THE chariot of Arjuna thundered on its way, seeming to shake the earth. The hearts of the Kauravas quaked when they heard the twang of the Gandiva bow.
"Our army must be arrayed well and with care. Arjuna, has come," said Drona anxiously. Duryodhana did not at all like the honor Drona did Arjuna by this anxiety.
He said to Karna: "The Pandavas' pledge was that they would spend twelve years in the forest and the following year undiscovered. The thirteenth year has not ended yet. Arjuna has revealed himself before the time. Why then should we give way to fear? The Pandavas will have to go again to the forest for another twelve years. Drona is suffering from the cold feet of the too learned. Let us leave him in the rear and advance to the battle."
Karna assented and said: "Our soldiers' heart is not in the fight and they are trembling with fear. They say that the man, who stands so proudly, bow in hand, on the chariot, speeding towards us, is Arjuna. But why need we fear even if it were Parasurama? I will myself stop the advancing warrior and redeem my word to you, and fight him, aye, even if all the others stand back. They may drive away the cows of the Matsya king while, single handed, I shall give them cover, engaging Arjuna in battle," and Karna, as usual, began to blow his own trumpet.
When Kripa heard these words of Karna, he said: "This is pure tomfoolery. We must all make a combined attack on Arjuna. That would be our one chance of success. Do not therefore, brag about your opposing him alone and unaided."
Karna grew angry. He said: "The acharya ever delights in singing Arjuna's praises and in magnifying his prowess. Whether he does so from fear or excessive fondness for the Pandavas, I do not know.
Those, who are afraid, need not fight, but may simply look on, while others, who are true to the salt they have eaten, engage in battle. I, for one, a mere soldier who loves my friends and hates my enemies, will stand here and fight. What business have men learned in the Vedas, who love and praise their enemies, got here?" said he sneeringly.
Aswatthama, Drona's son and Kripa's nephew, could not hear unmoved this sneer at the venerable teachers. He said sternly to Karna: "We have not yet taken the king back to Hastinapura, and the battle is yet to be won. Your brag is idle vainglory. It may be that we are not kshatriyas and that we belong to the class that recites the Vedas and the sastras. But I have not been able to find in any sastra that it is honor able for kings to seize kingdoms by cheating at dice. Even those, who fight and conquer kingdoms, do not crow too loudly about it. And I cannot see what you have done to be proud of. The fire is silent and yet cooks the food. The sun shines but not on him. Likewise, Mother earth sustains all things, movable and immovable, and supports her burden without so much as a whisper. What claim to praise has a kshatriya who has unlawfully seized another's kingdom at a game of dice? To have cheated the Pandavas of their kingdom is no more a matter of glory than to have spread traps for unsuspecting birds. O Duryodhana, O Karna, in what battle did your heroes defeat the Pandavas? You dragged Draupadi to the assembly. Are you proud of it? You have destroyed the Kaurava race like an empty-headed clod that fells a big sandal tree for love of its fragrance. A fight with Arjuna, you will find, is a very different thing from a throw of the dice.
The Gandiva will send forth sharp arrows and not fours and twos as in the game of dice. Vain fools, do you think that Sakuni can, by mere cheating, sneak a victory in battle for you?"
The leaders of the Kaurava army lost their patience and began a loud wordy warfare.
Seeing this, the grandsire was filled with sorrow and said:
"The wise man does not insult his teachers. One should engage in battle only after a careful calculation of time, place and circumstance. Even wise people often lose their balance and good sense over their own affairs. Ruffled by anger, even the usually so sensible Duryodhana fails to recognise that the warrior who stands braving our army is Arjuna. His intellect has been clouded by anger. O Aswatthama, pray do not mind Karna's offensive remarks. You must take them as intended merely to put the preceptors on their best spirit and sting them into action.
This is not the time to nurse enmity or sow dissension. Drona, Kripa and Aswatthama should forget and forgive.
Where can the Kauravas find in the whole world, heroes superior to Drona, the preceptor, and his son Aswatthama, who combine in themselves Vedic scholarship and kshatriya heroism? We know of none other than Parasurama who can equal Drona. We can conquer Arjuna only if we all join together and fight him. Let us address ourselves to the task before us. If we quarrel amongst ourselves we cannot fight Arjuna."
Thus spoke the grandsire. Soothed by his noble words, angry feelings subsided.
Bhishma turned to Duryodhana and continued:
"Best of kings, Arjuna has come. The stipulated period of thirteen years terminated yesterday. Your calculation is wrong, as men learned in the science of planetary movements will tell you. I knew that the period had ended when Arjuna blew his conch. Reflect a little before deciding on war. If you wish to make peace with the Pandavas, now is the time for it. What do you seek, a just and honorable peace or a mutually destructive war? Ponder well and make your choice."
Duryodhana replied: "Revered sire, I have no wish for peace. I shall not give even a village to the Pandavas. Let us get ready for war."
Then Drona said: "Let prince Duryodhana take away a fourth of the army to guard him and return to Hastinapura. Let another surround the cows and seize them. If we return without seizing the cows it would amount to an acknowledgment of defeat.
With the rest of the army, the five of us will give battle to Arjuna."
The Kaurava forces ranged themselves accordingly in battle array. Arjuna said:
"O Uttara, I do not see Duryodhana's chariot or Duryodhana. I see Bhishma standing, clad in armor. I think Duryodhana is driving away the cows to Hastinapura. Let us pursue him and recover the cows." With these words Arjuna moved away from the Kaurava army and went after Duryodhana and the cows.
And as he was going, he respect fully greeted his teachers and the old grandsire, by drawing his Gandiva bow and sending arrows so as to fall near their feet.
Reverently saluting them in this heroic fashion, he left them and pursued Duryodhana. Arjuna reached the place where the cows were gathered and put to rout the marauding forces.
He then turned to the cowherds and asked them to take the cows to the barns, which they did with great rejoicing. Arjuna then pursued Duryodhana. Seeing this, Bhishma and the other Kaurava warriors rushed to the rescue and, surrounding Arjuna, sent forth arrows against him.
Arjuna carried on a wonderful fight. First, he made at Karna and drove him from the battlefield. After that, he attacked and defeated Drona. Seeing Drona standing spent with fatigue, Aswatthama joined in the fight and attacked Arjuna, which gave Arjuna an opportunity of letting Drona withdraw from the field.
Then, there ensued a bitter struggle between Aswatthama and Arjuna. When Aswatthama grew weary, Kripa relieved him and maintained the attack against Arjuna.
But Kripa also sustained defeat and the whole army was routed and fled in fear.
Though rallied and brought back to the attack by Bhishma, Drona and others, there was no fight left in them. Finally, they left the field, after a glorious fight between Bhishma and Arjuna, which, it is said, the gods themselves came to see.
The attempt to head off Arjuna’s pursuit of Duryodhana thus failed and soon Arjuna came up with Duryodhana and strongly attacked him. Duryodhana was defeated and fled from the battlefield, but not far, because, when Arjuna taunted him with cowardice, he turned round like a serpent and resumed the fight.
Bhishma and others surrounded and protected him. Arjuna fought and finally, he employed a magic weapon that made them all fall down unconscious on the battlefield. While they were in that condition he snatched away their garments. The seizure of the clothes of the enemy was the sign of decisive victory in those days.
When Duryodhana came, Bhishma sent him back to the city. The whole army returned to Hastinapura after this humiliating defeat.
Arjuna said: "O Uttara, turn back the horses. Our cows have been regained. Our enemies have fled. O prince, return to your kingdom, adorning your person with sandal paste and decked with flowers."
On the way back, Arjuna deposited the weapons as before on the tree and dressed himself once more as Brihannala. He sent messengers in advance to proclaim in the city that Uttara had won a glorious victory.