Mahabharata (abridged)

258,337 words | ISBN-10: 8121505933

The English translation of the Mahabharata: one of the two major Sanskrit epics of India. Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life". NOTE: this is a Summary Study (...

Chapter 6 - Bhishma Assesses the Heroes and Reveals Shikhandi's Mysterious Birth

When the veritable sea of troops had been arrayed in their proper positions, the grandsire, Bhishma, inspired Duryodhana's heart as follows, O my grandson, today I will take command of your army, for I am well educated in the science of formations. I know all the battle arrays of the celestial lords. With these I will confuse the Pandavas. I will fight the enemy protecting your army according to the rules of military science. Let your doubts be dispelled.

O Grandsire, Duryodhana replied, I have no fear, from even all the demigods and demons united, what to speak of these insignificant sons of Pandu. I now desire, O son of Ganga, to know who, amongst this vast ocean of warriors, are to be counted as rathis and adirathis. You are well acquainted with the prowess of the earth's heroes, and therefore, I, and the kings present, desire to hear this.

Listen, O son of Gandhari, Bhishma said, to the prowess of those principal warriors in both these armies. In your divisions there are many hundreds of thousands of rathis. I will, however, name only the principal ones. Dhritarastra's hundred sons headed by yourself are all rathis, out of which you are the most powerful. Then, O King, come myself, the leader of your troops. I will not speak of my own prowess, for I am already known to you. The foremost wielders of weapons, Kritavarman, the chief of the Bhojas, is an adirathi. He will greatly assist you in this battle, and cannot be humiliated by the enemy. The ruler of Madras, Salya, in my opinion is a maharathi. He will fight with the other maharathis on the Pandava side. He will resemble the ocean as it heads toward the beach. The mighty bowman, Bhurisravas, the son of Somadatta, is a maharathi, and he will certainly create havoc amongst the enemy troops. The King of Sindhu, Jayadratha, is equal to two rathis. He has acquired a benediction from Lord Shiva that he can defeat the Pandavas in battle, and he is therefore reckless with his life. Sudhakshina, the ruler of the Kambhojas, is in my judgement equal to a single rathi. Coming from the province of Mahismati, King Nila, is one of your great rathis. The Kings of Avantipura, Vinda and Anuvinda, are considered to be excellent rathis. These two heroes will consume the enemy troops with spiked darts and maces. The Trigarta brothers headed by Susharman are all single rathis. They are distinguished warriors and will fight with the best soldiers on the Pandava's side. The mighty bowman, Kripa, the son of Saradwat is, O King, a maharathi. He is as invincible as Kartikeya himself. He will roam from one part of the battlefield to the other like a blazing fire.

Your maternal uncle, Shakuni, Bhishma continued, is equal to a single rathi. His troops are known for their prowess and will cut down the enemy troops like the wind. The mighty bowman, Ashvatthama, the son of Drona, is a maharathi. Like Arjuna, he can release arrows with such rapidity that they touch one another in flight. If he desires, he can destroy the whole world. There is, however, one defect in him for which I do not consider him a rathi or a maharathi. This person is too attached to the bodily conception of life, and therefore, does not want to die. Still he is powerful and can be compared to Yamaraja himself. The son of Bharadwaja, Drona, will achieve victory in many battles for your pleasure. Endowed with unsurpassable prowess, he can single-handedly fight, by means of his celestial weapons, all the heavenly lords, Gandharvas and human beings together. That illustrious warrior is a great maharathi. Vrishasena, the son of Karna, is one of the celebrated chariot warriors. He is to be considered a maharathi. That person who never retreats in battle and resembles Yamaraja himself, Bahlika, is in my judgement an adiratha. That cruel chief of the rakshasas, Alambhusha is a maharathi. He can surpass all the rakshasa warriors in the use of weapons. The ruler of Pragjyotisha, the heroic Bhagadatta, is also considered a adiratha. Riding on his elephant Supritika, he will annihilate the enemy forces. Regarding your dear friend, Karna, Surya's son, who is proud of his skill and who is devoid of any good sense, in my judgement he is neither a rathi or an adiratha. He has been stripped of his natural coat of mail and his celestial earrings by Indra. He has been cursed by his teacher, Parashurama, and also by a brahmana. When he challenges Arjuna, he will not leave the battlefield with his life. Therefore, he is, in my judgement, half a rathi.

Hearing this, Radha's son, expanded his eyes in fury, and spoke harshly to Bhishma, O grandsire, these derogatory words have entered my ears like steel arrows. I will tolerate it for Duryodhana's sake. Indicating that I am only half a rathi means you think me a coward. I speak truthfully when I say that you are an enemy to the Kurus. Who else would seek to disunite all the kings present here. Alone, I will decimate the Pandava army. Addressing Duryodhana, Karna said, I will not, O King, fight as long as Bhishma is alive. After Bhishma has been slain, I will engage in combat with all the maharathis on Yudhisthira's side!

Look at me, O Grandfather, King Duryodhana said. Our business at hand is very urgent. Both of you will render me great service. I now desire to hear the prowess of the outstanding chariot fighters among the enemy. I desire to hear the strength and weaknesses of the foe. The night is almost over, and the dawn is coming, and with it, the great battle will commence.

I have indicated to you, Bhishma replied, your maharathis, rathis and half rathis. Now listen to the prowess of the warriors on the Pandava's side. The King himself, the son of Pandu and Kunti, is a mighty rathi. His chariot will ride above the ground like the chariots of the celestial heavenly gods. Bhimasena, O King, is regarded to equal eight rathis. He is endowed with the vitality of ten thousand elephants, and with a mace in hand there is none equal to him. Those two bulls among men, the twin sons of Madri, are great rathis. They equal in beauty and prowess the two Asvini-kumaras. Regarding Arjuna, who has Lord Narayana as his charioteer, there is none amongst the warriors on both sides who can be his equal. Indeed, even amongst the gods and demons, there is none his equal. The chariot on which Arjuna will fight is celestial and cannot be destroyed. The monkey that rides on the banner is also divine and cannot be slain. The Gandiva bow and the two inexhaustible quivers of Partha were given to him by Varuna. He has obtained all the celestial weapons from the heavenly gods, including the thunderbolt weapon and the Pashupati astra. Only myself and Drona can challenge him. However, he is young and skillful, whereas we are old and our energy is easily spent.

The five sons of Draupadi, O Monarch, Bhishma continued, are maharathis. Virata's son, Uttara Kumara is considered a great rathi. The mighty-armed Abhimanyu is as great a maharathi as Arjuna himself. Remembering his father's sufferings, he will slaughter the troops on your side. Satyaki, the descendant of Sini, is an esteemed chariot fighter and must be regarded as a maharathi. Uttamauja and Yudhamanyu are also great chariot fighters. They will fight recklessly, not considering their lives. They are in my opinion great rathis. The aged Kings, Virata and Drupada, both endowed with outstanding prowess, are maharathis. Though advanced in years they will combat the greatest warriors. Shikhandi, the son of Drupada, is, O King, one of Yudhisthira's foremost maharathis. Formerly he was a woman. In battle he will earn great fame. The great warrior, Dhristadyumna, is in my judgement a adirathi. He took birth from the sacrificial fire for the sole purpose of slaying Drona. His prowess is invincible. Dhristaketu, the heroic leader of the Chedis, the son of Shishupala, is a maharathi. The subjugator of the enemy, Kunitbhoja, the maternal uncle of the Pandavas, is in my opinion an adirathi. That prince of the rakshasas, Ghatotkacha, O King, born of Hidimva and Bhima, is in my opinion a mighty maharathi.

Grandfather Bhishma continued, I have now assessed all the rathis, adirathis and maharathis. I will fight with all these warriors with the exception of Shikhandi. I will not strike or kill that prince of the Panchalas. He was formerly in this life a woman and also in his previous life a woman. I have taken a vow that I will not kill such a person. I will not fight with this prince, nor will I be able to kill the sons of Kunti!

Duryodhana inquired, For what reason, O grandsire of the Bharatas, will you not kill Shikhandin even though he will approach you with upraised weapons?

Formerly this Shikhandi was a woman in his previous life, Bhishma replied. Once upon a time, when I saw that my brother Vichitravirya was ready for marriage, I went to the kingdom of Kashi and abducted the King's three beautiful daughters from the svayamvara ceremony. The names of these princesses were Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. Taking them by force, I defeated all who opposed me, including King Salwa. When I arrived in Hastinapura, I bestowed those three beautiful princesses upon Vichitravirya. However, the eldest of the princesses, Amba, informed me that during the Svayamvara she had already chosen Salwa for her lord. She pleaded with me to allow her to go to his kingdom. In consultation with my mother and the brahmanas, I agreed to let her go. She went to Salwa's kingdom, but he rejected her and sent her out of his palace. She then went to the forest to practice austerities, but the great sages told her to go back to her father. She then informed them of all that had happened, and they advised her to speak to Parashurama, my preceptor. It so happened that in due course of time the son of Jamadagni, Parashurama, came to the sage's ashrama. When that powerful hero heard what had happened to her, he felt sympathy and said he would help her. He called for me requesting, зThis girl has been touched by you, and now even King Salwa will not take her. You should now save her by accepting her in marriage.' I replied to my martial guru, зI cannot marry this girl to my brother, since she has chosen Salwa for her lord. She pleaded with Salwa, but he has rejected her. What can I do? I have taken a vow of celibacy, and that vow I will not break.' Parashurama then gave me the choice, either to marry the girl or fight with him. Since I could not agree to marry her, I chose to fight with my preceptor, although I tried to appease his anger with sweet words.

Then, mounting our chariots, Bhishma continued, we went to Kurukshetra. We fought for many days, but my preceptor was not able to defeat me. Desisting from any further fighting, he went to Amba and told her that he could not persuade me to marry her by commands or warfare. Amba, feeling frustrated, then went to the forest and performed severe austerities for many years. She desired to gratify the renowned demigod, Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva was satisfied with her, he appeared before her and informed her that in her next life she would be born as the King Drupada's son and would cause my death. After receiving this benediction, she made a funeral pyre out of logs, and placing herself in the fire, she gave up her body. She has now taken birth as Shikhandi, who possesses extraordinary prowess. In my opinion he is a maharathi.

When Amba took birth in the family of Drupada, Bhishma continued, she took birth as a girl. Drupada himself had worshiped Lord Shiva for a child who would kill me. Lord Shiva appeared before him and told him that he would beget a female child that would later become a male. He then disappeared from that place. In due course Drupada's queen gave birth to a beautiful girl with lotus eyes. They named her Shikhandi. The queen told everyone that a boy had taken birth, remembering the promise of Lord Shiva. This secret was kept for many years. When it came time for Shikhandi to be married, Drupada arranged for the daughter of Hiranyavarman, the King of the Dasarnakas, to be his wife. A wedding ceremony was arranged, but when Hiranyavarman's daughter came to know in due course that Shikhandi was a woman, she informed her father of the fraud. Outraged and feeling humiliated, Hiranyavarman gathered a huge army to attack King Drupada. When Drupada came to know of this, he felt like a thief caught in the act. However, remembering Lord Shiva's promise, he sent word to Hiranyavarman that the rumor was not true. In the meantime, he prepared himself for war. When Shikhandi found out the suffering her parents were going through, she left the city to end her life by fasting. She soon found a forest that was owned by a powerful yaksha. No human beings were allowed to go there. Despite this she roamed the forest and upon seeing a beautiful mansion, she entered it and began to perform austerities. The owner of the mansion, a yaksha named Stunakarna, saw her and asked why she was fasting. Shikhandi then told him everything. The yaksha, feeling compassion, promised to give her his manhood for a certain time. Both agreed and Shikhandi left the yaksha's mansion as a man, and the yaksha became a woman. Shikhandi returned to Drupada's capital and told her father about the temporary manhood. Drupada excitedly sent news to King Hiranyavarman and invited him to inspect his son regarding his manhood. King Hiranyavarman sent to Drupada's city many beautiful women who inspected Shikhandi and confirmed that he was a man. They told the King of the Dasarnakas that Shikhandi was actually a male, and the King again made friends with Drupada.

Bhishma continued, Meanwhile, the lord of wealth, Kuvera went to Stuna's mansion and requested his presence. When Kuvera saw and heard what had happened, he cursed Stuna to remain a woman forever. However, Stuna's servants begged Kuvera for a time limit on the curse, and Kuvera said that as long as Shikhandi lived, Stuna would have to be a woman. Upon the death of Shikhandi, he would receive his manhood.

After King Hiranyavarman had left Drupada's capital, Shikhandi returned to Stuna's abode to give back his manhood. When Shikhandi learned of Kuvera's curse, he considered it the will of providence. He then returned to the city of Drupada and remained a man, a great maharathi.

O King, this is the history of Shikhandin, who has been born a woman and now transformed to manhood. Formerly she was Amba, the daughter of the King of Kashi. If he challenges me to battle, I will not look at him for a moment, nor will I release my weapons at him. I will not, O son of Dhritarastra, release weapons upon a woman, or one that was a woman before, or even one that resembles a woman. I will not for this reason kill Shikhandi.

When the night had passed and the sun's rays were about to appear on the horizon, Duryodhana asked the great kings present, O heroes, before us is arrayed the Pandava army. It appears invincible and consists of mighty warriors. Please tell me how long it will take each of you to annihilate this host of men.

Bhishma then gave his estimate, I can, O King, annihilate the Pandava army at a rate of ten thousand common warriors every day. I will also be able to slay one thousand chariot fighters each day. If, however, I use my celestial weapons and kill hundreds and thousands at a time, I can, O Bharata, finish the slaughter in one month.

Drona, the preceptor, then gave his opinion, I have become old, O mighty-armed one. My prowess and energy have weakened. With the fire of my weapons I can consume the Pandava army within a month's time, like Shantanu's son Bhishma.

Then Saradwat's son opined he could annihilate the army in two month's time. Drona's son, Ashvatthama vowed that he could annihilate it in ten days, and the foolish Karna vowed he could annihilate it in five days. Hearing this, Ganga's son laughed and said, You boast impressive words as long as you have not met Partha and his chariot driver, Krishna. You can accomplish this act in words only.

Through spies, Yudhisthira learned of the time limit Duryodhana's principal generals estimated they could annihilate the Pandava army. In the presence of all the great fighters on his side, Yudhisthira inquired from Arjuna, O Dhananjaya, I have heard that Bhishma, our grandsire, has vowed to annihilate our army in one month's time. Drona has vowed the same and Kripa has vowed two months. Drona's son has said ten days and the wicked son of Radha has vowed five days. Therefore, I ask you, O Phalguna, how long will it take you to destroy the enemy.

Do not have any fear, O King, Arjuna replied. Unquestionably I say that with Vasudeva as my chariot driver, I can decimate the three worlds in a mere twinkling of an eye. I have in my possession the Pashupati astra given to me by Lord Shiva. It is not, however, proper to use it on common warriors. We shall, though, kill the enemy in a fair fight. All the great maharathis will slaughter the enemy forces, and even yourself will be competent to annihilate Duryodhana's forces.

After thus encouraging King Yudhisthira, Arjuna, in the first rays of sunlight, made final corrections in the battle lines of their massive army. Thousands of chariot fighters, thousands of horses, hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers and thousands of elephants were arrayed in their proper stations. Duryodhana also made final arrangements to align his forces in battle formation on the sacred field of Kurukshetra. Thus in the early morning calm those great forces, arrayed against each other, stood ready for combat. This was the dawn of a war so terrifying that it would be heard and spoken about for thousands upon thousands of years.

Thus Ends the Sixth Chapter of the Udyoga Parva, Entitled, Bhishma Assesses the Heroes and Reveals the Mystery of Shikhandi's Birth.

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