Bhimsen: Episode 59

[Episode 58] [Archives]

A jackal howled in triumph as it found some overlooked scrap of human flesh; its fellows joined in the demoniac chorus, while vultures wheeled and circled overhead.

Abhimanyu is dead.

The thought echoed in my head as I walked on through the pitch black night, looking for some sign of where it had happened.

Abhimanyu is dead.

Never again would he walk into my lodge late in the evening, still fresh after a day of performing prodigies on the battle field. Never more would I hear that call I had grown to love:


Over the course of the saddest day of my life, we had pieced together details of how he had been killed, but I still felt the urge to visit the scene, to see for myself where that boy, so dear to me, had breathed his last.

Drona had taken over command of the Kaurava army. Bhisma was still clinging to life; the Kauravas had laid him out in state in one corner of the battlefield, surrounded by an honor guard. Karna had given up his sulks and joined the Kaurava ranks; his presence in the field had given a fillip, a  fresh impetus, to the enemy.

The 13th day of the war was very nearly fatal for us. The army that confronted us that dawn was arranged in a defensive quarter moon formation but once battle was fully joined, it swiftly rearranged itself in the concentric circles of the Chakravyuh, that legend said was impenetrable, with Drona and Karna at its center.

Drona, our spies warned us, had promised Duryodhana he would end the war that day by killing or capturing Yudhishtira. Engrossed in the immediacy of combat, I hadn’t realized the change in Kaurava tactics; it was when a messenger came up to warn me that our center was in danger of buckling that I rushed over in support. Nakula, Sahadeva, Drupada and others were also riding up to help contain the Kaurava charge.

There was no sign of Arjuna, but I had no time to worry about that. The Kauravas in their circular formation pressed us hard. The battle raged with an intensity I had never seen before, and when it looked like we might be overwhelmed, I persuaded Yudhishtira to withdraw from the field.

When you are in the thick of battle, it is difficult to get a sense of what is happening across the field – there is just you and the next person to kill, or to be killed by. Even so, I got the feeling that something had happened to change the dynamic. The Kaurava charge seemed to lessen in intensity. I saw no sign of their main warriors in our immediate vicinity – I wondered if they were facing their own problems elsewhere on the field.

I thought to seize this opportunity, get a sizeable troop together and launch a counter-offensive. Just then, a stray arrow pierced deep into my right forearm. Rather than fight on, I signalled Visokan to drive off the field so I could get the attendants to clean and bind my wound.

“Something bad must have happened,” Visokan said as we drove into camp, pointing his whip at the chariots drawn up in front of Yudhishtira’s lodge.  I hurried inside.

“Abhimanyu is dead!”

Krishna’s face was ashen; for all the philosophies he had spouted about life and death being an illusion, the loss of the nephew he had brought up as his own son appeared to have hit him hard.

Arjuna was slumped in a corner, staring fixedly into the fire and seemingly oblivious of the tears that streamed down his face. A grim-faced Sahadeva sat beside him, a hand on my stricken brother’s shoulder.

Through the rest of that awful day, we waited in Yudhishtira’s lodge as a succession of spies passed through with details of what had happened.

Drona had waited until Arjuna was busy coping with a challenge by Bhagadatta, backed by a large force of Samsaptakas. From our spies, we had heard about this group of mercenaries who had been formed with the sole intention of harassing and containing Arjuna.

Once Arjuna was fully occupied in dealing with the challenge, Drona switched formations and launched his own attack. Abhimanyu, who was at point in our own formation, realized what was happening and decided the best counter was to break the Chakravyuh and take the attack to Drona himself.

“We told him to wait, we told him we would send messengers to Arjuna to warn of the danger and bring him to the front line,” Satyaki said, his voice hoarse with grief. “The boy wouldn’t  listen. He mocked us for being cowards; he said if we waited it would be too late; he said if we didn’t back him, he would go in there alone…”

It takes considerable skill to break the Chakravyuh — I think Arjuna was the only one of us who had perfected that skill. Abhimanyu managed to smash through the outer wall of the Kaurava formation. The plan was for Drupada and Satyaki to follow in his wake, backed by the rest of our cavalry. Once inside the enemy formation, Abhimanyu would lead the charge to smash through the concentric rings that comprised the formation, and attack Drona and Karna directly.

“It was Jayadratha who blocked us,” Satyaki said, tears streaming down his face. “Abhimanyu had penetrated inside and I was following immediately behind when the Sindhu king drove into the breach, crippled his own horses and overturned his chariot. He sealed the breach before Drupada and I could break through, and then he escaped into the melee.”


“The man you pardoned,” I reminded Yudhishtira. This was perhaps not the best time to upbraid my brother, but I didn’t care – I had just lost a boy I cared for more deeply than anyone else, even my own sons.

“His crime merited death, but you ordered us to let him go. You said we could not be responsible for making our cousin Dusshala a widow! Thanks to your generosity, Abhimanyu is dead and now Uttara is a widow – who among us has the courage to tell her that her husband of four months is dead?”

My brother kept his eyes fixed on the floor; if he heard my recriminations, he gave no sign, he didn’t say a word.

What was there to say? Abhimanyu was dead.

Over the past 12 days, the boy had already done enough to overshadow the reputations of the great warriors on either side – the deeds of Bhisma, Drona, even Arjuna himself had paled in comparison. But on this day, trapped in the midst of the massed Kaurava forces, he excelled himself.

“There is no celebration in the Kaurava camp,” one of our spies reported. “Even their own balladeers are praising Abhimanyu. The very gods came down to watch, they are singing…”

For once, I thought, the balladeers didn’t exaggerate – even the gods would have wanted to watch this boy. Having seen him in action, I knew that even overwhelmed as he was, he would have fought with joy, with the exuberance that was so uniquely his, without a shadow of fear or doubt.

Shalya and his brother Rukmaratha had tried to stop his progress; Abhimanyu killed Rukmaratha and forced Shalya to retreat.

Dushasana engaged him and, overwhelmed by the supreme skill of the youngster, fell fainting on the deck of his chariot. Karna drove out to check him and, wounded in combat, was forced to scurry back into the safety of the center.

Abhimanyu then did what no one believed was possible – alone, surrounded on all sides by hostile troops, he smashed through the supposedly impregnable formation and penetrated to its heart.

Each time a spy came to us with some fresh narrative, we grieved anew – but at no point did sorrow threaten to completely overwhelm me as at this moment. It must have been Abhimanyu’s audacious assault that blunted the edge of the Kaurava attack – preoccupied with trying to stop the boy from winning the war single-handed, the Kauravas didn’t have the space to push their own attack through.

I had sensed that diminished intensity, I had realized that the Kauravas had been blunted. Yet it never occurred to me to wonder why – instead, I had driven off the field to rest. Had I only known… had I thought to ask, to check… had Satyaki or one of the others thought to send messengers…

Unable to contain his brilliance, the Kauravas were forced to try and overwhelm Abhimanyu through sheer weight of numbers.

Drona, Kripa, Shalya, Ashwatthama, Duryodhana, Karna – vaunted warriors all – surrounded him. A revived Dushasana and his son came up in support.

Even so, Abhimanyu held his own,  until an increasingly desperate Drona, seeing his carefully planned strategy reduced to ruin, signalled to Karna to attack from the rear.

While Drona and Ashwatthama drew Abhimanyu’s fire, Karna slipped behind him and cut down his bow. Dushasana and Duryodhana, mounted on elephants, combined in a flanking attack to smash his chariot.

Abhimanyu fought on with his sword until he was disarmed; bleeding from a thousand cuts, he picked up the wheel of the shattered chariot and fought on while the Kauravas fired at him from all sides.

When the boy finally collapsed under the weight of his injuries, Dushasana’s son had slipped in behind him, and crushed his head in with a mace.

Unable to sit still under the burden of grief, I wandered out into the now deserted battle field, seeking some sign of where it had all happened. The chandalas had done their job well – there was nothing: no smashed chariot, no shattered arms, no chariot wheel with which he had fought his last fight.

Nothing, except the memories that pierced my heart.

Abhimanyu’s smile.

Abhimanyu’s eyes on me, shining with pride at my skill.

Abhimanyu’s voice, in the timbre of which man and boy met so nicely, calling out to me.


Had he, I wondered, in those final moments called for help? Had he longed for  his father? He had once come to my aid unasked – did he, as he fell before those cowards, wonder why I wasn’t at his side when he most needed help?

“I was looking for you,” Dhristadyumna’s voice interrupted my thoughts as I walked past the door of his lodge. His eyes were bloodshot with alcohol and with grief; he was sitting on the step, drawing aimless patterns in the dust with the tip of his spear.

“Challenge Karna to a duel tomorrow – he will not refuse a direct challenge,” Dhristadyumna said. “Drona is my problem and I’ll deal with him – but if we are to win this war then one of us needs to take out Karna before he can do too much damage, and the only one who can is you.”

“Arjuna has vowed to kill Karna,” I reminded him.

“Vows are cheap – there are far too many of them already. And besides, where does he have the time? He is preoccupied with other things – he has vowed that he will kill Jayadratha by dusk tomorrow.”


“Your brother, who else?! In full hearing of our soldiers, Arjuna swore that he would kill Jayadratha before dusk, and only after that will he perform Abhimanyu’s last rites. Failing that, he said, he will immolate himself on the funeral pyre of his son.

“How could he have been so criminally stupid?” Dhristadyumna said, after a long pause. “Drona is no fool. He will put Jayadratha at the center of his army, surround him on all sides with his best warriors and keep him safe through a day’s fighting – and we will use our best warrior to his own stupidity.”

“Where is Krishna? Why didn’t he stop Arjuna from making such an impossible vow?”

Dhristadyumna snorted with impatience, took a long swig of sura and passed the goatskin to me. “Oh, Krishna—he is busy. He is consulting priests and astrologers.”

“What?! Why?”

“How would I know? He didn’t take me into his confidence – he summoned the priests and our astrologers, and has been meeting with them in Arjuna’s lodge. What a time to consult omens!”

I walked away, too disturbed in mind and restless in body to seek the comfort of my bed. As I neared the river, I saw etched against the night sky the silhouette of a single chariot drawn up on the bank. Someone was perched on its shaft, staring out across the river.

“Abhimanyu is dead,” Ghatotkacha said as I walked up.

“No one – not your brothers, not your other sons, not Dhristadyumna or Krishna or any of the great kings who have come to fight for you, have ever treated me and my men like human beings,” he said, jumping down from his perch and standing there, staring off into space.

“For all of you, we are just tribals. What does that king, your brother for whom we are shedding our blood, call us? Rakshasas?! We are fit only to kill for you, but not to be treated as one of you. Abhimanyu alone…”

His voice broke; he fought for control while I stood there, feeling the truth in my eldest son’s words scour me like a whip.

“Abhimanyu alone, from that first day we met in your lodge, treated me like an equal, like a brother. He sought me out each day, he asked about my comfort, he mingled with my men, he praised my skills, he told me he had never seen a greater fighter and how proud he was that I was his brother…”

I had never known any of this. In the 11 days since he had come to join us, I had never thought to seek out my own son, to find out how he was doing. He had once rescued me from dire peril; even then, I had never looked for him after the day’s battle to utter a word of praise, of thanks.

How many lessons did I still have to learn? In how many more ways would Abhimanyu continue to prove that he was better than all of us combined?

“And now he is dead! Abhimanyu is dead! They surrounded him like jackals and brought him down – all those great warriors, those acharyas, behaving in a fashion we tribals would scorn…”

In the darkness, his sword flashed fire – a world of pain and anger powered his arm as the sword bit deep into the shaft of the chariot.

He looked down at his weapon as if he had never seen it before.

“My spy in the Kaurava camp tells me that Drona is planning to fight at night – the fool! That is just what we like, us tribals. Rakshasas!” The way he spat out that last word was an insult to us.

“Night is our time – they will not see us come, they will not see their death till it is too late.”

His laugh rang out, a sound more blood-curdling than the howls of the jackals that occasionally pierced the stillness of the night.

“From now on when I kill, it is for him, for Abhimanyu. I will write the story of my brother in the blood of the cowards who brought him down!”

65 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 59

  1. Pingback: Eclipse opens Eclipsed pages of History « Glib, But Truth

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  3. This is my first comment on this series. I had discovered your blog few days back and read some of the previous episodes. I’ve haven’t read Randamoozham or Jayam. Wondering if English translations of the those 2 books are available. I couldn’t find one copy of Jayam currently in print. Hope you or some other reader can help

    • I am not aware of existing translations, Vinod. I read it in Malayalam, from the Calicut Public Library which, back in the 1980s, had one copy.

  4. Brilliant! The entire series is gripping. Each one feels like its better than the previous. Then, on re-reading the previous episodes I don;t even want to spend time deciding which one is the best. I just savor the entire narrative without dividing them into episodes.

    You are India’s best writer to have not written a book so far.

  5. Simply amazing……the way narrative moves from warfront bravados to emotional angst of chrachters post the event is superlative…..I have been an ardent fan of the series….this episode didnt make me cry, though, I can easily feel the angst of Ghatotkacha…feels like I want to join him in battlefield the next day and avenge Abhimanyu’s murder.

  6. Damn! This one has been a heck of a series and I would love to read MTV’s version – do you know if there’s an English translation available?

    Also, wonder if you’ve read Yuganta (by Irawati Karve) and if that’s affected any of your character portraits?

    • I’ve heard of this one, Venky, but not managed to get hold of a copy in a language I can understand. And I’ve been consciously staying away from other Mahabharat versions — a while ago, I got hold of a Malayalam translation of Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya, told from Karna’s perspective, and began reading it. Stopped after a couple of chapters, figured I didn’t need some other version getting into my head just now and mixing it all up for me.

      • Yuganta has an English translation. Also discovered (through some Googling) that Randamoozham’s English translation is called Second Turn (referring to Bhim’s turn w/Draupadi). It’s listed at an insane $115 in Amazon! Me thinks I’ll pick it up in the next trip to India …

        • Thanks, Venky, found Yuganta and even Yajnaseni on and ordered both.

          I was you, I’d give Second Turn a miss. I glanced through that translation a long time ago — it is a total disservice to the art and craft of MT.

  7. Hey, Prem, not sure if you remember me, but I was part of the audience when you — and Robin Singh and Wasim Akram — were chief guests at the Michigan Cricket Club awards night some years ago, and after the event I’d briefly spoken to you. As a long time MT Vasudevan Nair fan – he is a sort of relative of mine – I’ve been following your version of Randaamoozham with a great deal of interest, and have been intrigued by your many departures from MT’s text and even some episodes you have created that have no equivalent in the original.

    I’ve been meaning to ask this for a long time, but this latest episode finally forced me to abandon my reluctance. I have a well-thumbed copy of Randaamoozham. After reading this episode twice, I went back to the original and read the part where MT describes Abhimanyu’s death. This version is considerably more exhaustive, more detailed. Also, MT at one point in his narrative muses on the nature of life and death, painting death as a beautiful woman with blood-reddened lips stalking the battlefield of Kurukshetra. You avoided that, but have introduced various other elements, and elaborated on some others that MT only touches on in passing, like the Ghatotkacha episode for example.

    So here is my question: you have repeatedly said that this version is based on Randaamoozham, you call it your “source code”. But clearly, there is a lot in your rendition that is not present in the original. Is it out of place to ask what other books you are referring to? Where for example did you get the details that you have incorporated into this episode which, I must add, makes for compelling reading? If the question is out of turn, please forgive me. Oh, and my wife who was with me that day and who is an equally die hard fan of this series sends you her best regards.

    • Hey, hello — sorry if I can’t put a face to the name; the MichCA thing was when, 2002? 😦

      No need for the apologies, fair question. The answer might be somewhat involved, though, if it is to make sense. Here goes:

      First up, I am not using any other source material — just Randaamoozham, and my memories of Jayam from when I read it in the late 1980s. I think the best way to answer this is to tell you how I wrote this episode.

      The starting point was knowing what the episode had to deal with: the death of Abhimanyu, and its impact on Bhim. Before writing it, I worked it out in my mind, splitting it broadly into detail and emotion.

      I then scribbled down the bare bones details of what happened with Abhimanyu. Once that was down on paper — more accurately, Word — I examined it to see where additional detail of the actual battle was necessary and for that, I relied on my imagination as I have through most of the battle scenes thus far.

      I then had to provide the emotional frame for this narrative. To write of the battle first, then pack in a lot of emotion at the end, would have been clunky — so while working on the rough word doc, my goal was to alternate the two, to punctuate the action with relevant emotional packages.

      An illustrative example is the bit where Abhimanyu breaks through to the heart of the formation. Clearly, Bhima is hearing this through others — what would have gone through his mind then? From that thought came the graf where I have Bhima realizing this was why the intensity of battle had lessened, and his grief that in the heat of the moment, it hadn’t occurred to him to look for the reasons — the ‘if only’ moment. Similarly, again, the part where he wonders if maybe Abhimanyu, finally confronting the fact of his imminent death, had called to his father, to Bhim, for help.

      Put another way, I started with the broad canvas of this one incident, and into that had to paint little emotional strokes where I thought they best fitted. MT’s musings on death worked fine since his narrative is in the form of a novel; mine is episodic, and I reckoned that a philosophical digression would dilute the impact of the story I was telling. So I avoided that — and at the same time, elaborated on other bits, like the battle itself, or Bhima wandering the field looking for signs of where it had happened, and even as you point out the incident with Ghatotkacha, which is less detailed in MT’s version [In passing, I don’t read MT’s book before writing each episode — I have a sense of where the story is and where it needs to go, so I just write based on that, and refer to the original only when I am unsure of a name or the exact sequence of incidents].

      I didn’t use any other sources for these additions, though — that is
      the work of my own imagination.

      Best regards to your wife, and thank her for me.

      • Absolutely the master stroke of this episode was the opening sentence… you start the episode after the fact… instead of going forward. The happenings and emotions are interlaced in between. The number of comments on this episode shows it!!

        • *LOL* Thanks; it is funny how things work out.

          I tend on the day I have to write an episode to first block it out in my head — and when I was doing that with this episode, I initially started with Bhim in the middle of a furious battle. I thought, a graf or two right at the start, then he suddenly gets the news and from there on, the emotions dominate. Had it all blocked out that way, too — but when I got to work and started writing, for some reason began post-facto, and from there it seemed to fall into place.

          Through writing this, I’ve learnt many times over that drafting and writing and re-writing endlessly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; it comes out far better when you let instinct drive the words.

  8. Excellent episode Prem…Abhimanyu is dead…I can’t help but connect imaginative dots between your narration and Moore’s Watchmen….where Rorschach keeps thinking…comedian is dead…

  9. The one episode which would have cut ur writing into size has given ur narration a classic touch. I cant stop marvelling Abhimanyus and yours skill on display! Much skill has been displayed which has come to u naturally. I agree with few friends who say about yourself wasting ur talent with cricket writing. Come out, u have great screenplay, story teller in u. Start exploring that venture, which u r bound to succeed.

    One doubt Prem, y should Arjuna vow to kill Jayaradha if jayaradha has simply blocked others following Abhimanyu, is that not his duty to block people piercing the chakra vyuha? I remember to have read that Jayaradha was the one who attacked Abhimanyu from behind, since thats the only way to defeat him. Thats why Arjuna got angry with Jayaradha and vowed to kill him. Please clarify.

    • I think the episode puts his role in perspective. Jayadratha was pardoned and let off by Yudhishtra although he deserved to die after trying to abduct and harass Draupadi. By letting him go, the pandavas feel that act has come back to haunt them in the form of Abhimanyus death. Had more Pandava chieftains entered the Chakravyuh along with Abhimanyu, he would not have been alone surrounded by foes; they could have saved him. But Jayadratha prevented that by blocking their path and no one other than Arjuna knew how to break open the Chakravyuh again.

    • Think of it in context of the time. This was a bitter war fought between mortal enemies, yet there were rules that may not be transgressed. Warriors engaged in single combat with equals; it was not on for many to attack one. You were not allowed to cut down horses or charioteers; you could not kill spies and messengers; a man mounted on a chariot could not engage in combat with a warrior on foot…

      The problem with Jayadratha’s action would have been not that he sealed the breach but that he did it in a manner not in keeping with accepted mores. Had he driven into the breach and fought Satyaki and others and kept them at bay, no issues — but by killing his own horses and toppling his chariot to seal the breach, he was guilty of using unfair means, that eventually led to Abhimanyu’s death.

      • Jayadratha’s unacceptable tactic is well brought out in your narrative. Something akin to match-fixing.

        In the conventional narrative it seems as though he just ‘fills the breach’. For all these years I have had in my mind the same question as D.Krishnamurthy – why would Arjuna go after Jayadrahta – when he should infact go after Drona for the actual deceit on the ground. Why he missed Drona, who instigated the unfairness, we will never know, but thanks to your awesome narration, we have a valid reason for Arjuna’s revenge.

  10. Prem
    As Nagesh said I became a fan of your write ups ever since you penned the report of the Kolkatta test match-I can still recollect the exact words of your columns of that amazing test match and I thought no one can ever write better than this
    having said that you surpassed yourself in this episode-you have no peers Prem-I forwarded this episode to all of my friends in my address book and now each one of them is a fan of yours.

  11. Best episode of the series so far Prem! Words fail to express the sadness and lump in the throat i felt while reading it. Write on!


  12. Been a fan of your cricket match reports for a long time now – Your coverage of the 2001 Kolkata match in rediff is in my bookmarks and I read it many times an year, whenever I need a ‘life-me-up’. Stumbled upon after missing you on rediff and searching for your posts. Didn’t pay much attention to Bhimsen at first, focusing only on cricket related posts.
    But, after reading one of the episodes, I went back, read all of them and been hooked on to it ever since. I read the previous episode out aloud to my wife and now she’s hooked too.
    People have already said this is the best episode so far, and I totally agree with them. I’d imagine touching the emotional chords of the readers, without sounding cheesy is the most delicate act and you pulled it off with great effect.
    I didn’t think you’d be able to match the Kolkata report, but you did, with this episode. Your posts make my life richer.

  13. Prem,

    This is my first post. I have been following your writing for ages now, your live cricket commentary outclassed Cricinfo by a mile!

    I have been an avid fan of your Bhim. I second one of the messages requesting you to start writing books. You have the ability to strike a chord with us readers and successfully narrate a story as it relates to today’s norms. Your story telling ability should make you indispensable for the Mani Rathnams, Karan Johars in assisting them with screenplay.

    While on this episode, I agree with other readers that this is the best episode of Bhim. It is a very poignant one that brings out the sadness and anger in a person. Abhimanyu should be placed on the same pedistal as Arjuna in his heroism, skills. I learned another facet of the great warrior – his bonding with Ghatotkacha which has further endeared him to me.

    Our epics have provided us with a wealth of characters and Abhimanyu stands high in the list of role models for people of all ages.

    I apologize if I digress but I have the following question.
    Why is Yudishtra depicted as a weak character, especially in your version?
    I have been completely influenced by your story (and hence MT Vasudevan Nair’s) that I seem to have lost the respect I had for him.

    He comes across as a gambler, a loser, a poor warrior who has to be protected in the battlefield, a contemptuous individual with scant regard for people of other races (Ghatotkacha), a person with poor judgement (pardoning Jaya trdha), all negative traits.

    Makes me wonder what makes him fit to be a king? Just being the oldest?
    I am questioning the premise of this war from Bhim and other Pandavas perspective? Why is everyone staking his life to have this man installed as the king? Wonder what makes Bhim support his brother and have respect for him?

    Would appreciate your response.



    • There is one episode where Bhim is amazed at Yudhistra’s leadership skills. He initially thinks he is wasting his time with sages and hermits. But then realizes that those people were actually messengers and Yudhistra during the exile had tracked all the allies that Duryodhan had formed, what his strengths were etc.

    • You need to see the relationships in context of a time when the authority of the eldest born was absolute.

      For instance, when my grandfather was patriarch of our family, he took unilateral decisions that impacted on the lives of over 100 members of the immediate family. No one ever thought to argue with him, to question the decisions.

      In turn, my father became head of the family; he too made decisions that impacted on the whole extended clan. More than once, his decisions led to acrimony, bitterness, even splits in the extended family. What the hell, his own son — me — was in constant rebellion against his edicts.

      Point is, for us in today’s generation it is difficult to imagine a time of such unquestioning obedience, such total surrender to the will of another. That however was the norm then — Yudhishtira was the eldest, therefore his rights, and his writ, were matters of fact, accepted without challenge or question.

      That said, the likes of Arjuna and Bhim were high-spirited warriors, intelligent in their own ways, so there was bound, at least within the closed confines of the family conclave, to be disagreement, even anger. Neither of them, however, would ever think of doing anything in public that could undermine their elder brother’s authority.

      There is another element to this — there are warrior kings, and then there are kings who shine in times of peace. Yudhishtira is clearly the latter. His vision was of a unified Bharat, as witness his Rajasuya — not out of the desire for conquest and loot, but to bring peace to the land by uniting all kings under a common umbrella.

      As Kalki points out, Yudhishtira had his own skills, eminently suited to kingship [you could even argue that the tempestuous Bhim or the volatile, pleasure loving Arjuna would not make for ideal rulers] — but we see him largely against the backdrop of conflict, of war, and that is not the atmosphere in which he shows to best advantage.

      So, in situations of strife, it is Bhima and Arjuna who would show to advantage while Yudhishtira comes across as something of a coward [there is a later episode that will likely highlight this]. In the heat of conflict, the brothers are apt to look down on their eldest — but underlying all of that will be the ingrained deference to the accepted law of primogeniture; Arjuna and Bhima and the others would without question put their lives on the line in support of their elder brother’s right to rule.

      • I haven’t read your source books, but have read the traditional versions and their translations. I think its a sign of changing times, where grey characters are considered real and accepted whereas completely white characters are written off as too idealistic and boring. Case in point being, most the protagonists in Ramayan; and hence the story itself is considered to be one dimensional

        That said, you have painted Yudhistira as very dark, not even grey. It seems as if he is the villain and not Duryodhana. Save for the one episode which Kalki pointed out, there have been no redeeming qualities for Yudhistira, at least from Bhim’s pov. In the traditional version, the Yaksha episode is one where his maturity as a philosopher or thinker comes out. I understand there is no place for an obviously fantasy episode like that in the main story. But that robs him of any brownie points to redeem since he doesn’t have much role to play in the war.

  14. I see that you guys have beaten me to the punch with the accolades and all, so I will not consume any more space saying how unbelievably great this episode was.

    I am just glad that 20 or so years back, I forced my folks to change my name to ‘Abhimanyu’. That time, Abhimanyu the war hero was just a distant idea; I got the name since Shahrukh Khan was ‘Abhimanyu’ in the serial ‘Fauji’.

    Today, thanks to you, Prem, I stand proud that I share a name with one of the mightiest and bravest of human beings. Thanks, Prem, for adding another dimension to what my name means and represents.

    If you are in DC anytime, lunch is on me 🙂

    Abhimanyu (‘Abhi’)

  15. Excellent post as always Prem,

    The post freshened the reminiscences of the childhood stories that I used to hear from my grandpa as a daily routine before going to sleep.

    On Abhimanyu, I recollect my grandpa also talking about Krishna desiring (and also scheming out) Abhimanyu’s death. There are different theories behind it.

    Searched the web and found the reference on wiki:

    • Yeah, I heard about the Abhimanyu as rakshasa theory while growing up in Chennai, but never did get a satisfactory explanation of how it came about. Thanks for the link.

      • One version of this story I read in ‘Chandamama’:
        In Kritayuga, there was a Brahmin named ‘Kaalanaemi’. He was killed by Vishnu because of his evil deeds. He then took birth as ‘Kamsa’. Again, Vishnu came to the earth as his nephew – Krishna and killed him. To avenge this, Kaalanaemi took birth as Krishna’s nephew – Abhimanyu. Had Abhimanyu survived the Kurukshetra war, he’d have turned his considerable skills against Krishna, which is why Krishna wanted him to be killed in Kurukshetra.

        Doesn’t make sense in the larger context, but this is what I read :).

  16. Great Episode. Simply the best. I have been collecting all these episodes in a word file and once in a while go back to reading them. I can tell you this is the best episode so far. I will read it many times before the day gets over.

    It was taking some effort to get used to a very different narrative of a war where the camera isn’t all over the place in the same episode. I was wondering how will you do justice to this very important part of the story and how will the various theaters of war be described. This episode puts all doubts to rest. I am loving this warriors’ eye view narration.

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