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Chapter 24
Guardian on the Battlefield


At last, Arjuna let go the unending shower of arrows from his ever-full shoulder-bag. This too had no effect; Arjuna became desperate like a man robbed of all his possessions and deprived of all means of resistance. He stood helpless and filled with rage. He was like a bird with clipped wings, a tiger whose teeth have been pulled out and claws cut, a ship without sails and rudder.

He made an effort to beat the huntsman with the bow itself; it broke into fragments at the impact. Startled at this, Arjuna decided to use his fists, for they were the only weapons left. Girding up his loins, he fell upon the Bhil, and wrestled furiously, for sheer victory. The huntsman welcomed this new move with a hearty laugh. They struggled to overpower each other with such terrific holds and blows that it appeared as if two mountains were in mortal conflict; the birds of the forest were so frightened at the unusual din that they flew in terror far up into the sky. The animal denizens of the jungle stood and stared sensing some great calamity that hovered over them. The earth shook, unable to bear the burden of the encounter.

Despite everything, the Bhil was evincing no trace of exhaustion; he was laughing in absolute unconcern; he was as active as when the fight first began. Arjuna, however, was bathed in perspiration; he was gasping for breath; his fist was jammed and bleeding! The Bhil was unhurt and not in the least affected! Besides, when the Bhil once caught Arjuna in a light hold, Arjuna vomitted blood! At this, the Bhil burst into a cruel laugh, and exulted before his consort with a meaning look, "Did you notice that?"

Arjuna reeled and was in great confusion. He lost his moorings. He whispered to himself, "Krishna! Why have you humiliated me thus? Ah, is this too a scene in your drama? Truly, this Bhil is no ordinary mortal. Perhaps, you yourself have come in this Form to trample on my pride. Alas! To be over-whelmed by a forest-dwelling huntsman! No, this is your stratagem, your play. This Bhil is no ordinary fellow. Save me, for, I believe this is, you yourself." When he said this and turned to the couple in front of him, he saw there, not the Bhil and his wife but Siva and His consort, Gowri. They were blessing him with a captivating smile; their hand was raised, with the palm towards him in the Abhaya pose, assuring him that he had no reason to fear. Arjuna was overcome with delight.

He ran towards them, exclaiming, "0 Sankara! Mother Gowri!" and fell at their Feet. He prayed that They should pardon him for his rashness and ignorance. Gowri and Sankara, who are the embodiments of Grace, lifted him by the shoulders lovingly and stroked his head affectionately. "Son", they said, "You have attained the fruition of your life; you did your duty as you were bound to do. That is not wrong at all. Now, take this; here is the sign of Our Grace" - and he got from the Hand of Siva Himself the Divine Pasupatha Asthra. (See also S'rîmad Bhâgavatam Canto 3, Chapter 14: The Impregnation of Diti in the Evening)

O, Maharaja! How can I extol the prowess of your grandfather who combatted with Siva, armed with the invincible Trident. The source of that courage and daring lay in the Grace that the Lord Krishna showered on him. Your grandfathers never thought of even the slightest activity, without His specific order. Indeed in the Mahabharatha battle, His Grace was bestowed unasked, every moment in ample measure. The depth of Love that prompted that Grace was known only to them; others cannot gauge it. When Vyasa was remembering this, he shed tears of joy at the good fortune of the Pandava Brothers. And, not he alone.

Guardian on the Battlefield

The person who listened, namely, Parikshith was even more overcome with admiration and thankfulness. He was shedding tears of joy; his lips quivered with emotion; his voice was broken by excitement. He could not contain himself. He exclaimed. "Ah, how fortunate I am, that I am born in this lineage! How brave, how devoted, how redoubtable were my forefathers! And, imagine my luck, that I am able to hear their glories from the lips of divine sages like you! Oh, I am indeed thrice-blessed. When I listen to the exploits of my grandfathers and the glories of  Lord Krishna, I can never say I have heard enough. I long to hear more.

Pray tell me how the Lord saved and guarded my grandfathers in battle. It will be some source of contentment for my hunger, some quench for my thirst"

When the King prayed like this, Vyasa said "0, King! The Pandavas, as agreed upon, lived through the twelve years of exile in the forest and also completed one full year of 'life in incognito.' When at last, they revealed themselves (on the occasion of the Rape of Kine from the Virata domain by the wicked Kauravas) Duryodhana, the eldest of the cruel clan, that monster of guile, swore that the full year had not elapsed and that the Pandavas had broken their contract; so, he said, they were bound by the penal clause, a further twelve-year exile and a further one-year-of-incognito life! He was adamant in that conclusion.

The elders, Bhishma and others, asserted that the Pandavas had scrupulously fulfilled the terms of the contract; the Pandavas had not disclosed their place of stay during the entire year; they had stayed in exile for full twelve years. But, the Kauravas did not accept the patent truth. They prepared the path for their own downfall and destruction! They listened to none, they gave ear to no counsel. They swore that the battlefield alone can settle the issue.

What can any one do, in the face of that royal decree? So, both parties engaged themselves in preparing for war - the King endowed with sovereign sway, Duryodhana; and the claimants in exile, the Pandavas! But, Truth and Justice allied themselves with the exiles and so, a few kings who were motivated by moral principles joined them. The others, in very large numbers, sided the ruling monarch, and so, the Kauravas were able to command eleven akshauhinis while the Pandavas could collect just seven only (An akshauhini consists of 109350 footsoldiers, 65610 horses and horsemen, 21870 elephants and elephant warriors, and 21870 chariots and their human equipment).

Listen! The chariot of Arjuna had the Lord Krishna, the Gopivallabha, as its charioteer. Not only that, He became the charioteer of the destiny of the Pandavas. The Pandavas had, therefore, no weak spot in their armour; He was all the strength they needed. But, yet, in the grand drama of the Lord, the role of Arjuna took a sudden unexpected turn which astounded all.



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