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Chapter 71: The Eighth Day

WHEN the eighth day dawned, Bhishma arrayed his army in tortoise formation.

Yudhishthira said to Dhrishtadyumna:

"See there, the enemy is in kurma vyuha (tortoise formation). You have to answer at once with a formation that can break it."

Dhrishtadyumna immediately proceeded to his task. The Pandava forces were arrayed in a three-pronged formation.

Bhima was at the head of one prong, Satyaki of another, and Yudhishthira at the crest of the middle division. Our ancestors had developed the science of war very well.

It was not reduced to writing but was preserved by tradition in the families of kshatriyas. Armor and tactics were employed suitably to meet the weapons of offence and the tactics that the enemy used in those days.

The Kurukshetra battle was fought some thousands of years ago. Reading the story of the battle in the Mahabharata, we should not, having the practice and incidents of modern warfare in mind, reject the Mahabharata narrative as mere myth with no relation to fact.

Only about a century and a half ago, the English admiral Nelson fought great sea battles and won undying renown.

The weapons used and the vessels that actually took part in Nelson's battles, would seem almost weird and even ridiculous if compared with those of modern naval warfare.

If a hundred and fifty years can make so much difference, we must be prepared for very strange things in the procedure and events of a period, so long back as that of the Mahabharata war.

Another matter to be kept in mind is that we cannot expect, in the books of poets and literary writers, accurate or full details about weapons and tactics, although the narrative may be of battles.

Military affairs were in ancient times the sole concern of the military order, the kshatriyas. Their culture and their training were entirely their own charge.

The principles and the secrets of warfare and the science and art of the use of military weapons were handed down from generation to generation by tradition and personal instruction.

There were no military textbooks and there was not any place for them in the works of poets and rishis. If a modern novel deals in some chapters with the treatment and cure of a sick person, we can not expect to see such details in it as might interest a medical man. No author would care, even if he were able, to include scientific details in his story.

So, we cannot hope to find in the epic of Vyasa, precise details as to what is tortoise formation or lotus formation. We have no explanation as to how one could, by discharging a continuous stream of arrows, build a defence around himself or intercept and cut missiles in transit, or how one could be living when pierced all over by arrows, or how far the armor worn by the soldiers and officers could protect them against missiles or what were the ambulance arrangements or how the dead were disposed of.

All these things appertaining to ancient war, however interesting, will have to be in the realm of the unknown in spite of the vivid narrative we have in the Mahabharata epic.

Bhima killed eight of Dhritarashtra's sons early in the battle that day. Duryodhana's heart lost courage before this. It seemed to his friends as if Bhimasena would complete his revenge this very day, even as he swore in the assembly ball, where the great outrage was enacted.

Arjuna had a great bereavement in this day's battle. His dear son Iravan was killed. This son of Arjuna by his Naga wife had come and joined the Pandava forces at Kurukshetra. Duryodhana sent his friend, the Rakshasa Alambasa, to oppose the Naga warrior.

Iravan was slain after a fierce fight. When Arjuna heard this, he broke down completely. Said he turning to Vasudeva:

"Vidura had indeed told us plainly that both sides would be plunged in grief unbearable. What are we doing all this wretched destruction up on one another for? Just for the sake of property. After all this killing, what joy are we or they likely to find in the end? O Madhusudana, I now see why the far seeing Yudhishthira said he would be content if Duryodhana would give five villages to us, keeping everything else to himself and he would not resort to fighting if that were agreed to. Duryodhana, in his obstinate folly, refused to give even these five villages and so, these great sins have to be committed on both sides. I continue fighting only because men would otherwise think me a coward, who could submit tamely to wrong. When I see the dead warriors lying on the field, my heart is filled with unbearable anguish. Oh, how wicked we are to carry on in this miserable, sinful way."

Seeing Iravan killed, Ghatotkacha uttered a loud war-cry which made all the assembled soldiers tremble. And with his division, he fell upon the Kaurava army ferociously. So great was the destruction he wrought that at many points the Kaurava formation was broken.

Seeing this, Duryodhana personally led an attack on Bhima's son. The king of Vanga joined Duryodhana with his elephants.

Duryodhana fought most bravely on this eighth day of the battle. He killed a great number of warriors on Ghatotkacha's side.

Ghatotkacha hurled a javelin which would have ended Duryodhana's career but for the Vanga chief's prompt intervention with one of his elephants.

The missile hit the beast, which fell dead, and Duryodhana was saved.

Bhishma was anxious about Duryodhana and sent a large force under Drona to support the Kaurava prince.

Many were the veterans who were in this force that attacked Ghatotkacha.

So tumultuous and fierce was the fight at this sector of the battle that Yudhishthira feared for Ghatotkacha's safety and sent Bhimasena to his aid.

Then the battle became even fiercer than before. Sixteen of Duryodhana's brothers perished on this day.