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 3 of the Mahabharata war?
At the dawn of Day 3 (we are not given any information on discussions on strategy at the respective camps at the end of Day 2), Bhishma arranges the Kaurava forces in the form of a Garuda Vyuha.
In response, the Pandavas adopt a formation in the shape of a crescent moon.
Bhurishrava and Sala, Shalya and Bhagadatta, and the Madrakas, the Sindhus and the Souviras, and those that are called the Panchanodas, with Jayadratha at their head, are arranged to become the neck.
The back of the bird is where Duryodhana stands, surrounded by all his followers. Vinda and Anuvinda of Avanti, the Kambojas, the Sakas and the Surasenas make up the tail, protecting Duryodhana from rear attacks.
The Magadhas, the Kalingas (or what is left of them after their meeting with Bhimasena on Day 2) and the Daserakas become the right wing, whereas the Karushas, the Vikunjas, the Mundas, the Kaundivrishas, along with Brihadvala leading the pack, take form as the left wing.
The Crescent Formation
Here are the details of the Pandava formation: On the right horn of the crescent stands Bhimasena, surrounded by kings of diverse countries abundantly armed with various weapons.
Supporting him are Virata and Drupada, and next to them are Nila, Dhrishtaketu with the Chedi army, the Kasis, the Karushas (some of them fight for the Kauravas) and the Pauravas.
Dhrishtadyumna and Shikhandin, at the head of a massive force of Panchalas and Prabhadrakas, stay in the middle of the crescent.
Yudhishthir, surrounded by his elephant division, also stands here in the middle. Satyaki and the five sons of Drupada keep him company, and he is also guarded by Iravan.
Next to Iravan is Ghatotkacha, and those fearless warriors the Kekayas. On the left horn of the formation is Arjuna with Janardana as his charioteer.
Shakuni is defeated
Shakuni and his Gandhara army is challenged by Satyaki and Abhimanyu at the head of their respective forces.
Satyaki loses his chariot to the arrows of Shakuni, but he climbs onto that of Abhimanyu, and fighting from the same chariot, the two heroes speedily slaughter many of the Gandharas, causing them to retreat.
Drona and Bhishma mount an attack on Yudhishthir directly, but the latter, along with Nakula and Sahadeva for support, manage to keep them at bay over a long, protracted battle where neither party is able to land the decisive blow.
Bhimasena and Ghatotkacha enter into a duel with Duryodhana, in which Ghatotkacha exceeds the abilities shown by his father. He pierces Duryodhana in the breast with an arrow, making him sit down on the chariot to recover.
His chariot is taken away hastily from the battlefield, and all the soldiers who had been fighting for him break and flee, with Bhima in pursuit.
This retiring of Duryodhana strikes at the morale of the Kaurava forces, and a sudden upsurge in Pandava fortunes occurs.
Dhrishtadyumna and Yudhishthir keep Drona and Bhishma engaged at the middle portion of the crescent. On one end, Bhima is chasing the Duryodhana’s army out, and at the other, Arjuna picks up speed and rains arrows on everyone before him.
There is a temporary ebbing of the tide during which the Kauravas are pushed back almost right to the edge of the battleground. Duryodhana returns to the fray by this time, though, his wounds nursed and his body cased in new armour.
He seeks out Bhishma and says, ‘O Grandsire, if you and Drona and Kripacharya fight for me with all your heart, the Pandavas can never win against us.
‘It is my misfortune, alas, that you allow your love for those wretches overpower your sense of duty to the throne. I do not deserve to be abandoned by you like this.’
And Bhishma replies, with an angry laugh, ‘It is your retreat from the field that caused us to pull back so much, Prince. As for the Pandavas, have I not often told you that they are undefeatable, what with Vasudeva himself manning Arjuna’s chariot?
‘However, I shall summon all my skill and strength to bear upon the enemy today. I shall check the entire army of the Pandavas, in full view of the gods and men of Earth. Prepare to watch!’
As afternoon rolls over into evening, Bhishma takes the counterattack to the Pandavas as per his vow to Duryodhana.
And with him leading the charge, the Kaurava soldiers are injected with a fresh sense of vigour, and they follow him with great yells of encouragement.
The Pandavas, on the other hand, shrink back at the sight of the grandsire riding out to meet them, with his bow bent into a semicircle, and arrows of great power fitted to the string.
He is so light-handed and fleet-footed that the Pandavas wonder if the man is using some illusion to reproduce himself in multiple locations at once.
No one is able to see him; all they can spot are his arrows flying thick and fast into the air, clouding out the sun.
Vast numbers of soldiers throw themselves at him in a bid to stop his onslaught, but all they succeed in is biting the dust as the Palmyra banner appears to gain height with each passing second, reaching for the skies.
It is now the Pandava army’s turn to flee with fear-stricken wails.
Krishna Almost Fights
Watching the entire crescent formation being pushed back by just one man, Krishna addresses Arjuna.
‘Partha,’ he says, ‘at the beginning of this war you took an oath to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra along with Bhishma and Drona. Now is the time to bring those words to fruition, my friend.
‘Watch how your grandfather fights, in the vein of a man who is still in his sixteenth year. If you do not stand up to him, he will finish the war before sundown today.’
‘Take us to him, O Madhava,’ replies Arjuna. ‘I shall place myself between the grandsire and our fleeing army.’
But the relentless forward press of Bhishma continues, and witnessing the massive carnage that the Kaurava commander is wreaking on Yudhishthir’s forces, Krishna thinks to himself that it might be worthwhile for him to take up arms and finish off Bhishma.
Arjuna is dithering because he respects the grandsire too much. Yudhishthir knows not how to curtail the son of Ganga. It appears I must step in myself.
Thinking thus, Krishna lets go of the reins and leaps off the chariot. Summoning his discus, he prepares to hurl it at Bhishma, who is by now bowing in respect.
‘Come, O Madhava,’ he says, ‘Present me with the good fortune of dying at your hand. I will achieve dignity worth the wealth of the three worlds, O Janardana, if you just kill me here with the gods watching.’
Arjuna uses the Mahendra Weapon
As Krishna advances toward Bhishma’s chariot, Arjuna runs after him and seizes him by both his hands.
But Krishna is so beside himself with rage that he drags Arjuna with him toward Bhishma, like a gale uprooting a single tree. Arjuna now falls on Krishna’s feet, stopping him with great difficulty at the tenth step.
‘Conquer this anger of yours, O Hrishikesha,’ he pleads. ‘You are the sole refuge of the Pandavas. Would we have had the courage to fight this war if it were not for you?
‘Let it not be said that Krishna had to forswear his oath because of the cowardice of the Pandavas. Hear my words, O Janardana. Put away your discus, and come back to our chariot.
‘I hereby swear on all my brothers and ancestors that I shall not swerve from the path of duty. At your command I shall annihilate the Kurus. But may it never come to be that you should live by a false promise.’
Saying this, he fits the Mahendra weapon to his bow. In a moment the clouds gather around Kurukshetra, and they begin raining down arrows onto the Kaurava army.
Stunned by the extent of this magic, the common soldiers begin to flee, and none of the warriors succeed in rallying them.
The third day ends with the Pandava army fighting back in this fashion against the onslaught of Bhishma.
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