The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 15?

What happens on Day 15 of the Mahabharata war - Featured Image - Picture of an old and bearded man, representing Drona

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 15 of the Mahabharata war?

The Fifteenth Morning

A few hours into this unscheduled period of peace, the moon rises, bathing the battlefield with its pale yellow beams. One by one the men and animals stir awake, and reluctantly put on their armour to resume fighting.

As the armies ready themselves for battle once more, Duryodhana sees it fit to have one more of his tantrums, once again directed at Drona.

‘No mercy should have been shown to the Pandavas when they said they wanted to rest. We should have hacked them to death in their sleep. But now they have returned to the field with their bodies and minds refreshed.

‘O Preceptor, you have the knowledge and skill required to use any great weapon known to man. And yet you hold them back and refrain from hurting the Pandavas.

‘Our foe is afraid of you, Acharya. I know that for a fact. And yet you do not use that fear to your benefit. It seems to me that you still fight with love in your heart for Arjuna.’

Drona Replies to Duryodhana

Drona does not bother to defend himself yet again. ‘Although I am old, Duryodhana,’ he says, ‘I am still exerting myself to the utmost of my abilities. All these men – these soldiers that fight in the Pandava army – are unacquainted with celestial weapons.

‘A warrior is discouraged from using his divine missiles on those that cannot fathom them. But since you command me to strip this war of all semblance of righteousness, I shall do so.

‘From now on, I shall indiscriminately shoot all my weapons at whoever is in front of me, be he an atiratha or a mere charioteer.

‘As for Arjuna, O Dhartarashtra, must I repeat the many feats that Arjuna had accomplished in the past? Remember that during the conflagration of the Khandava, he fought and won against his own father, Indra, and a whole army of gods.

‘And that was just him and Vasudeva, mounted on a single chariot! If such is their power, then what chance have we of victory?’

A short while after this conversation, Aruna, the charioteer of the sun, weakening the moon’s splendour, appears in the east, reddening the horizon.

The Kuru and Pandava forces alight from their chariots and stand with joined hands, chanting the prayers of dawn.

Arjuna versus Drona

During the fifteenth morning, Drona and Arjuna, maharathas both, preceptor and pupil, both skilled in weapons, fight one another, stupefying the eyes and minds of men with the lightness of their hands and the sureness of their aim.

Their chariots appear to be floating on clouds, and even their wheels do not seem to rattle at all while slugging through blood and broken bones.

All sorts of celestial weapons are tried by Drona in this encounter: the Aindra, the Pasupata, the Tvashtra, the Vayavya, the Yamya. But every weapon used by the preceptor is aptly destroyed by the pupil who responds with the same astra, except used more powerfully.

Watching this display of skill, Drona applauds Arjuna in his heart, even as his limbs exert themselves to the fullest of their powers to gain an ascendency.

Drona even draws upon the weapon of weapons from his quiver. As the earth trembles, amid swirling gales and under gathering dust clouds, the preceptor shoots it at Partha, but the latter is able to baffle it with a defensive Brahmastra of his own.

Each unable to breach the other, the two heroes decide by mutual consent to seek smaller battles.

Duryodhana’s Nostalgia

At one point during the fifteenth day, Duryodhana comes up to bolster Drona’s flank even as Satyaki challenges the eldest son of Dhritarashtra to a duel.

Duryodhana is gripped by a rare moment of fondness here. Addressing Yuyudhana, he says, ‘Fie on wrath, dear friend, and fie on vindictiveness. Fie on the duties of a Kshatriya, and fie on these notions of power and might.

‘You aim your weapons at me. I aim mine at you. But O Sinipungava, I have nothing but affection for you in my heart. And I know it is true of you too.

‘In the days of our childhood we were dear to each other. All those acts of sport we indulged in as children now appear alien and insignificant. Alas, driven by covetousness and anger, here we stand with our bows drawn.’

Satyaki allows a smile to spread upon his lips. ‘This is no assembly, O King,’ he says, ‘nor are we at our preceptor’s hermitage with nothing to do.’

‘But where have those days gone, O Satwata?’ replies Duryodhana. ‘How has this battle come upon us? It seems that the influence of Time is irresistible. It creates everything, and it destroys everything too.

‘Moved by the avarice of land and wealth, we are now engaged in battle, and yet what use are those things? Time erodes all.’

‘This has forever been the lot of a Kshatriya, O King,’ says Satyaki. ‘If we are called upon to fight, we must not hesitate to draw a weapon on our very preceptors.

‘This is no place or time for expounding philosophy. If I am as dear to you as you claim, then kill me with your arrows!’

Carnage among the Panchalas

The battle between Satyaki and Duryodhana develops quickly into a general combat between two groups. On one side are Kripacharya, Karna, Duryodhana and a few other prominent Kaurava warriors.

On the other are Bhimasena, the sons of Madri, and Satyaki. Among all of these, the Vrishni prince is easily the most skilful, and watching the ease with which he shoots his arrows, onlookers are astounded.

