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 51: Arjuna Kills Karna. 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:
- Shalya Dies
- Duryodhana Disappears
- Susharma Dies
- Sahadeva Kills Shakuni
- Sanjaya is Spared
- Yuyutsu Returns
- Duryodhana is Found
- The Pandavas Arrive
- Further Reading
On the eighteenth day of the war, Shalya takes over from Karna as the commander of Duryodhana’s (now meager) forces.
This part of the story is called the Shalya Parva despite the fact that Shalya does not play an important role in it. In fact, he dies during the afternoon at the hands of Yudhishthir.
(It is ironic that Yudhishthir – after using Shalya as a spy to weaken Karna – becomes the one to kill Shalya. We must also remember that Shalya is the brother of Madri, and therefore the Pandavas’ maternal uncle. This is yet another example of how degenerate the war has become by this point.)
In their duel, Shalya kills Yudhishthir’s chariot and horses, rendering him immobile. While he is about to land a decisive blow on the Pandava, though, Dhrishtadyumna and Satyaki come up to support their king.
While Shalya is engaged with them, Yudhishthir, takes up a dart whose handle is adorned with gold and gemstones.
Created by Tvashtri for the use of Isana, this dart resembles Kalaratri (death of the night), and it is a consumer of life force of all its foes. King Yudhishthir hurls it in Shalya’s direction with the words: ‘You are slain, O Madraka!’
But to everyone’s astonishment, the Kaurava hero catches the flying dart with his bare hands, and for a moment appears to have controlled it.
However, the dart has enough momentum to pierce through Shalya’s armour. It passes through his body like a bolt of flame cuts through a slab of butter.
With blood spilling from his nostrils, eyes, ears and mouth, Shalya staggers this way and that for a few seconds. And then a great fatigue envelops him, and he falls to the ground.
With the last of the Kaurava heroes dying, the Pandavas grab hold of the advantage and push ahead. Arjuna, Bhimasena and Satyaki are unstoppable, leading their respective divisions against entire armies and wiping them out.
Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma fight gamely, but they’re no match for the combined might of the Pandava heroes.
The five Pandavas are now surrounded by three thousand elephants. Arjuna begins to work his way through the sea of mountainous beasts with his arrows, even as Bhimasena chooses to batter them to the ground with his mace.
These animals thus pursued by the two sons of Pandu emit cries of pain and fear, and when they fall, they cause the very earth to tremble.
Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma now suddenly realize that Duryodhana is not amidst them. Fearing the worst, they ask the Kshatriyas fighting in the vicinity about the king’s whereabouts.
Some of them reply that Duryodhana had gone to Shakuni, but other wounded soldiers chastise these warriors, asking why they cared about the king.
‘How is the king’s presence or absence affecting the way you fight?’ they ask. ‘If you wish to fulfill your duty, assail these enemies of ours and protect us from the arrows of Arjuna.’
The Pandavas have just finished dealing with the three thousand elephants, and now they are making way toward the chariot division of the Kuru army.
As soldiers straighten their backs and prepare for the onslaught, Ashwatthama and the other two heroes abandon the force and retreat deeper into the ranks, ostensibly in search of Duryodhana.
After killing a number of riders with his arrows, the third son of Pandu proceeds against the Trigartas to obliterate them once and for all.
Assailing Satyakarma (a brother of Susharma) with a razor-headed arrow, he cuts off the prince’s head before slaying Satyeshu as well like a hungry lion devouring his prey.
In his fight against Susharma, Arjuna bring forth all his pent-up frustration and anger, first killing all four horses of the Trigarta king, then stripping off his armour, and finally sending a shaft through his heart.
Having killed Susharma, Partha then trains his attention on his thirty five sons, killing them all and sending them to Yama’s abode.
This brings to an official close the ongoing saga of Arjuna versus the Samshaptakas during the Mahabharata war. You will recall that the Samshaptakas are a key component of Drona’s strategy to kill Abhimanyu – hence Arjuna’s anger against them.
Sahadeva Kills Shakuni
Shakuni and his son Uluka together come up against Sahadeva, and the Pandava makes short work of Uluka before turning his attention toward the king of Gandhara.
Seeing his son being killed in front of his eyes, Shakuni remembers for a moment the wise words of Vidura to which he had never paid attention.
Taking up a formidable scimitar, he throws it in Sahadeva’s direction, hoping that it would exact his revenge for him, but the son of Madri cuts it down mid-flight with a few arrows. Then he takes up a sword and a mace, only to see both of them being broken into pieces by Sahadeva’s arrows.
Sensing that things are getting a little dire for him, Shakuni turns and attempts to flee from the field. But Sahadeva overtakes him and forces him to fight.
In the ensuing battle, after having destroyed yet another lance that the Gandhara king hurls at him, the Madreya sends an iron-tipped arrow flying out of his bow that cuts off the trunk of Shakuni from the head.
All the Pandavas rejoice at the death of this man who was at the root of all the evil that has come to afflict the Kuru dynasty.
