A Brilliant Assembly--Princes display Feats of Arms--Mimic Warfare--Duryodhana and Bhima--A Fierce Struggle--Arjuna's Wonderful Skill--Despondency of Kauravas--The Coming of Karna--He proves Himself equal to Arjuna--Challenge to Single Combat--The Gods intervene--Queen Pritha's Emotion--Karna taunted with Low Birth--Kauravas make him a King--Joy of his Foster Father---Bitter and Angry Rivals.
ON the day of the great tournament, vast multitudes of people from all parts of the kingdom assembled round the harriers on the wide plain. A scene of great splendour was unfolded to their eyes. At dawn many flags and garlands of flowers had been distributed round the enclosure; they adorned the stately royal pavilion, which was agleam with gold and jewels and hung with trophies of war; they fluttered above the side galleries for the lords and the ladies, and even among the clustering trees. White tents for the warriors occupied a broad green space. A great altar had been erected by Drona beside a cool, transparent stream, on which to offer up sacrifices to the gods.
From early morn the murmurous throng awaited the coming of king and counsellors, and royal ladies, and especially the mighty princes who were to display their feats of arms and engage in mimic warfare. The bright sun shone in beauty on that festal day.
The clarion notes of the instruments of war proclaimed the coming of the king. Then entered the royal procession,
and blind Dhritarashtra was led towards his throne in the gleaming pavilion. With him came the fair queen Gandhari, mother of the Kauravas, and stately Pritha, widow of King Pandu, the mother of the Pandavas. There followed in their train many high-born dames and numerous sweet maidens renowned for their beauty. When all these ladies, attired in many-coloured robes and glittering with jewels and bright flowers, were mounting the decorated galleries, they seemed like to goddesses and heavenly nymphs ascending to the golden summit of the mountain of Meru. . . . The trumpets were sounding loud, and the clamour which arose from the surging multitude of people of every caste and every age and every tribe was like the voice of heaving ocean in sublime tempest.
Next came venerable and white-haired Drona, robed in white, with white sacrificial cord; his sandals were white, and the garlands he wore were white also. His valiant son, Aswatthama, followed him as the red planet Mars follows the white moon in cloudless heaven. The saintly preceptor advanced to the altar where the priestly choir gathered, and offered up sacrifices to the gods and chanted holy texts.
Then heralds sounded their trumpets as the youthful princes entered in bright array, bejewelled and lightly girded for exercise, their left arms bound with leather. They were wearing breastplates; their quivers were slung from their shoulders, and they carried stately bows and gleaming swords. The princes filed in according to their years, and Yudhishthira came first of all. Each saluted Drona in turn and awaited his commands.
One by one the youthful warriors displayed their skill at arms, while the vast crowd shouted their plaudits. The regent Bhishma, sitting on the right side of the throne,
looked down with delight, and Vidura, sitting on the left side, informed the sightless king of all that took place.
The princes shot arrows at targets, first on foot and then mounted on rapid steeds, 1 displaying great skill; they also rode on elephants and in chariots, and their arrows ever flew with unerring aim.
Next they engaged in mimic warfare, charging with chariots and on elephants: swords clamoured on shields, ponderous maces were wielded, and falchions shimmered like to the flashes of lightning. The movements of the princes, mounted and on foot, were rapid and graceful; they were fearless in action and firm-footed, and greatly skilled in thrust and parry.
But ere long the conflict was waged with more than mimic fury. Proud Duryodhana and powerful Bhima had sought one another and were drawn apart from their peers. They towered on the plain with uplifted maces, and they seemed like two rival elephants about to fight for a mate. Then they charged with whirling weapons, and the combat was terrible to behold.
Vidura pictured the conflict to blind Dhritarashtra, as did Pritha also to the blindfolded Queen Gandhari. Round the barriers the multitudes swayed and clamoured, some favouring Duryodhana and others mighty Bhima.
The princes fought on, and their fury increased until at length it seemed that one or the other would be slain. But while yet the issue hung doubtful, Drona, whose brow was troubled, marked with concern the menacing crowd, which was suspended with hope and fear, and seemed like an ocean shaken by fitful gusts of changing wind. Then he interposed, bidding his son to separate the angry combatants so that the turmoil might have end.
[paragraph continues] The princes heard and obeyed, and they retired slowly like ocean billows, tempest-swollen, falling apart.
To allay excitement, trumpet and drum were sounded aloud. Then white-haired Drona stepped forward, and in a voice like thunder summoned brave Arjuna to come forth.
First of all the valiant hero performed a sacred rite. Thereafter he came before the multitude in all his splendour, clad in golden armour, like to a glorious evening cloud. Modestly he strode, while trumpets blared and the drums bellowed, and he seemed a very god. He was girdled with jewels, and he carried a mighty bow. As the people applauded and shouted his praises, Pritha, his mother, looked down, and tears dropped from her eyes. The blind king spake to Vidura, saying: "Why are the multitudes shouting now like to the tumultuous sea?"
Said Vidura: "The valiant son of Pritha hath come forth in golden armour, and the people hail him with joy.
The blind monarch said: "I am well pleased. The sons of Pritha sanctify the kingdom like to sacrificial fires."
Silence fell upon the people, and Drona bade his favourite pupil to display his skill. Arjuna performed wonders with magic arms; he created fire by the Agneya weapon, water by the Varuna weapon, wind by the Vayavya weapon, clouds by the Paryanya weapon, land by the Bhanma weapon, and he caused mountains to appear by the Parvatya weapon. Then by the Antardhyana weapon he caused all these to vanish. 1
Arjuna then set up for his target an iron image of
a great boar, and at one bending of the bow he shot five arrows into its gaping jaws. Wondrous was his skill. Next he suspended a cow horn, which swayed constantly in the wind, and discharged into its hollow with unerring aim twenty rapid arrows. Heaven and earth resounded with the plaudits of the people when he leapt into his chariot and discharged clouds of arrows as he was driven speedily round the grounds. Having thus displayed his accomplishments as an archer, he drew his sword, which he wielded so rapidly round and about that the people thought they beheld lightning and heard thunder. Ere he left the field he cast the noose with exceeding great skill, capturing horses and cows and scampering deer at a single throw. Then Drona embraced him, and the people shouted his praises.
Great was the joy of the Pandavas as they rested around Drona like to the stars that gather about the white moon in heaven. The Kauravas were grouped around Aswatthama as the gods gather beside Indra when the giant Daityas threaten to assail high heaven. Duryodhana's heart burned with jealous anger because of the triumph achieved by Arjuna.
Evening came on, and it seemed that the tournament was ended; the crowds began to melt away. Then, of a sudden, a mighty tumult of plaudits broke forth, and the loud din of weapons and clank of armour was heard all over the place. Every eye immediately turned towards the gate, and the warriors and the people beheld approaching an unknown warrior, who shook his weapons so that they rattled loudly.
So came mighty Karna, son of Surya, the sun god, and of Pritha, the mother of the three Pandavas--Arjuna, Bhima, and wise Yudhishthira. He was comely as a shining god, clad in golden armour, and wearing celestial
ear-rings. In his right hand he carried a great many-coloured bow; his gleaming falchion was on his thigh. Tall as a cliff he strode forward; he was an elephant in his fury, a lion in his wrath; stately as a palm tree was that tamer of foemen, so fearless and so proud, so dauntless and so self-possessed.
He paused in the centre of the plain and surveyed the people with pride. Stiffly he paid homage to Drona and Kripa. Then he, the eldest son of Pritha, spake to Pritha's youngest son, Arjuna, the brothers being unknown one to another, and he said: "Whatever feats thou hast performed this day with vain boast, Arjuna, these will I accomplish and surpass, if Drona will permit me."
His voice was like to thunder in heaven, and the multitude of people sprang up and uttered cries of wonder. Duryodhana and the other sons of Kuru heard the challenge with glad hearts, but Arjuna remained silent, while his eyes flashed fire.
Then Drona gave the warrior permission to display his skill. Karna was well pleased, and he performed every feat which had given Arjuna fame on that great day.
Duryodhana proclaimed his joy with beaming countenance, and he embraced Karna, whom he hailed as "'brother", saying: "I bid thee welcome, thou mighty warrior. Thou hast won the honours of the field. Demand from me whatsoever thou dost desire in this kingdom, and it will be given unto thee."
Said Karna: "Thy word is thy bond, O prince. All I seek is to combat against Arjuna, whom I have equalled so far. Fain would I win the victor's renown."
Duryodhana said: "Thou dost ask for a worthy boon indeed. Be our ally, and let the enemy fear thee."
Arjuna was moved to great wrath, and cried out: "Uninvited chief! Boasting thus, thou wouldst fain be regarded as mine equal, but I will so deal with thee that thou wilt die the death of a braggart who cometh here an unbidden guest, speaking boastfully ere thou art spoken to."
Said Karna, answering proudly and calm: "Waste not words, Arjuna, nor taunt me with coming hither uninvited. The field of combat is free to all warriors; they enter by their valour, and do not await until thou dost call them; they win their places by strength and skill, and their warrant is the sword. Wrathful speech is the weapon of a coward. Do not boast of thy pastimes or be vain of thy bloodless feats. Speak with thine arrows, O Arjuna, until, in Drona's presence, mine will cause all men to wonder, flying towards thee."
Drona was stirred to wrath, and spake to Arjuna, saying: "Canst thou hear him boast in this manner? I give thee leave to fight him here and now."
Arjuna at once strode forward, fully armed, and he was supported by Drona and Bhishma. Duryodhana and his band stood by Karna. Then the two warriors prepared for single combat, but not in mimic warfare.
