The fourteenth day of the war began with Droṇa arranging the Kaurava army in the śakaṭa-vyūha formation within which he arranged the army in the padma-vyūha and inside that created a sūcī-vyūha. At the front of the sūcī, he had arranged Kṛtavarma, Kāmbhoja, Jalasandha, Duryodhana, Karṇa, and along with these heroes, thousands of other warriors; behind all of them stood Jayadratha. Droṇa himself stood at the front of the śakaṭa.
The day’s battle began.
Arjuna defeated Durmarṣaṇa, Duryodhana, Duśśāsana, and others; finally he reached Droṇa. Bowing down to his teacher, he said, “Ācārya! Please bless me; you are like a father to me; therefore you must protect me just like you would protect Aśvatthāma; with your compassion and benevolence, I desire to wage war with Jayadratha and kill him.”
Droṇa smiled and said, “How is it possible for you to defeat Jayadratha without conquering me, Arjuna?” Saying so, he sent out sharp shafts at him. Although Arjuna fought fearlessly, Droṇa stood firm, unmoved. Looking at this, Kṛṣṇa said, “Arjuna! Let’s not waste time; let’s leave this brāhmaṇa and move forward!” Arjuna said, “Whatever you say!”
Kṛṣṇa turned Arjuna’s chariot to the right even as Droṇa was watching; then he went in a circular manner avoiding Droṇa. Seeing this, Droṇa shouted, “What’s this? You’re going away without defeating your enemy on the battlefield!”
Arjuna replied, “Ācārya, you are my guru, not my enemy; I am your disciple, equal to your son; there is no man yet born on this earth who can defeat you!” Saying this, Arjuna escaped from his clutches and deftly entered the padma-vyūha. Following him in tow were the warriors Yudhāmanyu and Uttamaujas, who were protecting the wheels of his chariot. Kṛtavarma, Kāmbhoja, and others tried to block them. A large-scale scuffle broke out, followed by one-to-one combat. Arjuna killed Śrutāyudha, Sudakṣiṇa, and others; he defeated Duryodhana who faced him in single combat and moved forward. Sātyaki defeated Duśśāsana and Bhīma defeated Karṇa.
Even so, the six great rathikas were protecting Jayadratha and fighting vigorously; therefore it was difficult to kill him. Meanwhile, the sun was setting on the horizon. Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna, “If this be the case, you can’t kill Jayadratha. Therefore, I will play a ruse and make the sun disappear from the sky. Then, Jayadratha will feel elated thinking ‘The sun has set, I have survived!’ and will expose himself. At that point, you must strike at him.” Saying this, he made the sun disappear and darkness to engulf the scene. The entire Kaurava army lifted their heads towards the sky and was delighted to see the sun go down. Jayadratha too lifted his head towards the sky. At that point, Arjuna chose an arrow that was equal to the Vajrāyudha in potency and shot it at Jayadratha, severing his head.
If, at that point, Jayadratha’s head had touched the ground, Arjuna’s head would have shattered into a thousand pieces. Therefore, according to Kṛṣṇa’s suggestion, Arjuna continuously shot arrows at it and drove it in the air, taking it to a place just outside Śyamanta-pañcaka where Jayadratha’s father Vṛddhakṣatra was doing his sandhyāvandanā and made Jayadratha’s head fall on his father’s lap. After he finished his japa, Vṛddhakṣatra stood up and Jayadratha’s head fell to the earth, thus blowing up his head into a thousand pieces. Vṛddhakṣatra had once uttered a curse that anyone who was responsible for making his son’s head fall to the ground would have his own head explode into a thousand pieces. As a result of his own curse he met his end. If not, Arjuna’s head would have split into a thousand pieces. Thus Arjuna’s oath was fulfilled and the sun again became visible in the sky. Everyone realized that the darkness that had engulfed the battlefield was due to the māyā of Kṛṣṇa. The Pāṇḍavas returned to their camps overjoyed, while the Kauravas went back dejected. Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna informed Dharmarāja about the killing of Jayadratha.
Duryodhana went to Droṇa and complained that Jayadratha, Saumadatti, and others were sacrificed that day on the battlefield because Droṇa was careless while fighting against his disciple Arjuna. Droṇa said, “I told you earlier that Arjuna is invincible; further, I was engaged in a single combat with Dhṛṣṭadyumna; you know that he is destined to kill me. When my focus was on combating Drupada’s son, on the other side, you people were unable to protect Saindhava; and then you’re accusing me of being partial; it doesn’t matter; today, all those Pāñcālas, Pāṇḍavas, Sṛñjalas, and their armies are going to strike at me and without destroying them all, I will not remove my armour. This is my oath!”
