You Can Hide, But…

The day broke reluctantly, as both sides prepared to watch the spectacular battle between the master and his masterly pupil, the hunter and the hunted, the vengeful father and the dutiful commander.

Drona knew it would be futile to attempt to save Jayadratha. In his arsenal Arjuna had weapons that could seek out a specific person and kill him, even if he was hidden several stories deep underground. Should the need arise, with moments to go for sunset, Arjuna would use those weapons, and there was nothing Dronacharya could do. The weapon would be invisible to anyone but those blessed with night vision – animals, birds, and the small army of Ghatotkacha. Nobody else, not even the mighty Krishna would be able to see it in action. It required extreme concentration to summon that weapon and release it. There was only one man who could summon that kind of concentration on demand, in the middle of a raging battle. And that man was possessed today, seething at the death of his son. But something told Drona Arjuna did not need that weapon today. Jayadratha was a boisterous man, unrestrained in his pomposity, and eager to show his face. He believed a true Kshatriya should never be subtle. As soon as he believed that the sun had set, Jayadratha, without waiting for the signal from Drona, would rear his head in celebration, and Arjuna would impale him instantly. And Drona knew exactly at what instant Jayadratha would believe that the sun had set.

But the acharya was going to remain true to his duty. As long as Jayadratha remained hidden, he would protect him. He was going to make this the ultimate test to Arjuna’s prowess. If his favorite pupil was going to kill his ward, he would have to earn that kill. He was going to make Arjuna sweat his every move. He was going to frustrate the mighty Partha, and attempt to break him.

At the west end of the battlefield, an old man sat crosslegged, in deep meditation, in front of a giant banyan tree. Vridhakshatra loved his son to death. He raised him to be a brat; a conceited, arrogant prince who thought he could acquire anything he laid his eyes on – land, gold, or women. His son’s immodest nature appealed to the Kaurava Duryodhana, who saw in his brother-in-law a reflection of himself. Duryodhana quickly welcomed Jayadratha, and the two became very good friends. Even though Jayadratha’s roving eye pinched Duryodhana, their shared desire for Draupadi made him tolerant of his philandering brother-in-law. Vridhakshatra heard about Arjuna’s vow and decided to be there for his son. He knew it was impossible to escape from the mighty Pandava. But he had hope. His son had performed miracles in the past, coming very close to abducting and making Draupadi his wife, only to be thwarted at the last minute. Perhaps he could survive today, and Vridhakshatra can witness first hand the inglorious death of the one man he hated. He sat in silence, in prayer, waiting for the sun to set behind him.

As the day wore on, it was obvious to the Pandavas where Jayadratha was. Bhima and Drishtadyumna began clearing the way for Arjuna to approach Dronacharya. The Pandavas warriors faced tough resistance from the formidable perimeter formed around the acharya. Partha’s chauffeur, however, expertly steered his steeds past the narrow alleyways of soldiers towards the west end of the battlefield, where he knew Jayadratha hid. He knew the reason the Kauravas hid him to the west. The battle would go deep and late today, almost to dusk. If Jayadratha was to the east, he would be facing west, and against the setting sun his face would easily reveal itself. But now, with the sun behind him, it was possible for Arjuna to mistake any silhouette for Jayadratha, and possibly kill an impostor. Krishna smiled at this absurdity. Arjuna could pick and pierce through a bird’s eye in pitch darkness. Anyways, today he didn’t need darkness.

As the cousins’ chariot scythed through the enemy formation and approached the far end of the field, the skies began to turn dark. The Pandava army watched anxiously as the sun sank fast into the western sky. Were they going to lose their champion today? Peripheral battles paused to look in the direction of Arjuna’s chariot. The entire battlefield came to a standstill. Men perched on top of their chariots to look west. With the best views, mahouts stopped their pachyderms and relayed live Arjuna’s progress to foot soldiers. High up above their heads, the sky went from bright yellow to dark red to deathly blue in the matter of minutes. A giant hungry ball began to gobble up the sun. Drona, seeing his beloved pupil’s chariot approach fast, pushed his and his charge’s chariots further back. They were now at the edge of the field, only a single line of soldiers blocking Arjuna. Drona saw Jayadratha behind him, and Vridhakshatra further back. The father opened his eyes, with a smile on his face, seeing the darkened skies, and with it, Arjuna’s defeat.

Arjuna’s chariot easily cleaved through the single line of soldiers, and slowed down, facing the two chariots of Drona and Jayadratha. Dead silence. Swarms of birds began their commute back home. The odd cricket chirped. Warriors reached for their evening conches, to signal the end of day’s battles. Arjuna looked at his chauffeur, who smiled and slowly positioned his vehicle in a way that the prey and his father were in a straight line. He calmly whispered, “bring out your fireball, my friend. It is almost time”.

As the conches began to blow, Jayadratha exulted, opening his arms and throwing his weapons away, “This is your end Kunti’s son. You lose. The sun has set. Go home and die”. But no sooner than he finished his sentence, the conches stopped. The darkness that engulfed the land began to clear. The skies began to turn gentle red and then to bright yellow. As the moon began to release its victim from and the total solar eclipse began to end, the biggest orb in the sky regained its power. With it came light, and shock among the soldiers. Jayadratha’s head turned pale seeing the darkness eclipse fast. It was at this time that he saw it coming. A swirling arrow so swift and precise, that it passed the acharya before he could lift his bow, with the tip catching fire as it passed him. The fire grew quickly as it pierced through Jayadratha’s neck, beheading him at once, separating it from the torso. It didn’t stop there. The burning arrow carried the ghastly head of Duryodhana’s brother-in-law past his chariot, towards the terrified head of Vridhakshatra. It entered the old man’s gaping mouth, drilling through, sliding Jayadratha’s head back on its shaft, and lodged itself into the trunk of the giant tree behind. The arrow burned for a few moments before exploding, blowing both heads to smithereens.

There were thousands on the field that did not witness the killing. But the few that did, would never forget it. The precision, the brilliance, and the cold execution drew gasped breaths. It was difficult not to admire the skill. It was difficult not to dread this man.

Arjuna lowered the bow in his right hand down, having known that if he had released the arrow with his right hand, it would have found his acharya first, and there would be three heads on that shaft. It was not his job kill Drona. His commander-in-chief was bred just for that purpose.

The Jayadratha Conundrum

Continued from here

Word quickly rippled through both camps that Arjuna had vowed to kill Jayadratha on the morrow, failing which he would give up his weapons.

When Dronacharya first heard this, he was surprised. He didn’t believe his best pupil would make a pledge that rash. Secondly, why Jayadratha? The main architects of Abhimanyu’s death were the eight men that surrounded him and killed him mercilessly, breaking all rules, and attacking a young warrior from all sides, killing his charioteer and destroying his vehicle. The more Drona thought about it, the more he detected Krishna’s brilliant mind behind this proclamation.

Jayadratha was a relatively small fish for Arjuna. Arjuna could kill him in his sleep. Arjuna doesn’t have to use any of his prized weapons against him. There were many a weapon in Arjuna’s arsenal which, when used once, would be rendered useless. Krishna knew that the emotion of a lost child would drive Arjuna to rage. If he had learned that it was a pack consisting of Karna, Duryodhana and Drona who killed Abhimanyu, he would go after them with a vengeance. But it would be impossible to kill them all at the same time, even for Arjuna. There was still thousands of units of army still standing on the Kaurava side, protecting, and hiding these warriors. Using his precious weapons against them on these days would prove futile. They would be more effective, and likely hit their targets when interference was much less. Eliminating the lesser combatants, and killing off the multitude of armies would isolate the heavyweights, and they can be easily hunted down and butchered.

Drona admired Krishna’s game plan. For someone who made people believe he was a mere milkman, he was an astute commander, with advanced understanding on war games. For someone who said he wouldn’t pick up a weapon and only hold the reins to Arjuna’s chariot, he was virtually running the war entirely according to his plan.

Much like Krishna, Drona summoned the Kaurava astrologer as well to his camp that night. He, being a brahmin himself, had read the calendar. He knew about the celestial event the next day. He knew it was going to be a solar eclipse. They were discussing the exact time of the event when the guard announced that Duryodhana was arriving, with his brother-in-law in tow. Before he could send the scholar away, the Kaurava prince entered the chamber, ecstatic and in an obvious celebratory mood.

“I am sure you heard by now, acharya! All we need to do is ensure Jayadratha is protected and we have won this war. I have already made arrangements. Tonight, Jayadratha will quietly slip away and disappear into the darkness. I have instructed him to go and hide in Indraprastha. That is the last place they expect him to go. The Pandavas have spies along the routes to Hastinapura, and the Sindhu capital. But not Indraprastha. He will be safe there. And anyways, all he needs to do is hide his face to Arjuna until sunset tomorrow.”

“So the son-in-law of the mighty Kaurava king Dhritarashtra, the brother-in-law of the powerful Duryodhana, will disgracefully flee the battlefield in the middle of the night, like a lowly thief running away with his stolen wares. That is the legacy you want to leave behind for your future generations. That is how you want Draupadi to remember you. So be it”, said the wily acharya looking at the two brothers in law.

His words stung both of them. But they hurt Jayadratha more. The thought that the beautiful Draupadi, who may become his one day, would think of him as a coward, disturbed him. But he also knew that staying on the battlefield would mean certain death.

Drona read his mind and proceeded, “I have taught Arjuna everything he knows. I know his every move. Remember, it was my idea to isolate him from the Chakravyuha today to kill Abhimanyu. And we executed that plan to perfection. What makes you think we cannot protect him tomorrow? I have a plan in mind, which is why I called our astrologer over, to figure out exactly how many hours of sunlight we have tomorrow, and to give me an estimate of when sunset will happen tomorrow”

He looked at his scholar, who nodded, and did not contradict his statement.

“There is only one condition. Jayadratha has to stay alongside and behind me all day until sunset, and must not utter a word in anger. Arjuna may guess that Jayadratha is by me and attack my army. But he cannot defeat me. As long as Jayadratha keeps his head down, he is safe. At sunset, he is free to go his own way. Until then, he will be my shadow”

Duryodhana looked at Jayadratha, only half convinced. But Jayadratha made up his mind. For the sake of the woman he craved, he was going to risk death than retreat like a coward. “I will stay with you”, he concluded decisively.

Drona nodded and repeated, “Remember, no matter what, do not let your position be known. No emotional outbursts, no overt celebrations, and no blowing of the conch until I say it is sunset”

As they trudged off, Drona looked at his scholar with a blank expression. The astrologer looked back into the acharya’s eyes. He wanted to say something, but decided not to. He picked up his parchments and left, with the sound knowledge that the war would end soon.

The Vow To Kill

Continued from here

As they approached the Pandava camp, Arjuna noticed that the mood was sombre. He looked at the faces, and could tell something was wrong. Soldiers were avoiding his gaze. Some of them sat crestfallen, looking lost. He knew something was amiss, something terrible had happened. His first thought was the Yudhishtira was hurt or captured. But he brushed that aside. If anything happened to Yudhistira, he would have known on the battlefield. Was Bheema hurt? There was no way. Bheema could defeat the entire Kaurava army by himself. Second to Arjuna, Bheema was an archer par excellence. With his phenomenal physical strength, it was impossible to even get near his mighty brother. Nakula or Sahadeva? No! Bheema promised to Kunti that he would protect the twins, even if he had to die in the process. So there was no way they could be in any danger. His thoughts turned to several other warriors, Drishtadyumna, Satyaki, Drishtaketu, Virata, Drupada. But for some reason none of those names seemed to fit the mood. And for some reason, he didn’t think of the first name that should have come to his mind.

