Kurukshetra, Part Three


BY: SUN STAFF - 18.12 2018

Kurukshetra Battle Commences 
Kangra Miniature by Yadupati, c. 1820

From "A Tour in the Punjab", a report by Alexander Cunningham, published in Calcutta (1882) for the Archaeological Survey of India.

Before describing the sites of the different places of pilgrimage, the following brief outline of the principal events of the war will perhaps be found useful.

Duryodhana of Hastinapura, the Raja of the Kauravas, having determined to fight the Pandavas, summoned all his followers to meet on the plain of Kurukshetra, where his army encamped facing to the west, with its right resting on the Saraswati River and its left at Amin, 5-1/2 miles to the south-south-east of Thanesar. On this flank, which was exposed towards the enemy advancing from Delhi, a covering trench was dug, and at a council of war Bhishma was appointed general of the Kaurava army.

The Pandavas marched from Delhi to Kurukshetra under Yudhisthira and his brethren, who chose their brother-in-law Drishta-dyumna for their general. On reaching Kurukshetra they encamped to the west of the lake facing the Kaurava army on the east, with their left flank resting on the Saraswati River, and their right near Kirmanch. On this flank they dug a covering trench.

The fight lasted for 18 days, but the details given in the Mahabharata are confined to the personal conflicts between the great chiefs. For nine days the battle raged furiously, with great slaughter on both sides, but without any decisive result. On the tenth day, however, Bhishma was killed by Arjuna, and Drona was appointed to the command of the Kauravas.

For two days there was nothing decisive, but on the 13th day Abhimanyu, the youthful son of Arjuna, having broken the ranks of the Kauravas with his chariot, was surrounded and slain by Duhsasana. This took place at Amin, which is said to be a contraction of Abhimanyu, and which, it will be remembered, was on the left of the Kaurava position.

On the 14th day Bhurisravas was killed through the treachery of Arjuna, and the place where he fell is now called Bhure or Bhore, by a contraction of his name. On the same day Jayadratha was slain in single combat with Arjuna. On the 15th day Drona, the general of the Kauravas, was treacherously killed by Drishta-dyumna, when he was unarmed. On the i6th day Kama took the command of the Kauravas, and on the 17th day when his chariot was driven by Salya, Raja of the Madras, he pursued Yudhishthira, and pulled him off his horse, but spared his life on account of his cowardice. Duhsasana, the slayer of Abhimanyu, was killed by Bhima, who drank his blood.

Then Kama driven by Salya was attacked by Arjuna, driven by Krishna. Again the Pandavas were guilty of treachery, and Kama was killed by Arjuna while trying to extricate one of his chariot wheels, which had sunk in the mud.

On the 18th and last day Salya became the general of Kauravas and was slain by Yudhisthira. Then Duryodhana fled, but was afterwards discovered and taunted into a single combat with Bhima. This fight took place in the very middle of Kurukshetra, to the south of the lake. Once more the Pandava combatant was guilty of treachery, and Bhima broke the thigh of Duryodhana against the rules of mace fighting, which positively forbad all blows below the waist.

Then the Pandavas proceeded to the camp of the Kauravas, and took possession of all the jewels and spoils of Duryodhana. There also, they spent the night. But whilst they slept, Aswathama, the son of Drona, with Kripa and Kritavarman, the only chiefs of the Kauravas who had survived the 18th day's fight, stole quietly into the camp of the Pandava and slew Drishta-dyumna, the general, and the five young sons of the five Pandava brothers, and escaped free in the confusion. When the heads of the slaughtered Pandavas were brought to Duryodhana he was at first overjoyed, but when he saw that the heads were those of the sons and not of the hated fathers, he died from sheer vexation.

The war being thus ended by the general destruction of so many warriors and their followers on both sides, the few survivors, attended by the relatives of the slain, assembled on the plain of Kurukshetra to perform the funeral rites. There came the old blind Raja Dhritarashtra, the father of Duryodhana, attended by Yudhishthira, and all the widows of the departed chiefs, of Duryodhana and Kama and Abhimanyu, accompanied by Kunti, the mother of Kama, then Vidura, the uncle of the Kauravas and Pandavas, and Sanjaya, the charioteer of the Maharaja, and Yuyutsu, the only surviving son of the Maharaja, and Dhaumya, the family priest of the Pandavas, all went out together to the field of battle. And they collected a large quantity of sandal and other odoriferous woods and sweet oils to form a pile on which to burn the bodies of the principal warriors, such as Duryodhana, Kama, Abhimanyu, Drona, and others; and they also collected many thousand mule-loads of faggots and oil to burn the bodies of those of inferior note.

And they ordered all the surviving charioteers of those Rajas who had been slain to go through the plain and point out the corpses of their respective masters, so that such Rajas might be burned separately according to their rank. And they took with them a thousand cart-loads of cloths, some fine and other coarser, to wrap up the dead bodies before burning.

Then Vidura, and those appointed with him, went over the plain of Kurukshetra ; and they first took up with all reverence and ceremony the corpse of Duryodhana and burned it. Next the Rajas of the first rank were wrapped in fine linen and burned with perfumes; and amongst these were the other sons of Dhritarishra, and the sons of Draupadi, and Abhimanyu, and Drona, and Kama, and the greater Rajas, such as Raja Draupada and his son Dhrishtadyumna, and Raja Virata, and Raja Jayaratha, and Raja Salya, and many others. When this burning had been accomplished, they kindled a mighty fire and burned all the remaining bodies therein." [1]

The site where the dead bodies of the slain are said to have been burned is now known by the name of Asthipur, or the "place of bones." It was seen by Hwen Thsang in A.D. 635, who says that the corpses had been heaped up like " straw-ricks," and that "their bones still covered the plain." [2] There are no bones visible at the present day at Asthipur; and many of the people do not even know the position of the "place of bones."

But the field of Kurukshetra would appear to have been famous long before the time of the Pandavas. Here Parasurama slew the Kshatryas, and made ablution with their blood, and here Pururavas, having lost the nymph "Urvasi," at length met his celestial bride at Kurukshetra, "sporting with four other nymphs of heaven in a lake beautiful with lotuses."

But the story of the horse-headed Dadhyanch, or Dadhicha, is perhaps even older than the legend of Pururavas, as it is alluded to in the Rig Veda. " With his bones Indra slew ninety times nine Vritras." The scholiast explains this by saying that the thunderbolt of Indra was formed of the horses' head, with which the Aswins had supplied the headless Dadhyanch that he might teach his science to them. According to the legend, Dadhyanch during his lifetime had been the terror of the Asuras, who, after his death, multiplied and overspread the whole earth. Then Indra, inquiring what had become of him, and whether nothing of him had been left behind, was told that the horses' head was still in existence, but no one knew where. Search was made for it, and it was found in the lake Saryandvat on the skirts of Kurukshetra." I infer that this is only another name for the great tank of Kurukshetra, and consequently that the sacred pool is at least as old as the Rig Veda itself." [3]



[1] Wheeler's Mahabharata, pp. 364-65

[2] Julien's Hwen Thsang, Vol. II, p. 214

[3] See Archaeological Survey of India, Vol. II, pp. 218-19