The Great War - Day 16

The senapati of the Kuru army aligns his legions in Makara Vyuha. He is at the head of the crocodile. The eyes are Shakuni and Uluka. The crown of the makara's head is Ashwathama. Duryodhana's brothers are immediately behind Ashwathama. At the very heart of the phalanx is Duryodhana himself, protected by his forces. The forelegs of the beast are Kritavarman with the Narayana army and Kripa with his own men. The hindlegs are Karna's son Sushena and the dependable Shalya and their soldiers.

Across the field, Yudhishtra looks at the Makara vyuha grimly. He says to Arjuna, 'The Kauravas now have a new Senapati. The makara vyuha is being used again, it last being used by Pitamah. I realise how much their numbers have dwindled, and we have also dwindled with them. In my mind,Karna is the last great soldier that they have and he is the most dangerous one. More than Pitamah or Drona, it is him I fear the most. You must kill this man Arjuna and only then can victory be ours.

Arjuna and Dhristadyumna form their legions in the Chandrakala Vyuha, the half crescent. Bheema is the left point and Dhristadyumna at the right. At the heart of the vyuha is Arjuna with Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva around him. It is a leaner crescent than the one they had formed fifteen days ago.

Karna leads the army with dignity, returning the war back to Bheeshma's Dharma Yudha. This is a relief to all, after seeing Drona's macabre assault on the common soldiers. Bheema opens the day's slaughter by striking off the head of the lord of Kshemadhurti. Then Karna dashes at the Pandava army. Nakula dashes up to confront him. Bheema and Ashwathama clash while Satyaki faces the two of the remaining Kekaya brothers. Duryodhana and Yudhishtra face each other, while the remaining Samsaptakas ride at Arjuna, only at him, for revenge. Kripa and Dhishtradyumna face each other. Shikhandi and Kritavarma, Srutakirti and Shalya, Sahadeva and Dushasana duel.

After an excited encounter Satyaki kills the Kekayas. Bheeshma renders Ashwathama unconscious. Shalya puts Srutakirti to flight and Sahadeva shames Dushasana. Nakula fights his way through a hundred Kaurava soldiers only to be taunted by the smile on Kaunteya's face. 'I will kill you now Karna, for all the evil that you have caused.' The smile never leaving his face, Karna replies 'Let me shear your pride a little Kshatriya' and lets loose a blur of arrows that split the Pandava's bow. After Bheema and Sahadeva it is Nakula's turn to be humbled by the king of Anga. Karna kills Nakula's horses, his sarathy and puts Nakula to flight. Before setting him free, Karna tells him, 'One day you will remember this duel and feel proud that once you fought Karna and got away with your life.' Hissing like a snake, Nakula runs away in shame. Only Krishna notices this incident.

Karna romps across Kurukshetra like an incarnation of the Sun. Emboldened by him, his soldiers fight like never before. Shakuni's son Uluka defeats Yuyutsu. Shakuni himself fights Sutasoma. Kripa confronts Dhristadyumna. Enraged at how his brother in law had died, Kripa strikes the fire-born prince unconscious in the chariot. Elsehwere Shikhandi is badly injured by Kritavarman.

Like the three tips of Shiva's trident, Kritavarman, Kripa and Karna rage, killing thousands. The samsaptakas foolishly challenge Arjuna, who decimates them once again. Duryodhana and Yudhishtra meet on the battlefield. Yudhishtra is now on a different mission. Yudhishtra lets loose a volley of arrows at Duryodhana. Four arrows kills Duryodhana's horses with the arrows piercing their hearts. The fifth arrow severs the sarathy's head spraying Duryodhana with his sarathy's blood. The sixth one cuts down his serpent banner. The seventh one snatches the bow away from the Kuru prince. Duryodhana is rage personified. He draws his sword. The eight shaft cuts it in two. It appears as if Yudhishtra wants to win the kingdom back today. His archery is elegant, effortless and ethereal. Five more arrows shoot forth from Yudhishtra's bow. It is by grace of Drona's armor that Duryodhana survives. He is pinned to his chariot. Quickly Karna, Ashwathama and Kripa rush to their king's rescue. But Yudhishtra has had the moral victory in this battle.

The afternoon finds Bheema to be death personified. He kills thousands and his roars resound Kurukshetra. Duryodhana mounts a fresh chariot and rides at Yudhishtra once again. Once more he finds swift humiliation. Arjuna now turns on Karna. But Karna is invincible. He inflicts wounds on both Arjuna and Krishna with some amazing archery. The fight quickly wears off. The face off was yet to be. That will be tomorrow. The sixteenth day of Dharma yuddha comes to an end with the Sun going down the horizon. Karna and Dhrishtadyumna order the twilight conches to sound. There has been no casualty of Kshatriyas today. Only thousands of ordinary soldiers have perished. There is no elation or dejection in either camp. The honors of the day have been almost equally shared, though the Kauravas had the edge due to Karna. The soldiers felt as if they were being led by Bheeshma once again, and there appeared to be a balance in the mindset now.

That night, Duryodhana is slightly dissatisfied though he does not express it. He saw how Karna had Nakula at his mercy and spared the Pandava's life. If it was Bheeshma, or Drona he would have accused them being partial to the Pandavas, but Karna, no !!! He knew that Karna loathed the Pandavas as much as he did. He could never utter a harsh word to Karna. When they are returning to their tents, Karna takes his king's hands, and says, 'Arjuna might have fought magnificently but tomorrow I will kill him.' Duryodhana smiles, 'I know you will. I know you will.'

Later that night Suryaputra comes alone to Duryodhana's tent. He is very sure that this is going to be his last night in this world. Duryodhana and Karna plan the strategy for the next day. Karna tells his friend, that there was only one way to win this war. Either he will kill Arjuna or die in the attempt. For once he wants the world to see who the better archer is. Karna tells his friend, that Both Arjuna and him can summon the astras of the four kinds. Arjuna has the Gandeeva, He has the Vijaya, a greater weapon, which Indra himself handed over to his preceptor, Parashurama. 'Tomorrow, with Arjuna dead, the world will be at your feet....'
He pauses. Duryodhana senses that something is wrong. Karna continues. 'Arjuna cannot be underestimated. His quivers are inexhaustible. His chariot is out of this world, his horses are gandharva and of course, his most telling advantage, without which he would have been dead long ago, his sarathy. Krishna. He is quicker than the mind. I have no sarathy to match Krishna.'
'Is there no one to match Krishna as a sarathy ?'
'There is. But will he agree to be my charioteer. A Sutaputra's charioteer ?'
'Who is he Karna ?'
'Shalya. He is twice the archer that Krishna is. Krishna merely knows ashwahridaya. But Shalya, he has mastered it. Shalya is to chariotery what Karna is to archery. If Shalya will drive my horses then Arjuna will not escape. But Shalya is a king. We will have to persuade him, and who better than you Duryodhana. King of the world to ask him.' Duryodhana knows that this will be tough task, but he says to Karna that this will be done. They embrace each other, perhaps for one last time, and then Duryodhana takes leave.

Visions of past fill Karna's eyes. He feels certain that tomorrow he will die. He sees his mother Radha. He is a serene witness to his past, almost as if he was watching some other man's life being played out before his eyes. Karna knows that Arjuna will kill him tomorrow, but he will not admit that Arjuna was the better archer. No. Not tomorrow atleast. It will be victory for Arjuna no doubt, but that would not be because of his skill, but of the darkness that surrounded him. Karna. The suryaputra knew from the beginnning that this war was as good as lost for the Kauravas when he knew that Krishna would be on the side of the Pandavas. But he could never bring himself to say this to his friend. How could he break his heart. He would die and then perhaps Duryodhana would realise it. Tomorrow Shalya might agree to be his sarathy, but what was Shalya before Krishna ? Karna's mind suddenly wanders back to that balmy afternoon, when Bhargava slept on his lap. The scar on his thigh twitches. He hears the curse once again. He thinks of the cow on the deserted beach, and then the brahmana's curse echoes once again. Karna has no doubts that he will die tomorrow on the battlefield, a hero. But he has to meet Yudhishtra once on the battlefield and spare him his life. It was his way of saying that he was their brother, and when he died they would atleast cherish the memory. Arjuna of course, would cherish the moment of his killing. Karna falls into a dreamless slumber slowly.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Hari
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