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 the night of Day 14 of the Mahabharata war?
Entry of the Rakshasas
Ashwatthama challenges Satyaki to a duel, driven by great anger at the circumstances surrounding the death of Bhurishrava.
Just as they are about to shoot the first arrow, though, a large vehicle rolls into the battlefield, measuring thirty nalwas in length, fitted with strange dark contraptions that move on their own as if by magic.
Its rattle resembles the rumble of a mass of heavy clouds, and pulling it are not horses or elephants but some strange beasts that look out of this world.
On the standard perched on top of this vehicle is the image of a vulture, with wings and feet outstretched, eyes pushed open wide, face frozen in the midst of an almighty shriek.
Such is the animation on the beast’s visage that everyone around the vehicle can actually hear the squalls emanating from its hideous mouth.
Standing on this hellish chariot with bow in one hand and mace in the other is Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhimasena.
He leads a full akshauhini of Rakshasa troops into battle, eager to participate in the night-time war.
Ghatotkacha versus Ashwatthama
The speedy shafts of Ghatotkacha – like angry snakes piercing through an anthill – injure Ashwatthama, and for a moment it looks like the son of Drona has been defeated.
But with a smile he pulls out the arrows embedded in his armour, and shoots back ten arrows at the Rakshasa. Receiving them on his arms and chest, Ghatotkacha emits a cry and picks up a thousand-spoked wheel to hurl at his foe.
Ashwatthama calmly dismantles it mid-flight even as Ghatotkacha receives support from Anjanaparva, his son. Ashwatthama wastes no time in cutting off the standard of the young Rakshasa, then his bow, and then his four steeds.
Deprived thus of a chariot, Anjanaparva picks up a scimitar, but two arrows from Ashwatthama are enough to break it at the hilt.
Anjanaparva rises up to the clouds now with a roar, and he begins to shower uprooted trees upon his opponent. Ashwatthama blasts them all to smithereens with nothing but his arrows.
When Anjanaparva creates a new gold-decked chariot for himself by magic, Ashwatthama releases a deadly arrow aimed at the Rakshasa’s throat.
Watching his son fall to Ashwatthama thus, Ghatotkacha is beside himself with rage. He addresses the son of Kripi thus: ‘Wait, O Wretch! You shall not escape today with life. I shall kill you today like the son of Agni slaying Krauncha.’
Ashwatthama is amused at this bravado. ‘Go, son,’ he says, ‘and fight someone else. I do not cherish any grudge against you, but if you anger me further, I will be tempted to be ruthless.’
In the battle that follows, Ghatotkacha elevates himself to the skies, and from there, creates an illusion that makes it look like a massive hill is floating above the earth.
From the various rivers that flow upon it, thousands of weapons take birth and begin to fall over the Kaurava soldiers. Ashwatthama is unperturbed by the vision, and even as soldiers around him wail and flee, he uses the Vayavyastra to demolish the blue cloud.
Ghatotkacha then leads a band of fierce Rakshasas in an all-out assault against Ashwatthama. These men have hideous forms – bloodied teeth, hairy bodies, pure white eyes – and they bear dangerous weapons, so Duryodhana is struck by despair looking at them.
But Ashwatthama calms him down with the following words: ‘Do not fear these men, O King. Stand aside and reassure your troops, who have been deceived by the illusions of these wretches. I will slay them all.’
A full akshauhini of Rakshasas thus gets stalled by the arrows of Ashwatthama, and he stands there victorious, like Maheshwara surveying the city of Tripura after destroying it.
Then Ghatotkacha urges his brothers onward, commanding them to kill the son of Drona.
But the hundreds of thousands of darts, the spiked maces, the Sataghnis, the long lances, the battle-axes, and scimitars and maces and spears and swords – none of these are able to cause a single wound on the person of Ashwatthama.
Kurukshetra Lights Up
At this time, the night gets completely dark, and the warriors in the battle resort to fighting each other blind, relying on calling out the names of their friends and enemies.
Needless to say, this is rather inefficient, and heroes on both sides end up killing a number of their own soldiers.
Noticing that the danger to their lives has doubled, footmen belonging to both armies retreat in fear, and they do not bother to take permission of their leaders to do so.
Then, on the orders of King Duryodhana, the Kaurava heroes set aside their weapons and pick up lamps in their hands.
Many lamps filled with fragrant oils also light up the sky, and Sanjaya tells us that the celestial sages, the Gandharvas, the Vidyadharas, the Apsaras, the Nagas, the Yakshas, the Uragas and the Kinnaras also see it fit to obey Duryodhana’s command.
They bring out lights of their own to brighten the battlefield.
On the ground, every chariot is equipped with five lamps, every elephant with three, and every horse with one. Many infantrymen (though not all; if everyone held lamps, who would fight?) exchange their weapons for fire torches too.
Amidst all of this is Ashwatthama, the foremost of Brahmins, scorching everything in his path like the midday sun.
Drona is Fortified
Arjuna rides out at the head of the Pandava army to check the progress of Dronacharya’s son, and in response, the preceptor readies himself to face his favourite pupil.
Understanding his wishes to fight, Duryodhana urges all his heroes to protect the acharya to the best of their abilities.
‘O heroes of great valour,’ he says, ‘all of you protect from the rear the chariot of Dronacharya. The son of Hridika will protect his right wheel, and Shalya his left.’
He then addresses his brothers, Chitrasena, Suparshva, Durdarsha and Dirghabahu, and tells them to cover the commander on all four sides.
‘The Pandavas fight with great passion,’ Duryodhana tells his brothers. ‘And the acharya is still partial to their cause. While engaging in slaughtering the foe, protect him well, and steer him toward the Panchalas and the Somakas.’
He then warns his brothers to be wary of a certain Pandava hero. ‘Just keep Drona away from Dhrishtadyumna, for it is said that the Panchala prince is destined to kill him.
‘If Drona can be relied upon to obliterate the Somakas and the Panchalas, Ashwatthama will see to the son of Prishata. Similarly, Karna will encounter and defeat Arjuna. And I will defeat that vain Bhimasena in tonight’s battle!’
It is thus that Drona and Ashwatthama ride out together, side by side, at the head of a Kaurava division intent on routing the Panchalas and their allies.
Sahadeva is Spared
A battle occurs between Karna and Sahadeva. It begins with good signs for the son of Madri, who shoots eighteen arrows at the Anga king.
But Karna retaliates with fury, shooting a hundred straight shafts at his brother, and then cutting off the latter’s bow with two iron-tipped ones.
Sahadeva picks up another bow and tries to hold on, but the relentless Vaikartana breaks his chariot, kills his charioteer and wounds his horses.
Thus forced to fight from the ground, the youngest Pandava takes up a sword and shield, only to see Karna break them also into fragments. Sahadeva then finds a mace and hurls it in Karna’s direction, but the latter shoots it down with no fuss.
When he sees that his mace has been blown away, Sahadeva picks up a dart, and after it has been cut in two as well, begins to hurl broken fragments of his chariot at Karna: first the wheels, then the yokes, then the limbs of dead elephants and so on.
While nonplussed by this creative means of fighting, Karna is not overly troubled. He despatches all that Sahadeva can find, and catching up with the fleeing son of Madri, he places the tip of his bow to the Pandava’s chin and smiles.
‘You will do well to fight your equals, O Sahadeva,’ he says. ‘Over there, Arjuna is fighting resolutely with the Kauravas. Go and assist him if you want, or better still, go home.’
Having said those words, Karna asks his charioteer to lead him to the Panchalas. Knowing that he had become the victim of Karna’s mercy, Sahadeva is consumed by shame.
Shortly after midnight, Karna and Drona team up to terrorize the Panchala army. Despite the Pandavas’ best efforts, the twosome prove to be especially powerful tonight.
Yudhishthir sees this and says to Arjuna, ‘Karna is displaying remarkable skill and might today, O Falguna. He looks like Rudra himself armed with his bow.
‘Behold him scorching everything in his path like the blazing sun at this unearthly hour. If we allow him to continue for much longer, O Vijaya, he will annihilate our army.
‘Indeed, only you among our many heroes can withstand him when he is in this mood. Go now, Dhananjaya, and save us from this tempest that is Karna.’
Arjuna accepts his elder brother’s words, and says to Krishna, ‘The king is beside himself with worry. Our army is flying away as we speak, O Madhava. Lead me to that Sutaputra, and let me, tonight, make a stand against my arch-enemy.
‘Perhaps today is the day that the gods have always spoken about, the moment when the son of Kunti and the son of Radha will meet in battle.’
Krishna smiles at Arjuna’s words, and for a moment he does not say anything. Then he reveals who he thinks should face Karna tonight.
‘Your battle with Karna will happen, O Arjuna,’ says Krishna, ‘but not today. I see that tiger among men course all over the battlefield like Indra amidst an assembly of celestials.
‘Indeed, Yudhishthir is right. Today Karna is excelling himself. Only two warriors on our side can match him when he is at his best. One of them is you, Partha, and the other is Ghatotkacha.
‘The time for you to encounter the Sutaputra in battle has not yet come. Remember that he still holds the Vasava dart, with which he hopes to kill you.
‘In the terrible form that he assumes today, I have no doubt that he wishes you to face him so that he might use the weapon that Indra gave him.
‘Let Ghatotkacha ward him off today, therefore. The Rakshasa is ever-devoted to you, and he will do your every bidding. He is also well-versed with illusions and other forms of magic that are powerful at this time of the night.
‘Only a man with such command over the dark arts can face Karna today, O Arjuna. Let him therefore take up this mantle.’
They summon Ghatotkacha to their side, and when the Rakshasa appears, Krishna addresses him with the following words:
‘The time has come, O son of Bhima, for you to be the raft in this sea that will rescue the sinking Pandavas. You have at your disposal many weapons, some of them earthly, some of them celestial.
‘You have at the tip of your tongue many chants that will conjure up illusions and strike the strongest hearts with fear. Use them all in any way you see fit against that rampaging Sutaputra, Karna.’
Ghatotkacha bows to his uncles. ‘I am a match for Karna, and Drona, and any of the warriors of the Kaurava army. Tonight I shall fight such a battle with the Sutaputra that it will be talked about till the end of time.
‘Tonight I shall spare neither the brave nor the timid, neither weak nor the strong. I shall kill them all!’
So saying, with the rest of the Pandava army preparing to take on Drona, Ghatotkacha rides out to meet Karna.
Ghatotkacha Battles Karna
In a long-drawn-out duel, Ghatotkacha uses all sorts of illusions to frighten the Kaurava soldiers while he fights Karna.
Pitiful wails fill the air. Hundreds of jackals with tongues blazing like fire let out terrible yelps, and thousands of Rakshasas with reddened eyes run after the fleeing Kaurava soldiers, hacking them down to pieces with their scimitars.
The whole battlefield now resembles a region somewhere deep in the nether-world, where Asuras and Danavas hold sway. The only weapons the eye can see are Pinakas, Asanis and Sataghnis.
‘Fly, O Kauravas!’ the soldiers in Duryodhana’s army cry out. ‘The god of gods Indra himself is cutting us down from his place in the firmament. There is nothing we can do.’
Karna tries his best to arrest this chaos by engaging with Ghatotkacha, but the Rakshasa is able to manage his many illusions while staving off the attack of the king of Anga. The Kaurava soldiers implore Karna now to use his dart to kill Ghatotkacha.
‘The Dhartarashtras are at the point of being annihilated on this very night!’ they say. ‘Why do we need to speak of Arjuna and Krishna? In order to fight with Partha tomorrow, it is necessary to escape today’s battle alive.
‘Therefore slay this terrible Rakshasa with that dart given to you by Indra. Save us, O Karna!’
Karna does give this a moment’s thought, but even he can see the wisdom behind the soldiers’ words. So he summons that dart which he has been saving for years in the hope of one day afflicting Arjuna.
He murmurs a prayer for Shakra, the lord of the gods, and hurls it at Ghatotkacha.
As the missile flies toward the Rakshasa, the latter realizes that his time has come. Using every last remnant of his powers, he swells up in size until his head touches the sky, and his body becomes as large as the Vindhya Mountain.
When the dart strikes him and pierces through his heart (after which it blasts forth toward the heavens like a bolt of lightning), he falls down with a great thud on the fleeing Kaurava forces, crushing a whole akshauhiniof troops under his body.
As the Kauravas celebrate around him, Karna feels the first stirrings of fear about facing Arjuna.
Everyone in the Pandava camp is devastated at the sight of Ghatotkacha falling to the ground lifeless. But Krishna reacts with a shout of joy and stands on his seat with whip in hand.
Tying the horses and descending from the vehicle, he embraces Arjuna and congratulates him.
Arjuna is suitably perplexed at this behaviour. ‘O Madhava,’ he says, ‘you show great joy at a time scarcely fit for it. Indeed, this is an occasion of great sorrow for all of us, because Ghatotkacha is slain.
‘Our army is flying away in fear of Karna. In this moment of grief, you display elation. This lightness of heart appears to me a sign that is grave, O Krishna, like the drying up of the ocean.’
Krishna replies, ‘Great indeed is the joy I feel, O Dhananjaya. Now that Karna’s dart has been wrenched away from him he is as good as slain by you.
‘By good luck his natural armour has been pried away from him. By good luck has he been persuaded to use this great weapon on Ghatotkacha.
‘If he had still had his kavacha kundalas, then even your Gandiva and my Sudarshana Chakra would have been ineffective against him. For your good, Karna was deprived of his gifts, and now the gift of Indra has returned to heaven too.
‘The son of Adiratha is no more an invincible warrior. With both the Vasava dart and his natural armour taken away from him, he is nothing more than another warrior who will die at your hands. I shall see to this!’
Arjuna Calls for Rest
Shortly after the death of Ghatotkacha, Arjuna notices that the soldiers fighting on the battlefield are consumed by exhaustion.
Despite every intention of staying awake and fighting, a number of them fall to the ground and surrender to sleep, uncaring as to whether they will live or die in that murderous place.
Seeing this, Arjuna – with his own eyes sagging under the extreme exertion of having fought for so many hours at once – makes an announcement. ‘All of you!’ he says.
‘You are worn out and half-blinded with sleep. You are enveloped in darkness and dust. Your limbs are tired. Your minds are scrambled. So if it is agreeable to both the Kurus and the Pandavas, let us rest awhile right here, on the battlefield.
‘Let us wait for the moon to appear, and then we shall resume battle on this hallowed land.’
At these words, the soldiers belonging to both sides drop their weapons, unheeding the commands of their leaders. Even though the ground of Kurukshetra is hard and soaked in blood, the men are too tired to care.
As they drift off into sleep, they bless Arjuna in their hearts.
Thus ends the night of the fourteenth day of the Mahabharata war. The two armies wake up on the fifteenth morning to resume fighting.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
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- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered