One of the big challenges in describing an event like the great war of the Mahabharata is to continually keep the interest of the reader/listener. When the intention is to describe numerous duels and battles fought over 18 days in great detail, only resorting to a mechanical recording of what happened can impact the readability of the work. How does one make it interesting when you are primarily describing people shooting arrows at each other, slaughtering horses and elephants, crushing enemies – and all of this over tens of thousands of shlokas?
Sri Veda Vyasa resorts to wonderful usage of alankaras to overcome this challenge. Reading the yuddha parvas of the Bharata, therefore is as much a joy and pleasure as the rest of the grantha.
A few examples of the excellent use of these alankaras from just one chapter of the grantha will highlight this point very well. Let us explore a few beautiful shlokas from the 98th chapter of the Bhishma Parva (Udupi recension) and appreciate the great skill of Sri Krishna Dwaipayana.
On the 9th day of the war, as the pitch of the battle picks up, the Rakshasa Alambusa approaches Abhimanyu and invites him for a battle by shouting at him. Abhimanyu responds in equal measure.
सौभद्रोsपि रणे राजन् सिन्हवद् विनदन् मुहुः |
आर्ष्यश्रुङ्गिं महेष्वासं पितुरत्यन्तवैरिणम् ||
O King! (Abhimanyu) too rushed towards that arch-enemy of his father, the great archer (Alambusa) roaring again and again like a lion.
The battle between the two heats up soon. Abhimanyu shoots ninety arrows at the Rakshasa, all of which get stuck deep into his body. How does Alambusa appear at that moment?
स तैर्विभिन्नसर्वाङ्गः शुशुभे राक्षसोत्तमः |
पुष्पितैः किंशुकै राजन् संस्तीर्ण इव पर्वतः ||
That best amongst the Rakshasas, wounded all over by the arrows, O King, appeared like a mountain covered with Kimshuka trees which have flowered fully.
Alambusa responded to that damage by firing great many arrows at Abhimanyu. Sri Vyasa describes how those arrows looked like.
तेन ते विशिखा मुक्ता यमदन्डोपमाः शिताः |
अभिमन्युं विनिर्भिद्य प्राविशन् धरणीतलम् ||
Those arrows fired by him, each appearing sharp like the Danda of Yama, pierced Abhimanyu’s body and entered the earth.
Alambusa tries a lot of tricks with his ‘maya’ against Abhimanyu. By the use of Surya-astra and other weapons, Abhimanyu counters each one of them successfully. Defeated, Alambusa runs away from the contest.
This greatly enthuses Abhimanyu who celebrates by attacking the Kauravas even more.
तस्मिन् विनिर्जिते तूर्णं कूटयोधिनि राक्षसे |
आर्जुनिः समरे सनिन्यं तावकं सम्ममर्द ह |
मदान्धो वन्यनागेन्द्रः सपद्मां पद्मिनीमिव ||
As soon as the Rakshasa lost his battle of maya quickly Abhimanyu, like a wild elephant in mast rampaging a lake full of lotuses, ravished your army.
Bhishma and other Kaurava warriors arrived there. So did Arjuna and others from the Pandava camp. Soon a battle between Kripacharya and Satyaki ensued. When this battle picked up pace and it appeared like Kripacharya was in danger, Ashwathama intervened on his behalf and cut Satyaki’s arrows.
Satyaki switched focus and attacked Ashwathama. How did the change of target appear to those witnessing the battle?
समुत्सृजात शैनेयो गौतमं रथिनां वरम् |
अभ्यद्रवद् रणे द्रौणिं राहुः खे शशिनं यथा ||
At that moment Shaini (Satyaki) got rid of Gautama (Kripacharya) and rushed towards Ashwathama, like Rahu approaching Chandra!
Ashwathama was hit by Satyaki quite badly. He recovered soon and shot an extremely long arrow (Naracha) at Satyaki. It was such a powerful dispatch that the arrow pierced through Satyaki and continued beyond and got stuck on the ground.
शैनेयं स तु निर्भिद्य प्राविशद् धरणीतलम् |
वसन्तकाले बलवान् बिलं सर्पशिशुर्यथा ||
That (Naracha) pierced through Shaini and entered the earth, just like how a snakelet rushes into its anthill in Spring.
The troubles from Satyaki did not end for Ashwathama. How intense was Ashwthama’s misery?
तापयामास च द्रौणिं शैनेयः परवीरहा |
विमुक्तो मेघजालेन यथैव तपनस्तथा ||
Shaini troubled Drauni relentlessly, like how the Sun who has come out of the clouds (burns the earth).
As all these battles proceeded, at one point in time Drona and Arjuna came face to face.
ततो द्रोणश्च पार्थश्च समेयातां महामृधे |
यथा बुधश्च शुक्रश्च महाराज नभस्तले ||
O Maharaja! Drona and Partha came together (for battle) as if Budha and Shukra had come together in the sky.
The repeated usage of such wonderful alankaras makes reading these chapters on the grueling battles a thoroughly enjoyable experience. That is why the Mahabharata continues to enchant us Bharatiyas, no matter how many times we read it.