The Lying Truth – Final Blow

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.

The Lying Truth – VI

Continued from here

Drishtadyumna’s chariot was unburdened of the body of Drupada when they reached the Pandava camp. The commander in chief instructed that the crimson stains remain in the cab until he avenged his father’s death.

He boarded his ride, looked up at the sky and closed his eyes. He looked to his right, and saw Yudhishtira wiping his tears while boarding his own chariot. Immediately behind was Phalguna, his Gandeeva held as firmly as his resolve to cull Kauravas today. Of the five brothers, Drupada liked Arjuna the most, just like his daughter does.

Krishna walked to his commander and whispered something in his ear. Drishtadyumna nodded, and announced that he would stay by Yudhishtira’s side for the rest of the day.

Mounting his own chariot, Krishna turned to Bhima, who was not far behind, “Keep your strength in tact, and your mace handy. You will deal with an elephant shortly. Just remember: wild animals deserve no mercy”

Battles resumed, as the diamond formation attempted to forge ahead and make inroads into the Kauravas’ lotus. Drishtadyumna told Yudhishtira that they will need to defeat the lotus’ elephant brigade in order to get to Dronacharya. He doubled his own contingent with the beasts; the only way to fight a herd of elephants was with to have one of your own. He suggested the eldest Pandava stay by his side, as Yudhishtira’s expertise lied in spear throwing.

They advanced, slowly but certainly. Yudhishtira found it strange that both his celebrated brothers were tailing him closely, along with a certain mahout on an elephant he noticed was moving slower than the others, as if it was drugged.

The powerful quartet progressed unhindered, until they reached a reinforced wall of cavalry and elephants in the Kaurava formation. The barrier was more challenging than usual, even for seasoned warriors like Arjuna and Yudhishtira.

As the battle wore on, the one elephant accompanying the Pandava brigade seemed to pick up pace, but was becoming increasingly difficult to control. Twice it came close to Yudhishtira’s chariot. Yudhishtira’s charioteer steered clear, but warned the mahout to control the beast. A single misstep would put the Pandava king at serious risk. Krishna asked Bhima to come up alongside his brother.

As the battle raged around him, the tusker got increasingly unstable. He trumpeted wildly, going sideways and trampling soldiers on both sides. He ferociously lashed his trunk, throwing cavalrymen off and driving horses wild. The soldiers around became fearful of the beast, while the captains looked to the mahout to get his beast under control.

Krishna watched from a safe distance. He knew it was only a matter of time. And as he watched, the inevitable happened.

The elephant began to go berserk. This time, he turned on his mahout and threw him off his back. The mahout landed on his back, almost directly under the tusker’s hind legs. A soldier pulled him away just in time, saving him from certain death.

The mahout-less pachyderm was now unrestrained. He headed straight towards Yudhishtira’s chariot, with his trunk curled up, trumpeting wildly. Bhima knew it was time for action. He picked up his mace and swung hard, aiming at the center of its head. The weapon dashed through the air, its pointed head speeding towards its target.

The mace fractured the elephant’s skull instantly, stopping it dead in its track. As blood gushed out, the animal become disoriented and stopped. It swung wildly one last time and began to fall. At that same time, Yudhishtira hurled a spear at it, perforating its thick neck and cutting off oxygen.

The animal teetered for a couple of seconds, and fell to its side, dead.

“You killed Ashwatthama, You killed the giant”

A bemused Bhima looked towards his cousin as Krishna made the announcement. Before he realized what was happening, Krishna picked up his conch and sounded the bugle for the death of an enemy warrior. He also instructed the mahout to be taken out of the battle, and ordered the soldiers to haul the elephant’s carcass away as quickly as possible.

The bugles continued unhindered, as Bhima followed Krishna, and Drishtadyumna picked up as well. The neighboring generals and captains blew their own conches, following their leaders.

The Kaurava side heard the sounds, perplexed. They wondered who on their side had been martyred. The Pandavas hadn’t had much success after Jayadratha, so this must have been an important warrior for them to kill. The atirathis looked up, just above eye level, scanning for flag posts.

Krishna then changed the tune on his conch to celebratory, again much to the amusement of everyone around him. But they followed him nevertheless. First Bhima, then Drishtadyumna, Satyaki, and finally Arjuna, all blew their conches in exultation. The mood suddenly turned exuberant among the Pandava armies. The soldiers roared in triumph, as word spread within the Pandava army that Ashwatthama was killed.

Yudhishtira, the calm head amongst the din, was unsure what was going on. He heard the conches blare and looked to Krishna, puzzled. He wanted to be certain of whom the Pandavas had killed, before blowing his own.

The news spread faster than a wildfire, and reached the man for whom it was intended. Dronacharya laughed it away, knowing fully well that his son was invincible, and Pandavas did not have it in them to kill him. He continued.

But, self-doubt is a dangerous thing.

And it began to gnaw at the acharya

Continued here

The Lying Truth – V

Continued from here

The duel raged on, with no clear winner in sight. Both the acharya and his childhood friend were running out of weapons and countermeasures. They outdid each other in inventing new ways to attack and newer ways to reverse.

To the viewing public, it was a treat to watch.

