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Chapter 87: Pledge Respected

DHRITARASHTRA, hearing of the slaughter of his sons and the check received by Karna, was desolate. "O Sanjaya, like moths falling in the fire, my sons are being destroyed. The stubborn Duryodhana has led the lads Durmukha and Durjaya, to their doom. Alas, I have lost these boys! The fool said: 'Karna, unrivalled among men for courage and the accomplishment of war, is on our side.

Who then can defeat us? Even the gods cannot win a battle against me when Karna is on my side. What can these Pandavas do to me?' But now he has seen Karna beating a retreat when Bhimasena attacked him. Has he seen wisdom at least now? Alas, Sanjaya, my son has earned the undying hatred of the son of Vayu, Bhima, who has the strength of the god of death! We are indeed ruined!"

Sanjaya replied: "O king, was it not you who brought about this unquenchable hatred, listening to the words of your foolish and stubborn son? To you indeed must be traced this greater disaster. You are now but reaping the fruit of your discarding the advice of Bhishma and the other elders. Blame yourself, king. Do not blame Karna and the brave warriors who have done their best in battle."

After thus admonishing the blind king, Sanjaya proceeded to tell him what happened. Five sons of Dhritarashtra, Durmarsha, Dussaha, Durmata, Durdhara and Jaya, when they saw Karna put to flight by Bhima at once rushed on the latter.

When Karna saw this, he was heartened and turned back to resume his attack.

Bhimasena at first ignored the sons of Dhritarashtra and concentrated on Karna.

But they became so violent in their assault that Bhima got incensed and, turning his attentions on them, disposed of all five of them. They lay dead on the field, with their horses and their charioteers.

The young warriors with their bleeding wounds presented the appearance of a forest with trees, uprooted by a strong wind and lying flat on the ground with their beautiful red blossoms.

When Karna saw another batch of princes slaughtered for his sake he fought more grimly than ever before. Bhima too was more violent than before, thinking of all the evil that Karna had wrought against the Pandavas.

He used his bow so as to disarm Karna completely. His horses and charioteer were also laid low. Karna now jumped down from his chariot and hurled his mace at Bhima.

But Bhima warded it off with shafts from his powerful bow and covered Karna with a shower of arrows and forced him to turn back and walk on foot.

Duryodhana, who watched this combat, was greatly grieved and sent seven of his brothers Chitra, Upachitra, Chitraksha, Charuchitra, Sarasana, Chitrayudha and Chitravarman, to relieve Radheya.

They gave battle to Bhima displaying great skill and energy. But fell dead one after another, for Bhima's passion was roused and his attack was irresistible.

When Karna saw so many of the sons of Dhritarashtra sacrificing themselves for him, his face was wet with tears and he mounted a fresh chariot and began to attack Bhima with deadly effect.

The two combatants clashed like clouds in a thunderstorm. Kesava, Satyaki and Arjuna were filled with admiration and joy as they watched Bhima fighting.

Bhurisravas, Kripacharya, Aswatthama, Salya, Jayadratha and many other warriors of the Kaurava army also broke into exclamations, astonished at the way in which Bhima fought.

Duryodhana was stung to the quick and burned with anger. Karna's plight caused him extreme anxiety. He feared Bhima would kill Radheya that day, and sent seven more of his brothers directing them to surround Bhima and attack him simultaneously.

The seven brothers sent by Duryodhana attacked Bhima. But fell one after another, struck down by his arrows. Vikarna, who was killed last, was beloved of all.

When Bhima saw him fall dead after a brave fight, he was deeply moved and exclaimed: "Alas, O Vikarna, you were just and knew what was dharma! You fought in loyal obedience to the call of duty. I had to kill even you. Indeed this battle is a curse upon us wherein men like you and the grandsire Bhishma have had to be slaughtered."

Seeing Duryodhana's brothers, who came to help him, slain one after another in this manner, Karna was overwhelmed by anguish. He leant back on his seat in the chariot and closed his eyes unable to bear the sight.

Then recovering control over his emotions he hardened his heart and began again his attack on Bhima. Bow after bow was broken up by Bhimasena's shaft, but Karna kept the battle.

Eighteen times he had to take up a fresh bow. Karna had long ago discarded his smile and his face showed savage anger even as Bhima's. They now glared fiercely at each other as they fought.

Yudhishthira now heard Bhima's roar rise above the tumult of battle, and heartened by it, he fought Drona with increased vigor.

In the renewed and fierce battle between Bhima and Karna, Bhima lost his horses and charioteer. Soon his chariot also was smashed to pieces. Then, Bhima hurled his spear at Karna who was in his chariot and as Karna parried it with his shaft, Bhima advanced with sword and shield.

But Karna broke the shield at once with his shafts. Then, Bhima whirled his sword and hurled it, and it cut Karna's bow into two and fell on the ground. But Karna took up yet another bow and assailed Bhima with arrows more fiercely than before.

Bhima, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, sprang upon Karna. Radheya took cover behind his flagstaff and escaped destruction. Thereupon, Bhima jumped out of Karna's car down into the field of battle where, deprived of all arms, he used the elephants lying dead on the ground to protect himself from Karna's arrows and continued the fight.

He picked up anything he could lay hands upon, wheels of broken chariots, the limbs of horses and elephants that were lying about, and hurling them at Karna, kept him engaged without interval. But this could not long continue and Bhima was soon at a great disadvantage. Karna said exultingly:

"Foolish glutton, you do not know the science of war; why do you engage yourself in battle here? Go to the jungle and fill yourself with fruits and roots and grow fat. You are a savage, not fit for kshatriya battle. Get away!" Hurling insulting taunts at him, he made the helpless Bhima burn with rage, but mindful of his word to Kunti, refrained from killing him.

"There, Arjuna! See how poor Bhima is being harassed by Karna," said Krishna.

Dhananjaya's eyes burned red with wrath, when he saw the plight of his valiant brother.

He bent his Gandiva bow and discharged his arrows on Karna who then gladly turned his attentions from Bhima to Arjuna. He had pledged his word to Kunti not to kill more than one of the Pandavas and he reserved that option for the great Arjuna.