Just like Yudhiṣṭhira, the other Pāṇḍavas too spoke provocative words. Listening to their humiliating words, Duryodhana decided to fight the battle and said, “You are too many! You have chariots, weapons, and everything needed for a war. I am all alone! I don’t have anything with me – neither chariots nor weapons. I don’t possess even an armour now. I have been grievously injured. Is it right for a person like me to fight you all? How is that justified? I am not scared of any of you! Enraged, I can chase you all away from the battlefield. However, this is not dharma! Wait for a while. I shall come out and avenge the deaths of Droṇa, Bhīṣma, Karṇa, and Bhagadatta. I will kill you all in a single stroke!”
Yudhishitra said, “Fortunately, you too are well-versed with kṣatriya-dharma! You have finally made up your mind to fight us! You now seem to have gathered courage to face us. You may pick the weapon you like and fight any person you want. The rest of us will only watch you fight. If you win, the kingdom is yours and if you die, you will reach the heavens!”
Duryodhana replied, “I give my consent for fighting one of you. The mace is my favourite of all weapons. One of you come forward and combat with me using a mace. We have had several combats on chariots already!”
“Alright! Get up and come out now. Let us witness your manliness!”
Duryodhana couldn’t stand Yudhishitra’s taunts any more. He came out of the water carrying an iron mace on his shoulder. He looked like a wild elephant jumping out of water. The wounds on his body were still ripe and there was blood oozing out of them all! Water around him had turned red with blood!
He called out, “Whoever wishes to come may come forward! It doesn’t matter to me even if I don’t have an armour to wear. Having been in water for all this while is of no consequence either!”
Kṛṣṇa, who had heard Yudhishitra speak so far, was now quite anxious. He looked at Yudhiṣṭhira with eyes filled with anger and said, “You gave your word to Duryodhana that even if he defeats any one of you, the entire kingdom will be his! Are these words of bravery and wisdom? What’s going to be our fate if Duryodhana chooses to fight either you, Arjuna, Nakula, or Sahadeva? There is none other than Bhīma and Arjuna who can fight him. Yet, there is none who has mastered the art of fighting with a mace as Duryodhana has. He has practised mace the last thirteen years with the sole purpose of defeating Bhīma! It is true that Bhīma is strong but Duryodhana is more skilled than him. Between skill and strength, it is skill that takes the upper-hand. When such is the case, you let him choose his weapon and he picked up a mace! You always put us into trouble in this manner!”
Bhīmasena said, “You don’t have to worry, Kṛṣṇa! I am certain that I will kill Suyodhana! My mace is longer than his. I shall fight with my mace. The rest of you, just stand around and watch!”
Bhīma looked at Duryodhana who appeared like an elephant separated from its herd. He roared, “Duryodhana! Try recalling all the injustice hurled upon us by you and your father! You will now enjoy the fruit of all your previous actions. Bring to your mind the humiliation Draupadī was subject to in the Kuru court! You will now see what your past actions have brought you to! I have killed all your brothers along with their armies. You alone have survived like a coward! I’ll smash you with my mace! Come now!”
Duryodhana said, “Vṛkodara! What’s the use of mere boasting? I’ll fulfil your craving for a combat! Come! Don’t you see me adept at fighting with a mace. Don’t behave like a cloud that is devoid of water but just thunders. Show your strength in the battle!”
Balarāma returned from him tīrthayārtā right at that moment. Both Bhīma and Duryodhana were his students in mace fighting. Balarāma had come there as he had heard that the two were going on a one-on-one combat. He was eager to see them fight. Everyone assembled there paid their salutations to Balarāma who had appeared all of a sudden, to their surprise. After they enquired about each other, Balarāma said, “It has been forty-two days since I left from here. As soon as I returned, I heard that the two were going to fight each other and rushed to this spot!” He sat down with the others as a spectator.
The mace fight started.