Some distance away, the Pandava commander in chief was extricating himself from the lotus formation and heading towards his father. He was frustrated by small time chieftains in the Kaurava army, boxing him and delaying his advance. The delays would have a telling effect on the duel.

Another man was equally frustrated, unable to extract revenge on Drupada. It seemed like the aging king had improved his combat skills over the years, effectively countering the grand-daddy of weaponry.

This was Drona’s best opportunity, ever, to kill Drupada. He would never get this close to him again. He also knew that he had only two horses to Drupada’s four, and that his steeds were getting tired. Tired horses would slow him down, and put him at risk. It was time to abandon all propriety.

His two accompanying generals, in their own chariots, were being mute spectators to this bout, like everyone else. It was time to seek their help. He looked to his right and gave a signal. He got a nod in return.

The plan was set!

Drona quickly turned towards his enemy, and sent down a barrage of arrows, firing them in quick succession, each fired at a slightly different angle from the previous. Drupada’s charioteer saw that, and quickly steered his horses to evade the oncoming missiles. His mission was clear: keep his occupant safe and stable.

Drawing on his expert piloting skills, he dodged the darts, and ended up in a direct line of sight with Drona. At the same time, Drona’s general took advantage of this position, and shot an arrow – illegally – straight at the enemy charioteer. The arrow went straight through the poor driver’s palms, and pierced his chest. He writhed in pain and fell back.

The impact of the arrow jolted back the reins in his hands. The horses took off, taking this as a signal to dash ahead. The impact threw Drupada off balance, requiring him to momentarily lower his arms to hold the walls of the chariot’s cab.

Meanwhile, the distance between Drona and Drupada decreased rapidly, as Drupada’s horses, undisciplined by the dying and disabled charioteer, raced dead ahead, towards Drona’s waiting chariot.

Drona adjusted his ride to get a better line of sight, waiting for the fast approaching chariot, and its bewildered and disoriented owner.

Drupada didn’t have the time. Before he recovered and lifted his protective shield up, death was at his doorstep.

Drona, eyes fixated on his friend and enemy, was ready for this moment. He followed the opponent’s chariot trajectory like a hawk watches its prey. As the chariot approached, he pulled the bowstring back, and released. The arrow shot through the air, pierced Drupada’s armor in his chest, and mortally wounded him. He threw his head back in pain, stumbling and holding on to the center pillar of his chariot.

He coughed up blood, and knew his time was up.

Just at that time, Drishtadyumna entered the scene, witnessing a murder in progress. He slumped helplessly as he saw his father hold on to dear life. He desperately wanted to help, but there was no distance between Drupada’s chariot and Drona’s for him to intervene.

Drona saw Drupada’s son from the corner of his eye, and flashed an evil smile. He picked up his lance and held it out. As Drupada’s chariot passed him, he poked hard with strong hands, impaling a dying Drupada. The sharp point went through the king’s limp body and came out on the other side, blood spewing out of his chest and back.

Drona then lifted the spear up, hoisting Drupada’s body and hurling it. The dead, lifeless body of the king of Panchala fell with a thump, in front of his son’s chariot, while a shellshocked crowd watched in horror.

The lavish chariot of Drupada crashed to the ground, as the horses broke free and bolted.

The Kaurava chief turned to his general and nodded in acknowledgement. Even though it was illegal, it was great teamwork, and perfect timing.

They turned around and sped away, realizing that they better get back behind their own lines before the enemy recovers from the shock.

Drishtadyumna dismounted his chariot and ran to where his father lay. With tears flowing down his cheeks, he pulled the lance out and broke the arrow lodged in his chest. He picked up the body and placed it gently in his own chariot. He sat on the floor of the cab, by his father’s mortal remains, and asked the charioteer to head to the Pandava camp.

The chariot moved slowly, solemnly, like a hearse.

Drishtadyumna tore off some of his own clothes, made them into balls and placed them into the gaping wounds on the dead king’s body. He took his father’s head and placed it on his own thighs, cradling it carefully as the chariot picked up speed.

Word spread of Drupada’s death, and the chicanery employed by Drona.

Yudhishtira was the last to hear it. He closed his eyes for a few moments.

When he reopened them, they were red.

Only one man knew it was out of anger and not grief, and he was ready to take advantage of it.

He turned to one of his orderlies and asked him to contact last night’s mahout.

It was time to bring out the rogue elephant!

Continued here

The Lying Truth – IV

Continued from here

The fall of Virata spread through the Pandava ranks and saddened Yudhishtira. During the twelve months of Agnyatavasa , Virata had become a good friend. He sought more information about the manner of killing, and soon heard a more exaggerated account of Dronacharya’s attack on a virtually unarmed warrior.

His faith in the righteous conduct of this war suffered yet another setback, and would shape his decision later in the day.

A short distance away, Drishtadyumna heard the direction Dronacharya was heading, and was instantly worried. He knew the rivalry between his father and the acharya, and had heard enough through the grapevine that Drupada was one of Drona’s main targets, from the outset. His immediate goal was to catch up with his counterpart, defeat or disable him, and protect his father. To do that, he needed to outpace everyone on the battlefield. He was deep inside Drona’s lotus formation.

Several paces ahead, the Kaurava commander in chief moved quickly, unobstructed in his quest for revenge. He saw the Panchala king’s grand chariot in the distance, driven by four magnificent horses. The chariot reflected the opulence of Panchala kingdom. Elaborate and decorated with gold and silver, it was the largest chariot on either side, with an exclusive cab for the chauffeur. The main carriage, large enough to house two full size beds, was used mainly for travel. But Drupada had it customized to be used for wars. Built modularly, the chariot could convert from a war machine to a comfortable cruiser within no time. Drupada did not fancy tents, and sleeping in them scared him. He always preferred to use his chariot as his resting quarters, even during wars.

“That should be mine”, thought Drona when he first saw Drupada’s extravagant wagon. “Half of everything he owns should be mine, the lying rat!”

The anger within grew, as he recalled the promise and Drupada’s betrayal. Today he would avenge the insult he was meted out in the court hall that day.

He asked that they slow down and circle the king from a distance.

Drupada saw him, and asked his own charioteer to come to a halt. He instructed his protective circle to clear. This would be a duel. He did not want a single unrelated soul to perish in this vengeful battle. He decided not to fire the first salvo, out of respect for his friend. He waited, standing proudly in his cab, his bow strung, and his arrow pointed skyward.

A small audience gathered, with men on cavalry, on elephants, and on foot, eager to witness this battle of the rivals. King against teacher; friend against friend.

The first arrow did not surprise Drupada. A weapon loaded with venomous tip called Sarpastra. The venom was extracted from the most poisonous cobras in the land, injected into the porous tip of the arrow, and sealed shut. Some seals were designed to open in mid-air, sprinkling the venom on people underneath. This one though, designed with a small incendiary inside the tip, was designed to detonate on impact, and splash the area with poisonous gas and fluid, instantly killing or disabling the target.

Drupada had read his opponent’s mind correctly. Drona’s first target was not Drupada himself. He was not looking for an instant kill. He was looking for a drawn out battle, to tease and torture his victim, give him a slow, harrowing death. The king watched the missile approach, and knew it was meant to kill his beloved horses. He immediately launched his countermeasure. The only way to control the aftereffects of a venomous explosion was to let the detonation happen, but happen in a controlled, sealed, well directed container.

He released his weapon, whose arrowhead was not a tip but a sphere, large enough to absorb the approaching arrow, and ingest the poison.

The sphere met the Sarpastra mid-way. The mouth of the sphere opened instantly on impact, like the claws of an eagle, and within a fraction of a second, allowed the arrow tip to enter its vacant chamber. The mouth was built with the thinnest of metals coated with leather. It was designed to keep the approaching tip intact and not let any detonation happen in open air. It did its job admirably. The back wall of the sphere, attached to the shaft, was thicker, allowing the poison-laded tip to fracture, and discharge its contents. As soon as the poisonous tip hit the back wall, strong hinges began to shut the entire sphere close. The hinges activated sharp, strong teeth on the collapsing mouth of the sphere. The teeth bit down hard on the offending weapon just behind the tip, severing the shaft in two.

As the audience watched in wonder, the Sarpastra was devoured; the poisonous tip disappeared into the magical sphere and the rest of the shaft fell to the ground, utterly useless. The defending weapon then turned aggressor, slowing but not stopping. Built stronger, it now headed in the acharya’s direction.

Drona knew there was no way it could reach him, but was ready for it nevertheless. He pulled out a crescent shaped arrow and strung it up. It was a wise move from the teacher, because to his surprise, the sphere got a boost midway, and gained speed. Drupada had expertly fired another arrow, hitting the first one in its nock, and changing its direction very slightly to head straight towards his friend’s neck.

Drupada instantly released his own countermeasure, locking the sphere with his crescent shaped tip, and bringing both the weapons down just a few yards from his own chariot. There was no explosion, no release of noxious fumes. Damage was contained. But it angered Drona to no end. He thought he was the expert, but clearly underestimated his opponent and friend.

He had to abandon his earlier plans and go for the jugular.

And that is exactly what he did!

Continued here

The Lying Truth – III

Continued from here

As soon as Dronacharya heard about the Pandavas’ formation for the day, he knew exactly where Drupada would be positioned. The Vajra Vyuha was designed as a defensive attack formation. The individual battalions of the army are laid out in the shape of a diamond, with an array of commanders out front, a bulged but reinforced second line of attack, and a defensive backend tapering off bringing up the rear.

Dronacharya knew Drupada’s preference, the left flank, at the edge, and will probably divide his armies between the second line of attack and the rear end. If he could pierce the frontline commanders, Drupada would be his quarry today.

The conflict started uneventfully, with neither side willing to go into full attack mode, fearing reprisals. The Pandava section was decidedly nervous this day, having lost two peerless warriors in the past two days. One more such loss would dispirit them. The ruthless killing of Jayadratha seemed a distant memory to them.

The Kauravas, on the other hand, were fearful of a full-blown attack, with Arjuna coming out with his weapons blazing. They expected a merciless, unstoppable Partha this morning. Their instructions were to save their dwindling numbers wherever possible. With that in mind, Dronacharya laid out a totally defensive lotus formation.

The first signs of anger came from Drishtadyumna, who vexed Duryodhana and Shakuni with a barrage of arrows, aided by his cavalry of spear throwers, who killed Shakuni’s charioteer, with a javelin hurled with such ferocity that the chauffeur was ejected from his seat and ended up in the cab, pinned to the sidewall, as a dumbfounded Shakuni watched helplessly. He was quickly surrounded by able horsemen who shifted him to another chariot and rode him away, far from the raging commander in chief.

Smug from his victory over Shakuni, Drishtadyumna proceeded towards Ashwatthama. His chariot plowed through dozens of enemy soldiers, and headed on a collision course with him. The acharya’s son saw the approaching enemy from a distance, and changed his angle slightly. With expert precision, he shot three arrows at once. They whizzed past the squads to land right in Drishtadyumna’s path, causing his horses to veer off course suddenly, and throwing him off balance. But he quickly recovered and rained a barrage towards Ashwatthama, knocking his crown over. A furious Ashwatthama picked up a spear and hurled it with full force towards the Pandava commander, but missed it by several yards. He then attempted to dislodge Drishtadyumna, aiming his darts towards his horses. But the commander’s charioteer expertly steered them away.

Drishtadyumna picked up two spears and launched them in succession. The weapons found their targets. The first hit Ashwatthama’s bow, shattering it. The second broke his chariot’s flagstaff.

Sensing danger, his charioteer immediately turned around and fled deep into their territory for safety. But his flagstaff lay on the ground, crushed, and lost for the day.

There would be no way to trace the whereabouts of Ashwatthama today.

A short distance away, acharya Drona headed unimpeded towards his one time friend. A full display of his abilities were on display as he cut through the diamond formation. His strategy was to attack diagonally into the formation, instead of moving in straight lines. He also went lean, with only him and a couple of accompanying generals. His knew his solo incursion would go unanswered; he also knew very well how to escape, if it got hairy. This side of the formation was not commanded by Arjuna, so he was safe. Either way, there was nobody – including his favorite disciple – on either side who could hurt Drona while he had his weapons in hand.

He did not expect the whir of darts from his right side. He looked around and saw Virata and his small squadron approaching in a haste, on elephants. The height gave Virata considerable advantage, as he showered a hailstorm of arrows towards the Kaurava commander. Deftly evading the barrage, Drona first signaled his generals to avoid engaging the army, as it was a waste of their time. He attempted to circumvent the herd but was frustrated at every step. The giant animals were too strong and powerful for his chariot. His charioteer, even though expertly steering in between and past the elephants, warned Drona that the horses would be intimidated and tired, and that it was not a good thing if they would be stuck in the middle of the formation.

Drona instructed his charioteer to head towards Virata’s elephant, as there was only one way to end this resistance. As soon as the decked up pachyderm came into view, Drona released his reinforced arrows, with the hope of piercing the animal’s armor and disabling her. But her armor was thick, designed and built to resist the most powerful arrows. The shafts just ricocheted off.

Angry and frustrated, Dronacharya now asked his driver to speed away from the beast, straight in front, and turn around to face her. With considerable distance between the two, he was able to focus on the elephant’s occupant than the animal herself. But he miscalculated slightly. The distance gave the high sitting Virata additional advantage, as he began to throw spears towards the chariot. Any mishap to one of his horses and Drona was a sitting duck. He needed to act fast. He picked up one of his special arrows, aimed towards the elephant’s head, pulled back, and released. The arrow found its target.

The mahout dropped from the top, but as he dropped, the reins got tangled in his falling body, causing the cab to lose balance, wobble and eventually tumble down, taking its royal occupant with it. Virata recovered quickly from the fall, and bent down to pick up his bow. But the sharp tip of an arrowhead pierced through his thigh, causing him to cry out in pain. He tried to pull the arrow out, but a rampaging Dronacharya, throwing all customs to the wind, released two more arrows, piercing through Virata’s back and shoulder. The impact spun Virata around, facing his assassin.

Primal instinct took over Dronacharya, looking at Virata. Anger and thoughtlessness consumed him, as he picked up yet another arrow, pulled it back from his bow and released at full speed. The shaft sped through the air, finding the cervical nerve right at the center of Virata’s neck, cleaving it into two and instantly killing the king.

Four arrows were driven into a man who was down and unarmed, and fell off his vehicle, by the protector of defense, by the man who wrote the rulebook, by the man who was to be the model of righteousness.

The commander of the Kauravas headed towards his foe

Continued here

The Lying Truth – II

Continued from here

On the other side, Duryodhana entered Dronacharya’s tent. He was visibly agitated.

“Acharya, how long will these contemptible Pandavas keep putting up fight against our might? Why aren’t we destroying them already? Fourteen days and all we could do was kill a couple of kids. Forget about the Pandavas, even their secondary kings are alive. Why aren’t you unable to pierce their formations?”

Unwilling to be slighted by such accusations, Dronacharya deflected the question, “How is Radheya? Will he recover fully? We need him in the battle today. He is our main commander against a raging Savyasachi”, but instantly realized he had used the wrong appellation to describe their archenemy. A jealous Duryodhana did not need to be reminded of Arjuna’s supreme expertise in ambidexterity.

“He is a faithful, a warrior, and a champion. He will give his life to the Kaurava cause. Even if he half fit, he would lead from the front, and decimate the enemy”, he said disdainfully.

Again, not wanting to engage in frivolous conversations before the start of battles, Dronacharya smiled and said, “He needs extra protection today. Double up on his protective circles, at least in the morning”

Duryodhana was impatient. He wanted the teacher to shoot a retort, so he could berate the commander in chief. He was disappointed at the lack of fuel in this potentially explosive conversation.

Dronacharya continued.

“You are his best friend and closest confidant; you have his best interests at heart. Make sure you stay within close reach. I am certain Bheema will make an attempt, and who better to counter him than you”

The crafty mention of his nemesis Bheema potentially posing mortal danger to his best friend caught Duryodhana by surprise, and instantly shifted his thoughts towards protection of Karna. He turned back and stormed out, animatedly shouting instructions, and called for Dusshasana. He wanted to ensure both the brothers formed an impenetrable wall around the best archer in their side.

But his slightful words did have an effect on the veteran. The venerable teacher was torn between good and bad, and recognized that he had not been giving his all. His restraint had already resulted in both Bheema and Nakula escaping severe injury. He felt severely conflicted. He didn’t owe any allegiance to Duryodhana, and detested him. But he certainly was loyal to the throne of Hastinapura, and to its blind king.

How symbolic was Dhritarashtra’s blindness, the sage thought. He was physically sightless, but also completely blind to his son’s shenanigans. He was blinded by his love for his son, he was blinded by the jealousy towards Pandu and his 5 sons. He was blinded by his brother-in-law’s injustice to his nephews. And he was blinded by the illusion of strength that Karna gave his army. His complete obliviousness would cause the destruction of a generation, a genocide from which it would take decades to recover, emotionally and economically. This war would bring down every kingdom in the land, no matter which side they were on. It would wipe out almost every able man. To what end? Because a blind, indulgent father failed to discipline his ignorant, resentful child.

As a result, today, he, Dronacharya, the greatest of instructors in the entire world, the man whose lifeless sculpture exuded such power as to turn a tribal novice into a skillful archer, had to bear insults from an insolent brute of a man. It made him unhappy first, and then angry.

He turned to his attendant, and asked him to find out about the Pandavas’ vyuha today, “Of particular interest to me is the placement of Drupada. I need to know where he will be, how far from Arjuna and Drishtadyumna, who will be flanking him, and what weapons is he packing”

He had some old scores to settle.

Continued here

The Lying Truth – I

Continued from here

Weary armies on both sides were ready to resume battles. It was the fifteenth day of hostilities, with no clear winner. Except for Bhishma, most maharathis and atirathis were still fighting, even though the respective armies dwindled.

Kauravas suffered more losses on the ground, losing more akshauhinis so far than their righteous enemy. At the end of fourteen days, both armies stood almost equal in number, even though the Kauravas started with four akshauhinis more.

But both sides knew that army strength meant nothing when it came to atirathis. As long as the their respective commanders were alive, battles would continue, and only death or disablement of the chiefs mattered.

As the faint glow of sunrise began to radiate out of east, Krishna walked calmly into Yudhishtira’s tent. The eldest Pandava, gloomy and preparing for yet another weary day of seemingly endless battles, looked listless and spent. Krishna knew the day’s significance, and needed to reassure and boost him up.

“Subhodayam, O King!”

Yudhishtira was surprised at the addressing. But it definitely put a smile on his lips. With just two words, the last two days seemed distant.

“Dharmaraja, I did not get a chance to speak to you for the past two nights. The events have affected us all, but I had to console the fathers first.”

He continued in a somber tone, “We knew very well that this war will cost us near and dear, kith and kin. But when it actually happens, we feel devastated. Before we have had any time to recover from Abhimanyu, we lost Ghatotkacha. Words cannot convey the grief Arjuna and Bheema are going through right now”

He then changed his tone slightly, turning inspirational, “Even though both are warriors par excellence, the sheer magnitude of tragedy affects them, and they may be less than brutal today. It is natural, and I don’t blame them for it.”

“While Arjuna’s archery skills and Bheema’s strength are unmatched on either side, I have not seen a more rounded warrior than you. Of all his pupils, Dronacharya looks to you as the example for correctness of technique and delivery, which of course incenses the Kauravas even more”

“You are also the most conscientious leader among us all, certainly more than I am. You stand up for your principles. You gave up everything you had, so you could stand up for your ethics. The flip side of that character is that you cannot tolerate injustice and dishonor. It displeases you, it annoys you, it embitters you, and it inflames you”

The crafty Yadava continued, knowing well the effect his speech was already having on his sagely cousin, “You know very well that the heir to your throne was murdered, not martyred. It was cold blooded, calculated, inhuman, and completely against the rules of engagement. He was dismounted, unarmed and alone. He was surrounded by the same Kauravas who will be on the field today; the so called warriors, maharathis and atirathis”

Noticing that the hairs on Yudhishtira’s arms were beginning to stand up, Krishna upped his ante, “They have no honor, no integrity, these so called elders and patriarchs. They watched silently as you were robbed off of your kingdom unjustly. They did not utter a word when the queen of a land, their daughter-in-law was stripped in public. They watched in silence when Duryodhana refused to give your kingdom back. And then, they collaborated in the murder of my nephew”

He then nailed home his point.

“When will they pay the price but now, where but on this sacred land? The time has come for you, O King, to shed your inhibitions, to release yourself of the attachments and break your mental barriers. Today, you will pounce like a tiger, you will ravage the remains of this Kaurava vermin, you will be death personified”

Almost as a passing comment, Krishna drove home his point, “The time for playing by the rules is over, Dharmaja! Remember, they started the war. If we are to finish it, we must start bending them”

As raging emotions churned inside, Yudhishtira, flushed in anger, ordered his men to double up on his weapons.

A righteous man is always dangerous. But an outraged, spiteful righteous man is murderous.

Today, the battlefield would witness a rare phenomenon.

Continued here

Exultation

Continued from here

The screams were heard far, and instantly the Pandava camp fell silent; they knew there was only one person on both sides who could make that sound, and that was no war cry. It was the last sounds of a fearless son, a peerless warrior.

Bheema was the first to lift his head, and looked at Krishna. He detected a hint of smile, but brushed it as a mirage, a vision of a tired body and a fatigued mind; that of an anxious father.

“What was that?”, Sahadeva was the first to ask.

Krishna rose, and while pacing around, began to frame his answer in his mind. But he had a spring in his step, and it wasn’t lost on the mightiest Pandava. He moved his arms around animatedly, as if calculating something. He stopped by the window and looked out, seemingly waiting for something, or someone. The perplexed brothers didn’t say a word, as though anticipating some bad news.

The sound of an approaching chariot drew everyone’s attention outward. As soon as he saw the empty black chariot, Krishna threw his arms up in the air, in exultation. He looked up towards the skies, closed his eyes, and let out a deep breath, as if in relief. With no regard to the surroundings, he turned around, walked to the center of the tent, poured himself a large chalice of soma, and gulped it down in a single swig. He turned around and faced the five brothers.

“We just won the war”, he said in jubilation, “we are unconquerable now”. He sank into the armchair smiling, a very content man.

It took only a few moments for the crowd to understand the meaning of the empty chariot, and the jubilant screams from the enemy. Melancholy stuck them for the second day in a row. They looked at the second eldest brother, who was crestfallen.

Bheemasena truly believed Ghatotkacha would seal the war for them tonight. He was their X-factor. He was to be used very strategically. Krishna had promised that he would introduce Ghatotkacha only at the most opportune moment, so that the war would tilt decisively in their favor. Instead, from the news coming out of the Kaurava camp, Karna was alive, and was expected to fully recover by the morning.

His son was dead, and Krishna was celebrating.

Bheema angrily turned in his cousin’s direction. At that moment, if it were anyone else, he would wring their neck and squish the life out of them. He couldn’t do it to Krishna. He stormed out of the tent, overcome with anger and sadness.

Krishna watched him leave, and soon realized that his own reaction to Ghatotkacha’s death was inconsiderate to the situation, and inconsistent with his demeanor. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and collected his thoughts. Slowly he rose up, turned to the small crew and said, “Believe me, this is the most important sacrifice in this war”

He walked out, seeking the grieving father. He found him standing on the banks of Yamuna, staring up at the moonlit sky. It was Chaturdasi, and the sun’s glow reflected bright on Earth’s only satellite. He stopped by Bheema’s side, and put an arm around him. Tears flowed down the strong man’s cheeks, “Why Madhava? Why my son? He wasn’t even a contender to the throne. He loved the woods and the wild. He didn’t aspire for positions for which we city folk crave. He would have gone back to his forest tomorrow, having done his job. Then why did you send him to his death?”

“Bheemasena, my behavior at the news of Ghatotkacha’s martyrdom was reprehensible. I should have known better. But my elation was not directed at his death, but at the eventual outcome of this conflict. His death is more significant to our future than anything that has happened over the past fourteen days. Without his sacrifice, even I could not guarantee our victory in this war.”

He walked towards the river, flowing without a care to the carnage happening on its banks. The water, at high tide because of the approaching full moon, rolled along melodiously. Krishna bent down to pick up a smooth pebble, rounded through millions of years of abrasion.

“Look at this pebble. Who knows how many millennia it has been around. Who knows how large it originally was, and how deformed? Today, it is smooth, almost a perfect sphere. The sharp protrusions, the big bulges are all gone. It was probably a rock one day. Tonight, it’s a pebble. The bumps weren’t necessarily bad for the rock, but in order for this to be a perfect sphere, they had to go”

“There was only one weapon Karna could have used, to kill Ghatotkacha. I know Karna like none of you do, and I know all his weapons. He obtained that weapon with only one purpose – Arjuna’s death. In a head to head battle between the two, which will happen eventually, Karna would have been pushed closer to death by Arjuna’s sheer brilliance and superior skill. But this weapon – the Vasavi Shakti – had the power to not only bail Karna out of the situation, but also slay the potential assassin. None other than Indra granted him the weapon, unknowingly. There is no antidote or countermeasure to the Vasavi Shakti”

“Other than Partha, there was only one person between both the armies that could push Karna to that limit. To me, it was a simple choice between the two. I am also certain that given the same choice, you would have taken the same decision”

Bheema turned towards Krishna, and smiled, “Madhava, I never doubted your intentions. But I am hurt. We lost two sons in two days. We will probably lose more, we knew that coming into this war. I grieved for Abhimanyu the same way I am grieving for Ghatotkacha. Maybe the trauma of witnessing death all around me, killing kin and friends and innocent soldiers is beginning to affect me. I hoped that after the war was won, I would retreat briefly to the woods, and spend time with my son. It will not happen now. How many more days will this go on Krishna? When will this end?”

Krishna smiled his enigmatic smile, “Certainly before amavasya, Gadadhara!”

As they walked back to the camp, bugles sounded to end tonight’s battle.

When they approached the tent, Krishna looked around, and noticed that a restless elephant was troubling its mahout, stomping wildly, swinging its trunk agitatedly and trumpeting loudly. The mahout was trying his best to calm the beast, but was unable to. Krishna walked over to the stables and watched the mahout, as he managed to control and eventually sedate the animal.

“Will he be fine in the morning?”, he asked, surprising the mahout.

“I don’t believe so, Madhava. We may have to keep him out of the battle tomorrow. He may be harmful to us”

With yet another enigmatic smile, the lord said, “No! He will be of great use to us tomorrow. Let him rest tonight, and do not feed him in the morning. Bring him into battle around mid day, and make sure he’s within Bheemasena’s reach. What is his name?”

“Strangely I have never named him”

“Tomorrow, he will get a name”

A Giant Sacrificed – III

Continued from here

The young Pandava warrior’s frightening form, the sheer size, and terrorizing appearance flustered Karna at first. Ghatotkacha’s volley of sharp, poisonous darts had already laid waste to Karna’s protective circle. His own burst was treated like from an amateur and mowed down like blades of grass. The ferocity and power surprised Karna, who had fought more celebrated warriors and came out on top. Karna had trained for fighting in unusual situations, but this was like nothing he had anticipated.

He realized this would be a different battle tonight. He needed to fight on his own terms, or he would return defeated. He made a mental calculation of the time remaining, and containment tactics to ride out the night. He directed his charioteer to focus on avoidance and to run in circles, instead of going head on against the raging Ghatotkacha. Ghatotkacha initially fell for it, chasing Karna around, trying to gain on him. But it soon dawned on him that this was a stalling tactic.

He veered himself away from the chase, aimed his bow, released a single arrow. It expertly pierced one of the enemy horse’s hoofs, peeling its horseshoe out. The animal squealed a bit, and slowed down to a limp. Karna was amazed at the skill – the animal wasn’t injured at all, and yet his chariot came to a standstill. This was a master at work, with a godly familiarity of the animal’s anatomy. But it worried him, as he now had to fight stationary, with limited or no mobility.

The next sound he heard was a thud, as the lifeless body of his charioteer hit the ground, the shaft of an arrow evenly balanced on either side of its neck. The swiftness of action surprised Karna, and before he realized, the his vehicle sank to the right, its wheel shattered by a spear. Things were coming undone too fast, leaving Karna no time to react.

Th next thing he heard perplexed him; popping sounds, like fire crackers. He turned in that direction, as the noise steadily increased. They were indeed fireworks, and they were coming from Ghatotkacha’s chariot. Although they didn’t light up the sky, the reached deafening levels very quickly. Before he understood the reason, he was airborne, falling on his back, as his horses bolted into the darkness, frightful of the sounds. Within a matter of seconds, he was completely exposed, only his bow and a quiver full of weapons to face a giant of a man, intent on killing him. His driver was dead. His horses and chariot was gone. His personal bodyguards and the circle of soldiers protecting him were lying around him, lifeless.

For the first time in his life, Karna was helpless. He was in mortal danger. And he had no recourse.

Or did he?

He centralized his focus and quickly assessed the situation. He had a limited set of arrows in his quiver. Several of them were specialized weapons; some that rained fire on the enemy, others that killed them with poisonous gases, and yet others that stung like bees, temporarily disabling them while allowing Karna to escape or regroup. But this was a different enemy. This was a magician, a wizard and a warrior too good for Karna. He acted fast.

He used a special arrow to light up the sky, so he assess the surroundings. He saw that they were both in a fairly desolate area, and there was nothing for him to hide behind. In fact, they both had a direct line of sight, which usually is to his advantage, but not this time. He then took out the Varnastra, and shot it into the sky. Rain started to fall almost instantly, as the weapon condensed the water vapor in the air, forming temporary precipitation.

It did not deter the the magical Ghatotkacha, as he rained volley after volley towards Karna. He was used to fighting in all natural situations, and rain was not a strange phenomenon. Additionally, he had the advantage of higher ground, being on the chariot, as well as full access to weapons. No other enemy was in sight, as Karna had isolated himself. He increased his volley, and turned to hurling spears.

Karna was getting exhausted. He knew he couldn’t hold it much longer. When was midnight? How can he stop this madman? Can he survive the night?

A thousand thoughts began to race in his mind when it happened. A fierce arrowhead, filled with plant poison grazed his left thigh. He felt a sharp pain, and instantly knew this was a toxic arrow. Even though hitting below the waist was considered disorderly, it was only applicable if Karna was in his chariot. He would also have been protected by the chariot walls. Now though, a rogue arrow could easily hit him anywhere, and it was fair game. He knew that he would be soon immobilized, at least from the waist down. It meant his enemy would be able to get closer to him.

For a moment, he visualized his own death. Him completely paralyzed by the venom from the arrow, Ghatotkacha stopping his chariot a few feet away, getting down slowly and deliberately, approaching him with a sword in hand, and in one smooth motion, separating his head from his body.

