by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

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




Bhima Fulfills a Vow

At the end of that day when Drona had been killed and his son had failed to avenge him, the Kúrava chiefs met with cheerless hearts in Duryodha's tent. Drona's son proposed that Karna be made commander of the host; Duryodha agreed and installed Karna with the usual rites.

"I have told you already, O son of Gandhari," said Karna, who looked as resplendent as the sun, his father, "that I shall vanquish the Pándavas and all their sons and Krishna. Have no fear while I command your host!"

At dawn, to the sound of music, he arrayed the host in the hawk formation, placing himself at the tip of the beak; and Jumna made a counterarray in the shape of a half-moon. The two armies advanced as if in a dance, and warriors leaped forth from the tips of the moon and from the wings of the hawk, eager to slay each other. Yet on that sixteenth day of battle neither side prevailed until the evening, when all the Pándavas turned upon Karna and drove him back. He, fearing another night battle, ordered his army to retire, and the Pándavas retired, too, jeering at their enemy with shouts and derisive sounds of their conchs and trumpets, hoping for victory the following day.

Early the next morning before dawn, Karna went to Duryodha and said, "Today I shall fight with Arjuna, and I shall slay him or be slain by him. Listen, O ruler of men! My knowledge of divine weapons is equal to that of Arjuna, and in all else I am far better than he. Therefore, rejoice, for I shall gladden your heart by slaying him today, and the whole earth will be yours! There is only one way in which he is superior to me; he has Krishna for his charioteer. Now Shalya, king of Madra, is the only man who equals Krishna in the knowledge of horses and skill in driving; therefore, O best of the Kúravas, give me Shalya for my charioteer, and I will be in every way superior to the son of Pandu."

Duryodha heard these boastful words gladly. He went to the king of Madra and spoke to him humbly, saying, "O ruler of the Madras, O hero in battle, O slayer of foes, I come to you today with joined hands and bowed head to beg a favor of you. Today Karna wishes to contend in single combat with Arjuna, but there is no charioteer equal to Krishna--save yourself--to hold his reins. Therefore I beg of you, O foremost of warriors, to drive his chariot and to protect Karna, even as Krishna protects Arjuna. With you as his driver, the gods themselves could not defeat him, and we shall win the victory."

Shalya was filled with rage at these words. He frowned and rolled his eyes in anger as he answered, "You insult me, O son of Gandhari, by asking me to drive the chariot of Karna, who is not my equal in battle or in birth. Give me a harder task, O lord of earth! I will, if you wish, fight the enemy singlehanded. Behold these arms of mine, as strong as thunder! Behold this excellent bow, this mace entwined with hempen cords and decked with gold! I can split the very earth, dry up the oceans, scatter the mountains with my strength, but I cannot hold the reins of a Suta's son. Nor can I fight, since I have been so humiliated; therefore permit me to return home, O king of kings." And that tiger among men stood up, meaning to leave the encampment.

Duryodha, however, held him and spoke sweet and soothing words to the angry king, "Listen, O ruler of men! I do not think Karna is better than you in any way; indeed, there is none like you in might of arms or in learning. You are greater than Krishna himself, and therefore I am asking you to do for Karna what Krishna does for Arjuna. This is no insult, O mighty hero."

Shalya was flattered by these words and said, "I am pleased with you, O son of Gandhari, since you say that I am greater than Krishna. I will hold the reins of Karna while he fights against Arjuna. But let it be understood that I shall say in his presence anything that I please." Duryodha and Karna both agreed to this, and Duryodha joyfully embraced Shalya.

Then the king of Madra mounted the splendid chariot of Karna and took up the reins; Karna also mounted it, stretching his mighty bow, and those two heroes looked like Surya and Agni seated on a cloud. The Kúravas, filled with delight, raised a greet shout and beat their drums and cymbals.

"Urge on the steeds, O Shalya," Karna said, "so that I may slay Arjuna and Bhima, the twins and Yudhistra! If all the gods should protect the sons of Pandu, I shall still vanquish them."

Shalya laughed aloud, for he remembered his promise to Yudhistra before the battle. "Forbear, forbear, O Karna," he said, "from such bragging! How can you, O lowest of men, compare yourself with Arjuna, who is the foremost? Who but he could have challenged Shiva himself to battle? Who but he could have defeated all the Kúravas when they tried to seize King Virata's cattle? Why did you not slay him then? Now you have another chance, but I tell you truly, if you do not flee from this battle, you yourself will be slain!"

"Why do you always praise Arjuna?" Karna asked. "If he wins this battle, then you may praise him, but not until then. Drive on!"

