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!
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!