That would be the end of the war. Karna’s death would cripple Duryodhana, and he would abandon the battlefield. Drona, Dusshasana, and the rest would put up only a token fight, while a jubilant Pandava army crushed them. The listless Kauravas would probably fold in a day.

Fear gripped him. A strange sense of resignation embraced him, as the leg began to go stiff. He could feel the impairment started to spread. Death stared him in the face.

The chariot stopped a few feet from him, and the giant form stepped off slowly, deliberately. He pulled out his sword, gripped it with both hands, and advanced towards Radheya.

Karna closed his eyes for one second. At that moment, his mentor Parasurama came to his mind. And then it came back, Indra’s Vasavi Shakti weapon. He reached for it in his quiver. It was there. His fingers trembling, he pulled it out and with great difficulty strung it to his bow.

He remembered Indra’s words.

“Ghatotkacha, with this weapon, this holy land will be rid of your uncivilized, boorish presence”, said Karna as he released the weapon.

The weapon sprung to life, piercing the night like lightning, and cleaved through Ghatotkacha’s armor, stabbing past his heart and puncturing it instantly. Blood gushed out of the valiant Pandava kin’s chest. His face turned pale first, and then blue. He fell to the ground, the raised sword still in hand. He let out a scream that was heard miles away. Kaalavallabha pricked his ears, and heard agony in the cries. He approached the falling giant slowly, but Ghatotkacha said something in a native tongue. As soon as he heard the instruction, the steed dashed, without its master.

Karna then dragged himself towards his chariot with great difficulty. He cut one of the horses loose, mounted it and slumped, unconscious.

The horse sped towards the Kaurava camp.

As life escaped the mighty Ghatotkacha, he prayed; to his mother, his father, and to Mother Earth. He prayed to the sky and the wind, water and fire. He had lived for the wonder of nature. And now, he died by it.

Continued here

A Giant Sacrificed – II

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When he reached the tent, the Pandava brothers were raring to go. Arjuna excitedly gesticulated to his cousin and said, “let’s go Madhava, this is a good night to engage my archenemy. Spies tell us that he is engaging in low percentage battles, hiding away from Ghatotkacha. His confidence will be low. My archery skills in the dark are unmatched. I could hit the eye of a sparrow in the middle of the night with precision. Let’s take him on!”

Krishna smiled, “In your eagerness, you forget the basics of warfare my dear Gandeevadhaara! For the same reason you mentioned, to hide away from Ghatotkacha, his protection will be doubled and tripled at this time. By the time we break the outer rings and engage Karna, it will be midnight, and the conches will blow to call the end of battles for the night. There is a time for his death, and it will come; I have foreseen it. But it is not tonight. Tonight, we focus on chiseling away at the bottom feeders. We kill the support actors and foot soldiers, in order to make it easy to approach the leaders in the coming days. The thinner their protection, the easier it is for us to go one-on-one”

Arjuna calmed down, but by his side, his older brother had some nagging thoughts. “Where is Ghatotkacha at this time?”, asked Bheema, looking straight at Madhava.

“He is where he is best tonight, my dear Bheemasena, slaying thousands of enemy soldiers, captains and generals. His army has done well tonight. The one advantage that the enemy had in the night, in the shape of Karna’s night riders, has been neutralized. The tables have turned on them tonight. And we still have some more fighting to go. It will be a major victory for us tonight. It is a big night”

Bheema didn’t buy the vague response and pressed harder, “But who is he engaging right now? His desire has always been to slay at least one Maharathi from the Kauravas. If hadn’t vowed to kill all the 100 siblings, he would have accounted at least for Dusshasana tonight. Krishna, you know what is happening in every inch of this battlefield. Can’t you see where he is? My paternal instincts portend danger”

Krishna couldn’t answer the question directly. He instead parried and said, “I will send some of our spies and seek that information for you”, as he hurriedly walked out of the tent.

Everyone thought that was strange, for Krishna to not have an answer. They exchanged looks, and knew better not to ask the question they all had in their minds.

On the other side, tiny dark clouds began to form, as the giant’s chariot hurtled towards Karna, with the giant occupant in rage, regurgitating every insult borne by him, his family, and his clan over the years. The taunts, the heckles of being called a bastard, the jeers of being insulted as the son of a feeble and inept father who couldn’t keep his kingdom, they all came back to him in this moment of anger and despair. He pictured Karna’s face, and visualized the verbal abuse he must have spewed at Krishna and the Pandavas.

The lone vehicle, pulled by a single horse, cut a swathe through the meager Kaurava defenses. The horse was specially bred, strong as a bull, fast as an antelope, and sturdy as a mule. This particular breed had larger eyes, and hence was better adjusted to night riding. The stallion carrying Bhimasena’s son – named Kaalavallabha – was black like the night. Specially made horseshoes, forged from tree bark and leather, mitigated the sounds of hoofs. Tonight, Kaalavallabha rode like the sun wouldn’t rise on the morrow. Nothing stopped him, not the pitiful arrows of inconsequential soldiers, nor the spears and axes hurled by their captains and generals. Trained to dodge sharp branches and poisonous vines, he ducked and weaved, and advanced towards the far end, where his fate awaited him, and his beloved master.

Continued here