Shalya urged on the eager hoses and drove him onto the field. As soon as Karna met the Pándava troops, he said to the soldiers, "Whoever will show me where the ape-bannered son of Pandu is, to him I will give a cartload of gems and jewels. I will give a hundred cows with brass milking vessels to him who will show me that hero who has Krishna for his driver. Indeed, he who will bring me to Arjuna shall have all the wealth that son of Pandu leaves behind him after I have slain him."

"O Suta's son," cried Shalya, "do not give away jewels and hundreds of cattle in order to encounter Arjuna; you will see him soon enough and repent of your folly. When you challenge Arjuna to battle, you are like a hare that challenges a mighty elephant, you are like a man who fights a furious black cobra with a piece of wood, or like a jackal yelling at a maned lion; you are like a frog croaking at a thundercloud, or a dog which from the safety of his master's house barks at the forest-ranging tiger."

Karna was stung to fury by these words and answered, "I see that you are an enemy with a friend's face; you seek to frighten me. I know my own might. I have here one shaft that lies alone in its quiver in sandalwood dust. It is terrible as a poisonous snake; it is steeped in oil and beautiful to behold; I have worshiped it for many years. I have saved this shaft for Arjuna and with it I shall slay him."

"Behold, O Karna!" cried Shalya. "Yonder comes the son of Indra, slaughtering his foes along the way! Yonder flies his banner, while yours is trembling on its staff! Hark to Gandíva and behold your army fleeing before him!"

Karna replied with rage, "See now, he is beset on all sides by those Trigartas whom he has not yet slain! He will escape me. He is sure to perish, plunged into that ocean of warriors."

"Who would try to slay the god of waters with rain or quench the fire by throwing fuel upon it?" answered Shalya. "Rejoice that you cannot fight him now and turn to some other foe; there stand the other sons of Pandu, eager for battle!"

As they were talking thus, the two armies mingled fiercely, like the current of the Jumna and the Ganges meeting. Karna dashed through the Pándava host and attacked Yudhistra and a fierce fight took place, while the warriors on each side surrounded their leaders to protect them. That mighty bowman, Karna, wounded them all with his blood-drinking shafts and was himself wounded in the brow and chest by Yudhistra. Filled with rage, he cut Yudhistra's armor from his body and broke his bow, but he did not try to kill that king of men because he remembered his pledge to Kunti. Yudhistra, deeply wounded, retreated from the fight, while Bhima and the twins hurled themselves against Karna, shouting angry and taunting words. Bhima, eager to make an end of Karna, drew his bowstring to his ear and sped a fierce and mighty shaft against him. It pierced through karna's armor and he fell senseless in his chariot, whereupon Shalya drove him swiftly from the field, and Bhima triumphant routed the Kúrava host.

Dushasa saw the army terrified and sorely smitten, and he advanced fearlessly against Bhima, shooting showers of arrows. Blazing with anger at the sight of him, Bhima shouted, " O wicked one! Today I shall drink your blood!" Dushasa hurled an iron dart at Bhima, who whirled his terrible mace and flung it at his foe. The mace shattered the dart in midair and then struck Dushasa on the head, felling him to the ground. Bhima beheld him lying there and remembered how Dráupadi's hair had been seized, how she had been shamefully dragged into the assembly and how her clothes had been torn from her, and his wrath blazed up. Leaping from his chariot, he drew his whetted sword; he put his foot on Dushasa's throat and cut open his breast; then he bent down and drank Dushasa's hot lifeblood as he had sworn to do.

"The taste of this blood," he said, "is sweeter than my mother's milk or good wine mixed with honey." Looking again at Dushasa's body, he laughed softly and said, "What more can I do to you? Death has rescued you from my hands."


Arjuna and Karna

Meanwhile Arjuna had slain the last of the warriors who had challenged him. Returning to battle, he met the son of Drona and slew his charioteer. Ashvattáma took up the reins himself, but Arjuna, smiling, cut the reins with his sharp arrows, and the horses ran wildly off the field, carrying their master with them. Then Arjuna, gladdening the eyes of his troops, came among them and looked about him to see Yudhistra's banner, with its golden moon and planets. He could not find it and drove close to Bhima, asking, "Where is the king?"

"He has left the battle, sorely wounded by Karna's arrow," answered Bhima, and Arjuna, alarmed, asked Krishna to turn the chariot around and drive the horses swiftly toward the camp.

They found the king in his tent, lying alone on his bed, the arrows plucked from his body and his wounds tended. They were filled with joy at finding him alive and touched his feet, and Yudhistra, thinking that Karna must be already slain, welcomed them, hailing their victory and praising them.

"I have not yet met the Suta's son," Arjuna told him, "for I wished to come here to see that all is well with you. Now bless me, O lion among kings, for today I shall slay Karna and all our foes!"

Now Yudhistra was shamed by his defeat at Karna's hands, and he suffered sorely from his wounds; therefore he became very angry and spoke harsh words to his brother, saying, "You have deserted Bhima and come here out of fear of Karna! Long ago you promised me that you would slay him; why, then, have you left the battle? For thirteen years we have relied on you, O conqueror of wealth; will you betray us now? If you will not meet the Suta's son in battle, then give Gandíva to someone else who can use it better!"

When he heard these bitter words, Arjuna's anger blazed. He drew his sword, ready to avenge the insult his brother had offered him, but Krishna stopped him, saying, "Who is there here whom you must threaten, O son of Kunti? You came to find out how the king fares. Behold, he is well; now let us go to battle!"

But Arjuna, breathing hard, like an angry snake and fixing his eyes on his elder brother, said, "I would cut off the head of any man who said to me, 'Give Gandíva to someone else.' Those words have been spoken by the king and I dare not forgive them. For this reason I have drawn my sword, O Krishna."

"The king is tired," Krishna answered, "and suffers from pain and grief, for Karna drove him from the field and wounded him. Therefore he spoke harshly to you and also because he wished to provoke you to fight with Karna."

Arjuna thrust his sword into its sheath and, hanging his head in shame, took his brother's feet in his two hands and said, weeping, "Forgive me, O King! The task shall be delayed no longer. Karna seeks to fight with me today, and today I shall slay him. I live only for your good, O King; this is the truth!"

Yudhistra raised his brother and embraced him, saying, "I was put to shame this day in the sight of all my troops by Karna. Forgive my harsh words, O mighty-armed one! Go forth and slay the Suta's son, and my blessing go with you!"

The brothers wept together until their hearts were free of grief; then Krishna turned the white steeds and drove Arjuna out into the battle, where Karna's banner, with the elephant's rope, waved above his chariot.

When those two great bowmen met with shouts and the clapping of palms and the twang of bowstrings, the warriors on both sides cheered them with cries and the blare of conchs and trumpets. They were much alike, for both were born of gods and were godlike in strength and beauty. One had Krishna and the other Shalya for his driver; both had white horses and resplendent chariots; both had shining bows and arrows, swords and darts and lofty standards. The Kúrava warriors crowded around Karna, for he was now their stake in that game of battle, while the Pándavas stood by the high-souled Arjuna, who was their stake, and the soldiers were the spectators of that great game. Fiercely the two heroes challenged each other and blew their conchs. The mighty ape on Arjuna's banner leaped from his place and fell upon Karna's standard, tearing the elephant's rope with his teeth and nails, while the rope, hard as iron and decked with little bells, wrapped itself angrily about the ape. The horses, too, neighed at each other and stamped, eager for battle, while Krishna and Shalya eyed each other with keen glances.

Then to the sound of conchs and drums, the two warriors fought like two full-grown Himalayan elephants fighting for a mate, like two stormclouds or two mountains meeting one another. Showers of arrows, crescent-headed and boar-toothed, fell upon both chariots like birds flying into a tree at night to roost. Both warriors possessed divine weapons. Arjuna sped the Fire-God's weapon; it flew blazing through the air, setting fire to the mantles of the warriors who drew back from its path, but Karna quenched it with the weapon of the God of Waters and also covered the sky with black clouds to blind his foe. These Arjuna drove away with the Wind-God's weapon and, taking up another whose use he had learned in heaven, he sent forth hundreds of arrows with golden wings, which sped beyond the chariot of Karna and slew the fighters of the Kúrava host who surrounded him.

Then Karna, filled with rage, took out that keen and snake-mouthed shaft that he had kept for so long within its quiver in sandalwood dust and loosed it at Arjuna. Krishna knew its power, and as he saw it blaze through the air, he pressed the chariot down with his feet until it sank a cubit's depth into the earth. The horses, white as moonbeams and decked wit gold, bent their knees and lay down on the ground, and that terrible weapon passed over Arjuna's head, sweeping off the splendid diadem, set with many jewels and famous in the three worlds, that Indra had given him. The diadem broke into pieces, but Arjuna stood unmoved and bound his curling locks with a piece of cloth. Krishna dismounted and lifted the chariot out of the earth, and the white horses rose to their feet again.