Karṇa didn’t concur with Duryodhana in his accusation of Droṇa. He said, “Duryodhana, don’t find fault with our ācārya! That brāhmaṇa is using all his abilities and strengths to wage an enthusiastic battle on the war-field without the slightest care for his life. Arjuna is skilled, young, valorous, knower of several weapons, and nimble in movement; Kṛṣṇa is his charioteer; when such a warrior wields the Gāṇḍīva bow, dons an impenetrable armour, and breaks into the vyūha, that is only natural for him. All said and done, ācārya is an old man. He can’t move as fast as Arjuna. Therefore I cannot say this is Droṇa’s mistake. Even while all of us were fighting on the battlefield if Saindhava was slain, we must concede that Fate was stronger than all of us. Man must do whatever he can and try his best to attain his goal but ultimately he has to surrender to the will of Fate.”
Even as they were speaking, the Pāṇḍava army re-appeared on the battlefield and began fighting. In a short time, it was evening. But the war did not stop as was customary. It continued in the light of lamps. Five lamps for every chariot. Three lamps for an elephant, one lamp each for every horse. Thus both armies had several such lamps due to which the entire battlefield was bathed in light. On the Pāṇḍava side, Sātyaki and Dhṛṣṭadyumna fought bravely. Bhīma killed Bahlika, ten brothers of Duryodhana, and five brothers of Śakuni. When Arjuna wanted to fight against Karṇa, Kṛṣṇa did not give his consent; instead he called Ghaṭotkaca and said, “Look here, my son, this is the right time to display your prowess and valour; you have the strength of Bhīma. You have several weapons; you are capable of māyā-yuddha (using magic and illusions in war). Further, during night-time, rākṣasas get stronger; therefore, fight against Karṇa, kill him, and help the Pāṇḍavas; people have children because they are the refuge of their parents both here and hereafter, O Ghaṭotkaca!”
Accordingly, Ghaṭotkaca proceeded to the battlefield, killed Alayudha and others, and finally engaged in combat with Karṇa. With his magical powers, he disappeared while fighting with Karṇa. The Kaurava army was in complete disarray with the onslaught of the rākṣasa. At that point, Karṇa invoked Vaijayanti, the śakti weapon given to him by Indra, and used that against the demon. Ghaṭotkaca was severed into two pieces and died; it was like a huge mountain flying in the skies. Upon hearing the news, Bhīma and Yudhiṣṭhira were plunged into sorrow. All the others in the Pāṇḍava side were similarly engulfed with grief while Kṛṣṇa alone was joyous; he gave out a lion’s roar and embraced Arjuna, congratulating him. Arjuna was shocked and surprised at his behaviour and asked him the reason for it. Kṛṣṇa said, “This is a happy event, Arjuna! I derive great solace from this; my mind is now calm. Karṇa used the śakti weapon (which can be used only once) against Ghaṭotkaca and now he is as good as dead. Karṇa’s armour and ear-rings were anyway taken away by our good fortune; now he has lost the weapon that was unconquerable. If all these three were with him, he would have vanquished the three worlds single-handedly. When he gifted away his coat of mail and his ear ornaments to Indra and obtained the śakti weapon in exchange, he assumed that your death was a certainty. You are now safe from that weapon; he has become an ordinary warrior; it has become possible to defeat him, to kill him.” Thus he explained the meaning of his actions. The war stopped at that and the army returned to their camps for a little rest.
In the early hours of the morning, at moonrise, the war resumed in the moonlight. Droṇa killed Drupada, Virāṭa, and other great warriors. Dhṛṣṭadyumna faced Droṇa in single combat. Duryodhana, Karṇa, and others were offering protection to Droṇa. Pained by Duryodhana’s sharp words, Droṇa began fighting with relentless zeal and ferocity. In this state, it seemed impossible to defeat Droṇa. Unless Droṇa laid down his weapons and sat still, it wasn’t possible for the Pāṇḍavas to win. Therefore Kṛṣṇa thought of a plan. He said, “One of you must say that Aśvatthāma is dead; that will shake Droṇa completely and he will stop fighting.” Nobody agreed to that.
