The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 2?

What happens on Day 2 of the Mahabharata War - Featured Image - Picture of an elephant's face

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 2 of the Mahabharata war?

Yudhishthir’s Lament

The Pandava camp after sunset on the first day bears a forlorn look, even as Duryodhana is beside himself with delight at the prowess shown on the battlefield by Bhishma.

Yudhishthir, shell-shocked by the carnage that the grandsire has wreaked upon his army, vacillates between despair and perplexity.

‘That mighty archer, Bhishma,’ he says, ‘consumes my troops like fire feasting on dry grass. He is like unto Yama mounted upon the water-buffalo, O Kesava, or like Varuna with the noose of death, or Kubera with the mace.

‘How can we ever hope to defeat a man of that stature? Perhaps it is better that I relinquish everything right away and go to the woods. Perhaps that will protect all the men that are destined to die at the grandsire’s feet over the next few days.’

But Dhrishtadyumna rises and gives a rousing speech. Krishna also comforts Yudhishthir with encouraging words.

Krauncharuma the Crane

His frayed nerves settled somewhat, Yudhishthir addresses his general and says, ‘Tomorrow, O Prince, let us arrange ourselves in the shape of a formation called the Krauncharuma, or the crane. Dhananjaya will be stationed at the beak.

‘He will be the first of our warriors that the enemy will see tomorrow. Drupada will be the head, making up the division behind Arjuna. The two eyes of the bird will be Kuntibhoja and Saivya.

‘The Dasarnas, the Prayagas, the Daserakas, the Anupakas, and the Kiratas will create the illusion of the crane’s neck.

‘I will lead the Patacharas, the Hunas, the Pauravakas and the Nishadas in composing the two wings, with Nakula and Sahadeva manning the left one.’

‘And the rear will be protected by Virata aided by the Kekayas, Brihadvala and Dhrishtaketu, with the added support of thirty thousand chariots. In addition, at the joints of the wings we will place ten thousand chariots, and at the head will stand a hundred thousand.’

This is a formation that Yudhishthir claims has never been seen before, and has been suggested by Brihaspati in an age-old conversation with Indra.

Arjuna sets out

At the beginning of Day 2, Arjuna asks Krishna straight away to lead him to the grandsire. ‘I will do as you wish, Arjuna,’ replies Krishna, ‘but you must be careful. Bhishma has turned up for this battle in his most ruthless form.’

A host of Kaurava heroes emerge to support Bhishma against Arjuna in this battle.

We are told that Bhishma shoots twenty seven arrows at the Pandava, Drona twenty five, Kripa fifty, Duryodhana sixty four, Shalya nine, Ashwatthama sixty, Vikarna three, Jarasandha nine and Shakuni five.

That’s a total of two hundred and fifty two.

Arjuna is able to ward off this attack single-handedly, however, and he even manages to hurt Drona and Duryodhana a little.

At this time some of the Pandava warriors (Satyaki, Virata, Drupada, the sons of Draupadi, and Abhimanyu) catch up with his chariot and lend him support, leaving him with enough room to get into a single combat with Bhishma.

Fighting Bhishma

The duel begins with Bhishma shooting nine arrows at Arjuna, which the Pandava repels easily and returns with a dense cloud of a thousand small arrows that shroud the grandsire on all sides.

In response, Bhishma builds a net of arrows of his own, dispelling the darkness caused by Arjuna’s. They fight each other thus for a long time, parrying, neither gaining an edge.

Bhishma also injures Krishna in this battle by pinning him with three arrows that penetrate the armour. This incenses Arjuna and he picks up his shooting speed, only to see that Bhishma matches him without fuss.

Every arrow he lets fly is artfully demolished and another one of equal power cuts through the air toward him. Such is the speed with which these two men draw and shoot that they become invisible behind the swarm of arrows.

At this time, Sanjaya says, the gods with the Gandharvas and the Siddhas and the Charanas – along with the pious sages – come to watch the battle, declaring that such a duel would not happen again.

‘No one but the son of Pritha can stop Bhishma’s onslaught,’ they say, ‘and no one but Bhishma can stand up to Arjuna and be called his equal. We are eager to see who will win and who will lose.’

Drona defeats Dhrishtadyumna

While that battle rages on – another, fiercer one – starts in the meantime between Dhrishtadyumna and Drona, in which the preceptor demolishes the prince.

