The Drona Parva of the Mahabharata begins on the eleventh day of the Mahabharata war. It ends with the death of Drona on the fifteenth day.
And here it is! All the main events of the fourteenth day, ending with Jayadratha’s death. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
- A Three-layered Formation
- Arjuna Sidesteps Drona
- Arjuna’s Early Battles
- Arjuna Fights on Foot
- Duryodhana Challenges Arjuna
- Arjuna Fights Nine Warriors
- Satyaki Follows Arjuna
- The Death of Bhurishrava
- Bhimasena Follows Arjuna
- Krishna Creates an Illusion
- One Final Bit of Advice
- Implications of Jayadratha’s Killing
- Further Reading
A Three-layered Formation
For the fourteenth day of the Mahabharata war, Drona and the Kaurava army have a single objective: protect Jayadratha from Arjuna.
Drona therefore arranges his forces in three layers:
- The first is the Sakata Vyuha or the Box Formation.
- The second is a lotus-shaped arrangement called the Padma Vyuha.
- The third is the Soochi Mukha Vyuha, or the ‘face of a needle’. Jayadratha is stationed at the very end of the Soochi Mukha Vyuha, right at the back.
So anyone seeking to reach Jayadratha today should first work his way through the Sakata Vyuha, then break open the Padma Vyuha, and fight through the long line of warriors that comprise the Soochi Mukha Vyuha.
This whole formation, we’re told, is forty eight miles in length and twenty miles in width. (The actual information is of course given in yojanas; I took the liberty of converting it to a modern unit.)
Guarding the Sakata Vyuha is Dronacharya himself in the company of Kritavarma, Duryodhana and Karna. The intention of Drona today is to stall Arjuna as much as possible so that the way would end without him reaching Jayadratha.
On the other hand, the single point of focus for Arjuna and Krishna is speed. Choose the right battles to fight, do not tarry at any point longer than necessary, and keep moving forward.
Arjuna Sidesteps Drona
Right at the mouth of the Sakata Vyuha, as soon as he has finished off Durmarshana and his division of elephants, Arjuna runs into Drona.
Strangely there is no animosity between them; one would think that Arjuna would bear a grudge for the way Drona fought with Abhimanyu the previous day. Instead, he pays his respects to the old man and begins fighting him.
But it does not take long for Krishna to realize that this duel is not likely to end in a hurry. ‘We’re not going to fight Drona today, Partha,’ he says, cracking the whip and swerving the chariot past Drona. ‘Let the other Pandavas fight the preceptor today. We’re going in search of Jayadratha.’
It takes Drona a moment to realize what is going on, because Arjuna has never run away (or past) a challenge in battle before. He raises his arm and cries out: ‘Arjuna! Your title of Vijaya seems ill-gotten. When have you made it a habit to drive past your enemy without first vanquishing him?’
And Arjuna, looking over his shoulder, replies, ‘You’re my teacher, Acharya, not my enemy. And I am your son. With your blessings, I will attend to other matters today. Farewell!’
Arjuna’s Early Battles
Here is a quick rundown of all the battles that Arjuna engages in during this momentous day. Please note that in the interest of time and space, I am skimping on some details.
- He defeats Kritavarma who is guarding the Sakata Vyuha right behind Drona.
- A Kalinga prince called Srutayush hurls at Arjuna a mace that he had received from Varuna. Krishna intercepts the weapon and bears it on his shoulder. It rebounds off to hit Srutayush and kills him on the spot.
- Next to hit the dirt is Sudakshina, a Kamboja king. He manages to render Arjuna unconscious but loses the eventual battle and his life.
- Vinda and Anuvinda of Avanti, who are usually fair matches for Arjuna – especially when fighting together – today stand no chance in front of the Pandava’s ruthless avatar.
While Arjuna is inside the Kaurava array, making a beeline toward Jayadratha, Drona is still guarding the Sakata Vyuha and fighting off the Pandavas who are trying to widen the breach in the formation that Arjuna has created.
Duryodhana, who is fighting alongside Drona, asks the preceptor to chase Arjuna down, but the old man only smiles. ‘Look at the speed with which Krishna is driving that chariot, O King. I am no longer young enough to match that. Besides, I have to hold the opening of the formation intact, otherwise our army will bleed from both ends.’
As a compromise, Drona gives Duryodhana a special armour that will hold him in good stead even against Arjuna. The eldest Kaurava then takes Drona’s blessings and sets off in Arjuna’s pursuit.
Arjuna Fights on Foot
Soon after the death of the Avanti princes, Krishna notices that their horses are tired. He tells Arjuna to fight on foot so that he could tend to the exhausted animals.
Arjuna jumps off the chariot, and suddenly a mass of Kaurava warriors converge upon him, scenting blood. After all, just the previous day, Abhimanyu was killed by first forcing him off his vehicle.
But Arjuna is a different proposition. With hundreds of enemy chariots swarming around him, he remains calm and dismantles each one of them in turn. Using his celestial weapons, he creates an illusion that there are a thousand Arjunas, each giving birth to a river of arrows from the Gandiva.
Not content with this, Arjuna even takes time off to create a lake for his horses to drink from, and a stable to give them shade and a place to rest. The Kauravas are mesmerized by this: ‘Have we ever seen a sight as wonderful?’ they ask one another. ‘Even as Arjuna fights us off, Krishna tends to his horses as if they’re sporting in an assembly of women!’
After a short while of this, Krishna yokes the horses again to the chariot. Once again they’re ready to move.
Duryodhana Challenges Arjuna
The chariot of Arjuna exits the back of Drona’s Sakata-Padma-Vyuha and makes its way toward the needle formation, at the head of which are stationed six atirathas, each of whom have been given a single instruction: protect Jayadratha.
As they approach this array, Krishna stands up on his seat with the horses in full gallop, pointing with his whip-wielding arm at the far-eastern edge of Kurukshetra, where they can see the chariot of Jayadratha. ‘There he is!’ he roars.
And in response Arjuna twangs at his Gandiva.
But right at this moment, Duryodhana catches up with Arjuna’s chariot, overtakes it, and turns around to face him. He raises his arm and says, ‘Come, Partha! Rain all your celestial and earthly weapons on me. If it helps, use some of Kesava’s weapons as well. Let us see if all the titles they have given you are deserved!’
This confidence gives Arjuna some pause, but he goes ahead and begins to shoot his arrows at Duryodhana. The Kaurava makes no attempt to defend himself, and in a short while Arjuna sees why.
The arrows that he shoots – instead of piercing Duryodhana’s armour – are sliding off and falling to the ground. Arjuna guesses that this is Drona’s armour, and with a grim smile, he resolves to still defeat Duryodhana.
He stops aiming any of his shafts at Duryodhana’s armour. Instead, he breaks his bow, kills his charioteer and his rear guards. He takes apart the king’s chariot itself, breaking it into pieces. Then he pierces the palms of Duryodhana, aiming his arrows expertly at the fingertips and fingernails.
Duryodhana is wounded so badly that the six atirathas assigned to protect Jayadratha now rush ahead to protect their king against Arjuna.
Arjuna Fights Nine Warriors
Ashwatthama, Vrishasena, Karna, Kripa, Shalya, Jayadratha, Bhurishrava, Sala (of the Bahlika kingdom) and Duryodhana – these are the nine warriors arrayed against Arjuna in this final leg of the fourteenth day.
Along with them, there are thousands of footmen and chariot warriors ready to pounce upon the advancing Pandava.
Ashwatthama draws first blood in this fight, shooting seventy three arrows at Krishna and three at Arjuna. Seeing that Krishna is wounded, the enraged son of Kunti shoots a hundred shafts at his preceptor’s son.
Then, piercing Karna with ten arrows and Vrishasena with three, he cuts off Shalya’s bow at the handle.
The Madra king takes up another bow in an instant, and along with Bhurishrava, covers Arjuna in a blanket of arrows. At the same time, Karna shoots thirty two arrows and Vrishasena adds seven more to the mix. Jayadratha pierces Arjuna’s armour with seventy of his best ones, and Kripa supports him with ten aimed at Janardana.
But Arjuna emerges from this concerted attack relatively unscathed. After quelling the oncoming rush of arrows with his own, he mounts a counter-attack that sees Vrishasena shot through the arm, Shalya’s bow once again shattered, and Bhurishravas and Kripa reeling.
He also shoots a hundred arrows at Jayadratha, though the Saindhava defends himself ably.
Now, just as he is readying himself to mount one final assault on Jayadratha, Arjuna sees Satyaki arrive from behind him. And his first reaction is: ‘What is he doing here? He is supposed to be protecting Yudhishthir!’
Satyaki Follows Arjuna
After Krishna and Arjuna have disappeared inside the Sakata Vyuha, Yudhishthir is gripped with worry that something may happen to him. Once or twice he hears an angry note on the Panchajanya (Krishna’s conch) without an accompanying twang of the Gandiva, and he convinces himself that something has happened to Arjuna.
So he summons Satyaki to his side and requests him to follow and find Arjuna, and report back news about them.
Satyaki sets out, and the first thing he does is take a leaf out of Arjuna’s book and ride past Drona at the mouth of the Sakata Vyuha. When Drona sneers, Satyaki laughs and says, ‘I am Arjuna’s disciple. I have to follow his methods!’
Satyaki thus embarks upon his own quest and kills a number of warriors on his own. Full details of this passage of battle does not belong here, but suffice it to say that he massacres a lot of smaller Kaurava divisions in his bid to get to Arjuna.
Toward the end of the day, as evening approaches, Satyaki finally manages to catch up with the Pandava, but when he waves, Arjuna is nonplussed at finding him here. To make matters worse, Satyaki picks up a fight with Bhurishrava, and this battle rages on and on.
The Death of Bhurishrava
Satyaki and Bhurishrava match each other almost down to the blow, and they descend from their chariots to fight on foot. Here Satyaki falls behind a bit, and it is clear to Arjuna – who is watching – that he needs help.
Bhurishrava has Satyaki on the ground, and he is about to slit his neck with a knife. Krishna points Arjuna to that scene and says, ‘Satyaki needs your help, Partha.’
A part of Arjuna is frustrated that he is being held back by the need to support Satyaki when he is so close to Jayadratha. But of course, he does the ‘right’ thing and shoots an arrow at Bhurishrava’s raised arm, severing it completely just as it is about to strike.
Bhurishrava is aghast at this show of unjustness from Arjuna. ‘How did you shoot at me from behind, O Son of Kunti?’ he asks. ‘And how did you think it proper to cut off my arm when I was not even fighting you?’
Arjuna’s reply is curt; he says that the duty of a Kshatriya is to protect his men. Bhurishrava, overcome by despair, gives up his arms and sits down in the middle of the battlefield in a yogic pose.
And now Satyaki performs the truly reprehensible act. With Krishna and Arjuna shouting at him to desist, he picks up a sword and beheads Bhurishrava with a swipe of the blade.
This act has far-reaching consequences. Years later, after the Mahabharata war has become a distant memory, the quarrel between Satyaki and Kritavarma begins on this issue – Kritavarma accuses Satyaki of being an immoral lout – and escalates to such a point that it brings down the entire Yadava clan.
Bhimasena Follows Arjuna
After having sent Satyaki behind Arjuna, Yudhishthir finds that he is now worried about both of them.
So he sends Bhimasena into the Kaurava ranks with the quest of finding Arjuna and sending back a message that all is well.
Bhima, in contrast to Arjuna and Satyaki, chooses not to drive past Drona. In fact, when the preceptor says, ‘Your brother and your friend ran away from me like cowards. Will you do the same too?’ Bhima replies, ‘No. I am not kind-hearted like Arjuna. I will stay here and fight you!’
And true to his word, he gives a good account of himself by defeating Drona by hurling a mace at his chariot and shattering it.
Bhimasena also carves his own path through the Kaurava ranks, killing a number of warriors – chief of whom is Vikarna, the one son of Dhritarashtra who supports Draupadi during the disrobing. Bhima kills him, then mourns him.
When he reaches the needle formation and spots Arjuna and Satyaki alive, Bhima roars at the top of his voice so that Yudhishthir – all the way back at the Sakata Vyuha, can hear him and put his worries to rest.
So it turns out that as the fourteenth day draws to a close, Arjuna is joined by Satyaki and Bhimasena at Soochi Mukha Vyuha. Instead of one person fighting against the nine warriors stationed to guard Jayadratha, now there are three.
