When Krishna saved Arjuna; war with Bhagadatta


11th day of Kurukshetra war

On 10th day of the Kurukshetra war, Bheeshma, the commander of Kauravas fell. He was succeeded by Dronacharya. However, the Kaurava army was shaken to the core by this. Duryodhana quickly realized that the stakes were rising in the Kurukshetra war. Hence, he devised an ingenious strategy to cut short the war.

When Dronacharya took over, Duryodhana asked him to capture Yudhishthira alive. Dronacharya accepted this proposal. Thus, on the 11th day of the war, Drona set to capture Yudhishthira. However, Arjuna thwarted his attempt. Hence Kauravas had to wait for the next day to capture Yudhishthira.

12th day of Kurukshetra war

After a failed effort to capture Yudhishthira by Drona due to Arjuna’s valour, the Kauravas made a plan to keep Arjuna away from Yudhishthira.

Accordingly, Susharma the King of Trigartas challenged Arjuna for Samsaptakas oath (to kill or to be killed). Seeing the challenge come to him, Arjuna informed Yudhishthira, “Susharma is challenging me, I can’t deny it”. Yudhishthira was worried and said, “Do as you wish brother, but you know the intentions of the preceptor. None apart from you can push him back”. Arjuna replied, “Here’s Satyaki, My disciple. He can hold the preceptor at bay”

Thus, Arjuna went to face off the Samsaptakas. Hundreds of soldiers came up and perished against him in a matter of minutes. Having seen Partha away from Yudhishthira, Drona started moving towards him for a seize. He was intercepted by Satyaki, who was trained meticulously by Arjuna and held him back for a long time. He destroyed his chariot, killed his horses. Drona’s wrath was at a peak and resolved to slay Satyaki. But Satyaki had every answer to Drona. After tasting a dozen shafts from the Kuru preceptor, he sent 30 shafts towards Drona and rendered him unconscious.

Duryodhana comes forward

But Drona regained composure and started destroying Panchala forces. Thousands of Panchal and Matsya soldiers surrounded him and he killed them all, including the two powerful princes, Satyajit and Satanika. Satyaki, Chekitan, Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandi and many others came to check Drona. But Drona was fighting as a man possessed. Thus, Bheema came forward to restore the lost battle. This helped the Pandava forces and they charged viciously at Drona and he was severely injured

Finally, Duryodhana came forward to help the Acharya. There ensued a bitter fight between Bheema and Duryodhana and the latter’s elephant army was destroyed by Bheema. He then cut Duryodhana’s bow and injured him.

Since Duryodhana was in danger, his father in law Bhagadatta-the king of Pragjyotisha and Narakasura’s son, who was slain by Krishna-came forward. Bhagadatta was a righteous and wise man and held deep regards for Krishna and Pandavas but sided with Kauravas for his daughter. He was also known as ‘Friend of Indra’.

Bhagadatta and Supratika

Bhagadatta’s elephant was called Supratika which was a fierce beast and had created a lot of problems for the Pandava army. Bhagadatta was very famous for the elephant battle with his magnificent beast. Hence, he charged on Bheema. The elephant crushed the chariot of Bheema while he himself could barely escape being crushed under the elephant. But the trunk of the elephant caught Bheema and he could extricate himself with great difficulty. Bhagadatta was throwing a lot of javelins to kill the Pandavas army. He charged on the Pandava soldiers and trampled/killed many. Bhagadatta riding on top was sending his javelin and killing those who survived. The Pandava army was put to flight. Supratika reared up again and again, screaming in fury and looking around for Bheema. The Pandava ran beneath the beast and struck it with his bare arms. In pain, the elephant whirled around like a potter’s wheel.

Bheema came out from beneath it and the elephant seized him in its trunk. He spun around and freed himself from the twine of the trunk and again hid beneath the screaming beast that was endeavouring to kill him. Yudhishthira sent his own elephant forces to check Bhagadatta and his elephant. The king of Dasarna charged against Bhagadatta. Dasarna’s elephant was also a fierce beast and there was a great battle between Supratika and Dasarna’s elephant. But Supratika’s tusk pierced Dasarna’s beast in the side and it crashed down dead. At that moment, Bheema emerged from below Supratika and ran out safe. And the Pandava army cheered when they saw Bheema alive.

Arjuna decides to challenge Bhagadatta

Even Satyaki attacked Bhagadatta but his chariot was crushed by Supratika. The Bhagadatta and Supratika duo looked like the Indra-Airavata duo. Finally, it was Son of Indra (Arjuna) who had to rescue the Pandava army.

A great cloud of dust rose from the field where this great elephant battle raged. Arjuna saw this from where he was fighting the Samsaptakas and he also heard the tumult created by Bhagadatta’s elephant. He feared things had gone wrong and said to Krishna: “Madhusudana, this is the cry of Supratika, Bhagadatta’s elephant. This king of Pragjyotisha is terrible with his elephant and has no equal in that kind of warfare. He is sure to defeat and confound our men. We must proceed at once and save the situation. We have punished these Samsaptakas enough. Drive on.”

Also read: A poem on Arjuna

Taming Trigartas

But the Trigartas immediately challenged Arjuna and called him a coward. Arjuna was in a dilemma. He could not refuse a challenge and yet knew that his immediate attention was needed elsewhere or Bhagadatta would crush his forces. He decided to end the irritating challenge of Trigartas and Samsaptakas first. But he saw that there were thousands of them and there was no way he could finish the Samsaptakas in time. Arjuna wanted to come to the rescue of his side but the Trigartas would not let him move. Irritated, Arjuna invoked Indra’s favourite Astra, the Vajra and sent it on the Trigartas army. Thousands of Trigartas and Samshaptakas were killed immediately. Krishna was pleased with Arjuna’s skill. Only Susharma and a few of his soldiers and his brothers remained. Arjuna soon subdued them.

Now, Arjuna rushed to his army’s help. He was too shocked to see the havoc caused by the elephant of Bhagadatta. Bhagadatta attacked Arjuna on Supratika like the destroyer incarnate. But Vasudeva’s skill avoided the shock, each time the beast charged. Bhagadatta showered arrows on Arjuna and Krishna. But Arjuna’s arrows broke the elephant’s armour and began to hurt the beast. Bhagadatta saw that his elephant could no longer stand the attack and he hurled a javelin at Krishna. Arjuna met it with a shaft from his bow and broke it into two. Bhagadatta then discharged another javelin that struck Kiritin’s helmet. Readjusting his helmet, Arjuna bent his bow exclaiming: “Bhagadatta, take your last look at the world and prepare for death!” and hurled at him shafts that broke his bow, shattered his quiver and pierced the joints of his armour.

Bhagadatta’s Vaishnav Astra 

When deprived of all his weapons, Bhagadatta hurled his elephant goad at Arjuna. It was sent with deadly aim and charged with the Vaishnava mantra. It would have killed Partha, but Krishna came in between and presented himself as a target for the missile. Thus, it settled on his chest as a shining necklace. Charged with the mantra of Vishnu, it could not hurt Vishnu but just became the Lord’s jewelled garland round his neck.

“Pundarikaksha (Lotus eyed one) you said you would not participate in the war. Why did you intercept the Astra? It’s not fair!” cried Partha.

Janardana smiled, “This weapon would have killed you, dear Dhananjaya. I, as Lord Vishnu, gave this Astra to Narakasura on request of Bhoomi Devi, his mother. He, in turn, gave it to his son Bhagadatta. The Astra is sure to kill the person at whom it is aimed. Nothing could stop it. Since I did not want to lose you, I had to come between the Astra and you. Now that the Vaishnava Astra is back with me, Bhagadatta is no longer immune from all the astras and weapons. His dreaded elephant too has become like any ordinary elephant. Now be quick. Slay him immediately Do not lose time.”

Slaying Bhagadatta

Arjuna then fully aimed a sharp arrow and stretching his Gandiva, let it go at the head of Supratika. The giant beast let out a blood-curdling cry and fell, killed. Bhagadatta jumped clear. Krishna then again advised Arjuna, “Dear Partha. Look at Bhagadatta. He is a very valiant hero and such heroes are born rarely. However, he is so old that the aged and loose skin folds of his forehead obstruct his vision. He holds the skin folds back by a cloth tied to his head. Destroy the cloth first and Bhagadatta will then be partially blinded. Then you will be able to kill him.”

Accordingly, Arjuna shot a sharp narrow arrow that tore away the cloth on Bhagadatta’s forehead. Bhagadatta was incapacitated. It was followed by another arrow that pierced the chest of Bhagadatta and he fell. Another great warrior was dead. Arjuna came down from his chariot and paid his last respects to the great man who had been a friend of his father. He was one of the best and the oldest king. He was famous in all the three worlds. After the fall of Bhagadatta, Pandavas were back again in the battle.

P.C. Wikipedia


Prasad Kulkarni is a Data and Analytics professional. At work, he analyses historical data and ponders over historical events otherwise.

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