The Great War - Day 9

The sun rises over the yawning Kurukshetra. Bheeshma forms his legions in the sarvatobhadra vyuha, meaning 'safe from every side' - ie the square formation. Bheeshma is at the head of the vyuha. Kripa, Kritavarman, Shakuni Jayadratha Kamboja and fifty of Duryodhana's brothers protect the Pitamah. The trigartas form another ring around this inner one.

The Pandavas form a mandala vyuha. Yudhishtra, Bheema, Nakula, Sahadeva and Draupadi's sons are at the very front. Just behind them are Arjuna, Dhristadyumna, Shikhandi, Behind them are Abhimanyu, Drupada and the Kekayas,

As the conches resound, and the two armies surge at eac other, the killing begins in earnest. Suddenly the sun is eclipsed by an uncanny cloud that appears out of nowhere. The army of jackals start baying. Vultures begin to wheel into this twilight. There is a slight shower of pebbles onto the armies and then the clouds vanish. The KaliYuga had begun.

Abhimanyu is the first to recover from these omens, and begins his onslaught in full speed. Everything on his way, he annihilates, without a second thought. Drona and Kripa try to stop him. So do Ashwathama and Jayadratha, but he is more than a match for them. Duryodhana calls on Alambusa, the mythical warrior. But today, none of Alambusa's sorcery seems to work. Abhimanyu knows exactly where he is , and shoots incendiary shafts at the demonic creature. Alambusa intones an evil mantra and his maya shakti shrouds the Pandava army in unnatural night. Abhimanyu looses a Bhaskarastra and the darkness is dispelled. Alambusa invokes his anima siddhi and runs away.

Bheeshma rides to challenge his great grandson. But Abhimanyu has both Pandava and Yadava blood in his veins. Arjuna joins Bheeshma, seing which, Duryodhana sends 50 of his brothers to face the patriach together. Arjuna and Drona fight, as if they have a score to settle. Their archery is of a different level. It is like that of two sublime artists, who are talking of the mysteries of the universe that hardly anyone else can decipher. They exchange their very lives with arrows and soul brushes soul. Drona is proud of his shishya, Arjuna, and tells him, No one on earth could have taught him, all that he is using now, and that today, Drona has to learn from Arjuna. Arjuna bows and then the Gandiva hums again. Arjuna thanks his fate, that among all the crimes that he committed and will commit on this battlefield, killing his Acharya will not be one. The one for doing that, has been born already.

He unleashes the Vayavastra at Drona and his chariot is caught in the eye of the storm. Quick as Arjuna, Drona summons a Sailastra and Arjuna's storm is quelled as quickly as it was summonned. Guru and Shishya now fight on an entirely different plane of Astras. Around them, the Trigartas are running around in fear. The Pitamah is surrounded by a crescent of Duryodhana's best warriors. Bheema unleases himself at Bheeshma, but Duryodhana quickly summons the elephant force. Bheema is overjoyed. The elephant army is running helter skelter, killing more men of their own than that of the Pandavas.

But Bheeshma is keeping his word today. No one had ever seen him fight like that. Drona can only stare. He fights like the Eighth Vasu that he was. He fights like Ganga's son, whose waters he stopped, ages ago. Bheeshma was in his element, and it was no surprise that no one could stop him. Dhritadymna calls his forces to attack the Kuru Patriach. Shikhandi, Virata, Drupada and all the Pandavas attack Bheehsma with a thousand lance like shafts, but not one of them even scratches the armor of his charioteer. They all fall in a crescent shaped heap in front of the Patriach's chariot. Bheeshma continues his decimation of the Pandava army. Each second a hundred Pandava soldiers die, each one with a shaft from the Pitamah's bow. Pandava army begins to panic. Even the bravest of Pandava warriors are now running away from the Pitamah.

Arjuna draws his grandfather's fire. The Trigartas come, unabashedly, after the Vayavastra, after Arjuna. Arjuna is in no mood to entertain them. He is busy fighting Drona. But Drona is now watching Bheeshma fight. Arjuna has also not seen such archery. He decides to divert the Pitamah's attention to himself. He starts decimating the Trigartas. Bheeshma turns his attention to Arjuna. Quick as light, Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva come between the Patriach and Savyasachi (another name of Arjuna). The three hold up the Pitamah. Seeing this, Duryodhana sends his chariot mounted kshatriyas. All of them all finished in the blink of an eye. He calls up Shalya and asks him to fight his own nephews.

