The fall of Guru Dranacharya hurled king Duryodhana headlong into a whole world of pain. He screamed, cried babbled out, ‘O mighty Gurudev! It's unbelievable! No one in these three worlds (Swarg, Martyn and Pattal) can dare to face you if weapons are in your hand! But alas! Behold my fate! You are killed brutally, slain unjustly on the battlefield! O noble Gurudev, how can you leave me alone! Who will lead me now?’
‘Huh! What for you are regretting Duryodhana? Pitamaha Bhishma and Drona both had called upon their own downfall!’ said mama Shakuni sarcastically.
‘What do you mean?’ yelled Duryodhana with rolling eyes wide opened.
Hobbling around mama Shakuni was hissing like a cobra. ‘Don't you know?? Yudhisthira came to Pitamaha on the first day of the war just before it began? Holding a lotus necklace, he came for seeking his blessing. And our great Pitamaha! Ha! He blessed him to long live with prosperity and be a king. Remorseful Yudhishthira reminded him that he (Bhishma himself) was invincible.’
That time Bhishma said, ‘O sacred heart Yudhishthira! My blessing would never go in vain. Nine days I’ll fight against you without any mercy for King Duryodhana but on the tenth day use Shikhandi as my deadly weapon. I shall not hold weapon till he stands before me and ask Arjun to grab the opportunity .’
‘Not only Bhishma, but your so-called noble Gurudev also blessed Yudhishthira in the same pattern! And he told him the secret of his death. Ashwatthama! If he would get the worst news of his only son’s demise, then he would not hold the weapon anymore! That would be the end of his life.’
‘And you know what? Arjun showered his celestial weapons on Bhishma when he was unarmed. And Yudhishthira told a lie of ‘Nare ba gunjare Ashwatthama hathah!’- when he was asked by Guru Dronacharya! Dhristadhumnya gabbed the opportunity to slay the mighty preceptor. Pandavas are treacherous! Don't show them any mercy. Kill them!’ Crooked Shakuni invoked all the sites that ignited the burning fire more fiercely in Duryodhana’s heart.
The words of Shakuni drove Duryodhana crazy. Jawbones pressed hard to each other, nose flared up and down, throwing mace high up he screamed, ‘Yes-yes! Yes, Mama- I’ll crush those deceptive Pandavas.’
Turning his back to Duryodhana, Mama Shakuni smiled cunningly whispered to himself, ‘Go Duryodhana, go! Brutally you murdered my whole family- my parents, and ninety-nine brothers without any mercy. I’ll do the same thing for you. In front of you- your whole family will perish! You’ll enjoy the gruesome murder of your own kith and kins!’
However, all Kaurabhas lamented over the downfall of two veterans, Maharathis- Pitamaha Bhishma and Guru Drona. Vengeance against Pandavas erupted like a volcano. With the fall of Guru Drona, the forces were withdrawn from the battlefield.
At night, Duryodhan consulted with other warriors to lead the troop the next day. Ashwatthama (son of Drona) suggested him appoint Karna as their leader and the other warriors agreed to his suggestion. Duryodhana went to Karna and said, ‘O my beloved friend! We have already lost our two invincible, mighty Maharathis. So many brave soldiers have sacrificed their lives on the battlefield. I couldn't do anything to save their lives. Now- you are my last hope. Be kind and brave enough to keep my prestige. Be the commander of Kaurava troops tomorrow. Lead the brave soldiers and bring victory to all of us. The whole world knows your bravery, generosity and compassion. I do trust on your strength.’
Karna was pleased with the flattering words of Duryodhan, though he knew the result. He didn't like to break his heart. ‘O king of kings- Duryodhana! I am honoured. I promise you- I’ll bring the victory killing all the Pandavas tomorrow. But I have one request. Can you do that?’ Karna urged Duryodhan.
‘Anything friend, anything. Whatever you want, I’ll serve it at your feet for your victory. Just express your wish,’ Duryodhan announced anxiously.
‘O noble friend! Ask mighty king Shalya to be my charioteer. He is as good as Krishna. If he agrees to be my charioteer, there is no chance of Pandavas winning. I’ll crush the whole Pandava troop and the five Pandavas too.’
King Duryodhan thought for a while with his proposal. Blinded by the desire for victory, Duryodhan tried his best to manipulate Madradesh (Madras- now Chennai)) King Shalya. Both of them went to him. Duryodhana adorned king Shalya with plenty of jewellery and precious gifts, then in a humble voice said, ‘O dear Mama (uncle)! I beg your pardon for something. Please don't ignore my request. I’ll be shattered if you won't accept.’
Shalya was surprised at first. He praised Duryodhan for his humility and then asked him about his wish. With little hesitance, he expressed, ‘O mighty King! Be the charioteer of Karna for the time being! If you drive his chariot, Karna would vanquish the whole Pandava clan and their troop from this earth. And no one would be a better charioteer than you.’
King Shalya was taken aghast! He roared in a loud pitch, ‘O king of kings Duryodhana! How dare you propose this idea? I’m the king of Madradesh. How can I be a mere charioteer of a lesser dignified person?! And why so?! Ask me any other thing, I’m ready to do it. But, um, the charioteer of Suta Putra Karna- no, not at all. It’s an insult to my dignity.’
Upon hearing the arguments of Shalya, Duryodhana cited him as some brilliant examples of higher dignified persons. And he emphasised upon Lord Shree Krishna- the highest personality agreed to be the charioteer of Arjun! Duryodhan insisted King Shalya accept his request. At last, Shalya agreed to be the charioteer of Karna.
On the first day of his leadership, Karna terribly defeated Yudhisthira and Nakul. He could have killed both of them but spared their life as he promised mother Kunti secretly. He gave his word to her that either he would slay Arjun or he would be slain by him, except that he would not kill any other Pandavas. His terrible war smashed thousands of Pandava troops. The first-day war of Karna ended without meeting Arjun. The troops were withdrawn as night followed.
The conchs, bugles, trumpets were blared so loudly in the air, shook the hearts of soldiers on the battlefield. Both the troops' horses, elephants and the charioteers could feel the dreadful vibration of death. By that time, the sky was already lit with glowing sun rays. The pace of war increased from time to time. Both sides of armies were fiercely engaged in their combat. The maces, swords and arrows were showered upon rivals without any mercy. As time advanced, the ground of the battlefield was littered with severed heads, trunks and arms still scattering the fragrance of pure sandalwood paste. Somewhere the eyes of the severed heads were bulged out of their sockets. The crowns rolled over the field attached with the heads afresh.
After slaughtering a large army, Karna requested to Shalya, ‘O noble King! Please settle my chariot in front of Nandighose. Today I’ll slay Arjun for sure.’
‘Huh. I know that! Don't build castles in the air, Karna. Don't forget, the almighty Lord Krishna is the charioteer of Arjun,’ Shalya expressed scornfully.
‘I am in sense, O king! Either Arjun will slay me or I’ll slay him, that’s for sure,’ Karna said sternly. Shalya drove the chariot fast and settled down in front of Nandighose.
Mother Earth was saddened when these two excellent archers, warriors of warriors stood like two raged hungry lions to attack each other to accomplish their long-desired wish. She was depressed with the fear to lose any one of her beloved sons! Anything could happen!
Karna glared at Arjun sharply. Burning with anger, he started showering thousands of arrows upon Arjun. And Arjun counterbalanced all of them. Karna used the arrow ( Mohanastra) that filled the whole battlefield in darkness. Nobody could see anything. Arjun released the Suryastra that dispelled the darkness. Next, he aimed at Kapidwaja and to the four horses too. But before it hit them, Arjun countervailed all of them. The combat between Karna and Arjun gradually paced high. Both were beyond comparison in archery. Even the Devas, Gandharvas, and Apsaras had witnessed the excellence of both!
Slowly the war became awful. Both the warriors merged in the combat. Karna released the powerful arrows. Arjun nullified all of it on the way. At that crucial combat, the snake- Soshaka (son of Adrabali snake, who bit Uttara in Shami briksha in the jungle ) urged Karna, ‘O mighty!
Release me in your arrow. I promise you- I would swallow both Krishna and Arjun with the Nandighose chariot. Swallow the whole Pandava troops if you want.’
Karna vehemently denied his request. ‘That's not a Kshatriya’s dharma. Why should I take your help? I’m not a coward,’ sternly Karna retorted.
But the snake insisted he releases him in his arrow as he had to take revenge upon Arjun and repay his father’s debt. Still, Karna didn't agree. He was adamant about his own decision.
Charioteer King Shalya softly said, ‘O mighty Karna! Take one attempt at least. Who knows he may be successful on his venture? Give him a chance.’
This time Karna couldn't refuse Shalya’s suggestion. He stretched the bowstring fullest, put the deadly arrow (Soshak tangled with the arrow) on it, and aimed sharply at Arjun. The arrow was released fiercely with lightning speed from the bow. A tremendous sound whirled across the world. As if the whole earth would be pierced into Pattal! Meteors would fall apart! Opening its wide mouth the snake rushed towards Nandighose.
Lord Shri Krishna noticed the dreadful snake coming fiercely towards them. In the meanwhile, Arjun used his powerful weapons to stop the arrow. But whatever he released, everything turned into ashes in its mouth. Troops of both sides were scared to death at his dreadful appearance. Arjun was stunned!! ( Lord Krishna knew the prowess of the snake and saw the impotent condition of Arjun. He instantly urged Hanuman to save the chariot. Within a second Mahabali Hanuman pressed the chariot Nandighose to reach Pattal.) By that time the snake swallowed everything present there and returned to the quiver of Karna. The chariot- Nandighose, Lord Sri Krishna, and Arjun nobody was found anymore.
After swallowing, Soshak announced triumphantly, ‘O Karna! Cherish! I have finished all your enemies at a stroke. Be happy now.’
Karna was overwhelmed with joy. He praised him for his courage. He passed the good news to Duryodhana. King Duryodhana felt as if he was on top of the world. Beholding the happiness of both Karna and Duryodhana, the crooked minister Shakuni said, ‘O Duryodhana! Don't be so jubilant. Don't believe Karna’s word. It might be a new trick of Krishna. Remember- Krishna is always crafty!’
No sooner did mama Shakuni announce than a terrible sound of chariot echoed on the east zone. Smiling radiantly Lord Krishna drove the chariot to the battlefield. All Kauravas were shocked! Enraged Karna glared at Soshak. He asked the snake to show what he swallowed. Soshak vomited but instead of Nandighose he gulped only a part of the Kapidwaja.
Rolling his blood-red eyes, he yelled, ‘You fool! You lied to me. You swallowed all of them- Nandighose, Krishna and Arjun! Behold O Fool! Who are they!’ holding his breath Karna continued, ‘I did Adharma. I should have never believed you in the first place. Snakes are always a sign of bad luck! Being a Kshatriya I should not act like a coward!’
Soshak was humiliated. Regretting his mistake, Soshak requested Karna to use him for the second time. He promised him the complete annihilation of Pandavas. But Karna abandoned him completely. Being humiliated Soshak cursed Karna. Angrily he said, ‘O Mahavir Karna! Your chariot will be merged in the earth for two dandas (one danda is 24 minutes) on this battlefield. Once you’ll release your chariot, no one on this earth can conquer you. B- but within that period if anyone tries, of course, you will die! Your pride, valour everything will be smashed!’ Soshak flew away after cursing Karna.
Karna was speechless. He knew his destiny. He smirked, shook his head murmuring, ‘Time has come for me!’
Once again the war between Karna and Arjun began viciously. They exchanged the celestial weapons at each other leaving the mercy behind. The chariot moved so violently that both Karna and King Shalya lost their balance and the chariot of Karna merged in the earth soil. For a moment Karna was astounded! Evil thoughts gripped tightly. He remembered the curse of Soshak. Shalya tried his best but could do nothing.
Karna pleaded softly, ‘Behold O Dhananjay(Arjun)! You are a noble warrior. You know the rules of war. Don't attack a weaponless person- one who puts hands up surrendering himself, leaving the weapons anybody who kneels on the ground, or showing back to the war runs. These are all Kshatriya Dharma. You are wise and kind-hearted. Please wait for a while till I pull my chariot above the ground. Let me hold my bow and arrow, then you can hit me as you wish.’
Arjun never heard that entreaty in Karna’s lips. He was absolutely stunned! Stopped attacking. Lord Krishna noticed the hypnotic state of Arjun. He asked Arjun to attack without any delay. Arjun shivered with his beloved friend’s cruel words. He couldn't believe his own ears. He stared at Lord Krishna with utter surprise! He spoke humanely, ‘O my beloved Lord! What am I supposed to do?! How can I attack such a powerful, wise, noble warrior when he is out of his chariot? Is it not Adharma (heinous act)? Cowardice act?’
Lord Krishna chuckled said, ‘O Dear Arjun! If you won't attack now, you can never win over once he gets back to his chariot! He is blessed with that boon.’
‘B- but,’Arjun stammered.
‘There is no but…Arjun. Play your celestial weapon,’ Krishna commanded.
Karna expressed his anguish on Krishna’s advice. Pitifully he said, ‘O Lord of the Universe! Is this your wise advice to Arjun? Should he fight when I’m not ready? Is it Dharma?!’
Derisively Krishna sniggered, ‘Ha! You made me laugh, Karna! Are you the same Karna who is speaking of Dharma?! Wow, brilliant! Where was your Dharma when the foul dice game was played with Yudhishthira? Was it not Dharma when Bhimsen was poisoned and thrown out in the deep water? Yes- where was your Dharma when Draupadi was dragged into the royal court by Dhushasan to make her nude- the five Pandavas were burnt alive- sixteen years old young boy Abhimanyu was killed by six Maharathis? Shame on you, Karna.’
Arjun was shaken by the name of his son. Krishna invoked him repeatedly to attack him. Fiercely Arjun lifted his bow and stretched it fully to release the Ardhachandra arrow aimed sharply at Karna. The celestial arrow rushed and detached Karna’s head from his shoulder. But surprisingly another head attached to him. Repeatedly, Arjun cut off his head and a new head emerged. At last, Arjun was told by Sahadev to aim three celestial arrows at a time to his body’s three parts- head, chest and umbilicus (belly button). Chanting the divine mantras, Arjun released three invincible arrows at Karna. That indomitable weapons ended the life of Mahavir Karna! One of the most glorious warriors.
Knowing fully well Karna as the eldest Pandava, Lord Krishna commanded Arjun to finish his life. Nobody can go beyond the wish of Lord Krishna- the creator of the universe! He was beyond the bond of any attachment! Only one philosophy- ‘To install Dharma, HE can do anything, and everything!’