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!