Sanjaya gives his king a blow-by-blow account of the battle:

  • Drona draws first blood, by covering Dhrishtadyumna with arrows and wounding all four of the prince’s horses with four well-timed arrows.
  • Dhrishtadyumna returns fire the best he can, but all he can muster are nine arrows, none of which reach Drona.
  • Drona picks up a celestial missile that looks like a dart owned by Yama. Seeing the preceptor touch this weapon to the tip of his nose in a gesture of concentration, combatants that surround him gasp out loud.
  • The Panchala prince, though, surprises everyone with his sturdiness, as he cuts off that blazing arrow and hurls a dart of his own – decked with gold and precious stones – at Drona.
  • The preceptor smilingly shatters it into three fragments with ordinary arrows, all shot seemingly at the same instant with just one draw of the bow.
  • With a second draw he causes a large number of arrows to rain down upon Dhrishtadyumna, one of which breaks the prince’s bow and renders him defenceless.
  • Dhrishtadyumna takes up a mace in response and flings it in Drona’s direction. But the latter breaks it into fragments with no trouble at all.
  • Dhrishtadyumna picks up another bow and tries to fight from a new chariot, but Drona kills the charioteer once again, and breaks this new bow as well. He then sends four arrows at the chest of the Panchala prince. Three of them find their mark.
  • Fighting now on foot, the son of Drupada picks up another mace, only to see it shattered in his hand by Drona’s arrows.
  • To defend himself now, he finds a fallen shield to bear the brunt of the preceptor’s onslaught. Drona, for his part, continues to shoot at Dhrishtadyumna.
  • Just as the prince’s situation becomes dire, Bhimasena appears on the scene and engages Drona. This gives Dhrishtadyumna enough time to flee.

Dhrishtadyumna’s first meaningful attempt at killing Drona and fulfilling his destiny thus comes to nought.

Bhimasena routs the Kalingas

Bhima throws himself singlehandedly at the Kalinga army, which is filled with elephants.

He leaves behind a veritable elephant graveyard in his wake, as he uses his sword to slice through the massive bodies of these beasts, cutting open their trunks, piercing their sides and so on.

Elephant drivers and warriors who fought on top of them also meet with the same fate, dismembered all over the area, with the Pandava walking among them with impetuosity, looking about in the manner of a tiger searching for fresh kill.

He now fights chariot archers on foot too, first breaking their arrows in mid-flight by means of his sword and then advancing on them from the side to drag them out of their vehicles so that he can stab them to death.

Many others he frightens with his leonine roars, and the Nishadas thus flee in fear at the advancing tornado that is Bhimasena.

Seeing this avatar of Bhimasena, like an alligator agitating a great lake, the Kalingas retreat at first, then turn around to run away.

Watching the great army take flight, Bhima places his conch to his mouth and blows on it to announce to the world his victory.

Arjuna helps Abhimanyu

As the afternoon of the second day approaches, Arjuna comes into his element.

It begins with a battle between Dhristadyumna and three great heroes on the Kaurava side: Ashwatthama, Shalya and Kripa.

For a time the Panchala prince gives a good account of himself, but soon begins losing ground. Abhimanyu then comes to his support and evens out the duel a little

But then Lakshmana (sometimes called Lakshmana Kumara), the son of Duryodhana, takes it upon himself to engage with Abhimanyu so that the rest of the Kuru elders can see to Dhrishtadyumna.

The three heroes fighting Dhrishtadyumna – Ashwatthama, Shalya and Kripa – now turn their attention to Abhimanyu. This effectively makes it a four-against-one fight.

Here, Arjuna instructs Krishna to lead him to this place. He arrives with his ape banner resplendent as the sun, quiet as a powerful serpent sliding through dew-ridden grass.

With Bhishma, Drona, Ashwatthama, Kripa and Shalya arrayed against him, he begins fighting them back with wonderful arrangements of arrows.

At the same time he holds back the general advance of the Kuru army as well, fighting the hordes of horses and elephants that threaten to widen the breach in the Pandava ranks.

Bhishma Recommends Retreat

Even dust clouds – intentionally raised by the pounding of the earth by horses’ hooves – cannot impede Arjuna’s arrows.

They scythe through the air and find their marks with unerring accuracy, each and every time. The army first retreats at this almost magical display of archery from the ambidextrous one, and as the Pandava army pours in to support its strongest hero.

‘Let us leave Dhananjaya alone for now, O Drona,’ says Bhishma, smiling. ‘He is incapable of being defeated when in this mood. He looks like the Destroyer himself intent upon ushering in the end of the yuga.

‘Look at our army – it is fleeing from all sides. And the sun too is about to set. Let us therefore close ranks, and let us not engage Partha further when he is rampaging thus.’

Bhishma thus calls for his army to step back, and the second day ends.

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