In this series of posts, I am reconstructing the Mahabharata as a sequence of episodes. This will provide a quick and easy way for someone new to the story to become acquainted with it.
(For the previous post in this series, see Episode 47: Satyaki Kills Bhurishrava. To access the full repository of Mahabharata episodes, see: 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story.)
A list of topics that we will cover:
- Bhimasena is Dispatched
- Bhima Meets Drona
- Bhima Defeats Drona
- Bhima Blazes Forth
- Bhima versus Karna
- Vikarna Dies
- Karna Wins
- Karna Spares Bhima
- Alambusha Dies
- Meeting of the Trio
- Further Reading
Bhimasena is Dispatched
We’re still on Day 14 of the Mahabharata war. After Satyaki is sent out in search of Arjuna, Yudhishthir now finds himself worrying about both of them.
So he addresses Bhimasena and says, ‘It is as if the Gandiva has fallen silent, Brother. All I hear are the wrathful tones of the Panchajanya.
‘I cannot help but think that Krishna is beside himself with anger, and what can cause so much rage in that man but for the death of Arjuna? I am convinced that Arjuna has died. And now even Satyaki is lost inside this dense maze of an army.
‘For my sake, O Vrikodara – and for Arjuna’s sake and for the sake of that Satwata hero, will you enter the Kaurava ranks and proceed as close as you can to the needle formation?
‘When you spot the two Krishnas and the Vrishni safe and sound, utter one of your leonine roars, loud enough for me to hear.’
Bhima, like Satyaki, is not convinced that Arjuna is in danger. But with Yudhishthir insisting, he resolves to enter the Kaurava ranks.
Repeatedly, and with great care, Bhimasena assigns to Dhrishtadyumna the task of protecting Yudhishthir. ‘It is not unknown to you, O Panchala,’ he says, ‘that Drona has taken a vow to take our king captive. With Arjuna, Satyaki and me away from his side, the job of protecting him falls squarely now on your shoulders.’
Yudhishthir smells his brother’s head and wishes him all the luck in the world. His chariot laden with arrows, maces, lances and darts, Bhima rushes out to meet the foe on his own.
Bhima Meets Drona
The first man in his path, as always, is Drona, at the entrance to the Sakata Vyuha.
The preceptor welcomes his student with a smile, if not with open arms. ‘It is beyond your ability to enter this formation, O Vrikodara,’ he says, ‘without vanquishing me first. I am your enemy. Your younger brother Arjuna, guided by Krishna, passed into this array with my permission. So did Satyaki. But you will never succeed in doing so.’
Bhima grinds his teeth in anger, and bristles at Drona’s words. ‘O wretch of a Brahmin,’ he says, ‘what need does Arjuna have to gain your permission to enter this pitiful array? He is good enough to obliterate an army led by Indra himself.
‘If he chose not to fight you, then it must have been only out of pity, or out of a false sense of respect. On the other hand, O Acharya, remember that I am not as compassionate as that curly-haired one. I am Bhimasena. Your enemy!’
Saying this, Bhima picks out a mace and hurls it at Drona’s chariot. The latter jumps out right in the nick of time, and watches while standing on foot how the weapon grinds the vehicle into the dust.
Bhima Defeats Drona
Drona summons another chariot in a trice, however, and is ready in a moment to receive Bhima’s push.
Bhima, to everyone’s surprise leaps to the ground and begins running at Drona barehanded, dodging any arrows that the Brahmin shoots at him.
A few strike him on the arm and pierce his skin, but he pulls them out and throws them away as if they were pieces of straw. And reaching Drona’s chariot from the side, he picks it up by the shaft and throws it aside with a loud yell.
As the vehicle tumbles and breaks a few meters away, Drona is left summoning another chariot for himself, and Bhima uses this time to rush into the mouth of the array at great speed.
Thus Bhima is the only of the three to actually fight Drona and defeat him before entering his array.
Bhima Blazes Forth
The onward movement of Bhimasena deep into Drona’s Vyuha is swift and decisive. We are told that he grinds the Bhoja forces to the dust, then routs the Kambojas with his bow and arrow.
He thins the numbers of Mlechchas too, who are at the time engaged in fighting with Satyaki. Seeing the Vrishni prince deeply immersed in battle, Bhima passes him and goes inward, desirous of sighting Arjuna.
Beating down everything in his path, he reaches the spot where he is able to not only hear the hum of the Gandiva but see the dancing locks of Gudakesha resplendent in armour, his white steeds appearing as if arrested in mid-flight.
He then cups his mouth with one hand and roars at the top of his voice, causing Arjuna and Krishna to turn around. The two Krishnas join in, and the combined sounds travel all the way back to Yudhishthir.
The mighty-armed first son of Kunti smilingly receives this message and his anxious heart is put to rest.
It is indeed our good fortune that Arjuna, Krishna and Satyaki are alive and well, if out of sight. I have no doubt that they have caused great destruction to the army of Duryodhana today.
He who has slain the Nivatakavachas, he who has rescued the cattle of Virata while fighting on a single chariot, he who is decked with a diadem and earned the name of Kiriti, he who wields the Gandiva, he who has slain fourteen thousand Kalakeyas, that Partha, that dear brother of mine, he still lives!
Bhima versus Karna
As Bhima is coursing through the battlefield toward Arjuna while uttering roar after roar, Karna rushes at him and checks his course like a tall tree withstanding a storm.
Bhima also suddenly blazes up in wrath on seeing the son of Vaikartana in his path, remembering his harsh words on the day of Draupadi’s disrobing.
