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 14 of the Mahabharata war?
A Three-layered Array
On the morning of the fourteenth day, in the middle of the battlefield, Drona rides his chariot up and down the length of his formation, examining it. He says to Jayadratha:
‘You, along with Bhurishrava, Karna, Ashwatthama, Shalya, Vrishasena and Kripa will station yourself twelve miles behind me.
‘A hundred thousand horses, sixty thousand chariots, fourteen thousand elephants, and a hundred and twenty thousand foot-soldiers will surround you in a tight arrangement.
‘Even the gods with Vasava leading them will not be able to penetrate this web of human soldiers, O Saindhava, so rest easy about the Pandavas.’
The formation is a three-layered one: first the Sakata Vyuha, which resembles a cart or a box, followed by a lotus shape (Padma Vyuha), and then a long needle formation (the Soochimukha Vyuha) with Jayadratha at the very tip.
The whole array, we are told, is forty eight miles in length and twenty miles in width.
The action of the fourteenth day of battle is told to us in three strands:
- First, there is Arjuna going alone into the Kaurava ranks in search of Jayadratha. His sole purpose is to find and kill the Sindhu king.
- Second, Yudhishthir sends Satyaki into Drona’s formation in search of Arjuna. Yudhishthir is worried for Arjuna’s welfare; he wishes Satyaki to find him and bring back news that he is all right.
- Third, Yudhishthir sends Bhima after Satyaki because he is now worried about both Arjuna and Satyaki. Bhima is instructed to find the two warriors and shout at the top of his lungs to soothe Yudhishthir’s fears.
Arjuna is thus the first to enter Drona’s array. Satyaki follows in his wake, and is in turn followed by Bhima.
Strand 1: Arjuna
Arjuna fights like a man possessed during the fourteenth day. He is single-mindedly pursuing Jayadratha. On the way, he passes up a challenge from Drona, defeats Kritavarma, and lays waste to thousands of soldiers.
After killing the two princes of Avanti – Vinda and Anuvinda – Krishna suggests to Arjuna that the horses yoked to their chariot could do with some rest.
Arjuna agrees, and while Krishna tends to the beasts, he jumps onto the ground and fights off the Kaurava army on foot.
At the same time, with a magical pair of arrows, Arjuna creates a lake to slake his horses’ thirst and a stable in which they can rest.
Just as Jayadratha comes into view of Arjuna, Duryodhana appears and challenges him to a duel. Duryodhana has been given a special kind of armour by Drona which causes arrows to slip off its surface instead of piercing it.
Arjuna is first flummoxed by this, but then defeats Duryodhana by shooting him underneath his fingernails and chasing him away.
Strand 2: Satyaki
Back at the mouth of the Sakata Vyuha, Yudhishthir finds himself increasingly worried about Arjuna’s welfare.
Once or twice he thinks that he hears Krishna’s Panchajanya emit harsh notes, and fears the worst. He tells Satyaki – who had been entrusted with Yudhishthir’s guardianship – to go in search of Arjuna.
Satyaki is reluctant at first, but Yudhishthir convinces him this is the right thing to do. After filling up his chariot with quivers brimming with arrows, Satyaki sets out.
He passes on a duel with Drona – much like Arjuna did – and bolts into the Kaurava army ranks, fighting thousands upon thousands of soldiers and scorching them to the ground.
The Mlechchas, the Kambojas and the Kalingas feel the full brunt of Satyaki’s bow. In this avatar, Satyaki reminds everyone of his mentor, Arjuna.
Following the trail left behind by Arjuna, Satyaki eventually reaches the place where the Pandava is attempting to fight the nine warriors that are guarding Jayadratha.
Strand 3: Bhima
Meanwhile, Yudhishthir finds that his anxiety has not eased; first he was worried about Arjuna’s safety. Now, he is worried about both Satyaki and Arjuna.
He therefore sends Bhima after the two of them, with instructions to shout at the top of his lungs upon spotting the heroes so that Yudhishthir can hear the good news.
In contrast to the approach taken by Arjuna and Satyaki, Bhima chooses to fight Drona at the mouth of the Sakata.
After trying in vain for a while to defeat Drona with bow and arrow, Bhima runs at him on the ground, picks up the preceptor’s chariot in his bare arms, and hurls it away.
While Drona is recovering from this move, Bhima reclaims his chariot and bursts into the array at great speed.
On the way to Satyaki and Arjuna, Bhima also kills many thousands of soldiers. Among those to bear the brunt of his anger are the Bhojas, the Kambojas and the Mlechchas.
The moment Bhima spots Arjuna, he roars at the top of his voice. The voice carries all the way back to Yudhishthir and gladdens his heart.
Karna versus Bhima
As Bhima is coursing through the battlefield toward Arjuna while uttering roar after roar, Karna rushes at him and checks his course like a tall tree withstanding a storm.
Bhima also suddenly blazes up in wrath on seeing the son of Vaikartana in his path, remembering his harsh words on the day of Draupadi’s disrobing.
The two of them use weapons of such ferocity that the surrounding army – comprising the Sindhus and the Sauviras – is obliterated. All of them retreat and give the two heroes room to continue their fight.
After having his bow broken in two a couple of times, Karna returns to cover Bhima in a cloud of arrows, thus breaking his chariot into tiny splinters.
But as we have seen before in this war, depriving Bhimasena of his chariot is by no means indicative of victory, because he is as ferocious on his two feet.