Shalya has no choice, but Bheeshma is quicker than him. He quickly teams up with his brothers, and rout Shalya and his legion. In the meanwhile, Bheeshma has broken the shackles of Arjuna and has gone ahead into the Pandava legions, killing every single thing that lay in his path. Krishna warns Partha, that Bheeshma would kill everybody except his five brothers. He hordes Arjuna to save the lives of those who have come to risk their lives for him. Krishna is not at all happy with Arjuna's outlook towards fighting the Pitamah. Arjuna cries to Krishna that he does not want this kingdom, soaked in blood and grime. He would rather go to hell, than to fight on this battlefield.

Arjuna asks his charioteer to ride close to Bheeshma. Bheeshma's flag is the first to go. The next arrow, breaks the Pitamah's bow, into two. Bheeshma picks up another, but Arjuna, quick as quicksilver, brings down that as well. A hopeful shout goes up from the Pandava army. Bheeshma stands unarmed for a couple of moments. The usually steady hands of Partha, waver at his bowstring and the arrow coolly whistles past the Pitamah's ears. The Pitamah himself is surprised. He had thought that this was perhaps his end. In a wink, he picks up another bow and begins the onslaught once more. A hundred arrows fly from Bheeshma's bow, all having the signature of death. Arjuna is reluctant to fight Bheeshma. Seeing this Krishna is angry. He gets down from his chariot. The Sudarshana Chakra blazes over his hand and he walks grimly towards Bheeshma. The soldiers shrink away from Krishna, and whisper - Bheeshma is dead.

Bheeshma is in his chariot, watching this spectacle unfold. It seems to him, that all this killing was just to provoke this rage, so he could die at the Avatar's hands. He cries to Krishna, to kill him. He says to Krishna, that he will offer him a Kshyatriya's worship, before he kills him. He raises his bow, to fight the Avatara.

Arjuna is at Krishna's feet and begs him not to break his promise of not to use arms during the War. Krishna growls dreadfully. He does not look at the warrior clinging to his legs. Arjuna swears by his love of Krishna, that he would fight with all his heart in the battle. The Avatara takes sometime to think about this. Then all of a sudden, as suddenly as it had appeared, the Sudarshan Chakra disappears, and the Avatara walks backs to his chariot. Arjuna follows him meekly. Bheeshma openly expresses his disappointment. It looks as if he has been enraged by this disappointment. He lets loose terror at Pandava soldiers. He is more awesome than before now. He kills twice as many men as Arjuna. What appears to be a few moments of supreme anarchy, but is in fact some hours and countless kills, the sun crosses the sky quickly, as if he cannot bear to see the killings any more.

The talk in both the camps is of Bheeshma. The Pandava camp is worried, that if the Pitamah fought again, as he had today, the war would be lost in a couple of days. The Kaurava camp is exultant. Tonight even Karna is pleased, with what Bheeshma has done. For it saves him what he now feared the most. That of having to take the field against his brothers.

On the night of the 9th day, Pandavas have lost twice as many men as the Kauravas. Depair looms large over Yudhishtra and he is too shaken to speak. He realises that he will never win, if Bheeshma fights as he does. He says to his brothers and Krishna, that Bheeshma was decimating the Pandava forces as Agni would melt a pound of butter. Even if they were to lose the battle, they would have to spend the rest of their lives in the jungle, with the deaths of a million men weighing heavily on their conscience. He says that we should never have come back and asked for land. He tells Bheema that it is now too late for revenge for an age has passed between the crime and its punishement and now they were being punished by their own grandfather.

Krishna now speaks. He tells Yudhishtra that, Maybe your brothers are full of love for the Pitamah and may hesitate to kill him, but not I. I can finish the Pitamah tomorrow, under Duryodhana's eyes and then the victory will be yours. Your enemies are my enemies, and this war is mine as well. He tells Dharmaputra that he would cut his body to pieces and feed it to the jackals for the sake of Arjuna. Arjuna had sent a brave message to Pitamah, on the eve of the war, that Paartha would kill Bheeshma.

Krishna says, 'I do not say that Arjuna cannot kill Bheeshma himself. For a man who humbled the King of the Gods, Indra himself, this is a not a task that is not very hard. It is not that Arjuna is not an archer enough to kill Bheeshma. Not that he cannot kill his Pitamah, but he will not. His heart is soft. A Kshatriya must die to pity and kindness before he can find perfection. Arjuna cannot find the detachment within himself, the pure spirit of vairagya.

