He smiles to himself and then says to Arjuna that the enemy is now divided into two. Bheema comments that all those who were to be destroyed were now clustered together like a pack of dogs.

Krishna steers Arjuna's chariot towards the left where Duryodhana, Karna, Shakuni and Dushasana rode. Krishna merely points at the direction and Arjuna sings wrath with his Gandeeva. His arrows blot out the sun. Duryodhana realises the truth of Drona's words. Within minutes the mighty four are put to flight and their army is butchered by the riptide from the Gandeeva.

The other half of the Kaurava army, under Drona, rides at the Matsyas, The Panchalas and the Kekayas. He knows that his end his near. The enemy shrinks from him in awe. He torches legions, leaving nothing behind but statues of ashes. Drona sees three of Dhrishtadyumna's sons ride at him. Quickly he sends them to their death with his infamous crescent tipped arrows. Drupada is mad with anger, so is Virata. Both rush towards the brahamana. Drona is ready for both of them. He engages them powerfully, fighting as never before, atleast never as anyone had seen him do. Drona casts a gleaming javelin, striking the Panchala king through his heart killing him instantaneously. Virata is killed in a similar fashion in the blink of an eye. Dhrishtadyumna is furious. He plunges at Drona, but by then Duryodhana's legions have ringed around Drona. Arjuna arrives with his Gandeeva to ensure general battle. Bheema taunts his brother in law, 'It does not appear as if you will avenge your father's death. Let me help you.'

Bheema and the other Pandavas try to tear their way to the place where Drona is massacaring Pandava forces. The Brahmana incinerates Yudhishtra's armies with the greater Devastras. Drona is Agni incarnate.He is death come naked into the world. Not the five Pandavas together can contain him. All the duels come to a standstill. The war now swirls just around Drona. Duryodhana meets Nakula and Dushasana meets Sahadeva, but in both duels the Pandavas prevail.

Krishna manoeuvres Arjuna's chariot to confront Drona and suddenly the battle assumes a different dimension altogether. The master and the disciple fighting at the very end of their skills. For some time, neither the guru nor the shishya prevail. But Drona has had enough of it. He summons the greatest Brahamastra and in a moment the Acharya lets loose the terrible weapon on his favorite pupil. Both the Pandavas and the Kauravas wait with bated breath. This was a moment that could end the war. Suddenly the Gandeeva lights up in Partha's hands, and another Brahmastra flies out of Arjuna's quiver to counter his quiver. Both consume each other. Drona roars in frustration and rides away.

Atleast for the time being, Drona's dominance has been broken. Chance brings Duryodhana and Satyaki face to face. They fight fiercely, but with smiles on their faces, as if it was a friendly duel between friends. Though Duryodhana is some years older, these two once had been inseparable friends. Suddenly Duryodhana feels a pang or remorse. He suddenly lowers his bow, and shouts to Satyaki, 'How I loathe this war Satyaki. I hate this despicable war, in which you and I must fight each other. Satyaki, but for my arrogance and my lust for kingdom, we both would have been administering Hastinapura.'

Duryodhana's confession is sharper than his arrows. Satyaki is startled. He too lowers his bow. He sees Duryodhana wipe off tears from his eye. The Yadava says , 'All that is Past Duryodhana. This is battlefield, not our guru's hut, where I was a boy and you were a youth.'
'How I long for those days Satyaki. This is like another life. Why are we acting like strangers. Fate is merciless and fate is my enemy.'
'We are Kshyatriyas Duryodhana, Our fate is to fight. Our war is our Dharma. There is no escape from that. We fight, and must not think whom we fight against.'

With a sigh, Duryodhana raises his bow and fights Satyaki. The Yadava quickly cuts down The prince of Hastinapura. Satyaki cannot bear to see this man in battle anymore. The Yadava rides away as far as possible. He will never speak to anyone of the moment that they have shared. Atleast not until he is alive. Neither will he ride against Duryodhana again,in this war.

Frustrated at the match of his brahmastra, the Acharya is Yama personified on the battleground. Astra after Astra that he lets loose on common Pandava soldiers, killing tens of thousands of men. Krishna observes the carnage and says to Yudhishtra quietly, 'It looks like Bhardwaja's son will finish the war by this afternoon. Look at your guru, where is his dharma. He is shooting astras at common soldiers. He must die. And when all five of you together cannot bring him down together, a little adharma will.' Yudhishtra waits uncomfortably for the moment. Krishna continues, 'Drona can be killed only if he lays down his bow, and that will happen will be when we break his heart. If there is anybody whom Drona loves more than his life, it must be his guru Parashurama and his son Ashwathama. If he hears Ashwathama is dead, he will put down his bow.'

