Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, is dragged by the veni or braid of hair into the public assembly by the hand of Duhsasana, one of the Kaurava princes, a disgrace that weighs most heavily upon the Pandavas, who contemplate most bitter revenge.
Krishna returns to the Pandava camp from a visit to the Kaurava princes, as a mediator between the contending chiefs. Ferocious Bhima expresses, to his brother Sahadeva, his refusal to have any share in the negotiations instituted by Krishna and his determination to make no peace with the enemy until the insult offered to Draupadi is avenged. He announces his resolution, in case the dispute be amicably adjusted, to disclaim all connection with his own brothers, and throw off obedience to Judhishthira.
The price of peace is the demand of five villages or towns, Indraprastha, Tilaprastha, Mansadam, Varanavatam, and another. Sahadeva attempts to calm the fury of Bhima, but in vain; and Draupadi, with her hair still dishevelled, and pining over her ignominious treatment, comes to inflame his resentment. She complains also of a recent affront offered by Bhanumati, the queen of Duryodhana, in an injurious comment upon her former exposure, which serves to widen the breach.
Krishna's embassy is unsuccessful, and he effects his return only by employing his divine powers against the enemy. All the chiefs are summoned by the trumpet to prepare for battle.
Before day-break, Bhanumati repeats, to her friend and an attendant, a dream in which she has beheld a Nakula or Mungoose destroy a hundred snakes. This is very ominous, Nakula being one of the Pandavas, and the sons of Kuru amounting to a hundred. Duryodhana overhears part of the story, and at first imagines the hostile prince is the hero of the vision. He is about to burst upon her, full of rage, and when he catches the true import of the tale, he is at first disposed to be alarmed by it, but at last wisely determines to disregard it.
For, by Angira it is sung, the aspect of the planets, dreams and signs, meteors and portents, are the sports of accident, and do not move the wise. Bhanumati offers an arghya of sandal and flowers to the rising sun to avert the ill omen, and then the king appears and soothes her.
Their dialogue is disturbed by a rising whirlwind from which they take shelter in a neighbouring pavilion. The mother of Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu, then appears, and apprises Duryodhana that Arjuna has vowed, if sunset finds Jayadratha alive, he will sacrifice himself in the flames. His wrath is especially excited by the death of his son Abhimanyu, in which that chieftain had borne a leading part. Duryodhana laughs at her fears and those of his wife, and despises the resentment of the Pandavas. He observes, that this was fully provoked by the treatment which Draupadi received by his command, when in the presence of the court and of the Pandavas, she called out in vain for mercy. Duryodhana then orders his war-chariot and goes forth to the battle. Up to the period of the contest, the following chiefs have fallen, Bhagadatta, Sindhuraja, Angadhipa, Drupada, Bhurisravas, Somadatta, and Bahlika.
Ghatotkacha is also slain, and Bhima is about to avenge his fall, on which account Hirimba, the queen of the Rakshasas and mother of Ghatotkacha, has ordered goblins to be ready to assist Bhimasena.
Drona is seized by Dhrishtadyumna and slain. Aswatthama, the son of Drona, appears armed and is overtaken by his father's charioteer who tells him of the treachery by which Drona was slain, having been induced to throw away his arms by a false report that his son Aswatthama had perished, and been then killed at a disadvantage. Aswatthama's distress is assuaged by his maternal uncle Kripa, who recommends him to solicit the command of the host from Duryodhana.
In the meantime, proud Kerna, the friend and ally of Duryodhana, fills the mind of the Kuru chief with impressions hostile to Drona and his son, persuading him that Drona only fought to secure Aswatthama's elevation to royal dignity, and that he threw away his life, not out of grief, but in despair at the disappointment of his ambitious schemes. Kripa and Aswatthama now arrive and Duryodhana professes to condole with Aswatthama for his father's loss. Kerna sneeringly asks him what he purposes, to which he replies:--
"Whoever confident in arms is ranked amongst the adverse host--whomever the race of proud Panchala numbers, active youth, weak age or unborn babes, whoever beheld my father's murder, or whoever dares to cross my path, shall fall before my vengeance. Dark is my sight with rage, and Death himself, the world's destroyer, should not escape my fury."
Kripa then requests Duryodhana to give the command of the army to Aswatthama. The king excuses himself on the plea of having promised it to Kerna, to whom he transfers his ring accordingly. A violent quarrel ensues between Kerna and Aswatthama, and Duryodhana and Kripa have some difficulty in preventing them from single combat. Fiery Aswatthama at last reproaches Duryodhana with partiality, and refuses to fight for him more. Bhima proclaims that he has at last encountered Duhsasana, the insulter of Draupadi, and is about to sacrifice him to his vengeance. Kerna, instigated by Aswatthama, foregoes his anger and is about to resume his arms when a voice from heaven prevents him. He is obliged, therefore, to remain an idle spectator of the fight, but desires Kripa to assist the king. They go off to fight.
Duhsasana is killed and the army of the Kauravas is put to the rout. Duryodhana is wounded and becomes insensible. On his recovery, he hears of Duhsasana's death and gives vent to his sorrows.
In the conflict between Arjuna and Vrishasena, the son of Kerna, the young prince is slain to his father's distress. Sundaraka, a follower of Kerna, brings a leaf on which Kerna has written to Duryodhana, with an arrow dipped in his own blood, message for aid. Duryodhana orders his chariot, and prepares to seek the fight again, when he is prevented by the arrival of his parents, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, who with Sanjaya, endeavour to prevail upon Duryodhana to sue for peace, but he refuses.
A tumult and the entrance of the king's charioteer announce the death of Kerna. Duryodhana, after expressing his grief, determines to go and avenge him, and mount the car of Sanjaya, the charioteer of Dhritarashtra, for that purpose, when Arjuna and Bhima arrive in search of him.
On finding the seniors there, Arjuna purposes to withdraw; but Bhima insists on first addressing them, which they do, but in insulting terms.
Dhritarashtra, reproaching them for this language, is told they use it not in pride, but in requital of his having witnessed, without interfering to prevent, the oppression and barbarous treatment the Pandavas experienced from his sons. Duryodhana interferes and defies Bhima, who is equally anxious for the combat; but Arjuna prevents it, and the brothers are called off by a summons from Yudhishthira, who orders the battle to cease for the day and the dead bodies of either party to be burnt. Aswatthama is now disposed to be reconciled to Duryodhana; but the prince receives his advances coldly, and he withdraws in disgust. Dhritarashtra sends Sanjaya after him to persuade him to overlook Duryodhana's conduct. Duryodhana mounts his car, and the aged couple seek the tent of Salya, the king of Madra.
Duryodhana is discovered concealed in a swamp, and compelled to fight with Bhimasena, by whom he is slain. Yudhisthira orders public rejoicings on the occasion.
Charvaka, a Rakshasa disguised as a sage, then enters, requiring rest and water. He relates that he has seen Arjuna engaged with Duryodhana, Bhima having been previously slain by the latter, and gives his hearers to understand that Arjuna also has fallen. Draupadi determines to mount the funeral pile, and Yudhishthira, to put an end to himself when the Rakshasa, satisfied with the success of his scheme, which was intended to prevail on this couple to perish, departs. The pile is prepared, and Yudhishthira and Draupadi are about to sacrifice themselves, when they are disturbed by a great clamour. Supposing it to precede the approach of Duryodhana, Yudhishthira calls for his arms, when Bhima, his club besmeared with blood, rushes in. Draupadi runs away; he catches her by the hair, and is seized by Yudhishthira--on which the mistake is discovered.
The braid of Draupadi's hair is now again bound up. Arjuna and Vasudeva arrive, and announce that they have heard of the fraud of Charvaka. On hearing that the mendicant is slain by Nakula, Krishna expresses great satisfaction.