After a fierce round of fighting involving various duels, the 7th day of the great war had ended. Both sides took adequate medicines, and rest, overnight and returned to Kurukshetra, all eager to resume the battle. Bhishma was still leading the Kauravas with great energy in spite of constant chiding by Duryodhana at the end of each day.
Bhishma arranged his forces in the form of a ‘Danda’ vyuha. The troops stood in the form of a stick. He led from the front of that formation and had the Malavas, all the forces from the southern kingdoms and the Avantis for his company.
Behind him was Dronacharya, and he was surrounded by the Pulindas, Paradas and Kshudraka-Malavas (remaining Malavas). Bhagadatta had the Kalingas, Pishachas and Magadhas for support and stood behind Drona. Behind him stood Bruhadbala, along with the Mekalas, Tripuras and the Chicchilas.
At the back end of the vyuha stood the King of Trigarta, the leader of the Shamsaptakas. He had the Kambhojas and Yavanas for company. Along with him were Ashwathama, Duryodhana and his brothers, as well as Kripacharya. The entire vyuha appeared like an endless ocean.
Taken aback by the impressive formation of his enemies, Yudhisthira asked his commander Dhrishtadyumna to come up with a formation of his own. Dhrishtadyumna responded by staging his army in the ‘Shringataka’ vyuha.
ततः स पार्षतः शूरो व्यूहं चक्रे सुदारुणम् |
श्रुङ्गाटकं महाराज परव्यूहविनाशनम् ||
This formation appeared like the horns of a cow. Bhimasena and Satyaki, along with several warriors, occupied the tip of the horns. At the middle of the horns stood Arjuna. Lower down the formation were Yudhisthira and Nakula-Sahadeva.
A terrible battle began.
Sharp arrows flew all over. It was as if the sky was filled with snakes flying around with their mouths open. It was as if innumerable lightning was striking the sky filled with dark clouds. In a short while, the ground was filled with shields that had fallen from the hands of soldiers who died. It was like the Devas and and Danavas had descended on earth to continue their eternal rivalry.
Amidst all this, Bhishmacharya sought out the Pandavas and approached them. Yudhisthira noticed this and ordered all his leaders to counter-attack the son of Ganga. The fierce attack of Bhishma was felt most by the Somakas and the Panchalas, who paid a heavy price. Every Somaka or Panchala who faced Bhishma fell down with his hands and head detached from the trunk!
The Pandava army spoke amongst themselves that there was only one man who could stop Bhishma in this state – Bhimasena. And true to their expectation, Vrikodara rushed towards Bhishma and engaged him. Duryodhana brought his forces near Gangeya to protect him. This only enraged Bhima even more.
भीमस्तु सारथिं हत्वा भीष्मस्य रथिनां वरः |
प्रहताश्वरथे तस्मिन् द्रवमाणे समन्ततः |
सुनाभस्य शरेणाषु शिरश्चिच्छेद चारिहा ||
Bhima killed the charioteer of Bhishma as well as his horses. When the chariot of Bhishma thus went out of control and brought a temporary halt to the havoc caused by him, Bhimasena proceeded quickly towards Sunabha, the son of Dhritharashtra.
With one sharp arrow, he cut off the head of that Kaurava. The sacrifice had begun.
The death of Sunabha enraged seven brothers of Duryodhana who had stood nearby and witnessed the killing. They thought they could kill Bhima if they all got together and attacked him. The seven brothers were Adityaketu, Bahvashi, Kundadhara, Mahodara, Aparajita, Pandita and Vishalaksha.
Yama-kinkaras had already arrived there to take them to their loka. Only that they couldn’t notice the signs.
Mahodara started the battle by firing nine arrows at Bhima. Adityaketu joined the attack by showering him with seventy arrows, while Bahvakashi shot five of them. Kundadhara sent ninety sharp arrows at Partha, while Vishalaksha fired seven fiery ones. Aparajita joined them and shot countless arrows. Pandita’s contribution to the attempt were three arrows.
But a Lion never tolerates the poking around of hyenas. Similar was Bhimasena’s response.
धनुः प्रपीड्य वामेन करेणामित्रकर्षणः |
शिरश्चिच्छेद समरे शरेण नतपर्वणा ||
The destroyer of enemies shot an extra-ordinarily long arrow, that had a bent edge, using his left hand, at Aparajita. This detached the neck of Aparajita from the rest of his body. He fell down lifeless.
(Note: Sri Vyasa highlights the usage of the left hand by Bhimasena here to indicate that he too was a Savyasachin – capable of using the bow with both hands)
Using another missile like arrow, Bhima sent Kundadhara to the town of Yama.
The death of Pandita was especially ghastly. It was as if a snake had bit a person and rushed inside the earth. The arrow dispatched by Bhima was so sharp and fast that it pierced through Pandita and got stuck deep into the earth.
The sight of Vishalaksha, another brother of Duryodhana, brought back old memories of the game of dice to Bhima. He had to pay the price for being complicit in that grave sin. Three arrows aimed at him detached Vishalaksha’s head and carried it on to the ground below.
A special arrow made out of heavy iron was reserved for Mahodara. He aimed it at the chest of the Kaurava and released it. It was the sixth son of Dhritharashtra who had lost his life within a short span of time.
Adityaketu received a sharp missile like arrow from Bhima. The result was the same. Yet another Kaurava dead.
Bhima them remembered the five arrows fired by Bahvakashi and released a special arrow with a bent edge at him. He too started his journey towards Yama’s abode.
प्रदुद्रुवुस्ततस्तेsन्ये पुत्रास्तव विशाम्पते |
मन्यमाना हि तत्सत्यं सभायां तस्य भाषितम् ||
There were a few other brothers of Duryodhana around this scene. Witnessing the massacre of eight of their own, they realized Bhima truly meant what he had declared during the game of dice (that he would kill all of them). They ran away from the battlefield!
The loss of his brothers caused Duryodhana a great deal of pain. Unable to come to terms with it, he approached the elderly Bhishmacharya looking for some words of comfort. But what Bhishma told him put him into deeper fear and misery.
यं यं हि धार्तराष्ट्राणां भीमो द्रक्ष्यति संयुगे |
हनिष्यति रणे तं तं सत्यमेतद् ब्रवीमि ते ||
Bhimasena shall kill every one of the sons of Dhritharashtra whom he sees on the battlefield; I am telling you this truth.
Over the course of the next ten days, the words of Bhishma turned to be the great truth of the war!