Thick clouds gathered in the sky; lightning flashed and thunder pealed; the mighty Indra guarded his son Arjuna, who stood in shadow. Surya, the sun god, cast a shaft of light athwart the darkening plain, and Karna's golden armour gleamed bright and fair.
The noble dames looked on, and some praised Arjuna and others praised Karna. Pritha, the mother of both heroes, was alone divided in her love. She knew her firstborn by his voice and noble bearing and by his armour, and her heart was torn with grief to behold the two brothers ready to slay each other. A cloud blinded
her eyes, and, uttering a low cry, she swooned where she sat. Vidura sprinkled water on her face, and she was revived. Then she wept bitterly because that she could not reveal the secret of Karna's birth.
Kripa, 1 the foster-brother of Bhishma, performed the duties of herald, and as Arjuna strode forth to combat he proclaimed: "Behold! this is mighty Arjuna, of Bharata's great line, son of Pandu and of Pritha, a prince of valour and worth who will not shrink from battle. Unknown and long-armed chief," he said unto Karna, "declare now thy name and lineage, the royal house thou dost adorn, and the names of thy sire and thy mother. Know thou that by the rules of single combat the sons of kings cannot contend against low-born or nameless rivals."
Karna heard, but was silent. He hung his head like the dew-laden lotus bloom; he could claim nor lineage or high rank, as he believed, for he regarded the charioteer of Anga as his sire.
Duryodhana, perceiving his discomfiture, cried out to Kripa, saying: "Valour is not reckoned by birth but by deeds. Karna hath already shown himself to be the peer of princes. I now proclaim him the Rajah of Anga."
Having spoken thus, the elder of the Kauravas led Karna by the hand and placed him upon a throne, and the red umbrella was held above his head. Brahmans chanted the texts for the ceremony and anointed Karna as a king. Then the fan was waved and the royal umbrella raised on high, while the Kauravas shouted: "The rajah is crowned; blessings on the rajah; honour to the valorous warrior!"
Robed in royal attire, Karna then spake to Duryodhana and said: "With generous heart thou hast conferred upon
me a kingdom. O prince, speak and say what service thou wouldst have me to render unto thee."
Said Duryodhana: "But one boon do I ask of thee, O king. Be my comrade and, O valiant warrior, be my helper also."
Karna said: "As thou desirest, so be it."
Then Duryodhana and Karna embraced one another to confirm their loyal friendship.
Lo! now a charioteer drew nigh; he was a scantily-clad and wearied old man, and he stooped, leaning heavily upon his staff. He was the aged sire of Karna, and rejoiced in his heart to see his son so highly honoured among princes. Karna cast aside his weapons, knelt down, and kissed the old man's feet. The happy sire embraced the crowned head of the warrior and wept tears of love.
The Pandava brothers gazed upon father and son, amused and scornful. . . . Bhima spake to Karna, saying: "So thou, with such a sire, hast presumed to seek combat with a Pandava! . . . Son of a charioteer, what hast thou to do with weapons of war? Better were it that thou shouldst find thee a goad and drive a bullock-cart behind thy sire."
Karna grew pale with wrath; his lips quivered, but he answered not a word. He heaved a deep sigh and looked towards the sun.
Then Duryodhana arose like a proud elephant and spake to Bhima, saying: "Seek not with insults to give sorrow unto a mighty hero. Taunts come ill from thee, thou tiger-like chief. The proudest warrior may contend against the most humble: a hero is known by his deeds. Of Karna's birth we care naught. Hath Drona other than humble lineage? ’Tis, said, too, that thou and thy brethren are not sons of Pandu, but of certain amorous
deities. . . . Look upon Karna, adorned with jewels and in golden armour! Do hinds bring forth tigers? . . . Karna was born to he a king; he hath come to rule by reason of his valour and his worth. If any prince or warrior among you will deny my words, hear and know, now, that I will meet him in deadly combat."
The assembled multitude heard these mighty words with joy and shouted loud applause.
But darkness came on, and lamps were lit upon the plain. . . . Drona and the sons of Pandu made offerings at the altar, and the king and his counsellors, the noble dames and the high-born maids, departed in silence to their homes. . . . Then all the people deserted the harriers, some shouting, "Arjuna hath triumphed;" others, "Karna is victor;" and some also, "Duryodhana hath won."
Pritha had rejoiced in her heart to behold her noble son crowned king. . . .
Duryodhana walked by Karna's side and took him away to his own palace, glad of heart, for he no longer feared Arjuna's valour and skill at arms.
Even Yudhishthira doubted Arjuna's worth; he feared that Karna was the greatest hero in the world of men.
187:1 Like the Parthians, the ancient Hindus were expert archers on horseback.
188:1 This is a notable example of the characteristic exaggerations of late Brahmanical compilers. Other exaggerations are of milder form.
192:1 Kripa, like Drona, was of miraculous birth. He and his sister were found in a forest, and were adopted by King Shantanu.