He entered the main pavilion, with Krishna following closely behind. The first face he saw was that of Nakula, his little brother. His eyes were red, obviously from crying. His shoulders were slouched over, like a man defeated. He looked up at Arjuna, and without a word, streams of tears flowed down incessantly, hastening down the throat and disappearing into armor. Arjuna stopped in his tracks, and looked around, noting all the faces that he expected to see. He was used to this scene at the end of the day. All the Maharathis and Atirathis gathered right after the day, for a quick headcount, before briefly leaving to freshen up. They then reconvened for dinner, and spoke to strategy. Every day, one young voice would regale them with his heroics, of how he defeated the greatest of warriors on the other side, how they escaped certain death at his young hands.

As soon as he realized who was missing, Arjuna’s walk of pride disappeared. He dropped to his knees, in the middle of the pathway, letting go of his Gandeeva. He bent over and hid his face in his palms, as anguish gushed forth from his heart into his mouth, sobbing like a child. He was uncontrollable, as he felt like ripping his armor off and bawling. He hunched over and wept inconsolably, muttering incoherent words. After a short while he lifted his head, looked up, and let out a deafening scream.

Everyone let him be for a few moments, allowing him to gather his composure. After he settled down, he picked himself up and stumbled to the nearest seat. He swallowed hard, and looked up, sorrow, anger and desolation swirling in his head. He turned to Yudhishtira, because he knew he would get the right answer, “who did it?”

Yudhishtira was stumped. He wasn’t sure who exactly killed Abhimanyu, because according to many accounts, several Kaurava warriors surrounded and attacked him. But nobody had a clear version of who they were, and how they executed the plan. All he knew was that he and the rest of the Pandavas attempted to surround and protect Abhimanyu but Jayadratha blocked them at every stage. According to him, Jayadratha was the main cause for their inability to protect their prodigious scion. That was the first name that came to him when Arjuna asked the question.

“Brother, we tried our hardest to protect our favorite nephew. But Jayadratha…”

Arjuna jumped up from his seat as soon as he heard the name, picking up his bow and holding it high over his head with his left hand. He pulled the string hard with his right thumb and index finger, and let go. The resulting twang made a resonating sound, bringing everyone’s attention to him.

“I, Arjuna, the greatest warrior in this world, proclaim at this time, that before sunset tomorrow, I will sever Jayadratha’s head from his body, and failing to do so, will cease fighting. Let this be known to the Kaurava camp. Tomorrow Jayadratha will breathe his last”

The proclamation stunned everyone in the room, except one. Yudhishtira and Drishtadyumna exchanged glances, both thinking what would happen if Arjuna failed to kill their brother in law. But they decided not to say a word at this time. Nobody else had anything to say, as they all sat pensive. Arjuna slowly lowered his Gandeeva and walked out, preferring to be left alone at this hour of grief.

The one person that wasn’t surprised looked out and smiled. He immediately went over to the adjacent tent and sent for three scholars who studied weather patterns and geographical rotations. He was told earlier by the three that there was a major celestial event coming up on the 14th day of the war, which could lead the generals and their armies to superstition, and hence act in ways contrary to normal wartime behavior. He knew it was new moon the next day, and from the astrological studies he learnt, it can get in the way of the sun from time to time. He wanted to know precisely at what time this event would happen, and how could take advantage of it.

He calculated mentally that there were probably about five days of war remaining. And tomorrow, Arjuna would begin his annihilation of the Kauravas.

Arjuna’s Resolve

Continued from here

Duryodhana approached the lifeless body of Abhimanyu watchfully. He was used to ruses and deceit, so he wanted to make sure this young man was not pulling one on him. Dronacharya saw that and assured the Kaurava prince that Abhimanyu was indeed dead, and that honorable men do not resort to such traps.

Soon word spread across the battlefield, through conches and drumbeats. Although the soldiers weren’t sure who was killed, it was fairly certain one of the heavyweights perished today. Bheema and Yudhishtira instantly knew what the beats meant. Yudhishtira’s heart bled and he was overcome with anguish. How could he face his brother? He was to protect Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu was supposed to the future king, the future emperor of Hastinapura and Indraprastha. Now, his body was lying somewhere in the battlefield, among thousands of slain men. What would he tell Arjuna and Krishna? His charioteer sensed his grief and took him away from the action, towards the Pandava camp.

The skies turned dark red as the blood thirsty battlefield began to devour the simmering sun into its belly for the night. Arjuna, having engaged in a fierce battle with Susarma and the Samsaptakas, was bewildered. When did these warriors become so powerful? Or were his own powers on the wane? Under any other circumstances, a couple of hours would be enough to finish them off. But today, they seemed to have this verve that he was unable to kill even a single warrior. He laid waste to their army, butchering virtually every division, but the warriors themselves seemed to find new ways to escape and fight back. Their taunts and insults made it even bothersome.

As the battles drew close for the day and it was evident that he would live through the night, Susarma increased his volley of verbal barbs. He mentioned Draupadi several times, enraging the Pandava. Krishna kept Arjuna’s temper in check all throughout. At one point, when it became overwhelming and Arjuna picked up his most powerful weapons, intending to wipe out the entire area. Krishna, mindful that that weapon would be put to better use on more powerful warriors like Karna, decided to switch strategy. He knew who sent Susarma and company. He knew what was going to happen on the other side of the battlefield. And he knew he needed to switch Arjuna’s attention away from the Samsaptakas. The man who blocked his cousins from protecting his nephew must be eliminated on the morrow. He swung into action.

