After the successful completion of the one year in hiding, the Pandavas came to Duryodhana asking for their Indraprasta. Duryodhana flatly refused. A priest was sent to the Kauravas asking for their kingdom back to prevent war. Duryodhana ridiculed the priest and sent him back. Krishna himself came and pleaded brilliantly for atleast five villages for the pandavas to avoid the war….Duryodhana did not budge…War was inevitable…
And so started the terrible 18 day war between the Kauravas and their allies and the Pandavas with their allies….
During the first ten days of the battle, the general of the Kaurava army was Bhishma, the grandfather of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Bhishma was bound by his vow to serve the family ruling Hastinapur, so he fought on the side of the Kauravas. However Bhishma loved the Pandavas and he also felt that the Pandavas were right….Duryodhana who knew this thought that Bhishma, though a fine warrior was purposely not killing the five brothers because of his love for them…. On one night after a dismal show by the Kauravas, in the battle, Duryodhana went to Bhishma.
‘Grandsire! I am ashamed of your way of fighting!’ He spoke with undisguised anger. Bhishma looked at Duryodhana, his face expressionless. Duryodhana continued. ‘You…you are supposed to be the greatest warrior in the world….And you are finding it difficult to kill five pathetic humans….’ Bhishma still said nothing as Duryodhana started ranting. ‘I think you are actually fighting on behalf of the Pandavas….You are in my army but you are fighting for the Pandavas…’ Duryodhana said each word distinctly, his face beet red with anger.
Bhishma took a deep breath trying to calm himself but he couldn’t. The words of Duryodhana kept ringing in his head. How could he make Duryodhana believe? With great difficulty Bhishma pulled out five of his arrows and touched them closing his eyes. Duryodhana watched the entire scene with bewilderment wondering what his grandfather was doing….Suddenly Duryodhana gasped. A force left Bhishma and entered the five arrows. The five arrows gleamed…looked menacing…Duryodhana looked at the gleaming weapons afraid to touch them. He asked Bhishma in a whisper. ‘What is this Pitamah? [grandsire]’
Bhishma looked a little weak as the creases on his face were even more accentuated for a few seconds. Bhishma then look a deep breath trying to control himself…Bhishma felt his energy drain from him inexharoubly….Bhishma knew that what he had done would definitely seal the fate of the Pandavas…but as the General of the Kaurava army he had no choice, he was bound to serve his king…..
Bhishma spoke haltingly. ‘I have put my life force inside these arrows…The force within me….got through my powers of mind…in these arrows…these five arrows would not fail…One each for each of the Pandavas….’ Bhishma shook his head looking almost sad. ‘There is no escape from this arrow…when it is fired…it will kill the person for whom it is made!’ Duryodhana’s eyes gleamed as he eyed the arrows…Tomorrow there would be no Pandavas….He had done it….Duryodhana was about to laugh when he saw the expression on Bhishma’s face. His grandfather looked….looked like he was sorry for what he had done….Duryodhana thought quickly….If he left the arrows with Bhishma, it was very possible that the fool might, out of his sense of righteousness lose the arrows or worse hand them over to the Pandavas….Duryodhana shook his head. He could not let that happen….He looked at Bhishma. ‘Grandsire! I wish to keep the arrows with me. Bhishma looked at Duryodhana with a sad smile. Duryodhana still did not trust him…Bhishma spoke in a shaken voice. ‘I have created these weapons…I think it would be best if it is with me….’
Duryodhana shook his head nervously. ‘No! NO!’ he said rapidly. ‘I want to keep them safe with me and will give them to you in the morning….!’
Bhishma tried arguing with Duryodhana but his grandson was adamant. Finally Bhishma gave in and Duryodhana carried the five arrows back with him to his own camp. He lovingly looked at the arrows….The war was going to end tomorrow…Of that he had no doubt…The Pandavas were gone….
Krishna slept badly that night. He was wondering why….Then Krishna sensed it and his spies had confirmed it….Bhishma had made what he had been dreading…..the five arrows…Krishna knew that Bhishma had the capacity to make these arrows….Krishna had been wondering what he could do about it….He knew that once those arrows were fired, there was precious little he could do to save the Pandavas….
‘So Bhishma has these arrows with him?’ Krishna said thinking aloud.. The spy shook his head. ‘Duryodhana has them in his camp sir!’ Krishna was startled out of his thoughts. ‘What?’ He asked incredulously. The spy nodded his head. He told Krishna all about the conversation between Bhishma and Duryodhana. At the end of the story his face broke into a happy smile. He dismissed the spy. Krishna hurriedly went to Arjuna’s camp….
While the Kaurava army slept, tired from the day’s battle, a hooded figure marched through the camp….It had been a simple matter to disarm the guards and go to the one camp the figure wanted….The man was not here to fight….
The figure entered Duryodhana’s camp. He saw that Duryodhana was awake. He was looking at five arrows lovingly in front of him. The hooded figure let out a gasp…He had no doubt that once fired…He spoke softly, ‘Duryodhana!’ Duryodhana startled and turned violently. As a reflex action he picked up his mace and pointed it towards the figure coming towards him. Only some instinct prevented him from swinging the mace. The voice of the figure was familiar….
Duryodhana clutched the mace and spoke quietly. ‘How did you get in? Who are you? Speak or I will kill you!’ The man removed his hood and Duryodhana glanced incredulously at Arjuna. He blinked….Arjuna was the last person Duryodhana expected to see here….Arjuna…Duryodhana knew was a noble man, he would never attack another man from behind or without warning….Feeling suddenly afraid Duryodhana spoke harshly. ‘What do you want, Arjuna?’
Arjuna came forward with a calm smile. ‘You promised me a boon once, remember?’ As if Duryodhana could forget…Every single event on that wretched day was etched in Duryodhana’s memory….’What of it?’ Duryodhana asked his voice still sounding harsh.
‘I have come to ask for the boon, Duryodhana!’ Arjuna said.
Duryodhana found that the words stuck in his throat as he was unable to talk. With trembling hands he signaled Arjuna to continue. Arjuna pointed to the five arrows. ‘I want them! I want the five arrows that Bhishma made! That is the boon I want from you!’
Duryodhana felt like an idiot as the intelligent words of his grandfather came to him. Duryodhana tried to hide the arrows from Arjuna. No…NO! He could not give away the arrows… But Duryodhana realized that if he ever broke his promise, he would never be able to respect himself…He had promised this wretch and Duryodhana with a broken heart realized that he was trapped.…Why did he have to bring the arrows with him…Duryodhana cursed himself. He watched with a defeated expression as Arjuna picked up the arrows and was about to leave the camp.
‘Who told you about the arrows?’ He asked listlessly.
Arjuna smiled. ‘Krishna!’
Duryodhana bit back a curse as he fell on the bed as Arjuna walked out with the arrows. That dark cowherd was going to be the ruin of him….Krishna…that vile intelligent Krishna….For the first time Duryodhana was afraid of the Dark Lord. Krishna was frighteningly clever…Duryodhana had heard of rumours that Krishna was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu…He had always dismissed them as pure talk…But now Duryodhana was afraid….Duryodhana realized with frightening accuracy that the black man could take away the entire war from him….not by his weapons but by the sharpness by his mind…. Duryodhana regretted choosing the armies of Krishna…If only he had chosen Krishna himself…. Duryodhana shivered.
Stumbling, Duryodhana walked back to the camp of his grandfather who looked deep in sleep. Unmindful, Duryodhana woke him up. Bhishma woke up and saw Duryodhana who looked like he had the fright of his life. He did not look like the jubilant Duryodhana of a few hours back. ‘What is it, my child?’ Bhishma asked looking anxiously.
Duryodhana fumbled as he muttered. ‘Arjuna took away the arrows!’ Bhishma looked aghast. Slowly with tears in his eyes Duryodhana explained everything. He kept quiet not saying anything. ‘You were the one who made the arrows…can you make them again?’ Duryodhana asked feeling desperate. He could not come so close to winning the battle and have it so tantalizingly out of reach….
Bhishma let out a tired laugh. ‘Son! I put my life force in those arrows…The powers of my penance…’ Bhishma shook his head sadly. ‘I….I cannot do that again….I do not have the power or the energy for it….’ Duryodhana’s hopes sank as he saw Bhishma.
He looked at Bhishma. Bhishma looked pathetically at Duryodhana. ‘I begged you to give the weapons to me…I was not bound by any word to give Arjuna anything….So the weapon would have been safe with me…Instead you distrusted me and now….’ Bhishma did not complete the sentence as Duryodhana felt tears in his eyes….
In frightening clarity, Duryodhana wondered for the first time….was he going to lose the war? Was that what was written for him…? Was the entire war just a means of destroying him and his allies so that the Pandavas could rule without any problems…..
Duryodhana came to know after the end of the eighteen day war that he was meant to lose it…..And it was not because of the weapons of his enemies…It was because of the shrewdness of one man in particular…Krishna was single handedly responsible for the defeat of the Kauravas in the battlefield of Kurukshetra… Krishna without his weapons was more dangerous than the might of the entire Kaurava army.…..