Mahābhārata – Episode 77 – Abhimanyu’s Death; Arjuna’s Oath

This article is part 77 of 95 in the series Mahābhārata

The next morning Duryodhana told Droṇa, “Ācārya, although Yudhiṣṭhira came as close as the eyes could see, you failed to capture him. Therefore it appears like you consider us as the enemy; even if the devatas were protecting him, if you put your mind to it, you could have captured him. It was you who was delighted and granted me the boon and now you’re drifting from your word. The noble ones should not dampen the hopes of those who have taken refuge in them.”

Droṇa was a bit upset. He said, “Duryodhana, you must not think like this! Even if the devatas, asuras, yakṣas, gandharvas, and nāgas all come at once, it would not be possible for them to capture someone who is being protected by Arjuna and score a victory. Therefore, today I will arrange the army in the cakra-vyūha (spiral formation) and I will ensure that I destroy one of their mahārathis who has sworn to fight until death. Under some pretext, draw away Arjuna from the battlefield and I shall definitely deliver on my promise; my oath will not be in vain.”

Once again the Saṃśaptakas challenged Arjuna to a combat and dragged him in the Southern direction. Droṇa arranged the Kaurava forces in the padma-vyūha (lotus formation; possibly a specific type of cakra-vyūha) and started the war. The Pāṇḍavas were simply unable to break through the formation, however hard they tried. At that point Dharmarāja called Abhimanyu and said, “Child! We don’t know how to strike at this formation and enter it. There are only four warriors who know how to tear into the padma-vyūha – you, Arjuna, Kṛṣṇa, and Pradyumna; there is no fifth man. Go on, strike at this formation, break it, and enter it – in such a manner that Arjuna doesn’t look down upon us!”

Abhimanyu said, “My father has taught me how to break the padma-vyūha formation and enter it; but if I get into trouble, I don’t know how to come out of it.”

Yudhiṣṭhira said, “You make your way inside, tearing into the army, and we will closely follow you, creating a path, and give you support.”

Abhimanyu have his consent and said, “The act I’m going to undertake will bring joy and pride to my uncle Kṛṣṇa and my father; let the people of the world see the manner in which a young lad lunges forward, tears into the enemy, and kills them by the thousands. In today’s battle, if I let go of even one enemy without killing him, then I’m not Arjuna’s son born out of Subhadra!” Saying these words, he ascended his chariot and went towards the enemy. He broke the formation of the cakra-vyūha and pounced on the enemies; he killed Bṛhabala and hundreds of other kings as well as Duryodhana’s son Lakṣmaṇa. He made Duśśāsana and Karṇa swoon. However, Saindhava checked the advance of the Pāṇḍavas, who were closely following Abhimanyu; he skilfully fought with them and ensured that they don’t enter the vyūha.

Inside the vyūha, Duryodhana faced young Abhimanyu in single combat; soon Droṇa, Aśvatthāma, Karṇa, Kripa, Shalya, Hārdikya, Bṛhabala, Bhūriśravas, Śakuni, and other great warriors rushed to protect him; they formed a circle around Abhimanyu. He fought against all of them. Looking at his prowess, Śakuni and Karṇa got worried that at this rate the young boy would kill all the warriors one by one. They went to Droṇa and asked him what they could do. Droṇa smiled and said, “What you say is true; since Abhimanyu’s armour is impenetrable, nobody can stand in front of him and defeat him in battle; therefore, standing behind him, we must kill his charioteer and break his bow; only then will it be possible to subdue him.”

Karṇa followed his instructions; at the same time, standing in front of Abhimanyu, Droṇa killed his horses and destroyed his chariot. The rest of the warriors shot arrows at Abhimanyu from all sides. Abhimanyu got off his chariot with a mace in his hand and began single-handedly fighting against all the warriors; at that time, Dusshasana’s son took a mace in his hand and engaged in single combat with Abhimanyu. In this manner, several Kaurava heroes came together and killed Abhimanyu like a pack of hunters capturing and slaying a wild elephant. It was evening and the day’s war came to an end.

When Arjuna returns to the camp and asks, “Where’s my son?” what shall I tell him in response wondered Dharmarāja as he reached the camp, overwhelmed by sorrow. Having lost such a peerless warrior on the battlefield, he felt a sense of detachment; he didn’t want war, he didn’t want svarga; he lamented, he regretted.

After finishing the day’s battle with the Saṃśaptakas, having routed them thoroughly, Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa were returning to their camp. In a trembling voice, Arjuna said, “Kṛṣṇa! Why is my heart so agitated? Why is my tongue slurring? I don’t have control over my body; I’m unable to sit in the chariot; some uneasiness has gripped my mind; even outside, all the omens point towards something inauspicious. I just hope my elder brother and his ministers are all doing well! There’s nothing else I want!”

Kṛṣṇa said, “Dharmarāja and his younger brothers are all fine; that’s for certain; there’s nothing to worry on that count; well, some other minor catastrophe might have happened!”

When they returned to the camp, it looked like a picture whose lines have been wiped off, smudged, and indistinct. There were no musical instruments to welcome Arjuna; no auspicious melodies played; no roaring of drums and tabors; no blowing of conches; no sounds of the vīṇā; no songs of flattery sung by the vandi-magadhas; the warriors were moving about silently with their heads bowed down. Abhimanyu did not rush to welcome his father, who had returned victorious from battle. Looking at all this, Arjuna’s heart began fluttering with anxiety.

Inside the camp, the Pāṇḍavas and others were sitting silently, with a worried look on their faces; Abhimanyu alone wasn’t with them. Looking at that Arjuna said, “Why is it that your faces are so pale? You are all devoid of enthusiasm! Nobody is happy to see me return. And where is Abhimanyu? I heard that Droṇa had organized his army in the padma-vyūha formation. With the sole exception of Abhimanyu, none of the others is capable of breaking through that vyūha and entering it. I had not yet taught him the art of getting out of the vyūha. I hope you didn’t send him to fight the enemy alone; don’t tell me he was killed as a result of that! He is an equal to Keśava in wisdom and in valour; that being the case, how indeed could he die on the battlefield? If I don’t see my son, I will give up my life; that alone will be right! How can my mind calm down without hearing his voice, without seeing his form?” Saying this, he wept like a trader whose ship is destroyed. Then Arjuna told Dharmarāja, “Why hasn’t Abhimanyu come here to welcome me as yet; his father has returned victorious from battle! Indeed the enemies must have put him down on the battlefield like knocking down the sun from the skies!” Turning towards Kṛṣṇa he said, “When we entered, we heard the shouts of the Kauravas, akin to a lion’s roar, indicating their happiness. I heard Yuyutsu saying, ‘You wretches, bereft of dharma, aren’t you ashamed of your heinous act, killing that young boy? Let Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna return; you will repent for your sins!’ At that point, why didn’t you tell me that such a thing has happened? Wouldn’t I have gone and burnt the enemies to ashes?”

Looking at the teary-eyed Arjuna, Kṛṣṇa said, “This is the conduct of all those warriors who know not what it is to retreat from the battlefield; this is what all kṣatriya heroes desire; having fought and vanquished several valorous kings and warriors on the battlefield, he has ultimately attained a death befitting a great hero; a true warrior wishes for such a death and he has attained it. Don’t weep for this; if you are overcome by grief and become weak, your brothers and friends will also be engulfed by sorrow; you must console them!”

At that point, Arjuna looked at his brothers and spoke in a choked voice, “Tell me what happened to Abhimanyu; when great warriors and wielders of weapons like yourself were present on the battlefield, how did Abhimanyu die? If I knew that you were all powerless, I would have protected the Pāṇḍavas and the Pāñcālas by myself. If Abhimanyu has died in front of your eyes, can you claim to have valour, courage, and manliness? It is my mistake to have left him under your care, believing that you will protect him. You were unable to protect a boy; you are only fit for speaking in assemblies; weapons and armour are mere ornamentation for you!”

In that condition, nobody except Dharmarāja and Kṛṣṇa were in a position to see him eye to eye, let alone speak with him. Therefore, Yudhiṣṭhira carefully explained the events of the day’s battle; he said, “We were on our way, following Abhimanyu closely but Saindhava, thanks to the boon he received from Śiva, stopped all of us in our ranks! After that, inside the vyūha, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Karṇa, Aśvatthāma, and Bṛhabala – these six mahārathis together killed the young boy. He sent hundreds of kings and Bṛhabala to svarga and drowned all his friends and family into sorrow by his death; this is what happened!”

Listening to this, Arjuna exclaimed in sorrow, “Oh, my son!” and heaved a sigh; his entire body began trembling like one afflicted by a fever; he began wringing his hands and biting his teeth, he said, “Hear, now, my terrible oath! Tomorrow I will kill that Saindhava Jayadratha. If in fear the Kaurava army retreats or if he surrenders to me or Kṛṣṇa, I will let him go; else, I will definitely kill him. Let even Droṇa or Kṛpa come to protect him and I will kill them too; if I don’t accomplish this, let me not get a place in the puṇya-loka (higher realm, heaven), let me incur sin as heinous as one who kills his own parents! If I don’t kill him before dusk tomorrow, I will kill myself by entering into a fire.” Saying this, he turned his Gāṇḍīva to the right and to the left and then blew his conch Devadatta with great force. In support of this, Kṛṣṇa blew his conch Pāñcajanya with fervour. Following them, various musical instruments began to play; they made a sound akin to a lion’s roar.

Learning about this from spies, Jayadratha was overcome by fear and sorrow; feeling directionless, he went to the kings in the Kaurava camp and said, “I believe that Arjuna has taken a vow that he will kill me tomorrow; it is not possible for even the devas and gandharvas to stop him; what can I alone accomplish; can I even stand before him? If you all don’t give me assurance of complete safety, I will quietly slip away to my country and live incognito. Please give me your permission for that.” Duryodhana then said, “We have Droṇa, Karṇa, Duśśāsana, Vinda, Anuvinda, and other great warriors; would they let you become prey to Arjuna? And what do you yourself lack in terms of courage and heroism?” Assuaging him with these words, Duryodhana took him the same night to meet Droṇa.

Droṇa told Jayadratha, “I will protect you; don’t be afraid of Arjuna; I will create a battle formation that is impossible for him to break into. Fight like a kṣatriya; after all, we are all going to die some day! Therefore, let us all do our duty and earn our place in svarga.” Thus he boosted Jayadratha’s confidence.

To be continued.

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.

The original Kannada version of Vacanabhārata is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.