Mahabharata

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WHEN Duryodhana beheld Karna's death, his grief knew no bounds. Kripacharya was deeply moved by Duryodhana's anguish of heart and said: "Moved by ambition and greed we placed too great a burden on friends. They have uncomplainingly borne it and laid down their lives on the battlefield and attained the happy regions above. There is but one course left to you to make peace with the Pandavas. Do not, O King, any longer continue this ruinous fight."

Even at that moment of deep despair, Duryodhana did not relish this counsel. "Perhaps, there was a time for that, but it is long past. What talk can there be of peace between the Pandavas and us with all this inexpiable blood between us, the blood of our dearest and theirs? If I surrender in order to escape death, how can I escape the contempt of the world? What happiness can I hope to have in a life so ignobly saved? And what joy can I hope to find in sovereignty, secured by a peace after my brothers and relatives have all been slain?"

These words of Duryodhana were lustily cheered by the others. They supported his stand and they chose Salya and gave him the supreme command from then on. Salya was mighty of limb and as brave as any of the warriors who had been killed. The army was arrayed under his leadership and the battle raged fiercely. On the side of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira now led the attack personally against Salya. It astonished everyone to see how the man, who was till then the very incarnation of gentle ness, fought so furiously.

The battle was equal for a long while, when Yudhishthira hurled at Salya, his spear that went straight and struck him. Like the great flagstaff at the end of a festive function, Salya's body lay lifeless on the field, crimson with blood.

When Salya, the last of the great generals, fell dead, the Kaurava army lost all hope. The surviving sons of Dhritarashtra, however, joined together and attacked Bhima from all sides. He slew them all. The son of Vayu had nourished his burning anger for thirteen years from the time Draupadi was insulted in the Hall of Assembly. He said to himself now: "I have not lived in vain, but Duryodhana still lives," and smiled grimly.

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Sakuni led the attack on Sahadeva's division. After a while, Sahadeva discharged a sharp-edged sword-arrow saying: "Fool, here is the reward for your great sin." It went straight and cut through Sakuni's neck like a sword. And the head, which was at the root of all the wicked deeds of the Kauravas, rolled on the ground.

Left leaderless, the wreck of the broken army scattered and fled in all directions, pursued and slaughtered to a man by the exulting victors.

"'Thus utterly was destroyed thine army of eleven Akshauhinis, O! Bharata, out of the thousands of kings, who espoused thy cause in their pride and might, only Duryodhana could be seen on that battlefield, fainting and sore wounded," said Sanjaya, describing the debacle to the blind king.

After doing, in vain, all he could to rally his defeated army, Duryodhana, left almost alone, took up his mace and walked towards a pool of water. His whole frame was burning like fire, and water attracted him. "The wise Vidura knew what would happen and he told us," he said to himself, as he entered the water.

Of what avail is wisdom that comes too late? What has been done must produce its result that has to be suffered. That is the law. Yudhishthira and his brothers arrived there in relentless, pursuit of their great enemy.

"Duryodhana!" exclaimed Yudhishthira, "after destroying family and tribe, would you yourself escape death by concealing yourself in this pond? Where is your pride now? Have you no shame? Come up and fight. A kshatriya by birth, do you shrink battle and death?"

Stung to the quick by these words, Duryodhana replied with dignity: "I have not come here, Dharmaputra, a fugitive for my life. It was not fear that brought me here. I stepped into the water to cool the fire that is raging within me. I neither fear death nor wish to live, but why should I fight? The earth has now nothing left that I came to fight for! All those who stood by me have been slain. My desire for kingdom is gone. I leave the world to you without a rival. Enjoy it in undisputed sovereignty."

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Yudhishthira replied: "Now, that is really generous, especially after you said you would not allow us even a needle-point of land. When we begged for peace and entreated you to give us a portion, you spurned our proposal. Now, you say we may take it all. It is not for kingdom or land that we fight. Must I recount all your sins? The wrongs you did us, and the outrage you perpetrated on Draupadi, cannot be expiated except with your life."

Sanjaya, who related the events to the blind old king, here said: "When your son Duryodhana heard these harsh and cruel words spoken by Dharmaputra, he at once rose from the water, mace in hand."

Stepping out of the pool, the unfortunate Duryodhana said: "Come, one by one, all of you, for I am single. You five will surely not join together and attack me who am alone and without armor, weary and wounded all over."

Yudhishthira replied sharply: "If indeed it be wrong for many to join together and attack a single person, pray tell us how Abhimanyu was attacked and killed? Did you not consent to many combining and attacking that boy, standing all alone amidst your crowd? Yes, when men face misfortune, they see and preach dharma and chivalry to others. Wear your coat of armor. Choose any of us you like and fight. Die and go to swarga or win and be king."

Accordingly, the combat began between Bhima and Duryodhana. Sparks of fire flew when their maces clashed. Duryodhana and Bhima were equal in strength and skill, and the battle raged long, and the issue hung doubtful. Those, who stood watching, were debating as to whom would win. Krishna said to Arjuna that Bhima would redeem the oath he swore in the Hall of Assembly and smash Duryodhana's thighs. Bhima heard this and, at that moment, the memory of the great outrage came vividly to his mind.

He leaped like a lion and came down with his mace on Duryodhana's thighs and broke them and Duryodhana fell heavily on the ground, wounded to death.

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Bhima jumped on the prostrate body of his enemy, stamped on his head with his heavy foot and danced a terrible dance.

"Cease, Bhima," cried Dharmaraja. "You have paid off the debt. Duryodhana is a prince and a cousin. It is not right to put your foot on his head."

Said Krishna:"Soon the wicked man's soul will depart from the body. Sons of Pandu, Duryodhana and his friends have been slain. Why linger here? On to your chariots."

When Krishna said this, the face of the fallen Duryodhana glowed like a blazing fire with anger and hatred. Turning his eyes towards Krishna be said:

"By base tricks you contrived the death of warriors, who fought bravely according to the laws of war. You could not have dreamt of victory in a fair fight with Karna or Bhishma or Drona. Have you not a spark of shame left?"

Even dying, Duryodhana felt no regret for all that he had done.

"Duryodhana," said Krishna, "vainly do you accuse others. Greed and pride of power led you to unnumbered wicked deeds and you are reaping as you sowed."

"Wretch!" replied Duryodhana. "Living, I was a great prince, generous friend, and a terrible foe. All human joys, such joys as kings wish for in vain, and even Gods do not despise, have been mine, in their fullness. A warrior's death is the fitting crown of such a life. Dying, I go triumphantly to swarga to join my friends and my brothers who have gone there already and are waiting to welcome me. You remain here below, your objects defeated and yourselves the object of contempt of all kshatriyas. I do not mind Bhima putting his foot on my head as I lie helpless on the ground with legs broken. What care I? In a few minutes more will not the feet of crows and vultures settle on my head?"

When Duryodhana said this, flowers were showered down from the heavens by the gods. Inordinate desire took Duryodhana into the wrong path, whence ensued anger and numerous breaches of dharma. But no one could question the unconquerable spirit of Dhritarashtra's son.