EVERYTHING was ready for the battle to begin. At this tense moment, both armies saw with amazement Yudhishthira, the steadfast and brave son of Pandu, suddenly doff his armor and put away his weapons. Descending from his chariot, he proceeded on foot towards the commander of the Kaurava forces.
"What is this that Yudhishthira is doing?" asked everyone and was puzzled by this sudden and silent proceeding on the part of the Pandava.
Dhananjaya too was perplexed and he jumped down from his chariot and ran to Yudhishthira. The other brothers and Krishna also joined.
They feared that perhaps Yudhishthira, surrendering to his natural inclination, had suddenly decided to seek peace on any terms and was going forward to announce this.
"King, why are you proceeding to the enemy's lines in this strange manner? You have told us nothing. The enemy is ready for battle, their soldiers sheathed in armor and with uplifted weapons. But you have doffed your armor and thrown aside your weapons and are proceeding forward, unattended and on foot. Tell us what you are about." Thus said Arjuna to Dharmaputra. But Yudhishthira was immersed in deep thought and proceeded forward silently.
Then Vasudeva, who knew the hearts of men, smiled and said: "He is going to the elders to ask for their benediction before commencing this terrible fight. He feels it is not right to start such a grave proceeding without formally taking such benediction and permission. He goes to the grandsire to take his blessing and that of Dronacharya. So he goes unarmed. It is right that he does this. He knows proprieties. It is only thus that we might fare well in this battle."
The men in Duryodhana's army, when they saw Yudhishthira advancing with hands clasped in humble attitude, thought: "Here is the Pandava coming to sue for peace, frightened at our strength. Truly this man brings disgrace to the race of kshatriyas. Why was this coward born among us?" Thus did they talk among themselves reviling Dharmaputra though delighted at the prospect of securing victory without a blow.
Yudhishthira went through the lines of soldiers armed from head to foot and proceeded straight to where Bhishma was and, bending low and touching his feet in salutation, said:
"Grandsire, permit us to begin the battle. We have dared to give battle to you, our unconquerable and incomparable grandsire. We seek benediction before beginning the fight."
"Child," replied the grandsire, "born in the race of Bharatas, you have acted worthily and according to our code of conduct. It gives me joy to see this. Fight and you will have victory. I am not a free agent. I am bound by my obligation to the king and must fight on the side of the Kauravas. But you will not be defeated."
After thus obtaining the permission and the blessings of the grandsire, Yudhishthira went to Drona and circumambulated and bowed, according to form, to the acharya, who also gave his blessings, saying:
"I am under inescapable obligations to the Kauravas, O son of Dharma. Our vested interests enslave us and become our masters. Thus have I become bound to the Kauravas. I shall fight on their side. But yours will be the victory."
Yudhishthira similarly approached and obtained the blessings of Kripacharya and uncle Salya and returned to the Pandava lines.
The battle began, commencing with single combats between the leading chiefs armed with equal weapons. Bhishma and Partha, Satyaki and Kritavarma, Abhimanyu and Brihatbala, Duryodhana and Bhima, Yudhishthira and Salya, and Dbrishtadyumna and Drona were thus engaged in great battles.
Similarly, thousands of other warriors fought severally according to the rules of war of those days.
Besides these numerous single combats between renowned warriors, there was also indiscriminate fighting among common soldiers. The name of "sankula yuddha" was given to such free fighting and promiscuous carnage. The Kurukshetra battle witnessed many such "sankula" fights wherein countless men fought and died in the mad lust of battle. On the field lay piles of slaughtered soldiers, charioteers, elephants and horses. The ground became a bloody mire in which it was difficult for the chariots to move about. In modern battles there is no such thing as single combats. It is all "sankula."
The Kauravas fought under Bhishma's command for ten days. After him, Drona took the command. When Drona died, Karna succeeded to the command. Karna fell towards the close of the seventeenth day's battle. And Salya led the Kaurava army on the eighteenth and last day.
Towards the latter part of the battle, many savage and unchivalrous deeds were done. Chivalry and rules of war die hard, for there is an innate nobility in human nature. But difficult situations and temptations arise which men are too weak to resist, especially when they are exhausted with fighting and warped with hatred and bloodshed.
Even great men commit wrong and their lapses thereafter furnish bad examples to others, and dharma comes to be disregarded more and more easily and frequently. Thus does violence beget and nourish adharma and plunge the world in wickedness.