Arjuna twangs the Gandiva. Krishna blows on the Panchajanya. Bhimasena roars. And as conches and drums sound all over the field, Sahadeva gets complimented by all the surviving heroes in Dhrishtadyumna’s army.
Sanjaya is Spared
In one of the battles that happen during this day, Sanjaya is taken prisoner by Satyaki. Now, as Arjuna, Bhimasena and the others set about killing off the final few soldiers of Duryodhana, Dhrishtadyumna looks at Sanjaya and says, ‘What is the use of seizing this one? Nothing will be gained by keeping him alive.’
And Satyaki, as though in agreement, draws his sword and places it on the neck of the minister, intending to chop it off. But Dwaipayana arrives there just in time and intervenes.
‘Let Sanjaya be dismissed alive, O Yuyudhana,’ he says. ‘By no means must he be slain.’ Though Satyaki does not understand the reason behind the sage’s instruction, he obeys with joined hands, and gives Sanjaya his life back.
Sanjay is thus spared, and he is given leave to go back to the palace and narrate the events of the final few days to Dhritarashtra.
Yuyutsu, the brother of Duryodhana who had chosen to fight on the side of Yudhishthir, now seeks an audience with the eldest Pandava, with Krishna in attendance.
‘Duryodhana’s army has been vanquished, Your Majesty,’ he says, ‘and all his brothers save for myself have been slain. By the grace of destiny have I been spared. Everyone is now filled with fear, and they are going toward the city. I think that I should accompany them and enter the palace myself, O King.’
Yudhishthir gives him permission to do so, and Yuyutsu enters the city with a grieving heart.
He encounters Vidura, who says to him, ‘By good luck, my son, you have lived through the carnage that has fallen upon the Kurus. Tell me, however, why you have come here without Duryodhana by your side?’
‘After the fall of Shakuni, O Vidura,’ replies Yuyutsu, ‘Duryodhana ran away from the battlefield on his horse. Seeing him flee, the rest of the army also fled to different parts of the city. Even the ladies and their protectors have been seen to seek shelter at the royal palace.
‘It is for their protection that I have come here. I wish to assure them that the Pandavas mean no harm, that they will not plunder and loot the kingdom of their father’s brother.’
Vidura is pleased with the young man’s thoughtfulness. ‘You are the real scion of your race, O Yuyutsu,’ he says. ‘I shall carry your message to the king. Meanwhile, you may rest for this night here. And on the morrow, you will take the king’s message back to Yudhishthir.’
Duryodhana is Found
Meanwhile, Kripa, Kritavarma and Ashwatthama come to the lake where Duryodhana is hiding, and attempt to draw him out so that they may go back to the battlefield and fight again.
Ashwatthama, for his part, is particularly rambunctious. ‘Arise, O King,’ he says. ‘We can still vanquish the foe if you come out and fight. The forces of the Pandavas are also on the brink of complete annihilation. They will not be able to survive if we gather our army once again and fight.’
Duryodhana, though, is not keen. ‘The sun has almost set for today, O Drauna,’ he says. ‘By good fortune the three of you have escaped the Pandavas. Let us rest for the night, and tomorrow we can mount an attack afresh on the enemy.
‘Though your hearts are noble and your devotion to me is great, this is perhaps not the time to show our prowess. Let us lie low for a few hours and resume our battle tomorrow.’
While they are talking in this fashion, a group of hunters – who had been instructed by the Pandavas to search for Duryodhana – pass by that way and overhear the words. Realizing that they had found the Kuru king, they hurry back to the battlefield and inform Yudhishthir of what they had seen.
Bhimasena is beside himself with joy that the hunters had come through. ‘Give them all the wealth they can carry, Brother,’ he tells Yudhishthir. ‘And let us make haste in finding the eldest Dhartarashtra before he slips away again from our grasp.’
The Pandavas Arrive
The five Pandavas, along with Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandin, the Upapandavas, Satyaki Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas follow the hunters and reach the lake where Duryodhana is hiding.
Hearing them approach, the three Kaurava warriors move away from there, after having told Duryodhana to stay where he is. Ashwatthama has a bad feeling about leaving the king alone like this.
The Pandavas have found Duryodhana, he thinks, and they are here now to exact their revenge. What will happen of the son of Dhritarashtra? Will he be able to escape unhurt?
Yudhishthir leads his small band of warriors to the lake, and they stand on its bank, looking around to see where Duryodhana is hiding. Then the eldest Pandava happens to look at the water’s surface, and sees that it has been solidified by magic.
Pointing it to Krishna, he says, ‘Look, Vasudeva, Duryodhana has frozen this lake with his powers of illusion. It is my presumption, therefore, that he is hiding under it.’
Krishna smiles in agreement, and with his own powers he shatters the spell that Duryodhana had cast on the water. This reveals him in full sight, and the Pandavas encircle him.
The stage is now set for the final act of the Mahabharata war – the fight between Bhima and Duryodhana – which we will explore in the next episode.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
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- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered