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 12 of the Mahabharata war?
During the evening of Day 11, Drona offers his apology to Duryodhana for failing in his quest. ‘Arjuna is Yudhishthir’s talisman, O King,’ he says. ‘As long as the ambidextrous one guards his brother like he did today, we have no chance of succeeding in our mission.
‘I implore you again, therefore, to assign a portion of your army just to engage with Arjuna. Ask these brave warriors of yours to draw Falguna away to a remote part of the battlefield so that he will not be around when we mount our attack on Yudhishthir.’
Susharma, the ruler of the Trigarta army that has repeatedly clashed with and lost against Arjuna in the past, comes forward now and bows to Drona.
‘We are always humiliated by the wielder of the Gandiva, O Preceptor,’ he says. ‘Not only is he equipped with skill, but he possesses a diverse array of celestial weapons that we simply cannot match, even with our large numbers.
‘In spite of that, I shall challenge him tomorrow and lead him away to the southern edge of Kurukshetra. For the victory of King Duryodhana I am willing to take up this burden.
Along with Susharma, the other five Trigarta brothers (Satyaratha, Satyavarma, Satyavrata, Satyeshu and Satyakarma) also take the vow that they will fight Arjuna to the death.
They take part in the requisite rites and declare that they will either ‘conquer or die’. They acquire the title: the Samshaptakas.
A Half-moon Formation
The Samshaptakas use a half-moon-shaped formation to face Arjuna. When they first behold the diadem-decked hero at dawn, they let out a shout of delight that fills the sky and disappears without an echo.
Arjuna says unto Krishna the following words with a small smile:
‘Look, O son of Devaki,’ he says, ‘how these Trigarta brothers are filled with delight at the time of their destruction. Or maybe they are pleased because they know they will soon attain those celestial regions denied to mere cowards.’
He raises his conch, Devadatta, to his lips, and blows on it to signify the beginning of the fight at the southern edge.
Sudharma, Sudhanava and Subahu are the three warriors on the Trigarta side that engage with Arjuna at once, and their arrows first envelop him from all sides.
But with precise short shafts, the Pandava defends himself and Krishna first by shooting down the arrows of the enemy, and then by mounting an offensive of his own.
Arjuna versus the Narayana Sena
‘Urge the horses forward, Hrishikesha,’ says Arjuna, watching the Samshaptakas unite with Krishna’s Narayana Sena. ‘They have taken the vow of death. They will not give up this battle as long as they are alive.
‘Today you shall see the terrible might of my arms, and the power of the Gandiva. Today I shall slay all these men like Rudra cutting loose on all unwanted creatures at the end of a yuga.’
Krishna smiles at these words, and leads the chariot toward where the cowherd army is standing. They surround Arjuna in a thick cloud of dust, making the air impervious to sight.
Arjuna responds by using a weapon called the Tvashtrastra, which creates multiple copies of himself and Krishna to confound the enemy.
The cowherds rush here and there, striking each other in confusion. ‘Here is Arjuna!’ someone says. ‘Here is the Yadava prince. But we see them everywhere. What is this magic?’
Arjuna then uses the Vayavyastra to summon the wind god, who carries away thousands of Samsaptaka forces – along with their steeds and elephants and chariots – as if they were mere dried leaves.
Having struck them with this celestial weapon, while they are still afflicted by disarray, Arjuna now begins shooting sharp shafts at the hundreds of thousands of men that surround him, cutting off their limbs.
All around him, dead bodies fall in heaps, of men and beasts alike. Alone his chariot roams the field, like the chariot of Rudra himself at the end of an epoch. Partha looks like an incarnation of Shiva.
The twang of the Gandiva becomes a continuous hum that covers the Kurukshetra.
Garuda for the Kauravas
The Kauravas arrange themselves in the shape of an eagle (Garuda Vyuha) for the morning of Day 12. In the mouth of the bird is Drona himself, in the capacity of the army’s leader.
The head of the bird is composed of Duryodhana and his brothers, along with their respective divisions. Kritavarma and Kripacharya take up their positions corresponding to the eagle’s eyes.
The neck appears to be the densest part of this array, with Bhutasharma, Kshemasharma, the Karakakshas, the Kalingas, the Singhalas, the Easterners, the Sudras, the Abhiras, and the Dasarakas filling up the space with their troops.
Bhurishrava, Shalya, Somadatta and Bahlika – along with a full akshauhini of forces – create the right wing of the formation, whereas Vinda-Anuvinda (of Avanti), the Kamboja ruler Sudakshina, and Ashwatthama take up responsibility of manning the left wing.
Bhagadatta, perched upon his favourite elephant Supratika, at the head of a powerful force of war elephants, is stationed right in the middle of the array.
In the morning light he looks resplendent like the sun itself, casting thoughts in the minds of onlookers that perhaps he is the true leader of the Kaurava army.
The Pandavas arrange themselves in the shape of a semicircle, but we are not given the positions of individual warriors. Yudhishthir does look at the Kaurava formation, though, and seeks solace from Dhrishtadyumna.
‘I feel that mighty eagle is swooping down on me, O son of Drupada,’ he says. ‘I give myself over to you completely. Please make sure that I am not captured today by the preceptor.’
Dhrishtadyumna gives Yudhishthir his word. ‘As long as I am alive, King,’ he says, ‘do not feel any anxiety. I shall see to it that I will check Dronacharya today. Under no circumstances will he be able to vanquish me in battle.’
Bhagadatta Fights Bhima
One of the main duels that develop during this morning is one between Duryodhana and Bhimasena. The cousins do not resort to a mace fight; they stay on their chariots and display their archery skills instead.
After a seesawing battle that injures both of them quite badly, Bhima gains the ascendancy by breaking Duryodhana’s bow and later his standard as well. Karna comes to his friend’s aid, mounted on an elephant, but Bhima manages to gain a victory over him as well.
Arriving to hold up the breaking Kaurava ranks here is Bhagadatta, perched upon his beloved elephant, Supratika. The animal pounds on Vrikodara’s chariot and breaks it to pieces.
The Pandava is not overly troubled, though; he leaps onto the ground and slides under the body of the elephant to slip away from its field of vision. (This manoeuvre is part of a science of duelling called the Anjalikabedha).
From under the animal’s belly, taking care not to be crushed by its massive feet, Bhimasena begins to strike the flab and muscles with his bare arms, causing Supratika to shriek and trumpet in pain.
Bhagadatta Defeats Hiranyavarma
The king of the Dasarna tribes, Hiranyavarman (who earlier gives his daughter in marriage to Shikhandin in strange circumstances), now rushes against Bhagadatta on his own elephant, one that is smaller than Supratika but faster.
This battle does not last long, though for a while it looks as though two winged mountains are crashing against one another. Supratika rips open the flank of the other elephant and kills it outright.
Winning this battle seems to kick Bhagadatta into a higher level of fury suddenly, because he summons his entire elephant division to descend upon the chariots led by Yudhishthir.
Satyaki, Bhimasena, Yuyutsu, Dhrishtaketu and the Upapandavas all come forward to check the Pragjyotisha king, but such is the latter’s form today that he is unstoppable.
Like the invincible Virochana in the days of old tearing into the army of the gods, Bhagadatta assumes the nature of a fierce wind and blows the Pandava army to smithereens.
A Wavering Heart
Arjuna hears about how Bhagadatta is tearing into the Pandavas, and for a moment he wonders if he should continue fighting the Samshaptakas or go back to help the Panchala army.
Arjuna shoots the Brahmastra at his foes, severing hundreds upon hundreds of arms caught in the process of drawing the bow. Hundreds upon hundreds of horses and chariots and standards fall to the ground.
Elephants hit the ground with massive thuds, their trunks pointing to the sky in the midst of death-shrieks.
Beholding the son of Pritha in this terrible mood, even Krishna is impressed.
‘I have not seen you fight this way before, O Vibhatsu,’ he says. ‘Nor do I think even Sakra or Yama or Vaisravana would have equalled your achievement today. You have single-handedly routed thousands of great Samshaptakas.’
Arjuna accepts Krishna’s words of encouragement, and requests him to lead the chariot now to Bhagadatta while the Samshaptakas retreat for the time being.
Arjuna Fights Bhagadatta
Now Arjuna’s chariot streaks through the battlefield toward Bhagadatta.
The encounter between Arjuna’s chariot and Bhagadatta’s elephant is fierce in the extreme. Once or twice Arjuna manages to get alongside the massive animal, and sees the opportunity to pierce its flank, and to bring down the rider with a well-aimed arrow or two.
But he chooses not to do so because it would be contrary to the spirit of a fair fight. When they face each other properly, Arjuna flexes himself to the full only to find that Bhagadatta on this day is akin to an unstoppable force.
Arjuna, however, is more than a match for Bhagadatta. With well-aimed shafts, he shatters them into three harmless fragments each, after which he launches a scathing attack on the elephant Supratika.
Slaying the warrior that protects it from its flank, he finds for himself an opening to cut off the armour that was casing the beast, and after stripping it bare thus, pierces its side with numerous arrows.
This angers Bhagadatta enough to make him hurl at Vasudeva a mighty dart made of iron, but Arjuna, smiling now, cuts it off in two.
Thus teetering on the edge of defeat, Bhagadatta gives out a yell of rage and picks up a weapon called the Vaishnavastra.
In desperation, Bhagadatta uses the Vaishnava weapon on Arjuna, but as the missile closes in on its target, Krishna places himself in its path and receives it on his chest.
Upon impact, the weapon turns into a garland of fragrant flowers and settles around the neck of the Dwaraka prince.
Arjuna is insulted by Krishna’s act, and asks why he had to protect him from Bhagadatta’s weapon. Krishna replies: ‘Bhagadatta has received the weapon from Naraka, O Partha. You do not have an arrow in your quiver that can neutralize it.
‘If I had not taken it on my chest, the Vaishnavastra would have killed you.’
‘Absorbing the power of weapons that fly at me makes me just another passive charioteer, not a warrior. So set aside your worry.’
The Vaishnavastra thus deadened, Arjuna now sets about once again dismantling Bhagadatta’s defences. He covers the king with clouds of whetted arrows designed to obfuscate, and simultaneously sends deadly shafts laden with poison at Supratika.
With each arrow piercing the tough hide like lightning bolts splitting a mountain, or like a snake penetrating an ant-hill, the beast buckles at the knees and collapses to the ground.
Bhagadatta urges it to climb back onto its feet, but paralysis has already claimed the poor animal’s limbs, and its trunk now falls limp against the dust as if it were a dead earthworm.
With a gentle groan, it eventually exhales its last breath, and the rest of the elephants in Bhagadatta’s army rend the air with terrible wails.
Arjuna now focuses his attention on the king, first breaking his armour with broad-headed arrows, and then using a crescent-shaped one to pierce the bare bosom, making straight for the heart.
As he follows the flight of this deadly missile, Arjuna adjusts his diadem.
As Bhagadatta hits the earth, a bolt of fear courses through the hearts of the surrounding Kaurava soldiers, even as the Pandavas erupt in joy. Arjuna circumambulates the body of his fallen foe in a mark of respect.
Bhima Takes on Drona
While Arjuna is fighting Bhagadatta, Drona makes deep inroads into the Panchala army, making his way slowly but surely toward Yudhishthir.
Bhima stands strong in the middle of this concerted move, and injures Karna with ten shafts, Ashwatthama with seven, and Duryodhana with twelve.
He first shoots fifty arrows at Drona and then follows them up with eight, entrenching himself in that contest with a loud shout.
Watching his brother being assailed from all directions, Yudhishthir despatches many warriors to his aid. Nakula and Sahadeva, along with Satyaki at the head of a large division of car warriors, ride up to Bhimasena’s side.
They begin fighting with all the warriors arrayed with Drona. The preceptor, though, receives all of this with frightening calm, betraying no anxiety whatsoever, casting off fears of death, and shooting arrows in all directions in the manner of a machine.
With all the commotion around him, Dhrishtadyumna rallies his army with calls to fly toward Drona. ‘Seize him!’ he says. ‘Do not fear. Cut him down to pieces, O Warriors!’
Hearing the Pandavas thus converge, the Kaurava heroes – Jayadratha, Karna, Drona, Kripa, Vinda, Anuvinda, and Shalya – prepare to receive their foes.
Drona in particular is exceptionally quick and brilliant, seemingly everywhere at once, routing the Panchalas and the Chedis almost on his own.
The twang of his bow resembles the roar of thunder, and his many arrows appear to the Pandavas to be bolts of lightning descending upon them with unerring accuracy.
The Return of Arjuna
Just as Drona is about to close in on Yudhishthir, however, Arjuna arrives on the scene. He spreads over the battlefield of Kurukshetra even though he fights from just one chariot.
He rides in from the southern side, having defeated (for now) the Samshaptakas. He descends upon Drona and the other chariot warriors like a thunderstorm, raining layers of arrows upon them.
The ape on his banner seems to be drawn in blazing golden lines, and each time the flag flutters, it sends shards of light into the enemy’s eyes.
Even as he beholds horses and elephants falling all around him, Arjuna keeps in mind the guidelines of fair fight, and refrains from striking those that have fallen down or those that are retreating.
He shoots only at those who stand up to him and display the willingness to face him.
With Arjuna thus marshalling the Pandava forces, the Kuru army is pushed back all the way back to camp. And during this retreat, though the warriors refrain from attacking other warriors whose backs are turned, the common soldier is not given to such niceties.
Thousands of elephants and horses and footmen belonging to the Kauravas perish as the Pandava soldiers hunt them down with ferocious anger.
With this battle in which the Pandavas secure victory, the twelfth day ends.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered