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Chapter 77: The Twelfth Day

THE attempt to capture Yudhishthira alive failed. Drona was speaking to Duryodhana about this. "It is clear we cannot succeed in our efforts to seize Yudhishthira so long as Dhananjaya is nearby. It is no want of interest on my part. If by some stratagem we could draw Arjuna away to some other part of the field, I could pierce the Pandava formations and capture Yudhishthira. I promise to seize him and deliver him to you provided he does not flee from the battle, renouncing honor. If he does that, then also we win indeed, do we not?"

The chief of the Trigartadesa who heard Drona say this talked it over with his brothers, and they made a plan. They resolved to take the samsaptaka oath and challenge Arjuna to battle and draw him away from Yudhishthira's side.

Accordingly, together with a large force, they gathered, and sat before the fire, dressed in matted grass, and went through funeral gifts and ceremonies for themselves as if already dead, and took their oath: "Not till we have killed Dhananjaya will we turn back. If we flee in fear from battle, may we be punished as for deadly sin!"

Having adjured themselves thus before the sacred fire, they marched south for that was the direction of Death, and shouted

"O Arjuna!" challenging him to battle.

It was a great suicide squad organized to achieve what Drona had pointed out to be essential. Arjuna turned to Yudhishthira and addressed him thus: "King, the samsaptakas are calling me to battle. I am pledged to accept a challenge thus thrown out. Susarma and his men are calling me to battle. I shall destroy them all and return. Permit me to go."

"Brother beloved," said Yudhishthira,

"you know Drona's intentions. Keep that in mind and do whatever you think fit. He has promised Duryodhana to take me alive. He is a matchless warrior, brave, strong and skilled in, every branch of archery. He knows no fatigue and nothing escapes his watchful eyes."

"King, here is Satyajit, standing in support of you," replied Arjuna. "As long as he is alive and by you, nothing can happen to you." So saying Arjuna asked the Panchala prince Satyajit to stand guard by Yudhishthira's side and marched off like a hungry lion to meet the samsaptakas.

"There, Krishna, see the Trigartas standing, cheerful under the intoxication of their oath, though they know they go to certain death. Indeed they are full of the exultation of approaching swarga." So speaking to his great charioteer, Arjuna approached the large samsaptaka force.

This was the Twelfth Day of the great battle. It was a fierce fight. After a time, Arjuna's attack began to tell and the Trigartas fell in swathes before him but Susarma reminded them of their oath.

"Heroes, we have taken our oaths before the fire and in the presence of the whole army of warriors. Having sworn terrible resolves, it is unworthy to flinch. Let us not fall into public ridicule." The samsaptakas cheered their leader, and faced Arjuna with the sublime courage of accepted deaths.

"Hrishikesa, they are resolved on fighting to the last. Drive on," said Arjuna.

Driven by Madhusudana (Krishna) Arjuna's chariot moved like Indra's car in the great war of the gods against the asuras. It went here and it went there and wherever it went, Arjuna's great bow, the Gandiva, scattered death among the doomed Trigartas.

The burst of blood in their compct ranks was like the burst of Palasa blossoms in a springtime forest. The fighting was severe. At one time Arjuna's car and flagpole were immersed in darkness under the downpour of arrows.

"Are you alive, Dhananjaya?" shouted Krishna.

"Yes," replied Arjuna, and pulling the string of his Gandiva, discharged shafts that dispelled the arrow-shower. It was like the Rudra dance of dissolution. The field was full of severed limbs and headless bodies and presented a terrible spectacle.

As Arjuna proceeded to oppose the samsaptakas, Drona gave orders for a violent assault on the Pandava forces at the point where Yudhishthira stood.

Yudhishthira saw this movement and spoke to the Panchala prince Dhrishtadyumna:

"The brahmana is coming to seize me.

Look after the forces with vigilance."

The son of Drupada did not wait for Drona to advance but marched forward in his car himself to meet Drona.

Dronacharya avoided Dhrishtadyumna, for well he knew that his death was destined to be at his hands and that death was not yet due. And he wheeled his chariot in another direction where Drupada was leading his forces.

Drupada's forces suffered heavy punishment at Drona's hands and blood flowed in streams on the battlefield.

Drona, then, again turned his attention to Yudhishthira. The Pandavas stood firm and answered Drona's attacks with showers of arrows.

Satyajit made a charge on Drona's car and there was a fierce combat in which Drona's figure assumed the grimness of the Destroyer. Many a warrior was slain by him in succession. Vrika, a prince of Panchala, as well as Satyajit, fell dead.

Seeing this, Satanika, son of Virata, marched against Drona. In a moment, Satanika's severed head rolled on the ground with the golden kundalas shining in the earlobes.

Ketama, another chief, followed the attack but he too perished. Then, Vasudhana rushed forward to stop the advance of Drona, but he too fell dead. Yudhamanyu, Satyaki, Sikhandin and Uttamaujas who came to push Drona back, were repulsed and all these great warriors had to retreat.

Drona was now almost within reach of Yudhishthira.

At that moment, Panchalya, another son of Drupada, rushed madly up to stop the acharya and fought most desperately. But, he too was mortally wounded and fell from his chariot like a failing star.

Then, Duryodhana was delighted and said exultingly to Karna:

"Radheya, do you see the valor of our mighty leader? No more will the Pandavas be inclined towards battle. See how their army reels under Drona's blows."

Karna shook his head. "Do not be so confident," he said. "The Pandavas are not to be so easily vanquished. They will never surrender. The wrongs they have undergone are too great to be forgotten.

You tried to poison and kill them. You tried to burn them alive. You have grieved and humiliated them at the game of dice and you have forced them out to live in the forest for long years. They will not surrender. See there, their army has rallied and all their forces are leading a combined attack on Drona. There, see Bhima, Satyaki, Yudhamanyu, Kshatradharma, Nakula, Uttamaujas, Drupada, Virata, Sikhandin. Dhrishtaketu and other warriors have all come to protect Yudhishthira and are pressing Drona hard.

We should not stand idly watching, when we have put such a heavy burden on the acharya. Great as he is, there is a limit to the load even he can carry. Even wolves combined in large numbers can harass and kill a mighty elephant, Let us proceed. It will not do any longer to leave Drona unsupported."