Great war is about to begin. It will last for 18 days. We have learnt the origin stories of our heroes, the Pandavas and the villains, the Kauravas (Check it out here). Now, let us jump right into the battlefield.
The Kauravas have a larger army with 11 divisions compared to only 7 divisions of the Pandavas. At the start of the war, the two parties head over to Lord Krishna for aid and advice. Krishna refused to fight in the war but said that he was willing to help under one condition. One party can have his army and the other party can have him as an adviser. To no one’s surprise, the Kauravas took the army and the Pandavas took Lord Krishna as their advisor. Krishna agreed to be Arjuna’s ( third Pandava sibling) charioteer and advise them whenever they needed him.
Before the war begins, both groups agree to certain rules that should be maintained under all circumstances. These included not using celestial weapons against mortals soldiers, ceasing fight after sundown, not attacking someone who is unarmed or retreating, and not striking legs or back. Obviously, all these rules were broken by the time the war ended.
At the beginning of the war, Arjuna refuses to fight against the villains because they are his relatives. Lord Krishna gives a rather long speech about ‘dharma’ ( meaning duty), which forms the basis of the Bhagvad Gita (Holy book of Hinduism). Krishna shows his ‘Vishwa Rupa’ ( Vishwa meaning universe and ‘rupa’ meaning guise). Lord Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu, the preserver. The Vishwa Rupa encompasses all the avatars of Vishnu which he has adopted since the beginning of time.
After this, he has no choice but to perform his duties of being a soldier. One unique thing about the characters of Mahabharata is that, unlike other epics, is that the hero hesitates before killing and does not act on a whim.
The war begins. Both sides battle fiercely. But the heroes are outmatched because the villains have two of the mightiest warriors, Bhisma and the weapons master, Drona. No matter how hard they tried, no one is able to outdo Bhisma in the battlefield. After nine days of persistently trying, he still stands tall. The heroes decide to visit him at nightfall when the battle ceases. They express their concern that, if Bhisma does not die the bloodshed will continue indefinitely. Since, Bhisma was offered the boon of choosing his time of death, he devices a plan.
The Pandavas are to bring Sikhandi (a woman) and make her stand in front of Arjuna while he fires arrows from behind her. Since, Bhisma does not attack woman, he drops his weapons. Against the rules of the battle, Arjuna pierces every inch of his body with arrows. However, Bhisma still does not die (He is one strong dude). His lies on a bed of arrows and witnesses the war till its culmination (since he can choose his time of death).
Chakyavyuh: Battle formation
After the fall of their mighty warrior, the Kauravas give the reigns of command to the weapons master, Drona. Drona arranges the army in a battle formation called “Chakravyuh” ( pronounce: cha-kra-view) like a labyrinth. No one knows how to breach it except him and Arjuna.
But the villains strategically distract Arjuna and drive him far away, to the edge of the battlefield. The Pandavas were cornered with no way to escape. They were losing their footing. However, fighting in the war was Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s 15-year-old son.
Abhimanyu had listened to his father narrate how to force into the battle formation while still in his mother’s womb. But unfortunately, while he was about to discuss the exit plan, his mother had fallen asleep. Abhimanyu only knew how to enter the formation, but not how to get away. But being his father’s son, he gallantly entered the battle formation. The Kaurava army was left aghast at the feat of the young soldier. He fought his way into the center of the formation. But before any of his family could join him, the breach he created closed behind him. He was left all alone inside the disc. The best of the Kaurava warriors were awaiting him. They mercilessly attacked him and with one final blow, the youngest lion-heart died serving his family.
The next day, Karna enters the arena. Kunti (his and the Pandavas’ mother) tries to persuade him to join the cause of his half-brothers but he refused. He promises that by the end of the battle either he lives or Arjuna. Karna posses a magic lance (like a spear) which was a gift from Indra, the king of gods. The lance could instantly kill any living being on which it is used. However, it could be used only once.
To trick him, Krishna devices a plan. He calls upon Ghatotkatcha, demon son of Bhima. Karna fights fiercely with him, but Ghatotkatcha seems unconquerable. With no other way out, Karna is forced to use his lance. Ghatotkatcha dies fighting. Karna is now vulnerable to any attacks from Arjuna.
Arjuna and Karna engage in battle. They are equally matched. The duel goes on and on until Krishna intervenes again. He calls upon the earth, who cracks open under Karna’s chariot and one of the wheels get stuck. He is unable to move forward. Karna has to drop his weapon to release the wheel. He commands Arjuna to not attack a defenseless man. But obviously, he breaks the rules of the battle and attacks Karna as soon as he drops his weapon. Karna is killed.
Drona stills remains an invincible war machine. He continues to slay the Pandava army by the thousands. But the heroes have figured out his biggest weakness; his only son Ashwasthama. Bhima kills an elephant by the same name and tells Drona that his son died in the battlefield. He does not believe Bhima’s words. Drona turns towards Yudhisthira and asks him if indeed his son died. Yudhisthira is known for his honesty and never has he ever lied in the long years that he lived. But in order to end the blood and carnage, he says “Ashwasthama – (muttering under his breath) the elephant – is dead.” Drona drops his weapons out of grief and disbelief. He dies with his head chopped off.
Duryodhana and Dushasana
Next, it is the turn of Kaurava second-born Dushasana. Bhima had sworn to break his thighs after he forcefully dragged Draupadi to sit on his brother’s lap during the game of dice. That is exactly what Bhima does. With one mighty blow with his mace, he breaks his thighs. Dushasana immediately drops dead.
Finally, it is time for the main villain to enter the battlefield. Duryodhana, the Kaurava first-born has been provided a boon from his mother, Gandhari. Gandhari had put a protective spell all over his body, except his thighs which he had covered with a loin cloth for modesty before his mother. His thighs were his Achille’s Heels. Over the course of the eighteen days, Duryodhana had seem his army getting wiped out by the Pandavas but had still refused to surrender. Yudhisthira offers him a deal where he could choose one of the Pandava brother to duel one-on-one. If he wins, he could have the kingdom and all the riches. Foolishly, he chooses Bhima, the mightiest of the five siblings. They fight like equals. Bhima wins by striking treacherously on his things against the rules of the war. Finally, the last of the villains is dead.
The great war has ended, and the earth broken. The Kauravas are wiped out, except one Yuyutsu who had sided with the heroes. The Pandavas rule over Hastinapur for 36 years after which they leave the mortal world behind and begin their journey into the great beyond.