Friday, June 10, 2011

Day XIV

Arjun woke up with a start. He knew that it was a dream - the one about Shiv. But the other one, it dawned on to him, wasn't really another of his dreams. It was real - as real as they made them. He had really vowed to kill Jayadrath by that evening; if he failed, he would commit suicide by walking into a (well-lit, obviously) fire.

No one dared ask him the two obvious questions (you see, the Arjuns of the world are not to be messed around with):
  1. Why Jayadrath? He wasn't one of the seven soldiers who had felled his son the previous day. He simply guarded the vyuha, not allowing anyone to enter. He didn't seem very keen to go after the big fish like Dron, Karna and Duryodhan, all of whom were directly responsible for Abhimanyu's demise. Can you imagine Thakur sparing Gabbar, but going after his checkpost guards? Let alone Thakur, would even Fardeen do it?
  2. Why take his own life? What good would that do? Yes, it would do a world of good to his own ego, but that would possibly end the war then and there. It was, like, if-I-can't-hit-six-sixes-in-this-over-I-shall-deliberately-get-out-hit-wicket-the-next-over.
Krishna, of course, had realised Arjun's folly. He had asked Daruk, his capable charioteer, to keep his own chariot ready, just in case.

Winter was setting in. As he strode towards the makeshift loo in the frozen Haryana dawn, Arjun possibly repented his vow. Perhaps soothing Subhadra in the cosiness of a blanket was definitely a better option in this chilly weather. But then, it had already been made, and had to be executed.

By the time he was through with his teeth sparkling and all, Krishna was ready, waiting. Arjun put on his 24-carat gold crown and stepped on the chariot. They teed off.

Arjun, as throughout the war, had the Panchal warriors Uttamauja and Yudhamanyu escorting him on either side. These two heroes are seldom spoken of, but throughout the Great War they served as more than capable bodyguards for Arjun.

***

Dron, on the other hand, was quite well-prepared. He made a triple vyuha - a chakrashakat (wheelbarrow, possibly) vyuha; inside it a padma (lotus) vyuha; and finally, a suchi (needle) vyuha. I'm not the best at drawing vyuhas (or anything else, for that matter), but this is probably what it looked like:


Mind you, the distance between Dron and Jayadrath was about six kroshas, or about twelve miles.If ever a task could be classified as Herculean, this was probably it. "Even the days are shorter at this time of the year", Jayadrath told himself in utter glee.

***

Arjun, however, started off in Chris Gayle fashion, bludgeoning his way through the elephants stopping him from reaching Dron. Dushshasan broke ranks and attacked Arjun, but was defeated shortly (what chance does Raina have against Steyn anyway?).

Arjun, possibly on Krishna's advice, tried to convince Dron to let him through. But then, as I have found out myself umpteen times, it isn't really easy to hoodwink teachers into doing something stupid.

 A furious duel followed. It seemed to be reaching a stalemate when Krishna yelled "Eureka!" in Sanskrit, and simply drove the chariot around Dron's. So skilled was the great man that Dron's trailing arrows fell way short of Arjun's back. Yudhamanyu and Uttamauja slipped through as well.

Led by Kritavarma, a band of lesser warriors assembled to attack Arjun. As expected, all of them perished, though none as uniquely as Shrutayudh, who aimed his mace at Krishna and fell when his own mace ricochetted off Krishna.

At this point of time Duryodhan came to the fray. He went through his daily ordeal of having a verbal bash at Dron, this time for letting Arjun through. When Dron asked Duryodhan to take on Arjun himself, he chickened out the way managers do when engineers ask them to solve a problem.

Dron then gave Duryodhan his impregnable kavach (armour); thus confident, Duryodhan chased Arjun.

***

It was past midday, and Arjun was halfway or so through. The Kauravs kept coming at him, and he kept on making his way through them. But however vigorous Krishna and Arjun might have been, the horses were mere mortals, and much to the dismay of Maneka Gandhi, couldn't move any further.

Less than four days after he had pierced the earth to provide Bhishma with drinking water, Arjun did it again. This time he created a lake of a decent size; while Krishna ensured that the horses had their fill, Arjun kept the asking rate going by massacring the Kauravs.

As he alighted his chariot after Krishna gave him the heads-off, Arjun's 20-20 vision actually saw Jayadrath for the first time that day, still miles away. But before he could proceed, he was intercepted by the supposedly impregnable armour-clad Duryodhan.