The battle that takes place between the two of them is so ferocious, we are told, that all kinds of evil omens appear. The sky is covered with flying vultures. Hearing their sounds of palms clapping on thighs and bows twanging, the people around them are consumed by fright that the world is going to end.
With ten straight arrows, Bhima breaks Karna’s bow in two. The latter, though, takes up another bow in a moment and returns a barrage of twelve whetted shafts.
With a cry of rage, Bhima defends himself and then pierces the chest of the king of Anga with three shafts. Karna is disoriented by these wounds, and though he still manages to stay in the battle by trading arrows with Bhima, he is visibly shaken.
Noticing this, a smiling Bhimasena kills his opponent’s charioteer and also his four horses. After securing a victory in this duel, Bhima lets out a roar and rides on toward Arjuna
A number of sons of Dhritarashtra waylay Bhimasena after his battle with Karna. Among these are Durmarshana, Durdhara, Durmukha and Vikarna.
Bhimasena kills them all, but at the death of the last he kneels by the body of his cousin and mourns him. ‘‘You were always engaged in our good, Brother,’ he says, ‘and it is scarcely proper that I had to slay you. But my vow is thus, and indeed you have challenged me bravely in accordance to the duty of a Kshatriya.’
(Vikarna is the only one on the Kaurava side who speaks in Draupadi’s favour during her disrobing. Read of this incident in more detail in Episode 17: The Game of Dice.)
While Bhima is fighting off and killing some of Duryodhana’s brothers, Karna once again catches up with the Pandava and challenges him to another duel. This time he gives a much better account of himself.
The two of them use weapons of such ferocity that the surrounding army – comprising the Sindhus and the Sauviras – is obliterated. All of them retreat and give the two heroes room to continue their fight.
After having his bow broken in two a couple of times, Karna returns to cover Bhima in a cloud of arrows, thus breaking his chariot into tiny splinters.
Depriving Bhimasena of his chariot is by no means indicative of victory, because he is as ferocious on his two feet. As soon as he is thrown to the ground here, he rolls over a couple of times and emerges with his bare hands slapping one another menacingly.
He bounds toward Karna’s chariot and leaps up with his arms spread out, intending to pluck the son of Radha out of his vehicle. But the latter conceals himself within the chariot.
Now Bhima looks around and sees a dead elephant, pierced at multiple places on its body with Arjuna’s arrows. He picks it up over his head with a grunt, like Hanuman picking up the Mahodaya mountain.
But before he can hurl it at Karna, the latter cuts the carcass down into pieces with his shafts. Undeterred, Bhima throws the beast’s limbs and trunk and torso one after the other at his enemy.
Karna Spares Bhima
All this only serves to buy time, however. Karna is clearly in the stronger position here. He manages to defend himself against the elephant pieces flying at him, and after that he addresses Bhima with a smile of derision.
‘You are a beardless eunuch, Vrikodara,’ he says, ‘an ignorant fool, a glutton! You are but a child who is nothing but a braggart. What job have you on a battlefield, and why did you dare to challenge me to a fight? You are fit only for foraging and feeding in the manner of a wild animal in the woods.’
He touches the tip of his bow to Bhima’s chin. ‘Do not again challenge your superiors in battle, angry one. Not everyone is as merciful as I am. Go and find someone else to fight.’
Bhima refuses to be cowed down by Karna’s words. ‘Instead of fighting a standing man with a bow and arrow, O Karna, descend from your chariot and engage with me using your bare arms. You will know then who is superior and who inferior.’
Karna does not accept the challenge, because he knows that Bhimasena is second to none in hand-to-hand combat. He therefore repeats his message of mercy, just when Arjuna appears on the scene.
Seeing the chariot drawn by Krishna appear to the far side, Karna retreats into the Kaurava ranks, no doubt feeling that he is not up to facing the third Pandava after this protracted fight with Bhima.
Seeing Bhimasena thus afflicted by Karna, Satyaki the Vrishni prince rushes on from the middle of the battlefield in order to extend his support. But Alambusha the Rakshasa blocks his path, armed with a bow and clad in a golden coat of mail.
All the surrounding warriors stop fighting and become spectators of this battle, in which Alambusha shoots ten arrows at Satyaki, but the latter cuts them all down by means of his own shafts.
Three more arrows fletched with beautiful golden feathers leave the bow of the Rakshasa and make their way into Satyaki’s body, breaching his armour, but the Satwata warrior bears them with no fuss, as if they are mere stalks of grass.
Alambusha then strikes the four silver steeds of Satyaki, which angers the Vrishni enough to slay the steeds that pull the Rakshasa’s chariot.
Yuyudhana places on his bow a crescent-shaped arrow decked with beautiful rings, making it gleam in the late afternoon sun as brightly as the Samvartaka, the fire of destruction.
He murmurs a chant under his breath, and lets it go with a twang at Alambusha. The missile strikes the Rakshasa right under his throat, and with a clean swipe, carries off his head like Garuda plucking off the head of a snake.
Meeting of the Trio
With the death of Alambusha, Satyaki, Bhimasena and Arjuna arrive at the same spot in the battlefield. From here on, the events of Bhurishrava’s death (which we covered in Episode 47) occur, and then of course the events of Jayadratha’s death (Episode 46).
This brings us to the close of Day 14 of the war, during which three warriors from the Pandava side succeed in breaking open the ‘impenetrable’ formation that Drona creates to protect Jayadratha.
Duryodhana, understandably, is not amused with this. He confronts Drona with his thoughts, and the preceptor suggests that the battle should continue through the night.
So as the sun sets, the armies do not retreat to their respective camps. After a short period of rest, they return to the battlefield to continue fighting one another.
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