It was the sixteenth day of the war. The war had taken a heavy toll on both sides. Most of the senior warriors who had fought the war had all perished…..Bhishma, Drona, Bahlika, Bhagadatta, Bhurishrava….All gone.
Though Duryodhana was worried about the heavy toll of the war, on the sixteenth day, he was elated……He had just appointed Karna as the General of the Kaurava army. His Karna….Duryodhana thought exultantly. His Karna was now free to do what he pleased and would win the war for him. Duryodhana did not doubt, not even for a minute that his friend would win the war.
That day Karna entered the war with pride in his heart. He was finally going to repay Duryodhana for what all he had done for him….Karna smiled. The sixteenth day belonged to Karna and Bheema, the Pandava brother. Both of them killed far too many enemy soldiers that day…..
By the end of the sixteenth day, Karna had a duel with Nakula, the fourth Pandava. The fight between the two of them was ridiculously short. Even before Nakula could properly defend himself, Karna had broken Nakula’s chariot and killed his horses and also killed Nakula’s charioteer. Karna looked at Nakula as he aimed his arrow at the unarmed Nakula, who looked back at him with hatred.
Karna smiled. ‘One day you will be proud that you fought with the great Karna and that you escaped with your life!’ Karna said as he moved away from there….Just like that! Karna moved away with such disdain….almost as if he did not think Nakul a worthy opponent…….Nakula was seething with rage….He wished Karna had just killed him….Instead that son of the charioteer had left him alive….Nakula fumed.
Duryodhana knew that Karna had Nakula at his mercy and had still left him alive. But Duryodhana did not say anything. If Bhishma or Drona had done the same thing, Duryodhana would have thrashed them with harsh words and accused them of actually fighting for the Pandavas…..But Karna….Duryodhana did not even dream of saying anything hurtful to his friend…..
Karna had been taught the art of reading omens by his teacher Parashurama. When Karna woke up on the seventeenth day of the war, he looked around and realized that today was probably going to be the last day of his life. Karna was however not unhappy. Far from it. Life had been cruel to him and he had no desire to continue living His only wish was to repay his friend Duryodhana by defeating Arjuna and killing him.
For the seventeenth day, Duryodhana had requested Shalya to be the charioteer of Karna.
And so the war started….
Together the two – Shalya and Karna – fell upon the army. Karna entered into a different zone today. If yesterday he fought brilliantly, today he was in a different league…Nothing could stop him….Nothing at all. Nakula, Sahadeva, Bheema and Satyaki all together found it impossible to stop Karna.
Seeing Karna ruthlessly decimating his forces, Yudhishtara himself entered into a duel with Karna. Karna smiled shaking his head. However Yudhishtara fought with all his might and even hurt Karna. But then Karna raised the level of battle….Yudhishtara could do nothing but fumble….Before he even knew what had happened, Karna killed Yudhishtara’s rear guard…Satyaki came to the aid of the eldest Pandava, but he was pushed back effectively before he could do anything. As Satyaki fell back, Karna hit Yudhishtara straight on the chest, taking the shield off…Karna swiftly broke Yudhishtara’s bow…Yudhishtara tried firing his javelins but Karna effortlessly broke four of them even before Yudhishtara could throw it….Karna now had Yudhishtara before him unarmed. Karna smiled [Yudhishtara wondered whether he actually saw tears in Karna’s eyes….] ‘When you fight someone….make sure you are worthy of fighting them…’ Karna said and drove his chariot away….Yudhishtara was burning with anger. Of all his enemies, he had feared Karna most. Why, he was not even afraid of Duryodhana…But Karna….Karna scared him….Yudhishtara had spent thirteen sleepless years during his exile in the forest thinking of Karna…He had realized even then that Karna had the capacity to turn the war single handedly.
Karna moved on and went to fight with Bheema. Bheema and Karna fought like demons that day…. Yudhishtara went to attack Duryodhana with Nakula and Sahadeva.. Karna left Bheema and went to help his friend. Karna’s arrows were so swift and sharp that Yudhishtara fell unconscious in his chariot.
Nakula and Sahadeva dragged their unconscious brother to his tent, away from the battle….away from Karna. Meanwhile Arjuna was having a ferocious duel with Ashwattama. Suddenly worried that he could not see Yudhishtara’s chariot, Arjuna rushed to Bheema. ‘Brother! Where is Yudhishtara?’
Bheema pointed at Karna with growing anger. ‘Karna!’ Bheema spat the words out. ‘He hurt brother!’
Knowing how good a warrior Karna was, Arjuna turned to Krishna looking worried. ‘My Lord! I have to see Yudhishtara Please take me there. Bheema can handle things till then!’
Krishna nodded his head as he swiftly turned the chariot driving it inside the Pandava camp.
Yudhishtara was delirious in pain, when he heard the sound of Krishna’s chariot. Krishna…Arjuna! They have come….That would mean that Arjuna has defeated and killed Karna….’Brother!’ Yudhishtara stood up unsteadily running outside the tent. With bloodshot eyes he saw Krishna and Arjuna come towards him. ‘You have done it! You have killed that son of the charioteer! Oh you have made me so proud!’ Yudhishtara almost fell on his brother. ‘Tell me!’ Yudhishtara whispered. ‘Tell me how you killed Karna!’
Arjuna led his brother inside the tent. He gently made him sit down and spoke. ‘I have not yet killed Karna….But….’
Yudhishtara looked at his younger brother Arjuna with an appalled look in his eyes. He had started this war depending only on Arjuna and Krishna….Arjuna could not fail him now….’And you have not defeated him?’ Yudhishtar asked Arjuna incredulously.
Arjuna asked Yudhishtara to lie down. ‘It will happen brother! Please have some patience!’ Arjuna looked at Krishna and smiled. He had no doubt in his mind that they were going to win this war….Not because he was a better warrior…..But because he had the one thing that Duryodhana lacked ….Krishna… . Arjuna thought of his cousin with utmost pity….Duryodhana did not realize that Krishna would win the war for the Pandavas. Arjuna’s thoughts were interrupted by the vehement ranting of Yudhishtara.
‘The great Arjuna! The peerless warrior Arjuna!’ Yudhishtar mocked angrily. ‘All these words…All lies!’ Yudhishtara was so caught up in his injuries and his fear of Karna that he did not notice Arjuna’s changed expression. ‘The great Arjuna cannot even defeat the one man who stands between us and victory….And to think I trusted you and your Gandiva!’ Yudhishtara sneered angrily. Arjuna looked venomously at his elder brother. Any insults to him he could take….His Gandiva was off limits to anyone….Arjuna was looking tight lipped at his brother.
Yudhishtara, not realising the mood of his brother continued his ranting. ‘The Gandiva, the great Gandiva! The one bow, which would make Arjuna invincible….Lies! All lies!’ Yudhishtara almost spat the words out.
Yudhishtara was shocked when he saw his brother pull out his sword in a flash and point it straight at his throat.
‘Never insult my Gandiva!’ Arjuna said emphasising every word. ‘I have taken a oath that I will kill any man, who insults my Gandiva!’ Arjuna said vehemently . ‘Unfortunately that man happens to be you! I cannot break my promise.’ Arjuna said angrily as he was about to bring the sword forward.
For the first time, Yudhishtara realized that he was in actual physical danger from his younger brother. Without thinking, he had talked about the one thing, which was more precious to Arjuna than his life…….Yudhishtara was blinking when Arjuna heard a commanding voice from beside him. ‘Drop the sword Arjuna! Now!’
The voice of the Dark Lord was calm but stern. Arjuna tried to ignore the voice, but the voice kept coming back to him….Arjuna angrily shook his head…Yudhishtara had insulted his Gandiva….The Gandiva!….Arjuna felt a wave of fury pass through him. Arjuna would have killed his elder brother….had it not have been for the voice. Still holding the sword he looked at Krishna angrily. ‘He insulted my bow….I cannot let it go just like that….’
‘Drop the sword Arjuna! NOW!’ Krishna said again, this time raising his voice. Arjuna looked at his elder brother for one last time, lowered his sword and walked away from his brother’s tent with a huff.
Yudhishtara took a shaky breath as he realized how close to death he had come. Yudhishtara turned to thank the Dark Lord, but Krishna had also left the tent to follow his friend.
Krishna saw Arjuna sitting in his tent looking at his bow longingly. ‘Arjuna! Do you realize what you were about to do now?’ Krishna asked vehemently.
‘He insulted the Gandiva!’ Arjuna repeated the words like a child throwing a tantrum. ‘He…’
‘SO WHAT?’ Krishna interrupted Arjuna. Arjuna blinked for a second as Krishna continued. ‘He insulted your Gandiva..So what ? For that you would kill a man just like that?’ Krishna asked Arjuna. Arjuna looked at Krishna lost for words. ‘Yudhishtara is a person, Arjuna! A human being…The Gandiva….with all its powers, is just a bow! You would kill a man for a bow?’ Arjuna felt his anger building up inside him.
‘The Gandiva…is my penance…my meditation….It is more important to me than my life!’ Arjuna yelled.. ‘I cannot just sit and watch while someone insults my bow….’ Arjuna looked at Krishna a little dangerously. ‘I have made a vow that I will kill anyone who insults it….Anyone….’
Krishna breathed deeply trying to control his temper. ‘Is your vow really that important, Arjuna?’
Arjuna blinked some more. ‘We….we have been taught to keep our promises….no matter what! That is what our scriptures tell us!’
Krishna took a deep breath as he looked at his best friend. ‘You do not understand….’ Krishna suddenly looked at Arjuna as if looking at him for the first time. Krishna suddenly looked sad. ‘You just do not understand!’ Krishna was filled with remorse as he looked at his best friend. Arjuna looked at Krishna confused. Arjuna had been feeling angry….But looking at Krishna, Arjuna realized that the Dark Lard was not angry but actually unhappy with him.
He went forward and looked at Krishna. ‘What don’t I understand?’ He asked a little apprehensively.
Krishna shook his head. Finally taking a deep breath, Krishna said sadly. ‘You have to know, when to tell the truth….you have to know when it is important to lie….you have to know when it is important to keep your vow and when it is important to ignore it!’
Arjuna looked at Krishna like he had been hit by a thunderbolt ‘When I have to lie….’ He whispered as he blinked again and said dazed. ‘Why should we know when it is important to lie…..’ Arjuna shook his head. ‘There is no time when you should lie….Lying is a sin!’
Krishna shook his head sadly. ‘If by lying you can save a life….’ Krishna looked at Arjuna with blazing eyes. ‘You should!’ Arjuna was still looking at the Dark Lord without understanding.
‘There are times my friend, when you are not judged by the act or the reasons behind the act….You are judged by the consequences of your act….Always keep that in your mind, before you do anything…’Krishna looked at Arjuna. ‘I do not understand my Lord!’ Arjuna said shaking his head.
‘I will tell you two stories, my friend! Listen!’ Krishna smiled wryly. ‘Probably then you would realize the stupidity of your actions!’ Arjuna winced. The Dark Lord never talked to him that way….
‘There once lived a hunter – Balaka! ‘ Krishna continued… ‘Not one of the best professions in the world! But he was born into a family of hunters. He hunted animals daily….killed them and brought them home to his family. He looked after his wife, children and parents, by hunting….’
Once Balaka was wandering through the forest. He had roamed long and hard and still he could not find any game….He went deeper and deeper inside the forest and there…Balaka stood still for a few minutes. Standing before him was a weird looking animal….It was blind animal drinking water from the pond in the forest. Though Balaka hesitated for a few seconds, he then drew his arrow and shot the beast. No sooner had the beast fallen….Balaka was amazed to find a shower of flowers from the heavens, singing praises of the hunter…..’
Arjuna listened with surprise. A hunter….a man who killed animals was praised for his actions….Krishna continued. ‘The animal had actually obtained a boon from the Gods that it would be the cause of the destruction of all creatures…..’ Krishna smiled. ‘By stopping the creature, Balaka, the hunter, a man who made his living by killing animals, ensured a place for himself in the heaven…..’
Arjuna asked the Dark Lord, intrigued. ‘What is the second story, my Lord?’
Krishna nodded his head. ‘There once lived a man Kaushika. Kaushika was not very well read in the scriptures and his understanding of Dharma was pathetic….’ Krishna said shrugging. ‘This man once made a promise to himself that he would always speak the truth!’
‘And he kept to his promise, very seriously….People everywhere came to know that Kaushika was an honest man….a man who told no lie!’
Arjuna nodded as Krishna continued. ‘Once a man passed Kaushika’s house. He was bleeding through a deep wound and was screaming on top of his voice. He ran straight ahead and turned right at the fork just ahead of Kaushika’s house…. A group of men followed. They had dangerous weapons and looked everywhere. But when they reached the fork….they did not know whether the man had gone right or left….’
Arjuna looked on as Krishna continued. ‘The men following were thieves and they knew of Kaushika’s reputation of always speaking the truth….So they went and asked Kaushika about where he could find the man….’
Krishna smiled mirthlessly. ‘The great Kaushika, who never spoke a lie….truthfully told the robbers about where the man had gone….The robbers ran right and found the man and killed him!’ Krishna said abruptly.
Krishna looked at Arjuna expectantly. ‘Was Kaushika right or wrong, my friend?’
Arjuna was now feeling stupid. He now understood exactly what he was about to do….He was going to kill his own elder brother….Arjuna winced as he closed his eyes. Krishna smiled as he realized that Arjuna had understood. ‘Kaushika, the speaker of truth, went to hell!’ Krishna said. ‘He suffered there….for telling the truth….Because he failed to realize that saving a man’s life was more important than speaking the truth…’ Krishna looked pointedly at Arjuna.
Krishna looked at Arjuna and said gently. ‘Your Dharma….your scriptures…..it is important because it protects life! That is why lying to protect a life is not a lie, my friend! The Scriptures cannot guide you to what is Dharma, in all the cases. You can know that only by reasoning!’
Feeling utterly stupid, Arjuna ran inside his brother’s tent who was lying there weakly. ‘Brother….I am….’
Yudhishtara however interrupted him. ‘No Arjuna! I was wrong! I do not know what got into me….’ Yudhishtara shuddered. ‘I should not have spoken that way!’
Arjuna fell at the feet of his brother. ‘I behaved wrongly! I was foolish! Please forgive me, brother!’
Yudhishtara embraced his brother. ‘Go now brother! Come back victorious!’
Arjuna and the Dark Lord got back into the chariot to take on Karna.