The Sunset Of Dharma

Continued from here

Duryodhana was livid. Two headless torsos lay to the west, the son’s in his grand chariot, and father’s just a short distance away, under a giant tree. They could have been saved. They could have been protected. The man in charge of protecting his brother-in-law appeared clueless. How could the mighty Dronacharya, the grand master of all weapons, the architect of countless victories, the authority on war strategies, fail? He couldn’t have. He willfully allowed this to happen. He would’ve known about the eclipse. Why didn’t he warn Jayadratha that the sudden darkness was temporary and that the sun would resurface? The traitor!

Karna read Duryodhana’s mind. He had always found the older generation of commanders bothersome, with their adherence to traditional wartime rules. He knew that the longer this war stretched, the more disadvantaged the Kaurava army would be. Kauravas had the dominance of numbers to begin with. They had 11 akshauhinis to Pandavas’ 7. Time allowed Arjuna to chisel away, polishing off one akshauhini after another, bringing parity to the two sides. Karna always advocated swift action, and if that required some rules to be bent or broken, then so be it. Even for Jayadratha, he had a devious idea that he knew Drona wouldn’t even listen. There were so many chariots that looked liked Jayadratha’s. If they had decked up a few, flown Jayadratha’s flag on each one of them, and manned them with impostors, assigned each of those impostors to some of the greatest warriors in the Kaurava army, it would have been impossible for Arjuna to find him. The original Jayadratha could even have stayed in his camp, sipping soma all day. The day would have ended. The war would have virtually ended. Alas!

But now, he had an opportunity. Duryodhana was enraged. the humbled Dronacharya would be conscience-stricken and extremely vulnerable. This would be a time to bend the rules.

Aside from the acharya, there was only one person on the Kaurava side who would protest. Ever since he protested the game of dice, and the attempted disrobing of Draupadi, the third Kaurava brother Vikarna had fallen out of favor with Duryodhana. He would undoubtedly voice dissent to what was going on in Karna’s mind. But he can be brushed aside. People playing by the rules were so predictable. They believed in the basic decency of human beings, and that the majority voice would be upheld. If he was the lone dissenter, Vikarna would easily fall in line.

Karna sounded his conch to halt hostilities, charioted up to Duryodhana, and beckoned him to follow him up to the commander. They both rounded up the biggest warriors and rode up to Drona. From a distance, Krishna saw them approach their commander. He read Karna’s mind, turned his chariot around, and rode in the direction of Bhima, stopping midway to give instructions to a messenger boy to head up to the forest behind the Pandava camp.

“Acharya, please do not be upset and discouraged at this temporary defeat. We know you did everything within your ability to prevent this. We know you instructed Jayadratha to stay low until explicitly otherwise. We all know how conceited and boastful he was. If he had only followed your instruction, he would be alive. Arjuna would have been heading towards self immolation, and we would have declared victory tonight” Karna’s introductory praise drew some scorn from Duryodhana, but he decided against protesting. Karna continued, “As much as I despise him, I have respect for Dhananjaya’s capability and expertise. I know he has in his arsenal weapons that can decimate us several times over, and he choses not to use them because of his love of humanity. I am aware of the destructive power of those weapons. Several generations henceforth would be severely affected with illness and disease. It would take a hundred years before a generation would be able and epidemic-free. The environmental effects would be devastating, leaving our beautiful Hastinapura and its surrounds famine-ridden for decades. Arjuna is a supreme commander of weapons, and an able enemy. I commend him for not using his catastrophic arms. He knew Jayadratha’s pomposity, and used the simplest guided arrow to behead him”

Whatever angst Drona experienced on seeing Karna approach him disappeared with the praise heaped on Arjuna and his capabilities. “I am fortunate, o great acharya, that it is you and not I that is the commander of this army. I cannot fathom the strife within that you experience, every single minute of this war. That you have overcome your internal conflict and carried out your dharma is exemplary. History will never forget you. You will also be very proud to be matching up against your own pupil, and seeing your training come to fruition”

Dronacharya’s heart warmed at this praise. Even with all his erudition and self-control, he was human. Karna’s praise of him, his verbalization of Drona’s mental battles over the past fortnight earned a smile and respect from the acharya. Until now, he was torn between blaming himself for his inability to keep his word in protecting Jayadratha, while being dazzled at the archery of his best student. But now, with Karna’s words, he seemed at peace. He was overcome with emotion, but the only outward expression of it was the lowering of his shoulders.

“Who would have thought, that the sun would set for a brief moment on this day, and rise again, shining ever so bright. You and I know the wonders of nature, we know about such once-in-a-lifetime celestial events as the eclipse. We know that this is not sorcery, but the edict of nature itself. Look at the sun now. He seems to have emerged from behind the moon like a tiger that has broken its shackles. He rises like it is a new sunrise. Who would have thought that we would be fortunate enough to witness two sunrises in a single day? I say we continue, just as we start a battle at sunrise. We fight till crickets chirp. We fight till the last torch burns out. We fight to extinguish the light from the Pandava army. We may not kill the Pandavas tonight. Hell, we may not even win this war. But tonight, we make sure they won’t have much to rule over. Tonight, we avenge our son-in-law. Tonight, we avenge our beloved Pitamaha!”

The roar from the surrounding battalion was deafening. Any protest or reservations Drona or anyone else had on continuing the battle into the evening was lost in the fervor. Some soldiers were already moving in the direction of the Pandava army. Drona didn’t have much control over the what was happening. He went with the flow. It was hard to contradict Karna’s logic. To the untaught and unschooled who didn’t understand the complex cosmic dance between the earth, sun and the moon, it was a second sunrise. They were trained to start fighting at sunrise. And they were doing just that.

Fourteen days after the start of the war, the rules of engagement were broken. There was no turning back.

On the other side, the man who was waiting for this moment smiled. He knew dharma very well. He also knew that the world was not equally divided between the fair dharma and the dark adharma, and that there was a lot of grey in between. He was born in the grey. He blossomed in the grey. He fourished in the grey. He was grey himself. Without dropping his smile, he turned to his cousin and said, “Partha, behold the power of magic tonight. Behold the sorcery of nature. Tonight, civilized men will learn of that which lurks in the woods, and they will be terrified. Tonight, we destroy the only thing that is capable of stopping us from winning this war”

Continued here

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