The Mahabharata war, also called the Kurukshetra war, is the climactic event of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. It is fought between two sets of cousins in the Kuru dynasty, the Pandavas (sons of Pandu) and the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra).
Kingdoms like Panchala and Matsya side with the Pandavas. Krishna, the regent of Dwaraka, drives the chariot of Arjuna, the third Pandava, and signals his support for their cause.
The war is fought over eighteen days on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It is won by the Pandavas at the end, but only after unfathomable destruction to lives and wealth on both sides.
(For the full summary of the war, see: 18 Days of the Mahabharata War: A Day-wise Summary.)
In this post, we will answer the question: What happens on Day 11 of the Mahabharata war?
At the fall of Bhishma, the warriors of Duryodhana’s army are filled with concern as to how to win the war now. And their collective minds fall on Karna. They address their king and say:
‘Remember the son of Anga, your dear friend, Your Majesty. He who has been cruelly ridiculed by the grandsire as an ardha-ratha is in reality a maharatha.
‘Remember how he subjugated the entire world on his own and placed it at your feet, O Dhartarashtra. He has claimed that he will kill all the Pandavas in a single day. Perhaps this is the day that we have all been awaiting. Let us call him.’
Karna arrives at the Kaurava camp at dawn, full of his usual bluster. To the soldiers who have been cowed by the death of their commander, he says:
‘That Bhishma, who possessed firmness, intelligence, power, truth, resilience, humility and modesty – that great grandsire of the Kuru race has met his fate. Let us not grieve over his defeat, for there is nothing in this world that is imperishable.’
He now turns to the chariot warriors: the Shalyas, the Dronas and the Kripas. ‘With you protecting the grandsire at all times, how did this happen? The army of the Pandavas, though well-organized, ought not to be an even match for your prowess.
‘The wise prescribe that force must be faced with force. There is no point to fighting a war if we cannot do so wholeheartedly. Let those of us who are blinded by love for the Kauravas instead sit out of battle.
‘I, on the other hand, am reckless for my very life, and I shall bestow sovereignty over Duryodhana after having slain Arjuna.’
Thus, Karna readied himself for battle.
Karna recommends to Duryodhana that their next leader should be Drona.
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, and intelligence, there can be no better leader than you.
‘For your prowess, skill, invincibility, worldly knowledge, for your ascetic austerities, gratitude, virtue, the extent to which you have conquered yourself – for all these qualities, there can be 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, Surya among celestial bodies, Yama among the Pitris, and Varuna among the sea-creatures.
‘You are 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.’
Saikata for the Kauravas
The array that Drona uses on the morning of the eleventh day is called the Saikata, which resembles the shape of a chariot.
On the right wing of this formation stand Jayadratha, Srutayush of the Kalingas, and Vikarna. Shakuni, along with hundreds of Gandhara horses, stand behind them in support.
Kripa, Kritavarma, Chitrasena and Vivinsati man the left wing, with the Kambojas, the Sakas and the Yavanas adding strength.
The Madras, the Trigartas, the Amvashthas, the Westerners, the Northerners, the Malavas, the Surasenas, the Sudras, the Maladas, the Sauviras, the Kaitavas, The Easterners and the Southerners – along with Duryodhana and Karna – form the rear guard.
Karna is appointed the head of the bowmen as well, and watching him at the front of the archer division resplendent in armour, the rest of the Kaurava kings marvel at his brilliance.
‘Beholding this man,’ they tell each other, ‘the Pandavas will never be able to fight to the best of their abilities. The mighty-armed Bhishma spared them due to love. Karna will fight with utter ruthlessness and rout them.’
Krauncha for the Pandavas
The Pandavas, on the other hand, use the Krauncha formation that resembles a crane. At the very tip of the beak stands Arjuna in his chariot of white horses, drawn by Krishna.
The banner of this vehicle, bearing the image of the ape, seems to illuminate the entire battlefield, and the string of the Gandiva gleams as if it is a streak of lightning tearing across a mass of rainclouds.
Arjuna notes that his arch-enemy, Karna, has taken up arms, and the two warriors look at each other with narrowed eyes.
Then the cry of battle comes from Drona, and the armies sweep over the dusty plain, weapons gleaming in the morning sunlight.
Duryodhana Asks for a 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 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 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, and 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.
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.’
Drona Cuts Through
Thus commences the battle, with Arjuna holding the fort on one side and Drona on the other. The Panchalas and the Srinjayas array themselves against Drona, while the rest of the Kauravas face Arjuna.
Both armies seem to stand inactive for a while, not able to penetrate each other, like two blossoming forests in the silence of the night.
But Drona then cuts through the defences of the Srinjayas and bores a hole in the Pandava formation. He looks like the sun himself, and his shafts send the forces of Dhrishtadyumna scattering to all parts.
This first blow sets up numerous battles between the warriors of the two sides.
Abhimanyu versus Jayadratha
A long bout takes place now between Abhimanyu and Jayadratha, with the former always seeming to hold the edge. Finally, when Jayadratha tries to pierce the shield of Abhimanyu, it gets stuck and breaks into two pieces.
Shorn of a weapon, the Saindhava king quickly retreats six steps and climbs back onto his chariot in the blink of an eye with Abhimanyu in hot pursuit.
Shalya now comes upon Abhimanyu to try and check the young man’s progress. He hurls at him a dart made of iron, but Abhimanyu blocks it with his shield, and then picks it up to hurl it back at the king of Madra. It strikes his charioteer and kills him on the spot.
This brings about loud cheers from the Pandava army, because they see this as Abhimanyu gaining victory over Shalya, but the Kaurava atiratha is not one to accept defeat so easily.
He takes up a mace and charges at the son of Arjuna, only to see that Bhimasena has now arrived to support Abhimanyu.
‘Stand aside, son!’ says Vrikodara, twirling his moustache. ‘Let me battle the king of the Madras.’
This sets up a mace battle between Shalya and Bhima
Shalya Fights Bhima
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 that Shalya and Bhima are perfectly matched when fighting with their maces.
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.
Drona Attacks Yudhishthir
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.
The eldest Pandava gives a semblance of a fight at the very beginning by piercing the preceptor’s armour with whetted arrows equipped with kanka feathers. But it does not take long for Drona to get his own back and cut off Yudhishthir’s bow in two.
Then the protector of the king’s chariot wheels, called Kumara, receives the advancing Drona and checks him with a fleet of arrows.
Uttering many leonine shouts, and urged on by the applause of his fellow men, he succeeds in even piercing the preceptor with one arrow. But this is short-lived valour, because a deadly missile shot by Drona slices through his heart and kills him.
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 warding him off?’
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.
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- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered