Another Dark Masterstroke

Three more nights!

Both camps have been set up. The 18 units of armed forces are ready. Final preparations for the generals and commanders are underway. Food, water and medical supplies are being transported. Thousands of funeral pyres are being arranged in anticipation of unprecedented casualties. There’s an unspoken gloom in the air.

Krishna is pacing uneasily around in his tent. He just returned from Karna’s house. Although he knew Karna would never agree to switching sides, there was something about him that worried Krishna – something resolute, something sinister. He knew Karna’s anger issues resulting from abandonment and a life-long contempt for the royalty that was never bestowed upon him. But today was different. While speaking of the Pandavas, he seemed to have this unshakable belief that he was going to kill them all. Krishna knew if there was one warrior that could kill all the Pandavas, it was Karna. And he seemed destined to do it.

He needed to act fast. He needed to play his cards right. He needed to make the right move.

Nobody could touch Arjuna. After all, he was being charioteered by Krishna himself. But he feared for the others. If any of the other brothers died, the war was lost. They needed to be protected. They needed to be shielded. They needed to be pardoned.

He called his charioteer. As they drove out of the war camp, he motioned towards Hastinapura. On entering the city, they quietly turned towards Kunti’s home.

“What brings you here at this late hour Krishna?”, a surprised Kunti asked.

“How well do you remember your past?”

“Well enough to block it out of my mind”, said Kunti, disquieted by Krishna’s sudden recall of her teenage mistake.

“It’s now time to make a decision aunty. The abandoned one is angry. He has vowed to kill each and every one of your children”

“You spoke to him?”

“I have done everything in my power to stop this war. Contrary to what everyone believes, I don’t want this war. I can find a thousand ways for the Pandavas to get their kingdom back, and war is the last. But it is upon us. Speaking to the abandoned one was my last option. I was hoping to make him switch sides. I even offered to make him the king of Hastinapura instead of Yudhishtira.”

“He is the son of Kunti, Krishna. I would be dishonored if he accepted your offer”

“Be that as it may, there is a real danger to your children’s lives. I have it in my power to protect Arjuna. I am with him every second of the war. But the other four, I’m afraid I cannot physically protect them. If Yudhishtira dies, this war is over.”

“Are you suggesting my sons are incapable of protecting themselves?”

“I am saying nobody can stop Karna. Nobody! Not even Arjuna”

Kunti thought for a few moments. Now she understood why Krishna was here at this hour. She looked at Krishna and said “Ask your charioteer to wait at the back entrance”

Krishna watched as the chariot raced into the darkness. He sat down and ordered a pitcher of Soma.

An hour later, he heard the familiar sounds of his horses’ hoofs. The old lady alighted from the chariot, walked up the stairs, looked up and smiled at Krishna.

A few minutes later as the chariot sped towards the Pandava camp, Krishna sat back and smiled, triumphant at yet another masterstroke. The war was won even before an arrow was released.

Other Posts

Why I Left Shri Raam

Draupadi’s Reasoning

How Bheeshma Was Defeated

Why I Left Shri Raam

The sun that rose on Ayodhya that morning seemed less vibrant. Clouds obscured the first rays to fall on the paddy fields surrounding the city. Some farmers and farm workers already were working in the fields. Residents were putting out lanterns as visibility improved. In the distance stood the magnificent palace – the most revered real estate in the history of mankind.

The palace folk were up and about early – sweeping floors, watering plants and tying garlands. The kitchen was bustling with activity. Bhagwan Shri Raam was an early riser and needed his sumptuous breakfast before he headed out to the court. Attendants were hurrying in and out of rooms trying to get the day off to an energetic start.

Prince Lakshmana woke up, finished his ablutions and headed out towards elder brother Raam’s chamber. Before heading out into the city to listen to grievances he always took the blessings of his brother and sister-in-law. This morning was no different. But as he entered the chamber he could sense something was amiss. His brother had a broody disposition this morning. His sister-in-law was nowhere to be seen. He bent down to touch his brother’s feet and asked about the whereabouts of his second mother. Raam mumbled something about the garden and looked away. Lakshmana thought they probably had the first ever husband-wife tiff.

The garden was a vast land full of gorgeous pathways, marvelous stone sculptures, colorful yet fragrant flowers and provided a commanding view of the beautiful city of Ayodhya. There under a pavilion stood Sita staring at the sun struggling to rise above those ominous dark clouds. Lakshmana approached her and touched her feet. Startled, she looked down to see who it was. A few tears from her cheeks gushed down and fell on Lakshmana’s hand.

“Maata – what is the matter? You are not in your chamber this morning. You are staring into the oblivion and crying. Did anyone say anything to you? Did anyone insult my brother? Please tell me” said Lakshmana in a pleading tone, clearly concerned with the happenings of this strange morning.

She did not respond immediately. But when she spoke her voice was soft but confident. She gently placed her palm on Lakshmana’s head and said, “My dear Lakshmana. I am going to ask you to do something. You will not disapprove or protest. Do I have your word?”

Lakshmana sensed a storm brewing. But he never countered his sister-in-law and he vowed he never will. He nodded in agreement.

“I will explain to you why I am doing this. You are like a son to me – my first child. All these years in the forest you have protected me. You have fought battles and wars. You have put your life in danger to ensure my safety. You disagreed and protested against – of all the people – your brother when he asked me to prove my chastity on my return from Lanka. You probably cannot fathom the ignominy I suffered at that time. As a woman I felt outraged. I could have asked your brother to prove the same. But I let it go. But now, something has happened and I need to take action.”

A thousand thoughts spun in Lakshmana’s head. A full lifetime worth memories flashed in his mind. The scheduled coronation ceremony, the shocking promise being extracted, the terrible life in the forest, the war with Ravana and then finally the thunderbolt jolt of his brother asking her to prove her purity. What was going on? What happened? What was she going to ask him to do?

Sita carried on in a strangely unemotional monotone, “Last night your brother came back from one of his incognito jaunts very disturbed. I have seen him concerned about the affairs of the state before. But this was much more than that. He said that people were talking about me. He overheard a husband berate his wife saying he is not Bhagwan Raam to take her back after she spent an evening away from home. I understand your brother’s burden. But then he said something that broke it for me. He said, ‘how can I face my subjects now?’ I have nothing against your brother. He sees himself as the perfect king. He probably finds it disgraceful to rule a kingdom where the queen has lost respect. As king and emperor he is within his rights to feel that way. The entire population of this great land looks up to him and he needs to deliver. I have done within my power as a wife. But now it’s time for me to be a woman and exercise my rights. I want you to get the chariot ready. Wait for me at the front of the palace. You will be my charioteer and we will head east. I will be out there in a few minutes.”

Lakshmana did not have many words to respond. By the time he collected his wits his beloved sister-in-law had disappeared from sight. He did not know why she wanted him to ready the vehicle. He did not know where they were going. But just as ever, he did as told.

Wearing no jewelry and only in simple garbs of a saint the queen of Ayodhya arrived at the front gate. Nobody followed her, certainly not her king. She boarded the chariot and asked her driver to start moving. They rode for several hours. She did not speak a word during the time. As the sun began its reluctant descent into the western sky she asked Lakshmana to stop the chariot. As she alighted, she took one last look at her dear son.

“Saumitri, It is now time for you to go back to your brother. He needs you. Whatever I said this morning, it’s because future generations must learn that what I am doing is my decision. I want people to know I am not a weakling that took every insult, every abuse lying down. I have decided to live life on my terms, in the wild – among animals that treat me better. I would prefer to be a survivor among animals than among humans. Take care of your brother”

As she disappeared into the woods Lakshmana felt he was dying a thousand deaths. He was overcome with pain, anguish and shame. He fell to his knees, looked up at the darkening skies and let out a tormented cry. He did not know how long he cried. He got up, got on the chariot and rode lifelessly back to his capital.

Krishna’s Ire

Towards mid-day Krishna and Arjuna arrive at a tent, closely followed by Yudhishtir. Arjuna appeared flustered. Krishna calm as usual. Yudhishtir seemed angry as he stomped off into the tent.

“I demand an explanation as to what happened out there today. How did a thousand soldiers die in three hours?  Where is your focus Arjuna? I need answers now!”

Krishna had settled down on a chair with nothing but a smile on his lips. He looked mischievously at his friend. He had known Arjuna for a long time. Today was just not his day. Bheeshma and Drona clearly had the upper hand in their duels with him. He could not muster enough strength to parry the onslaught by his two mentors. They made him look like a novice – killing hundreds of soldiers in the legions led by the Pandavas. It was a coordinated and well-planned attack. They knew their strength lied in hunting in packs. A single warrior was incapable of taking on Arjuna by himself.

“I just couldn’t match their wizardry. It was like they knew me inside out. They knew my strategies and my plans. They had an answer to everything I was throwing at them. I even…”

“Enough! I don’t want excuses. For four and a half days we’ve been fighting this war. We haven’t made a dent in their forces. They keep coming from nowhere. You do realize our army is smaller than theirs don’t you? A couple of days like this and we’ll be dead meat. We went into this war hoping you will finish them off in a couple of days. You are supposed to be the best archer in the world, the best general. Your weapons knowledge is supposedly  unmatched. There is not a soul in this planet that can stand up to you – or so you’ll have us believe. But you cannot even hurt two men three times your age? What good are you?”

A swell of anger overcame Arjuna. He could take defeat. But he couldn’t take insults. He was already agitated at the morning’s defeats. He was angry because right behind Bheeshma and Drona’s chariots was Dusshasana’s – whose unkind words about Arjuna’s lack of skills still echoed in his ears. He was not in a mood to listen to another scornful examination of his abilities. But his eldest brother wasn’t going to stop.

“Fourteen years! For fourteen years we have suffered. For fourteen years we have gone through hardships and misfortune. What for? All in anticipation that one day this hero of men would rise above all and punish those that are responsible for our misery. This lion of an archer was to deliver us from our wretchedness. And today he says he couldn’t match the valor of two old men? Why don’t we just call off the war? Just go away and live in our abjection. I will tell my wife that her hotshot husband is really worthless!”

Arjuna could not take it anymore. He turned around to face his brother. He was seething inside. The third man in the room quickly realized the situation was about to worsen. He rose from his seat and turned in the direction of the eldest of Pandavas – cutting in between Arjuna and Yudhishtir.

“The ‘my wife’ you talk about Yudhishtir – do you forget who won her in the Swayamvara? Hundreds of princes were there – you saw with your own eyes. The most boastful archer of all – Karna – was also there. Most of them couldn’t even see the fish machine directly. Your brother here, the one you called incapable – hit the eyeball of a rotating fish whilst looking at its reflection in water.”

With unwavering smile he continued, “When your entire capital city was a jungle, this inept brother of yours mowed it down with nothing but arrows and turned it into the beautiful Indraprastha. When it rained day and night, this incompetent brother of yours stopped it from dousing that forest. Why go that far back? A few weeks ago when the entire Kaurava army attacked Virata, this ineffective brother of yours rescued them single-handedly. You question the ability of this man?”

“Of course you would support your dear friend Madhava. You guys are thick as thieves. Maybe you can inject some of that verve back in him when you drive his chariot. Why can’t you talk him into being the fearless warrior that you make him to be? Or have you gone soft as well in this war?”

“Stop it you insolent fool!”

Both the brothers took a couple of steps back at this outburst. They had never seen Krishna lose his temper. Yudhishtir suddenly became aware of who he was talking to. Fear replaced contempt.

“For years now these brothers have suffered because of you. You practically stole Arjuna’s wife because of your lust for her. Do you not remember who won her? You knew exactly what your mother would say when you took Arjuna’s bride home. Yet you chose those words because her beauty entranced you. Your devious ways won’t fool me Dharmaraja. You always wanted her for yourself ever since you laid eyes on her at the Swayamvara. But you just did not have the skill to win her. And you blame Arjuna for lack of craft?”

Arjuna watched in horror as Krishna’s face turned red in anger. He worried for the safety of his brother. Shockingly for him, Krishna said the same words that were mere thoughts in his own mind a few moments ago.

“When your wife came running into Virata’s court pleading you to stop Keechaka what did you do? You hid your face in your palms like a coward. Who took care of that? Your other brother did!”

“Let’s talk about this war. What is the reason for this war? Why did it come to this pass? Who is really behind this situation? In drunken stupor you shamefully wagered your wealth, your kingdom, your brothers, yourself and even your wife. Where did your dharma go then? The moment you lost yourself you lost all rights on your wife. And yet you gambled dear Draupadi. Tell me this Yudhishtir: recount for me one instance, just one instance where you stood up for your mother, your brothers or your wife. Yet you disgracefully accuse Arjuna for the death of some soldiers. Don’t you know the cost of war? You are not a nitwit to not realize a war like this will have its ups and downs. Or are you? Even the womenfolk in our camp are not complaining. If there was anyone dishonorable among all here it is you. And yet these brothers are fighting this war for you, killing people they do not need to. You are the one that should be ashamed of yourself.”

Without waiting for a reaction from Yudhishtir Krishna beckoned Arjuna to follow him out of the tent.

As soon as he boarded the chariot he turned to his friend and smiled. The warrior was still in a daze.

“Partha, I knew what was going through your mind when your brother was denouncing you in there. At that time if you said these words it would destroy the tender fabric of relationship you brothers have. This was the only way to protect your kinship while berating Yudhishtir. Forgive me for lambasting your elder in there. But I need you to focus on the war and not what your brother thinks of you. Now lets go mow some Kauravas down”

Arjuna is more thankful than befuddled at the amazing ways of his friend, philosopher, guide and driver.

 

Karna Gets Upset

The Kaurava camp on the East end of the field is clearly much larger than the other one. There are hundreds of tents. Bheeshma’s tent is the most prominent – very large with multiple chambers and surrounded by guards. A few tents down is another large one. But this one was strangely unguarded. The tent is dark outside – to protect the identity of any spies that came in or went out. Although well lit inside, it did not have any sentries. Occupying the tent was Duryodhana – in deep meditation.

Duryodhana appeared strong and powerful and in trance. He looked calm and peaceful. His face radiated an energy not seen in normal people. His breathing was deep and steady. His well-built pectoral muscles rose and fell with each long breath. He sat cross-legged on a raised platform, facing east. There was something captivating about this eldest of Kauravas.

A few minutes later a shrouded figure entered the tent from the rear entrance. The figure did not make a sound as it stood behind Duryodhana. The Kaurava prince opened his eyes and exhaled.

“Finally after 4 days of war you remembered your friend!” he said, getting off the podium and turning around.

The figure took it’s hood off, revealing yet another tall and strong warrior. It was Karna. If Duryodhana was captivating, Karna was hypnotic. His face radiated like a thousand suns. His eyes were bright and incisive. He had a tattoo of the rising sun in between his eyebrows. He was taller than Duryodhana. It seemed like Karna had a natural armor built into his chest. He did not wear anything to cover his upper body. But his shoulders and chest looked like a thick protective plate.

When he spoke, his voice was mesmeric.

“You know that I am not supposed to be around the camp my friend,” he said in his intense voice.

“I know about Pitamaha’s stipulation. But who has the gall to tell him you were in my chambers?”

“The walls have ears my Kuru prince”

“I don’t care about spies Anga’s king. They can tell Bheeshma Pitamaha what they want. He knows I trust you more than anyone else – including him. I would gladly defy him and win the war”

“Suyodhana – you speak ill of your Chief Commander. This cannot be good for our morale. You have to remember – the commanders and generals only give out orders. They have to be carried out by the foot soldiers. If they are clueless or demoralized they become easy prey. Specially when dealing with the Pandavas”

“Have you come here to praise my enemy my friend?”

“You are my friend – my lord. I want the Pandavas dead as much as you do. But it is my duty as your friend and counsel to tell you never to underestimate an enemy. Pandavas are powerful. You have to win them with cunning and deceit. Conventional warfare will only weaken them a little bit. But each of the Pandavas is capable of defeating a large army single-handedly.”

“Then tell me Karna. How can we defeat these 5 brothers? I am not unaware of their power. I am well educated in the matters of the state. I fought several wars and resoundingly won them. The Hastinapura kingdom has reigned supreme for generations now. There is not a kingdom we haven’t conquered – by war or by stealth. We have even prevailed on Yudhishtira’s Indraprastha by defeating him in the game of chance. But for some reason I do not feel good about this war. Omens do not bode well this time. So how can we win this one time?”

