A dozen arrows ripped through his aged body like hot metal through candle wax. He trembled as he reached for the sides of the chariot for support. The archer released the final arrow that went right through his heart.
Devavrata, son of Shantanu, known to world as Bhishma (The Terrible) had been defeated. In his line of sight, he could see only the eunuch shielding the archer who had showered on him these deadly arrows. Bhishma, the commander of the army, quivered and fell to his knees taking deep breaths as an eerie silence replaced the din of battle. Only then did the great-grand nephews realize the enormity of what had just transpired. The war came to a halt, the battlefield was under the grip of fear with terror in everyone’s eyes. Not a soul rejoiced, not even the benefactors of this sordid drama. Darkness started to set in and the tenth day of the drew to a close.
Bhishma would live on for a few more days, but the greatest warrior in the world had died that day.
As the armies returned to their camps, the grey skies opened up and started to weep. The dead and the injured were pulled into the camps by the able soldiers after this day of intense battle.
Later that night, in one of the barracks that housed the foot-soldiers, a wise old soldier named Veera was fast asleep. He was woken by a sound, only to realize a man was standing right next to him. Before he could reach for his knife, he saw that it was Vajra, his son.
“What are you doing here, son? At this hour?” exclaimed Veera.
“I wanted to talk to you, father. This is important” said a calm and pensive Vajra.
“This is not the right place, let us go to the lakeside”
The lake was shimmering under the moonlight. There was an unsettling calm, the darkness enveloping around the trees. The frogs around the lake were woken up by the steps of the father-son duo walking towards them. They sat on the protruding roots of the banyan tree close to the lake. The ground was slushy due to the rain that had poured for hours until it had stopped just a few moments ago.
“Father, I saw one of the greatest warriors fall today. The Devas and Asuras feared him equally, yet, this wretched battlefield did not spare him. When such a Kshatriya can be vanquished, what about you and me? What hope do we, mere plebes, have in this battle?” asked a concerned Vajra.
“We won’t survive, Son.” said Veera, with a smile and a sense of honesty that no man talking about certain death could have. “There is no hope in this war. We are destined to die here and now. There is no doubt about that”
“Why fight this war when you know for certain that you are going to die? Isn’t it madness?”
“It’s our duty, son. It’s Dharma to serve our king” said the sage-like Father, in a platonic tone.
“This is such blind idealism” shouted Vajra. ” And what duty do I have towards my king, the so-called Dharmaraja, who gambled his kingdom and wife away? Where was his sense of Dharma then?”
“Enough” snapped Veera. “Your allegiance lies with your king. Make no mistake about that.”
“And what about your allegiance, father? Will you follow the command of your king?”
Vajra was right. Fate had played a cruel game in splitting the father-son duo in two different kingdoms which were under the rule of two different kings. The father was in the army of the King of Anga, the valiant son of Surya, the magnanimous Karna.
“Will you side with the same warrior who played an active part in outraging the modesty of a woman?” continued Vajra. “There is no nuance here, father. Neither is there righteousness nor a sense of duty that compels you to take part in the war. You don’t have to do this.”
Veera knew, the moment he saw his son in the barracks, that conversation would lead to this. The king of Anga and the firstborn of Kunti, Karna, had pledged never to step into the same battlefield as Bhishma. With the fall of the Pitamaha, Karna would be commanding the forces from the next day. Veera would be entering the battle for the first time on the eleventh day of the war.
“It’s my duty, son. My allegiance lies with my king” he muttered.
He could not look into his son’s tearful eyes. He had no answers to the boy’s questions. The sky thundered and it started to pour incessantly. The grey skies had opened up again.
It rained throughout the night, but it seemed like no amount of rain could wash away the blood from the battlefield.