There was an elephant named Aśvatthāma in the army of the Māḻava king; Bhīma killed that elephant with his mace and then shouted within earshot of Droṇa, “Aśvatthāma is dead!” Upon hearing those words, although Droṇa’s heart skipped a beat and his mind quivered, he doubted the veracity of that statement knowing well his son’s valour and abilities. Within a few seconds, he recovered from the shock and resumed his attack on Dhṛṣṭadyumna. Upon seeing that, Kṛṣṇa told Dharmarāja, “If Droṇa continues to fight in this manner, he will wipe out your entire army. I speak the truth. Therefore you must save us all from Droṇa. Now, falsehood becomes more important than truth. It is not wrong to utter a lie in order to save a life.” While they were engaged in a debate, Bhīma came there and spoke about all that he had done. “I don’t think Droṇa believes my words; if you desire our victory, then do as Govinda says. Mahārāja! If those words come from your mouth, Droṇa will not continue fighting. You have attained fame as a truth-teller!” Dharmarāja then said in a loud voice, “Aśvatthāma is dead,” and then in an incoherent tone and soft voice, “...the elephant!” (“aśvatthāmā hataḥ kuñjaraḥ”)
When Droṇa heard those words, he was unable to gather himself together and fight like he did earlier. His arrows were exhausted. His weapons became ineffective. Yet, he ensured that he broke Dhrishtadyumna’s bow, killed his horses and charioteer, and destroyed his chariot. Sātyaki and Arjuna rushed to support him. Bhīma took Dhṛṣṭadyumna in his chariot and went towards Droṇa.
Bhīma then told his guru, “Brāhmaṇas must be contented undertaking their karmas; kṣatriyas might have all been saved if they [i.e. brāhmaṇas] had not learnt archery and waged a terrible war. Ahiṃsā is the greatest of dharmas. Brāhmaṇas are the foundation for ahiṃsā; and you are the foremost of such brāhmaṇas. The person for whose sake you took to weapons and made a living out of it is now dead!” Upon hearing these words, Droṇa said, “Karṇa, Kripa, Duryodhana, now you all continue the battle! Good tidings to both Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas; may all of you be well! I am now laying down my weapons. O Aśvatthāma! O Aśvatthāma!” Thus shouting out loud, he motivated all animals, and then embraced yoga. While he meditated on the Supreme, a brilliant spark seemed to leave his body and go away. At that point, Dhṛṣṭadyumna jumped out of the chariot with a sword in his hand, came near Droṇa, held his head by his matted locks, and severed the head of the dead body. Thus, an old man of eighty-five years whose hairs had all turned white, fought like a young lad of sixteen before finally giving up his life.
At another end of the battlefield, Aśvatthāma was shocked to see the Kaurava army run helter-skelter; wondering what the reason for this might be, he went to Kṛpa and asked him. In great detail Kṛpa told him the events that had transpired. Enraged to the ends of the world, Aśvatthāma shouted, “Let the earth drink the blood of that Yudhiṣṭhira who deceived my father into giving up his weapons! I will attain peace only after I kill the sinful Dhṛṣṭadyumna and the Pāñcālas!” Saying these words, he invoked the Nārāyaṇāstra and released it, with a view to destroy the Pāṇḍava army. The Nārāyaṇāstra began taking different forms and started destroying the Pāṇḍava army. As they tried to fend it off and engage it in combat, it began growing in size. At that, the entire army was overcome with fear and didn’t know which direction to go. Then Kṛṣṇa announced the secret of dealing with that weapon. He shouted, “All of you put down your weapons and offer your salutations to the weapon; then it will be rendered powerless.”
Everyone except Bhīma followed his instructions; the Nārāyaṇāstra sidestepped everyone else and came in the direction of Bhīma. At that, Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna rushed to Bhīma and forcibly pulled him out of his chariot even as he was holding his weapons. “If one could fight against this weapon, would we not do it as well? Can’t you see all our warriors standing weapon-less on the ground, having alighted from their chariots and discarded their weapons?” After they chided him thus, he remained still and the Nārāyaṇāstra was calmed. It caused no harm in the end. Since it could not be used a second time, Aśvatthāma released the Āgneyāstra and other divine weapons. But since Arjuna knew about all these weapons, he countered them effectively. Aśvatthāma lost all enthusiasm and returned to his camp.
End of Droṇa-parva.
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.