“I see that one thought is bothering you my friend. But like I said before, this war cannot be won by orthodox methods. Following rules will only lead us to defeat. Our army is larger than theirs. But your teachers, your uncles, and most importantly your Commander-in-Chief have publicly announced that we are fighting against dharma – indicating that we are at fault. Do you realize what that does to the morale of the army? Unless our army believes they are fighting a righteous war they will not win. It is just impossible. But we cannot do much about it now. The damage has been done. The only way now is to throw all honesty aside and resort to trickery. Let me ask you one question. Who do you think is the most feared warrior on the Pandava side?”

“Why that is an easy question. Bhimasena undoubtedly. As you may have heard he has killed 10 of my brothers in gruesome fashion. Some of my brothers’ body parts haven’t been recovered. They say after killing the last one he threw the body to wolves in the forest. If we can kill Bhimasena we would have broken their back”

“Forgive me for disagreeing with you my friend. The Pandavas did not enter this war on the back of Bhimasena’s power. The only reason they went to war with us is because of Arjuna. They believe Arjuna can annihilate our armies. They are not wrong by the way. After me, Arjuna is the best archer in this world. There is not an archer in the current Kaurava army that can stand up to him – not even your very own dear granduncle. Arjuna has in his armory weapons that can wreak unparalleled destruction. He has also obtained special weapons training during his travels before the fourteen-year banishment and even during that period. Bheeshma doesn’t stand a chance when Arjuna is in his element. There is just one and only one person that can stop him. And that is me. I have acquired a special weapon called the Shakti with only one purpose in mind – to kill Arjuna. I don’t mean to wish for Bheeshma’s death but I cannot wait to use that weapon on Arjuna. I want to see the look on the Pandavas’ faces when that weapons strikes him and he explodes into a thousand pieces.”

Duryodhana’s face lights up when he hears of this. He immediately embraces Karna. He turns and walks to the window.

“That should right all the wrongs that have happened to my family. Let me tell you something that I have never said before. Everyone thinks I am evil. They all think I have usurped Yudhishtira’s kingdom by sleight. They think I do not know the cost of this war. They could not be more wrong Karna. I am not the devil. I only wanted justice for my father. Several years ago a mistake happened in this kingdom. The first born in the family was not made the king. Both the brothers were born with congenital defects. If my father was blind uncle Pandu was frail. There was no way he could run the kingdom by himself. He rode on the crutches called Bheeshma, Kripa and Vidura.  He was completely incapable of being the king. You have only seen my father at the court – blind and unable to see right from wrong. But I have seen what he is physically capable of. He is the strongest man you can find Karna. He can crush your bones with one hand. I have seen him blast holes through the walls when he is angry. My father was clearly the more capable among the two. So why did they rob him of his position? I have seen him cry in his solitude because he was never considered the king of Hastinapura. He has spoken to me of the countless insults he bore because he could not see. Apparently even uncle Pandu would taunt him. Can you imagine living in the shadow of a much weaker person all your life? It consumed my father. I could see the pain in his heart. It was my duty to make it right. That is all I am doing”

Karna sat down in one of the large seats. He could easily relate to Duryodhana’s story. His own life had a parallel. Duryodhana continued “And then that evil woman – my aunt Kunti”

Karna suddenly felt a prick in his heart. Every time he heard the name Kunti something overcame him. He could not explain it. It was as if he knew her very well – yet did not. He had heard her speak only once. Her voice sounded very familiar. It was the same voice that subconsciously calmed him down whenever he was agitated. Her voice came through as a lullaby to him. If there was one thing that stopped Karna from attacking any of the Pandavas it was that they were Kunti’s sons. For some incomprehensible reason he felt guilty at the thought of hurting her sons. Hearing Duryodhana speak ill of her made his stomach queasy. He coughed. Duryodhana turned to look towards his friend. He tried to interpret the strange expression on his friend’s face but could not. He carried on nevertheless.

“That woman. How can she claim to be a Kshatriya queen? She did not have any of the children through her husband. All her three children were born through others. Even her stepchildren were not born through her husband. She knew uncle Pandu was feeble and impotent. She found someone else to bear her children. What kind of a woman does that? You know what we call such women?”

Before Duryodhana could complete his sentence Karna stood up. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face. His face reddened with a slight hint of anger. Strange emotions swelled in his heart. He felt like throttling the person in front of him. He started pacing around the room. He could not explain this feeling to himself, nor his friend. He got agitated. He felt claustrophobic in this chamber of his friend and savior. He wanted fresh air.

Duryodhana noticed this sudden change in disposition in his friend. “What is wrong my dear Karna?”

“I think we should leave the women out of our discussions. They are of no use to us in this war. We need to focus on weakening the Pandavas first – especially Arjuna. Arjuna has one weakness in this war – his young son Abhimanyu. If we can capture or kill Abhimanyu it would cripple Arjuna. Do not forget Abhimanyu is also Krishna’s nephew. If something were to happen to Abhimanyu both the warrior and his ace charioteer would break. I would strike my Shakti right at that moment. Who knows? Maybe we can kill Krishna too”

Duryodhana smacked his lips at this idea. He hated Krishna. He knew Krishna could turn this war around in an instant. Apart from being a highly astute person he also knew hypnosis and magic. Killing them both would end this war in an instant.

