After this Arjuna told Uttara to take his chariot to where Droṇa was standing; offering his salutations to Droṇa, he said in a serene voice, “Ācārya, we took up the forest exile only after contemplating about our response; you must not get angry with us; I have decided not to fight with you and therefore I request you to make that happen.” Immediately, Droṇa sent out twenty arrows in Arjuna’s direction. Arjuna intercepted all of them midway and tore them apart. In this manner, the teacher and student were locked in single combat. Both of them were brilliant and endowed with radiance. Both knew the art of divine weapons. Upon seeing their battle, the entire army went into raptures of praise, saying “Wow! Excellent!” Each one dispatched a shower of arrows in the direction of the other that it felt like they were enveloped in thick rain. When their arrows were flying in the air, filling the skies, it appeared like the flight of frightened swans. Elephants, horses, foot soldiers, and others who were wounded by Arjuna’s piercing arrows looked like the red-coloured Flame of the Forest tree in full bloom. The leader of the chariot division, Aśvatthāma laterally entered the fray and began showering arrows on Arjuna just like a rain-bearing cloud pours out torrential rain. In the midst of this battle, getting the slightest opening, Droṇa brought out his chariot from the zone of danger and went away elsewhere at great speed; Arjuna continued his fierce battle with Aśvatthāma when he saw that Karṇa was coming towards him holding a huge bow. Therefore he stopped fighting with Aśvatthāma and lunged towards Karṇa.
He said, “Karṇa! In the heart of the assembly you boasted so much about your prowess in war and how none was your equal on the battlefield; lo and behold, here’s a great opportunity to fight! You sat silently relishing the disrobing of Pāñcālī in the assembly by that wicked soul and for that you shall face the punishment today. Entrapped by dharma, I was forced to remain silent and helpless earlier; now come and fight me; I will battle you; let the Kauravas watch!” In this manner, Arjuna mocked Karṇa.
Karṇa replied, “Pārtha! Do with your hands that which you boast with your mouth; it is well-known that actions speak louder than words. Earlier, you tolerated it because of your incompetence. What dharma trapped you then, and what is not trapping you now? If you want to break your promise of forest exile and wish to fight me, come. Even if Indra fights on your behalf, I have no fear!”
“Karṇa, just now you were engaged in single combat with me and you ran away. That’s why you’re alive. After letting your brother die and running away from the frontlines of the army who else but you will come back like this and speak such words?” said Arjuna before releasing a series of shafts on Karṇa. He deftly stopped them all by hurling arrows in response. But soon, his bow was broken by Arjuna. His powerful weapons fell down. The arrows that pierced his armour caused him great pain; due to the pain of the wounds, his eyes were blacking out; his mind was seeing visions and he began hallucinating. Therefore, Karṇa left the battlefield once again and drove to a northern direction.
In this manner, Arjuna defeated Karṇa and directed his chariot to where Bhīṣma was standing. As he approached the grandsire, he was blocked midway by Duśśāsana, Dussaha, Viviṃśati, Droṇa, Aśvatthāma, Kṛpa, and others. But none of them were able to stay firm. They had to retreat with complete loss of energy and enthusiasm. Bhīṣma and Arjuna stood face to face; Bhīṣma shot at Arjuna’s flag and brought down the banner of Hanumān; in response, Arjuna tore down Bhīṣma’s flag. After this, a tumultuous battle ensued. When Arjuna attacked Bhīṣma with arrows, it looked like a torrential rain striking a huge mountain. Bhīṣma deftly destroyed all those arrows and sent a series of shafts aimed at Arjuna. Both were great warriors, experts in warfare, highly skilled in the art of divine weapons; therefore an equal battle took place for a long time. Finally, Arjuna took an arrow with the feathers of a vulture and destroyed Bhīṣma’s bow; then he pierced Bhīṣma’s chest. Pained at that, Bhīṣma rested against the side of the chariot. Seeing that he was unconscious, Bhīṣma’s charioteer turned the chariot and took him away elsewhere so that he may be protected, just as he had been instructed to do. Duryodhana himself had to come on the scene; even as he entered he took aim at Arjuna’s forehead and threw a huge spear at a great pace. Arjuna was wounded by it and hot blood was steaming out of his forehead, making it appear like a golden necklace. Fired up by anger, Arjuna attacked Duryodhana with arrows like resembled poisonous fire. At this point, Vikarṇa, who was perched on an elephant with four chariots by his side, attacked Arjuna; with a single stroke Arjuna struck at the head of the elephant and tore it apart. It fell down like a huge mountain on the battlefield. With another arrow, Arjuna struck at Duryodhana’s chest; in great pain, he had his chariot turned in the opposite direction and rode away. At this point, looking at him Arjuna said, “Where are you going, retreating from battle, Duryodhana! The call for ceasing the battle for the day has not been raised! Look, I’m standing firmly here. Turn back, come here! Show me your face! Recall the duties of a king! How can a person who runs away from battle have a name like Duryodhana; will it be appropriate!” When Arjuna mocked him with these words, like an elephant struck with the goad, the deeply distressed Duryodhana returned. Seeing him get back to the center, Karṇa joined him to his right side. Bhīṣma recovered and came behind Duryodhana to protect him. Droṇa, Kṛpa, Viviṃśati, Duśśāsana, and others too returned to the scene of action. With the entire Kaurava army returning to their posts and attacking Arjuna, he pounced on them like a swan flying high over the rain-laden cloud. They surrounded him and showered arrows on him like a rain-cloud engulfs a mountain. They used divine weapons against him; he responded with the right sort of arrow against every single one that was hurled at him and finally used the Sammohanāstra against them. He filled all the directions with his numerous arrows and the fearsome twang of his Gāṇḍīva shook the hearts of the enemy, making them tremble in fear. Soon after, he picked up his great conch with both hands and blew it, filling the earth and the skies with its sound. Just upon listening to it, the Kaurava heroes were silenced.
Arjuna remembered the words of Uttarā and told his charioteer, “O prince! All the Kauravas have fallen on the ground, unconscious; now let the chariot go amidst them; go and pick up the white-coloured cloth pieces of Droṇa and Kṛpa, Karṇa’s yellow-coloured cloth, and the blue cloth of Aśvatthāma and Duryodhana. Don’t go near Bhīṣma, for he might be awake; he knows the antidote to my weapon.” As per Arjuna’s instructions, Uttara took the chariot forward, climbed down, and went around picking all the colourful pieces of cloth. As he was walking back with the war mementos in hand, Bhīṣma saw him and shot arrows at him. Arjuna responded with a slew of arrows; he did not harm Bhīṣma but struck at his horses and his charioteers. He emerged from the group of enemy chariots like the sun emerging out of an eclipse, free from any covering. In the mean time, Duryodhana awoke from his stupor; seeing Arjuna going all alone in the middle of the army, they said, “How did he escape from us? Why didn’t you all capture him?” When he was thus berating his army, Bhīṣma responded to those words with a laugh. He said, “Duryodhana, where has your intelligence and your spirit of courage gone? Why had you fallen down noiselessly, letting go of your bow and arrows? Arjuna is not a cruel man; he will not commit a sin; therefore all of us have escaped alive in today’s war. O great warrior of the Kurus, better get back home quickly; let Pārtha take the cows and go away!” Upon listening to these words spoken by Bhīṣma in his own interest, Duryodhana heaved a sigh and remained silent, having been rid of all enthusiasm for war. Assessing the situation and examining what was in his interest, Duryodhana decided that it would be best if his army protected him and retreated to their capital, given that the Arjuna-fire was only becoming fiercer.
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.