The Mahabharata 7
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The Mahābhārata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. It narrates the struggle between two groups of cousins in the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes and their succession. Along with the Rāmāyaṇa, it forms the Hindu Itihasa. It also contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four “goals of life” or puruṣārtha (12.161). Among the principal works and stories in the Mahābhārata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Rāmāyaṇa, and the story of Ṛṣyasringa, often considered as works in their own right.
The Mahabharata
Book 7: Drona Parva
Kisari Mohan Ganguli, tr.

Section I

(Dronabhisheka Parva)

OM! HAVING BOWED down unto Narayan, and unto that most exalted of male beings, viz., Nara, and unto the goddess Saraswati also, must the word Jaya be uttered.

“Janamejaya said, ‘Hearing that his sire Devavrata of unrivalled vigour and sturdiness, and might, energy and prowess, had been slain by Sikhandin, the prince of the Panchalas, what, indeed, O regenerate Rishi, did the powerful king Dhritarashtra with eyes bathed in tears do? O illustrious one, his son (Duryodhana) wished for sovereignty after vanquishing those mighty bowmen, viz., the sons of Panda, through Bhishma and Drona and other great car-warriors. Tell me, O thou that hast wealth of asceticism, all that he, of Kura’s race, did after that chief of all bowmen had been slain.’

“Vaisampayana said, ‘Hearing that his sire had been slain, king Dhritarashtra of Kura’s race filled with anxiety and grief, obtained no peace of mind. And while he, of Kura’s race, was thus continually brooding over that sorrow, Gavalgana’s son of pure soul once more came to him. Then, O monarch, Dhritarashtra, the son of Amvika, addressed Sanjaya, who had that night come back from the camp to the city called after the elephant. With a heart rendered exceedingly cheerless in consequence of his having heard of Bhishma’s fall, and desirous of the victory of his sons, he indulged in these lamentations in great distress.’

“Dhritarashtra said, ‘After having wept for the high-souled Bhishma of terrible prowess, what, O son, did the Kauravas, urged by fate, next do? Indeed, when that high-souled and invincible hero was slain, what did the Kauravas do, sunk as they were in an ocean of grief? Indeed, that swelling and highly efficient host of the high-souled Pandavas, would, O Sanjaya, excite the keenest fears of even the three worlds. Tell me, therefore, O Sanjaya, what the (assembled) kings did after Devavrata, that bull of Kura’s race, had fallen.’

“Sanjaya said, ‘Listen, O king, with undivided attention, to me as I recite what thy sons did after Devavrata had been killed in battle. When Bhishma, O monarch, of prowess incapable of being baffled, was slain, thy warriors as also the Pandavas both reflected by themselves (on the situation). Reflecting on the duties of the Kshatriya order, they were filled with wonder and joy; but acting according to those duties of their own order, they all bowed to that high-souled warrior. Then those tigers among men contrived for Bhishma of immeasurable prowess a bed with a pillow made of straight shafts. And having made arrangements for Bhishma’s protection, they addressed one another (in pleasant converse). Then bidding Ganga’s son their farewell and walking round him, and looking at one another with eyes red in anger, those Kshatriyas, urged by fate, once more went out against one another for battle. Then by the blare of trumpets and the beat of drums, the divisions of thy army as also those of the foe, marched out. After the fall of Ganga’s son, O king, when the best part of the day had passed away, yielding to the influence of wrath, with hearts afflicted by fate, and disregarding the words, worthy of acceptance, of the high-souled Bhishma, those foremost ones of Bharata’s race went out with great speed, armed with weapons. In consequence of thy folly and of thy son’s and of the slaughter of Santanu’s son, the Kauravas with all the kings seemed to be summoned by Death himself. The Kurus, deprived of Devavrata, were filled with great anxiety, and resembled a herd of goats and sheep without a herdsman, in a forest abounding with beasts of prey. Indeed, after the fall of that foremost one of Bharata’s race, the Kuru host looked like the firmament divested of stars, or like the sky without the atmosphere, or like the earth with blasted crops, or like an oration disfigured by bad grammar, or like the Asura host of old after Vali had been smitten down, or like a beautiful damsel deprived of husband, or like a river whose waters have been dried up, or like a roe deprived of her mate and encompassed in the woods by wolves; or like a spacious mountain cave with its lion killed by a Sarabha. Indeed, O chief of the Bharatas, the Bharata host, on the fall of Ganga’s son, became like a frail boat on the bosom of the ocean, tossed by a tempest blowing from every side. Exceedingly afflicted by the mighty and heroic Pandavas of sure aim, the Kaurava host, with its steeds, car-warriors and elephants much troubled, became exceedingly distressed, helpless, and panic-stricken. And the frightened kings and the common soldiers, no longer relying upon one another, of that army, deprived of Devavrata, seemed to sink into the nethermost region of the world. Then the Kauravas remembered Karna, who indeed, was equal to Devavrata himself. All hearts turned to that foremost of all wielders of arms, that one resembling a guest resplendent (with learning and ascetic austerities). And all hearts turned to him, as the heart of a man in distress turneth to a friend capable of relieving that distress. And, O Bharata, the kings then cried out saying, Karna! Karna! The son of Radha, our friend, the son of a Suta, that one who is ever prepared to lay down his life in battle! Endued with great fame, Karna, with his followers and friends, did not fight for these ten days. O, summon him soon!’ The mighty-armed hero, in the presence of all the Kshatriyas, during the mention of valiant and mighty car-warriors, was by Bhishma classed as an Ardha-ratha, although that bull among men is equal to two Maharathas! Even thus was he classed during the counting of Rathas and Atirathas, he that is the foremost (of all Rathas and Atirathas), he that is respected by all heroes, he that would venture to fight even with Yama, Kuvera, Varuna, and Indra. Through anger caused by this, O king, he had said unto Ganga’s son these words: ‘As long as thou livest, O thou of Kuru’s race, I will never fight! if thou, however, succeedest in slaying the sons of Pandu in great battle, I shall, O Kaurava, with Duryodhana’s permission, retire into the woods. If, on the other hand, thou, O Bhishma, slain by the Pandavas, attainest to heaven, I shall then, on a single car, slay all of them, whom thou regardest as great car-warriors.’ Having said this, mighty-armed Karna of great fame, with thy son’s approval, did not fight for the first ten days. Bhishma, of great prowess in battle and of immeasurable might, slew, O Bharata, a very large number of warriors belonging to Yudhishthira’s army. When, however, that hero of sure aim and great energy was slain, thy sons thought of Karna, like persons desirous of crossing a river thinking, of a boat. Thy warriors and thy sons, together with all the kings, cried out, saying, Karna! And they all said, ‘Even this is the time for the display of his prowess.’ Our hearts are turned to that Karna who derived his knowledge of weapons from Jamadagni’s son, and whose prowess is incapable of being resisted! He, indeed, O king, is competent to save us from great dangers, like Govinda always saving the celestials from great dangers.’

“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Unto Sanjaya who was thus repeatedly applauding Karna, Dhritarashtra sighing like a snake, said those words.’

“Dhritarashtra said, ‘[I understand] that the hearts of all of you are turned towards Vikartana’s son Karna, and that all of you, saw that son of Radha, that hero of the Suta caste, ever prepared to lay down his life in battle. I hope that hero of prowess incapable of being baffled, did not falsify the expectations of Duryodhana and his brothers, all of whom were then afflicted with grief and fear, and desirous of being relieved from their danger. When Bhishma, that refuge of Kauravas, was slain, could Karna, that foremost of bowmen, succeed in filling up the gap caused? Filling up that gap, could Karna fill the foe with fear? Could he also crown with fruit the hopes, entertained by my sons, of victory?’”

