by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

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




Before the Battle

When the night had passed, the leaders of both armies arose and shouted, "Array yourselves for battle!" Then on all sides were heard the beat of drums, the neighing of horses, the squeals of angry elephants, the shouts of men, and the clapping of armpits. As the sun rose, each of the splendid hosts could see the other, with its foot soldiers, its horsemen, chariots, and elephants drawn up in their right places and armed with flashing weapons. Every warrior had his standard, bright colored and decked with gold and gems, and these thousands of banners, blown by the wind, looked like fair damsels dancing.

The Pándavas looked across the field and beheld ten armies led by ten tigers among men, while the eleventh great army, made up of the Kúravas and their troops, stood in advance of all the others, with Bhishma at its head. He was mounted on a chariot of silver yoked with white horses; he wore a white helmet and white mail, and a banner bearing the device of a gold palmyra and five stars waved above him. He looked like the full moon in the midst of clouds. They saw Drona, their teacher and the teacher of almost all the kings assembled there, on a golden chariot yoked with red steeds, his banner bearing the device of a golden sacrificial altar and a water pot. His son, Ashvattáma, was stationed with Bhishma at the head of the host and carried a banner with the device of a lion's tail. The king of Sind, at the head of his own troops, had on his flag the emblem of a shining silver boar decked with golden garlands. Shalya, king of Madra, led his army, bearing a standard with the device of a golden plowshare, and the king of Magadha carried one which depicted a golden bull. And the flag of Duryodha, on whom all the rest depended, was decked with gold and with a hundred tinkling bells and bore the device of an elephant adorned with jewels. The host of the Kúravas was arrayed in the form of a mighty bird: the kings in their chariots were its head, the elephants its body, and the horsemen its wings.

Seeing that formation, the sons of Pandu arrayed their armies in the form called the thunderbolt, narrow and deep, for they had less men than their enemies. Bhima and Jumna and the twins led that host, while King Virata, with his brothers and his sons, protected them at the rear. Behind Virata rode Shikándin, eager to slay Bhishma, and then came Arjuna in his golden chariot that shone like the sun and rang with a hundred bells; it was drawn by his own white steeds, driven by Krishna. In the center of the host Yudhistra took his place, surrounded by huge and furious elephants that looked like moving hills, while the king of Panchala, Dráupadi's father, with his army, stood behind him. Above the chariots of all the kings their banners waved, as bright as the sun and the moon. Yudhistra's bore the device of a golden moon surrounded by the planets; on Bhima's banner shone the figure of a gigantic silver lion; on the tall, fierce standard of Nákula a deer with a golden back was portrayed; and Sadeva's bore the figure of a silver swan and was hung with bells. The five sons of Dráupadi had placed upon their flags the images of those gods who begot their fathers; Dharma and Vayu, Indra and the twin Ashvins. On the chariot of the young Abimanyu waved a standard with the device of a peacock, bright as heated gold. There were many others, adorned with gold and bells, that belonged to other warriors, and above them all rose the mighty ape with the lion's tail on the flagstaff of Arjuna.

As both armies stood at the dawn of day, waiting for battle, a wind began to blow and a gust of rain fell; although there were no clouds, the roll of thunder was heard, and the earth trembled. The banners shook in the wind, and their bells rang.

Arjuna said to Krishna, "O sinless one, place my chariot between the two hosts so that I may see those with whom I have to fight, who are here to do the will of the evil-minded son of Kuru."

Krishna drove the chariot out between the two armies, in view of Bhishma and Drona and all the kings of earth, saying, "Behold the Kúravas here assembled, O son of Kunti!"

