Based on Book 4:Virata Parva of "The Mahabharata"
"Do not worry, Uttara. I will vanquish the whole army single-handedly. It will be just a one man show. In a few hours, you’d be waiting with the welcome plate to congratulate me for victory over the Kauravas. Now, all I need is a charioteer. Maid! Please summon a charioteer for me.” It was Uttar, the prince of Matsya boasting of his prowess to his elder sister, Princess Uttara, who replied with great enthusiasm, “Uttar, once you defeat them, please get me their colourful scarfs. I’d decorate my dolls with them!”
The Kauravas had their ally, Susharma, the King of Trigarta, attack the northern borders of Matsya, and while the King Virata of Matsya with his army was away to defend the state, Kauravas themselves attacked the southern border, trying to take over the cattle of Matsya. The only male member present in the kingdom was Uttar, as he was too young to go for a battle. He was just about twelve. However, he was well versed in weaponry and could manage a chariot as well, but King Virata did not find it sensible to take him to the battlefield yet.
The maid replied, “I beg your pardon, your majesty. There is no charioteer in the kingdom. All of them have gone for the battle.” “Oh… That is so exasperating! How could I go to the battle without a charioteer? I cannot fight and also manage the chariot simultaneously!”
“Sorry to interrupt, Prince. I’d suggest you can take Brihannala with you. She can be an excellent charioteer to you,” said Sairindhri, maid to Queen Sudeshna. “Brihannalla!” Uttar was surprised, “How can she be a charioteer! Sairindhri, a war chariot, pulled by war horses, is not a joke. It’s not about singing and dancing, or playing the pakhawaj. It’s a battle I’m going for, and that too, against the mighty Kauravas. Brihannala, a eunuch, is not the one for it.” “Trust me, Prince,” retorted Sairindhri, “Brihannala is an excellent charioteer. She was the charioteer of the mighty Arjjuna, whom even the gods dare not meddle with. I’m sure you would not doubt the judgment of Arjjuna.” “Oh no! Of course not, Sairindhri. I’m surprised that Brihannala was appointed by Arjjuna. But, Arjjuna is my idol. I’d never doubt his judgement. In fact, I’d feel honoured to have the services of the charioteer who once used to attend to my god. Maid, please summon Brihannala.” Queen Sudeshna retaliated, “No son, you are too young. I cannot send you to the battlefield. Moreover, the army of Hastinapura is invincible. The Pandavas are not there, but even the Kauravas are no less formidable.” “Mother! The enemy is knocking at our door! A Kshatriya cannot sit back inside his house. I’ll have to go out and fight.”
“The Prince is right, your majesty,” it was Brihannala who just entered the room, “I agree, he is too young, but this is the right time for him to have his first real battle. And we also have the right enemies. If he wins, imagine who all he’d win against. Even if he loses, it’d still be an honour to fight against the valiant army of Hastinapura.” With fire in her eyes Brihannala continued, “There would be Bheeshma, Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Ashvatthama, Karna, Duryodhana, just to name a few. For a warrior, it’s an honour to face these valiant warriors even once. Moreover, your majesty, I promise you, I’d ensure the Prince is not harmed by anybody. You can be rest assured.”
The drawbridge was laid down over the moat surrounding the kingdom of Matsya. No army, no cavalry, no guards… just a single chariot sped out, driven by Brihannala, a eunuch, who taught singing and dancing to Princess Uttara and her friends. She was adept in playing various musical instruments too. A surprised Uttar now realised the eunuch whom he laughed at when he was told she can drive the chariot, was a charioteer of insurmountable capabilities! The huge war chariot, pulled by four massive steeds, was like a toy in the Brihannala’s hands. The stallions could not have been better managed. It took her seconds to reach the precincts of the battlefield. The prince was still blowing his own trumpet. “Brihannala, you are a wonderful charioteer! I’m so impressed. Going forward, I’d have none but you as my charioteer whenever I go for any battle. No wonder you were appointed the charioteer of my lord Arjjuna. Where have you acquired this skill from?” Brihannala was not one who used to talk much. She gave a curt answer, “Krishna.” “Krishna!” the prince was surprised. “Yes, Krishna – my former master’s cousin and friend,” Brihannala replied. “No wonder you are an enchanting charioteer. Well, today when you witness me fight the valiant Kauravas, I’m sure it would remind you of your former master.” Brihannala didn’t speak a word. Her eyes were intense, absolutely focussed, as if she was not just a charioteer in this strange battle, she was going to fight in this battle, fight a very important battle of her life!
As the chariot neared the battlefield, Uttar saw a sea of army waiting to welcome him. He was taken aback. “Brihannala! Who are they?” “The army of Hastinapura, Prince.” “Army! That’s nothing less than an ocean! Brihannala, please turn back. I want to go back home. I cannot fight this huge army.” “How Prince? You just said you’d remind me of my former master!” “No Brihannala! I was just bragging. I’ve realised my mistakes. Please turn the chariot.” “I beg your pardon, Prince. I’ve learnt only how to fight in a battle, not how to turn away!” Saying this, Brihannala sped the chariot more towards the advancing Hastinapura army. The prince thought, “I would certainly get killed today because of this foolish eunuch’s obstinacy! I better run away and save my life.” He jumped off the chariot, and started running back towards the kingdom. Brihannala was utterly vexed. She pulled the reins of the horses and brought the chariot to a stop, jumped off her seat, and ran towards the deserting prince. She took hold of him, and effortlessly hurled him on her own shoulders, just like a warrior hurls his weapon on his, and walked back towards the chariot. Uttar pleaded, “Brihannala, I beg of you. Please take me back to the kingdom. I will reward you with so much gold and jewels that you’d never have to work for a living!” Brihannala did not utter a word, and flung him on the charioteer’s seat, and with utter ire in her voice, told him, “If you don’t know how to fight, then, at least manage the chariot and the horses. I’d fight on your behalf... but, I cannot run away.” Brihannala leapt into the warrior’s place on the chariot. “Prince, please turn the chariot to your left, and head for the forest you see.” The perturbed prince followed the orders, and sped the chariot towards the forest in the vicinity.
In the meantime, the Kauravas were pretty amused to see what was going on. They chuckled, when they saw just one chariot coming out of the gates of Matsya, driven by a lady charioteer with long tresses flying in the wind and knee-length hair tied in a braid. Even the warrior was a little child! They were amused at Prince Uttar jumping off the chariot and running away. They were flummoxed when the charioteer caught hold of the warrior, and they swapped places. Nevertheless, now they were puzzled seeing the chariot heading towards the forest. “They don’t want to attack us, nor are they going back! What are they up to?” exclaimed Duryodhana, the crown prince of Hastinapura. Bheeshma, his grand-uncle, retorted, “Patience, Prince. They must be up to some trick. Let’s wait and watch.” “How long, Grandpa? We waited a long time for someone to respond. Then for quite some time now we are witnessing this bizarre spectacle going on! It’s high time we attack.” “No!” retaliated the grand old Bheeshma, “I’m the general. In the battle field, I take the last call. We’re fighting an army of just one single warrior, that too just a teen. We’d not attack. I cannot let the pride of Hastinapura cut a sorry figure. We’ve come here to fight. But, we’d give them the chance to start the battle.” Duryodhana whinged, but kept quiet.
The chariot, in the meantime, entered the forest; and as per Brihannala’s instructions, stopped underneath a tree. There were corpses placed on the branches, tied in strips of cloths. The prince was a little taken aback. Brihannala got down and said, “Prince, please climb the tree and get the pack from the top right branch.” “I’m a royalty. Brihannala! I cannot touch the corpse of an unknown person!” “Don’t worry, my Prince. It’s not a corpse. It’s important that you get the pack. But be careful. The contents are price-less.”
The prince climbed up, and cautiously brought down the pack. Brihannala’s eyes were lit with joy. She carefully untied the corpse. Uttar was left aghast when he saw the pack unfold weapons of the most incredibly high class. Brihannala picked up a consummate bow and a couple of quivers stuffed with deadly arrows. The bow was massive, and seemed glowing like red-hot iron. Brihannala packed the rest up and hid it behind the bushes. “Brihannala!” Uttar was completely flabbergasted. “What is all this? … and, who are you? Pray tell me.” Brihannala smiled and said, “I’m Arjjuna, the student of Drona. This is my Gandeeva. I need this to fight the valiant Kauravas. This bow of yours is a toy to me. It would not stand my power. The rest of the weapons you saw belong to my brothers.”
Uttar was stupefied. “I don’t believe this. How could you be Arjjuna? Then what about the other Pandavas? And, what about Empress Draupadi?” “I am Arjjuna, dear Prince. My brothers are all in your kingdom in disguise serving your father. Kanka, who is your father’s chief attendant, is Emperor Yudhisthira. Ballava, the royal chef, is Bheema. Granthika and Tantripala, who attend to the royal stable and the cowshed, are Nakula and Sahadeva respectively. It’s not for nothing Kanka insisted your father on taking all of them to the battle with him; and also to provide them with chariots. Last, but not the least, Sairindhri, the Queen’s maid-in-waiting, is none other than Empress Draupadi.”
Uttar was dumb-founded. He said, “Well, one last question. I’ve heard Arjjuna has ten names. If you are really Arjjuna, can you tell me the ten names?” Arjjuna smiled and replied, “Of course, Prince.” Arjjuna’s voice now rumbled, “I’m called Arjjuna, because my physique is as strong and slender like the Arjun tree. Kiriti, because of the jewel-studded crown gifted to me by Indra, after I my conquest over the Nivatakavacha demons. Sabyasachi, as I’m ambidextrous in wielding the bow and arrows. Krishna, because of my dark complexion. Shvetabahana, as my chariot is pulled by white horses. Jishnu, as the conqueror of enemies. Phalguni as I was born in the star of Phalgun. Bivatsu, as I never commit ugly or horrifying acts in a battle. Dhananjaya, as I have acquired immense wealth by winning innumerable battles. Gudakesa, as I’ve conquered sleep. Vijaya, as I’m a victorious warrior. Besides these ten names I’m also called Partha as the son of Pritha, that is Kunti; Kapidhvaja, as my chariot’s flag is adorned by Lord Hanuman; Parantapa, as I can concentrate the most in a battle thus becoming invincible.”
Hearing this, Uttar flung himself to the feet of Arjjuna, “My Lord, it’s been an honour to have your company. Please forgive me for my irksome behaviour. Please accept me as your disciple.” “Arise, o Prince. The enemy is at your doorstep. A hero does not stoop. Awake, and protect your kingdom. Your land is today dependent on you.” Arjjuna tied up his long, braided hair into a bun, with a piece of cloth, and with just one tug tied up his bow-string too. And then ….he twanged the same.
The noise was horrifying. It made the horses of the Kauravas, leap in agitation, and the elephants trumpeting in distress. Duryodhana had a wily smile on his lips. He quipped, “Grandpa, this deafening sound can be made from only one bow in this world, the Gandeeva. So it’s none but Arjjuna. He has come out of his disguise. Our mission is successful. So, thirteen more years of exile is what they have in waiting.” “Thirteen years are over, son.” Bheeshma retorted, “Else, Arjjuna would have never have come out of his seclusion… and, by the way, our mission is to fight Matsya and take over their cattle. Where do your cousins fit in the picture?”
Arjjuna’s chariot sped into the battlefield like an elephant entering a courtyard. His fiery eyes, his glowing Gandeeva, his chariot adorned with various weapons, his lean stature, the cloth tying up his hair fluttering in the wind, made him look formidable and daunting.
Uttar was a changed personality now. He could hardly fathom the fact that the legendary Arjjuna, his idol, gave him the honour to be his charioteer. His heart was now filled with confidence, enthusiasm and zest. He was now fearless. He was with his lord. He was brave enough to face the Kauravas now.
Arjjuna, in his turn, had fire in his eyes. All the insults they had dealt with in the court, the violations their beloved consort Panchali had to face, every single incident was coming in front of his eyes. He gathered himself up and calmed down. It was a big battle, as he told himself. He could not let over-aggression get the best of him. Arjjuna picked up his conch, the Devadatta, and blew it hard. The sound was deafening. The earth rumbled. Duryodhana’s doubts were now put to rest. Everybody was familiar with the sound of Arjjuna’s conch. However, before he could think any further he saw a couple of arrows speeding towards the army. They struck the ground in front of Bheeshma’s chariot. A couple more flew in. This time the target was the ground in front of Dronacharya’s chariot. Two more sped past the ears of the two veterans. A smile was formed on the lips of them. Bheeshma touted, “Now I know it is Arjjuna. With the arrows striking the earth in front of us, he paid us respects and conveyed regards.” Drona retorted, “That’s right, o venerable one; and then, with the arrows sent speeding past our ears, he enquired of our health.” Bheeshma smiled in consensus. In a fraction of a second, another ravaging arrow came and struck the flag post on Duryodhana’s chariot, which made it fall into pieces. Before an enraged Duryodhana could even react, yet another arrow came towards Karna, and struck the pole on his chariot, crumbling it to the ground. The valiant Karna, the King of Anga, was in utter discomfiture. He always used to boast of his prowess, and used to assert Arjjuna is no match to him, but here he was, standing on a regal chariot slashed to just a horse cart now, even before he could pick up his bow!
While the Kauravas were recuperating from this jolt, a swarm of arrows flew in, felling innumerable soldiers. Arjjuna was a legend in his life-time. He was not just a great archer; he was unchallenged in the art of warfare too. He started with creating terror in the enemy’s camp. He went on shooting arrows continuously at an impeccable speed. He knew he was the only warrior on his side, facing an army as huge as that of Hastinapura. With his formidable prowess he created such havoc amongst his enemies, that all of them were absolutely flabbergasted. Arjjuna’s quivers were kept at his sides. The speed in which he was picking up an arrow, placing it on his bow, tugging the bowstring with the arrow and then releasing the same, and that too with an aim more than perfect, that his arm looked like a running cart-wheel. Not just that. Arjjuna was shooting at all directions. His arrows were speeding at the Kaurava army at every corner of their formation. He wounded Bheeshma, Drona, Kripa, Karna, Duryodhana and Duhshasana with an incessant fusillade of arrows. The Kauravas were dumbstruck! Even before they could realise what was happening, half the army was felled, like a strong gale scattering the clouds. The Hastinapura army were almost run out of weapons too. Even before an archer could tug the bowstring, the arrow was shot and turned into pieces! Arjjuna now used the Tvashtra weapon, and the Kaurava force even started attacking each other!
Bheeshma exclaimed, “O Dronacharya, I’ve seen Arjjuna play with the bow and arrows in the arena, and he flaunted quite a few feats. But I never saw him on the battlefield. He is simply insurmountable, invincible. Your disciple has surpassed all warriors of the past and the present. I’m sure you must be taking pride in this.” “Taking pride!” retorted Drona, “I feel I’m honoured to be called the teacher of the invincible Arjjuna. I had heard he had defeated Indra, the King of the gods. I took pride, but I knew Krishna was there too. But, now I know, even Arjjuna alone is insurmountable by the whole army of gods. This was beyond my imagination! Arjjuna has not just learnt from me; he has capitalised on the knowledge he got from me and with his sheer perseverance, he has built around himself a fort that is unassailable even by the gods, leave alone mere mortals. Therein, when he attacks, he leaves no stones unturned to vanquish his enemies. It’s just that the Kauravas are his siblings, else by now all of them would have been annihilated.”
Bheeshma was apprehensive now. “Dronacharya, I would request you to please take the Prince away. Arjjuna will not spare him or Duhshasana. We need to protect Duryodhana. He also needs to take the cattle away.” Duryodhana snarled, “Impossible! You all always over-rate Arjjuna. He is not even one-sixteenth of my or Karna’s prowess.” Bheeshma quipped, “Yes of course. I can very well see that. He has not even let a single arrow even go near him, and our army is already half annihilated by one single warrior. I can see Karna looking for a place to hide his face. Look at Arjjuna – he is looking like the god of death – formidable and intimidating.” Duryodhana groused, but he had lost his ground. He sped off chasing the cattle of Matsya away towards Hastinapura, while Drona had his back.
Prince Uttar was in a trance. He could not believe his own eyes. His father, King Virata, was a great warrior. So was his uncle, Keechaka. There were many other warriors in Matsya. But this! All of them taken together were no match to Arjjuna. His idol seemed to have unearthly prowess! He considered himself fortunate to have witnessed this humongous feat of his lord.
Karna was convalesced by now. Bheeshma cried at him. “Anga-raja, please keep Arjjuna restrained here, while Dronacharya and Duryodhana chase away the cattle towards our capital.” Karna picked up his bow, the Vijaya, and had his chariot speed towards Arjjuna. With a twang of the bow gifted to him by his preceptor, the legendary Parashurama, he challenged Arjjuna to a combat.
Arjjuna twanged back, and then shot four arrows in a fraction of a second. They hit the four knuckles on Karna’s left hand with which he was holding the Vijaya. Karna’s whole body quavered. He felt his bow would fall off his hand. He still held it tight in his iron-fist and took up a deadly arrow. While the arrow sped towards Arjjuna, the latter could realise Uttar was targeted. He took hold of the little prince by his shoulder and ducked the arrow. However, it did leave a scar on the prince’s upper arm. Another whizzed past Arjjuna lightly grazing his shoulder. Arjjuna looked down at Uttar, “Salute the scar, o Prince. This makes you a man now. It’s an honour for a Kshatriya to have scars from battles.” He now looked at Karna with fire in his eyes. “You coward! You’ve stooped down to hitting the charioteer, that too a kid! It’s an indignity for me to fight with you.” “Stop hurling weapons of words, you imbecile! Pick up your Gandeeva, and let’s see what Dronacharya has taught you,” retorted Karna. “You would certainly see so, I promise you, provided you can stand the sway of even half the spectacle.”
It was a spectacle indeed! In a moment’s time the sky was clouded with a swarm of arrows. Before Karna could comprehend what was happening, a bunch of arrows struck the wheels of his chariot, and he was thrown to the ground. He picked up a spear and hurled it at Arjjuna, only to see it being chopped into pieces by the latter’s arrow. Karna’s attendants got him a new chariot in a moment’s time. He got up on it, and lifted the Vijaya again. He gathered himself up. He started telling himself, “I cannot let this go. This can be my best opportunity to prove to everybody that I’m no less than Arjjuna. I need to calm down and be poised.” It was his turn now. He struck at the Gandeeva’s bow-string twice, only to find in his utter dismay, Arjjuna tying up the bow-string in a moment even before Karna could shoot the next arrow! He went on shooting arrows at Arjjuna, one after another, at an impeccable speed. The sky was darkened. However, in a moment’s time, it was cleared too! All the arrows shot by Karna were reduced to pieces by those shot by Arjjuna! Karna was furious! He got desperate, and started using unearthly and celestial weapons. But, the mighty Arjjuna had an answer to each of his formidable arrows. Thereafter, he attacked Karna with awe-inspiring prowess. Once again Arjjuna shattered his chariot. Then, he shot at his hands, arms, knees, and shoulders one after the other. Karna got badly wounded and had to retreat. An elated Arjjuna picked up the Devadatta once again and blew it hard.
Duhshasana came in. Arjjuna had all intentions to kill him, but he decided to spare his life as Bheema had sworn to kill this wretch. Duhshasana was too little a warrior to stand in front of Arjjuna. Very soon he fled.
Arjjuna stopped for a moment, and surveyed the Kaurava forces. He could not find Duryodhana anywhere. “Prince, I suspect Duryodhana is trying to escape by a southern route, driving the cattle with him. Let’s pursue him immediately.” Uttar veered the chariot round to chase Duryodhana, while Arjjuna filled the air with countless arrows. The cattle broke loose and ran helter-skelter. Arjjuna drove the cattle towards Matsya and went after Duryodhana.
Meanwhile, Karna, Ashvatthama and the other warriors intercepted him. Arjjuna trounced Karna yet another time, and wrought havoc on the Kaurava army. He also repulsed the attacks of Kripa, Bheeshma. Ashvatthama, and the others. As he reached Duryodhana, Dronacharya intervened, “Arjjuna, you cannot go after Duryodhana unless you defeat me.” You’re not my enemy, Gurudev, you are my preceptor. I cannot fight you.” “This is the battlefield, Arjjuna. If you proclaim yourself as my pupil, first defeat me.” Drona shot at Arjjuna now. The valiant Shvetabahana retaliated too. Drona’s arrows were slashed into pieces by Arjjuna. Another arrow struck Drona’s bow and made pieces of it. Drona now threw a spear at him, which met the same fate. Arjjuna then broke his chariot and then turned his armour into pieces. All by incessant arrows struck from his Gandeeva. Then, he shot at Drona a barge of arrows which was all around the latter. Drona was unable to see anything beyond the barge, while Arjjuna sped towards Duryodhana and attacked him with nerve-wracking prowess. Duryodhana could not stand this. His crown was shattered to pieces. His bows all chopped, his chariot turned into crumbles. He picked up his mace and hurled it at Arjjuna. The latter struck it with a fiery arrow, and it was smashed. Arjjuna’s arrows made a sieve of Duryodhana’s body! The Kaurava chief was looking like a porcupine with arrows stuck all over his body! He was severely injured and humiliated. Arjjuna once again spared his life too, thinking Bheema’s oath should not be broken.
Now, the Kaurava warriors surrounded Arjjuna from all sides. One after another they attacked Arjjuna with the deadliest of weapons. But, they all seemed to be toys in front of the valiant Kiriti. In a moment’s time they were all left helpless with their heads down. Arjjuna noticed Uttar was severely wounded. He decided to end the battle, as his responsibility was to ensure the Prince was safe. He now used the hypnotising weapon, and the remaining army fell unconscious. A victorious Arjjuna roared, “Prince, please get the scarfs from Duryodhana, Duhshasana, Karna and Ashvatthama. Princess Uttara has requested for them.”
After collecting the scarfs, Uttar now turned the chariot back towards the forest, to put back Arjjuna’s weapons. On their way back to the kingdom, they swapped places again. Brihannala was back! Uttar was again the warrior on his chariot. The Matsya prince’s ecstasy knew no bounds. Not just because he had won the battle, but more because he was fortunate enough to witness a spectacular feat of his idol, the legendary Kuru warrior Arjjuna. He bowed to his lord, “O valiant one. I had told Uttara the battle would be a one-man show. Indeed it was! I could never imagine there could be such an insurmountable one-man army! Your prowess was astounding, and that too against enemies as formidable as the Kauravas. It has made me speechless! I feel myself honoured to have had the opportunity to be your charioteer today.” Arjjuna smiled, “It was my pleasure as well as my duty, Prince. This is the least we owe to your father. I really enjoyed today’s battle. However, remember, it’s you who have won this battle, not me! I was just the charioteer. We’d disclose ourselves only when Yudhishthira decides.”
The chariot entered the gates of Matsya, amidst huge merriment and jamboree.
To read the complete Mahabharata or to know what had happened before this incident or what happened thereafter, for details about the characters mentioned here, you can visit:
Based on Book 4:Virata Parva of "The Mahabharata"
Infinite Improbability Drive
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