Section II

“Sanjaya said, ‘Then Adhiratha’s son of the Suta caste, knowing that Bhishma had been slain, became desirous of rescuing, like a brother, thy son’s army from the distress into which it had fallen, and which then resembled a boat sunk in the fathomless ocean. [Indeed], O king, having heard that that mighty car-warrior and foremost of men, that hero of unfading glory, viz., Santanu’s son, had been thrown down (from his car), that grinder of foes, that foremost of all wielders of bows, viz., Karna, soon came (to the field of battle). When the best of car-warriors, viz., Bhishma, was slain by the foe, Karna speedily came there, desirous of rescuing the Kuru host which resembled a boat sunk in the ocean, like a sire desirous of rescuing his children.’

“And Karna (addressing the soldiers) said, ‘That Bhishma who possessed firmness, intelligence, prowess, vigour, truth, self-restraint, and all the virtues of a hero, as also celestial weapons, and humidity, and modesty, agreeable speech, and freedom from malice, that ever-grateful Bhishma, that slayer of the foes of Brahmanas, in whom were these attributes as permanently as Lakshmi in the moon, alas, when that Bhishma, that slayer of hostile heroes, hath received his quietus, I regard all other heroes as already slain. In consequence of the eternal connection (of all things) with work, nothing exists in this world that is imperishable. When Bhisma of high vows hath been slain, who is there that would take upon himself to say with certitude that tomorrow’s sun will rise? When he that was endued with prowess equal to that of the Vasus, he that was born of the energy of the Vasus, when he, that ruler of the earth, hath once more been united with the Vasus, grieve ye, therefore, for your possessions and children for this earth and the Kurus, and this host.’