And Arjuna, standing there, saw fathers and grandfathers, teachers and uncles, brothers and sons, comrades and dear friends in both the hosts. As he saw them thus opposed to each other, his heart was filled wit pity, and he said, "When I see these kinsmen, O Krishna, ready to fight each other, my limbs become weak, my body trembles, I burn with fever and my bow, Gandíva, slips from my hand. I do not want victory, O best of men, or the kingdom with its pleasures. What joy would the kingdom give us, since those very men with whom we wish to share its pleasures and its wealth are drawn up against us here in battle? I do not wish to kill them, even though they kill me, not even if the three worlds were offered to me, still less for a kingdom of this earth. Alas, we are about to commit a great sin! It would be better for me to lay down my arms and to let myself be slain by the keen weapons of Kuru's sons." With these words he cast aside his bow and arrows and sank down upon the bench of the chariot, his heart shaken with sorrow.

Krishna said to him, "Why have you become so faint of heart, O Arjuna? It is neither glorious nor manly; it is unseemly for a Kshatria. Shake off this weakness and arise, O slayer of foes!"

"How can I loose my arrows against Bhishma and Drona, who are worthy of all honor? answered Arjuna. "It would be better to beg my bread than to kill these men of great soul, who are my elders and my teachers. I cannot tell which is worse, to conquer them or to be conquered by them; for if we conquer, we shall slay those without whom we shall not wish to live. My vision is darkened; I no longer know what is right. Teach me, for I am your disciple."

"You grieve for those who need no grief," Krishna said. "The wise grieve neither for the dead nor for the living. There never was a time when you and I and all the princes were not living, and we shall never cease to live. These bodies of ours belong to the eternal lord of the body--the soul, which cannot be destroyed, O son of Bhárata. It does not kill and it cannot be killed; it was never born and it can never die. As a man throws away his worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so the soul, casting aside its worn-out body, enters a new one. Weapons do not pierce it, nor is it burned by fire; waters do not wet it, nor do the dry winds parch. This lord of the body dwells undying in each one of us, O son of Kunti. Knowing this, how can you grieve?

"Do not shrink from the duty of your caste, O conqueror of wealth! Nothing is better for a Kshatria than a righteous battle, and this one has come to you unsought, like an open door to heaven. If you do not fight it, you will have failed in duty and in honor; and for one who has stood high in honor, ill-fame is worse than death. The warriors in their chariots will think that you have left the fight from fear, and they will speak ill of you.

"Each man reaches perfection by doing his own duty; he worships God--from whom all things come, by whom this universe was stretched forth--by doing his appointed work, with no desire for its reward. You must do the work for its own sake and not for anything that it may bring to you. When pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat are the same to you, you may go into battle without sin. If you dedicate your deeds to God, with no desire for reward, sin will not touch you, as a lotus leaf is not wet by water. God dwells in the heart of every creature, O son of Kunti, moving them all by his divine power. Take refuge in him with your whole heart, and you will find peace.

"Have you listened with singleness of heart, O conquerer of wealth? Has you weakness, which came from ignorance, vanished?"

"My weakness is gone, O sinless one," answered Arjuna. "I have listened to all that you have told me; my doubts have vanished, and I will do your bidding."

He rose and took up his arrows and Gandíva, and when they saw this, all the warriors of the Pándava host set up a shout and blew their sea-born conchs.

Then King Yudhistra took off his coat of mail and laid his weapons down; he alighted from his chariot and went on foot with joined hands to the place where Bhishma stood. When his brothers saw what he did, they alighted also and followed him, amazed and anxious, asking him where he was going and what he meant to do. Yudhistra answered not a word, but walked toward the hostile army, which bristled with spears and arrows, and went to Bhishma and bowed before him, holding the grandsire's feet in his two hands. Surrounded by his brothers, he said, "I salute you, O unconquerable one! We must fight against you. Give us your permission and your blessing."

"If you had not come to me before this battle, O lord of earth," said Bhishma, "I should have cursed you and you would have been defeated. Now I am pleased with you, my son. Fight and be victorious! Men are the slaves of wealth, and so I am bound to the Kúravas by the wealth that they have given me. I must fight for your enemies, but if you will grant me that, I will give you any other boon that you desire."

"I bow to you, O grandsire," said Yudhistra, "as I ask you this. How can we conquer you who are unconquerable? Tell us how you may be slain in battle."

Bhishma said, "I do not know anyone, O King, who can slay me in battle. The time of my death is not yet known; therefore come to me again."

Yudhistra accepted Bhishma's words and, once more bowing to him, went with his brothers to Drona's chariot, through the crowd of soldiers who were looking curiously at him. Saluting him, he asked the master, "Tell me, O unconquerable one, how I may fight without sin and how, with your permission, I may defeat my foes."

"I am pleased with you and honored by you, O sinless one," Drona replied. "Fight and win the victory! I am bound to the Kúravas by the wealth that they have given me; I shall fight for them, but I shall pray for you. You will without doubt defeat your enemies, for where righteousness is, there is victory. What do you desire of me?"

"I ask you, O mighty-armed one," answered Yudhistra, "how we may vanquish you who are invincible?"

"You cannot win, O King, while I am in the battle. Therefore try to kill me as soon as may be."

"Alas that I must ask this!!" Yudhistra said. "Tell me, then, how you may be slain. O master, I salute you as I ask."

"While I am standing in battle," Drona said, "no one will be able to slay me. Only when I am ready for death, withdrawn in meditation, shall any man be able to slay me; and I shall not lay down my arms or prepare for death till I am overwhelmed by sorrow."

Then Yudhistra saluted him once more and went with his brothers to where their uncle Shalya, the king of Madra, stood in his chariot. Bowing to him, the son of Kunti asked his permission to fight and reminded him of his promise to discourage Karna when the great battle should come between him and Arjuna. And Shalya blessed him, saying, "Go and fight, my son. I shall look after your victory."

The five brothers, coming out of that vast army, walked back to their own side of the field. Yudhistra, his heart at peace, put on his shining coat of mail, and those bulls among men mounted their chariots and took their places in the battle array. They caused the great drums and cymbals to be sounded, the trumpets and milk-white conchs to be blown. Krishna and Arjuna, standing in their chariot, blew their conchs called Fivefold and God-given; Bhima blew the Reed-note, and Yudhistra his conch called Eternal Victory; Nákula and Sadeva blew theirs called Sweet-sounding and Pearl-flowered, and all the mighty warriors blew their conchs until the sound pierced the hearts of the sons of Kuru and made the heavens and the earth resound.


The First Seven Days

On the morning of that awful day, the battle began that caused the death of so many noble warriors. The Kúrava host, reckless of their very lives, rushed with upraised standards against the Pándavas, and the Pándava host, led by Bhima, met them with cheerful hearts. The mighty shouts, the twang of bowstrings, the clash of weapons, the uproar of conchs and trumpets made the hair stand on end and shook those vast armies as forests are shaken by the tempest. As the din arose, Bhima began to roar like a bull till his shouts were heard above all other noises and struck fear into the hearts of the Kúravas.

Duryodha and his brothers, shaking their splendid bows, surrounded Bhima, covering him with arrows like snakes that have just shed their skins. Then the five sons of Dráupadi, with the twins and Abimanyu, rushed against the Kúravas, tearing them with whetted arrows as bolts of thunder shatter mountains. In that first encounter no warrior on either side turned back, and no difference could be seen between the two hosts. On both sides it was easy to see which warriors had been taught by Drona, because of their lightness of hand and their sure aim. Bhima and Duryodha fought fiercely, but neither prevailed over the other, for both were mighty warriors. On that first day Uttar, King Virata's young son whose chariot Arjuna had driven, was struck down by the king of Madra.

Dushasa attacked Nákula, striking him with many arrows, but the son of Madri laughed at him and cut down with his shafts the standard and the bow of his enemy. Yudhistra fought against his uncle Shalya, while Jumna sought out Drona. The king of Panchala fought with the king of Sind, and the battle between them was fierce and terrible. Thousands of single combats took place between chariots and elephants, horsemen and foot soldiers, for both sides fought as if possessed by demons. Chariot crashed against chariot; huge elephants with canopied seats and standards on their backs fought furiously against one another, or wounded and panic-stricken, dashed through the army, crushing chariots and horses under their feet. Many a young, heroic warrior fell from his car and lay prostrate upon the ground; many a horseman was carried from the field hanging dead from his saddle and still holding his bow. A thick dust arose and the din was deafening. Over the field the palmyra banner of Bhishma constantly waved, and the grandsire himself, on his great chariot, shone like the moon above a mountain peak.

On the second day the battle raged again, neither side prevailing over the other. On the third day Bhishma arrayed his forces again in the shape of a great bird, and the army of the Pándavas was counterarrayed in the shape of a half-moon, with Bhima at the right horn, Yudhistra at the center, surrounded by many kings, and Arjuna at the left horn. All that morning the warriors fought, and none of them gave way.

In the afternoon, Bhishma, with his bow constantly drawn to a circle, using celestial weapons, shot continuous lines of arrows in all directions and seemed to be everywhere at once. The Pándava warriors could not see him for the showers of arrows sent forth from his bow; they fell before his shafts like insects falling into a blazing fire. Even as he had said, the vast army of the Pándavas began to tremble and give way, in spite of the efforts of its leaders.

Then Krishna spoke to Arjuna, saying, "The hour is come, O tiger among men, when you must make good your promise to rout the Kúrava army and fight with Bhishma himself. Behold, your army is being scattered by him alone." And, with Arjuna's consent, he urged the white steeds to the place where Bhishma's chariot stood.

When they beheld him advancing, the Pándava host rallied, while Bhishma, roaring like a lion, covered the onrushing chariot with his arrows. Arjuna stretched Gandíva and cut the grandsire's bow in two; Bhishma seized and strung another, but Arjuna cut that one, too. Bhishma praised his quickness, saying, "Well done, O mighty-armed one! I am pleased with you. Fight hard with me, my son!" And with a third bow he sent forth a shower of arrows. Krishna, with great skill, avoided many of these by driving in quick circles, but many struck their mark, and he and Arjuna looked like roaring bulls with the scratches of horns on their bodies.

Now Krishna saw that Bhishma's arrows were again driving back the Pándava army, while Arjuna was fighting only mildly, out of respect for the grandsire. This made him very angry, for he feared that Yudhistra's army might not survive another attack; therefore he dropped the reins, leaped from the chariot and ran toward Bhishma, whirling his discus. But Arjuna also leaped to the ground, ran after him and threw his arms around his friend, stopping him after he had run but ten steps. "Stop, O Krishna!" he cried. "Remember that you said you would not fight; do not let men say you are a liar. I swear to you, O slayer of foes, by my weapons, by the truth, by my own good deeds. that I will destroy our foes. The task is mine, not yours, and I will fulfill it." Krishna, still silent and angry, mounted the chariot and took up the reins again.

Arjuna summoned a celestial weapon, drew Gandíva with power and filled every side of the field with sharp and blazing shafts, causing a river of blood to flow from the Kúrava host. Every other sound was silenced by the thundering twang of his bow; the Kúravas were struck with fear, while the Pándavas rallied to the attack. As the sun set the Kúravas withdrew, Bhishma and Drona retreating with them, and the Pándavas set up a triumphant shout. Then all the warriors, talking about this great feat of Arjuna's, entered their tents, lighted without by flaming torches and within by countless lamps.

Every day for eight days the armies were arrayed for battle in different formations, each trying to get the advantage over the other. Each day these mighty warriors, after their wounds had been tended by skillful surgeons, returned to the fight, killing their enemies' troops, slaying brothers and sons, kings and warriors. Each day one of them gained added glory by his prowess in battle. Now it was Bhima, careering over the field in his chariot with his lion banner flying, or seated on the neck of a mighty elephant, or on foot, whirling his great mace till he looked like a wheel of fire, felling elephants and cavalry and foot soldiers, like Death himself. Now it was Arjuna, in his chariot with the ape screaming above him on the banner, the reins held by Krishna, Gandíva flashing like lightning, its shafts drinking the blood of countless heroes. Now it was Nákula and Sadeva, fighting together against their uncle Shalya and driving him off the field or falling upon the Kúrava cavalry, slaying so many of them that the rest broke and fled before them as a herd of deer flees before two tigers.

The sons of Dráupadi, her brothers and Virata's sons were all mighty warriors; and Abimanyu, beautiful a a god, was the equal of Arjuna in lightness of hand, sureness of aim, knowledge of weapons, and bravery, for his father had taught him all he knew. He was always in the midst of the battle and could fight with five or ten warriors at once; he made the Kúravas tremble, for they thought that there were two Arjunas on the field.

Every day Bhima slew one or two of the sons of Kuru, for he had sworn after the gambling match that he would kill them all. Therefore his brothers and his nephews, though they often fought against their cousins and struck them from their chariots or drove them, wounded, from the field, never slew any of Kuru's sons, so that Bhima might be true to his promise. Several times he and Duryodha fought like two mad bulls, each longing to kill each other; they were equal in might and neither prevailed. But Duryodha, when he went each night to his tent, was overcome with grief and wept for his brothers.

When the sun set each day, the field was strewn with gold-backed bows and winged arrows, broken swords with ivory handles, and shields inlaid with gold, loosened from the hands of the slain. Many a chariot warrior lay on the ground as if asleep, his weapons beside him; horses and elephants lay there dead, their blood staining the earth. Wheelless chariots and torn banners, embroidered blankets and elephants' housings, chains and ornaments and helmets scattered about made the plain of Kuru Kshetra look like the earth in spring when it is strewn with flowers or like the night sky bright with stars.

Both armies stopped fighting when the darkness came. The warriors, after placing their sentries and caring for their troops, went into their tents, praising one another's deeds. They plucked the arrws from their bodies, bathed their wounds and treated them with healing herbs. Brahmans performed the evening worship, poets sang the heroes' praises, and they enjoyed themselves for a while, not speaking of the battle, but listening to music and poetry. Then they slept deeply, and the two armies, with their sleeping warriors, elephants and horses, were beautiful to behold.

On the eighth day the army of the Pándavas gained the advantage and drove back the Kúravas with great slaughter. At night, after their tired and defeated troops had gone to rest, Duryodha and Shakuni, Dushasa and Karna met together to consider how the sons of Pandu could be vanquished. Duryodha said, "Neither Drona nor Bhishma nor Shalya fights with all his power against the Pándavas; therefore my forces are being destroyed and my weapons will soon be exhausted. I am doubtful of victory."

"Do not grieve, O chief of the Kúravas," Karna replied. "Let Bhishma withdraw from the battle, and as soon as he lays down his arms, I shall slay all the Pándavas before his eyes. Truly, he favors them every day. Go without delay to his tent and ask him to give up his command; then set your heart at rest, for I alone will vanquish your enemies!"

"As soon as Bhishma has consented," Duryodha said, "I will come to you, O chastiser of foes, and you will lead us to victory."

Then Duryodha, clad in fresh and handsome robes, adorned with his royal crown and many jewels, mounted his horse and rode to Bhishma's tent, while all his brothers who were left alive and the leaders of his armies walked behind him, and servants lighted their way with golden lamps fed with fragrant oil. He alighed and saluted the grandsire and then sat down on a handsome seat covered with a rich carpet.

With his hands joined and he eyes filled with tears, he said, "O slayer of foes, you promised that you would destroy all the armies of the Pándavas and therefore we entered with confidence into this terrible conflict. Make your words true, O sinless one! Or else, if you are sparing our enemies because you love them or because you hate me, withdraw from the battle and allow Karna to fight, for he can vanquish the Pándavas themselves and all their friends and kinsmen."

The high-souled Bhishma was filled with grief when he heard these cruel words; he sighed deeply and was silent for a while. Then raising his eyes which blazed with anger, he said, "Why do you pierce me with such sharp words? I try, with my utmost might to bring about your victory and am prepared to lose my life in battle. Arjuna alone overcame every one of us in Virata's kingdom and shamed us by taking away our robes. That should prove to you that we cannot slay him and all his brothers. It is you who have provoked the Pándavas to battle; therefore fight them yourself, O King, and let us see you act like a man! As for me, I shall do as I promised: I shall slay their troops and their allies. Sleep happily, O son of Gandhari! Tomorrow I shall fight so fierce a battle that men will speak of it as long as the world lasts!"

The ninith day dawned, and Duyodha called all the royal warriors, saying, "Draw up your forces! Today Bhishma, filled with wrath, is going to slaughter our enemies. Our duty is to protect him, for even the lion can be slain by wolves if he is alone in the forest. If we protect him, our victory is certain."

Bishma arrayed his troops in a hollow square, taking his position in the center of the front, while all the Kurava warriors, in chariots or on elephants, were ranged on each side of him, facing the Pándavas, whose host was arrayed in that best of forms, the hawk. When the battle began, the grandsire smote the Pandava host with blazing arrows, and his shouts and the clapping of his palms struck terror to their hearts. He was like a fire in dry grass, blown by the wind. He struck off the heads of warriors as a man knocks ripe fruit off a tree with stones. He felled elephants and chariots or struck their riders from them, and many an empty chariot was dragged from the field by its runaway horses; many a noble warrior, advancing fearlessly against him, was sent to Yama's realm.

All day long the terrible battle went on, while Bhishma took the lives of warriors as the sun sucks up water in summer. He broke the ranks of the Pándavas just as they had been breaking those of the Kúravas, and the routed soldiers, hopeless and heartless, could not even look at him, for he was like the midday sun, blazing with his own splendor. Indeed, the sons of Pandu themselves looked at him with awe because of the suprehuman deeds that he was achieving, and the troops, fleeing in fear, found no protectors, but looked like bulls running wild, no longer held by the yoke. They cried aloud as they threw away their armor and fled with disheveled hair.

While Bhishma was still destroying the Pandava host, the sun, the thousand-rayed maker of the day, reached the western hills; the troops, tired out, withdrew to rest, and the night came, which steals away the senses of all creatures. In the fierce hours of darkness the Pándavas and their allies sat in Yudhistra's tent to consider what they should do, for all of them were wounded by the shafts of Bhishma and all were thinking of his mighty deeds.

"Behold," said Yudhistra, "the high-souled Bhishma is crushing my troops as an elephant crushes a mess of reeds, as a fire rages in dry grass! When I spoke to him before the battle he said to me, 'The time of my death is not yet known; come to me again.' Therefore let us all go to him again and ask him how we may vanquish him. He will tell us, for he brought us up when we were children and fatherless. And now we seek to kill him! Shame upon the Kshatria usage, which forces us to slay the grandsire, our father's uncle!"

The others all agreed with his decision, and so Yudhistra, his four brothers, and Krishna put off their armor and went on foot to Bhishma's tent. He welcomed them lovingly and asked them what they desired from him.

"Even if it be very difficult," he said, "yet I will do it with all my heart."

"O grandsire," answered Yudhistra. "tell us how we may vanquish you in battle, how we may have the victory and how our army may escape further destruction. How can we beat you in battle? Tell us, O lord of earth, how we may bring about your death, for you can never be vanquished!"

"It is true, O son of Pandu," said Bhishma, "that even the gods cannot defeat me when I fight carefully in battle. but there are those with whom I will not fight, and through them I can be overcome. In your army is Shikándin, a prince of Panchala, who is brave and powerful. He was a woman once, later reborn to manhood, and I shall never fight with him. Let Arjuna keep Shikándin before him and then pierce me with his shafts and cast me down from my chariot. Then your victory will be certain, for you can overcome the rest when I am gone."

The Pándavas, after saluting the grandsire, went back to their tents. Arjuna, overwhelmed by grief and shame, said to Krishna, "How shall I fight the gransdire, the eldest of our family, whose lap I climbed upon when I was a child, all dusty from my play? How can I slay that wise and honored one?"

"You will never win the victory unless you slay him, O conqueror of wealth," answered Krishna, "and you have pledged yourself to victory. It has been said that even an aged person worthy of all honor must be slain if he comes against one as an enemy. It is the eternal duty of a Kshatria to fight, to govern, and to sacrifice, but without hatred."

Toward the hour of sunrise, with beat of drums and cymbals and the blare of conchs, the Pándavas formed their troops into a terrible array and marched out for battle, putting Shikándin in the very front rank. Bhima and Arjuna protected his wheels; behind him came the sons of Dráupadi and Abimanyu; behind them marched Jumna with the warriors of Panchala, and after him came Yudhistra with the twins and all the armies of their allies. They marched directly against Bhishma, scattering their arrows as they went.


Bhishma Falls

That mighty warrior, the high-souled Bhishma, said to Duryodha, "Listen to what I say, O King! Today I shall either be slain myself or I shall slay the Pándavas. If I fail to slay them, I shall free myself from the debt I owe you for the food and the wealth that you have given me, by casting my life away at the head of your army."

Then he attacked the Pándava host, pouring upon them showers of long shafts. calf-toothed or crescent-headed, all sped with power and wrath, each one like an angry and poisonous serpent. On that tenth day of battle he shone resplendent as a fire without smoke, and the Pándavas could not look at him, for he was like the sun at the summer solstice, scorching their troops with his arrows and taking the lives of thousands as the sun sucks moisture from the earth.

All the warriors of the Pándavas rushed against him while the Kúrava warriors surrounded him to protect him, and a terrible fight was waged around him, for in that game of battle Bhishma was the stake on whom the victory of each side depended. Shikándin attacked him joyfully, striking him with three shafts, but these arrows caused him little pain, and he received them laughingly; indeed, he received them as a person in the heat of summer receives a shower of rain.

Krishna, holding the reins of Arjuna's white steeds, said to him, "Now put forth all your strength and slay the grandsire! See, he is breaking our ranks! None but you can bear his arrows and none but you can slay him."

Then the ape-bannered Arjuna, keeping behind Shikándin, drew near to Bhishma, cut his standard down with one arrow, and broke his bow with another. The grandsire took up another bow, but Arjuna cut it into three pieces with two broadheaded shafts. All the bows that Bhishma took up, the son of Pandu cut down, and then he pierced Bhishma with ten arrows and then another ten.

And the grandsire, deeply wounded by the keen-pointed shafts, said to Dushasa, who fought beside him, "These arrows coming toward me in a line, whose touch is like the thunderbolt's--these are not Shikándin's. They cut me to the quick, piercing my coat of mail, and strike my vital organs. These are not Shikándin's. They come like angry, poisonous snakes, like messengers of death. They are Arjuna's. No one can cause me pain but the heroic wielder of Gandíva, the ape-bannered son of Pandu.

After that, he fought no longer; but although he was sorely wounded, he stood calmly in his chariot and did not leave the battle.

Then Arjuna, at the head of the Pándavas, broke the center of the Kúrava army, and the troops and many of the warriors fled from the field, abandoning Bhishma. And the Pándavas surrounded that mighty hero on all sides, driving off the Kúravas who protected him, and covered him with their arrows until there was not on his body a space of two fingers' breadth that was not pierced by them. He began to weaken like an aged lion surrounded by the hunters. A little before sunset, in the sight of both armies, he reeled and fell down from his chariot, like a falling banner. Yet his body did not touch the ground, for it was held up by the many arrows that pierced it. Even as he fell, he remembered that the sun was approaching the winter solstice, so he did not allow his life to depart, for it is not well to die at that season. He had been given the boon that he himself should choose the hour of his death; therefore he held his life within him until the sun should move into the north, and he lay, with his mind given to prayer, on his bed of arrows.

When Bhishma fell, the hearts of all the Kúravas fell with him, and cries of sorrow were heard; while the Pándavas, having won the victory, stood at the head of their ranks and blew their conchs and trumpets. Dushasa turned his chariot and drove quickly to Drona, who commanded an army in another part of the field, to tell him of Bhishma's fall. Drona fell fainting from his chariot when he heard the evil news. but he recovered quickly and ordered the Kúravas to stop fighting. When they understood this, the Pándavas, too, sent fleet messengers to all their troops, commanding them to stop and announcing Bhishma's fall.

The kings of both armies and hundreds of other warriors put off their armor and came to where the eldest of the Bháratas lay. They stood around him and saluted him and Bhishma spoke to them: "Welcome, you mighty warriors! Welcome, you blessed ones! I am well pleased with you, for truly you are the equals of the gods." Then he said, "My head is hanging down. Pray give me a pillow." The kings ran to their tents and fetched many beautiful pillows made of delicate, soft fabrics, but the grandsire did not want these, saying, with a laugh, "These are not fitting for a hero's bed." Then, seeing that mightiest of warriors, the ape-bannered son of Pandu, he spoke to him, "O Arjuna, my head hangs down. Give me a pillow as you think fit, my son."

Arjuna, his eyes filled with tears, took up Gandíva and three straight shafts. Stretching the mighty bow, he drove the arrows deep into the earth, then lifted Bhishma's head and laid it upon them.

The grandsire was pleased that Arjuna had guessed his thought, and said, "Thus should a Kshatria sleep on the field of battle. I will lie on this bed until the sun turns to the north, and then I will yield my body as a friend bids farewell to a friend. Let it be burned with these arrows still piercing it."

The kings of both armies were filled with wonder. They had laid aside their armor and their weapons, and they met now as in the days of old and cheerfully talked together. Bhishma bore his pain bravely, but soon asked again for Arjuna, who came and stood before him with joined palms. "My body burns and my vital organs are in agony," he said. "Give me water, O Arjuna." Arjuna mounted on his chariot and again stretched Gandíva, twanging its string with a sound like thunder. Then he placed an arrow on the string, speaking an incantation, and pierced the earth a little to the south of where Bhishma lay; and lo, a jet of water rose, pure and cool and sweet, and he gave it to Bhishma to drink.

"Only you could do so wonderful a thing, O son of the Bháratas," the grandsire said. "With Krishna as your friend, you will achieve many mighty deeds that the gods themselves could not equal." He turned his eyes to Duryodha and said, "O King, forget your wrath! See how Arjuna has created this jet of cool, pure water! None but him, who knows the weapons of the gods, can do such deeds. Make peace with him, O King, and let this battle end with my death! Let this remnant of your brothers and of these warriors live! Let peace come when I die!"

But Duryodha said nothing; he refused this counsel as a dying man refuses medicine, and the kings and warriors returned to their tents after saluting Bhishma and placing guards about him to protect him.

After they had gone, Karna came, and when he saw that mighty hero lying with closed eyes on his arrowy bed, he fell weeping at his feet and said, "O chief of the Bháratas, I am the Suta's son, whom you have always hated."

The aged leader, slowly raising his eyelids and telling the guards to stand aside, embraced Karna with one arm and said, with great love, as a father speaks to a son, "Come, come! You have been my adversary, one who always challenged me and compared himself with me. I tell you truly, my son, that I bear you no ill will. I spoke so harhly to you only to abate your pride. I know your courage and your might, your generosity and your fairness in battle. You are not a Suta's son, but the son of Kunti, and the Pándavas are your brothers. O slayer of foes, if you wish to please me, join them today and let all the kings of the earth be free from danger!"

"I know all that you tell me, O mighty one," answered Karna, "but I cannot change now. This war must take its course. I have always tried to injure the Pándavas, and I cannot overcome my hatred of them. Therefore I shall cheerfully fulfill the duties of my caste, and I shall fight against Arjuna. Grant me your permission, O exalted one, and forgive me for any harsh words that I have uttered against you and for any rash and thoughtless acts."

"If you cannot find it in your heart to change, O Karna," said Bhishma, "then I permit you to fight. Serve the king without anger or pride, with no desire for revenge, with all your power and courage. For a long time I have tried to make peace between you and your brothers, but I have failed. Do as you desire!"

And Karna rose, saluted Bhishma, and went to the tent of Duryodha.


Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 203-224.