I am the warrior for you, Yudhishtra. I will do what your hearts do not permit you to do. The bonds of this earth do not hold me. I am indifferent to joy and grief, good and evil, pain and pleasure. I make no difference one enemy and another. The world is alike and one to me and only me. Only Dharma matters , for which I have been born. No sin clings to me, Yudhishtra. Leave Bheeshma to me, and I will kill him tomorrow. Sleep in peace. You shall win the war.'

Yudhishtra begs Krishna to take back his words. He says that he has confidence in his brother's skills and that they would vanquish the Pitamah, if only they could knew how to vanquish the Pitamah. Suddenly Yudhishtra feels as if the only person who could give him this knowledge was Bheeshma himself. He decides to go to the Pitama and ask him directly. His brothers are surprised but decide to follow him.

It is past midnight and Kurukshetra is perfectly still. The Pandavas steal into Bheeshma's tent. When Bheeshma asks who it was, Yudhishtra replies that it was him and his brothers and Krishna. Bheeshma immediately rises and lights a lamp. He welcomes the Pandavas and makes them comfortable. He praises Arjuna sky high saying that there is no archer like him in Heaven and on Earth. He suddenly realises the hour of the night and the fact that they were all unarmed and were fidgeting with themselves. He is concerned and asks Yudhishtra the purpose of their midnight sojourn.

With a lump in his throat, Yudhishtra tells the Pitamah, that he has come to ask him something, that any grandson would be filled with shame to ask his grandfather. Yudhistra can contain it no longer. He says, 'Pitamah, unless you die, we cannot win this war. I have com to ask how we can kill you. I must see you dead, because, I must win this monstrous dharmayuddha. Please tell me how we can kill you."

Bheeshma strokes Yudhishtra's head and says, 'I am afraid you are right Yudhistra. If you do not kill me, you cannot win the war. A life time of celibacy has given me near invincibility. Even Indra cannot kill me. Krishna here can, but then he will have to break his word. I want to die, my son. I have seen the ruin of the house, I have loved and nurtured all my life. I have seen so many generations perish, and now I see the house of Kuru, divided against itself, cousin against cousin. My heart is broken and I long for nothing excep death. Can't you see my son, that life by itself is an endless torment for me. Twice Krishna stood before me with his Sudarshana Chakra, to offer me mukti instantly, but twice he turned away. Today I curse my celibacy and the strength it gives me. Only Arjuna today has the strength to kill me. Why do you cry Arjuna? If you truly love me, then set me free from the dark bondage of this mortal life. Kill me tomorrow and deliver me to peace. I have carried life's burden too long. Even You cannot kill me, when I am fighting Arjuna. I will have to lay down my weapons, because according to Dharma, I have to fight for Duryodhana, which means, I will never let down my weapons. Yet there is a way to make me lay down my arms. In your army, there is a kshyatriya born to kill me. He has crossed two lives, to come as my death. Set Shikhandi before me, and I will not fight him, because, he once was a woman.'

Bheeshma proceeds. 'Amba was the daughter of the King of Kasi. I abducted her and her sisters on the day of their swayamvara. Ambika and Ambalika became your grandmothers, but Amba wanted me to marry her, and that could never happen, because of my pratigya. Shikhadi remembes his last birth perfectly. She will now come before me on Kurukshetra as my deliverer. Amba hates me and she loves me. After all these years, the two are hardly apart. Love and hate are different faces of the same obsession. Is it her hatred or her love that brings her inexorably to me. Tomorrow when you fight me Arjuna, remember to set Shikhandi before me. I will not see Drupada's son, but Kasi Raja's daughter, who once touched my spirit as no one else ever has. She has survived every test of time, to become my death. How will I shoot arrows at a woman, who has spent two lives thinking about me ?'

He squeezes Arjuna's hand, insisting. He says to Yudhishtra, 'You cry in sorry, while I cry in Joy. When I am dead, victory will not elude you. ' As each one slowly left his tent, only Krishna remained. Krishna tells him, 'Be joyful more than ever. You will never be born again into this world of sorrow. And you will be remembered as the greatest Kuru ever.'

Back in the Pandava tents, Arjuna is still crying.

'He is my Pitamah. How can I kill him ?'
'You have to Arjuna, You are a Kshyatriya. It is your Dharma. You have to win this war for yourself, for your brothers, for Draupadi, and all your sons. Bheeshma has to die at your hands. It is his fate. Noone can change that. However you might torment yourself with guilt, tomorrow you will be the one who will kill him. What is fated will happen. Arjuna, you must realise that you are not killing him from hatred. You are not killing your Pitamah, but your Enemy's Senapati. The future of the world is in your hands Arjuna. You cannot sacrifice it, not for the love of your Pitamah.'

Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Hari
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