by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

Elizabeth Seeger’s The Five Sons of King Pandu: The Story of the Mahabharata




Abimanyu's Sacrifice

Karna returned to the spacious encampment of the Kúrava army and spoke cheering words to the warriors, and they, beholding him, were filled with hope and welcomed him with shouts, the twanging of bowstrings, and the clapping of armpits. He and Duryodha agreed that Drona should be made commander of the host in Bhishma's stead, and the ceremony was immediately held, with hymns and the sons of bards and cries of "Victory!" With Karna and Drona to lead them, the warriors felt sure of winning, even without Bhishma.

Afterwards, in the midst of all the host, Drona said to the king, "Since you have honored me with the command of your host, what can I do for you, O tiger among men? What boon do you desire?"

"This is the boon that I ask of you, O master," Duryodha replied, "Bring Yudhistra here to me, alive!"

"Why do you not desire his death, O King?" asked DRona. "It would be truly wonderful if you vanquished him in battle and then made peace and gave him back his kingdom."

"O master!" cried Duryodha. "the victory can never be mine if Yudhistra is slain, for Arjuna would never rest till he had slain us all. Nay, bring him here alive, so that we may gamble with him once again and send the Pándavas into the forest for as long as they live! Thus we can win a lasting victory."

Drona thought for a while about this crooked plan and then said, "Yudhistra can never be taken even by the gods, so long as Arjuna protects him. But if by some means Arjuna can be taken out of the fight, O King, I will bring his eldest brother to you before the day is over."

The king of the Trigartas spoke: "We are always being humbled by him who wields Gandíva. I shall challenge him tomorrow and take him from the field; then we shall surround him and slay him. I swear now before you all that we shall do this." And he took a solemn vow with his brothers and the leaders of his troops that all of them would die rather than return from the battle without slaying him of the white steeds.

The next morning Arjuna said to Yudhistra, "These men have sworn to conquer me or die and have challenged me to a battle that I cannot refuse. Therefore let Sátyajit, Dráupadi's brother, protect you in my place. As long as he lives, Drona can never capture you; but, O lord of earth, if he is slain, do not remain on the field, even if all our host surround you!"

Yudhistra gave him his promise, embracing him lovingly, and Arjuna rode out against the Trigartas like a hungry lion longing to feast upon a herd of deer, while the Kúrava army, rejoicing in his absence, set their hearts on taking Yudhistra captive.

The Trigartas took their stand on a level field and formed an array in the shape of a half-moon. They were filled with joy and raised a great shout as they saw their enemy, with his shining diadem, come toward them; but Arjuna said to Krishna with a smile, "These men who are about to die seem to be very joyful when they should be weeping." He took up his great conch, the God-given, and blew such a blast that the Trigartas host stood as if turned to stone, and their animals, with staring eyes, and necks and ears thrust out, trembled with fear. The warriors recovered quickly, placed their ranks in order, and shot their arrows all at once, which fell upon the son of Pandu as bees fly to a flowering tree in the forest. He pierced his foes in turn with many arrows, cut down their standards and killed their leaders.

While Arjuna was fighting against these warriors in the southern part of the field, Drona arrayed his forces in the form of a great bird whose beak was himself, while the head was made up of Duryodha, his brothers, and Karna, who for the first time unfurled his shining banner that bore the device of an elephant's tail. Warriors eager to seize Yudhistra darted out from the wings and the body of the bird like lightning flashing from the clouds in summer, and a sound arose in the Pándava army like the sound made by a herd of elephants when their leader is attacked. Sátyajit rushed at Drona and they fought like demons, for both were powerful. But Drona took a crescent-headed arrow and cut Satyajit's head from his body, and the great warrior fell from his chariot like a falling star. Then Drona rushed eagerly at Yudhistra, but the son of Pandu remembered his promise to Arjuna and turned his chariot, leaving the field. Bitterly disappointed, Drona attacked the Pándavas and their allies and drove their troops back like frightened deer. The battle raged until sunset, when Arjuna returned, having driven the Trigartas from the field. As his blazing banner with the shrieking ape drew near, the Kúrava army broke and many were killed when darkness came and both armies, broken and wounded, returned to their tents.