“Arjuna, we need to find out how these Samsaptakas survived today, who is their driving force. They are acting at someone else’s behest. Any other day they would have fled in fear at your mere sight. But today, they challenged you in the middle of the day, and Susarma is mentioning Draupadi again and again. Something doesn’t add up. I want to find out more”. He then turned his attention to Susarma

“Susarma, you know very well that you cannot defeat Arjuna today, or any other day. As long as he is able, and I am by his side, nobody can touch him. You have already been defeated by him before, even during this war. Yet you challenged him today, thinking you can take him on. You have clearly been misled into believing you can defeat the greatest archer on earth. Why don’t you reveal your secrets and Arjuna will spare you in this war, not just today but later as well”

Susarma thought for a while. Although taken by surprise, he was honored to be addressed by SriKrishna himself, to begin with. He looked around and pondered at the offer. His army was decimated. His kinsmen were all but dead. Even though his warriors were alive, there was nothing to fight for. Arjuna had systematically dismantled his entire force. His pride, and the prize promised by Jayadratha were the only motivations at this point. He knew that after tonight, he and his men will have to suffer the ignominy of serving under someone else’s command. Since it was reduced to a small band of fighters, he would be assigned to some second level general like Uluka or one of Dusshasana’s sons, instead of a more desirable Karna or Ashwatthama. A touch of regret came over him. He wished he hadn’t listened to Jayadratha. Yet he was defiant. He wanted to incite Arjuna one last time and force him into making a mistake.

“O Vaasudeva, I and my Trigartha brothers know the powers of Partha very well. We have no pretense about where we stand. But we have sworn to frustrate him as much as we can. We seek revenge for all the defeats we suffered at his hands. We are prepared to die in the process. Arjuna after all is human. And every human has weaknesses. Your cousin’s weakness is his beautiful wife. Duryodhana can have his kingdom and the entire lands of Indraprastha. After this war, most of those lands will be barren, because most able-bodied men will be dead. What use is such land to us? The likes of Jayadratha and I, we care more about beauty. When the Pandavas are defeated, he and I will take Draupadi and share her. She is used to being shared anyways. At least this time it is only two and not five”

Krishna smiled. He had been waiting to get Jayadratha’s name out of Susarma all afternoon. Hearing that name, Arjuna went berserk. Jayadratha had, on several occasions, indicated he lusted after Draupadi. He insulted her for having five husbands, adding that she can take another – him – without question. Arjuna had wanted to cut Jayadratha’s throat multiple times in the past. But the simple fact that he was the husband of their only sister let him spare the brother-in-law. With this latest episode, he crossed all barriers. Jayadratha had now wagered the Pandava pride and attempted to sell her to these Trigartas.

At that moment, Arjuna resolved. Jayadratha had to die, and die soon

Continued here

The Immortal

Continued from here

Abhimanyu writhed as the arrows pierced his body armor and disabled him. The pain shot through his legs, traveling rapidly through the veins, and affected his ability to aim. His next arrow, which he meant for Duryodhana’s flag post, missed its target. But the power and skill of this young man was such that the arrow hit and downed the flag post of Brihadbala, who was right behind Duryodhana in the secondary circle. Brihadbala, a direct descendant of Rama, seethed in anger at this insult.

The flag of a warrior was his signature, his pride. Men poured their heart and soul into designing their flag. A powerful flag was a statement. A mighty flag drover fear into opponents hearts. Many times, a superhero warrior won wars by just turning up with his flagged chariot, without having to draw a weapon.

Brihadbala forgot all about rules, and raced towards the wounded Abhimanyu, going past Duryodhana and wanting to finish off this brash Pandava youngster. He realized his mistake as soon as his chariot went past the Kaurava’s. The arrow cut his reins, separating his horses from their payload, and Brihadbala tumbled down, out of balance. But he quickly got up on his feet, grabbed his sword, and charged at Abhimanyu.

Abhimanyu assessed his situation. Both his legs were shot, but he could still move. After the initial shock, his mind quickly recovered and focused. He knew he had limited mobility. He had to use his supreme archery skills to keep the enemy at bay. He had all his weapons close by. He also looked at his chariot, and made a mental assessment of all the pieces he could use as weapons. He saw the approaching Brihadbala, sword in hand. He picked up his bow and drew the arrow back, aiming to cut the sword in two. But before he could release his arrow, his bow was broken. Dusshasana, shooting from behind Abhimanyu’s back and taking advantage of his immobility, wickedly laughed as he hurled a spear, leaving Abhimanyu’s weapon of choice ineffective.

This was a well planned, and well-orchestrated attack. Although Duryodhana personally wanted to kill Abhimanyu, he knew that a single assassin would sign his own death warrant. Arjuna would effect such a vengeance on the killer that half the Kaurava army would be demoralized just thinking about it. Duryodhana wanted every one to have equal part in killing this kid, so that Arjuna’s wrath could be dispersed, and hence contained.

Abhimanyu moved slowly and painfully. His feet felt like they were tied to a rock. But his abilities weren’t diminished. He swung around, turning his back to the marauding Brihadbala, picked up a spear from his chariot, and in a single swoop heaved it at his attacker. The spear twirled its way in the air and cracked through Brihadbala’s armor, ripping his ribs apart. He gasped for air and stumbled. Not wanting to waste another weapon on this dying man, Abhimanyu left him alone, to the horror of the enemies surrounding him.

Dusshasana decided it was time to end this. The longer this child was alive, the more damage he would cause. He rushed towards him, bow and arrow aimed at Abhimanyu’s chest. Abhimanyu watched intently, his eyes concentrating on every movement of Dusshasana. When the arrow released, he cut it down with his sword, inches from his body. He picked up the flag staff from broken his chariot and hurled it into Dusshasana’s chariot wheels. His left wheel shattered, Dusshasana tumbled off the chariot, losing his balance. He fell within a few feet of Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu smiled and tightened his grip on his sword. He saw fear in Dusshasana’s eyes. He picked up his sword in his right hand, and a spear in his left hand. But he didn’t act. “I won’t kill you, uncle. Your death is pre-ordained in someone else’s hands”

Shalya quickly rode up and rescued Dusshasana, mounting him onto his own chariot and driving away to safety. Shalya knew if he stayed around, he would certainly die. So he ran away.

