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 Shalya Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
The Kaurava soldiers think that the death of Shalya is the final nail. ‘What else can Duryodhana do in order to win this war?’ they ask one another. ‘Bhishma, Drona and Karna have all perished.
‘Now even Shalya, along with his invincible army of the Madrakas, has been killed. Who can resist this ocean of Pandava heroes that is intent on killing us all? None of our leaders seem to know what to do; alas, there is nothing they can do.’
With these words they run away in all directions, and their animals run with them. As many as two thousand elephants, each built like a mountain, are seen fleeing the battlefield after being abandoned by their mahouts.
Foot soldiers, cavalry riders and chariot warriors are seen flying helter-skelter, chased by arrows and other weapons of the Panchalas and the Somakas.
Duryodhana addresses his driver and asks him to take him to the rear of the battlefield. ‘Look,’ he says, pointing. ‘There is Partha, flexing his bow in the hope of transgressing me.
‘Take me to the rear of our army so that I might stem this rot that has afflicted our men. If they see me fighting, I hope that they will stop running away and return.’
A portion of the army does return, after seeing that Duryodhana is yet prepared to stay on and fight. Twenty one thousand foot soldiers recreate their earlier formation and advance toward Bhimasena.
But the Pandava is in a murderous mood, wielding a mace and fighting on foot, with a large group of infantrymen behind him. Armed with a club like the Destroyer himself, he alone kills this whole division, and fills the air with death-cries.
Duryodhana says to those soldiers of his who are still intent on running, ‘I do not see the spot on the mountains or on the plains where the Pandavas will not pursue and slay you. What need is there, then, of flight? The army of the foe has been thinned.
‘The two Krishnas are both extremely tired and mangled. If all of us make a stand together, victory will certainly be ours! If you flee, the sinful Pandavas will follow you and kill you all.’
With these words he manages to arrest the fear of his fellow men, and the Kaurava force once again comes together to fight.
Salwa on an Elephant
A Mlechcha king named Salwa makes a bid for glory at this point on behalf of the Kauravas. Perched atop a gigantic elephant with secretions running down its side, he rushes forward against the Pandavas in great rage.
The animal looks like Airavata himself, and appears capable of crushing large bands of foes.
As the elephant wreaks havoc in the Pandava camp, Dhrishtadyumna comes round to face it.
The son of Drupada now picks up a mace, even as Salwa’s elephant is in the process of lifting up the gold-decked car high into the air so it could be brought down to the earth with a thud.
As the vehicle cracks and falls apart, Bhima and Shikhandi and Satyaki rush toward them, concerned that Dhrishtadyumna might need support.
But the Panchala prince rushes toward the moving mountain with his mace held aloft. He strikes the beast on its side, along the lines left by its secretions.
He also lands some meaty blows on the animal’s head, while keeping himself nimble enough to remain safe from its weaving trunk. After a few such smites, the elephant’s frontal lobe splits open, and it begins to vomit a copious amount of blood.
Dhrishtadyumna continues to pound the stricken animal, and it eventually folds and falls to the ground.
At the same time, the alert Satyaki slips in close enough to behead Salwa with an arrow.
Satyaki versus Kritavarma
With the Kaurava army again splitting open at the death of Salwa, Kritavarma assumes the responsibility of holding the force together, and of standing firm like a mountain, absorbing all the arrows of the foe.
Seeing him thus taking up the position of a leader, the fleeing Dhartarashtra forces return to fight.
Satyaki, the grandson of Sini, now arrives at that spot and once again challenges his kinsman to a duel. Armed with the foremost of weapons, both of them roar like lions and encounter each other with great force.
Here, too, Kritavarma draws first blood, piercing the four horses of Yuyudhana with four keen shafts. The long-armed Satyaki, enraged at this, like an elephant struck by a lance, pierces Kritavarma with eight sharp ones.
Kritavarma returns by breaking Satyaki’s bow, but the latter takes up another one in the blink of an eye and shoots ten arrows that strike the charioteer, the horses and the standard of the Bhoja king.
Seeing himself become bereft of vehicle and steeds at that moment, Kritavarma picks up a lance and hurls it with all the force of his arm at his enemy. But the Saineya calmly grinds it to dust with an assortment of arrows.
Kripacharya comes to Kritavarma’s rescue, taking him up in his own chariot.
Sahadeva versus Shakuni
Uluka and Shakuni rush out against Bhimasena and Sahadeva respectively. The youngest Pandava sends out a shower of swift arrows as dense as a cloud of insects, but Shakuni withstands this effort by shooting ninety sharp ones back at the son of Madri.
He then hurls a lance at Sahadeva’s head, which makes the latter sit down on the terrace of his chariot in order to recover.
Seeing his brother being wounded thus, Bhimasena flies into a rage and keeps the whole Kuru army in check by means of his cloth-yard shafts.
Hundreds and thousands of hostile warriors are injured with Bhima in this mood, and with many of them fleeing, Duryodhana calls out to them to show some spine.
‘O Immoral Kshatriyas,’ he says, ‘the weapons you hold in your hands are meant to be fought with. What is the use of running away?
‘That hero who, without showing his back to the enemy, casts his life away in battle, achieves fame and enjoys regions of bliss in the hereafter.’
Thus exhorted by the king, some of Shakuni’s followers return to the battlefield. With a desire to help out his father, Uluka shoots seven arrows at Bhima and seventy at Sahadeva.
The latter has recovered by now from the blow to the head by Shakuni’s lance, and now he picks up his bow and responds to the Gandhara prince in style, first by breaking his bow, and then with a broad-headed shaft beheading him.
Sahadeva Chases Shakuni
Seeing his son being killed in front of his eyes, Shakuni remembers for a moment the wise words of Vidura that he had never paid attention to.
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, the Gandhara king turns and attempts to flee from the field, but Sahadeva gives chase and challenges him to a face-to-face duel.
‘My Dharma does not allow me to shoot at a fleeing opponent, Vile One,’ he says. ‘Adhere to the virtue of a Kshatriya and fight me like a real man. You rejoiced greatly in the assembly when you defeated us in dice.
‘All those who joined you in your laughter on that day have now been killed. Only two of you survive – you and your nephew Duryodhana. Today I shall slay you and fulfil my vow.’
Shakuni is not eager to fight, but Sahadeva overtakes him and forces him to do so.
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.
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 more than they did for them.
‘How is the king’s presence or absence affecting the way you fight?’ they ask. ‘If you wish to fulfil your duty as you know it, 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.
Sanjaya is Spared
Sanjaya is taken prisoner by Satyaki. Now, as Arjuna, Bhimasena and the others set about killing off the final few soldiers that are still alive of the eleven akshauhinis assembled by 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.
On his way to the Kaurava camp, Sanjaya encounters the three other surviving members of the Kaurava army. They are all riding horses, and they ask him where the king might be found.
Sanjaya tells them to look for Duryodhana at the lake. At the camp he seeks out the women who have been in attendance these eighteen days, and inform him that the war has come to an end.
‘The Pandavas have won, Ladies of the court,’ he says, ‘and our king Duryodhana has lost. This is not a safe place for you to remain anymore. Come with me and I shall take you to the palace.’
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.’
Thus, as Vidura seeks an audience with the king in order to give them the news of the defeat at Kurukshetra, Yuyutsu retires to his own chambers, mulling over in his mind the manner in which the Kuru empire has contrived to destroy itself.
With this ends the Shalya Parva.