Reading Guide. As the battle begins, Bhishma is the general of the Kaurava forces but, as you will see, he does not feel the same loyalty to Duryodhana that Karna does, and he warns Duryodhana of the doom that awaits them.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [900 words]
Loudly bellowed the war shells, and the drums of battle were sounded. As both armies waited for sunrise, a tempest arose and the dawn was darkened by dust clouds, so that men could scarce behold one another. Evil were the omens. Blood dropped like rain out of heaven, while jackals howled impatiently, and kites and vultures screamed hungrily for human flesh. The earth shook, peals of thunder were heard, although there were no clouds, and angry lightning rent the horrid gloom; flaming thunderbolts struck the rising sun and broke in fragments with loud noise.
When the wind fell and the air cleared, the battle waxed in fury. All day the armies battled with growing ardour. When evening was coming on, Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, perceived that the advantage lay with the Kauravas, chiefly because of Bhishma's prowess. So he went speedily against that mighty warrior, and cut down the ensign of his chariot. Bhishma said that never before had he beheld a youthful hero who could perform greater deeds.
Then Bhishma advanced to make fierce attack upon the Pandava army. Victoriously he went, cutting a blood-red path through the stricken legions; none could resist him for a time. The heart of Arjuna was filled with shame, and he rode against Bhishma, whose advance was stayed. The two heroes fought desperately until dusk. Then Bhishma retired, but Arjuna followed him, and pressed into the heart of the Kaurava host, achieving great slaughter. The truce was sounded, and the first day's battle came to an end.
On the morning of the second day Bhishma again attacked the Pandava forces, shattering their ranks, but Arjuna drove him back.
On the third day the army of the Pandavas advanced in crescent formation and drove back the Kaurava army. Many were slain, and rivers of blood laid down the dust; horses writhed in agony, and the air was filled with the shrieking and moaning of wounded men. Terrible were the omens, for headless men rose up and fought against one another; then the people feared that all who contended in that dread battle would be slain.
When he beheld the broken cars, the fallen standards, and the heaps of slain elephants and horses and men, Duryodhana said to Bhishma, "Thou shouldst yield thy place to Karna. Methinks thou art partial to Arjuna and the Pandavas."
Said Bhishma, "Thy struggle is in vain, foolish Duryodhana. None can wipe out the stain of thy sins; of no avail is cunning against a righteous cause. Verily, thou shalt perish because of thy folly. I have no fear of battle, and I will lead the Kauravas until I triumph or fall."
Then angry Bhishma urged his charioteer to attack the enemy, and he drove back all who opposed him, even Arjuna.
Bhima was the hero of the fourth day of battle, and on the fifth day, Arjuna and Bhima advanced in triumph until they were met and held back by Drona.
The sixth day dawned, and it was a day of peril for Bhima. Confident of victory, he pressed too far into the midst of the Kaurava host, and was surrounded by overwhelming numbers. Drupada perceived his peril and hastened to help him, but neither could retreat. Then Arjuna's fearless son shattered the Kaurava hosts and rescued Bhima and Drupada from the surging warriors who thirsted for their blood.
The seventh day was the day of Bhishma. None could withstand him in his battle fury. Before night fell, the standard of Yudhishthira was cut down, and the Kauravas rejoiced greatly, believing that they would achieve a great victory.
On the day that followed, however, the tide of battle turned. As Bhishma advanced, his charioteer was slain, and the steeds took flight in terror. Then confusion fell on the Kaurava army. For a time the Pandavas made resistless advance amidst mighty slaughter. Then the six Gandhari princes advanced to beat back the forces of Yudhishthira, having vowed to slay Iravat, son of Arjuna. The gallant youth feared them not and fought triumphantly, stirred with the joy of battle; he slew five of the princes, but the sixth, the eldest prince, struck him down, Arjuna's son.
Terrible was the grief of Arjuna when he was told that his son had fallen. Bhima's terrible son, the rakshasa Ghatotkacha, sought to be avenged when Iravat fell. Roaring like the sea, he assumed an awesome shape, and advanced with flaming spears like the Destroyer at the end of Time, followed by other rakshasas. Warriors fled from his path, until Duryodhana went against him with many elephants, but Ghatotkacha scattered the elephant host.
Duryodhana was stricken with sorrow, and went to the snow-white tent of Bhishma that night and spoke, saying, "The Pandavas are brave in battle, but they are unable to resist thee. If, however, thou dost love them too well to overcome them utterly, let Karna take thy place, so that he may lead the hosts against our enemies."
Said Bhishma, "Alas! Duryodhana, thy struggle is of no avail. Thou art confronted by utter ruin, O proud and foolish prince. I will fight as I have fought until the end, which is not now far off."