Kritavarma, who all this while had been only taunting Abhimanyu without attacking him, moved slowly towards him. He felt guilty of being part of this conspiracy. But he had to fulfill his duty. He didn’t want to kill Abhimanyu; only disable him further. If he can drive a few arrows into Abhimanyu’s armor and disappear, he can look his Yadava clan in the eye. But before he could act, Abhimanyu had picked up Dusshasana’s mace and swung it at his chariot. Kritavarma barely avoided being smashed in the skull. The mace broke his bow and smashed his flagstaff, causing the horses to lose control and run wildly away.

Karna and Duryodhana decided to attack together. With more of their original warriors running away or disabled, the band of attackers ran the risk of dispersing, leaving Abhimanyu alive. But at this point, leaving him alive was not an option. They knew they broke the rules. If they left him alive, he would come back tomorrow, or the day after, and annihilate them. He had to die.

The two friends released several arrows in Abhimanyu’s direction, who expertly dodged or smashed them, all the while standing in a single spot. His concentration and skills amazed everyone around him. Soldiers stopped fighting and watched this spectacle. Other generals, mounted on elephants and horses, put down their weapons and gaped at this drama. Deep inside, several of them rooted for this young warrior, who refused to give up, and was fighting till his last breath.

Abhimanyu picked up his mace and swung it hard in Duryodhana’s direction. The mace smashed his chariot’s box, and all his weapons fell out, including his own mace. Helpless, Duryodhana instructed his charioteer to charge at Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu picked up the broken axle of his own chariot and slung at Duryodhana’s chariot. His wheel broke, and the chariot tilted on its side, riding on its axle. The charioteer immediately swung away from the fight, knowing if he got any closer Duryodhana would probably die at Abhimanyu’s hands

Karna, Drona and Kripacharya couldn’t believe their eyes. Karna instructed Shalya’s brother Rukmartha to attack Abhimanyu from the front. He circled around, looked at both Drona and Krupa and told them to wait for his signal. As Rukmartha approached, Abhimanyu, now short of weapons, picked up the wheel of his own chariot. He picked it up with both hands and began twirling it around above his head, like a chakra. Seeing the opportunity, Karna, Kripa and Drona shot their arrows, releasing them in quick succession.

Abhimanyu released the wheel. It spun viciously and cracked Rukmartha’s skull. But right at that moment, three arrows stuck him from three of the greatest warriors on that field. And then three more.

The six arrows slit his chest plate and armor, piercing through his skin and drilling deep gashes in his body. As he fell back, three more arrows were released. This time, the arrows went deeper, cutting through his ribs and coming out on the other side. Think crimson fluid dripped from the arrow tips, as this boy faced warrior fell to the ground.

He landed on his back with a thud. His body went into a shock. He legs shuddered for a few moments before he lost sensation in them. His right hand, which gripped his dagger as he was falling, loosened. His vision became cloudy. He saw the clear blue sky. He remembered Virata, and his first encounter with Uttara. He felt nothing but her soft skin on his cheek. He heard nothing but her sweet voice by the creek.

And then her beautiful face filled in, as he closed his eyes

Continued here

The End Is Near

Continued from here

The reins went taut as Abhimanyu began to assess whom to attack. His first choice was Karna, since he broke the rules and killed his charioteer. But he resisted. He surveyed the eyes of each and every one of the assassins surrounding him. All but Shalya’s eyes were locked on him. Everyone’s bow was raised but only Shalya’s was ready. His step grand-uncle was ready to shoot. At the moment Shalya released his arrow Abhimanyu loosened the reins. The arrow, meant to cut the reins and let Abhimanyu’s horses loose, missed its target.

Abhimanyu smiled. Shalya was livid with embarrassment at being outwitted. Shalya, the brother of the youngest Pandavas’ biological mother Madri, held many secrets. One of them was his dislike towards the 3 elder brothers of Kunti. He thought his nephews deserved more recognition than they got. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva were more than capable of running their own show. They were deemed to be the most handsome men in the land. They were experts at weapons and masters at statecraft. If not for Kunti’s sons, the twins would have become kings of this land. If not for the vain and vulnerable Yudhishtira, they would not have been reduced to live like wanderers. And then, this kid, the son of Arjuna, was being projected as the next big thing in the land. This petulant kid, who was stupid enough to leave his pack behind and get himself enveloped by the mighty Kaurava army. How could they even think he was a worthy fighter?

He slipped the reins past his palm on to his wrist, freeing the fingers of his left hand. He muttered something to his horses, to get their attention. They stood alert, ready to act on the command of their new master. With his right hand, he picked up his quivers and strapped them on. The enemies watched patiently, exhaling evil with every breath. Abhimanyu picked up two scabbards with their swords in them and wore them around his waist. He already had his daggers in their sheaths. He left the spears and mace alone for now. He knew he would need them. He was ready.

In a blinding instant, he pulled the reins with his left hand while with his rand hand, he drew one of his swords and cut them. The horses took off in a flash. As the chariot jolted forward, he picked up his mace, leapt forward into the air and smashed the yoke, freeing the stallions. He yelled at them to run. Without the forward thrust provided by the horses, the chariot’s frame dropped to the ground and came to a grinding halt. Abhimanyu landed on the ground, next to its right wheel, mace raised with both hands, ready to smash anyone that got near.

Duryodhana saw this as his opportunity. He ordered Dusshasana to release a barrage in Abhimanyu’s direction, while he himself picked up a spear and threw it forward. Before the spear could cover half its distance, Abhimanyu’s arrows split it into two. Before Dusshasana could unleash his barrage, a spear cut his bow into two and almost impaled him. As he bent down to pick up another bow, a second spear broke his chariot’s center mast and the canopy collapsed on top of him. Bewildered, he stumbled out of the chariot. Drona’s arrows were quashed by Abhimanyu’s mace. Shalya threw a spear which Abhimanyu caught in mid air, turned it around and hurled towards Karna, who was preparing to shoot his arrows. Kripa was nullified, Drona was negated. All the while, Abhimanyu was still killing the soldiers standing behind the warriors, with his arrows piercing two and sometimes three soldiers.

