Duryodhana prepared for his day with his morning yoga and pranayama. But something about this morning didn’t seem right. There was a sense of foreboding in the air even though everything around him seemed normal. The soldiers sharpened their swords, knives and spears. The charioteers checked every bolt, every cog of their rides. The hundreds of cooks prepared meals for the day. Water boys made sure their canteens were leak free. Everything seemed normal. But he wasn’t at peace with the daylight breaking through the blackness of the night.
During his hour long meditation he constantly saw dark images. Images of sullen, wistful soldiers returning to the Kaurava camp haunted him. The most disturbing vision was of a grand chariot returning empty from the battlefield. He couldn’t place whom the chariot belonged to. But he knew it was someone important, and it was from the Kaurava side. He proceeded to the battlefield with that fear suppressed deep inside him.
As soon as he surveyed the Pandava line up, he knew what his visions meant. Up in front were the Maharathis and Atirathis: Yudhishtira, Bheema, Drishtadyumna, Satyaki, Virata, the Upa-Pandavas. Where is Arjuna? He lifted his chin up to search for the Hanuman flag. His eyes scanned for the five spotless white horses. It was then that he noticed the concentric circles of foot soldiers, cavalry and single horse chariots at front-center of the formation. At the center of that mini formation was Pandavas’ hero. But the small chariot next to Arjuna’s was the one that Duryodhana couldn’t make out. He asked his charioteer about the identity of that warrior. The answer sent a shiver down his spine. He knew instantly whom the chariot in his visions belonged to.
He instructed his charioteer to pull up next to Dronacharya.
“Acharya, we have to protect Bhishma Pitamaha today. The Pandavas have brought in Shikhandi. Their sinister plan cannot succeed”
“I saw this coming Duryodhana. I am surprised it took them this long. However, our goal shouldn’t be to only protect Bhishma. While ensuring he lives, we must attack and kill Shikhandi. This is desperation on the Pandava side. If we kill Shikhandi they cannot touch Bhishma and victory is ours”
“How I miss my friend Karna today. He would have slain Shikhandi before lunch”
Dronacharya ignored the insult and calmly reminded the prince of Hastinapura to focus on protecting Bhishma while he devised a plan to mortally wound Shikhandi – knowing fully well that he couldn’t slay him while Arjuna and Krishna were on the battlefield.
On the other side, flanked by Arjuna and Sahadeva, Shikhandi stood proud in his chariot. He had waited for this day all his life. He already did as instructed by Krishna by going to Bhishma’s camp last night and ruffling his continence. He could see defeat in Bhishma’s eyes at the mention of Amba’s name. He had the purposeful look of a possessed man this morning. His guidance was clear and simple. Wherever Bhishma goes, front up and face him. Remind the grand old man of his single blunder – the unkindest fault in an otherwise celebrated life.
Shikhandi was a warrior in his own right. He could kill a hundred people with his bare hands. He had the physical strength of Bheema. He was adept at archery and sword fighting. On the third day of Kurukshetra he destroyed Duryodhana’s battalion and made the Kaurava prince run for his life. Two days ago his small army of foot soldiers took on Shalya and decimated the Madra army.
But today, his only assignment was to make sure Arjuna gets a clear shot at the oldest warrior on the field. With that bedeviled look, he pushed forward as the battle conches blew.
Today will be a day to remember.