Mahabharata

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309

"THE decisive hour has come, Karna," said Duryodhana, "If before nightfall this day Jayadratha is not slain, Arjuna will be disgraced and he will kill himself, for not having redeemed his oath. With Arjuna's death, the destruction of the Pandavas is certain and this kingdom will be ours in unquestioned and absolute sovereignty. Dhananjaya swore this impossible oath in a moment of thoughtlessness, because the gods had willed it that he should be thus destroyed by his own hand. It seems my stars are now in the ascendant. We should not let this opportunity slip. We must see somehow that his challenge fails. The whole thing depends on you. Your great skill in battle is on trial today. Prove yourself this day. See the sun has sloped down in the west. Within the little time left before nightfall, I do not think it possible for Partha to reach Jayadratha. You, Aswatthama, Salya, Kripa, and I must guard Jayadratha and do all we can to see that he does not fall into Arjuna's hands during the next few hours before sunset."

"My king," Karna replied "I have been wounded all over by Bhimasena, and am so weary that my limbs have no power in them. Still, I shall put forth all the strength that is in me. I only live to serve you."

When Karna and Duryodhana were thus planning, Arjuna was engaged in a great attack on the Kaurava army and putting forth all his strength, so that before sunset he could break through to Jayadratha.

Krishna put his Panchajanya in his mouth and blew a loud note in the rishabha swara, which was the signal for his own charioteer Daruka to arrive at once with his chariot.

When it came, Satyaki took his place in it, and attacked Karna vigorously and skilfully, keeping him fully engaged. Daruka's mastery of driving and Satyaki's archery were such as brought down the gods to witness the combat.

Karna's four chariot horses were disabled and the charioteer was unseated. Then the flagstaff was cut asunder and the chariot was smashed. The great Karna stood chariotless and the event produced a great flutter in the Kaurava army.

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Karna had to run and climb up into Duryodhana's chariot. Sanjaya here tells Dhritarashtra to whom he was relating the incident: "The greatest adepts in archery are Krishna, Partha and Satyaki. There is not a fourth to match them!"

Arjuna broke through the Kaurava opposition and reached Jayadratha. Inflamed by the thought of the slaughter of Abhimanyu, and all the great wrongs inflicted by the Kauravas, Arjuna fought with fury.

Savyasachin as he was, he discharged shafts from the Gandiva bow, now using one hand and now the other. He struck terror and confusion among his enemies, who felt as if Death had come to the battlefield with wide-open jaws.

It is only the poet of the Mahabharata that can describe the combat that raged between Arjuna and Aswatthama and the other great warriors that protected the king of Sindhu. They fought fiercely but were all defeated and could not prevent Arjuna from reaching Jayadratha. The attack on Jayadratha began and the battle raged long. Both sides were constantly looking westwards, for the day was nearing its end. The Saindhava was no mean foe, and taxed to the full, Arjuna's strength and skill were hard put to it.

The sun sank towards the horizon and reddened, but the battle did not cease. "There is but a very little time left. It seems Jayadratha has been saved and Arjuna's challenge has failed. The vow is unfulfilled and Arjuna is going to be disgraced," said Duryodhana to himself in great glee.

Then, there was darkness and the cry went round in both armies: "It is sunset and Jayadratha has not been killed. Arjuna has lost." The Pandavas were depressed and there were shouts of joy in the Kaurava army.

Jayadratha turned to the western horizon and thought within himself, "I am saved!" for he did not see the sun then and thought the time-limit of danger from Arjuna was over.

At that moment, however, Krishna said to Arjuna: "Dhananjaya, the Sindhu raja is looking at the horizon. I have caused this darkness. The sun is still up and has not set. Do your work. This is the moment for it, for Jayadratha is off his guard."

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A shaft flew from the Gandiva bow, and, like a vulture swooping down on a chicken, carried away Jayadratha's head. "Listen, Arjuna," cried Krishna, "send your shafts in swift relays, so that the head may be supported from falling to the earth and borne into Vriddhakshatra's lap."

And Arjuna sent his wonderful arrows that carried away the head in the air. It was a strange sight. Vriddhakshatra was in his ashrama sitting in the open absorbed in his evening meditation with eyes closed, when his son's head with beautiful black hair and golden earrings gently dropped into his lap.

The old king finished his meditation and got up, when the head rolled down and fell on the ground. And, as ordained, Vriddhakshatra's head burst into a hundred fragments. Jayadratha and his father together reached the abode of the brave.

Kesava, Dhananjaya, Bhima, Satyaki, Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas blew their conchs and Dharmaraja who heard the triumphant noise knew that it meant that Arjuna had redeemed his oath and that the Saindhava had been slain.

Then, Yudhishthira led his army fiercely against Drona. It was nightfall, but on the fourteenth day of the battle the rule of cease-fire at sunset was not observed. As the passions rose from day to day, one by one the rules and restraints broke down.