The battle went on for a long time, with not a single weapon able to even bruise the fearless youth, let along hurt him. The older Kauravas were getting tired. They began to circle Abhimanyu and attack him, to no avail. They were exhausting their weapons. Their quivers were close to be emptied. Duryodhana looked at Drona helplessly. If they ran out of weapons, this Pandava scion would kill them all, and the war would be over tonight.

At that moment, the Kaurava commander in chief took the decision. He glanced at both Kripa and Karna and gave them the signal. Karna took aim, drew back his arrow and shot. But this time, he aimed it at Abhimanyu’s legs. At the same time, Kripa shot his arrow at Abhimanyu’s other leg. Karna aimed his arrow and shot Arjuna’s son in the right thigh. All three arrows hit their targets simultaneously. All three arrows hit Abhimanyu below the belt.

The assault commenced!

Concluded here

The Trap

Continued from here

Duryodhana roared in anger. He rallied his company and rode towards Abhimanyu. He also asked Shakuni’s brother to accompany him, so they can corner this kid and defeat him.

But when they approached him, Duryodhana was amazed. It was difficult for him not to admire the young warrior. Here was a solo warrior, with a charioteer and two horses for company. He was surrounded by thousands of enemy soldiers, generals and commanders. But he was giving a performance of a fight. And he was enjoying it. Racing his chariot against the direction of the moving circle, he killed dozens of soldiers. His concentration was unflappable. His courage, unmatched. He had not a care in the world. He didn’t look for reinforcements. He was a single minded destruction machine.

Abhimanyu was aware that his horses would tire after a while. He became aware that the other Pandava heavyweights weren’t here. He needed to improvise. He needed to devise a plan to get out, while cutting a swathe through the Kaurava army. He knew he was mostly going straight, as he had originally planned. But he realized that he probably underestimated how large the formation was, because he wasn’t seeing the other end of the vyuha.

What he didn’t realize was that he was in the center of it. Dead center!

There was a pause. For a moment he didn’t see a single Kaurava warrior. He was just surrounded by soldiers. He looked around him. He could cut through these soldiers with ease. He knew exactly where he was. He knew which way he came. He knew which way he needed to go. He knew every layer of this formation, and who was at the head of each layer. So why did this seem different? Something wasn’t right. He should have been facing either Drona or Karna now. He knew they would be at the center of the vyuha. So why weren’t they here? And if they were not here, where exactly were they? Then he noticed the soldiers beginning to step back, in retreat, expanding the circle. He then realized what was happening.

He was trapped.

The layer of soldiers moved out of sight. And from behind the soldiers emerged the dignitaries. Each capable of killing an army by themselves. Abhimanyu looked at the scene encircling him, as he pictured the entire formation at that time. At the center was him. Facing his chariot, straight ahead was the commander Drona himself. Right behind him, forming a straight line with him and Drona was Duryodhana. Abhimanyu looked left and saw Karna. He looked right and saw Shalya. He closed his eyes for a second, waiting for others to join. When he opened them, he saw Kripa pull up between Karna and Drona, and Kritavarma emerge between Drona and Shalya. He turned around, and saw Dusshasana and Shakuni fill the rest of the gaps. He smiled. He couldn’t have expected anything from the two Kaurava brothers other than an attack from behind. Surrounding the eight Kaurava commanders were 16 other generals mounted on elephants. Behind them, hundreds of cavalrymen. And behind them, thousands of foot soldiers. There was no way for anyone to come to his rescue. This scheme by Drona was impregnable.

Duryodhana looked left to his friend and nodded. Karna’s chariot stood to the side of Abhimanyu’s. He strung his bow, pulled an arrow, aimed towards Abhimanyu and released it. The arrow’s sharp tip entered his charioteer’s neck, cutting his internal jugular on the left, expertly passing through the trachea, and exiting out to the right. The death was instant, and painless. His lifeless body slowly slid off to the right of the chariot, dangling by the seat for a few moments before slumping to the ground.

At that moment, in that instant, it dawned on young Abhimanyu that this was had changed today. That rules of engagement would be broken. He experienced adharma first hand. He had only heard from his mother and stepmother about how the Kauravas used ruses, tricks, and illicit methods to usurp their kingdom, to rob them of their freedom, their wealth, their peace of mind. His father and uncles, peerless kings and intrepid warriors were reduced to a pitiful bunch of mendicants and vagrants. This is how they did it. By breaking the rules, one at a time. Slowly. Painfully.

He knew he was cornered. The smiles he saw on the enemies’ faces told him the entire story. He recognized Drona’s treachery. He understood that his uncles and the rest of Pandava generals will never come to his rescue. He remembered last night, and grasped why Krishna took him to meet his mother. He realized why his father was nowhere to be seen on this side of the battlefield. It was all part of the ploy laid by the Kauravas.

He grabbed the reins to steady the horses. He breathed deep. He knew this was going to be a losing battle. But if this was going to be the end, he was going to make it such an end, such a spectacle, that the Kauravas would be defeated in their minds today. After today, no single Pandava warrior would die on the battlefield. He would drive such fear into the Kaurava forces that even the mighty Drona and Karna would forget their wares.

Today, he will die. Today, he will become immortal!

Continued here

The Brother-in-Law Blockade

Continued from here

Drishtadyumna and his army raced after Abhimanyu, knowing that he needed their support. The swirling circle was still intimidating. He beckoned Satyaki to join him. As the two companies raced past the first bands of Chakravyuha, they realized they needed reinforcements. A quick sound of the conch brought Sahadeva and his army. A strong contingent of almost ten thousand men went after Abhimanyu. Before advancing further, Drishtadyumna gave instructions to Yudhishtira and Nakula to attack the circle from the west.