“So what would you have me do my friend? How can we kill Abhimanyu?”

“Abhimanyu is a fearless warrior. They only way to kill him would be to surround him with several of our best warriors and down him. Again, there is nobody in the Kaurava army that is on the field today that can kill the young prince. I am the only one that can account for him. We will wait for our time Suyodhana. It will come”

As the first light began to appear on the horizon Karna took leave of his friend and made his way into the shadows of the woods. He boarded his chariot at the edge of the forest. As the chariot sped off towards Hastinapura he felt disturbed. The unkind words Duryodhana had for Kunti still reverberated in his ears. He did not like those words. He gripped his sword as the words echoed in his head. To his amazement he realizes that had it been someone else in place of Duryodhana, he would not have hesitated to use that sword. That thought alarmed him more than anything else. He needed answers. He made a mental note to speak to the one person he knew would answer all his questions. As soon as he arrived at his palace he sent for his trusted messenger. He instructed the messenger to go to the Pandava camp and ask Krishna to meet him at the north end of the river after sunset.

Draupadi’s Reasoning

News of the slaying of ten Kaurava brothers had reached the Pandava camp before Bhimasena did. He marched into the tent and gestured everyone to leave. His face looked like that of a lion which just finished a sumptuous meal – smeared in the blood of its prey. He carried with him the femur bone of the last Kaurava brother he killed. The last drops of blood still dripped from the flesh clinging to the bone. He held it aloft like a trophy and proclaimed, “This is for you my queen”

Draupadi was sitting on the edge of her bed. She wore simple clothes. She wore no jewelry. Even while sitting she seemed a tall woman. Her hair was so long it almost touched the ground when she sat. But it was unkempt. It looked like it hadn’t been washed in years. She lifted her head when Bhimasena spoke. She looked stunning even in such simple clothes. She was dark complexioned with well defined facial features but her face betrayed the pain and suffering she had endured for the past fourteen years. Her anguish showed in the question she asked the second of Kunti’s sons: “Did you finally kill Dusshasana? Have you finally brought respite to my hair? Tell me O Bhimasena. Is the one non-Pandava that dared touch me finally dead?”

His silence answered her question.

“They call you the mightiest Pandava. They call you son of the wind because nothing can stop your fury. They say you can single-handedly down trees and buildings. You have slain the mightiest people in the world with your bare hands. Yet you come in here empty handed. That bone in your hand does not mean anything to me if it does not belong to that evil brother of Duryodhana.”

Bhimasena’s pride vanishes in the matter of seconds. He had strutted in proudly expecting a congratulatory reception.

“Bhimasena, of all my husbands you were the one that protected my pride. During the gambling match you were the one that stood up for me. You proclaimed you would break Duryodhana’s thigh and drink Dusshasana’s blood. You were the one that killed Keechaka in that dance chamber that night. But here you are, boasting the death of a weak prince. You should be ashamed of yourself. This bone you show me is that of a dog – an opponent unworthy of you. The smile will return on my face only when you kill that scum Dusshasana.”

The words stung Bhimasena. He realizes that nothing could satisfy this bloodthirsty woman.

“What have you become O beautiful daughter of Drupada? Do you realize this war is being fought because of you? Even if I hate the Kauravas, even if I completely disagree with Yudhishtir about letting the Kauravas give us just five villages, I would still not fight this war if I had a choice. Do you know how destructive a war is? You women folk sit in your grand palaces served upon by your fawning attendants. It’s not a choice for us warriors. We have to go kill people or be killed. We kill people we do not even know. These ten brothers I killed today, I do not remember ever seeing them, ever talking to them. They are my cousins. They share the same blood that I do. They were royals. Yet, now they lie disfigured and mangled up on a piece of land soaked with blood. We could have avoided this. But you! You wanted death and destruction. Your are only obsessed with the extinction of the Kuru dynasty. Even before the war started you went up to your brother Krishna and told him to jeopardize his peacemaking. Maybe if you were willing to forget and forgive…”

Draupadi’s countenance changes instantly on hearing those two words. She stands up and walks towards the window, facing away from her husband. Tears roll down her beautiful face. She looks blankly into the azure sky as if trying to remember something. She turns back to address her accuser calmly.

“Forget and forgive. Kunti’s son! Do you know what you just said?”

She grabs her tresses and flips them to the front. Then she asks him a direct question.

“You have been with many women in your life. How many have you grabbed by their hair?”

Bhimasena is stunned into silence.

“Do you know why women take care of their hair more than any other part of their body? The hair represents life. Strands of hair fall off and regrow. It depicts the resilience of life, as we know it. It embodies the circle of life – of death and rebirth. Grabbing a person – man or woman – by hair is not just an insult to that person’s external beauty. It’s an insult to life. It shows you have no respect for the human race. More so when you do it to a woman. The female of any species – human or animal – is the key to the continuation of that species. Dusshasana is not a moor to be ignorant of that. Moreover he grabbed me at my most private moment. In our culture we value women. We worship them. By barging into my quarters and seizing me, Duryodhana’s pet brother showed contempt to women – the life bearers. If I forgive him, future generations will think it is fine to be irreverent towards us. Disrespect for the female will end up destroying life on earth. If our descendants have to honor women like our ancestors did, the person that did this to me has to die. I am not unaware of the perils of war my dear Bhimasena. I know this war will consume every person here. I might lose my own children. Maybe even one of you. But I am willing to offer that sacrifice for the benefit of women for generations to come. Let this be a lesson to anyone insulting womanhood that the result is horrifying death. There can be forgiveness for mistakes, not for contempt”

Bhimasena is aghast at the end of this articulation. All this time he was under the impression Draupadi wanted revenge for the treatment meted out to her. This line of reasoning leaves him awestruck. He is unable to utter a word. He turns back and slowly walks towards his waiting chariot, leaving behind sobs of despair in the tent.