The two fought each other like elephants in rut. They employed different techniques and methods of warfare. Each of them dodged the blows of the other. When hit, they would soon recover and continue fighting. The combat went on in this manner for a long time. Looking at that Kṛṣṇa said to Arjuna, “Bhīma has taken a vow that he will break Duryodhana’s thigh. He should fulfil his vow. If he relies entirely on his strength and keeps fighting in a just manner, his vow is never going to get fulfilled. A cheat should be taught a lesson by cheating in return. If that doesn’t happen, Yudhiṣṭhira will be in great danger. Someone who has otherwise has been defeated on all accords, when faced with a duel will fight for his life putting the best of his efforts. It is extremely challenging to fight such men. If Bhīma doesn’t kill Duryodhana right away even if he needs to resort to unjust means, the Kaurava will be our king forever!”
As Arjuna heard these words, he patted his left thigh such that Bhīma could see it. Bhīma understood Arjuna’s intent and tried to confuse the opponent by using different combat techniques such as maṇḍalas, yamakas and gomūtrikas. However, as Duryodhana was adept at fighting with a mace, he was waiting for a chance to hit Bhīma. One of the heavy blows that landed on Bhīma made him lose consciousness for a split second – he stood motionless, having lost control over his self.
Duryodhana did not see this and thought that Bhīma was getting ready to return his blows. Bhīma too regained his composure in no time. This pattern of fighting continued for a long time. At one point, Duryodhana jumped off the ground to escape from the blow of Bhīma’s mace. Even as he was in the air, Bhīma brought all his strength together and hit hard on Duryodhana’s thighs. Duryodhana fell to the ground with his thighs broken.
As he bit dust like a huge tree falling off the earth, Bhīmasena went close to him and said, “You evil one! You humiliated Draupadī in the court. You went with malicious laughter on your face and called Kṛṣṇā ‘a cow,’ even as she was clad in a single piece of saree.” A fierce Bhīma kicked his head. He looked around at everyone present there and said, “Ah! Watch this! Here’s the person who had insulted us by calling us a cow. We can now give him back in the same measure and words, can’t we? He is a cow! We, however, don’t desire to play with fire or to play the game of dice. We are not cheats and the strength in our arms suffices. Thus, we will completely eliminate the person who had treated us like a piece of dust in the past!” He kicked Duryodhana’s head once more and exclaimed, “You cheat!”
Looking at this all, Yudhishitra said, “Bhīma! You have avenged all the insult and humiliation we all went through. Your oath has found its fulfilment. Thus, don’t do anything inauspicious! You shouldn’t kick him – it is not dharma to do so. He is after all our relative. He was the leader of eleven akṣauhiṇīs. We must only feel sorry for him and not mock his penury now!”
He then spoke to Duryodhana, “Brother! Don’t fret over this. You must experience the results of your past actions. You brought this upon yourself because of your own deeds. Your brothers too met with similar fate – all your relatives and friends are now gone! Their wives are now reduced to widowhood and are cursing you for their condition.” He let out a sigh of distress.
Balarāma was enraged and said, “My goodness! Ugly! Bhīma hit him below his navel! I have never seen anyone do so in a duel with maces. The rule of gadhāyuddha says that one must not hit below the navel! He has broken all rules and has acted in a manner that pleases only him!”
With these words, Balarāma picked up his plough and tried hitting Bhīma with it. Kṛṣṇa gently stopped him and said, “The Pāṇḍavas are our friends, naturally. They possess great strength and skill. They are, after all, the children of our maternal aunt and are thus, our cousins. Their enemies cheated them. Bhīma had taken a vow that he will break Duryodhana’s thigh. It is the dharma of the kṣatriyas to keep up their vows! Moreover, Duryodhana had been cursed by Maitreya thus – ‘Bhīma will break your thigh one day!’ That was bound to happen. I don’t see any mistake in any of this. Please give up your anger!”
Balarāma replied, “Kṛṣṇa! Whatever you say is true, perhaps. Yet, it is not right for kāma and artha to go against dharma. My only concern is the way in which Bhīma defeated Duryodhana – he went against dharma! Bhīma will gain ill-fame that he killed a dhārmic Suyodhana by employing adhārmic means! Suyodhana who used just means in fighting the war will get great glory!” With these words, Balarāma hopped on to his chariot and left for Dvāraka.
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.