Now Arjuna cut the bright and costly armor from Karna's body and pierced his vital parts with whetted shafts. Karna reeled, clutched his flagstaff and dropped his bow, but Arjuna, mindful of Kshatria honor, did not kill him then when he was helpless. Karna soon recovered and sped an iron shaft at his enemy's breast, and the son of Kunti trembled like a mountain in an earthquake and lowered Gandíva. At that moment, one of Karna's wheels sank into the earth; his chariot reeled and stuck fast. Seeing that Arjuna was hurt, he leaped from his car and tried in vain to pull the wheel out of the ground, Then he looked up and saw Arjuna drawing his bowstring to his ear.

With tears of rage in his eyes, Karna cried out, "O Arjuna, wait until I lift my wheel! You are both brave and virtuous and know the rules of battle: a warrior on his chariot may not fight with one who is on foot and in distress!"

Then Krishna answered him, saying, "It is well, O Suta's son, that you remember virtue now! When the son of Kunti was unfairly defeated at dice, where was your virtue? When you laughed to see Dráupadi dragged into the assembly, where was virtue then? When the sons of Pandu returned after the thirteenth year, did you wish to see their kingdom restored to them? When the boy Abimanyu was surrounded by six chariot warriors, where was your virtue? Since you thought nothing of it then, why waste your breath speaking of it now?"

Karna, furious and ashamed, took up his bow and fought from where he stood, while Arjuna, whose anger flamed as he listened to Krishna's words, took up a razor-headed arrow winged with gold and struck down Karna's standard bearing the elephant's rope and hung with bells. Then he took up another terrible shaft, drew his bowstring to his ear, and cut off Karna's head. Unwillingly that beautiful head left its body, as an owner unwillingly leaves a rich and comfortable house. Beautiful even in death, Karna lay on the earth as the thousand-rayed sun falls at the close of day. Clad in bright garments and golden mail, he was like a mighty tree with flowering branches felled by woodmen, like a heap of gold, like a fire quenched by Arjuna's arrows. Surya, the Sun-god, when he beheld his son, touched him with his rays and then sank into the western sea, as if to purify himself from the sight of death.

The Kúrava army fled away in fear like a herd of stampeding cattle, crying, "Alas, Karna! Alas, Karna" As they fled, they looked back at the lofty standard of Arjuna, each man fearing that the son of Kunti was pursuing him.

Shalya, standing alone in the chariot of Karna, cried to Duryodha, "Turn back, O King! The foremost of your warriors has been slain. The sun is setting; let your troops retire! This is destiny, O lord of earth; remember the cause of it!"

Duryodha, nearly senseless with grief, wept for his friend, crying, "O Karna! O Karna!" His friends tried in vain to comfort him and returned to their tents with heavy hearts.

Meanwhile Krishna and Arjuna lifted their snow-white conchs and blew them together, piercing the hearts of their retreating foes and gladdening the ears of Yudhistra. Then they turned the chariot , and, looking like two rising suns, they entered their encampment surrounded by their friends, followed by the praises of bards and warriors, and went to Yudhistra's tent to tell him that the victory had been won.


Duryodha Enters the Lake

Next morning the Kúravas put aside their grief, and undaunted by defeat, they made Shalya the leader of their array. They hoped that Shalya might still defeat the Pándavas, even though Bhishma and Drona and Karna, those mighty warriors, had all failed and had all lost their lives; and Shalya himself accepted the leadership with confidence and promised Duryodha that he would be victorious that very day. It was the eighteenth day of battle; both armies had lost many thousands of their troops and most of their bravest leaders. The Kúrava army was still much larger than that of the Pándavas, but the Kúravas had lost more of their great chariot warriors than their enemies had.

When the two armies were arrayed and the awful battle began again, Shalya said to his driver. "Yonder is King Yudhistra, resplendent as the sun. Take me to him speedily and then watch my great prowess! The Pándavas cannot stand against me in battle."

He drove toward Yudhistra and both kings challenged each other angrily and blew their conchs. Terrible was the encounter between them, and both were wounded and bleeding from each other's blows. Then Yudhistra killed the horses of the king of Madra and cut down with one blazing arrow the standard with the golden plowshare. Ashvattáma drove quickly to Shalya and took him up on his own chariot, but as they fled away, Shalya heard Yudhistra's triumphant shout, and he found another chariot and returned, roaring with rage, to the fight.

In his turn he killed the steeds of Yudhistra, and then leaping from his car, he rushed on foot against the son of Kunti. Yudhistra took up a dart whose handle gleamed with gold and jewels, a dart that the sons of Pandu had worshiped with perfumes and garlands, for it had been forged with care by the workmen of the gods. He hurled it at the king of Madra, and those who watched it saw sparks of fire fly from it as it sped like a meteor through the air. Shalya tried to catch it, but it pierced his fair broad chest as if his body had been water and entered the ground beyond him, carrying with it the world-wide fame of Madra's king. He fell down with outstretched arms, facing his foe, and the earth seemed to rise a little to receive him, as a wife rises to receive her lord, for the mighty Shalya had long enjoyed the earth, as one enjoys a dear wife, and seemed now to sleep on her breast, embracing her with his arms.

Then the warriors of Madra fell upon Yudhistra, eager for revenge, while Arjuna and Bhima, the twins and Dráupadi's sons surrounded their king and fought against the Madras, driving them back and slaying many of them.

Shákuni rallied them, shouting, "Stop, you sinful ones, and fight again! What use is there in flight? Fight here with all your strength, and I will attack the enemy from behind."

He rode swiftly to the rear with a strong force of horsemen armed with lances and attacked the Pándava troops, slaying many and breaking their ranks.

Yudhistra said to Sadeva, "See how the gambler is destroying our forces in the rear! Take Dráupadi's sons, with the elephants and horses, and kill Shákuni, while your brothers and I fight here against the chariots.

Sadeva eagerly did as the king commanded him. His forces, led by the sons of Dráupadi, fell upon Shákuni's cavalry and routed them, driving them from the field like frightened deer: Sadeva, angry to think that Shákuni was still alive, sought him out and found him fleeing, protected by his horsemen. The son of Madri pursued him on his chariot, striking him with many whetted arrows winged with vulture feathers, and calling out to him, "O fool, do you remember how you rejoiced in the assembly when the game of dice was won? I told you then that your dice were arrows that would turn against you and pierce you. Reap now the harvest of your deeds, O dull of understanding! Today I shall cut off your head as a man plucks fruit from a tree. Be a man and fight against me!"

These words filled Shákuni with rage; he turned and attacked Sadeva with his lance, but the son of Madri cut the lance in two with one broad-headed arrow and pierced also the strong arms of his enemy. Then, with an iron arrow winged with gold sped with care and power from his bow, he cut Shákuni's head from his body, the head that had hatched the evil plan of the gambling match and had sent the sons of Pandu to the forest. When they saw their leader lying headless on the ground, his troops fled, and the Pándavas blew their conchs, praising Sadeva and rejoicing that the wicked Shákuni was at last dead.

Meanwhile the other sons of Pandu had slain the last of the Kúrava host. Of all the thousands of famous warriors who had fought against them, not one remained alive save Duryodha, Ashvattáma, and two others. Arjuna, standing on his chariot and gazing over the field, which looked like a forest laid low by a tempest, said to Krishna, "Behold, O friend, the course of destiny! The army of Kuru's son, once as vast as the ocean, is now no larger than a pool caught in the hoofprint of a cow. If Duryodha had only made peace when Bhishma fell, all would now be well; but he foolishly would not cease fighting. Nor would he cease when Drona fell, or Karna, but still kept up the useless battle. Today, at last, our task will be ended and King Yudhistra will be free of all his foes, for today Duryodha will lose both his kingdom and his life."

On the other side of the field Duryodha, sorely wounded, his horses slain, looked around him on all sides and saw the earth empty of his host. He saw not a single warrior of his own, for Ashvattáma and his two companions were far off. He heard his enemies shouting aloud in triumph and saw himself alone without a single companion; so he left his steedless chariot and laid aside his armor; he took up his mace and fled on foot toward the lake to the east of the battlefield. That lord of eleven armies fled alone on foot toward the east.

On his way he met Sánjaya, the trusted messenger of King Kuru, and said to him, "O Sánjaya, none are left alive save we two. Tell the blind king, my father, that I have lost all my friends, my sons, and my brothers; that I myself have escaped alive from the awful battle, though I am sorely wounded, and shall rest for a while within the waters of the lake." With these words, he cast a magic spell upon the waters, and entering the lake, he made a place for himself in its depths and lay there resting.

While Sánjaya stood there wondering, Ashvattáma and his two companions came to that place, their horses weary and they themselves exhausted and badly wounded. They came to Sánjaya and cried, "Well met, Sánjaya! Is our king, Duryodha, still alive?"

"He lives," answered the messenger of Kuru, "Though his heart burns with grief and he is wounded. Behold, he is resting now within the waters of this lake."

"Alas, alas!" cried Ashvattáma, "the king did not know that we are still alive. With him to lead us, we can still fight and conquer."