 

The Monstrous Killing Machine

Bhimasena licks his lips seeing Duryodhana’s ten brothers in a semi-circle in front of him. He fires off four arrows that instantly kill three and hit the fourth in the chest. Bhimasena descends from his chariot. He yells out ‘So who among you has the privilege to die first?’ Two of the brothers approach gingerly with their swords. Bhimasena picks up his sword and fights them both at the same time. But it is clear the pair is no match for him. Within seconds he cuts their heads off. One of the others turns back to run.

‘Yes of course, you are as much a coward as your blind father who wanted to burn us to death in that wax house’

Mention of his father makes the stupid prince to turn back. But before he could look up the powerful mace hits him in the face, mangling up his face so badly his charioteer throws up.

The three other princes left start to retreat. One turns back and starts running towards his chariot. Bhimasena chases after him and pushes him to the ground. As the young brother of Duryodhana falls face down Bhimasena presses his powerful knee into the back of his head. He suffocates for air several seconds before Bhimasena releases the pressure. As the prince gasps for air Bhimasena presses the head again into the dirt. He repeats this several times – playing with Duryodhana’s brother. He then picks him up one final time. As the weak prince opens his mouth to gasp for air Bhimasena drives his dagger right through it. As the people around them watch in horror he withdraws the blade and sinks the dagger vertically into the dead prince’s skull. Bhimasena then deliberately takes the dagger out and tastes the blood dripping from the tip of the blade. He then smears himself with the rest of the blood from the dagger and looks in the direction of the two brothers left able.

They have already given up their weapons – having seen the macabre death of their brother. He grabs each by their throats in both his arms and chokes them. Being the taller one he then lifts them off the ground. The one in his right arm dies after a few seconds. The one on the left fights a few seconds more. Bhimasena lets him off the death grip. As the prince falls to the ground Bhimasena picks him up with both hands and slams him down. The sound of breaking ribs brings out frightening laughter out of Bhimasena. As the prince writhes in pain Bhimasena bends down on one knee and punches him powerfully in the chest. The heart stops instantly and the prince lies dead on the ground. Bhimasena lays him flat, takes his dagger out and stabs him in the chest. Blood squirts out of him like a spring. Bhimasena washes his hands in the blood and turns around to take care of the last alive among the band of ten.

The one brother that was not dead when Bhimasena fired the first four arrows is now lying helpless, watching Bhimasena do the death dance around him. As the big Pandava approaches him he soils his loins. Bhimasena smirks.

“Duryodhana thought his ten worthless brothers could hurt my nephew. Too bad you won’t be alive when he cries for you”

“Please leave me. My brother is the one you want.”

“Leave you? As far as I am concerned you are as evil as your brother. You are all the same. I don’t even remember your name. I will only call you Duryodhana’s brother”

“I have never hurt you. I knew in my heart that you Pandavas were the righteous ones. But I had to support my brothers”

“The fear of death is a strange one isn’t it? You want to live. You know what is going to happen of you. Yet you lie”

“If I have to die let it be quick. I have seen your power and your vengeance. I don’t want to die a slow painful death”

“You are one of the lucky ones O son of Dhritarashtra. Not many people have the good fortune of seeing their internals themselves.”

Without another word Bhimasena takes out the same dagger he used on the other brothers and stabs the wounded prince in the thigh. As he lets out a painful cry Bhimasena slits the man’s thigh all the way down to his knee. Once the gash is large enough Bhimasena puts his hand in and fishes for the femur bone. The son of Dhritarashtra had already passed out in pain. As the Kaurava soldiers watch in revulsion Bhimasena steps on the prince’s knee, bends down and pulls the bone out with all his might. The femur bone snaps at both the knee and pelvis and breaks free. In a demonic gesture Bhimasena picks up the bone, uses it as a weapon and clobbers the Kaurava prince’s head until it gets mashed up.

Bhimasena stands up and lets out a wild roar. The people around him, including Satyaki are stunned at this gruesome act. Conches are blown to signal a brief respite in the war to honor the fallen royals. Bhimasena, soaked in the blood of his victims climbs into his chariot.

“Ninety more to go”

Saying this he directs Visoka to take him to Draupadi’s tent.

Demonic!

There was commotion in the Kaurava forces. They were down after the ruthless killing of a young prince by the Pandava Commander-in-Chief. Confidence was low. Bheeshma thought it was time to introduce a secret warrior.

All armies kept a collection of secret warriors to surprise the enemy. These warriors were not normal people. They were either very large for humans, or had some physical deformity that made them look scary and abominable. Some had large heads with only one eye; others had three arms instead of the regular two. Yet others were very hairy like a primate. But one thing was common – they all had superhuman strength and were savage.

This warrior was almost seven and a half feet tall and black like a rock. He was hairy like a gorilla. His hair was long and unkempt. His face was tattooed with strange symbols in bright colors – making him look even dreadful than he was. Saliva oozed from his mouth as he heaved towards the enemy. His canines were much longer than the rest of his rather ugly looking teeth. He looked more monster than human. His hands were very long; almost stretching down to his knees. He was broad with large well-toned chest muscles. He hardly wore any clothes – just a leather cloth covering his loins. Wild flowers and fruits hung from his necklace. He had twisty bracelets made with leaves around strong wrists. He smelled those leaves from time to time. Every time he did he’d let out a blood-curdling roar that sent tremors down his own soldiers. Pandava legions stopped in their tracks and backtracked. He was the mighty Alambusa.