Krishna Creates an Illusion
With Arjuna rapidly drawing and shooting against all the prominent warriors deep inside the needle array, Krishna says:
‘The Saindhava king cowers out of sight behind the six maharathas, Arjuna. Without killing them, you cannot reach him, and there is not enough time even for you to slay them all. So I shall resort to yoga to create an illusion of darkness.
‘It will trick Jayadratha into giving up his position for a minute. Be alert to it, Partha! And do not be disheartened if you sense the darkness of night envelop you from all sides. It is merely my magic.’
A great cloud then descends upon Kurukshetra, enveloping the entire battlefield in darkness. All the Kauravas emit a sigh of relief, thinking that the sun has set. All of them stop fighting and look up at the sky to confirm that yes, Arjuna has been thwarted.
Jayadratha too. With an expression of uncertain relief on his face, he tries to find the sun in the sky, and for a moment he lets his bow drop to the side.
Krishna points to him. ‘Look, Partha!’ he says. ‘This is the moment you must seize.’
Arjuna rises to the occasion, and cuts off the bows of all six atirathas while they’re still caught in the moment of uncertainty, and just as he is about to fit to the Gandiva the arrow with Jayadratha’s name on it, Krishna gives him one final bit of advice.
One Final Bit of Advice
‘Listen to me, Arjuna,’ says Krishna. ‘‘When Jayadratha was born to Vriddhakshatra, the Saindhava king, a divine voice proclaimed that the boy would grow up to be a great warrior. But it also said that a man will cause his head to fall to the earth in the battle at the end of the yuga.
‘Hearing this prophecy, Vriddhakshatra used his own ascetic powers to give his son the boon that whoever causes his head to fall to the ground will himself have his own head crushed into a hundred pieces.
‘Now Vriddhakshatra is immersed in penance not far from Samantapanchaka, Arjuna. With your divine weapons, behead Jayadratha, and cause his head to fall onto the lap of his father.
‘Once he gets up from his prayer, the head of his son will drop to the ground due to his action, and therefore his own head will break into pieces.’
Arjuna hears this story, and pulls out a different arrow. This shaft speeds through the air and plucks Jayadratha’s head as if a hawk snatches away a bird of prey from a treetop. Then he keeps shooting arrows at it, sending it higher and higher into the sky, in the direction of the tree under which Vriddhakshatra is sitting.
The head mangled with a hundred arrows falls, according to plan, onto the lap of the royal sage, and when he gets up after finishing his prayers, he has only a moment to recognize what is happening before his head shatters into a thousand pieces.
After the deed is done, Krishna dispels the darkness, and everyone can now see a part of the sun still setting beyond the Asta hills.
At this sudden turn of events, everyone in the Kaurava camp is struck by wonder, and as Krishna and Arjuna and Bhima blow on their respective conches, the good news travels back all the way to Yudhishthir, who sheds tears of joy for his brother.
Implications of Jayadratha’s Killing
We’re still not at the end of Drona Parva, but Jayadratha’s death is the first nail in the coffin for Duryodhana. It is the incident that completely shatters his spirit. Though the fall of Bhishma weakened his forces somewhat, a part of him always felt that Bhishma had never fought to his full strength.
But here – with Drona and the entire army bending over backward to protect one man and failing – Duryodhana comes to realize that maybe, just maybe, Arjuna and Krishna are just too powerful.
On the other side of the fence, this is a proper shot in the arm for the Pandava forces. If Arjuna could ride alone into the Kaurava forces, right to the end of Drona’s impregnable array, and kill the one man he was seeking, what might he not do?
As for Drona’s formation that he proclaims proudly at the start of the day that even the gods cannot penetrate – not just Arjuna but Satyaki and Bhimasena succeed in doing so. ‘Not one, Acharya,’ laments Duryodhana, ‘not two, but three of their warriors single-handedly entered your array and made it out safely.’
Of course, the fact that Arjuna went in first made it easier for Satyaki, and the fact that the two of them went in made it easier for Bhimasena. But the point still stands.
What lies ahead for the Drona Parva? We will see in the next post.
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