नरञ्चैव नरोत्तमम् ।
देवीं सरस्वतीं व्यासं
ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ॥
Having saluted Nārāyaṇa,
the human and the divine;
Sarasvatī; and Vyāsa –
May Jayabe hailed!
As the army prepared itself for battle, Duryodhana called for Duśśāsana and told him, “Duśśāsana! Prepare the mighty warriors and the army for the protection of Bhīṣma. The great task that lies ahead of us is the defence of Bhīṣma; there is no greater undertaking than that. If one Bhīṣma is safe and protected, he can single-handedly kill the Pāṇḍavas, Somakas, Sṛñjayas, and others. He will not fight against Śikhaṇḍi. Therefore we have to be extremely careful when Śikhaṇḍi comes to combat him. All our warriors should try and kill Śikhaṇḍi!” As per his instructions, the next morning, as they set out to war, Bhīṣma led the eleven akṣauhiṇī army while Duśśāsana, Durviṣaka, Durmukha, Duḥsaha, Viviṃśati, Citrasena, Vikarṇa, and others followed him, giving him protection from behind. Courageous warriors who had not the least fear of losing their lives, such as Abhīṣāha Śūrasena and others—kings of twelve different kingdoms—protected Bhīṣma along with their massive armies. Apart from this was the elephant army and hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers.
The Pāṇḍavas had an army of only seven akṣauhiṇīs, which was considerably smaller than the Kaurava army, and therefore arranged it in the Vajra-vyūha (diamond-shape formation). There, warriors like Dṛṣṭadyumna, Bhīmasena, Nakula, Sahadeva, and Dṛṣṭaketu went ahead. Virāṭa, his younger brother, and his children offered protection from behind. Bhīṣma’s nemesis Śikhaṇḍi was at the back, protecting Arjuna.
In the early hours of the morning when everyone stood in the direction of the sun to perform the morning ritual worship of the sun, the cloudless sky roared with thunder; a strong wind blew; hailstones fell from the sky even as it rained heavily; dust rose from the earth and engulfed everything in darkness; a meteor whizzed past the sky with a terrifying sound, lunged forward, and troubled the rising sun; the earth shook and cracked up; there was a bolt from the blue. The sun finally rose in the sky with a pale face.
At that point, Duryodhana saw the Pāṇḍava army in diamond formation, went near Droṇācārya and said, “Ācārya, on my side there are several great warriors like you, who are unafraid of death, and ready to fight on this side; even so, I feel that our strength is inadequate; all of you must protect Bhīṣma with great care.” Thus he requested his preceptor. By this time, Bhīṣma blew his conch. Upon listening to that sound, all the other Kaurava warriors blew their conches; several war instruments (tabors, kettle-drums, and so forth) were sounded. In response, on the Pāṇḍava side, starting from Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, all the great warriors blew their conches. That tumultuous sound filled the earth and sky, tearing apart the hearts of the Kauravas. Arjuna desired to have a better look at both the armies and accordingly Kṛṣṇa drove their chariot to a point in the centre of the battlefield, in the middle of the two armies. Arjuna saw in front of him: his grandfather, his guru, uncles, cousins, and several relatives and friends. At their sight, his heart melted. He looked at Kṛṣṇa and said, “Kṛṣṇa! Should we kill our own relatives and friends merely in order to attain the kingdom? I don’t want this! Even if one were to grant me the three worlds, I don’t desire it. What sort of sukha (happiness, peace, comfort) will we get after killing our own people, Kṛṣṇa? As far as they are concerned, they’re ignorant and foolish. Driven by avarice they stand ready for battle without realizing that their clan will be destroyed; but shall we do the same? This is a grave sin! Better indeed is to beg for alms than live with the riches attained after killing elders and teachers. I will not fight! If the Kauravas kill me while I’m unarmed, that will indeed be a good thing!” He spoke these words in great sorrow; his heart withered, he put down his bow and his quiver of arrows, and sunk down in his chariot.
Looking at this wailing warrior who was overcome by untimely compassion and seated in his chariot, Kṛṣṇa said with a smile, “What’s this Arjuna! You speak words that seem very intelligent; but you weep for what you shouldn’t! The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. There never was a time when you, me, and all these kings did not exist and there will never be a time when they cease to exist. Even if the body goes away, the ātman (Inner Self) remains. While the body is there, it is subject to childhood, youth, old age, and death; then the attainment of another body. Just as we discard old clothes and wear new ones, the ātman throws away old bodies and takes on new ones. Which weapon indeed can kill that ātman? Further, one who is born has to die; also, it is the dharma of a kṣatriya to wage war; it is an open door to vīra-svarga; therefore, if you don’t fight this war you will not only be forsaking your dharma but will also earn a bad name as well as commit a great sin! Your enemies will speak ill of you in the choicest of words. For an honourable man, disgrace is worse than death. Thus, do the work you are supposed to do; don’t be anxious about the results; one who works sincerely – his sorrows are expunged, his intellect becomes firm, and he attains peace; and without peace, what is the meaning of sukha?
“Action is greater than inaction. Just by sitting idle, does it imply that one has become free from actions? Nobody can be without doing action even for a single moment; nature will force him/her to perform fundamental actions. Even the greatest of scholars come under the ambit of nature and can’t escape it; how can anyone avoid it? It is mere arrogance to think that ‘I’ am doing the work! You are a kṣatriya; it is your basic nature to pounce into battle; if you think you can evade war, it is your ignorance! You will be forced to take it up, owing to your fundamental nature and the work attuned to your temperament. This is a time of distress and calamity; therefore all these people will die even without you; in fact, you can deem them dead; you are merely the instrument to end their lives and from that you will gain fame and honour. See my viśvarūpa – universal form; only you can it!
“If you neglect the performance of your duties and sit still, that doesn’t amount to saṃnyāsa (renunciation); true saṃnyāsa is the giving up of kāmya-karma (action motivated by desire, with the expectation of something pleasant at the end). Doing one’s work [which is appropriate] with focus not on the goal but on the work itself is saṃnyāsa. One should not forsake the performance of activities that are obligatory; the Supreme resides in the hearts of all beings and drives them like one operates a machine. Offer your burdens to the Supreme; you will be free from anxiety and uncertainty. After all this, it is left to you what you wish to do.”
Upon listening to these inspiring words, Arjuna picked up his weapons. The battlefield was engulfed with sounds resembling the lion’s roar. At that point, Yudhiṣṭhira took off his armour, relieved himself of his weapons, and placed them all in his chariot; he descended from his chariot and with folded hands (in the form of a Namaskar) he walked silently towards Bhīṣma. Looking at this, his younger brothers as well as Vāsudeva got off their chariots and followed him. Why had he got off his chariot, why had he set off in the direction of the enemies, where was he going – these, they did not know. He didn’t answer them even when questioned. Those in the enemy camp looked at him with disdain, assuming that he had become afraid upon looking at the army and had come to surrender. They maintained utter silence in the hope of hearing what Bhīma or Arjuna would say and what Bhīṣma would respond.
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.