“Sanjaya continued, ‘Upon the fall of that boon-giving hero of great might, that lord of the world, viz., Santanu’s son of great energy, and upon the (consequent) defeat of the Bharatas, Karna, with cheerless heart and eyes filled with tears, began to console (the Dhartarashtras). Hearing these words of Radha’s son, thy sons, O monarch, and thy troops, began to wail aloud and shed copious tears of grief corresponding with the loudness of those wails. When, however, the dreadful battle once more took place and the Kaurava divisions, urged on by the Kings, once more set up loud shouts, that bull among mighty car-warriors, viz., Karna, then addressed the great car-warriors (of the Kaurava army) and said words which caused them great delight: In this transient world everything is continually flitting (towards the jaws of Death). Thinking of this, I regard everything as ephemeral. When, however, all of you were here, how could Bhishma, that bull among the Kurus, immovable as a hill, be thrown down from his car? When that mighty car-warrior, viz., the son of Santanu, hath been overthrown, who even now lieth on the ground like the Sun himself dropped (from the firmament), the Kuru kings are scarcely competent to bear Dhananjaya, like trees incapable of bearing the mountain-wind. I shall, however, now protect, as that high-souled one did, this helpless Kuru host of cheerless mien, whose foremost warriors have already been slain by the foe. Let this burden now devolve on me. I see that this universe is transient, since that foremost of heroes hath been slain in battle. Why shall I then cherish any fear of battle? Coursing, therefore, on the field I shall despatch those bulls of Kuru’s race (viz., the Pandavas) to Yama’s abode by means of my straight shafts. Regarding fame as the highest object in the world, I shall slay them in battle, or, slain by the foe, shall sleep on the field. Yudhishthira is possessed of firmness, intelligence, virtue, and might. Vrikodara is equal to a hundred elephant in prowess, Arjuna is young and is the son of the chief of the celestials. The Pandava host, therefore, is not capable of being easily defeated by the very celestials. That force in which are the twins, each resembling Yama himself, that force in which are Satyaki and the son of Devaki, that force is like the jaws of Death. No coward, approaching it, can come back with life. The wise oppose swelling ascetic power with ascetic austerities, so should force be opposed by force. Verily, my mind is firmly fixed upon opposing the foe and protecting my own party, O charioteer, I shall today certainly resist the might of the enemy, and vanquish him by repairing only to the field of battle. I will not tolerate this intestine feud. When the troops are broken, he that cometh (for aiding) in the endeavour to rally is a friend. I shall either achieve this righteous feat worthy of an honest man, or casting off my life shall follow Bhishma. I shall either slay all my foes united together, or slain by them proceed to the regions reserved for heroes. O charioteer, I know that even this is what I should do, when women and children cry for help, or when Duryodhana’s prowess sustains a check. Therefore, I shall today conquer the foe. Reckless of my very life in this terrible battle, I shall protect the Kurus and slay the sons of Pandu. Slaying in battle all my foes banded together, I shall bestow (undisputed) sovereignty on Dhritarashtra’s son. Let my armour, beautiful, made of gold, bright, and radiant with jewels and gems, be donned; and my head-gear, of effulgence equal to that of the sun; and my bows and arrows that resemble fire, poison, or snakes. Let also sixteen quivers be tied (to my car) at the proper places, and let a number of excellent bows be procured. Let also shafts, and darts and heavy maces, and my conch, variegated with gold, be got ready. Bring also my variegated, beautiful, and excellent standard, made of gold, possessed of the effulgence of the lotus, and bearing the device of the elephant’s girth, cleaning it with a delicate cloth, and decking it with excellent garlands and a network of wires. O charioteer’s son, bring me also, with speed, some fleet steeds of the hue of tawny clouds, not lean, and bathed in water sanctified with mantras, and furnished with trappings of bright gold. Bring me also, with speed, an excellent car decked with garlands of gold, adorned gems, bright as the sun or the moon, furnished with every necessary, as also with weapons, and unto which are yoked excellent animals. Bring me also a number of excellent bows of great toughness, and a number of excellent bow-strings capable of smitting (the foe), and some quivers, large and full of shafts and some coats of mail for my body. Bring me also, with speed, O hero, every (auspicious) article needed for occasions of setting out (for battle), such as vessels of brass and gold, full of curds. Let garlands of flowers be brought, and let them be put on the (proper) limbs of my body. Let drums also be beaten for victory! Go, O charioteer, quickly to the spot where the diadem-decked (Arjuna), and Vrikodara, and Dharma’s son (Yudhishthira), and the twins, are. Encountering them in battle, either I shall slay them, or, being slain by them, my foes, I shall follow Bhishma. Arjuna, and Vasudeva, and Satyaki, and the Srinjayas, that force, I think, is incapable of being conquered by the kings. If all-destroying Death himself with unremitting vigilance, were to protect Kiritin, still shall I slay him, encountering him in battle, or repair myself to Yama’s abode by Bhishma’s track. Verily, I say, that I will repair into the midst of those heroes. Those (kings) that are my allies are not provokers of intestine feuds, or of weak attachment to me, or of unrighteous souls.’

“Sanjaya continued, ‘Riding on an excellent and costly car of great strength, with an excellent pole, decked with gold, auspicious, furnished with a standard, and unto which were yoked excellent steeds that were fleet as the wind, Karna proceeded (to battle) for victory. Worshipped by the foremost of Kuru car-warriors like Indra by the celestials, that high-souled and fierce bowman, endued with immeasurable energy like the Sun himself, upon his car decked with gold and jewels and gems, furnished with an excellent standard, unto which were yoked excellent steeds, and whose rattle resembled the roll of the clouds, proceeded, accompanied by a large force, to that field of battle where that bull of Bharata’s race (Bhishma) had paid his debt to nature. Of beautiful person, and endued with the splendour of fire, that great bowman and mighty car-warrior, viz., the son of Adhiratha, then mounted on his own beautiful car possessed of the effulgence of fire, and shone like the lord of the celestials himself riding on his celestial car.’”