They drove their chariots to the lake and spoke to that ruler of men who lay within its waters, saying, "Arise, O King, and fight with us against the Pándavas! Their forces also are weak, for many have been slain by us, and those that remain are sorely wounded. They cannot stand against you when we are fighting at your side."

Duryodha answered them from beneath the water, "I am glad to know that you are alive, you bulls among men. After we have rested for a while, we shall meet and conquer the enemy. Your hearts are noble and your devotion is beyond measure, but this is not the time for bravery. Let me rest for one night, and tomorrow I shall join you in the fight."

"I swear by all my good deeds," cried Ashvattáma, "by the gifts that I have made, by my silent meditations, that I will not put off my armor until I have slain the Pándavas! May all my sacrifices be vain if this night passes away before I have slain my foes! Believe me, O ruler of men!"

While they were talking together thus, some hunters came to the lake to quench their thirst and to rest, for they were tired of carrying the weight of the animals that they had killed. These men went into the woods every day to provide meat for Bhima. As they sat on the edge of the lake, they heard every word that was said by the three warriors and Duryodha, and they realized with wonder that the king lay hidden under the water.

One whispered to the other, "Let us tell the Pándavas that Duryodha is here, and they will reward us with great wealth. Let us quickly tell Bhima and he will pay us well. Why should we wear ourselves out with hunting every day?"

They took up their burdens joyfully and hastened to the Pándavas' camp. Those mighty warriors had looked everywhere for Duryodha and had sent their spies in every direction, but no trace could be found of him, and Yudhistra was troubled, for his victory was not complete if Duryodha still lived. Just then the hunters came to Bhima and told him all that they had seen and heard. Bhima rewarded them richly and hastened to Yudhistra to tell him the welcome news. Then the king and all his brothers were filled with joy; they mounted their chariots and drove swiftly to the lake where their enemy lay. A great noise arose in their camp as the news spread, shouts and the blaze of conchs and the rattle of chariot wheels. The five brothers and their five sons, Jumna and Shikándin and all the warriors who remained alive mounted elephants or chariots and moved toward the lake, raising a cloud of dust and making the earth tremble.

Duryodha, lying in the depth of the water with his mace beside him, heard the noise, for indeed it sounded like thunder. The son of Drona and his two companions heard it, too, and said to the king, "Hark! The Pándava army is coming here; give us permission to leave." Duryodha answered, "Do as you desire!"

Sorrowfully the three warriors took their leave of him and drove far away into the forest, where they stopped under a banyan tree, for they were very tired. Sad at heart, anxious about the king, they loosed the horses from the yokes and lay down to rest.


The Duel With Maces

When the Pándavas arrived at the lake, Yudhistra dismounted from his chariot and stood on the bank, looking over the water. Then he spoke to the wicked king, saying, "Why, O Duryodha, have you caused and seen the slaughter of your sons and brothers, your kinsmen and friends, and then entered this lake today to save your own life? Arise, O King, and finish the battle! Where are your pride and honor? Men call you a hero, but they speak falsely, for heroes never flee at the sight of a foe. Surely you forget yourself! Arise, cast off your fears and fight! Either vanquish us and rule the wide earth or be slain by us and lie on the bare ground! Remember the duties of your caste, O mighty warrior!"

From the depths of the lake, Duryodha replied, "It was not to save my life, it was not from fear, it was not from grief, O King, that I entered these waters. My horses were killed, my quivers were empty, I was alone without a single warrior to stand by me in the battle. I was very tired and came here to rest. Do you also rest awhile, O son of Kunti, with your followers; then I will rise here and fight you all in battle.

But Yudhistra said, "We have no need of rest, although we were searching for you far and wide while you were lying here. Rise even now, O Duryodha, and give us battle."

"All those for whose sake I desired the kingdom--my brothers and sons, my kinsmen and my friends--lie dead on the field," Duryodha said. "This earth is a widow, bereft of her wealth and her pride. Take it, O Yudhistra! Who could desire a kingdom without kinsmen and without friends? I shall go into the forest, dressed in deerskins, for I have no further desire for life. Go, O King, and rule this empty earth as you desire!"

"What foolish words are these?" answered Yudhistra angrily. "When you ruled the entire earth, you would not give me as much of it as could be covered with the sharp point of a needle, but now when you have lost it, you want to give me the whole of it. I do not wish to take the wide earth as a gift from you, but I shall enjoy it greatly when I wrest it from you in battle. Rise, rise, O slayer of the Bháratas, and fight!"