Since Yudhistra had not been taken captive and the army had been routed by Arjuna, the Kúrava warriors were filled with sorrow and sat silent in their tents like men under a curse, while Drona was deeply ashamed because he had not kept his promise. In the morning he said to Duryodha, "I do my best to bring you victory, O lord of the earth, but no one can defeat the army that is protected by the diadem-decked Arjuna. I promise you, however, that today I will form an array that cannot be broken and that I will slay one of the foremost heroes of the Pándavas. If it is possible, take Arjuna again out of the battle."

The Trigartas, therefore, still eager to slay Arjuna, challenged him again in the southern part of the field, while Drona drew up his host in the great circular array. In the center of the circle stood Duryodha, resplendent under his elephant banner, with Karna and Dushasa beside him. At the entrance of the circle Drona rode his chariot; beside him was his son, Ashvattáma, and the mighty king of Sind, the gambler Shákuni, Shalya, king of Madra, and the brothers of Duryodha, those few who remained alive.

The Pándava warriors, headed by Bhima, eager to fight and blazing with wrath, hurled themselves against that immovable array; but like a mighty wave rushing against a rock, they were flung back by Drona. The strength of his arms was amazing and none could stand before the power of his weapons. When Yudhistra saw that nothing prevailed against him, he called Abimanyu, Arjuna's son, who was not yet of age but who equaled his father in beauty, bravery, and knowledge

"O child," said the king, "we cannot break that circular array. Only Arjuna and Krishna and you know how to pierce it. O Abimanyu, for our sakes and that of all our host, take up this heavy burden; lead us through it so that Arjuna may praise us when he returns from battle."

"I will soon break that fierce array," said Abimanyu, "for my father has taught me how to do it. But I do not know how to come out of it again if danger overtakes me."

"Only break that array!" cried Yudhistra. "Make a passage through it and the rest of us will follow and protect you."

"I will follow close after you," shouted Bhima, "with Jumna and the twins, once the array is broken."

Encouraged by these words, Arjuna's son ordered his charioteer to drive him swiftly toward Drona's army. "Are you sure that you can bear this heavy burden?" asked his charioteer. "You are not used to battle, and Drona is the master of all weapons."

Abimanyu laughed. "Who is this Drona, O charioteer, and who are all these warriors? If my uncle Krishna and my father, if Indra himself came against me in battle, I should not fear. Drive swiftly on!" And in his chariot with its gold-decked wheels, its peacock banner flying, he sped toward the opposing army like a young lion attacking a herd of elephants.

When they beheld him coming toward them with the Pándava host following, the Kúravas advanced joyfully against him, and a fearful battle raged round him, like the eddy made in the ocean where the river Ganges meets it. Abimanyu, with great lightness of hand and a knowledge of the vital parts of the body, slew many of the advancing warriors, and as he fought, he broke through the array and entered the inner circle, where he careered through the Kúrava army like a fire playing in the straw. His bow, always drawn to a circle, looked like the sun's disk, the twang of his bowstring and the clapping of his palms sounded like thunder.

Yudhistra, Bhima, and the twins, with all the warriors of their army, followed close behind him, pressing in along the path that he had opened. But the Kúrava warriors, turning from Abimanyu, fought against those mighty heroes with all their strength. led by the king of Sind, who carried the silver boar on his banner. The king, for a few moments, held back the Pándavas and the army that followed them, and in that time the path that Abimanyu had cut through the array was blocked, and the son of Arjuna was left alone within the circle.

Surrounded on all sides, Abimanyu looked like Yama himself destroying all creatures at the world's end. He showered arrows in all directions, strewed with earth with the bodies of his enemies and drove back mighty warriors.

Shákuni said to Duryodha, "Let us ask Drona how we may overcome him!"

Drona said to them, smiling, "Behold the lightness of hand and the swift motion of this son of Arjuna! Can you see the least weakness in him? I rejoice in him, even though his arrows wound me sorely. You cannot pierce his coat of mail, for I taught his father how to put on armor, and he has taught his son. Therefore you must cut off his bow, kill his horses and his charioteer, and so make him powerless."

Then Drona and Karna and Ashvattáma with three more great warriors surrounded the boy and mercilessly slew his steeds and his charioteer and cut his bow in pieces. Drona cut the hilt from his sword, and Karna destroyed his shield. Then Abimanyu picked up a chariot wheel, lifted it high in his hands and rushed at Drona, but the warriors who surrounded him broke the wheel with their powerful shafts. He picked up a mace and with it slew the horses and the charioteer of Ashvattáma and then those of the son of Dushasa. The latter, taking up his mace, leaped from his chariot and the two cousins fought fiercely with their maces, each striking the other to the ground. The son of Dushasa rose first, and while Abimanyu was rising from the earth, struck him on the head with all his power. Arjuna's son fell dead, like a wild elephant slain by hunters, like a tempest spent after destroying mountains, like the setting sun. Thus one was slain by many.

The Pándavas were fighting fiercely at the place where the circle had closed behind Abimanyu, but they could not break that close array, which was defended by many Kúrava warriors, led by the mighty king of Sind. When Abimanyu fell, a great shout of joy came from within the circle, and both sides knew that the boy was dead. The Kúravas rejoiced but the Pándavas were filled with grief and said, "Alas, this child, fighting alone, was killed by six mighty chariot warriors led by Drona and Karna. This was not a righteous fight."

The Pándava troops fled away, and since the end of the day had come, the warriors retired to their tents. Taking off their armor and laying aside their weapons, they sat around Yudhistra, thinking of their great sorrow; and Yudhistra, with a heavy heart, wept for Abimanyu and thought to himself, "What can I say to Arjuna?"


Arjuna's Vow

In the hour of twilight Krishna and Arjuna turned their victorious chariot homeward, for they had again defeated the Trigartas. As they drew near the encampment, Arjuna said, "Why does my heart sink, O Krishna, and my speech falter? The fear of disaster seizes my mind and I cannot shake it off. I wonder whether any evil has befallen my brothers and our friends."

When they reached the camp, they found it silent and joyless, and Arjuna, with a heavy heart, spoke again: "No trumpet sounds the victory today. I hear no stringed instruments, no clapping of hands, no songs of praise; and those warriors whom we meet turn away from me, their heads hanging in grief. Alas, Subadra's son has not come out to meet me, smiling, as he always does. What evil thing has happened? He entered Yudhistra's tent and found his brothers and their sons sitting sorrowfully there.

"How pale your faces are!" Arjuna said. "Where is Abimanyu? Why has he not come to meet me? I heard that Drona formed the circular array today; did you send the boy to pierce it? Has that mighty bowman, that slayer of enemies, fallen so soon in battle?" Their silence told him that it was true.

"Alas!" he said, "that dear son of Subadra, the favorite child of Dráupadi and Krishna, beloved of Kunti; if he is dead than I, too, will die. That son with softly curling hair and eyes like a deer's, sweet of speech and wise for all his youth, generous, obedient, and fearless; if he is dead, then I, too, will die. What joy can my heart know if I never again behold his face or hear his voice? What can I say to Dráupadi and Subadra? For while he fought, surrounded by his foes, he must have thought, 'My father will come and rescue me.' Surely my heart is as strong as the thunderbolt, since it does not break in pieces here and now."

As he sat there weeping for his son, none dared to speak to him save Krishna and Yudhistra, whom he loved and reverenced most. Yudhistra told him all that had happened: how Abimanyu had broken the array, how they followed close behind him but had been stopped by the king of Sind, and how at last Abimanyu had been surrounded and slain by six chariot warriors.

Then Arjuna, pressing his hands together with rage and sighing deeply, said, "You bulls among men, I swear here before you all that tomorrow I shall slay that king of Sind. Listen now to another oath of mine! If tomorrow's sun sets before I have slain that villain I myself shall mount the funeral pyre! You demons and gods and men, you wanderers of the night, you birds and snakes, do not protect my enemy, for if he goes under the earth or into the heavens, I shall with a hundred arrows, before another night has come, cut off the head of Abimanyu's foe!"

He rose and stretched Gandíva, plucking its string, and the sound of the mighty bow rose above his voice and reached the very heavens. Then shouts and the blare of conchs and trumpets arose in the Pándava camp, making the earth tremble.

The Kúravas heard these sounds, and the spies of Duryodha hurried to tell their master all that had happened, as he sat among the leaders of his host. The King of Sind was stunned with fear.

He arose and said, "If Arjuna means to kill me, allow me. O lords of earth, to go back home and live. These shouts from the Pándava camp fill me with fear; I feel like a man drowning in the ocean. Therefore give me leave, I pray you, to go where the wielder of Gandíva may not find me!"

But Duryodha, thinking always of his own victory, said to him, "Do not fear, O tiger among men! You are a mighty hero, and we shall surround you on all sides and protect you with our eleven armies. Arjuna shall not touch you!"

Thus comforted, the king of Sind went that night to Drona, who had been his teacher. He touched the master's feet and asked, "O illustrious one, tell me exactly what is the difference between Arjuna and myself--in aim, in lightness of hand, and in strength."

"Both of you had the same teaching," answered Drona, "but because of Arjuna's hard life and the discipline that he has undergone, he is better than you in every way. However, do not fear to fight tomorrow, for I will protect you and form an array that the Pándavas cannot pierce. Do your duty and follow the path of your ancestors!"

In the morning Drona formed an array that was hard to break. First he ordered one shaped like a cart, and behind that another in the form of a lotus, and inside that a dense array called the needle. At the eye of the needle stood Duryodha and Karna and behind them thousands of the finest warriors, while at the point of the needle the king of Sind took his stand. Drona stood at the head of the whole host, and Duryodha, beholding the mighty army teeming with chariots and men, horses and elephants, took heart and rejoiced.

On the other side, Arjuna, eager to achieve his vow, clad in mail and decked with his golden diadem, brandishing Gandíva, placed his chariot at the very head of his army and blew his conch, while the ape on his banner opened its mouth and yelled. He attacked his foes like a pouring cloud of arrows, seeming to dance upon his chariot, drawing his bow so swiftly that no one could find the slightest chance to strike him.

He drew near to Drona's chariot, joined his palms and said, "Wish me well, O Brahman, and bless me! I must enter this unbreakable array and kill the king of Sind. You are like a father to me, like the just king Yudhistra or Krishna, and I ask for your permission, as your son might ask it. Let me pass, O sinless one!"

The master, smiling, said to him, "O Arjuna, unless you vanquish me, you will not be able to kill the king of Sind. Remember your pledge to me and fight hard against me!" He covered the son of Pandu and his chariot with a shower of arrows, and Arjuna fought back, shooting this mightiest shafts, but so wonderful was Drona's skill that not one arrow touched him, although many of his troops were slain and wounded.

Krishna was anxious that Arjuna's vow should be kept and said to him, "We cannot lose time, for a more important task awaits us. We must avoid Drona and press on!"

"Do as you think best!" answered Arjuna, and Krishna, passing Drona on the left, drove onward, while Arjuna turned around and shot backward.

"Why do you drive on, O son of Pandu?" shouted the master. "Must not a warrior fight until he has defeated his foe? Are you leaving the battle?"

"You are my teacher and no foe of mine," answered Arjuna. "I am your pupil and therefore like your son. Besides, no one can defeat you in battle, and I have other foes to kill." He drove swiftly on, with two princes of Panchala guarding his wheels, and began to penetrate the Kúrava host, careering over the field like an elephant among reeds, strewing the earth with the bodies of men and animals. Meanwhile the Pándava army, in full force, attacked the outer array where Drona was.

Duryodha beheld the slaughter and confusion of his troops and drove to the side of Drona. "Behold, that tiger among men has passed through our host," he said. "What can we do to prevent him from killing the king of Sind? No one believed that he could pass you by; if you had not promised to check him, I should have permitted the king to return home, as he desired to do. I am a fool to trust you, for you have always favored the Pándavas, even though I support you. O sinless one, do not be angry with me; only protect the king of Sind!"

"Krishna is the best of charioteers and Arjuna's horses are the fleetest," answered Drona. "I am too old to follow them so far and so fast. Besides, the whole army of the Pándavas is upon us and Yudhistra is unprotected and may therefore be captured. I shall stay and fight here and you must go and fight with Arjuna. You are a king and a hero, his equal in birth and education. Go, then, and fight with him yourself!"

"I, fight against Arjuna," cried Duryodha, "when he has passed you by and no one in the world can vanquish him?"

"I will enable you to stand against him and to stop him," Drona answered. He spoke certain incantations and put Duryodha's armor on him in such a way that no weapon could penetrate it; then he bade him have no fear, and the mighty-armed king, trusting the power of Drona and surrounded by the Trigartas and many other great warriors, set out in pursuit of Arjuna.

The son of Kunti was already near the place where the ruler of Sind stood in his chariot; he made a path through the enemy with his arrows, and Krishna drove the white steeds along that path. As they passed through that part of the host led by Drona, they looked like the sun and the moon coming out of the darkness. When at last they came in sight of the king of Sind, they shouted with joy and rushed toward him like two hawks swooping down on their prey. Just then, however, Duryodha sped past them in his chariot, turned his horses sharply and stood between them and their foe. Both warriors were confident and blew their conchs, eager to slay one another.

Arjuna coolly and quickly shot fourteen arrows whetted on stone and winged with vulture's feathers, but these fell down from the armor of Duryodha without piercing it. Krishna was amazed at this, but Arjuna knew that Drona must have put the armor on, for he alone knew the whole science of armor and had taught it to Arjuna. Therefore the son of Kunti attacked Duryodha's steeds, his driver, and his bow, even shooting the gloves from his enemy's hands, and piercing his palms. Thus he made Duryodha helpless, and other warriors, coming to his rescue, bore him off the field. But Karna and Ashvattáma and other kings and warriors surrounded Arjuna, trying to protect the king of Sind, hoping that the sun would set before he could be slain, for they knew that Arjuna would keep his vow and kill himself if he had not kept his word. But the ape-bannered son of Pandu, like a blazing fire, fought his way through them all and at last reached with his arrows the man who had slain his son and pierced him with nine of them. The king, who bore the silver boar on his banner, was filled with rage and rushed against Arjuna, speeding from his bow many a polished shaft while the fight became more fierce as the Kúrava warriors crowded round him to protect him.

The fearful fight raged all afternoon and the sun was sinking to the western hills. Krishna said, "You cannot kill the king, O best of men, till you have slain these warriors. Therefore I shall shroud the sun in a cloud of darkness so they will believe it has set and be less careful." Through his soul's power he created darkness that only those warriors perceived and they, thinking that the sun had set, were filled with gladness and stood with their heads thrown back, looking at the sky.

"Now quickly drive them off, O mighty one!" cried Krishna. "Strike off the head of the king of Sind and fulfill your vow! Strike quickly, for the sun has touched the mountains!"

Arjuna sent forth a torrent of arrows, wounding every one of the warriors and scattering their troops, and they were so amazed that they fell back and many fled away, abandoning the king. Then the son of Pandu took up an arrow that looked like the thunderbolt of Indra, terrible and fiery, and fixed it on his bow, and that shaft sped from Gandíva, snatched off the head of the king of Sind as a hawk snatches a smaller bird from a treetop.

Krishna removed the darkness that he had made, and the Kúrava warriors, seeing that they had been deceived, wept with sorrow and anger, while Krishna and Arjuna blew their conchs triumphantly. At that moment the thousand-rayed sun set behind the hills, and Arjuna returned to Yudhistra to tell him that the victory had been won.

