Mahābhārata – Episode 54 – The Kauravas in Panic

This article is part 54 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

Upon hearing these despondent words of Droṇa, Duryodhana addressed Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and Kṛpa: “Karṇa and I have said this several times in the past; yet I repeat it now – when the Pāṇḍavas lost the game of dice, as per our wager they had to spend twelve years in exile in the forest and one year incognito; this is the year they have to live unrecognized by all; the year of living incognito is not yet complete; if we encounter Arjuna now, then the Pāṇḍavas have to spend another twelve years in forest exile. Let us assume that it is indeed Arjuna; even so, why should we fear or retreat? It is for the sake of Suśarma, the Trigarta king, that we agreed to wage war against Virāṭa; we gave our word to Suśarma, who came to us, overcome with fear, because he was being constantly troubled by Virāṭa. It was our agreement that he would capture the cows of the Virāṭa kingdom by the afternoon of the saptamī and we would launch our attack on the morning of the aṣṭamī. At the moment, we’re unable to see anyone from his side, nor any of the cattle that was raided; did they lose, or did they make a peace treaty with Virāṭa without consulting us, or perhaps Virāṭa took his entire army to battle Suśarma and one of their lone warriors has come to fight us, or perhaps it is Virāṭa, or maybe it is Arjuna! Whatever be the case, we have all come here to wage war. So why have all the great mahārathas like Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Vikarṇa, Aśvatthāma, and others sitting in their chariots, stunned into silence? There is nothing superior to warfare; to release the cows that have been captured, let Indra come or let Yama come – who among you wish to save your lives and return to Hastināpura without giving a fight? Droṇa has excessive affection towards Arjuna and therefore he praises him to the skies and intimidates us, trying to evoke fear. Therefore leaving aside the ācārya, the rest of you think about the next steps in this battle and make preparations – ensure that our soldiers don’t retreat, nor get captured in the forests by our enemies. Just by listening to the neighing of a horse, would anyone praise the enemy? Horses neigh even when they are standing in the same place; they also neigh when they come out in the open; the wind is always blowing; similarly, we also have rains from time to time; the roar of the thunder is also heard. How does all this help Arjuna? How does it make him great? This is all just a result of anger and hatred against us. The venerable ācārya is compassionate, wise, and suspicious of danger; when we are in trouble, there is no need to consult him. He is, after all, best suited to be in a palace, in an assembly of people; he is a scholar capable only of speaking the strangest things; he is an expert critic who can find fault with other people; he is intelligent to point out all the mistakes in the food prepared by others; forget about this great scholar and think about how we can trap our enemies and capture the cows, create a suitable army formation!”

Karṇa said, “It appears that all these people are overcome by fear and nobody wants to engage in battle; everything is in disarray; doesn’t matter if our enemy is the king of Matsya or Arjuna – I will stop their progress and chase them till the shores of the ocean; my arrows will pierce them like locusts invading a tree; Arjuna might be famous in the three worlds but I am not lesser than him in any way; I will strike him down and today I shall fulfil the vow that I gave to Duryodhana long ago; employing Paraśurāma’s weapons and my courage, I can even wage war with Indra. At this very moment, I shall throw my javelin and strike at the monkey flag; the vānaradhvaja will come crashing down. I shall make Arjuna fall down from his chariot and remove the spear lodged in Duryodhana’s heart. Let all the Kauravas chase after the cows; else, let them silently sit in their chariots and watch me wage the war single-handedly!”

Kṛpa said, “Karṇa, your mind is always drawn towards cruel warfare; you see neither purpose nor situation; the rules of combat are multifaceted; the ancients proclaim that waging war is the most sinful among all that is said about combat; only a war that is fought under the right circumstances—at the right place and at the right time—brings victory; if the same thing is carried out at the wrong time, it will not bear fruit. The courage displayed at the right place and at the right time brings about auspiciousness; he single-handedly protected the Kauravas, he single-handedly satisfied Agni. He abducted Subhadrā single-handedly and took her in his chariot. He defeated the king of the Gandharvas, Citrasena, in single combat. He single-handedly killed the Nivātakavacas and the Kālakhañjas. In this manner, have you single-handedly achieved anything at all, Karṇa? Anyone who desires to battle him is like one who puts his right hand into the mouth of an angry snake with fangs and gets bitten; he is like one who, without a goad in hand, tries to climb onto a ferocious single elephant in rut with a view of leading it into the city; he becomes like one who jumps into a bright fire after donning clothes dipped in ghee. Tying a rock around one’s neck, binding one’s hands and legs with a piece of rope, and trying to swim across the ocean – is this an act of valour? If a weakling desires to engage in single combat with such a powerful warrior who intimately knows the art of warfare, then he is indeed a fool. Arjuna, who has been ignored by you for these thirteen years, is like a trapped lion who has just been set free. He will destroy us all, leaving no remnants. Therefore, let us all combine and fight with him; let the army get ready and stand in formation. Don’t utter words of empty boast that just one person alone with battle with Arjuna!”

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. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.



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.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh


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.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


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