If Alambusa’s appearance was ghastly his weapons were even worse. In his right hand he held a large machete. In his left he had a flail with three balls attached. The balls had iron spikes on them. Blood dripped from the spikes – a sign that Alambusa had been on a killing spree. He advanced uncontested into the Pandava legions and wreaked havoc. Each time he flung his left hand three Pandava soldiers ended up with spikes in their skull. With his right hand he cut down several soldiers into half. Those that survived his weapons came under his feet and were crushed to death. Several Pandava warriors made the mistake of going too close to him. Some fired arrows at him. But his skin was covered with some kind of a shiny paste that made the arrows bounce off him. Within a few minutes he laid dead several hundred Pandava soldiers. A lieutenant raced to the far end to notify Drishtadyumna of this monstrous beast.

Right next to the Pandava chief was a cherubic warrior. In a surprisingly confident and resonant voice he said, ‘let me take this one uncle’

Mercenary-in-Chief

Drishtadyumna is engaged in a fierce battle with Sala – the son of Somadatta. Watching Drishtadyumna is like watching a mercenary at work. He does not show emotion. His eyes are fixated on his target. He stands tall and confident in his chariot, shouting out orders to his charioteer as to which way to steer.

Sala has vexed the Pandava legion for over an hour, killing hundreds of foot soldiers and horsemen. Seeing Drishtadyumna his eyes light up. He thinks he can take the Pandava Commander-in-Chief and perhaps kill him in battle. Little does he know the fate about to befall him. Drishtadyumna directs his chariot right into the path of Sala’s. Sala’s charioteer veers away nervously to avoid collision. Finding the right angle, Drishtadyumna fires off several arrows into Sala’s chariot. As the wheels come off the chariot grinds to a halt in the dirt. Sala jumps out with a sword in hand. Drishtadyumna smiles. He has Sala right where he wanted. Drishtadyumna is an expert at sword fighting. As Sala rushes towards his chariot Drishtadyumna instructs his charioteer to slow down and gets off. The youthful Bahlika prince jumps high in the air wanting to take the Pandava brother-in-law by surprise. Anticipating his move Drishtadyumna ducks and sways away, causing Sala to land hard behind him. He then rapidly turns around and faces his attacker. Sala picks up his sword with both hands and goes after Drishtadyumna. With his left hand behind his back Drishtadyumna gets into position to play a little game with his right.

With a dagger in his hand Drishtadyumna parries Sala’s attacks. Grasping the blade with his left hand and holding the sword parallel to the ground Sala tries to land blows to Drishtadyumna’s face. But Drishtadyumna expertly dodges them by ducking down swiftly. Sensing an attack coming Sala springs up and over his enemy. Sala holds the handle with both hands and powerfully tries to drive his sword into Drishtadyumna’s body. But Drishtadyumna uses his dagger to catch the sword and throw Sala off balance. Bouncing back on his feet Sala attempts to jab Drupada’s son in the shoulder with his free left hand. Drishtadyumna clasps his attacker’s hand, twists him around and holds him in a death grip with his weighty forearms. Sala stomps on Drishtadyumna’s foot and breaks free. The cat and mouse game continues several minutes with Sala attacking and Drishtadyumna mocking the young inexperienced warrior.

As his energy saps Sala realizes Drishtadyumna is no ordinary warrior. He is a gifted and chilling swordsman. He anticipates Sala’s every move and either sways away or rebuts him. Finally Drishtadyumna decides to put an end to this unequal fight. In one nimble move Drishtadyumna crouches down and drives his blade through Sala’s chest. The sharp metal punctures Sala’s heart killing him instantly. Without withdrawing Drishtadyumna picks the weight of the dead prince on his dagger and swings him towards a few Kaurava soldiers. As Sala falls lifeless facedown Drishtadyumna walks up, lifts his sword and brings it down on his neck in one smooth motion, separating it from the body. He then looks up at the Kaurava forces, walks back to his chariot and calmly wipes the spattered crimson fluid off his hands.

100 minus 10

“If this is how we fight we’ll end up losing Pitamaha. You are being too lenient on the Pandavas”, howled Duryodhana.

“You are wasting your breath dearest nephew. It is clear which side the Pitamaha wants to see win this war”, said the cunning Shakuni.

“You had Yudhishtir in your sights today. You could easily have killed him. At least captured him. That would have ended the war immediately”, continued Duryodhana.

“Why? You are again being very naïve my dear Suyodhana. Bheeshma would never harm any Pandava let alone kill him. If Karna were in the battle today the Pandava camp would be cremating Yudhishtir’s body tonight. There is a reason the Pitamaha did not want Karna to fight alongside as long as he himself was the commander-in-chief”, said Shakuni adding fuel to the raging fire inside Duryodhana.

Bheeshma thought for a moment. The real reason he kept Karna out of the battlefield was not because Karna was a fearless warrior and general, or because Bheeshma thought less of Karna’s birth. Bheeshma knew very well the real identity of Duryodhana’s best friend.

Bheeshma’s role in the war was first and foremost commander-in-chief. He was the supreme general. His job was to manage and lead eleven diverse and disjointed armies – some of them at war with each other before Kurukshetra. His role was to keep them united and focused while laying out battle strategies. Administering these armies itself was a herculean task.

