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Chapter 86: Karna And Bhima

ARJUNA had left Yudhishthira behind to repel Drona's attacks and had gone to make good his word that before sunset Jayadratha would lie dead on the field of battle.

Jayadratha had been the main cause of Abhimanyu's death. He it was who had effectively prevented the relief of Abhimanyu by the Pandavas, and thereby caused Abhimanyu to be isolated, overpowered and slain.

We have seen how Yudhishthira in his anxiety sent first Satyaki and then Bhima to join Arjuna in his battle against Jayadratha. Bhima reached where Arjuna was engaged and sounded his simhanada (lion-roar). Dharmaputra heard the lionroar of Bhima and knew that Arjuna was found alive.

It was the fourteenth day and the battle raged fiercely at many points, between Satyaki and Bhurisravas at one place, between Bhima and Karna at another and between Arjuna and Jayadratha at a third.

Drona remained at the main front resisting the attack of the Panchalas and the Pandavas, and leading a counter-offensive against them.

Duryodhana arrived with his forces at the sector where Arjuna attacked Jayadratha, but was soon defeated and turned back.

The battle thus raged long and furiously on more than one front. The armies were so deployed that each side was exposed to danger in its rear.

Duryodhana was speaking to Drona:

"Arjuna, Bhima and Satyaki have treated us with contempt and proceeded successfully to Jayadratha's sector and they are pressing hard on the Sindhu king.

It is indeed strange that, under your command, our battle array should have been broken and our plans completely foiled. Everyone asks how it is that the great Drona with all his mastery of the science of war has been so badly outmaneuvered. What answer shall I make? I have been betrayed by you."

Duryodhana thus, once again, bitterly reproached Drona, who replied unperturbed:

"Duryodhana, your accusations are as unworthy as they are contrary to truth.

There is nothing to be gained by talking about what is past and beyond repair.

Think of what is to be done now."

"Sir, it is for you to advise me. Tell me what should be done. Give your best consideration to the difficulties of the situation and decide and let us do it quickly." Puzzled and perplexed, thus did Duryodhana plead.

Drona replied: "My son, the situation is no doubt serious. Three great generals have advanced, outmanoeuvring us. But they have as much reason to be anxious as we, for their rear is now left as open to attack as ours. We are on both sides of them and their position is not therefore safe. Be heartened, go up to Jayadratha again, and do all you can to support him. It is of no avail to dishearten oneself by dwelling on past defeats and difficulties. It is best I stay here and send you reinforcements as and when required. I must keep the Panchalas and Pandava army engaged here. Otherwise, we shall be wholly destroyed."

Accordingly, Duryodhana went with fresh reinforcements again to where Arjuna was directing his attack on Jayadratha.

The narrative of the fourteenth day's fighting at Kurukshetra shows that, even in the Mahabharata times, the modern tactics of turning and enveloping movements was not unknown.

The advantages and risks of such strategy appear to have been fully understood and discussed even in those days. Arjuna's flanking manoeuvres perplexed his enemies greatly. The story of that day's battle between Bhima and Karna reads very much like a chapter from the narrative of a modern war.

Bhima did not desire to fight Karna or remain long engaged with him. He was eager to reach where Arjuna was. But Radheya would, by no means, permit him to do this. He showered his arrows on Bhimasena and stopped him from proceeding.

The contrast between the two warriors was striking. Karna's handsome lotus-like face was radiant with smiles when he attacked Bhima saying: "Do not show your back," "Now, do not flee like a coward," and so on.

Bhima was all anger when taunted in this manner. He was maddened by Karna's smiles. The battle was fierce but Karna did everything with a smiling air of ease whereas Bhima's face glowed with rage and his movements were violent.

Karna would keep at a distance and send his well-aimed shafts but Bhima would disregard the arrows and javelins failing thick upon him and always try to close with Karna.

Radheya did everything he did, calmly and with graceful ease, whereas Bhimasena fumed and fretted with impatience, as he showed his amazing strength of limb.

Bhima was red with bleeding wounds all over and presented the appearance of an Asoka tree in full blossom. But he minded them not, as he attacked Karna cutting bows in twain and smashing his chariot.

When Karna had to run for a fresh chariot, there was no smile on his face. For anger rose in him, like the sea on a full moon day, as he attacked Bhima. Both showed the strength of tigers and the speed of eagles and their anger was now like that of serpents in a fury.

Bhima brought before his mind all the insults and injuries which he and his brothers and Draupadi had suffered, and fought desperately, caring not for life.

The two cars dashed against each other and the milk white horses of Karna's chariot and Bhimasena's black horses jostled in the combat like clouds in a thunderstorm.

Karna's bow was shattered and his charioteer reeled and fell. Karna then hurled a javelin at Bhima. But Bhima parried it and continued pouring his arrows on Karna, who had taken up a fresh bow.

Again and again did Karna lose his chariot. Duryodhana saw Karna's plight and calling his brother Durjaya said: "This wicked Pandava will kill Karna. Go at once and attack Bhima and save Karna's life."

Durjaya went as ordered and attacked Bhima who, in a rage sent seven shafts which sent Durjaya's horses and his charioteer to the abode of Yama and Durjaya himself fell mortally wounded.

Seeing his bleeding body wriggling on the ground like a wounded snake, Karna was overwhelmed with grief and circled round the hero, paying mournful honor to the dead.

Bhima did not stop but continued the fight and greatly harassed Karna. Karna once again had to find a fresh chariot. He sent well aimed shafts and hit Bhima who in a fury hurled his mace at Karna and it crashed on Karna's chariot and killed his charioteer and horses and broke the flagstaff. Karna now stood on the ground with bent bow.

Duryodhana now sent another brother to relieve Karna. Durmukha went accordingly and took Karna on his chariot.

Seeing yet another son of Dhritarashtra come to offer himself up to death, Bhima licked his lips in gusto and sent nine shafts on the newly arrived enemy. And, even as Karna climbed up to take his seat in the chariot, Durmukha's armor was broken and he fell lifeless.

When Karna saw the warrior bathed in blood and lying dead by his side, he was again overwhelmed with grief and stood motionless for a while.

Bhima relentlessly continued his attack on Karna. His sharp arrows pierced Karna's coat of armor and he was in pain.

But he too at once returned the attack and wounded Bhima all over.

Still the Pandava would not stop and attacked Karna furiously. The sight of so many of Duryodhana's brothers dying for his sake one after another was too much for Karna.

This, and the physical pain of his own wounds made him lose courage and he turned away defeated. But, when Bhima stood up on the field of battle red with wounds all over like a flaming fire and emitted a triumphant yell, he could not brook it but returned to the combat.