It took Arjun a moment to realise why his arrows were bouncing off Duryodhan. He killed off Duryodhan's charioteer and horses, broke his bow and pierced his bare hands with the choicest of arrows. Finding Duryodhan in peril, all the protectors of Jayadrath broke ranks and rushed to help him. They surrounded Arjun from all sides and tried to attack him. This probably gave them a sense of déjà vu from the previous day's action.

But Abhimanyu didn't have Krishna as his ally: Krishna's conch Panchajanya went tooooooooot, calling for help.

***

The Pandavs were alarmed. This was the first time in fourteen days that the Krishnarjun combo had pressed the F1 button. Yudhishthir called a quick conference, and asked Satyaki to join Arjun.

Satyaki was having a peaceful day till then, guarding Yudi from Dron. He tried to convince Yudi that Arjun could cope, but Mr Honesty wasn't really convinced. Satyaki wasn't left with much of an option: he left Bheem in charge of guarding his elder brother, rushed towards Dron, quickly killed his charioteer and rushed past him. Dron tried to follow him, but his confused horses ran helter-skelter, leaving Dron with no option but to switch chariots and get back to the main entrance.

In typical Yusuf Pathan fashion, Satyaki bludgeoned his way through the opposition ranks. Duryodhan and Dushshasan were no match for him, and soon Arjun was in sight. Duryodhan's Yavan soldiers (possibly imported by Shakuni), clad in their bronze armours, attacked him in unison with the Himalayan tribes.

But there was a valid reason Satyaki went on to become one of the eleven survivors of the Kurukshetra War: he fought them all of them alone, and ran through them at an express pace to join Arjun.

***

At the Pandav camp, however, Yudhishthir was really anxious: there was no news of either of Arjun, Krishna or Satyaki. Once again he called the brains (whatever was left of it, that it, with Krishna absent) of his army together.

Bheem was the next to be sent (Dhrishtadyumna was left in charge of Yudi). Once again Dron proved to be the first barrier. Bheem, never one for the subtleties of life, smashed his chariot, charioteer and horses with his mace, making the old man run for dear life. He killed a handful of Duryodhan's brothers, then a few more before Karna, on Duryodhan's request, broke ranks and attacked Bheem.

What ensued is one of the most fiercely fought, yet underrated duels in the war. Both men were great warriors, and inflicted serious physical damage to one another. Karna definitely had the advantage of fighting from a distance (Bheem, being primarily a mace warrior, preferred fighting from a closer distance). But Bheem hung on, wounded Karna quite heavily, and when another bunch of Kaurav brothers came to Karna's aid, they were all killed.

But as the duel went on, Karna clearly emerged the superior of the two. Bheem fought valiantly with his bow and arrows (weapons that were not his forte) but gradually chariot was destroyed, and he had to take shelter behind a barrier of broken chariots and elephant corpses. He hurled a mace and missed, and when he tried to use his sword, he lost it as well.

He resorted to throwing chariot wheels and elephant corpses (!) at Karna. I shudder at the plight of the common soldier: just imagine whole elephants being flung over your head. Anyway, these were also negotiated with (I wonder how), and Bheem was left stranded, without a single pachyderm for cover. Satyaki tried to rush to his help, but he was too far away.

It was Karna's promise made to Kunti that saved Bheem that day: Bheem quickly rushed to Satyaki's chariot and took refuge as his charioteer made arrangements for a fresh one (possibly an ownerless one left in the battlefield).

Satyaki, after seeing Bheem to safety, thus went to join forces with Arjun. It was then that Bhurishrava intercepted him. This, well, calls for some serious flashback.

***

Long, long ago there was this hot belle called Devaki. She was the sister of a mighty ruler called Kangsa, king of Mathura and son-in-law of the invincible Jarasandha. As it happens with all hot belles, Devaki had plenty of suitors, some of whom featuring in the Who's Who of Ancient India.

Vasudev, a charming Yadav prince, was among these suitors. Unfortunately, Somdutt of the Bahlik kingdom (in Punjab) was another. Obviously, there needed to be a duel between the two to decide who would go on to win Devaki's hand.

Vasudev didn't go for the duel himself. Instead, he sent Shini, possibly his best Yadav warrior, to fight for him (Agamemnon-Achilles anyone?). Shini soon got the better of poor Somdutt, grabbed him by his hair and kicked him (this was apparently the greatest form of humiliation shown by an Indian till Harbhajan was accused of calling Symonds "monkey").

Vasudev and Devaki got married, while Somdutt walked away, dejected. He did not give up, though. He went through a rigorous tapasya, and was granted the boon that one day his son would grab Shini's descendant by the hair and kick him. This has possibly gone down in history as the most precise boon ever wanted and granted.

Somdutt showed commendable restraint here. Any other man would possibly have wanted a death or at least a bloodshed. Anyway, he got a son in the form of Bhurishrava, and Satyaki was born to Satyak, the son of Shini.

***

Bhurishrava, despite being a great warrior, should not have been a match for the great Satyaki. But on this day, he had his father's penances by his side. He blew apart Satyaki, and when the latter was disarmed, Bhurishrava jumped on Satyaki's chariot, grabbed him by his hair and kicked him.

With that, the results Somdutt's prayers were fulfilled. Vasudev's own son, sharing a chariot with Vasudev's nephew, saw this; and when Bhurishrava raised his sword to behead Satyaki, Arjun, acting under Krishna's instructions, fired a lethal arrow to ampute Bhurishrava's right hand.

This was plain and simple cheating, but when Bhurishrava pointed that out, Krishna and Arjun both reminded him of how Abhimanyu was killed the previous day.

Bhurishrava then did something extremely weird: he gripped his right hand with his still intact left one, and decided to do a prayopoveshan (hunger strike till death). His act has undoubtedly inspired the Anna Hazares in coming centuries, but apparently it had no impact on a storming Satyaki.

Here we shall take another timeout. This time it's flashback #2:

***

Satyaki had once promised (to himself) that if anyone grabbed him by his hair AND kicked him AND let him go alive he shall kill him, whatever be the circumstances. I've often wondered exactly what had triggered off a promise this specific, but then, it all strangely fitted that day.

***

Satyaki rushed towards Bhurishrava, his sword gleaming in the Sun. Before anyone knew he was on the fasting hero and decapitated him. When everyone (including Krishna and Arjun) shunned his action, Satyaki defended himself by
  1. narrating his promise, as stated above, and
  2. obviously, reminding everyone of Abhimanyu's death.
***

Time was, on the other hand, running out for Arjun. The asking rate was mounting, and batting powerplays were not introduced at that point of time. Duryodhan sensed this (possibly his only bit of wisdom in the span of eighteen days), and withdrew all his main generals to form a circle around Jayadrath.

Though Karna had emerged victorious against Bheem earlier in the day, the duel had sapped a lot out of him; he was sore, fatigued and severely wounded. He was joined by his son Vrishasen as well as the likes of Kripa, Ashwatthama, Shalya, Duryodhan and Kritavarma. Jayadrath himself fought on from behind, and despite Satyaki and Bheem supporting Arjun as much as they could, it seemed that Arjun's promise shall remain unfulfilled.

The darker it got, the more gleeful and confident the Kauravs became. Jayadrath was still heavily shielded, and while Arjun showed no signs of tiring or retreating, he didn't manage to advance either.

And then it happened. Krishna was apparently the only one who knew about the solar eclipse, and just like Tintin in Prisoners of the Sun, he took advantage of the eclipse: as soon as the Sun hid behind the moon, he promptly shouted to make the Kauravs aware of the fact.

The Kauravs got engaged in a moronic act of celebrations, high-fives and hula dances. Krishna smiled, and disclosed the truth to Arjun. However, there was something else that needed to be conveyed as well, which shall lead to flashback #3:

***

Like all men, Jayadrath had a father. He was a caring, and if anything, slightly eccentric one. Briddhakshatra prayed to Shiv and somehow managed to obtain the boon that whoever was responsible for Jayadrath's head hitting the ground would have his own head split into a hundred pieces instantly. This, obviously, led to the following questions:
  1. Why did Briddhakshatra want the potential threat to be killed after, and not before the killer had killed Jayadrath?
  2. Even if he had secured a boon of this magnitude, why did he decide to keep it a secret? Wouldn't spreading the news have been more effective?
  3. If Jayadrath was killed with caution, the killer would have been safe. For example, if he was nailed to a wall with a sword or a spear, the killer would have walked away unharmed.
***

The eclipse cleared. The Kauravs were in shock. Jayadrath, who, in ecstasy, had stretched his giraffesque neck to have a good view of The Sun, now stared in horror. Arjun cast an arrow to behead him; and then flung a volley of arrows that carried the head and made it land on Briddhakshatra's lap (why not into Karna's hands, one might wonder). The old man stood up in utter shock, and, well... you know the rest.

Abhimanyu had been avenged. Well, sort of avenged, since Jayadrath hadn't killed him. But then, as mentioned before, you don't really argue with the Arjuns.

And then, just like the rain in the last scene of Lagaan, The Sun set.

***

Somdutt, The Man With the Precise Promise, was still alive: he launched a furious assault on Satyaki, and it took the combined effort of Satyaki and Bheem to kill him. Somdutt's father then joined the party (the Bahliks, apparently, did the avenging bit in the reverse order of Bollywood movies: the father avenged the son's death).

Bheem's mace, however, posed too much of a challenge for the geriatric man. Ghatotkach, a fresh addition to the team, took on Ashwatthama and the other stalwarts. As the war got fiercer and fiercer, darkness spread over the battlefield.

***

The war didn't stop. The infantry was ordered to carry lamps instead of weapons; the horses were made to carry two lamps each (how?); the elephants, seven each; and as many as ten lamps were placed on every chariot. Kerry Packer would've been amused.

Humiliated by Duryodhan's words, Dron and Karna launched a furious combined assault on the Pandavs. Krishna was aware of Karna's ekaghni weapon (it would have killed anyone, whoever it was fired on; but it could have been used once, and only once) and kept Arjun away from Karna (I wonder why Karna didn't use it on Arjun while defending Jayadrath earlier in the day).

Ghatotkach, like a true rakshas, gained power at night. Krishna ordered him to take on Karna.

Pandemonium followed. Random weapons started dropping from the sky. Every now and then a rakshas popped up, threatening to gobble up the Kauravs. Karna fought valiantly, but there was little he could to combat dark magic.

Ruthless animals and birds of prey, spanning all three of Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel, appeared out of nowhere. Karna killed all of them, but Ghatotkach seemed unstoppable: he expanded and contracted to ridiculous sizes; he disappeared all of a sudden and reappeared out of nowhere; he flew in the sky and penetrated the ground; he set panic amidst the entire Kaurav army.

Karna fought on. He was joined by the rakshas Alayudh; Ghatotkach grabbed Alayudh, beheaded him and threw the head at Duryodhan. The Kauravs retreated as Karna stood like Andy Flower amidst the ruins. Karna lost his chariot, charioteer and horses. He fought on, but as the battle dragged on, everyone realised that Ghatotkach would emerge victorious in the long run.

Karna had to do it. On Duryodhan's insistence he had to launch his favourite, well-preserved ekaghni at Ghatotkach. Ghatotkach expanded his body as much as he could, and as the weapon pierced him fatally, Bheem showed amazing presence of mind and shouted "fall on the Kauravs, Son!" The impact killed one akshauhini of soldiers, one-eleventh of the original Kaurav soldier count.

***

The Pandavs were devastated, especially Bheem. Krishna, however, looked quite gleeful (he even danced in ecstasy) as the ekaghni had now been used up, thereby leaving Arjun safer.

The explanation of Krishna's act possibly soothed the other four brothers; but an infuriated Yudhishthir made a suicidal dash at Karna. And then - believe it or not - Vyas himself stepped in (from where?) and cooled him down, assuring him that he would rule India in five days' time.

With everyone soothed, the war ended for the night; Arjun called for a temporary truce, and soldiers slept on the battlefield itself, and possibly the fiercest day's war in the history of mankind came to an end. Mind you, they woke up soon after moonrise and resumed, but that's another story altogether.

11 comments:

  1. How do you write so interestingly, boss? (My love for mythology in general, and this epic in particular, notwithstanding.)

    Also - I must say that some of your sentences reminded me of Douglas Adams :). I look forward to your next systematic analysis of The Great Indian Novel.