Duryodha was filled with despair and breathed deep sighs like a snake with broken fangs. He bitterly reproached Drona and then ordered the troops again to battle, even though night had come. In the terrible hours of darkness the fight went on, while the jackals howled around the field and owls perched hooting on the flagstaffs. A fearful din arose, for in the pitch dark no one knew which was friend and which was foe; shouts and the neighing of horses and the clash of weapons filled the air. Bhima and Arjuna attacked the army of Drona and drove it back until the Kúrava warriors, terrified of the darkness and overcome by weariness, broke their array and began to flee in all directions.

Then Duryodha stopped them and rallied them with cheering words, crying, "Lay aside your weapons and take blazing lamps into your hands!" The foot soldiers ran to the tents and brought each one a burning lamp; they arrayed themselves again and placed on each chariot five lamps, on every elephant three, and one on every horse. The army, thus made radiant with light, looked beautiful , like the summer sky flashing with lightning, like trees covered with fireflies at twilight. The flames were reflected from golden ornaments, from armor and from bows, and flashed back from maces and from swords. When they beheld the Kúrava host so radiant, the Pándavas also bestirred themselves and lighted lamps. On each elephant they placed seven, on each chariot ten, and two on every horse, while the foot soldiers held blazing torches.

Midnight came while they fought. Animals and men were worn out and their eyes closed in sleep, for the night seemed everlasting. Some, blind with weariness, laid down their weapons and slept, on the backs of elephants, in their chariots, or on the ground, and many were slain before they waked and many slew those of their own side, so dazed were they.

Arjuna saw this and shouted to his men, "All of you and your animals are worn out with fighting. Therefore rest here on the field of battle. When the moon rises, you may fight again!"

The Kúrava warriors heard him and cried, "O king Duryodha, O Karna, stop the fight! The Pándavas are no longer attacking us!" And both armies lay down on the field, each warrior with his animal. The elephants, heavy with sleep, looked like hills as they lay there cooling the earth with the breath blown through their snakelike trunks, and the horses stood still in their trappings, softly stamping the ground. Warriors lay against their elephants' necks or on their chariots, while many men, in their armor and with their weapons beside them, slept on the ground. All were motionless and silent, like a forest unstirred by the wind.

In the early morning the moon rose, that delighter of eyes, the lord of lilies. It came like a lion out of its eastern cave; slowly its rays drove off the darkness and filled the earth and sky with radiance. The two hosts were awakened; they rose up as the ocean rises when its tide is summoned by the moon, and tired as they were, they fought again. Soon the chariot of the sun, vanquishing the glory of the moon, reddened the east and blazed into the sky. All the warriors of both hosts alighted from their chariots or their beasts and stood with joined palms, facing the lord of day, and worshiped him, saying their morning prayers. Then filled with new strength and joy, they dashed into the battle.


The Death of Drona

The same soldiers who had fought against one another before sunrise now fought again after the sun had risen, although some of them, weakened by fatigue and hunger and thirst, fell fainting on the ground.

Bhima drove his chariot close to that of Arjuna and said, "Listen to these words of mine, O foremost of warriors! This is the day when we must put forth all our might and bring about the death of Drona."

They beheld the master at the head of the Kúrava host, handsome and blazing with energy in spite of his eighty years, and the Pándavas attacked him together, while Duryodha, Karna, and Shákuni surrounded him to protect him.

Dráupadi's father and Virata, those aged kings, supported by their armies, were the first to attack him. Drona, with three sharp shafts, slew three of the grandsons of the king of Panchala and then put to flight the army of the Matsyas. The two kings, mad with rage, covered him with their arrows and with iron darts, whereupon the master with two well-tempered, broad-headed arrows sent both those aged monarchs to the realm of Yama.

When he saw his father fall, the high-souled Jumna swore a great oath in the midst of all the leaders, saying, "May I lose the reward of all my deeds if Drona escapes me with his life today!"

