Continued from here
Dronacharya turned to his generals and asked if they could see Ashwatthama’s chariot. When they replied in the negative, his suspicion grew. He asked everyone around him to look for his son’s flagstaff. Meanwhile, sounds from the other side grew more boisterous, with chants of “Ashwatthama dead” reverberating the area.
With lingering doubts in his heart and ringing sounds in his ears, he proceeded cautiously. He ordered that he be notified as soon as they found Ashwatthama’s flying flag or chariot.
He then did something bold, something reckless. He decided to head into enemy territory to find the truth.
He headed straight into the diamond.
Meanwhile, Yudhishtira was still confused. Krishna was celebrating, so was Bhima, as was Drishtadyumna. He wasn’t sure why they were celebrating at the death of an elephant, and a rogue one at that.
He didn’t sound his bugle, but seemed happy. He didn’t notice Drona’s chariot in the distance approach them; Krishna did.
The crafty Madhava stopped his chariot, jumped off, ran to Yudhishtira and hugged him. Then they both raised their hands victoriously. Krishna was deliriously happy, and blew his conch loud and long, triumphantly.
He continued to chant, “Ashwatthama Hatha-ha, Ashwatthama Hatha-ha”, and laughed ecstatically.
Drona watched them celebrate from the distance, reading Krishna’s lips. The heart heard what his eyes refused to believe. His son was dead? How was that possible? He looked around for obvious signs of a dead warrior, a destroyed chariot, something. He found no evidence.
He didn’t think Krishna would lie, but knew him to be crafty. He needed confirmation. He needed someone trustworthy, someone with unflinching integrity to tell him that his beloved son was indeed martyred. He knew only one such person; and to his anguish, that person was celebrating too.
Could it be true? His pride, his treasure, dead! No, that cannot be. Bhima or Drishtadyumna did not have it in them to kill Ashwatthama. Arjuna was capable, but his son would be intelligent enough to not engage Partha to that extent.
Something wasn’t adding up. His mind was cloudy, his thinking was muddled. The confusion tore him apart. He began to loosen the grip on his bow. A pall of sorrow began to creep into him. His feet seemed weak.
He still needed proof.
Krishna read the acharya’s mind, even from far away. He turned around, towards the army, ensuring his back was to Drona, and shouted with both his arms up in the air, “Ashwatthama Hatha-ha, kunjaraha! Ashwatthama Hatha-ha, kunjaraha!”
Drona did not hear what he said. All he saw was the army go berserk when Krishna uttered something. His misgivings began to consume him. He lowered his bow.
Krishna turned around and persuaded Yudhishtira to repeat his chat. Yudhishtira smiled and said, “Ashwatthama Hatha-ha, kunjaraha!”
Right at that instant, the crafty lord played his shrewdest card. Just before Yudhishtira uttered the word kunjaraha, Krishna quickly came up from behind, blocked Drona’s view of Yudhishtira’s face with his own conch, and blew it loud. The acharya never saw Yudhishtira say the word kunjaraha.
All he saw was Yudhishtira utter the words “Ashwatthama Hatha-ha”. Tears came instantly into his eyes, moistening and clouding them. He didn’t see what else the Pandava elder said.
As the horns blared around, Yudhishtira said the whole thing again, but Drona was too heartbroken to hear anything.
His world came crashing down. Ashwatthama was dead!
His shoulders hunched, his fingers let go of the bow. It fell to the floor of the cab. He staggered, struggling to hold balance.
The acharya closed his eyes as tears streamed down his cheeks. All that he worked for in life, to provide a better life to his family, was gone! His entire life flashed in his mind; his childhood and youth, his friendship with Drupada and the eventual fallout, his poverty, his apprenticeship under Kripacharya and the appointment as the guru for the cousins, his coronation as the Kaurava commander in chief, and finally the killing of his archenemy.
He made a decision. He asked the charioteer to stop the chariot, stripped himself of all armor and weaponry, and alighted. He walked around, put a gentle hand on his driver and ordered him to leave.
A stunned audience watched, as the royal preceptor of the Kuru kingdom looked up and prayed to the blazing star in the sky. He sat down in padmasana, closed his eyes, and went deep into meditation.
A short distance away, the three Pandava brothers along with Krishna and their brother-in-law watched the unfolding of events. Yudhishtira, Bhima, and Arjuna were perplexed at the acharya’s actions. Why did he lay his weapons down? Were the Kauravas surrendering? Was he giving up his post? Then why isn’t he walking away? Why sit down in the middle of battleground?
One man knew the reason. He toughened his demeanor and looked at Drishtadyumna.
It was time!
The Pandava commander acted swiftly. In a single motion, he pulled both his swords from their scabbards, hopped off his chariot, and ran towards the elderly man rooted a short distance from him. Anger swelled in his heart as he raced towards his victim.
He remembered his beloved father, just as the other man remembered his son.
Slowing a few yards from the acharya, Drishtadyumna crouched and slid on his knees towards Dronacharya. While in motion, he raised both his swords, then crossed his arms, bringing them parallel to the ground in front of him, making a scissors out of the swords.
He stopped in front of the brahmin; swords level with the man’s neck.
A horrified Yudhishtira watched helplessly from a distance. He wanted to yell out, but words did not come out. It was too late.
In a single forceful motion, Drishtadyumna uncrossed his arms and spread them wide.The sharp blades of his swords sliced through Dronacharya’s neck on both sides, and cut through the spine, severing his head from the rest of his body; the action so quick and precise that the head stayed in place for several seconds before dropping back, lifeless.
The rest of the body sat there, headless and motionless, in padmasana.
The Pandavas dropped their heads, wistful.
Krishna closed his eyes, took a deep breath and let out a sigh.
Drishtadyumna rose to his feet and walked calmly back to the chariot. He took the piece of his dead father’s dhoti that he had torn out, wiped the blood off the swords, neatly folded the cloth and placed it safely alongside his father’s bow.
The conches began to sound, reluctantly mournful.