Mahabharata Parva 69: The Dronabhisheka Parva

Mahabharata Parvas - Dronabhisheka - Featured Image - Picture of a scorpion representing Duryodhana

The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.

The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.

In this post, we will summarize the Dronabhisheka Parva.

(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)

Karna Returns

DURYODHANA WELCOMES HIS friend Karna back into the ranks with wide smiles. After the commotion in the army has settled down somewhat, the king addresses Karna and says:

‘Now the discomfort in my heart can be stilled because you have arrived, O Vasusena. The time has come for us to battle with the Pandavas again. But since we have lost our leader, before we march out to meet the foe, we must pick one from among ourselves.

‘Who do you think should, O King of Anga, be our commander now?’

Karna replies, ‘You are blessed with many great fighters, O King. All of them know the ins and outs of battle and strategy. Any one of them can be a leader, but only one will. My personal thought is that Drona should be given this honour.

‘The venerable one taught all of us when we were children; indeed, he is the greatest of the greatest, perhaps even superior to Bhishma in skill with weapons.

‘If you are Indra, then he is Brihaspati. Make him our General, and he will perform the role as well as Kartikeya does for the Devas.’

Drona is Chosen

Duryodhana accepts this piece of advice, and facing Drona, he says:

‘For the superiority of the order of your birth, for the nobility of your parentage, for your learning, experience, intelligence, the extent to which you have conquered yourself – for all these qualities, O Preceptor, my army can hope for no better leader than you.

‘Like Vasava protecting the celestials, protect us, O Brahmanottama, and help us vanquish our foes.

‘You are Kapali among the Rudras, Pavaka among the Vasus, Kubera among the Yakshas, Vasava among the Maruts, Vasishtha among the Brahmins, Chandra among the stars, and you are Usanas among the Daityas.

‘These eleven akshauhinis are yours to command. Like the son of Pavaka at the head of the celestial forces, give us your command and we shall follow you. Arjuna will not strike you willingly, of that I am certain!

‘Without doubt I shall secure my victory against Yudhishthir with you as my leader.’

Drona’s Response

Drona responds to Duryodhana’s praise in the following manner.

‘I know the Vedas with their six branches,’ says Drona in response, seemingly unaffected by all the loud admiration. ‘I also know the science of human affairs better than most.

‘ I have been blessed with the Saivastra, among the most powerful in the world. I also possess numerous other species of weapons, none of which I will hesitate to use on the Pandavas in quest for victory, O King.

‘I will fight with the Pandavas with more heart than Bhishma ever has. But of one thing, Duryodhana, you must take care. I will not be able to kill Dhrishtadyumna no matter how hard I try.

‘It is for my death that he has taken birth, and now, with him leading the Pandava army and me leading yours, I see that the dice of destiny are rolling in his favour. But we must resist as hard as we can!’

Thus permitted by Drona, the Kaurava kings perform the ceremony installing the preceptor as the commander. At the completion of the rituals, the soldiers in the army feel a strange sense of joy, and the sound of drums and conches fill the air.

Duryodhana’s Boon

At the beginning of Day 11, Drona tells Duryodhana, ‘You have given me great honour by appointing me the commander of the Kuru force next to the son of Ganga. I am indebted to you. Ask of me any boon that you desire.’

Duryodhana, after consultation with Duhsasana and Karna, replies, ‘Acharya, it is my wish that you seize Yudhishthir and bring him alive to me.’

Drona is surprised that Duryodhana has not asked him to kill Yudhishthir. ‘Slaying the king in battle is equivalent to cutting off the head of a snake, my son,’ he says. ‘And yet you ask Yudhishthir to be brought before you as a prisoner.

Alive. Why do you not wish me to take his life in battle if the opportunity presents itself?’

Duryodhana gives an answer that is both clever and foolish at the same time (the former because it is devious, the latter because he thinks it will work a third time). He says:

‘This Pandava army is unlike a snake, O Preceptor. It is more like a scorpion, which has more sting in its tail than in its head. I would like, therefore, not to kill it but to tame it.

‘If Yudhishthir dies, I have no doubt that Arjuna and Bhimasena will exterminate all of us in the blink of an eye. But if I can persuade the eldest Pandava – naive that he is – to another game of dice, then I can cause them to return to the forest.

‘The rest of his brothers will follow him mutely, because they are dutiful toward him. That way, my victory over them will be more enduring. I think it better, therefore, to use Yudhishthir’s weaknesses against him than to kill him outright.’

Drona’s Idea

Drona thinks about this for a moment, and then grants the boon with the following clarification. ‘As long as Arjuna does not protect Yudhishthir today,’ he says, ‘you can consider him already imprisoned by me.

