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Chapter 79: Abhimanyu

EARLY next morning, Duryodhana went to Dronacharya in a state of bitterness and anger. After the customary salutation, he addressed him thus in the presence of a large number of generals:

"Esteemed brahmana, Yudhishthira was quite within your reach yesterday and, if you had really wished to take him no one could have prevented you. Yet, you did not take him, and to me the events of yesterday are inexplicable. I cannot understand what makes it hard for you to carry out your promise to me. Verily great men are not understandable."

Dronacharya was exceedingly hurt by this insulting insinuation.

"Duryodhana," he said, "I am putting forth on your be half all the strength and skill I possess. You entertain thoughts unworthy of a king. As long as Arjuna is present, supporting Yudhishthira, it is not possible for us to seize him. I have told you that already. It is only if we manage some how to get Arjuna out of the battlefield that we can hope to carry out this plan as you desire. And I am devising ways to attain this objective."

Thus did Drona nobly conquer his just anger and seek to comfort Duryodhana in his distress.

On the thirteenth day, the samsaptakas again challenged Arjuna to battle and he accordingly went to attack them, where they were arrayed to the south of the main battlefront. The battle that was fought between the samsaptakas and Arjuna was the fiercest that ever had been seen or heard of till that day.

When Dhananjaya left the main front for meeting the samsaptakas, Drona rearranged his army in lotus formation and attacked Yudhishthira fiercely.

Bhima, Satyaki, Chekitana, Dhrishtadyumna, Kuntibhoja, Drupada, Ghatotkacha, Yudhamanyu, Sikhandin, Uttamaujas, Virata, the Kekayas, Srinjayas and many others opposed him.

But their resistance seemed paralysed by the violence of Drona's offensive.

Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra, was still adolescent, but had already won recognition as a mighty man-at arms even as the equal of his father and uncle in battle. Yudhishthira called Abhimanyu and said to him:

"Dear son, Dronacharya is attacking our army greatly. Arjuna is absent and, if we should be defeated in his absence, he will be grieved beyond measure. No one among us has been able to break Drona's array. You know you can do it and no one else. I ask you to take up this task."

"I can do it," replied Abhimanyu. "I have been instructed by my father how to penetrate this formation and can certainly do so. But if after forcing my way, it should unfortunately become necessary for me to come out, I shall be at a loss what to do, being as yet uninstructed in the art of extrication."

"Valiant boy, break this impregnable formation and open a passage for us. We shall all break in your wake. We shall be with you to face any danger and no question can arise of your having to come out."

Bhimasena supported Yudhishthira's proposal: "I shall be immediately behind you and enter when you succeed in breaking the enemy's formation. So also will Dhrishtadyumna, Satyaki, the Panchalas, the Kekayas and the forces of Matsyadesa. Only break the formation as you alone can do. We shall do the rest and smash the Kaurava army."

Abhimanyu thought of his father and Krishna. Feeling encouraged by what had been said by Bhimasena and Yudhishthira, and impelled by his own gallant nature, undertook the adventure.

"I shall please my great father and uncle,"

he said with enthusiasm. "Let my valor be staked on this."

"May your prowess grow," said Yudhishthira and blessed the youth.

"Sumitra, see Drona's flag flying there! Drive straight and fast to that point," said Abhimanyu to his charioteer.

"Faster, faster!" urged Abhimanyu as they sped along.

"May the gods protect you!" said the charioteer. "Yudhishthira has placed a very great burden on your young shoulders. Think well before you pierce Drona's array and enter. The acharya is unrivalled in skill and experience, while you, though his equal in valor, have not his long years to back it."

Abhimanyu smiled and replied: "Friend, I am Krishna's nephew and son of Arjuna, am I not? Which other has that advantage? Fear dares not approach me! These enemies here have not a sixteenth part of my strength. Drive fast towards Drona's division. Do not hesitate."

The charioteer obeyed.

As the golden chariot to which were yoked beautiful young horses approached, the soldiers in the Kaurava army shouted:

"Abhimanyu is corning! He has come!"

The Pandavas followed Abhimanyu close behind him.

The Kaurava warriors were perturbed as they saw Abhimanyu's chariot approach them with great speed.

"Here is one greater in valor than Arjuna,"

they thought and began to lose heart.

Like a young lion on a herd of elephants, Abhimanyu rushed on. There was a ripple in the Kaurava ranks which bent under his headlong onslaught.

The bend soon became a break and under Drona's very eyes, the formation was breached and Abhimanyu entered. But the breach closed under the inspiration of Jayadratha, king of the Sindhus, before the other Pandava warriors could force their way in according to plan and Abhimanyu was alone! Kaurava warriors opposed him, but they fell like moths in the fire, one after another. Abhimanyu's shafts searched the weak points in the armor of his enemies.

And the bodies of soldiers lay strewn on the field like Kusa grass on the sacrificial platform.

Bows, arrows, swords, shields, javelins, pieces of harness, chaiot canopies, axes, maces, spears, whips, conchs, along with severed heads and limbs of slain warriors, covered the field.

Seeing the destruction wrought by Abhimanyu, Duryodhana was wroth and rushed in person to oppose the youthful warrior. Drona, having leant that the king himself was engaged in battle with Abhimanyu, became anxious and sent veterans to protect Duryodhana.

With great difficulty, they managed to rescue the king from the boy-hero who greatly disappointed at the escape of Duryodhana, vented his anger on the warriors that had come to rescue him and put them to headlong flight.

Then, throwing away all sense of shame and chivalry, a large number of veteran warriors made a combined and simultaneous attack on the hero, who found himself alone, surrounded by enemies on all sides. But, even as on all sides a rock receives the rising tide of the sea, Arjuna's son withstood this united ouslaught.

Drona, Aswatthama, Kripa, Karna, Sakuni, Salya and many other great warriors in their chariots, equipped with all arms, surged in attack on the young hero, only to be dashed back, baffled and broken.

Asmaka rode his chariot at great speed against Abhimanyu's. But smiling, Abhimanyu sent his shafts and disposed of him in no time. Karna's armor was pierced.

Salya was badly wounded and sat, unable to move, in his chariot. Salya's brother came up in great wrath to avenge his brother's disgrace but he fell and his chariot was broken to pieces.

Thus did Abhimanyu, alone and unsupported, oppose a host of veteran warriors and show the skill in the use of arms which he had learnt from his illustrious father and from Vasudeva, his uncle. Seeing this, the poet says, Dronacharya's eyes were filled with tears of affectionate admiration.

"Was there ever a fighter to equal this boy Abhimanyu?" exclaimed Drona to Kripa, in the hearing of Duryodhana who could not contain his anger.

"The acharya's partiality for Arjuna prevents him from killing Abhimanyu,"

Duryodhana said, "and he sings his praises instead of fighting him. Indeed, if the acharya were minded to dispose of Abhimanyu, would it take him long to do it!"

Often did Duryodhana suspect and complain in this manner against Bhishma and Drona. Having undertaken a war of adharma, he was often led to speak in this manner and hurt the feelings of the acharyas who stood loyally by him, even when they saw the wickedness of his ways.

Duhsasana roared in anger and exclaiming: "This obstinate lad will perish now!" led his chariot forward to attack Abhimanyu. The chariots of Abhimanyu and Duhsasana made wonderful movement against each other and the battle raged long.

Duhsasana was struck senseless in his car, and his charioteer just managed to drive away from the field saving Duhsasana's life. Karna attacked Abhimanyu with his shafts and harassed him greatly.

But one of Abhimanyu's arrows felled Karna's bow and the young warrior followed up this advantage so vigorously that he put Karna and his supporters to flight. The Kaurava forces, when they saw this, were completely demoralised.

The army was in confusion and men fled in all directions, not caring for Drona's shouts of remonstrance. And Abhimanyu destroyed those that stood, as fire destroys a dry jungle in summer.