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 8 of the Mahabharata war?
Oormi for the Kauravas
On the dawn of the eighth day, Bhishma chooses a broad and shallow array for his troops called the Oormi, which resembles, we are told, the wave of an ocean.
Bhishma stands in the center of this formation, supported by the Malavas, the tribes from the southern countries, and the fighters from Avanti (led by Vinda and Anuvinda).
On his right stands Drona, with the power of the Pulindas, the Paradas and the Kshudrakas behind him.
Next to Drona stands Bhagadatta, accompanied by the Magadhas, the Kalingas and the Pisachas. Behind Bhagadatta is Brihadvala of the Kosala kingdom, along with the Melakas, the Tripuras and the Chichilas.
Next to Bhagadatta stands Susharma, the ruler of the Trigartas, flanked and followed by vast numbers of Kambojas and Yavanas.
Ashwatthama stands next to Susharma, and next to him is Duryodhana surrounded by his brothers. Guarding Duryodhana from behind is Kripacharya.
Sringataka for the Pandavas
Yudhishthir watches this formation and advises Dhrishtadyumna to arrange his forces in the shape of a horn. This array is called the Sringataka Vyuha.
Bhimasena and Satyaki take the sharp end, accompanied by many thousands of cars and infantrymen. Arjuna fights along with them. In the middle of the formation, as usual, is Yudhishthir flanked by Nakula and Sahadeva.
Protecting the rear of this formation are Abhimanyu, Virata, the Upapandavas, and Ghatotkacha.
Sanjaya tells us that as the two armies approached one another in the morning sun, they looked resplendent in their polished armour, with their lances and swords looking like thunderbolts from heaven.
The maces decked with gold and attached to bright slings were seen to fall all over the field, resembling crests of hills.
Sabres and shields, crafted from bull hides and decked with precious stones, clanked as the men marched across the plain.
Bhima Inspires Fear
The morning of Day 8 begins with a fight between Bhimasena and Bhishma, in which the former pleasantly surprises everyone on the Pandava side by killing the grandsire’s steeds and rendering him immobile.
Even with Duryodhana fighting alongside, Bhishma fails to secure victory over the third Pandava. This start to the day uplifts the Pandava army, and they fall upon the enemy with renewed vigour.
After that, Bhima proceeds to kill eight of Dhritarashtra’s sons. This carnage begins with the killing of Sunabha, which Bhima carries out with the means of an arrow carved in the shape of a horse-shoe.
Witnessing this, seven other Dhartarashtras – Adityaketu, Vahavasin, Kundadhara, Mahodara, Aparajita, Panditaka, and Vishalaksha – rush to avenge their brother’s death.
But though they begin well, Bhimasena kills them all, beheading them one by one with his merciless aim.
Iravan fights the Gandharas
Iravan, the son of Arjuna by Ulupi, brings his large cavalry force to bear upon the Kaurava army, decimating thousands of horses. Six brothers of Shakuni now ride out to meet the son of Arjuna.
Their names are Gaya, Gavaksha, Vrishava, Charmavata, Arjava, and Suka. They hold back the advance of Iravan’s army, and force him to emerge so that they could challenge him. They surround him on all sides and engage him in a battle.
Though injured by lances and arrows, Iravan refuses to back down, and tears off the weapons clinging to his body. He casts off his bow and leaps to the ground to fight on foot.
Beating back the arrows and other weapons flying at him, he advances on all six Gandharas. He kills their horses and their charioteers. He breaks open their vehicles. Forcing them to fight on foot too, he slices off their limbs and leaves them bleeding on the ground.
Five of the six Gandhara princes thus meet their deaths. Vrishava is the only one who escapes.
Duryodhana sees this and despatches Alambusha to deal with Iravan.
Alambusha kills Iravan
Alambusha, with his powers of illusion, creates two thousand horses ridden by shades brandishing spears forged out of smoke. But Iravan manages to dispel the illusion with his arrows.
In the ensuing battle where both warriors fight on foot, Iravan cuts off the limbs of Alambusha repeatedly, but each time he is reborn in the form of a youthful and unwounded man.
All the dismembered limbs pile up next to them, and the rest of the Pandava soldiers wonder how many Rakshasas are being slain in this battle.
They speak of the valour of Iravan who, with his mighty sword, is causing a massacre of the Rakshasa army on his own.
Iravan now summons his army of Nagas to support him. With all of them surrounding Alambusha, it looks like Iravan has assumed the form of Anantasesha himself, but the Rakshasa proves more than equal to the task, using a mantra that invokes the powers of Garuda to devour them all.
Watching his minions disappear into the illusory construct erected by Alambusha, Iravan is momentarily confounded.
The Rakshasa pounces on this opportunity, and with two decisive swipes of the sword, beheads the Naga prince.
Ghatotkacha fights Duryodhana
Ghatotkacha is enraged at the sight of Duryodhana slaying some of his followers. He points at the Kaurava and says, ‘I have long suffered under this debt that I owe to my sires and to my mother Draupadi, O Wretch.
‘Today, with the grace of god, I shall be relieved from it when I detach your head from the rest of your body.’
Saying this, he causes a great shower of arrows to fall upon Duryodhana, but the latter bears it with admirable strength. He then shoots twenty five arrows with keen points at the Rakshasa, making blood trickle down that dark body.
Ghatotkacha now picks up a dart and raises it over his head, intent on hurling it at Duryodhana. But Bhagadatta places himself, perched upon an elephant, in the way.
This brings about a veritable rush to aid Duryodhana. Along with Drona, Jayadratha, Kripacharya, Bhurishrava, Shalya, the princes of Avanti, Brihadvala, Ashwatthama, Vikarna, Chitrasena and Vivinsati flank the flagging Kaurava king.
Watching the great warriors of the other side gather forces against him, Ghatotkacha remains firm like the Mainaka mountain.
But the people fighting him are no novices. They continue to press and push him until he begins to tire.
Bhimasena Helps Ghatotkacha
Sensing that his son is in trouble, Bhimasena calls for his chariot and speeds toward the enlarging Rakshasa. He is accompanied by a large army of elephants (six thousand, we are told), not to mention warriors such as Abhimanyu, the Upapandavas, and Nila.
They all arrive and surround Ghatotkacha. The battle now transforms into a generic one, with Rakshasa and human forces of the Pandavas combining against those of the Kauravas.
The major car warriors challenge one another, but none of them manages to land any decisive blows. A thick cloud of dust cloaks the air, and the soldiers begin to fight by the sounds they hear as much as the sights they see.
Horses and elephants, bearded warriors with darts, arrows flying to and fro, shouts of challenges thrown and challenges accepted – Kurukshetra resembles a graveyard that has come alive.
As the evening of Day 8 approaches, Ghatotkacha uses a devious illusion to gain an upper hand over the Kaurava forces.
He casts a spell that causes people on the Kaurava side to see visions of their friends being hacked down to pieces, and their leaders – even the more powerful ones like Drona and Bhishma – fleeing in fear.
Thrust into this strange world in which Ashwatthama, Shalya and Duryodhana are all retreating from battle with panic-stricken faces, the common soldiers of the Kaurava army all drop their weapons and run away with hands on their heads.
Bhishma tries to rally them all, reminding them that it is all a spell cast by the wicked Ghatotkacha, but once fear takes root, it is difficult for man to see reason.
The army of the Kauravas thus flies away back to the safety of their camp, and Ghatotkacha lets out a leonine roar to indicate victory.
With the Kaurava army retreating, Bhishma looks at Bhagadatta, the ruler of the Pragjyotishas (the extreme northeast kingdom that is sometimes indistinguishable from Vanga).
With a hand placed on the warrior’s shoulder, he says, ‘In your presence, O Duryodhana, I appoint Bhagadatta to lead us back into battle against Ghatotkacha.
‘He is equal unto Purandara, and seated upon his great elephant Supratika, he will indeed win back for us our lost ground on this day.’
Bhagadatta obeys the grandsire, and leading the Kaurava forces, he marches back onto the battlefield where Bhimasena and Ghatotkacha are celebrating their victory.
Seeing him, Abhimanyu and the Kekayas come together, and a terrible fight erupts between the two sides, with the king of Vanga on top of Supratika appearing as if he is on the swiftest chariot in the world.
His elephant army resembles a moving mountain that can withstand all arrows that are shot at it while crushing everything in its path.
He fights and wins against Bhima, Abhimanyu and Ghatotkacha, thus turning the tide of the battle.
Arjuna Mourns Iravan
Desiring one last push for the day against the now-raging Kuru army, Bhimasena finds Arjuna, and tells him of the manner in which Iravan was slain.
Arjuna is consumed with anger and grief when he comes to know how Iravan died. He addresses Krishna and says, ‘Wise Vidura must have foreseen this all, O Kesava. It is perhaps for this very reason that he has urged Dhritarashtra not to fight.
‘How many innocent heroes on our side have lost their lives in this meaningless war? How many heroes have breathed their last on the Kaurava side? I now see how wise Yudhishthir was in begging for only five villages.
‘I fight today only because I am Kshatriya, O Madhava. And while I do, I curse my lot for having to fight despite wishing not to do so. If I do not fight, if I lay down my arms today, I will be called powerless, and the world will heap infamy on me.
‘It is for this reason alone that I continue to wield my weapons, O Krishna. Lead me to the army of the Dhartarashtras!’
Thus led by Arjuna, the Pandava army succeeds in stemming the advance of Bhagadatta.
The day ends with honours split about evenly between the two sides.
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- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
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- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered