Bhimsen: Episode 62

[Episode 61] [Archives]

“Drona has to die today,” Dhristadyumna said at dawn on the fifteenth day, as he took up position at the head of the Panchala army.

I began the day on my chariot, leading our surviving force of elephants on a single-minded mission.

Thanks largely to Ghatotkacha and his band, one wing of the Kaurava army had been almost entirely destroyed. It was up to me now to do to their chariots what my son had done to the foot soldiers.

It went well in our part of the field – with Bhagadatta dead and the bulk of his elephant force destroyed by Arjuna, our own elephants had the space to range free, wrecking havoc among the Kaurava chariots. I had given the mahouts their orders: it wasn’t enough to defeat the warriors; the chariots had to be totally destroyed.

The messages that came from other parts of the field were, however, dire. Drona, backed by Karna and Ashwathama, had launched a ferocious assault on our position from the northern side – first Drupada, then Virat, had failed in their bid to halt him and fallen to his arrows.

The Kaurava forces had been decimated, but Drona’s mastery of war craft was unparalleled. Even with hugely reduced numbers, they were inflicting tremendous damage on our forces. Drona led brilliantly, grouping his forces tight, picking weak spots in our defenses as they opened up and gutting us with unexpected tactical moves and his own mastery of weapons.

In the distance I saw two chariots rushing in our direction, the distinctive white horses of the first and the royal white umbrella on the second identifying them as those of my brothers.

“Drona is invincible,” Krishna said as they drew near. “The only way to defeat him is to break his spirit, his will. We must announce that Ashwathama is dead… Drona should see us celebrating.”

Will Drona believe us, I wondered.

“No. Not unless Yudhishtira tells him his son is dead,” Krishna said.

“You want me to lie?” Yudhishtira was disturbed. “Thus far I have tried to do everything that is consistent with truth, with dharma… how can I now give up the principles of a lifetime?”

With a visible effort, Krishna fought down his anger. “This is war, Yudhishtira – not a game of dice. Too many people have died so you can have your chance to rule in Hastinapura… it’s a bit too late to stand on scruples.”

My brother looked unconvinced.

Krishna pointed at the massive bulk of an elephant I had killed just minutes earlier. “I say the name of that beast is Ashwathama,” he said. “I say Ashwathama is dead – where is the lie in that?”

At his urging we drove rapidly towards the northern part of the field, where Dhristadyumna was now locked in battle with Drona.

“Ashwathama is dead!” I proclaimed as we neared. The Panchala soldiers nearby picked up on the cry and soon, to the blare of trumpets, the entire force was celebrating wildly.

Yudhishtira threw a hand up in triumph. “Ashwathama is dead,” he proclaimed. “Ashwathama, the elephant…”

Krishna must have anticipated what my brother would do – with a triumphant blast on his conch, he drowned out my brother’s final words.

The next few moments rushed past in a confused blur. I saw Drona, his eyes fixed on Yudhishtira’s face, lower his bow. Dhristadyumna’s horses plunged forward; when the dust settled, I saw him standing on the deck of Drona’s chariot, holding the acharya by his tuft of hair.

His sword flashed. Drona’s head, severed clean at the neck, flew through the air and landed in the dust.

Showing no emotion whatever, Dhristadyumna vaulted back onto his chariot and drove away from the field, his bloodied sword held high.

Heralds signaled the fall of the Kaurava commander. As the fighting came to a halt, the rest of us drove off the field and in the direction of Yudhishtira’s lodge.

I was taken aback when Satyaki rushed up to Dhristadyumna. “Coward! For all your big talk, you couldn’t defeat him in battle – and then to cut his head off when he was laying down his arms… Drona… a Brahmin… an acharya…!”

“This is war,” Dhristadyumna said with unruffled calm. “I haven’t learnt to make all these fine distinctions about ‘honorable’ killing and dishonorable killing.”

“Even if he was an enemy, even if he had to die, he was a Brahmin,” Satyaki persisted. “He was an acharya, a guru… but then what would you, and that amoral brother of yours, know about honor, about ethics? You are a shame on all kshatriyas!”

“True.” Dhristadyumna’s  laugh was suffused with scorn. “What do we Panchalas know? We need you to set us all an example, Satyaki – like you did when you killed Burisravas.

“How did that happen? You — an example for kshatriyas everywhere — were on your knees begging him to spare your life. And when Arjuna saved your life by cutting off Burisravas’ arm with an arrow, you showed  the bravery you upbraid me for lacking when you chopped his head off from behind! And now,” Dhristadyumna snorted, “I get lessons in honor, in ethics, from this pillar of the Vrishnis!”

Satyaki’s hand flashed to his sword hilt.

Krishna interposed himself between him and Dhristadyumna – but just when I thought the tension would be defused, Arjuna added unnecessary fuel to the fire.

“I agree with Satyaki. Drona was our guru, our acharya – it is not the same as when Satyaki killed Burisravas.”

“He was a Brahmin, hence doubly sacred,” Yudhishtira chipped in.

Dhristadyumna had remained calm through Satyaki’s attacks, but this proved more than he could take.

“Brahmin! Acharya! Guru! What respect, what praise, for the man who ordered his generals to surround a 16 year old boy who was on his own – or have you forgotten how Abhimanyu was killed, Arjuna? Where was that famous Brahmanyam when he, this man you revere as your guru, ordered Karna to attack Abhimanyu from behind?!”

“Cowards will always find a way to justify their actions,” Satyaki muttered.

“Enough!” I roared. I had finally come to the end of my patience. To win this war we had killed our own flesh and blood; we had lied, we had cheated, we had broken every rule, violated every code – must we now add hypocrisy to the list of our sins?

“Have we lost our minds? We, all of us, wanted to see Drona dead – it didn’t matter to us that he was our acharya. We knew none of us could kill him in direct combat – isn’t that why Krishna asked us to lie, to pretend Ashwathama was dead?  You lied,” I swung around to confront my brother. “Where was dharma then? Honor? Ethics? You wanted to win, you wanted the acharya dead, and for that you were prepared to lie, if necessary — or are you fooling yourself that by mumbling about an elephant your lie had somehow become the truth?

“So what were we thinking? That Drona would drop dead on his own when he heard his son was dead? We knew someone had to kill him — and the fact is, none of us had the courage to do what all of us wanted done — none except Dhristadyumna. And now that we have got what we wanted, you want to lessen your own guilt by rounding on him? What kind of men are we that we have sunk to this?”

It was rare for me to speak out in public, rarer still to speak at any length — but the accumulated hurts and griefs of the past two days finally proved too much for me to bear.

“This acharya of yours, Arjuna — what did he teach you? To cut down the arm of a warrior who was engaged with another? Oh, I forget — Satyaki is a friend, so anything you do, any rule you break, to save him is okay?

“And you, Satyaki? So you think it was a grievous crime to cut off Drona’s head? Would it have been better, would it have somehow been consonant with your notions of honor and ethics, if one of us had killed him with an arrow shot from a distance? Or were you waiting for Drona to die a natural death?!”

This was war, not some game we were playing. Dharma, honor, rules, ethics – nice notions all, every one of which had died the day Bhisma fell. Since then, the Kauravas had broken the rules repeatedly — and so had we. “If we are not prepared to face the consequences of a war we sought then let’s admit it now,” I told Yudhishtira. “Go to Duryodhana, tell him it is all over, and let’s head back into the forest!”

An inoffensive water pot stood in my way. I smashed it in with a single kick and stormed out into the night, not caring what my brother made of my words.

28 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 62

  1. One more interesting comment by Rajaji after Arjuna kills Karna – again not in line with the existing rules of combat – was this. Interesting to see that Rajaji’s version is quite close to MTV’s (or Prem’s here). I guess the TV serial version and Amar Chitra Katha took precedence over what I had read from Rajaji’s book.

    The poet had not the heart to impute this act to Arjuna who was the imbodiment of nobility. It was the Lord Krishna that incited Arjuna to kill karna when he was vainly trying to raise his chariot out of the mud in which it had stuck. According to the code of honor and laws of war prevailing then, it was wholly wrong. Who could bear the responsibility for breaches of dharma except the Lord Himself? The lesson is that it is vanity to hope, through physical violence and war, to put down wrong. The battle for right, conducted through physical force leads to numerous wrongs and, in the net result, adharma increases.

  2. This was Rajaji’s narration of the Drona killing episode:

    “O Arjuna,” said Krishna, “there is none that can defeat this Drona, fighting according to the strict rules of war. We cannot cope with him unless dharma is discarded. We have no other way open. There is but one thing that will make him desist from fighting. If he hears that Aswatthama is dead, Drona will lose all interest in life and throw down his weapons. Someone must
    therefore tell Drona that Aswatthama has been slain.”Arjuna shrank in horror at the proposal, as he could not bring himself to tell a lie. Those who were nearby with him also rejected the idea, for no one was minded to be a party to deceit.

    Yudhishthira stood for a while reflecting deeply. “I shall bear the burden of this sin,” he said and resolved the deadlock!

    It was strange. But when the ocean was churned at the beginning of the world and the dread poison rose threatening to consume the gods, did not Rudra come forward to swallow it and save them? To save the friend who had wholly depended on him, Rama was driven to bear the sin of killing Vali, in disregard of the rules of fairplay. So also, now did Yudhishthira decide to bear the shame of it, for there was no other way.
    If you go by this narration, it actually paints Yudhistra is a worse light. He, instead of being convinced, offered to lie. Funny, how I did not think negatively about Yudhistra then. 🙂

  3. It was a nice debate in the end regarding morality of ones actions in war. I came out of the discussion is the war is immoral and any even participates in it despite his or her best efforts ends doing something immoral. Ethics and morality take a back seat when people arounnd you are getting killed.

    In that sense Mahabharatha despite all its violence is an anti-war epic.

    • Which I think is how even previous generations viewed it. I remember there was this proscription, when I was going up, against keeping a copy of the epic at home — the thinking was there would be “kutumba kalaham”, family squabbles, if you did.

  4. Brilliant, brilliant! I’d heard my Sanskrit lecturer, in my college days – a fierce supporter of Bhima – telling us in class that the Gita Upadesa was given to Arjuna and not Bhima mainly because Bhima wasn’t distraught with confusion the way Arjuna always seemed to be. In other words, Bhima didn’t need the philosophical exposition since he already knew it! The lecturer had also mentioned instances, which I forget now :-(, where Bhima’s perspicacity shines through in a lot of situations.

    Your Bhimsen series is the only other piece of work that I’ve heard / read which reaffirms my lecturer’s words. And I love it, Bhima being a personal favourite of mine too. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

    What I’d have liked even more is to have more of these situations when Bhima speaks out; for his clarity of thought to come out. Well, wishes, wishes…

  5. I think Satyaki’s action is more immoral – Boorisrava lays down his arms when Arjuna says “why are you trying to lynch a tired warrior” (ofcourse he says this after cutting off his hand). But Boorisrava realises his mistake and lays down his arms but Satyaki beheads him anyway.
    Bhim hits it on the head: There is just no need to talk about ethics etc. They all have gone up in the air with Bhisma’s fall.
    I think Karna, once he becomes the commander, tries to go by ethics, since he is worried about how history will remember him.

    • In fact, the immorality in that incident began with Arjuna. As the epic has it, Burisravas had defeated Satyaki with whom he had a long history of feuding, and was dragging him around the field. Krishna warns Arjuna that his friend is in danger and Arjuna fires an arrow at Burisravas, without warning, cutting off his arm. Burisravas in fact upbraids Arjuna and reminds him that per the rules of combat, he is not supposed to engage someone who is already in combat with another, that too without warning. Arjuna’s defense at the time was that it is the duty of a warrior to come to the rescue of a friend, which sounds spurious to me [I mean, by that token Karna could claim that he attacked Abhimanyu from behind because he was coming to the rescue of his commander in chief].

      And while B is busy arguing with Arjuna, Satyaki jumps up and chops his head off.

  6. Some questions/comments from the last few episodes:

    I am surprised that the deaths of Drupad and Virat are described so briefly. Particularly for Drupad.

    In the Abhiyanu death episode, the chakravyuh is shown as an attacking formation. Isn’t it more of a defensive formation and a challenge was thrown to the Pandava forces to break it.

    It is difficult to narrate the epic without relying on boons, curses, supernatural etc. One example is the one time use of Shakti by Karna.


    • A person sitting on a tower looking down at the field might have been in a position to describe the deaths of Drupada and Virat — Bhim, on the ground and engaged in his own battles, would not have been similarly able to watch and report; for him, it would be a little jolt in the middle of the madness.

      Depends how you want to look at strategy and tactics. The Pandavas are winning, the Kauravas are getting decimated, Drona is under pressure to produce results. If he put up a defensive circle and sat in the middle hatching eggs, how would that produce results? How for instance would that help capture Yudhishtira? The Pandavas wouldn’t bother breaking the circle — they’d just train all their forces on the outer circle and keep killing the forces. Drona’s ploy will work only if you consider it offensive — a series of concentric circles from within which warriors could emerge at any point of the compass at will to create havoc, or come collectively to hit the Pandavas where they are weak and thus try and capture Yudhishtira. At least, that is my reasoning — as for the accepted understanding of it as defensive, I am yet to read someone tell me how sitting in the middle of a tight circle is supposed to win the war for you 🙂

      Again, not necessarily, not if you consider that some weapons are not easily manufactured and stock piled, especially in those times. Today for instance you could stockpile poisons, and use them en masse. Then, Arjuna talks of the difficulty of stockpiling his Pashupathaashtra, for instance, where he tells Bhima that it depends on snake venom which needs to be fresh each time, and you really can’t go around with a basket of snakes to draw venom at need.

      One of the fun by products of writing this is the kind of questions you guys come up with, which then forces me to think logically and come up with halfway decent answers. *L*

      • I think the function of the Chakravyuh was that it acted like an Amoeba. It would slowly move ahead and one by one “engulf” one warrior along with his bodyguards. Then the generals within the cirle would butcher that trapped warrior. They were heading straight towards Yudhistir with that intention.

        In order to cut open the Chakravyuha you had to break the formation, as in destroy it circle by cirle. Abhimanyu was able to penetrate, but the idea is to penetrate it with a large force and then take it circle by cirle and then finally destroy the center. If you get outnumbered you need to know the art of retracing your steps and get the hell out of there. That’s where Abhimanyu made the tacical error of not retreating in time.

  7. In one of the earlier episodes, one reader left a consolidated pdf version of all the episodes till then.. would be great if something like that is done once this series ends..!

  8. Prem,
    I was hoping that Drona’s death episode would spend less time on the actual happenings and more on the discussions around whether it was right or wrong thing to do. You didnt disappoint mate. The post-war debate made excellent reading especially Dhristyadumna justifying the actions by referencing Abhimanyu’s death. I think Abhimanyu;s death was the only sole straw which Pandavas could clutch too to justify every rule break by them.

  9. I remember reading in Rajaji’s version of Mahabharatha, that when Yudishtra uttered the ‘lie’, his chariot which till then was always a few inches above the ground came to rest with the other mortals. But of course this version is a far more realistic one. Great job with the adaptation, I have been thoroughly enjoying it.

  10. I wonder what was the logic behind the plan to have Bhima and Arjuna to fight against Baghadatta and other lesser Kaurava leaders and not against Drona and Karna.

    • It’s not like Bhima and Arjuna didn’t fight against the big generals [Bhima’s battle with Karna, for instance, is detailed in a previous episode] — but in a war of this magnitude you (a) don’t always get to pick and chose who you fight against; the Kauravas could be equally intent on having the two main Pandava warriors dissipate their energies against others and (b) the Pandavas could as easily have conceived the strategy of knocking off the secondary generals, and thus whittling down the Kaurava strength in order to isolate the main generals.

  11. Fantastic dialogue! Great writing once again.
    And here is my 2 cents:
    “identifying them as my those of my brothers”.

    • *LOL* I sometimes wonder how I manage these things. Best guess, I began writing “identifying them as my brothers”, realized mid stride that this would mean I identified the chariots as my brothers, added the those and didn’t scan the finished sentence. Oh well — one of these days I’ll actually learn to write these damn things from home, when I have mental space, rather than waste my free time watching Rakhi ka Swayamvar. Good catch, mate.

      • LOL! Speaking of which, I cant seem to get enough of “Rakhi…”. Last night she said, in all seriousness, “Its hurts”!!

        • Yeah I saw that swayamwar thing on y’tube last evening ….its sheer entertainment …..those poor chaps have no freaking idea !!!!!

          You guys shouold read greatbong’s blog on it !

  12. Good read – especially the post killing war of words amidst the Pandava chieftains. I would have expected Krishna to have done the tough talk since he initiated the plan anyway.

    @Nirmal – if you go back to the early chapters, Drona did send the Pandavas to fight with Drupad but the wily king instead invited them and ensured that there was no war. The whole thing was settled amicably then. So Dhristadyumna cannot have a motive as mentioned in the other versions.

  13. Nirmal: None that would speak, at least. From their characters, one of the Madri sons might have — more likely Sahadeva, the most outspoken one, but neither was present at the time in this telling, so that is moot. Dhristadyumna’s reaction would be more a kind of sarcasm-laced amusement at the angst — and some contempt, vide his criticism of Satyaki’s own conduct.

    An early episode spoke of Bhim and Arjuna visiting Drupada’s court with an offer of war from Drona; of Drupada going to Hastinapura and of him having a conversation with Drona, the gist of which is, cool it — let’s keep it friendly, because you don’t honestly want a war. A far more muted version than the story of the Pandavas and Kauravas going to war and Arjuna capturing Drupada and bringing him to Drona.

  14. finally those simmering thoughts boil over into words ! but how is it that Bhim is the only one with the clarity of thought to see through the charade ? was there no other in their ranks with a similar bent of mind? (drishtadyumna remained silent, but I suppose his actions earlier spoke louder).

    also, i am trying hard to remember , was there no drishtadyumna / drona back story s a result of the panchalan history with drupada from drona’s childhood in this telling of the story? there was a vow of vengeance in other versions.

  15. Hmm…I do want to know how Krishna reacted to this, particularly since your lens does not show great camaraderie between the two!

    • Krishna wouldn’t need to react — he is not the focus of Bhim’s anger here, since he does not support the argument that Dhristadyumna was wrong.

      • oh no .. I meant in support of Bhim’s outburst. It seemed to me while K respects B’s importance in winning the war, neither is he particulalry fond of B nor does he think too highly of his mental/emotional acuity…so I would assume the fact the B could see things for what they really were would come as a mild surprise to him.

        • Likely, but neither would it be part of Krishna’s policy to add fuel to the fire, particularly a fire that singes his kinsman Satyaki and best friend Arjuna, so on this he would presume discretion is good policy, and let it lie, no? At least, that is how I reasoned when I ended it where I did.

          • And I would think, x100609, that K being the master of judging people’s characters, knows who to give lectures, when to do so and who might take it in what manner etc… So, Prem, did K intend to deliberately teach Pandavas a lesson by hurting B’s mind by allegedly saying those disparaging comments on Gatothgacha ? Did K feel that B is a man of few words and more action, so its best not to bore him with lengthy dialogues?

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