ON the morning of the third day Bhishma arrayed his army in eagle formation and himself led it while Duryodhana and his forces protected the rear. So great was the care taken over every detail that the Kauravas were certain that there could be no mishap for them that day.
The Pandavas too arrayed their forces with skill. Dhananjaya and Dhrishtadyumna decided in favor of a crescent formation of their army so as more effectually to cope with the eagle formation of the enemy's forces.
On the right horn of the crescent stood Bhima and on the left Arjuna, leading the respective divisions. The battle began. All arms were at once engaged and blood flowed in torrents and the dust that was raised by chariots, horses and elephants rose to hide the sun.
Dhananjaya's attack was powerful but the enemy stood firm. A counter-attack was made by the Kauravas concentrating on Arjuna's position. Javelins and spears and other missiles flew in the air shining like forked lightning in a thunderstorm.
Like a great cloud of locusts the shafts covered Arjuna's chariot. But with amazing skill he raised a moving fortification around his chariot with arrows discharged in an unending stream from his famous bow.
At another point Sakuni led a large force against Satyaki and Abhimanyu. Satyaki's chariot was broken to pieces and he had to scramble up Abhimanyu's chariot and thereafter both fought from the same chariot.
They were able to destroy Sakuni's forces. Drona and Bhishma jointly attacked Dharmaputra's division and Nakula and Sahadeva joined their brother in opposing Drona's offensive.
Bhima and his son Ghatotkacha attacked Duryodhana's division and in that day's battle the son appeared to excel his great father in valor.
Bhima's shafts hit Duryodhana and he lay in swoon in his chariot. His charioteer quickly drove the chariot away from the scene. He feared that the Kaurava forces would be completely demoralised if they saw that the prince had been disabled.
But even this movement created great confusion. Bhimasena took full advantage of the position and worked havoc among the fleeing Kaurava forces.
Drona and Bhishma who saw the discomfiture and confusion of the Kaurava army came up quickly and restored confidence. The scattered forces were brought together and Duryodhana was again seen leading them.
"How can you stand thus," said Duryodhana to the grandsire, "looking on when our forces are scattered and put to disgraceful flight? I fear you are too kind to the Pandavas. Why did you not tell me frankly 'I love the Pandavas; Dhrishtadyumna and Satyaki are my friends and I cannot attack or slay them.' You should have stated the position explicitly to me. Surely these men are not equal to you. And if you were so minded, you could deal with them easily. Even now, it would be best if you and Drona told me frankly your mind in the matter."
The chagrin of defeat, and the knowledge that the grandsire disapproved of his ways made Duryodhana speak thus bitterly. But Bhishma merely smiled and said: "Wasn't I quite frank in my advice to you? That advice you rejected when you decided on war. I tried to prevent the war but, now that it has come, I am fulfilling my duties by you with all my might. I am an old man and what I am doing is quite my utmost."
Saying thus, the grandsire resumed his operations. The turn of events in the forenoon had been so much in their favor that the delighted Pandavas were now somewhat careless.
They did not expect Bhishma to rally his forces and attack them again. But stung by Duryodhana's reproaches, the grandsire raged about the field like a destroying fire.
He rallied his men and delivered the most severe attack yet made on the Pandava army. The latter thought that the grandsire had multiplied himself into a number of Bhishmas fighting at several points. So swift were his movements that afternoon.
Those who opposed him were struck down and perished like months in the fire. The Pandava army was thoroughly broken and began to scatter. Vasudeva, Partha and Sikhandin tried hard to restore order and confidence, but were unsuccessful.
"Dhanjaya," said Krishna, "now has the critical time come. Be true to your decision not to flinch from your duty to kill in battle Bhishma, Drona and all the other friends and relatives and respected elders. You have pledged yourself to it and you have now to carry it out. Otherwise our army is lost beyond redemption. You must now attack the grandsire."
As Dhananjaya's chariot sped on towards Bhishma, it met a hot reception from the grandsire, who covered it with his arrows.
But, Arjuna bent his bow and discharged three shafts that broke the grandsire's bow. Bhishma picked up another bow but it too met the same fate. The grandsire's heart was gladdened when he saw Arjuna's skill in archery.
"Hail, brave warrior!" applauded the grandsire, even as, taking up another bow; he poured shafts on Arjuna's chariot with unerring aim.
Krishna was not happy at the way Arjuna met the attack. The grandsire's bow was working fiercely. But Arjuna's hands did not do their best, for his heart was not in it.
He had too much regard for his great grandsire. Krishna thought that, if Arjuna went on like this, the army, which had been so badly demoralized already, would be utterly destroyed and all would be lost.
Krishna managed the chariot skilfully, but in spite of it, both he and Arjuna were hit many times by Bhishma's arrows.
Janardana's (Krishna) anger rose. "I can stand this no longer, Arjuna. I shall kill Bhishma myself if you will not do it!" he exclaimed, and dropping the reins, he took up his discus and jumped down from the chariot and dashed forward towards Bhishma.
Bhishma was far from being perturbed at this. On the contrary, his face expanded with ecstatic joy. "Come, come, Oh Lotus-eyed One!" he exclaimed.
"I bow to you, Oh Madhava. Lord of the World, have you indeed come down from the chariot for my sake? I offer you my life. If I be slain by you, I shall be glorified in the three worlds. Give me that boon. May your hands take this life away and save me for eternity."
Arjuna was distressed to see this. He jumped down and ran after Krishna. Overtaking him with great difficulty, he entreated Krishna to turn back.
"Do not lose your patience with me. Desist and I promise not to flinch," he said, and persuaded Krishna to return. The chariot reins were again in Krishna's hands. Arjuna attacked the Kaurava forces furiously and thousands were slain by him.
The Kauravas suffered a severe defeat on the evening of the third day. As they returned to their camps in torchlight, they said to one another: "Who can equal Arjuna? There is nothing strange in his being victorious." So marvelous was Arjuna's prowess that day.