They cleared the first circle and just caught a glimpse of Abhimanyu’s chariot slice through the Kaurava army. They raced further, Bheema’s chariot crushing foot soldiers by the dozen as he and Drupada’s mighty son headed to bolster Krishna’s nephew. They were about to catch up with Abhimanyu when they saw that man, smiling wickedly, circling villainously with thousands of soldiers in tow. Jayadratha’s chariot was painted dark grey, with gold adornments. On its mast flew a black flag with a jackal as its symbol. His bow was painted red, and each of his arrows in all the quivers were black. His horses were all dark purple. If there was a wickedness personified on that field, it was him.

He was an expert in the positions of Chakravyuha. He didn’t have the courage to break it, or the acumen to break out of it. But he had a phenomenal memory. He knew every inch of the formation. He could memorize in seconds thousands of positions and their references. That gave him an advantage today. He wanted to kill the Pandavas today. He had wanted to, from the day they defeated him when he abducted the dark beauty Panchali. Oh how he wanted her. She was breathtakingly beautiful, with a body to die for. He would have given her all the comforts. She needn’t have spent thirteen years wandering around like a tramp. He could’ve made her the queen, if she wanted. Even in the middle of this war, the thought of her brought out the animalistic lechery in him. He hated the Pandavas. They had what he couldn’t. And they insulted him. They defeated him. They threatened to cut off his head, but left him alive because he was Jayadratha. Bheema’s words reverberated in his ears, “You are very lucky. You are the husband of the one person in the entire Kaurava clan that we love. And we cannot bring a tear to her eye. Take this as your one chance towards life. Next time, we won’t be so forgiving”. Jayadratha seethed within. He, a man, a warrior, a king, captured by these bandits. They said he owed his life to a woman. The insult!

He shot a barrage of arrows towards the approaching company. Satyaki was taken aback. “These arrows are from Jayadratha?”, said he, and quickly shot a glance towards Dristhtadyumna. The Pandava commander raced his chariot in the direction of Jayadratha. He had a score to settle as well. This scum of the earth abducted his sister. Drishtadyumna could’ve cut his throat if he were around. He hurled two spears in the direction of Jayadratha’s chariot, hoping to smash the chariot’s wheels and disable him. To his surprise, Jaydratha shot to arrows in quick succession, cutting both the spears in half. Drishtadyumna wondered, “where did he acquire this skill?”. Jayadratha then went on the offensive, he and his sizable army killing scores of cavalrymen and foot soldiers around the two Pandava warriors, exposing them. Drishtadyumna and Satyaki, unable to contain him, quickly pulled back and headed in a different direction.

Jayadratha then headed west. He instructed his charioteer to keep circling, but he himself found an elephant to mount. He wanted the advantage of height, to disable, and possibly capture Yudhistira. His army of elephants and cavalry raced towards Yudhistira. The eldest Pandava was amazed at the sight of an army of elephants rushing towards him. Up to the fight, he picked up a quiver full of arrows and instructed his charioteer to scythe through the giant animals. The charioteer does as was told. But as he approached the wall of elephants, he realized there was no way he could go past them, and that any attempt at bravery could crush the chariot. He turned and went lateral. Yudhishtira was furious, but soon realized the charioteer was right. He was beginning to get worried. He couldn’t break the wall. On the other side, was a solo youth, engaging fierce warriors in a treacherous battle.

What would happen if…

Continued here

Into The Jaws Of Death

Continued from here

One chariot inched forward, causing the leaders to perk up and see who it was. The chariot moved clear of the rest of the army and stopped. The young warrior turned back and addressed his uncle.

“It’s the Chakravyuha”, said a calm Abhimanyu looking at the approaching swarm, “I have seen it before, during one of my meditative sessions with father. I know how to enter it. It’s easy! But before I finished the session to learn how to dismantle the formation, uncle Krishna sent an urgent message, and I had to disengage”

Blood returned to Yudhishtira’s face. He turned towards his young nephew and said, “Go ahead son, rip that thing apart. We will follow you. Between me and the other warriors, we will figure a way to wiggle out of it. A messenger is already on his way to call Arjuna back from wherever he is. But remember…”

Abhimanyu did not wait for him to finish. He remembered the conversation with his mother the previous night. This was his day. This was his opportunity. He charged ahead, blowing his conch, leaving the Pandava army behind in his wake.

The chariot raced towards the swirling vortex. He closed his eyes for a moment, clearing his mind. He told his charioteer, “No matter what happens, do not pull the reins. Think of the chariot as a dart, as an arrow piercing through a chakra. We first go straight through and come out at the other end, splitting the vyuha into two halves. Then we attack each half and slice them into quarters, and then eighths, and so on. We have to defeat this in chunks”

But he knew it was not that simple. He tried to remember the lesson. The formation was built to confuse the enemy. Soldiers and infantry changed positions within seconds. If you killed a line, it would be replenished instantly. You had to be vigilant and agile, while memorizing each warrior’s position, and the direction the soldiers were moving with respect to the warrior. You had to calculate the speed at which they were moving and extrapolate their future positions. You needed to remember where you came from, in order to get back to your original position. If you missed one link, you were dead. If you let the maze confuse you, you were dead. If you flinched, or dawdled, you were dead. If you became disoriented, you were dead.

He picked three arrows from his quiver, tilted his bow parallel to the ground, and released them. They went in three different directions, instantly finding their targets and killing three Kaurava warriors. His chariot then pierced their battalions, mowing down scores of soldiers in a few moments. As the charioteer expertly steered through, Abhimanyu increased his pace, sometimes killing two and other times five generals with single shots. He quickly finished off several squadrons of Kaurava warriors, much to the dismay of Duryodhana, who watched in despair.