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  2. Sagar BorgaonkarJune 13, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    1.Why Jayadratha? what I know is that he kicked Abhimanyu's dead body to check whether he is really dead. Thats the crime. Killing is fine as it was a war anyway. But dishonouring a dead body of a worrior and that too an "Atirathi" from other camp was the main issue. Went against code of conduct.
    2. Pandava's had already created a chita for
    jayadratha. so as per Arjun's vow, the chita wont go waste. if he doesnt succeed, he will enter chita. Thats kshatriya Promise.
    3.I dont think Karna and Arjun met anywhere directly for 1st 5 days and a night in the war. They had been into Many X Many battles like the one above..but again as per a rule, both being "Maharathi" can enter into decisive battle only if they alone come across each other. On most of the occassions, they were a part of someone elses battle, either trying to provide cover or taking on someone else in between preventing that person to reach the other guy etc.
    4. Thats the reason why Arjun didnt direct Jaydartha's head to Karna as he wasnt facing him directly. and thats why karna didnt use the only option he had on Arjun just like that. Karna got into direct battle with Ghatotkach only when Kaurav sena asked him a "Jeevandan". and that too when Alayudh got killed. Karna also violated a rule by getting into a dual with an "atirathi". He being Marathis should not have attacked Ghatotkach.
    5. Krishnarjun convinently broke many war laws then including attacking a "Nisshastra" Karna.
    PS 1: I always wanted to create a list of all ardharathi, rathi, atirathi and maharathis from either side. The official reason for karna pulling out of war is that he was being awarded "ardharathi" a "D" level contract by Bhishma. He and Shikhandi were only 2 ardharathis that i know.
    PS: was satyaki one of the chirnjivi?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sagar:
    1. Arjun specifically held Jayadrath responsible for Abhimanyu's death. Specifically.
    2. How does the chita thing work? If you cannot burn the target, the man making the vow gets killed?
    3. Karna definitely met Arjun on day 14 while defending Jayadrath during the slog overs. Even if he had not, that was incredible stupidity on the Kauravs' part. They had an easy way to kill Arjun on day 11 and they never used it - they simply wanted to divert Arjun from Yudi using the Sangshaptaks.
    4. If Arjun could direct Jayadrath's head to a person who he could not see using arrows, he could DEFINITELY aim it towards anyone. And as for the atirath-maharath clashes, it has happened multiple times during The War.
    5. Even Karna attacked a weaponless Abhimanyu, that too in a group. Dron was also killed the same way. Bhishma was attacked by someone whom he would not harm. And Bhurishrava was TWICE dealt unfairly with.
    PS: If you ever compile this, do share it with me, will you?
    PS 2: No. The universally accepted VII is Bali (the one duped by Vishnu's Vaman Avatar), Parashuram, Vibhishan, Hanuman, Vyas, Kripacharya and Ashwatthama. Mind you, the only reason that Parashuram remained an amar is that he's scheduled to train Kalki, but then, she ended up marrying Anurag Kashyap.

    Satyaki was killed, remember, along with Kritavarma, in Mushalparva, when the entire Yadav clan got demolished?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sagar BorgaonkarJune 13, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    1. Well, I dont know why Arjun would do that but one more possible reason besides Jayadratha kicking Abhimanyu was that he effectively did not allow any other pandava to enter chakravyuha. He had some boon granted by Shiva..not sure exactly what it was. Will search that one. But Arjun should not have targetted him alone.little unfair.

    2. Chita thing works pretty much the same way. its more of that vow thing. ex. had Bhima failed in killing Duryodhana and dusshasana, he would have done the same thing. Only he didnt mention specific day. Bhima would have done that even when someone else killed them.

    3. There were lot of tactical blunders on kaurava's part. the main reason I think is senapati's orders.for first 17 days Kaurava's had 3 senapatis and all of them lacked krishna's tactical brilliance. Also for first 15 days, neither Bhishma nor Drona really wanted to kill any of the pandavas. thats why they normally went with the vyuha idea and designated a role to each of their main worriors. So in that sense Karna was restricted under Drona. Also I sense a strong selfish motive from Bhishma and Drona to protect Arjun from Karna. hence kaurav's were never tactically brilliant as opposed to pandavas.whatever flashes of brilliance Kaurava's shown was whenever Duryodhana challenged bhishma and drona for their inability etc.by the time Karna took over, he had already lost his weapon. I always wonder if Karna would have been available right from day 1, may be some different result possible.

    4. That wasnt Arjun's choice i guess. He never was that brilliant. Krishna gave him that instruction and he just followed. So may be why Krishna chose Jayadratha's father could be the question here.

    5. The rules were definitely voilated many times for sure. but the 1st violation came from Pandavas when they used shikhandi.after that probably many instances occurred.

    PS: If you ever compile this, do share it with me, will you? but ofcourse:-)

    PS 2: Oh yes.. How could I forget that:-(

    ReplyDelete
  5. PS2: I was taught a shloka as a kid:

    Ashwaththama Balir Vyasa, Hanumanash-cha Vibheeshanah
    Krupa, Parshuramashcha - saptai-te chirajeevinah.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Abhishek is back - and how! I've always maintained that mythology is your forte.

    You should seriously consider writing a Mahabharat in your own style. I think that might be a bestseller. This generation, generally ignorant of the epic, might fall in love with your style the way I have!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Awesome. Just an awesome read. Questions were brilliantly asked, then beautifully analysed with rapier sharp humour to go with it. Really enjoyed this post.

    ReplyDelete
  8. sottyi darun laglo... tumi Mahabharat-er eto goppo koddie janle? Tomar lekhar sobcheye interesting part holo eisob adyikaler ghotonar songe current event guloke match korie dao... darun entertaining legechhe boss.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Brilliant read Abhishek... We seriously need the entire Mahabharat through you eyes... AWESOME... Just AWESOME :)

    ReplyDelete

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