Karna Spares Bhima
As soon as he is thrown to the ground here, he rolls over a couple of times and emerges with his bare hands slapping one another menacingly.
He bounds toward Karna’s chariot and leaps up with his arms spread out, intending to pluck the son of Radha out of his vehicle. But the latter conceals himself within the chariot.
In the ensuing battle, Karna succeeds in gaining ascendancy. He strips Bhima of all his weapons and has him standing on two feet in front of him, staring down the end of his shaft.
But remembering his promise to Kunti, Karna refrains from shooting. Touching the tip of his bow to Bhima’s chin, he says:
‘You are a beardless eunuch, Vrikodara,’ he says, ‘an ignorant fool, a glutton! You are but a child who is nothing but a braggart. What job have you on a battlefield, and why did you dare to challenge me to a fight? Go and find someone else!’
Bhurishrava loses an Arm
Bhurishrava is the son of Somadatta, who is himself the son of Bahlika, the brother of Shantanu. He is therefore an uncle of the Pandavas.
He clashes with Satyaki late on the fourteenth day, and challenges him to a duel. The two men lock horns. Their battle is well-matched, and they succeed in breaking each other’s chariot.
Fighting on foot now, they pick up a sword and shield each, and display a diverse range of movements. In due course the swords fall off too, and the two warriors go at each other with bare arms.
Watching them engaged thus, Krishna tells Arjuna that Satyaki might need rescuing. ‘Behold the king of the Rurus and the Vrishni sport together like two maddened elephants.
‘Keep your Gandiva on the ready, Partha, for I foresee that your dear friend might need your help in short order.’
As soon as Krishna speaks these words, Bhurishrava gains an advantage in the encounter, seizing Satyaki by the hair and striking him on the chest with his right foot.
With the Vrishni prince on the ground and prostrate, Bhurishrava swoops down on him with sword in hand, intending to cut off the head of his enemy.
But as his right arm rises, a sharp arrow released from the Gandiva whizzes through the air and severs it just above the elbow.
Satyaki kills Bhurishrava
Bhurishrava is aghast at the realization that Arjuna has broken the rules of fair fighting so flagrantly. ‘When I am fighting another man, O Partha,’ he says, ‘how can you shoot at me from behind, when I am not even aware of your presence?’
Arjuna replies that it is his duty to protect his fellow warriors from harm.
Bhurishrava is not pleased with this reply. In his mind, this proves to him that the war has become more of a dog fight than he likes. He relinquishes his weapons and sits down to meditate.
The duel between him and Satyaki has apparently come to a peaceful end, except that Satyaki picks up a sword and – before anyone can react – swoops down on his enemy to behead him.
Even Krishna and Arjuna disapprove of this act, but Satyaki defiantly says that he is happy to have killed his enemy like a true Kshatriya.
This act has deeper repercussions: years later, Satyaki and Kritavarma clash over this incident, and the quarrel grows into the civil war that eventually exterminates the Vrishni race.
Krishna Summons a Cloud
With sunset fast approaching, Arjuna still finds himself facing six atirathas before he can get to Jayadratha. Krishna offers some help.
‘The Saindhava king cowers out of sight behind the six maharathas, Arjuna,’ he says. ‘Without killing them, you cannot reach him, and there is not enough time even for you to slay them all.
‘So I shall resort to yoga to create an illusion of darkness. It will trick Jayadratha into giving up his position for a minute. Be alert to it, Partha! And do not be disheartened if you sense the darkness of night envelop you from all sides. It is merely my magic.’
Arjuna does not protest this offer of help. No grandiose statements that accepting help from Krishna might tarnish his name in the eyes of the world. Even he can see that this particular task cannot be completed unaided. So he says, ‘So be it.’
As the cloud settles on top of them, Jayadratha looks up in relief at the sky. Krishna now gives Arjuna more advice.
‘Listen to me first, O Kiriti,’ he says. ‘When Jayadratha was born to Vriddhakshatra, the Saindhava king, a divine voice proclaimed that the boy would grow up to be a great warrior.
‘But it also said that a man will cause his head to fall to the earth in the battle at the end of the yuga.
‘Hearing this prophecy, Vriddhakshatra used his own ascetic powers to give his son the boon that whoever causes his head to fall to the ground will himself have his own head crushed into a hundred pieces.
‘Now Vriddhakshatra is immersed in penance not far from Samantapanchaka, Arjuna. With your divine weapons, behead Jayadratha, and cause his head to fall onto the lap of his father.
‘Once he gets up from his prayer, the head of his son will drop to the ground due to his action, and therefore his own head will break into pieces.’
Arjuna hears this story, and pulls out a different arrow. This shaft speeds through the air and plucks Jayadratha’s head as if a hawk snatches away a bird of prey from a treetop.
Then Falguna keeps shooting arrows at it, sending it higher and higher into the sky, in the direction of the tree under which Vriddhakshatra is sitting.
The head mangled with a hundred arrows falls, according to plan, onto the lap of the royal sage, and when he gets up after finishing his prayers, he has only a moment to recognize what is happening before his head shatters into a thousand pieces.
The Kauravas are dispirited that Arjuna managed to kill Jayadratha despite their best efforts.
Duryodhana goes off against Drona, but the preceptor is calm enough. He says that the battle does not have to stop with sunset. ‘Let the fighting continue through the night.’
After a short period of rest, the Kauravas blow on their conch and the Pandavas respond by riding out into the battlefield.
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