Yudhishtra cries in despair, that the son was more difficult to kill, than his father. Krishna tells him, 'I never told, kill Ashwathama. Just tell Drona that Ashwathama is dead.' Bheema quickly shouts in approval, 'I will kill an elephant called Ashwathama and then we can spread the rumor that the Acharya's son is dead. Let Dhristadyumna be close by and at the right moment, let him be the Acharya's nemesis.'
Krishna smiles. Nakula and Sahadeva nod to give their approval. A trembling Yudhishtra, bows down his head, thinking of the shame, but relents nevertheless.

Bheema runs into Kurukshetra, and comes face to face with the King of Malava's war elephant, Ashwathama. He takes only moments to send the creature to a never ending sleep. He comes storming to Drona and roars 'Ashwathama is dead.' Darkness films Drona's eyes. He says to himself,'Bheema must be lying. No one can kill my son.' The brahmana fights twice as savagely. He unleashes the brahmastra at the Panchala and Somakas. Suddenly silence falls on the Kurukshetra. The war would be over by by sunset if Drona continued his rampage.

But across the field, subtle changes are being noticed. Drona hears unearthly voices speaking to him. When he looks up, he is surprised to see a host of rishis, among them was his father, Bhardwaja. The rishis tell him, that Drona no longer knows what he is doing. He is burning ordinary men with his devastras. His father Bhardwaja tells him to put down his weapon and bow, for his time on earth was coming to an end.

The vision fades off and Drona once again begins to see clearly. He looks at the damage he has done and is shocked by the extent of damage that he has done. But again, at a distance, he sees, Dhrishtadyumna, the man born to kill him, hacking his way through the Kaurava army. On his right, he sees the eldest Pandava. Seeking one last reason to die the guru asks his shishya, 'Is it true that Ashwathama is dead ?' Anticipating this question, Krishna had already explained to Yudhishtra what was to be done. If Yudhishtra did not lie, the war would be over in a hour or two. If he did, he would be the king of the world in a few days time. Drona on the other hand, knew that Yudhishtra could never lie. Yudhishtra was a man of such perfect dharma that his chariot never touched the ground, but always rode four fingers above it. Yudhishtra had to make a decision.
Yudhishtra shouts to his guru, ' Yes, Ashwathama is dead' but mutters under his breath, 'The elephant'.

Drona swoons in his chariot. Through the corner of his eye, the one born to kill him, approaches. But he wants to make one last attempt at cheating fate. Quickly the Acharya picks up his bow and starts shooting arrows indiscriminately at Dhrishtadyumna. Within a few moments, the fire-born is left without a chariot, nor a charioteer, and nor with any weapons except his sword. As he rushes to behead his Acharya with the sword, the Acharya has already drawn the vaitasmikas arrows. They were a Drona speciality. Meant for targets closer to the archer. Loaded with incendiaries. They would first steam away the armor and then blow a hole through the enemy. And as the arrows are being shot at Dhristadyumna, another archer blocks them with some brilliant archery of his own. Satyaki !!. He quickly disappears. Bheema is totally disturbed by the Acharya's behavior. Throwing all caution to the winds, Bheema runs across to Drona's chariot and kills his horses with a single blow. He then taunts the Acharya, 'I know what keeps you fighting Brahamana, Its the gold isn't it ? I thought you were a Brahmana, what are you going to do with so much gold, and why such greed when your very son is dead.' Bheema spits on the ground with great contempt and walks back to his chariot. His every word has struck Drona right in the heart. With a long roar, the brahmana throws the bow away from him. The war pauses. He shouts, 'Karna, Duryodhana, Kripa, Shalya, I have fought this war. No more can I fight. My war has ended.'

He sits in Padmasana on the floor of his chariot and closes his eyes in meditation. In moments he is lost in his world. That of eternal atman. Drona discovers himself again. Here, Dhristadyumna sees Drona sit unarmed. As if in a trance, his body shivers. This was the moment, he was waiting for. The purpose of his life. Sword in hand, he jumps down from Bheema's chariot, sword in his hand. Arjuna watches, in anguish. His heart goes out for his Acharya, the one man, who promised to him that he would be greatest archer on earth, and made him so. With a single swing of his sword, Dhristadyumna hacks off the head of the Bharadwaja born in a split second. Drona never opens his eyes, and we shall never know what was the expression on his face, when he was liberated. A blinding light, seen only by Kripa, Yudhishtra, Krishna and Sanjaya, marks the ascent of Drona's atman into Brahmaloka, a realm which Devas only talk about, but have never visited. Dhristadyumna takes the hacked head from the chariot and throws it into the Pandava army, which has erupted in joy. The Pandava senapati has killed the Kaurava senapati. The man has accomplished his mission, but unfortunately, his father was not alive to see this happen. Bheema is the first one to embrace Dhrishtadyumna. Unmindful of the blood of his acharya, Bheema tells the Panchala prince, that he will hug him once more like this, when he has killed Duryodhana.

Duryodhana does not believe the news that buzzes across the Kurukshetra. Kaurava soldiers start running from the field. They fly on foot, on horseback and in their chariots. Even Karna, Shalya and Kripa flee. Duryodhana is appalled at the fact that how could a man, who fought as if he would win the war for the Kauravas by dusk, lay down his weapons and allow the one born to kill him to lop off his head.

Duryodhana does what everybody else in his army did. He turns away from the battlefield. Ahead of him he hears Ashwathama ask him, 'What happened Duryodhana ? What happened Karna ? Who is dead that you panic like this ? How can you run when Drona is your senapati ?' Duryodhana is silent.

Not for a second does it cross Ashwathama's mind that his father could be defeated. Duryodhana begs Kripa in a whisper to break the news to Ashwathama. Gently Kripa tells Ashwathama how the Pandavas lied to Drona, and how even Yudhishtra forsake his Dharma and told a lie, and how Dhrishtadyumna lopped off his father's head when he was sitting in Dhyana. There is no emotion on Ashwathama's face. Atleast none that could be noticed. He does not even cry. But it appears as if he has turned to stone. He says quietly that there was no other way the Pandavas could have killed his father. All those who killed his father shall find hell before the sun sets today. 'Duryodhana, I have an astra that neither Arjuna, Krishna, Bheema or Yudhishtra can counter. Let us return to battle. I will make you the lord of the earth in a few moments.'

The Kaurava legions rally around Ashwathama and across the Kurukshetra the Pandavas hear the conches and horns. Arjuna says to his anxious brother, Dharma, 'That is Ashwathama. Coming to avenge his father. Yudhishtra, you lied to have our guru's life. Who can save you from him, who was born by Shiva's blessing. What we did was Adharma. For the greed of a kingdom, you told a lie that killed our master. Our sin was threefold, that of killing a brahamana, an elder who loved us like a father and our preceptor. We have forsaken the truth. It would have been better to have abandon the war than do this shameful thing.'

Bheema growls in dissatisfaction at Arjuna. 'Fine words Arjuna, but are we not here to fight a war ? Were we not cheated and humiliated. Was all that was done to us, not adharma ? When Draupadi was stripped, When the emperor of the earth spent thirteen years like a beggar, was that not adharma ? When Yudhishtra sent a message that he was willing to take five towns as compensation, our messenger was humiiliated, was that not adharma ?' Bheema then tells Arjuna that it was Krishna who had suggested that Yudhishtra tell that strategic lie. The argument intensified among the Pandavas. Dhrishtadyumna takes Yudhishtra's side and Satyaki takes Arjuna's and there is a heated argument, until Sahadeva intervenes and requests them to pay attention to the war and not be at each other's throats.

As the armies take their place, Yudhishtra has a word with Arjuna. He says to Arjuna, 'You may say, I am responsible for the death of your guru, whom you claim loves us like a father. Was it his love that made him trap Abhimanyu in the chakra vyuha, where six maharathikas confronted him ?
Was his love for us, that made him tongue tied in the great hall ? Was it love for us, that made him side with Duryodhana ? Was it his love for us, that made him unleash divyastras at common soldiers ? And even when he laid his weapons down, he shouts a warning to Duryodhana ? A man should have only one guru Partha. For me, Drona lost that place quite some time ago. Krishna is my guru and I have no other. I lied at the instance of my guru. I am proud of my lie Arjuna. I would have never told it, if I was to regret it.'

Arjuna has no anwer to this remark from Yudhishtra, for the enemy is within striking distance. Ashwathama quickly summons Narayanastra. The astra is nothing like Arjuna, Bheema, Satyaki or Dhrishtadyumna have seen till today. It hangs like a star above the Pandava legions and keeps flashing down hundred thousand arrows killing as many lives. The Pandavas try shooting their arrows at the star, but it only blazes more fiercely with each arrow. The weapons are different now. Schythes, crescent headed arrows, incendiary loaded arrows, whirring chakras all fly at the Pandava army. The astra seemed to be gathering energy. The more you resisted, the more powerful it became.

Above the screams of dying and Panic, a voice roars, 'The Narayanastra grows fiercer when it is resisted. Lay down your weapons and worship it.' The voice is that of Krishna's. Only Bheema resents this. He is defiant in his chariot. Blasting on his conch, Bheema rides at the Kaurava army. He decides to take on Ashwathama. Hardly has he drawn his arrow when a rain of fire pours from down from the astra, lighting up his chariot. Suddenly Bheema looks like a Deva on the battlefield, engulfed with a sheet of flames. Arjuna invokes the Varunastra at Bheema's ratha to cool it down. The astra that could have verily drowned Kurukshetra in a flash flood, turns to steam. There was only one way to stop Bheema. Krishna and Arjuna alight and run to him. They jump onto the chariot and drag Bheema down and they hold him down on his face till the weapon passes over the Pandava army and out of the world.

Across the Kurukshetra, Duryodhana is delighted. 'They have no answer for Narayanastra. Shoot it again Ashwathama !'But Ashwathama says, 'If only they had no Krishna, the Pandavas would have been finished by now.' Duryodhana begs Ashwathama to summon the astra again, but Ashwathama tells Duryodhana the limitation. It can be used only once. If invoked again, it will consume the army of the one who invoked it. Nevetheless with his horde of astras, The Acharya's son decides to face the Pandavas.

He first ecncounters his father's killer. Dhristadyumna rides against him. Both fight without a pause, but Ashwathama is quick. He strikes Dhristadyumna with 20 sharp arrows and kills his sarathy and horses. Satyaki rides to protect the Fire-Born prince. The Yadava cuts down Ashwathama's horses and sarathy. Kripa, Duryodhana and Karna surround Ashwathama. Satyaki is overwhelmed by arrows. He has his bow spliced, but the Pandavas quickly cover up Satyaki and Arjuna faces Ashwathama.

The actual putra and the maanasik putra of the Acharya fight. This was a fight that the armies of both sides were anticipating. As long as the Acharya was around, this fight was never possible. Now that he was dead, there was expectation building up. Arjuna and Ashwathama fight as if they are in another dimension. The rest of the war pauses to gaze on. They are evenly matched. Drona's son had always harboured a secret envy of Arjuna and today with his father slain, he meant to prove that he was better than the Pandava. Drona's son invokes the Agneyastra and shoots it at the Pandava army. The astra goes high up in the air and splits itself into five blistering meteors that immolate five columns of Pandava soldiers in a flash. The son has surpassed his father in rage and adharma. Watching this from a distance, Duryodhana exults.

Arjuna invokes the Brahmastra which quickly subdues the other astra. It quickly evaporates the effects of agneyastra and the air is clean and cool again. Around Arjuna, the charred remains of thousands of his men, almost an aksauhini remain. Arjuna and his sarathy are unsinged. For a long moment, Ashwathama stands trembling at his failure then he howls and runs away from the field, crying. He runs into the forests adjoining the Kurukshetra where he encounters the rishi Vyasa. He questions the rishi, as to why the Astras failed him, for which Vyasa explains, that Arjuna and Krishna were Nara and Narayana and that no astra can do them anything. Pacified by the Rishi, Ashwathama walks back to the battlefield only to find that twilight has set in and the day's battle has ended and the armies have retreated. The soldiers in both the camps fall into sleep, praying that they live to see the end of this war.

Duryodhana sits red-eyed and grim. There is no doubt as to which way the fifteenth day of war has swung. He drinks the wine deeply. Not all the wine in the world can change the fact that Bheema has fallen and Drona has been slain. Defeat stares at Duryodhana in the face.

Later that night in Duryodhana's tent, the Kaurava asks his friends, what he should do. Ashwathama speaks, with a pause. He says that there is no archer among them like Karna and that he must be the general who can win the war for them. Others agree and there is a smile on Duryodhana's face. He says,'Finally I will have a senapati who detests the Pandavas as much as I do. Karna, I leave everything in your hands. I won't have to goad you to do your best everyday and you will lead us to victory. There is no archer on earth like you and in this moment of crisis only you can help me. The war should have ended ten days ago. But Bheeshma and Drona loved the sons of Pandu and they would never fight them as they would fight an enemy. At dawn tomorrow, you will be like Kartikeya leading the army of Devaloka.'

Quickly the priests are summoned and Karna is consecrated the Senapati at midnight. The Sutaputra and Suryaputra is now the Senapati of the Kuru army. This is nearest Kaunteya will ever come to becoming the king he might have been.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Hari
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