Duryodha could not bear these words, as a highbred horse cannot endure the whip. He breathed long and heavy sighs from within the water, like a snake within its hole, and answered, "You Pándavas, all of you have friends and chariots, horses and weapons. I am alone, without a chariot or a horse and with only one weapon. I cannot fight on foot against you all; therefore fight me one at a time! I do not fear any of you and shall meet you one after the other, as the year meets with all seasons; as the sun destroys the light of the stars at dawn, I shall destroy you all."

"Well said, O prince of the Bháratas!" cried Yudhistra. "At last you accept the duties of a Kshatria; at last you speak like a hero and challenge us all to battle. Fight any one of us and choose your weapon! The rest of us will watch the fight."

Churning the water, the king rose like a prince of elephants from the lake, breathing hard with anger and shouldering his mace. He stood there, dripping with water, frowning and biting his nether lip; then he said in a voice as deep as thunder, "This mace that I hold in my hand is the weapon that I choose. Let any one of you that thinks he is a match for me come forward on foot, armed with a mace! You must come one at a time, for it is not fitting that one should fight against many at the same time, especially when that one is tired and wounded, without armor, chariot, or horse."

"Why did you not think of that, O Duryodha, when six great warriors together slew the boy Abimanyu?" asked Yudhistra. "Take whatever armor you need and bind your hair! I shall give you yet another advantage over us: if you can slay any one of the five Pándavas, you shall be king. Otherwise, slain by him, you shall reap the reward of your deeds in the next world."

The Pándava warriors gave Duryodha golden armor and a diadem set with jewels. While he was arraying himself in these, Krishna spoke angrily to Yudhistra, "What rash words have you spoken, O King? Why did you say, 'If you slay any one of us, you shall be king?' Do you not know that for these thirteen years Duryodha has practiced with his mace on an iron image of Bhima so that he might slay him? Bhima is the only one of you who is a match for him with this weapon, and even he, though he has greater might and courage, is not so skillful as his cousin. In a contest between might and skill, the skillful always wins. What if he should challenge you or Arjuna or one of he twins? You have put us all in grave danger, O best of kings!"

Meanwhile Duryodha had prepared himself, and he spoke to his cousins, saying, "Let any one of you five brothers take up a mace and fight with me now. Today we shall reach the end of this long battle, for I shall slay you one after the other. Within this very hour my words shall be proved true."

Then Bhima said to Yudhistra, "Permit me to accept this challenge, O King! Today I shall pluck out the thorn that has lodged so long in your heart; today I shall win back your crown of glory, for this day Duryodha shall yield up his life and his kingdom." With these words he stood up for battle, and his brothers, seeing him stand there like a mountain peak, were filled with joy. Duryodha also stood like a prince of elephants and felt no pain or fear.

Bhima said to him, "Remember now, O wicked one, all the wrongs you have done us! Remember what happened at Varanávata! Remember how Dráupadi was dragged into the assembly and how Yudhistra was unfairly defeated at dice! It is because of you that Bhishma, the grander of us all, lies now upon a bed of arrows. Drona has died, and Karna, and Shalya, and Shákuni, the root of all this evil. Your heroic brothers and your sons have all been slain. You alone, the destroyer of your line, remain alive, and you shall die today."

"What use has a Kshatria for words?" answered his foe. "Do you not see that I am waiting here to fight you? Up to this day I have never been vanquished in fair fight on the field of battle. If you defeat me unfairly, your name will be forever dishonored. Do not roar any longer like an autumn cloud that gives no rain, but put forth all your might and do battle with me!" All the warriors who stood there watching applauded these words with shouts and the clapping of hands, and Duryodha's heart was gladdened.

He rushed furiously against Bhima with a roar, and they met each other like two charging bulls, while the clash of their maces sounded like thunderbolts and sent out showers of sparks. Both were skilled in the use of the weapon and were beautiful to watch. They moved in circles; they advanced and retreated. They dealt blows and warded them off; they avoided blows, sometimes by crouching low and sometimes by leaping over the other's weapon. Now they ran to the right and now to the left, now straight at one another, and it seemed as if they were playing a game together. They rested a while and then returned to the fight.

Duryodha circled to the left, swung his mace and struck Bhima on the chest, stupefying him for a moment; then Bhima, filled with rage, struck his cousin on the side and made him fall to his knees. A great shout arose from the Pándavas, and when Duryodha heard it, he rose up, furious, and seemed to burn Bhima with his glance. Then he rushed at him and struck him on the head, but Bhima, though his blood flowed down, stood as firm as a mountain. Each struck the other down again, and Duryodha's last blow broke Bhima's coat of mail. When they saw this and saw Bhima rise, wiping the blood from his face and steadying himself with a great effort, fear entered the hearts of the Pándava warriors.

