Kurukshetra War

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Kurukshetra War

Date
Various dates, 3000s BC-1000s BC[1](fought for 18 days)

Location
Kurukshetra, modern-day Haryana, India

Result
Pyrrhic Pandava victory, fall of Kauravasand Pandava back to power.

Belligerents

Pandavas led byDhristadyumna
Kauravas led by Bhishma

Commanders

Dhrishtadyumna
Bhishma
Drona
Karna
Duryodhana
Ashwatthama

Strength

7 Akshauhinis
1,530,900 soldiers
11 Akshauhinis
2,405,700 soldiers

Casualties and losses

Almost Total
Only 8 known survivors – the five Pandavas, Krishna, Satyaki, Yuyutsu but in normal recognized left 7 survivors (excluding Yuyutsu)
Almost Total
Only 4 known survivors – Ashwatthama, Kripa, Kritavarma, Vrishakethu (son of Karna) but in normal recognized left 3 survivors (excluding Vrishskethu)

The Kurukshetra War (Devangari: कुरुक्षेत्र युद्ध) is the war between the Kauravas and Pandavas, which forms an essential component of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata. According to Mahābhārata, a dynastic struggle between sibling clans of Kauravas and the Pandavas for the throne of Hastinapura resulted in a battle in which a number of ancient kingdoms participated as allies of the rival clans. The location of the battle was Kurukshetra in the modern state of Haryana in India.

Mahābhārata states that the war lasted eighteen days during which vast armies from all over the Indian Subcontinent fought alongside the two rivals. Despite only referring to these eighteen days, the war narrative forms more than a quarter of the book, suggesting its relative importance within the epic, which overall spans decades of the warring families.

The narrative describes individual battles of various heroes of both sides, battle-field deaths of some of the prominent heroes, military formations employed on each day by both armies, war diplomacies, meetings and discussions among the heroes and commanders before commencement of war on each day and the weapons used. The chapters (parvas) dealing with the war (from chapter six to ten) are considered amongst the oldest in the entire Mahābhārata.[citation needed]

The Kurukshetra War is believed to date variously from 5561 BC to 800 BC, based on the astronomical and literary information from Mahābhārata. The history of the Kurukshetra War is also traced to the Battle of the Ten Kings mentioned in Rigveda.[2]

Contents

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Background

Main article: Mahābhārata

India during the time of Mahābhārata.

Mahābhārata, one of the most important Hindu epics, is an account of the life and deeds of several generations of a ruling dynasty called the Kuru clan. Central to the epic is an account of a great war that took place between two sibling families belonging to this clan. Kurukshetra (literally "field of the Kurus"), was the battleground on which this war, known as the Kurukshetra War, was fought. Kurukshetra was also known as "Dharmakshetra" (the "field of Dharma"), or field of righteousness. Mahābhārata tells that this site was chosen for the war because a sin committed on this land was forgiven on account of the sanctity of this land.

The two sides to the war were the families of Pandavas and the Kauravas. The dispute between the Kauravas and the Pandavas arose from a game of dice, which the Kauravas won by deceit, forcing their Pandava cousins to go into exile for thirteen years. The dispute escalated into a full scale war when Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, driven by jealousy, refused to restore the Pandavas their throne after the exile.

Prior to the war, the Pandavas, advised by Krishna, tried to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the conflict. Balarama, Krishna’s older brother, advised the Pandavas to send an emissary to get the support of the elders of the family like Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Drona, Karna, and even Shakuni, with the message "Let us avoid armed conflict as much as possible. Only that which is accrued in peace is worthwhile. Out of war, nothing but wrong can issue".[3] While the emissary was in the Kaurava court, the Pandavas continued with war preparations. They sent messages requesting assistance to a number of neighbouring kingdoms. Their ambassador of peace was insulted and turned away by Duryodhana, who was intent on war, defying the counsel of elders like Bhishma. After several failed attempts on peace, war seemed inevitable.

Krishna’s peace mission

As a last attempt at peace, Krishna traveled to Hastinapur to persuade the Kauravas to embark upon a peaceful path with him. At Hastinapur, Krishna took his meals and stayed at the house of the minister, Vidura, a religious man and a devotee of Krishna. Duryodhana was insulted that Krishna had turned down his invitation to dine with him and stay in his royal palace. Determined to stop the peace mission, Duryodhana plotted to arrest Krishna.

At the formal presentation of the peace proposal by Krishna at the court of Hastinapur, Krishna’s peace proposals were ignored, and Duryodhana publicly ordered his soldiers to arrest Krishna. Krishna laughed and displayed his divine form, radiating intense light. Furious at the insult inflicted upon Him, Lord Krishna cursed Duryodhana that his downfall was certain to the shock of Dhirtharastra who tried to pacify the Lord. The peace mission rejected by Duryodhana, Krishna returned to Upaplavya to inform the Pandavas that the only course left to uphold the principles of virtue and righteousness was inevitable – war.

War preparations

Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, 18th-19th century painting.

Krishna had one of the largest armies and was Himself a great warrior. Duryodhana and Arjuna thus both went to Krishna at Dwarka to ask for His help. Duryodhana arrived first, and found Krishna asleep. Being arrogant and viewing himself as equal to Krishna, Duryodhana chose a seat at Krishna’s head and waited for Him to rouse. Arjuna arrived later, and being a humble devotee of Krishna, chose to sit and wait at Krishna’s feet. When Krishna woke up, He saw Arjuna first and gave him the first right to make his request. Krishna told Arjuna and Duryodhana that He would give His mighty Narayani sena, ‘opulent, Lordly army’ to one side, and Himself unarmed to the other. Since Arjuna was given the first opportunity to choose, Duryodhana was worried that Arjuna would choose the mighty army of Krishna. When given the choice of either Krishna’s army or Krishna Himself on their side, Arjuna on behalf of the Pandavas chose Krishna, unarmed on His own, relieving Duryodhana, who thought Arjuna to be the greatest fool. Later Arjuna requested Krishna to be his charioteer, and Krishna, being an intimate friend of Arjuna, agreed wholeheartedly, and hence received the name Parthasarthy, or ‘charioteer of the son of Pritha’. Both Duryodhana and Arjuna returned satisfied.

While camping at a place called Upaplavya, in the territory of Virata, the Pandavas gathered their armies. Contingents arrived from all parts of the country and soon the Pandavas had a large force of seven divisions. The Kauravas managed to raise an even larger army of eleven divisions. Many kingdoms of ancient India such as Dwaraka, Kasi, Kekaya, Magadha, Matsya, Chedi, Pandya and the Yadus ofMathura were allied with the Pandavas; while the allies of the Kauravas comprised the kings of Pragjyotisha, Anga, Kekaya, Sindhudesa, Mahishmati, Avanti in Madhyadesa, Madras, Gandharas, Bahlikas,Kambojas (with the Yavanas, Sakas and Tusharas) and many others.

An ancient measure of man power, Akshohini is used to enumerate the armies on both sides. One Akshohini consists of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horses and 109,350 foot soldiers.[citation needed]

Pandava army

A manuscript illustration of the Battle of Kurukshetra, fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, recorded in theMahābhārata.

Seeing that there was now no hope for peace, Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, asked his brothers to organize their army. The Pandavas accumulated seven Akshauhini army with the help of their allies.Each of these Akshohinis or divisions were led by Drupada, Virata, Dhristadyumna, Shikhandi, Satyaki, Chekitana and Bhima. After consulting his commanders, the Pandavas appointed Dhristadyumna as the supreme commander of the Pandava army. Mahābhārata says that kingdoms from all over ancient India supplied troops or provided logistic support on the Pandava side. Some of these were: Kekaya, Pandya, Cholas, Keralas, Magadha, and many more.

Kaurava army

The Kaurava army was consisted of eleven Akshauhinis or divisions. Duryodhana requested Bhishma to command the Kaurava army. Bhishma accepted on the condition that, while he would fight the battle sincerely, he would not harm the five Pandava brothers. In addition, Bheeshma said that Karna would not fight under him as long as he is in the battlefied. It is believed by many that Bhishma pushed Karna into taking this decision due to his affection towards the Pandavas – the Kauravas would be overwhelmingly powerful if both he and Karna appeared in battle simultaneously. However the excuse he used to prevent their simultaneous fighting was that his guru (Parshurama) was insulted by Karna. But the real fact was that Bhisma knew that Karna was a Kaunteya(Son of Kunti) from the day he met him in Ranakshetra when Karna offered Arjuna to fight against him. Regardless, Duryodhana agreed to Bhishma’s conditions and made him the supreme commander of the Kaurava army, while Karna was debarred from fighting. . Apart from the one hundred Kaurava brothers, headed by Duryodhana himself and his brotherDushasana, the second eldest son of Dhritarashtra, the Kauravas were assisted on the battlefield by Drona and his son Ashwathama, the Kaurava’s brother-in-law Jayadratha, the brahminKripa, Kritavarma, Shalya, Sudakshina, Bhurisravas, Bahlika, Shakuni, and many more who were bound by their loyalty towards either Hastinapura or Dhritarashtra.

Neutral parties

The kingdom of Vidarbha, with its King Rukmi, and Balarama were the only neutrals in this war.[4]

Army divisions and weaponry

Each army consisted of several divisions; the Kauravas had 11 while the Pandavas controlled 7. A division (akshauhini) includes 21,870 chariots and chariot-riders, 21,870 elephants and riders, 65,610 horses and riders, and 109,350 foot-soldiers (in a ratio of 1:1:3:5). The combined number of warriors and soldiers in both armies was approximately 3.94 million.[5] Each Akshohini was under a commander or a general, apart from the Commander in chief or the generalissimo who was the head of the entire army.

During the Kurukshetra War, the weapons used included: the bow and arrows, the weapon of choice for Arjuna, Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Abhimanyu; the mace, chosen by Bhima and Duryodhana, the spear and the dagger or sword.

Arjuna, in a fit of extreme anger over the death of his son Abhimanyu, alone killed one akshauhini of Kaurava soldiers in a single day. The war left an extremely large number of widows and orphans and led to an economic depression and beginning of Kali Yuga.

Military formations

Intricate rock carvings showing Abhimanyu entering theChakra vyuha.

At various times during battle, the supreme commander of either army ordered special formations ("vyuhas"). Each formation had a specific purpose; some were defensive while others were offensive. Each formation had its specific strengths and weaknesses. Mahābhārata’ list the following:

  1. Krauncha vyuha (heron formation)
  2. Makara vyuha (crocodile formation)
  3. Kurma vyuha (tortoise or turtle formation)
  4. Trishula vyuha (the trident formation)
  5. Chakra vyuha (wheel or discus formation)
  6. Kamala vyuha or Padma vyuha (lotus formation)
  7. Garud vyuha (Eagle formation)
  8. Oormi vyuha (Ocean formation)
  9. Mandala vyuha (Galactic formation)
  10. Vajra vyuha (diamond/ thunderbolt formation)
  11. Shakata vyuha (Box/Cart formation)
  12. Asura vyuha (Demon formation)
  13. Deva vyuha (Divine formation)
  14. Soochi vyuha (Needle formation)
  15. Sringataka vyuha (Horned formation)
  16. Chandrakala vyuha (Crescent/ Curved Blade formation)

It is not clear what the formations actually indicate. They may be formations bearing resemblance to animals, or they may be names given to strategies and formations.[6]

Rules of engagement

The two supreme commanders met and framed "rules of ethical conduct", dharmayuddha, for the war. The rules included:

  • Fighting must begin no earlier than sunrise and end exactly at sunset.
  • Multiple warriors may not attack a single warrior.
  • Two warriors may "duel", or engage in prolonged personal combat, only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same mount (no mount, a horse, an elephant, or a chariot).
  • No warrior may kill or injure a warrior who has surrendered.
  • One who surrenders becomes a prisoner of war and will then be subject to the protections of a prisoner of war.
  • No warrior may kill or injure an unarmed warrior.
  • No warrior may kill or injure an unconscious warrior.
  • No warrior may kill or injure a person or animal not taking part in the war.
  • No warrior may kill or injure a warrior whose back is turned away.
  • No warrior may attack a woman.
  • No warrior may strike an animal not considered a direct threat.
  • The rules specific to each weapon must be followed. For example, it is prohibited to strike below the waist in mace warfare.
  • Warriors may not engage in any "unfair" warfare.

Most of these laws were broken at least once by both sides.

Course of war

The Kurukshetra War lasted eighteen days. It was fought only during daylight hours; fighting ceased at sunset. The armies met on a vast field in Kurukshetra; each day the battle was characterised by numerous individual combats, as well as mass raids against entire enemy divisions. The victor or the vanquished on each day was determined not by any territories gained, but by the body count. This was a war to the death. The victor was the survivor.

Before the battle

It has been observed that the year in which the Mahabharata War took place, the year had three eclipses on earth in a span of thirty days. Eclipses are considered ill for the life giving planets such as Sun and Moon in Hindu Mythology. Lunar and Solar Eclipses bring Sun-Earth-Moon in one line one way or the other so that the earth experiences some kind of imbalance to the environment as well as inhabitants on earth. It is widely noted that though such year with three eclipses causes great harm, it can cause great benefit to mankind. This war, resulted into a gift called Bhagavad Gita to the mankind.

On the first day of the war, as would be on all the following days, the Kaurava army stood facing west and the Pandava army stood facing east. The Kaurava army was formed such that it faced all sides: elephants formed its body; the kings, its head; and the steeds, its wings. Bhishma, in consultation with his commanders Drona, Bahlika and Kripa, remained in the rear.

The Pandava army was organised by Yudhisthira and Arjuna in the Vajra formation. Because the Pandava army was smaller than the Kaurava’s, they decided to employ the tactic of each warrior engaging as many enemies as possible. This involved an element of surprise, with the bowmen showering arrows from hidden behind the frontal attackers. The attackers in the front were equipped with short-range weapons like maces, battle-axes, swords and lances.

Ten divisions (Akshauhinis) of the Kaurava army were arranged in a formidable phalanx. The eleventh was put under the immediate command of Bhishma, partly to protect him. The safety of the supreme commander Bhishma was central to Duryodhana‘s strategy, as he had placed all his hope on the great warrior’s abilities. Dushasana, the younger brother of Duryodhana, was the military officer in-charge of Bhishma’s protection.

When the war was declared and the two armies were facing each other, Arjuna realised that he would have to kill his dear great-granduncle (Bhishma), on whose lap he had played as a child, and his respected teacher (Drona), who had held his hand and taught him how to hold the bow and arrow, making him the greatest archer in the world. Arjuna felt weak and sickened at the prospect of killing his entire family, including his 100 cousins, and friends such as Ashwathama. Despondent and confused about what is religious, what is right and what is wrong, Arjuna turned to Krishna for divine advice and teachings. Krishna, who Arjuna chose as his charioteer, advised him of his duty. This conversation forms the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most respected religious and philosophical texts in the Hindu religion. Krishna instructs Arjuna not to yield to degrading impotence and to fight his kin, for that was the only way to righteousness. He also reminded him that this was a war between righteousness and unrighteousness (dharma and adharma), and it was Arjuna’s duty to slay anyone who supported the cause of unrighteousness, or sin. Krishna then revealed his divine form and explained that he is born on earth in each aeon when evil raises its head. It also forms one of the foremost treatise on the several aspects of Yoga and mystical knowledge.

Krishna giving ‘Updesham'(advice) toArjuna on the battlegrounds ofKurukshetra.

Before the battle began, Yudhisthira did something unexpected. He suddenly dropped his weapons, took off his armour and started walking towards the Kaurava army with folded hands in prayer. The Pandava brothers and the Kauravas looked on in disbelief, thinking Yudhisthira was surrendering before the first arrow was shot. Yudhisthira’s purpose became clear, however, when he fell on Bhishma’s feet to seek his blessing for success in battle. Bhishma, grandfather to both the Pandavas and Kauravas, blessed Yudhisthira. Yudhisthira returned to his chariot and the battle was ready to commence.

Day one

Shalya kills Uttara

When the battle commenced, Bhishma went through the Pandava army wreaking havoc wherever he went. Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son, seeing this went straight at Bhishma, defeated his bodyguards and directly attacked the commander of the Kaurava forces. The Pandavas suffered numerous losses and were defeated at the end of the first day.Virata‘s sons, Uttara and Sweta, were slain by Shalya and Bhishma. Krishna consoled the distraught Yudhisthira saying that eventually victory would be his.

Day two

The second day of the war commenced with a confident Kaurava army facing the Pandavas. Arjuna, realising that something needed to be done quickly to reverse the Pandava losses, decided that he must try to kill Bhishma. Krishna skillfully located Bhishma’s chariot and steered Arjuna toward him. Arjuna tried to engage Bhishma in a duel, but the Kaurava soldiers placed around Bhishma to protect him attacked Arjuna to try to prevent him from directly engaging Bhishma. Arjuna and Bhishma fought a fierce battle that raged for hours. Drona andDhristadyumna similarly engaged in a duel during which Drona broke Dhristadyumna’s bow numerous times. Bhima intervened and rescued Dhristadyumna. Duryodhana sent the Kalinga forces to attack Bhima and most of them lost their lives at his hands. Bhishma immediately came to relieve the battered Kalinga forces. Satyaki, who was assisting Bhima, shot at Bhishma’s charioteer and killed him. Bhishma’s horses, with no one to control them, bolted carrying Bhishma away from the battle field. The Kaurava army had suffered great losses at the end of the second day.

Day three

On the third day, Bhishma arranged the Kaurava forces in the formation of an eagle with himself leading from the front, while Duryodhana’s forces protected the rear. Bhishma wanted to be sure of avoiding any mishap. The Pandavas countered this by using the crescent formation with Bhima and Arjuna at the head of the right and the left horns, respectively. The Kauravas concentrated their attack on Arjuna’s position. Arjuna’s chariot was soon covered with arrows and javelins. Arjuna, with amazing skill, built a fortification around his chariot with an unending stream of arrows from his bow. Abhimanyu and Satyaki combined to defeat the Gandhara forces of Shakuni. Bhima and his son Ghatotkacha attacked Duryodhana in the rear. Bhima’s arrows hit Duryodhana, who swooned in his chariot. His charioteer immediately drove them out of danger. Duryodhana’s forces, however, saw their leader fleeing the battlefield and soon scattered. Bhishma soon restored order and Duryodhana returned to lead the army. He was angry at Bhishma, however, at what he saw as leniency towards the five Pandava brothers and spoke harshly at his commander. Bhishma, stung by this unfair charge, fell on the Pandava army with renewed vigour. It was as if there were more than one Bhishma on the field.[7] The Pandava army soon began to retreat in chaos.

Arjuna and Krishna attacked Bhishma trying to restore order. Arjuna and Bhishma again engaged in a fierce duel, however Arjuna’s heart was not in the battle as he did not like the idea of attacking his great-uncle. During the battle, Bhishma killed numerous soldiers of Arjuna’s armies. This enraged Lord Krishna, who grabbed a chariot wheel to kill Bhishma. Bhishma wanted Lord Krishna to break his vow not to pick up any weapon in the battle. Bhishma at once fell at his feet and requested Krishna to kill him, as there would be nothing greater than attaining death at the hands of the supreme lord himself. Seeing this, Krishna calmed down and smiled and the battle between Arjuna and Bhishma continued.

Day four

The fourth day battle was noted for the valour shown by Bhima. Bhishma commanded the Kaurava army to move on the offensive from the outset. Arjuna’s son, Abhimanyu, was surrounded and attacked by a number of Kaurava princes. Arjuna joined the fray in aid of Abhimanyu. Bhima appeared on the scene with his mace aloft and started attacking the Kauravas. Duryodhana sent a huge force of elephants at Bhima. When Bhima saw the mass of elephants approaching, he got down from his chariot and attacked them single handedly with his iron mace. They scattered and stampeded into the Kaurava forces killing many. Duryodhana ordered an all-out attack on Bhima. Bhima withstood all that was thrown at him and attacked Duryodhana’s brothers, killing eight of them. Bhima was soon struck by an arrow on the chest and sat down in his chariot dazed. Ghatotkacha seeing this, fell upon the Kaurava army in anger. Bhishma, realizing that no one could stand against the angry Ghatotkacha, sounded retreat. Duryodhana was distraught at the loss of his brothers.

Duryodhana, overwhelmed by sorrow at the loss of his brothers, went to Bhishma at the end of the fourth day of the battle, and asked his commander how could the Pandavas, facing a superior force against them, still prevail and win. Bhishma replied that the Pandavas had justice on their side and advised Duryodhana to seek peace.

Days five through nine

When the battle resumed on the fifth day, the slaughter continued. The Pandava army again suffered against Bhishma’s attacks. Satyaki bore the brunt of Drona‘s attacks and soon could not withstand them. Bhima drove by and rescued Satyaki. Arjuna fought and killed thousands of soldiers sent by Duryodhana to attack him. The unimaginable carnage continued during the ensuing days of the battle. The sixth day was marked by a prodigious slaughter. Drona caused immeasurable loss of life on the Pandava side. The formations of both the armies were broken. On the eighth day Bhima killed eight of Dhritarashtra’s sons and Arjuna’s son Iravan was killed by the Kauravas. On the ninth day Krishna, once again overcome by anger at the apparent inability of Arjuna to defeat Bhishma, rushed towards the Kaurava commander, but Arjuna stopped him. Realising that the war could not be won as long as Bhisma were standing, Krishna suggested the strategy of placing a woman in the field to face him.

Day 10

Bhishma on a deathbed of arrows, from a collection of theSmithsonian Institution

On the tenth day the Pandavas, unable to withstand Bhishma’s prowess, decided to put Shikhandi, who had been a woman in a prior life in front of Bhishma, as Bhishma has taken a vow not to attack a woman. Shikhandi’s arrows fell on Bhishma without hindrance. Arjuna positioned himself behind Shikhandi, protecting himself from Bhishma’s attack, and aimed his arrows at the weak points in Bhishma’s armour. Soon, with arrows sticking from every part of his body, the great warrior fell from his chariot. His body did not touch the ground as it was held aloft by the arrows protruding from his body.

The Kauravas and Pandavas gathered around Bhishma and, at his request, Arjuna placed three arrows under Bhisma’s head to support it. Bhishma had promised his father, King Shantanu, that he would live until Hastinapur were secured from all directions. To keep this promise, Bhishma used the boon of "Ichcha Mrityu" (self wished death)given to him by his father. After the war was over, when Hastinapur had become safe from all sides and after giving lessons on politics and Vishnu Sahasranama to the Pandavas, Bhishma died on the first day of Uttarayana.

Day 11

With Bhishma unable to continue, Karna entered the battle field, much to Duryodhna’s joy. He made Drona the supreme commander of the Kaurava forces. Karna and Duryodhana wanted to capture Yudhisthira alive. Killing Yudhisthira in battle would only enrage the Pandavas more, whereas holding him as hostage would be strategically useful. Drona formulated his battle plans for the eleventh day to this aim. He cut down Yudhisthira’s bow and the Pandava army feared that their leader would be taken prisoner. Arjuna rushed to the scene, however, and with a flood of arrows made Drona retreat.

Day 12

With his attempts to capture Yudhisthira failed, Drona confided to Duryodhna that it would be difficult as long as Arjuna was around. The king of Trigartadesa, Susharma along with his 3 brothers and 35 sons who were fighting on the Kaurava side made a pact that they would kill Arjuna or die. They went into the battle field on the twelfth day and challenged Arjuna. Arjuna gave them a fierce fight in which the brothers fell dead after fighting a brave fight. Drona continued to try and capture Yudhisthira. The Pandavas however fought hard and delivered severe blows to the Kaurava army.

Day 13

Duryodhana summoned King Bhagadatta, the monarch of Pragjyotisha (modern day Assam, India). Bhagadatta had thousands of gigantic elephants in his stable and was considered the strongest warrior on this planet in elephant warfare. Bhagadatta attacked Arjuna with his gigantic elephant named Suprateeka. It was a fierce battle in which Bhagadatta matched Arjuna astra for astra.

On the other side of the battlefield, the remaining four Pandavas and their allies were finding it impossible to break Dronacharya’s Chakravyuha formation. As Arjuna was busy fighting with the Trigartadesa princes and the Prajayogastha monarch on the other side of the battlefield, he could not be summoned to break the Chakravyuha formation, which could only be broken by entering and exiting the formation. Yudhisthira instructed, Abhimanyu, one of Arjuna’s sons to break the Chakravyuha formation. Abhimanyu knew the secret of entering the Chakravyuh formation, but did not know how to exit it. Eventually he was trapped in the Chakravyuha, which led to his death.

Upon learning of the death of his son, Arjuna vowed to kill Jayadratha on the morrow before the battle ended at sunset, otherwise he would throw himself into the fire.

Day 14

Karna kills Ghatotkacha

While searching for Jayadratha on the battlefield, Arjuna slew an akshouhini (hundreds of thousands (109,350)) of Kaurava soldiers. The Kaurava army tightly protected Jayadratha, however, preventing Arjuna from attacking him. Finally, in late afternoon, Arjuna found Jayadratha guarded by the mighty kaurav army. Seeing his friend’s plight, Lord Krishna raised his Sudarshana Chakra to cover the sun, faking a sunset. Arjuna fought a powerful battle with Jayadrtha and finally defeated him. Then, Arjuna shot a powerful arrow decapitating Jayadratha.

The battle continued past sunset. When the bright moon rose, Ghatotkacha, son of Bhima slaughtered numerous warriors, attacking while flying in the air. Karna stood against him and both fought fiercely until Karna released the Indrastra, a celestial dart given to him by Indra. Ghatotkacha increased his size and fell dead on the Kaurav army killing thousands of them.

Day 15

After King Drupada and King Virata were slain by Drona, Bhima, and Dhristadyumna fought him on the fifteenth day. Because Drona was very powerful and inconquerable having the irresistible brahmadanda, Krishna hinted to Yudhisthira that Drona would give up his arms if his son Ashwathama was dead. Bhima proceeded to kill an elephant named Ashwathama, and loudly proclaimed that Ashwathama was dead. Drona approached Yudhisthira to seek the truth of his son’s death. Yudhisthira proclaimed Ashwathama Hatahath, naro va Kunjaro va, implying Ashwathama had died but he was nor sure whether it was a Drona’s son or an elephant, The latter part of his proclamation (Naro va Kunjaro va) were drowned out by trumpets sounded in triumph, on Krishna’s instruction (a different version of the story is that Yudhisthira pronounced the last words so feebly that Drona could not hear the word elephant). Prior to this incident, the chariot of Yudhisthira, proclaimed as Dharma raja (King of righteousness), hovered a few inches off the ground. After the event, the chariot landed on the ground as he had knowingly uttered a falsehood.

Drona was disheartened, and laid down his weapons. He was then killed by Dhristadyumna to avenge his father’s death and satisfy his vow. Later, the Pandava’s mother Kunti secretly met her abandoned son Karna and requested him to spare the Pandavas, as they were his younger brothers. Karna promised Kunti that he would spare them except for Arjuna.

Day 16

On the sixteenth day, Karna became supreme commander of the Kaurava army, killing countless warriors during the day.

Karna fought valiantly but was surrounded and attacked by Pandava generals, who were unable to prevail upon him. Karna inflicted heavy damage on the Pandava army, which fled. Then Arjuna successfully resisted Karna’s weapons with his own, and also inflicted casualties upon the Kaurava army. The sun soon set, and with darkness and dust making the assessment of proceedings difficult, the Kaurava army retreated for the day.[8] On the same day, Bhima swung his mace and shattered Dushasana’s chariot. Bhima seized Dushasana, ripped his right hand from shoulder and killed him, tearing open his chest and drinking his blood and carrying some to smear on Draupadi’s untied hair, thus fulfilling his vow made when Draupadi was humiliated.

Day 17

Karna (right) confronts Arjuna, who will later kill Karna, in the Kurukshetra war.

On the seventeenth day, Karna defeated Bhima and Yudhisthira in battle but spared their lives. Later, Karna resumed duelling with Arjuna. During their duel, Karna’s chariot wheel got stuck in the mud and Karna asked for a pause. Krishna reminded Arjuna about Karna’s ruthlessness unto Abhimanyu while he was similarly left without chariot and weapons. Hearing his son’s fate, Arjuna shot his arrow and decapitated Karna. Before the day’s battle, Karna’s sacred armour (‘Kavacha’) and earrings (‘Kundala’) were taken from him by Lord Indra, which resulted in his death by Arjuna’s arrows.

Day 18

On the 18th day, Yudhishthira killed king Shalya, Sahadeva killed Shakuni, and Bhima killed Duryodhana’s remaining brothers. Realizing that he had been defeated, Duryodhana fled the battle field and took refuge in the lake, where the Pandavas caught up with him. Under the supervision of the now returned Balarama, a mace battle took place between Bhimaand Duryodhana in which Duryodhana was mortally wounded. Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, and Kritavarma met Duryodhana at his deathbed and promised to avenge him. They attacked the Pandavas’ camp later that night and killed all the Pandavas’ remaining army, besides Dhristadyumna, Shikhandi, Udhamanyu and Uttamauja.

Aftermath

At the end of the 18th day, only Twelve warriors survived the war—the five Pandavas, Krishna, Satyaki, Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, Yuyutsu, Vrishakethu and Kritvarma. Vrishakethu was the only son of Karna who survived the horrific slaughter. He later came under the patronage of the Pandavas. During the campaign that preceded the Ashvamedha –yaga, Vrishakethu accompanied Arjuna and participated in the battles with Sudhava and Babruvahana. During that campaign Vrishakethu married the daughter of king Yavanatha (perhaps a king of the western regions). It is said, Arjuna developed great affection for Vrishakethu, his nephew. Yudhisthira was crowned king of Hastinapur. He renounced the throne after ruling for more than 30 years, passing on the crown to Arjuna’s grandson Parikshit. He then left for the Himalayas with Draupadi and his brothers in what was to be their last journey. Draupadi and four Pandavas—Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva—died during the journey. Yudhisthira, the lone survivor and being of pious heart, was invited by Dharma to enter the heavens as a mortal.

Historicity

Attempts have been made to find the exact date for the occurrence of this war based on astronomical and literary records, such as the Mahābhārata and later literature. There have been a number of theories put forward[9]:

  • S. Balakrishna concluded a date of 2559 BCE using consecutive lunar eclipses.
  • I. N. Iyengar concluded a date of 1478 BCE using double eclipses and Saturn+Jupiter conjunctions.
  • B. N. Achar states a date of 3067 BCE using planetary positions listed in the Mahābhārata.
  • P. V. Holey states a date of November 13, 3143 BCE using planetary positions and calendar systems.
  • P. V. Vartak calculates a date of October 16, 5561 BCE using planetary positions.[10]
  • Based on translation work by K. Sadananda, on November 22 3067 BCE, Kurukshetra War started.[11]
  • "The findings in Dwarka and archeological evidence found are compatible with the Mahabharata tradition and removes the lingering doubt about the historicity and poisions Mahabharata war date to around 1500 BCE [12] also see [2]

References

  1. ^ http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/colloquium/colloquium01.htm
  2. ^ The Questionable Historicity of the Mahābhārata
  3. ^ C. Rajagopalachari, Mahābhārata, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 1994
  4. ^ "Rukmini". http://www.mahabharataonline.com. http://www.mahabharataonline.com. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  5. ^ C. Rajagopalachari, Mahābhārata, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 1994 pp 183
  6. ^ C Rajagopalachari, Mahābhārata, 1954
  7. ^ C. Rajagopalachar, Mahābhārata, pp 215
  8. ^ Sacred-Texts.com
  9. ^ Among other references, a list of nine pre-1950 papers for the astronomical dating of the War is found in R. C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (editors): The history and culture of the Indian people. Volume I, The Vedic age. Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951, p.320 (fn.4)
  10. ^ The Scientific Dating of the Mahabharat War
  11. ^ Dating of the Mahabharat time period
  12. ^ [1]
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