‘But if he fights by Yudhishthir’s side, not even Indra can capture the eldest Pandava. You might say that I was Partha’s first preceptor, so I ought to know more than he does, but he is younger than me, Duryodhana.

‘He has surpassed me in skill with sheer practice. The fierceness of his intent is much deeper than mine. He has also been favoured by the gods, and holds many diverse weapons that I have only heard about.

‘Therefore, O King, as long as Arjuna is kept away from my chariot, I shall see to it that Yudhishthir is captured and brought back to you.’

Arjuna Vows to Protect

Duryodhana understands the meaning behind Drona’s words.

In announcing the preceptor’s intention to his warriors, he tells them that their primary aim for the day is to keep Arjuna busy and engaged, while Drona penetrates deep into the Pandava ranks to draw Yudhishthir out.

But this message leaks out to the Pandavas, and when Yudhishthir hears of it from his spies, he calls for a meeting of his brothers and Krishna. He addresses Arjuna and says:

‘You have heard, Dhananjaya, about the intention of Drona. Let such measures be adopted, therefore, that his pledge will remain unfulfilled.’

Arjuna replies, ‘I cannot think of slaying my teacher, Brother, but equally, I cannot imagine giving you up either. The son of Dhritarashtra seeks to conquer us by taking you captive in this battle.

‘Let me tell you that he will never bring to fruition this desire of his. Drona will not succeed in seizing you as long as I live.

‘Even if the wielder of the thunderbolt comes today at the head of an army of celestials and fights on Drona’s side, I promise you that they will not succeed in taking you away from us, Brother.’

Thus commences the battle, with Arjuna holding the fort on one side and Drona on the other.

Bhima Fights Shalya

One of the highlights of the eleventh day of battle is the mace fight that occurs between Bhima and Shalya.

A small clearing is made on the battlefield of Kuruskhetra, with soldiers making way for the two lions among men bearing their maces.

In all the three worlds, it is accepted the Shalya alone can withstand Bhimasena with a mace, and Vrikodara is the only one with the sheer strength with the weapon that can overcome the skill of Shalya.

They both circle each other with maces slightly bent, looking like two horned bulls. They whirl and strike and lunge and retreat. In every way, the battle between the two is even.

Each time Bhima’s mace strikes Shalya’s, it emits sparks of fire. Like two tigers attacking each other with their claws, or like two mighty elephants goading one another with their tusks, these two warriors soon get covered in blood.

Bhima’s technique with the mace seems to rely a lot on his superhuman strength; he does not mind taking blows from Shalya onto his body, first on the right arm and then on the left. Shalya, on the other hand, receives many of Bhima’s strikes with his mace, using it to deflect and block.

In any case, after a long fight, both warriors are equally tired and they fall to the ground at the same time. Kritavarma comes to Shalya’s rescue and whisks him away in a chariot just as Bhima gets on his feet.

And seeing that the king of Madra has lost this duel, the Pandava soldiers erupt in joy.

Yudhishthir in Sight

With all the other warriors of the two armies busily engaging with one another, Drona takes the opportunity to penetrate the Pandava ranks and challenge Yudhishthir to a duel.

Drona now fights against Shikhandi, Uttamaujas, Nakula, Sahadeva, Yudhishthir and the Upapandavas at once, beating them all back deep into the Pandava ranks.

Virata, Drupada, the Kekaya princess, Satyaki, Sibi, Vyaghradatta, Singhasena and others rush toward Yudhishthir intending to support him, but they run into Drona in full flight, and find themselves up against a terrible onslaught.

Defeating them all single-handedly, Drona now speeds toward Yudhishthir, and seeing this, the Pandava soldiers are stricken with grief. ‘The king is as good as slain,’ they tell each other. ‘With Dronacharya in this mood, what chance does Yudhishthir have of surviving?’

Arjuna Protects

But right at that moment, Arjuna swoops in on his chariot, guided by Krishna, raining arrows upon Drona. He covers the entire battlefield with a dense web of shafts, aimed at not only his teacher but also at the large army he leads.

Nothing is visible for a long time after this entry by Falguna; not the cardinal points, not the sky, not the earth, not even the air. All anyone can see is a thick mass of arrows flying in one direction, and they block out the sun as if darkness had set in.

In the meantime, the sun does set, and with Arjuna and Drona calling off their battle after evenly matching each other for a while, the two armies retreat to their respective camps.

Thus ends the eleventh day of the Kurukshetra war with Drona’s vow remaining unfulfilled despite his most stringent efforts.

The Dronabhisheka Parva also ends on this note.