Drona launches into his ruthless avatar as the day progresses. He begins to shoot at everyone in sight with ruthless efficiency.

As his chariot makes it way around the battlefield, Panchala soldiers drop like flies.

Watching matters unfold thus, Krishna advises the Pandavas that the time might have arrived to bend the truth a little. ‘Drona cannot be slain as long as he is wielding his weapons.

‘The only way to defeat him is by forcing him to relinquish them. Indeed, if he comes to know that Ashwatthama has been killed, I am certain that he will no longer fight. One of you must carry this message to him.’

The Plan Unfolds

Krishna is asking the Pandavas to lie openly about the death of a warrior, and Arjuna is quick to disapprove of it. The rest of the brothers, though, are more willing.

Yudhishthir agrees after a period of reluctant consideration, and gives permission for the plan to be set in motion.

Accordingly, Bhimasena first kills an elephant that is named Ashwatthama. Then he goes to where Dronacharya is fighting, and informs him that Ashwatthama has been killed.

Drona’s limbs begin to dissolve at hearing these words, and for a moment he dithers, but recalling the prowess of his son, he comes to regard the words of Bhima to be false, and continues to fight.

Like a pure fire that does not release smoke into the air, he spreads along the battlefield among the Panchala and Somaka forces.

Beholding the acharya assuming a fiercer form than before, the Pandavas once again go to Krishna for advice. This time, the Dwaraka prince recommends that the messenger should be someone that Drona trusts.

Yudhishthir Lies

Drona seeks out Yudhishthir and asks him whether it is really true that Ashwatthama has been killed. The eldest Pandava, that paragon of justice and truth, replies, ‘Yes, Acharya. Ashwatthama has been killed. Ashwatthama the elephant.’

But when he speaks the final two words of the sentence, he lowers his voice so that Drona might not hear it. (In Sanskrit, the words spoken by Yudhishthir are Ashwatthama hathah – kunjaraha.)

These words have a profound effect on the preceptor. His grip on the bow loosens. He finds that his world is swaying. He staggers around on his chariot, shaking his head, asking himself repeatedly how this had possibly happened.

(And yet it must be true, he thinks, because how could Yudhishthir speak an untruth?)

At the same time, the chariot of Yudhishthir – which has always floated above the earth at a height equivalent to the breadth of four fingers (owing to his righteousness) – descends to the ground on account of this half-lie.

Bhima Rescues Dhrishtadyumna

Drona continues to fight Dhrishtadyumna, though it is clear that his resolve is lost. Even in such a state, he manages to rout the Prishata prince one last time, breaking his bow, killing his horses, and depriving him of a chariot.

Bhimasena rescues the son of Drupada in his own vehicle, and tells him that the time has come to summon all the courage that the prince can find.

‘Only you among all those who fight for us is powerful enough to withstand the preceptor, O Parshata,’ he says. ‘The burden of killing him lies entirely on your shoulders.’

Returning in another chariot, therefore, Dhrishtadyumna launches another attack on Drona, but despite his wavering mind, the old man continues to make the prince stretch to the fullest.

Seeing that the prince of Panchala is yet again losing to the acharya, Bhimasena decides that enough is enough.

He rides over to where the two warriors are fighting, and addressing the son of Bharadwaja, says the following words, designed to make the latter surrender his arms.

Bhima Insults Drona

Bhimasena begins his speech in a low, serious tone. ‘If wretches among the Brahmin order had not stepped out of the boundaries set by their kind, this great slaughter of the Kshatriyas would have never come to pass.

‘A Brahmin is said to embrace that greatest of virtues – of abstinence from violence to all creatures. But here you are, O Drona, having killed thousands of innocent men with the power of your arms, still standing, unashamed.

Blinded by desire for wealth, and to beget wives and off-spring, you have proven yourself to be the worst of all men of your order, sir. For the sake of an only son, you have lived a life of this sort; greedy, impetuous, forever eager to fight and drink the blood of others.

‘How do you not feel embarrassed? That man for whom you have taken up these arms – Ashwatthama, your son – is no more! King Yudhishthir has just told you of that fact.

‘For whose sake do you fight now? Your entire world has ended, and yet you insist on wielding your bow as if you were born with it!’

Drona stops fighting and listens. He turns Bhima’s words over in his head, time and again. Then he comes to a conclusion. Unstringing his bow, he calls out to his fellow heroes.

‘O Karna,’ he says, ‘O great bowman, O Kripa, O Duryodhana, I implore you to fight to the best of your abilities.’ He throws away his bow into the dust. ‘May victory be yours! As for me, I am giving up my weapons and my knowledge of arms.’

Drona Dies

Chanting Ashwatthama’s name again and again loudly, he sits down on the terrace of his chariot, in the pose of an ascetic, his eyes closed.

Dhrishtadyumna sees his opportunity here, and dropping his own bow, picks up a sword and rushes toward the preceptor’s car. But by then Drona’s soul had already left his body, and has begun its upward journey to heaven.

(We are told that five people witness this event of Drona’s soul rising up to its final resting place. They are Sanjaya, Arjuna, Ashwatthama, Krishna and Yudhishthir. For everyone else, it appears as if the acharya is still alive, lost in meditation.)

Amid cries of ‘Fie!’ and ‘No!’ Dhrishtadyumna climbs into Drona’s chariot, and drags the body out into the dust. He then severs the head from the trunk and holds it aloft with a roar of triumph.

But even amidst his celebration, he is vaguely aware of some hollow note, a missing string deep in his heart, that tells him this was not quite the manner in which he had imagined he would fulfil his life’s purpose.

News Reaches Ashwatthama

A large number of Kaurava soldiers, consumed by grief, rummage among the numerous corpses on the battlefield, but fail to find the body of Drona.

As the word spreads across the field that the preceptor is no more, fear grips the hearts of all Kuru warriors, and one by one they flee with vacant looks on their faces, much like the Daitya army surrendered at the death of Hiranyaksha.

Only Ashwatthama holds his position, continuing his rampage upon the Somakas and the Panchalas. When he sees the entire Kaurava army retreat as one, he addresses Duryodhana in perplexity.

‘Why are your soldiers and leaders running away, O King?’ he asks. ‘And why are you not rallying them if they are struck by fear? Why are you fleeing yourself? Has some incident happened that has filled you with despair?’

Duryodhana does not have the heart to describe to Ashwatthama the manner of his father’s death. He instead asks Kripa to break the news.

In great detail, the Kuru elder describes how the plan to kill Drona was hatched, how Yudhishthir the truth-speaking one was entrusted with carrying the false message, how Bhima goaded the acharya into submission.

And how Dhrishtadyumna, not heeding the multitude of voices forbidding him from doing so, cut off the head of the preceptor with a sword and held it aloft as a prize.

Ashwatthama’s Oath

After hearing the entire story, something hardens inside the heart of Ashwatthama. In a low but clear voice, he says to Duryodhana:

‘King, I do not mourn my father’s death. I merely mourn the manner of it. To imagine his locks being handled by the uncouth Dhrishtadyumna in the midst of all those thousands of warriors – that boils my blood!

‘The crooked Parshata prince has committed an act that is at once sinful and dangerous. He has incurred the blame of killing a Brahmin while the latter is engaged in ascetic penance.

‘I am certain that a place in hell was allocated to him at that very moment when his sword sliced through my father’s neck.

‘But I am not content with that! Let me take an oath right in your presence, O Duryodhana, that I shall exterminate the entire Panchala dynasty. Fie on me, on my celestial weapons, on my prowess.

‘While I am alive, Drona had to experience the ignominy of being dragged through the dust by a mere Kshatriya. Let the Pandavas behold my energy today, and let me grind their troops with the same ruthlessness as Rudra displays at the end of the yuga.’

Saying so, Ashwatthama touches some holy water and invokes the Narayanastra.

Krishna Rises to Help

As the Narayanastra brings into being thousands of bright weapons hanging in the sky to fall on the Panchala army, Krishna rises in his seat.

In a loud voice he addresses the Pandava army. ‘Drop your weapons, everyone!’ he says. ‘The Narayanastra can only be defeated by peace.

‘Remove from your heart all desire to fight, and you will see that the weapons in the welkin disappear one by one if you do that. But even if you entertain the thought of violence in your mind, the weapon will feed off it and grow in power.’

Obeying his command, the vast majority of the Pandava soldiers drop their weapons, and begin to work on quelling thoughts of battle from their mind.

Slowly, they notice that the number of weapons dotting the sky is steadily decreasing. But Bhimasena does not like this way of destroying the Narayanastra.

He picks up his mace and roars at the sky. ‘I am Bhimasena,’ he says, ‘the son of Vayu, the brother of Hanuman. I am the strongest man in the world. I shall fight this weapon and annihilate it with the strength of my arms.’

He begins to attack the Narayanastra and only gets battered in return. As he stubbornly tries to double down on his attack, Krishna steers Arjuna’s chariot to Bhima’s side.

Krishna Rescues Bhima

‘Vrikodara!’ says Krishna. ‘Look at all the warriors of your army. They have all dropped their weapons. The only fuel feeding the fire that is the Narayanastra is your foolishness.

‘Descend from your car, O hero, and seek that kernel of peace that resides in your heart. That is the only way that this great weapon can be vanquished. The more you fight it, the more it will fight you.

Krishna himself ascends Bhima’s chariot, and taking him by the arm, guides him down to the ground. As the Pandava is pacified, the last of the weapons disappears, and the sky becomes clear once again.

For a few anxious moments both armies stand watching with their heads craned, as a steady breeze blows across the Kurukshetra. Then, it becomes clear that Ashwatthama’s terrible weapon has been successfully defeated.

The Pandava army breaks out in cheers of rapturous joy.

With this successful killing of Drona ends the fifteenth day of the Mahabharata war.

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