"THERE comes the valorous Satyaki," said Krishna, the charioteer, to Dhananjaya. "Your disciple and friend is marching up, triumphantly breaking through enemy ranks."
"I do not like it, Madhava," replied Arjuna. "It was not right for him to have left Dharmaputra and come here to join me. Drona is there ever seeking an opportunity to seize Dharmaputra. Satyaki should have stuck to his post there to guard him. Instead, he has come here. Old Bhurisravas has intercepted Satyaki. It was a great mistake for Yudhishthira to have sent Satyaki away here."
There was a family feud between Bhurisravas and Satyaki that made them inveterate foes.
It had come about this way. When Devaki, who was to be the blessed mother of Sri Krishna, was a maiden, many princes competed for her hand and there was a great battle between Somadatta and Sini over it.
Sini won, and on behalf of Vasudeva he placed Devaki in his chariot and took her away. Since that incident there was feud between the two clans, the Sini family and that of Somadatta. Satyaki was Sini's grandson.
Bhurisravas was Somadatta's son. When they found themselves on opposite sides in the Kurukshetra battle, it was natural that, as soon as Bhurisravas saw Satyaki, the old warrior challenged Satyaki to battle.
"Oh Satyaki," cried Bhurisravas, "I know you strut about thinking yourself a man of great prowess. Here now I have you in my power and will presently finish you. Long have I sought for this meeting. Like Indrajit destroyed Dasaratha's son Lakshmana, you will die today and go to the abode of Yama, gladdening the hearts of many a bereaved widow."
Satyaki laughed. "Have done with your vaunting," he interrupted. "Words are not deeds and do not frighten fighting men. Demonstrate your valor in action and do not indulge in dry thunder like autumn clouds."
After this exchange of words, the battle began, and the combat was as between two fierce lions. Their horses were killed, their bows were broken, and both were rendered chariotless.
They were now standing on the ground fighting with swords and shields, till their shields were hacked to bits and their swords broken. Then they were locked in a deadly embrace without weapons.
They rolled together on the ground. They leaped up and they sprang on each other. They fell down again and so the combat went on for a long while.
Partha's mind was at the time concentrated on Jayadratha's movements and he did not watch this combat between Satyaki and the son of Somadatta.
But his charioteer Krishna was deeply concerned about Satyaki's fate. For Krishna knew about their family feud.
"Dhananjaya," said Krishna, "Satyaki is exhausted. Bhurisravas is going to kill him now."
Still Arjuna was following only Jayadratha's movements.
"Satyaki who came after an exhausting battle with the Kaurava forces has been forced to accept Bhurisravas' challenge," said Krishna again. "It is a most unequal battle. Unless we help him, beloved Yuyudhana will be slain."
Even as Krishna was saying this, Bhurisravas lifted Satyaki up and brought him crashing to the ground and all the men around in the Kaurava army exclaimed: "Yuyudhana is dead!"
Again Krishna importuned: "Satyaki is lying almost dead on the field, the best among the Vrishni clan. One who came to help you, is being killed before your eyes. You are looking on, doing nothing."
Bhurisravas caught hold of the prostrate Satyaki and dragged him on the ground as a lion drags its elephant prey.
Arjuna was in a great conflict of mind. "Bhurisravas has not been called to battle by me, nor has he challenged me to fight. How can I send my shaft at Bhurisravas when he is engaged with another? My mind recoils from such an act, although it is true a friend who came to help me is being slaughtered before my eyes."
Just as Arjuna finished saying this to Krishna, the sky was darkened by a cloud of arrows sent by Jayadratha. Arjuna replied with a shower of arrows, but he constantly turned with pain to where Satyaki was in the mortal grip of Bhurisravas.
Krishna again pressed Arjuna to consider Satyaki's condition. "O Partha, Satyaki has lost all his weapons and he is now in Bhurisravas' power, helpless."
When Arjuna turned, he saw Bhurisravas with his foot on the prostrate body of Satyaki and sword upraised to slay him.
Before Bhurisravas could deliver the fatal thrust, Arjuna shot an arrow which went with the speed of lightning and the next moment the uplifted arm fell chopped off to the ground still holding the sword. Bhurisravas, all amazed, turned and saw who had done it.
"Son of Kunti," he exclaimed, "I had not expected this of you! It befits not a warrior to shoot from behind in this manner. I was engaged in combat with someone else and you have attacked me without notice. Indeed, then, no man can resist the evil influence of the company he keeps, as your unchivalrous conduct proves. Dhananjaya, when you go back to your brother Dharmaputra, what account are you going to give him of this valorous deed. Ah! Who taught you this low trick, Arjuna? Did you learn this from your father Indra or from your teachers Drona and Kripa? What code of conduct was it that permitted you to shoot your arrow at a man who was engaged in combat with another and could not so much as turn his eyes on you? You have done the deed of a low-bred fellow and foully besmirched your honor. You must have been instigated into it by the son of Vasudeva. It was not in your own nature to do it. No one with princely blood in his veins would think of such a dastardly deed. I know you have been incited to it by that contemptible Krishna."
Thus did Bhurisravas with his right arm cut off, bitterly denounce Krishna and Arjuna in the Kurukshetra field.
Said Partha: "Bhurisravas, you are old and age seems to have affected your judgment. You accuse Hrishikesa and me without cause. How could I look on doing nothing, when, before my eyes, you were in the act of killing my friend, who came and risked his life in battle on my behalf, one who was like a right hand to me, and whom you were going to stab when he was lying helpless on the ground? I would have deserved to go to hell if I had failed to intervene. You say, I have been ruined by keeping company with Madhava. Who in the wide world would not wish to be so ruined? You have spoken out of confused understanding. Satyaki who was weary and exhausted when he came here and who was inadequately armed, was challenged by you to give battle. You overcame him. Having been defeated, he lay on the ground, powerless. What code of honor enabled you to raise your sword to thrust it into the body of the fallen warrior and slay him? Do I not remember how you cheered the man who killed my boy Abhimanyu when he stood staggering, exhausted and weaponless, his coat of armor torn off?"
Bhurisravas who heard this did not answer but spread his arrows on the ground with his left hand and made a seat for meditation.
The old warrior sat in yoga and the sight deeply moved all the Kaurava soldiers. They cheered Bhurisravas and uttered reproaches against Krishna and Arjuna.
Arjuna spoke: "Brave men, I am sworn to protect every friend within bow-shot of me and I cannot let an enemy kill him. It is my sacred pledge. Why do you blame me? It is not right to hurl reproaches without due thought."
After saying this to the warriors in the field who reproached him, he turned to Bhurisravas and said: "O excellent among brave men, you have protected many who have gone to you for help. You know that what has happened is due to your own error. There is no justice in blaming me. If you like, let us all blame the violence which governs kshatriya life."
Bhurisravas, who heard this, lowered his head in salutation.
Satyaki now recovered consciousness and rose. Carried away by the impetuosity of his passion, he picked up a sword and, advancing to Bhurisravas, sitting in yoga on his seat of arrows, even when all around were shouting in horror and before Krishna and Arjuna, who rushed to the spot, could prevent him, with one swift and powerful cut, he struck off the old warrior's head which rolled down, while the body was still in the posture of meditation.
The gods and the siddhas, who looked on from above the battlefield, uttered blessings on Bhurisravas. Everyone in the field condemned Satyaki's act.
Satyaki maintained he was right, saying: "After I fell down senseless, this enemy of my family placed his foot on my prostrate figure and attempted to kill me. I may slay him in whatever posture he might choose to be." But none approved of his conduct.
The slaying of Bhurisravas is one of the many situations of moral conflict woven into the story of the Mahabharata to demonstrate that, when hatred and anger have been roused, codes of honor and dharma are powerless to control them.