Duryodhana’s son Lakshmana Kumara saw the destruction caused by his second cousin and raced towards Abhimanyu. He shot two arrows in his direction. The charioteer changed directions within a split second, causing the arrows to dodge Abhimanyu and ending up killing Kaurava soldiers. Lakshmana Kumara seethed in anger and picked up a spear to hurl towards the young Pandava warrior. But before he could fling, an arrow cut his spear into two, leaving the Kaurava astounded. He picked up his bow again, to shoot another arrow. But as he pulled the bowstring back, an arrow whooshed past him, not touching him. He heaved a sigh. But to his astonishment, the bowstring was broken. The arrow had found its mark. Lakshmana Kumara, running out of options, reached down with his right hand to pick up his mace. As soon as his palm gripped the mace, he fell back yelping in pain. Abhimanyu shot an arrow so precise that it went through the hole in the handle of the mace, and pierced Lakshmana Kumara’s palm, effectively pinning his hand to the mace. The young Kaurava was immobilized. His charioteer tried to steer them out of the mini circle but he didn’t know which way to go, driving straight into Abhimanyu’s path instead. Abhimanyu picked up one arrow this time, slowly took aim, and shot it. The projectile went raced through the air, whizzed past the charioteer, punctured through Lakshmana Kumara’s armor and stabbed him through the heart, with the blade coming out on the other side.

The impact of Abhimanyu’s arrow caused Lakshmana Kumara to be ejected and thrown from the chariot, shearing off his right palm from the rest of the hand in the process, as his first arrow stayed pinned to the mace. Blood squirted out from his chest. His body shuddered for a few moments before turning limp. As his father watched in horror, the Kaurava scion, the heir to the throne perished, fallen by the wayside.

Continued here

The Diversion

A short while after sunrise, both the armies, weary from 12 days of attritional fighting positioned themselves on either side of Kurukshetra in a North-South direction. They always started the day in North-South so that no side has the advantage of the sun behind them. As the day progressed and individual battles raged, their positions changed slightly. But all warriors fought righteously, within the rules of engagement. As the sun made its westerly descent, combatants ensured their positions didn’t give disadvantage the enemy. They even paused their battles if the horses, their charioteers, or the warrior himself needed a break. No attacks on horses. No attacks on the charioteer. No attacks on a disabled chariot. No attacks on an unarmed or de-weaponed fighter. No attacks from behind. No attacks above the chest. No attacks below the belt. No ganging up or singling out. No attacks on someone severely impaired. Rules were simple, and followed strictly: fight like a man!

Until today!

The day began usually, with Arjuna and Dronacharya exchanging volley after volley, in the process killing hundreds of soldiers on either side. Around mid morning, as it was evident that his horses needed food and water, the Kaurava commander steered his chariot towards Shakuni’s, and gave him the go ahead, who raced towards Jayadratha and signaled that it was time.

Jayadratha rode his chariot directly to Susarma, fighting alongside him, and began his act, “Arjuna is unstoppable. It must be nice to have such a warrior on your side. You can virtually ensure victory. Look at him, the way he switches hands with dexterity. Look at his agility and concentration. Half our soldiers would probably die just looking at him in awe, and not even wanting to fight”

Seeing that Susarma was visibly irritated, Jayadratha continued, “Isn’t that what happened with you Trigartas during the several campaigns against him? He single-handedly overpowered all you guys. That must be insulting”

Susarma, now boiling, shot back. “You didn’t do any great yourself, in your misadventure with Draupadi”

“I was banking on your capabilities, which is why I sought your help there. You guys were feeble and didn’t even put up a fight. If you had defeated him in that battle, we could have all shared that voluptuous woman. You know she’s okay having multiple partners”, sneered Jayadratha, continuing to taunt Susarma.

“You know, maybe even now we can have her, if you Samsaptakas have the guts to kill him. But I doubt you can. Tell you what, if you kill him today, I will capture Draupadi and deliver her to you, all to yourself. You divert him to the west side, engage and kill him, and we will capture Yudhishtira on this side. The war can end today and you can have her tomorrow”

Enraged by his taunts, and enticed by the prospective reward, Susarma rounded up the other Trigartas and went over to challenge the greatest archer ever.

Jayadratha rode back to Shakuni and smiled. It wasn’t easy, but he genuinely believed the Trigartas could gang up and kill Arjuna. They could capture Yudhishtira and end the war tonight. He can lay his hands on Draupadi in a few days. Of course he wouldn’t turn her over to Susarma. He would have someone kill Susarma and decimate the entire Trigarta clan. His mouth watered. But he had a job to do first.

Shakuni pulled up his chariot next to the commander’s and said it was time. It was indeed the perfect moment. Both sides needed a break. Battles slowed down. Front lines needed to be reformed.

At this point, Dronacharya decided to reconfigure the formation; his first act of deviation from the rules of engagement. It wouldn’t be his last.

Dronacharya blew his conch to signal the change. A confused Pandava army watched in awe as the enemy formed into concentric circles, swirling and moving at a rapid pace. The formation was perfectly rehearsed, intimidating, and disheartening to watch. Normally, a warrior and his band relied on the fixed position of his enemy to devise a strategy, draw the right weapons and fight. But here, before the bowstring could be drawn, the enemy changed positions. Within a few moments, the army’s leading battalion switched from Karna’s to Duryodhana’s to Jayadratha’s, confusing the Pandava warriors. Who should they be fighting? Drona was flanked by Kritavarma in one instant, and Dusshasana in another. And before they realized, Salya drew up next to him while the others disappeared into the twirling maze. It was terrifying to watch.

From a distance, Drishtadyumna and Yudhishtira could only stare in amazement at this rotating spin wheel of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, as it moved menacingly, gaining in speed as it approached them. Accompanying the spiraling disk were deafening sounds of trumpets, drums, conches, and shrieks and howls. The entire Pandava army came to a halt, paralyzed at Dronacharya’s genius. For the first time in thirteen days, Yudhishtira saw fear in their eyes. He noticed some units slowly backpedalling, ready to turn and flee.

That is when he realized, that the one man who understood the formation, who could shatter it at will, who could galvanize his troops, was nowhere in sight.

Arjuna was gone!