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 9 of the Mahabharata war?
At the end of the eighth day, Duryodhana arranges for himself and a few of his brothers to visit Bhishma that very night. He approaches the grandsire in the latter’s tent, and says:
‘With you at our head, O Bhishma, we have sought to protect our throne from usurpers who are as powerful as the gods. But you are the son of a goddess yourself; we know that you have the prowess to lead us to victory.
‘But you do not fight with all your heart, Grandsire. You are bent out of shape by the love you feel for the Pandavas. I implore you that your Kshatriya duty compels you to fight with all such niceties set aside, O Hero. Kill the Pandavas like Indra slew the Asuras all those years ago.
‘If you think this task is beyond you, however, I have a proposition. Karna, my dear friend, the king of Anga, is rearing to do battle with Arjuna and the other sons of Kunti.
‘I will unleash him upon the enemy, but for that to happen, you must lay down your arms and turn over the battlefield to him. Let him perform this job that is distasteful to you.’
Bhishma’s pride is wounded by this assertion by Duryodhana. He is also indignant at the mention of Karna. He does not speak for a long time; he sighs like a snake, and reflects upon his grandson’s words for a while.
Then he says in a measured tone: ‘Sometimes in battle, my boy, you are only as good as your opponent allows you to be. Trust me when I say that I have been exerting myself to the fullest extent all these days.
‘I am even prepared to give away my life in battle. Not just I, Drona, Kripa, Shalya and the son of Somadatta have been doing our best.
‘But heed my words, Duryodhana. The Pandavas truly are invincible. When Arjuna gave Agni his wish by destroying the forest of Khandava, the world received suitable indication of this fact.
‘In the kingdom of Virata, when Partha not only withstood our entire army but eviscerated it on a single chariot, when he defeated every single one of the great Kuru warriors with a smile on his face – the world received suitable indication of this fact.
‘If he could defeat the entire Kaurava army with Uttara as his charioteer, my boy, imagine what he could do with Vasudeva manning his steeds.
‘These are Nara and Narayana mounted on one vehicle, and they are fulfilling their destiny of cleansing the earth of all sin. We are all mere pawns in this game, Duryodhana. Let us play our roles.
‘As for myself, I shall fight the kind of battle on the morrow that men will speak of for thousands of years hence. Do not let worry crease your brow. Spend the night in happy sleep.
‘I shall either kill or be killed. Protect me from Shikhandi is all I ask; I shall then see to it that the Pandava army is decimated.’
The formation on the ninth morning that Bhishma uses is called the Sarvatobhadra, which means ‘safe on all sides’.
Kripa, Kritavarma, Saivya, Shakuni, Jayadratha and Sudakshina stay with Bhishma and the Kaurava brothers at the head of that array.
Drona, Bhurishrava, Shalya and Bhagadatta take up position in the right wing, whereas Ashwatthama, Somadatta and the two princes of Avanti protect the left wing.
Duryodhana, surrounded on all sides by the Trigartas, occupies a position right in the middle of the formation, inaccessible to all but the innermost ranks. Alambusha and Srutayush are tasked with protecting the rear.
Yudhishthir, by contrast, fights at the forefront of his counter-array, the name of which we are not told, but which looks like the Mandala from its description.
Bhimasena, Nakula and Sahadeva stand alongside him. Behind him, Dhrishtadyumna, Virata and Satyaki stand guard, accompanied by their respective forces.
Shikhandi, Arjuna and Ghatotkacha stand in a straight line to the right, along with Chekitana and Kuntibhoja. Abhimanyu, Drupada and the five Kekaya brothers also stand along the periphery of the formation, thus creating an impregnable array.
The gauntlet is first thrown by Abhimanyu on this ninth morning, who breaks out of formation in a quest to gain victories over the various Kaurava divisions.
Moving across the land with great skill and agility, he confounds the likes of Drona, Kripa and Shalya.
Engaging with everyone yet fighting no one to the point of exertion, the son of Arjuna deals a great amount of damage across the various sections of the Kaurava army.
Duryodhana then despatches Alambusha to check Abhimanyu. The Rakshasa’s strategy is to not try and get too close to the son of Arjuna.
Instead, he bides his time fighting on the periphery of the Pandava formation, picking out smaller soldiers and divisions that have been assigned to protect Abhimanyu.
His gamble pays off when the Upapandavas challenge him. This five-on-one battle starts off being balanced, but very soon the Rakshasa begins to overpower the sons of Draupadi.
He cuts off their weapons, kills their horses, and strips them of their armours. He continues to pierce them with arrows of various sizes and shapes, hoping that this attack will draw Abhimanyu to him.
Sure enough, in due course, the son of Subhadra comes to the Upapandavas’ rescue, and challenges Alambusha to a duel.
Abhimanyu Fights Alambusha
This fight grows into a long and terrible one. Alambusha has access to many Rakshasa illusions, whereas Abhimanyu has many celestial weapons in his quiver.
Alambusha tries to disconcert the prince by covering Kurukshetra with a false cover of darkness, but Abhimanyu shatters the illusion with the expert use of the Suryastra.
Alambusha tries repeatedly to snare the son of Arjuna in one illusion or the other, but sees all of his spells being met with utter disdain.
Seeing that he cannot rely on his Rakshasa powers, he tries to match Abhimanyu with his arrows alone, but here too, he finds himself hopelessly outmatched.
After being struck by twenty five arrows at various parts of his body, he instructs his charioteer to turn and flee from the battlefield.
Abhimanyu thus secures victory over the Rakshasa and continues to fight valiantly against the Kaurava forces.
Duryodhana Sends Shalya
Watching the Pandavas ably react to everything that he throws at them, Duryodhana is flabbergasted. He addresses Shalya, the king of Madra, and says:
‘There you see, O King, the eldest son of Pandu and the sons of Madri laying to waste my well-trained cavalry division. Why do you stand here merely watching? Lead your forces in that direction, and exert your powers so that you might take their lives.’
Hearing this, Shalya leads a large number of chariots to the place Yudhishshir is fighting. The latter, seeing the Madra king approach, makes the first move by piercing him with ten shafts straight in the chest.
None of these succeed in getting past the armour of Shalya, though. Then Nakula and Sahadeva cover him with seven straight arrows each.
But Shalya emerges from this onslaught with a fierce counter-attack, warding off the sons of Madri with three arrows each, and then overwhelming Yudhishthir with a barrage of sixty sharp ones.
Bhimasena rides over from behind Shalya now to fight alongside his brothers. Four of the Pandavas on one side, and their maternal uncle on the other.
Satyaki is also present there or thereabouts, but even while arrayed against five of the best Pandava warriors, Shalya does not flinch. He sends twelve arrows flying at Bhimasena, nine at Satyaki.
He pierces Nakula’s armour with three well-aimed arrows, and injures Sahadeva with seven. He sends twelve arrows at Yudhishthir too, piercing the king’s arms and chest.
Bhishma at his Best
The ninth afternoon marks the high point of Bhishma’s career as a warrior.
It is said that he blazed up like a fire in the midst of a forest, his chariot resembling that of Agni, his bow appearing like a hungry tongue of a sacrificial fire. His swords, darts and maces were the fuel, his arrows the sparks.
The Chedis, the Kasis, the Karushas – fourteen thousand chariots from these three tribes are obliterated at Bhishma’s advance, and it appears to onlookers as if he is the lord of death himself, with his hungry mouth open wide to swallow everything in its path.
In his wake, he leaves fallen masts, mortally wounded soldiers, and a river of blood.
Seeing all this, Krishna decides that it is time for another intervention.
Krishna Points his Whip
Krishna points his whip at the rampaging Bhishma and says to Arjuna, ‘The time has come, Partha. I have heard you say numerous times that you intend to defeat the grandsire on your own.
‘O Kaunteya, if you ever meant those words to come true, then this is the moment. See how the son of Ganga fights, having cast off all reservations, intent on destroying your entire army.
‘If this goes on for even one more day, your king Yudhishthir will have no one to fight for him. Pick up your bow, therefore, Vibhatsu, and challenge that commander of the Kauravas.’
In the battle that follows, Arjuna twice breaks the bow of Bhishma, but the latter also pierces both Nara and Narayana with his many arrows.
Despite Krishna’s deft handling of the horses, he is unable to escape the unerring aim of the son of Ganga, and even though Bhishma punctuates the duel with words of praise directed at Arjuna, it is he who manages to gain an edge.
He fights Partha on one side and simultaneously uses his celestial weapons to continue slaughtering the many tribes that are fighting on foot.
Krishna Intervenes Again
Krishna gets the feeling that Arjuna is still not rising to the best of his ability. With a roar of anger – much of it directed at his friend – he leaps off the chariot, whip in hand, and rushes toward Bhishma’s vehicle.
At this sight the entire army of the Kauravas gasps as one, and they say among themselves, ‘Bhishma is as good as slain!’
Bhishma, for his part, like he did on the previous occasion, raises his bow in respect and invites Krishna to attack him. ‘Take my life right this moment, O Madhava,’ he says.
‘Strike me as you please, for I am no more than your slave. My death will be a pious one indeed if it comes at your hands.’
He then fits an arrow to the string of his bow. ‘But do not assume, O Kesava, that I shall not fight you. It is my duty to protect my king without surrender; if you must kill me, be it so that you must defeat me first!’
Arjuna Placates Krishna
But like before, Arjuna runs after Krishna and drags him away by the feet. ‘Do not give way to anger, O Krishna!’ he says. ‘Do not let it be said that the prince of Dwaraka has forsworn his oath.
‘And to what purpose? Because his friend Arjuna could not live up to his duty? No, let me promise you that I will defeat Bhishma in this battle. Come back to our vehicle, O Sarathi, for I need your guidance now more than ever.’
Whether these words soothe Krishna or not we do not know, but the slayer of Madhu calms down somewhat, and with his eyes still copper-red with rage, reclaims his seat as Arjuna’s charioteer.
With this incident ends the ninth day of the Kurukshetra war.
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