Reading Guide. The battle forces assemble, fighting either for Duryodhana and the Kauravas or for Yudhishthira and the Pandavas. You will see characters returning from earlier in the epic, such as Bhima's demon son Ghatotkacha (remember his marriage to Hidimbi in the forest, before he became Draupadi's husband?), and you will also meet new characters, such as Duryodhana's half-brother Yuyutsu, son of King Dhritarashtra and a woman belonging to the vaishya caste.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [700 words]
After this the Pandavas and Kauravas gathered together their mighty armies and marched to the field of battle.
Soon after Krishna had returned from Hastinapura, Duryodhana sent a challenge to the Pandavas. His messenger spake, saying, "You have vowed to wage war against us. The time has come for you to fulfil your vow. Your kingdom was seized by me, your wife Draupadi was put to shame, and you were all made exiles. Why do you not now seek to be avenged in battle? Where is drowsy Bhima, who boasted that he would drink the blood of Duhshasana? Duhsasana is weary with waiting for him. Where is arrogant Arjuna, who hath Drona to meet? When mountains are blown about like dust, and men hold back the wind with their hands, Arjuna will take captive the mighty Drona. Of what account was the mace of Bhima and the bow of Arjuna on the day when your kingdom was taken from you, and you were banished like vagabonds? Vain will be the help of Krishna when you meet us in battle."
Krishna answered the messenger, saying, "Vainly dost thou boast of prowess, but before long thy fate will be made known unto thee. I will consume thine army like to fire which consumeth withered grass. Thou wilt not escape me, for I will drive the chariot of Arjuna. And let Duhsasana know that the vow of Bhima will before long be fulfilled."
Said Arjuna, "Tell thou Duryodhana, 'It is unseemly for warriors to boast like women. It is well that Duhshasana cometh to battle.'"
When the messenger spake these words to Duryodhana, Karna said, "Cease this chatter! Let the drums of war be sounded."
So on the morrow at red dawn the armies of the Kauravas and the Pandavas were assembled for battle on the wide plain of Kurukshetra. Bhishma, with his large palmyra standard decked with five stars, had been chosen to lead Duryodhana's army, and Karna, who had quarrelled with him, vowed not to fight so long as the older warrior remained alive. "Should he fall, however," Karna said, "I will go forth against Arjuna."
The army of the Pandavas was commanded by Dhrishtadyumna, son of Drupada, and brother of Draupadi. Among the young heroes were Arjuna's two sons, the noble and peerless Abhimanyu, whose mother was Krishna's fair sister Subhadra, and brave Iravat, whose mother was Ulupi, the serpent nymph, daughter of the king of the nagas. Bhima's rakshasa son, the terrible Ghatotkacha, who had power to change his shape and create illusions, had also hastened to assist his kinsmen. Krishna drove the chariot of Arjuna, who carried his celestial bow, named Gandiva, the gift of the god Agni, and his standard was the image of Hanuman, the chief ape god, who was the son of Vayu, the wind god.
Now the army of Duryodhana was more numerous than the army of Yudhishthira. Drona led the right wing of the Kaurava forces, which was strengthened by Shakuni, the gambler, and his Gandhari lancers. The left wing was led by Duhshasana, who was followed by Kamboja cavalry and fierce Shakas and Yavanas mounted on rapid steeds. The peoples of the north were there and the peoples of the south, and of the east also. Blind old Dhritarashtra was in the rear, and with him was Sanjaya, his charioteer, who related all that took place, having been gifted with divine vision by Vyasa.
Before yet the conflict began, Yudhishthira walked unarmed towards the Kauravas, whereat his kinsmen made merry, thinking he was terror-stricken. But Pandu's noble son first spake to Bhishma and asked permission to fight against him. Bhishma gave consent. Then he addressed Drona in like terms, and Drona gave consent also.
And before he returned to his place, Yudhishthira called out before the Kaurava army, "Whoso desireth to help our cause, let him follow me."
When he had spoken thus, Yuyutsu, the half-brother of Duryodhana, made answer, "If thou wilt elevate me, I will serve thee well."
Said Yudhishthira, "Be my brother." Then Yuyutsu followed Yudhishthira with all his men, and no man endeavored to hold him back.