The two armies rushed against each other like two stormy oceans meeting, and it seemed amazing that any man could come out alive. There were single combats between Duryodha and Nákula, between Dushasa and Sadeva, between Karna and Bhima, who had already, during the night, slain the rest of Duryodha's brothers. Finally Drona and Arjuna met, and so wonderful was that battle between master and pupil that the other warriors lowered their weapons to watch it, for these two were the leaders, the refuge and the saviors of their hosts. The motions of their chariots, their swiftness, their sure aim, were beautiful to behold. Whatever weapons, human or divine, Drona used, Arjuna destroyed, and Drona was pleased in his heart, for he was proud that the greatest bowman in the world had been his pupil. As the other warriors watched these two heroes, wheeling like two hawks in the sky over a single prey, they said to one another, "Never has there been the like of this battle; no one can find any difference between these mighty ones. If Shiva divided himself in two and fought against himself, that fight would equal this one."

Neither could prevail over the other, so the battle became general again, and Drona attacked the Pándava army, killing many and driving back the rest. The Pándavas despaired of victory and said to each other, "Drona will consume us all like raging fire in a heap of straw. None can ever defeat him in battle except Arjuna, and he, who alone can do it, will never slay the master."

Then Krishna said, "The gods themselves cannot vanquish this leader of leaders, this foremost of chariot warriors. He has told us that if he were overcome by sorrow, he would lay aside his weapons, and that then he might be slain. I believe he would do that if he knew that his son, Ashvattáma was slain. Therefore, you sons of Pandu, lay virtue aside and let some man tell Drona that Ashvattáma is dead. Only thus can we win the victory."

Arjuna did not agree with this advice, but the others did, and at last Yudhistra unwillingly gave his consent. Bhima slew with his mace a huge elephant that was called Ashvattáma, which means the "horse-voiced"; then, with his brothers, he drove close to Drona and, after hesitating a moment, cried aloud, "Ashvattáma has been slain!"

When he heard these words, Drona's limbs seemed to melt like salt in water, but he remembered the might of his son and did not believe what Bhima said. He turned to Yudhistra and asked him if this were true, for he believed that the son of Dharma would never lie, even to gain the whole earth.

Krishna quickly said to Yudhistra, "If Drona fights for another day, I tell you truly that your army will be wiped out. Lying is no sin when it can save life."

And Yudhistra, who longed for victory, was persuaded by Krishna and said, "It is true; Ashvattáma is dead and lies on the bare ground like a young lion." After the word "Ashvattáma" he added under his breath, "the elephant." Before he said this, Yudhistra's chariot had always stood above the surface of the earth, but after he told that lie, chariot and horses stood upon the ground.

Then Drona, overcome by grief, laid down his weapons and cried aloud, "Ashvattáma! Ashvattáma!" He sat on the bench of his chariot, his head bent and his eyes closed, and devoted himself to meditation, his heart fixed on God. Jumna, the son of Panchala's king, frantic to avenge his father, leaped from his chariot with his sword in his hand and seized Drona's white hair. Shouts arose from all sides: "Forbear! Do not kill him!" Arjuna leaped from his chariot and ran toward Jumna with upraised arms, crying , "Do not slay the master! Bring him here alive!" But Jumna now had two reasons for revenge: his father's defeat by Drona, which he had been born to avenge, and now his father's death. He whirled his sword and cut off Drona's head, holding it high for all to see. Then he cast it on the ground before the Kúrava host, and all the warriors, as if they themselves were about to lose their lives, fled from the field, crying, "Alas! Alas!"

When Ashvattáma heard of his father's death, he was mad with grief and rage. He pressed his hands together and sighed deeply, like a snake that has been trodden upon. "I have heard how my sire was slain after he had laid aside his weapons," he said to Duryodha, "and I have heard how he was deceived by Dharma's son. I do not grieve because he died in battle, for he met a hero's death and has surely gone to those regions where dwell those who never turn their backs to a foe. I grieve because while I was alive his white locks were seized in the sight of the whole army. This tears the very core of my heart. Shame on my might! Shame on my skill in arms, since Drona, having me for a son, had his white locks seized by that impious wretch! O tiger among men, I swear by the truth and by my own deeds that I shall slay Jumna and wipe out all the Pándavas with the divine weapons my father gave me! Let them beware today!"