Arjuna asked Krishna, "Tell me truly, which of these two is the better, O you who know all things?"

"They received the same teaching,"answered Krishna. "Bhima is stronger, but Duryodha has greater skill. Bhima will never win if he fights fairly; therefore he must be unfair. Even the gods have been known to deceive their enemies. At the time of the gambling match, O son of Pandu, Bhima vowed that he would break the thigh of Duryodha in the great battle. Let him keep that vow now, even though the blow be a foul one. Yudhistra has put you all in danger by saying that only one of you need be vanquished. Our foe is a great warrior and doubly dangerous because he is desperate. If Bhima does not slay him unfairly, he may yet keep the kingdom."

Arjuna heeded these words; he caught Bhima's eye and touched his own thigh, and Bhima understood him. Both the cousins were sorely bruised and bleeding from many wounds. They rested for a moment, and then Bhima rushed furiously against the king, eager to strike him down. Duryodha leaped into the air to avoid the blow, and as he leaped, Bhima swung his mace with all his power and broke the two thighs of the king, who fell to the earth like a great tree uprooted by a tempest.

Bhima stood above him, holding his mace on his shoulder, and said to him, "O wretch, you who laughed at Dráupadi in the assembly, bear now the fruit of that insult! We use no poison or fire, we do not cheat at dice, but by the might of our own arms we fight our foes." He touched with his left foot the head of Duryodha, then turned and faced Yudhistra, saluting him with joined palms. "The earth is yours today, O King," he said, "without brawls to disturb its peace, without a thorn! Rule over it with all its forests and mountains and seas, for now you have no living enemy."

When they beheld Duryodha struck down, like a wild elephant killed by a lion, the Pándava warriors rejoiced; some blew their conchs and beat their drums; they shouted and laughed aloud with joy. But others of righteous soul were not pleased when they saw Bhima touch the head of the fallen king with his foot, and one said angrily, "Shame on Bhima! O shame, that in a fair fight a foul blow was struck! No limb below the navel should be struck with a mace. This is the rule, and Bhima knows it well."

Krishna soothed the speaker, saying, "he and his brothers suffered many cruel wrongs from this king, and Bhima's heart was grieved because of them. Remember, too, the vow that he made; now he has paid his debt and kept that vow."

Duryodha was so angry when he heard these words that he tried to rise. Sitting up and leaning of his hands, he looked angrily at Krishna and said, "Have you no shame, O sinful one, that you justify this deed that you yourself advised? Do you think that I did not see the sign that Arjuna gave his brother at your behest? You, too, caused the death of Drona by persuading Yudhistra to tell a lie. When Karna's wheel was sunk in the mud, you caused him to be slain. If you had fought fairly with us, you would never have won the victory. Are you not ashamed of these unrighteous deeds?"

"O son of Gandhari," answered Krishna, "you have been slain with all your kindred and your friends because of the sinful path on which you trod. You met your death when, from greed, you refused to give the sons of Pandu their rightful share of the kingdom. Bear now the fruits of all your evil deeds."

Duryodha said, "I have performed sacrifices and made gifts and governed the wide earth with all its mountains and seas; enjoyments worthy of the very gods have been mine. Who is so fortunate as I? I have conquered hostile kingdoms and laid my commands on great kings; I have given wealth to my kinsmen and pleased my friends. Who is so fortunate as I? My life has passed in happiness, and death in battle--the death desired by all Kshatrias--is mine. Who, then, is more fortunate than I? I am going now to heaven with my brothers and my friends, while you, torn with grief, will live on in this unhappy world."

The Pándavas were grieved and wept as they listened to him, for they remembered those heroes who had been slain unrighteously, but Krishna said to them, "Those four great warriors, headed by Bhishma, could not have been slain by the gods themselves in fair fight. If I had not advised deceitful ways of battle, you would never have won the victory, your kingdom or your wealth. Do not take it to heart that this last enemy has been slain unfairly; all that he has suffered he brought upon himself. We have won the victory and it is evening; let us return to our tents and rest, and let the troops and the elephants and horses also rest."

Those kings and warriors returned to their encampment, their hearts at rest, blowing their conchs as they went. They loosed their animals and rested for a while; then Krishna said, "Tonight, in order to purify ourselves, let us bathe in the sacred waters and sleep on the bare ground." Therefore, for that night, he and the five brothers slept on the bank of the Ganges.


Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 247-270.