Bheeshma’s plan was simple. If they prolonged the war enough the higher Kaurava numbers would eventually prevail. All they had to do was protect their generals and commanders. The Kaurava army was more than one-and-a-half times the size of that of the Pandavas. Conventional warfare was enough to defeat them without resorting to special weapons. He needed to keep it simple. Having Drona and Kripa gave him confidence without having to worry about rebellion in the ranks.

Karna on the battlefield would have fiercely complicated things. Duryodhana would have put his entire faith in Karna. He would have gone to Karna whenever the chips were down. He would push Karna to override the Pitamaha’s plans, as all he wanted was to either kill Yudhishtir or capture him alive. Karna would have to say yes, as he was extremely loyal to the evil prince and owed him everything – his name, fame and recognition.

On the other hand Karna himself had been culpable of overriding commanders during earlier battles. Several times he had taken things into his own hands much to the displeasure of other generals. When goaded, he was reckless and uncontrollable. He was driven by his hatred towards the society and his antipathy towards the Kuru royals and their instructor – Drona. He always held a personal grudge against the world. His actions in war would reflect that attitude. His rage usually got the better of his judgment. He would go berserk breaking all rules and conventions of righteous warfare. Duryodhana would love that. He would encourage Karna more and more, much to the detriment of the power structure required in a war this huge. The lower cadres and soldiers would be confused as to whom to be loyal to. It would dispirit the army and result in mutiny. Karna would have created a second power center – leading to catastrophic consequences.

That, more than anything else was the real reason Bheeshma mandated that Karna be kept out as long as he himself was the chief commander. He cared less about someone’s birth as long as they were a worthy warrior and capable of inflicting severe damage on the enemy. But insubordination and disobedience he would not put up with.

“I’ve had enough Pitamaha. I respect you and I know you are the greatest warrior of our times. But you are getting old. Maybe your love for the Pandavas is clouding your judgment. Maybe the physical stress of the battle is making you weak. Tomorrow I shall unleash my own brothers on the Pandavas. I will send ten Kauravas to take care of at least one Pandava”, boasted Duryodhana before storming out of the tent.

Bheeshma still did not say a word. His face was as peaceful as it was when butchering hundreds in the enemy. He turned towards the Kauravas’ uncle.

Shakuni threw a wicked smile at the Pitamaha before limping his way out of the tent.

Bheeshma called his servant and his charioteer into the chamber. He told his charioteer to ride close to Bhimasena on the morrow. Then he instructed his servant to prepare 10 special funeral pyres for the next day.

He knew the mightiest Pandava would kill Duryodhana’s brothers. There was no way to stop him.

Drona’s Fears

The mood in the Kaurava camp was solemn at the end of the day. Clearly the day belonged to the enemy. A single man accounted for a full legion. Did they underestimate Bhimasena’s power? A cool evening breeze wafted through both camps. In the distance, funeral pyres raged higher and higher. The cries of hundreds of women grieving their fallen husbands rent the air. Drona entered Bheeshma’s tent. The look on both the ageing warriors faces betrayed their thoughts. The other old horse – Kripa, soon joined them. For several minutes they did not speak a word. They sat in silent contemplation. A myriad of thoughts flashed through the oldest man’s mind. He assessed himself. Did he have enough in him to go the distance? His mind was willing. But would his body endure the relentless bombardment from the best archer the world had ever seen?

As if reading his thoughts Drona said, “Pitamaha, we need to provide extra protection for you”

Bheeshma smiled. “Are you afraid your favorite student will kill me in battle?”

“I am more wary of his charioteer”

“Acharya, I know what is to happen of me. This is a battle of right against the wrong. There can only be one victor in the end”

“You can end this without firing another arrow. Must a million widows pay the price for one man’s ego?”

“If I wanted to end this war it wouldn’t even have started my dear Drona. Truth and virtue must defeat evil. Death is the only proper culmination. But do not despair. Winter always gives rise to spring. The cycle of life continues”

Drona realized it was futile trying to convince Bheeshma to give up arms and beat some sense into Duryodhana. Drona was a warrior. But he did not want to die. He loved life. He loved his position in the Kuru kingdom. He loved the respect. Above all he loved his son dearly. But he knew his days were numbered. Because in the enemy camp was one man whose sole purpose in life was to kill him. Drupada – Drona’s one time friend turned enemy – had raised Drishtadyumna with only one goal: Kill Drona. With each passing day, that day when Drishtadyumna would snuff the last breath out of him was drawing nearer.

Drona disliked Duryodhana from the beginning. More so after he made friends with Karna. Drona was very proud of his own brahmin birth. He genuinely believed only the most fortunate are born as such. He believed a brahmin’s ultimate goal was to teach and teach he did. He was the best weapons expert in the entire world. He also believed weapons instructions were to be imparted only to those born of the highest order. Anyone not born a Kshatriya had no business learning about warfare and weaponry. He abhorred Karna because of his skill with archery. Drona’s ego would never admit that the skill of his favorite student was somehow inferior to that of the son of a charioteer. He made sure Karna was always reminded of his lower birth. He knew that as long as Karna was around, Duryodhana would not give up. The only way to stop Karna from getting into battle was to keep Bheeshma alive. But the longer the war progressed, the shorter the chances of Bheeshma’s ultimate survival. With Bheeshma’s life was tied his own. If Bheeshma died in battle he was next. Drona’s only chance of making it alive out of this war was to make the Pitamaha surrender – which he would never do.

Drona left the tent decidedly dejected. He turned to say something to Kripa but he was already gone…