At his call the Kúrava army rallied, and the leaders blew their conchs and had the drums beaten. The uproar made the earth and sky echo, and the Pándavas, when they heard it, assembled to take counsel.

"When Drona was slain, O conqueror of wealth," said Yudhistra to Arjuna, "the Kúrava army fled. What mighty warrior is causing this terrible uproar and leading the enemy host back into battle?"

"He who rallies the Kúravas, he who walks like an angry elephant and has a face like a tiger's, he who now roars so loud, O King, is Ashvattáma!" answered Arjuna. "He will never forgive Jumna for seizing the masters's hair; he will never rest until he has slain him or been slain himself, and all of us together will not be able to save Dráupadi's brother. You, O King, told your teacher a lie for the sake of a kingdom. Drona thought, 'The son of Pandu is virtuous and besides he is my pupil; he will never lie to me.' It is because he trusted you and believed you that he met his death. Alas, we have committed a cruel and a heavy sin! I have already, O lord of earth, sunk into hell, overcome with shame, since we caused the death of one who was a Brahman, who was old in years, who was our teacher, and who had laid aside his arms and was engaged in prayer."

After Arjuna had spoken, the rest sat silent for a moment, and then Bhima said angrily, "You are preaching like a Brahman or a holy man. We are Kshatrias, whose business is battle and whose purpose is victory, O son of Kunti. It is true that we have slain our teacher, but that teacher sat indifferent beside his son when Dráupadi was dragged into the assembly; that teacher caused the child, Subadra's son, to be slain by six mighty warriors; and that teacher put Duryodha's armor on in such a way that he could not be slain while fighting with you! We need not fear the son of Drona. It is no sin to slay one's enemy, and Drona was our enemy."

Then Jumna spoke: "O Arjuna, the duties of a Brahman are sacrifice, study, and the teaching of the Vedas. Which of these duties did Drona perform? He called himself a Brahman, but he lived as a Kshatria and did his best to slay us all in battle. Why, then, do you not praise me, instead of blaming me? You slew the grandsire, and now you reproach me for slaying this enemy of mine. That is not a right thing to do; yet I forgive you for the sake of Dráupadi and her children. Let us fight now! Victory will be ours."

Then those warriors went our again to battle with the Kúrava host, led by Drona's son. Terrible was the fight between them, for the Pándavas felt new strength because of Drona's death, while Ashvattáma, mad with fury, encouraged the Kúravas and led them on. When the two armies met, like two oceans or two mountains crashing against each other, the son of Drona loosed his most powerful weapon: thousands of arrows with blazing mouths flew through the air, and also iron balls which sorely wounded the Pándava host.

Then Krishna shouted, "Lay down your arms and lie flat upon the earth, all you who hear my words! Only thus can this mighty weapon lose its power!"

All those who heard obeyed him, excepting Bhima, who lifted his mace and rushed toward Ashvattáma. Arjuna, followed by Krishna, leaped from his chariot, ran swiftly after his brother, seized him and dragged him down to the ground in spite of his roaring and struggling. When all were lying down on the field. the terrible weapons of Ashvattáma passed harmlessly above them. Then they rose joyfully, eager to fight once more.

"Hurl that weapon speedily again, O son of our master!" cried Duryodha. "Our enemies are arrayed for battle."

"Alas," said Ashvattáma sadly. "the weapon can be cast but once, and Krishna knew how to make it powerless."

"Then fight them with other weapons," said Duryodha, "and let these slayers of their teacher be slain by his son!"

Thus roused again to anger, Ashvattáma went forth and sought out Jumna, whom he struck between the eyebrows with an arrow. The prince of Panchala sank down on the floor of his chariot, holding the flagstaff for support, and his charioteer drove him from the field to tend his wound, while Bhima and Arjuna and many others covered his retreat. Ashvattáma also slew Bhima's charioteer, and the horses, feeling the reins loosened, galloped madly away, carrying Bhima with them. But Krishna and Arjuna led the Pándava host and drove the Kúravas back, until night came and both armies retired to rest.

This was the fifteenth day of battle, the fifth day of Drona's command of the Kúrava host.


Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 225-246.