The first half of the eleventh day of the great war was consumed, in terms of attention, by the arrival of Karna into the battlefield. He had visited Bhishma twice, after the latter’s fall and resting on the bed of arrows, and sought his blessings to join war. Bhishma asked him to consider trying to end the war, and as he refused, then asked him to go ahead and fight the war as per Kshatriya Dharma.
The Kaurava army was greatly enthused by the arrival of the son of Radha. They thought that they finally had a warrior who would match Arjuna’s skill and perhaps fetch them a victory. There was a renewed sense of purpose in their actions that day.
Duryodhana played a very shrewd game to resolve what could have been a tricky situation. He asked Karna to suggest who should be made the Senadhipati next. Handed the responsibility, there was no way Karna could demand the role for himself. He showered Dronacharya with great words of praise and recommended that he be made the leader. Duryodhana obliged and Drona was coronated as the commander.
Numerous duels took place during the day. It was a day when Abhimanyu showed extraordinary skill in damaging the Kaurava army. He fought a valiant duel with Puru and defeated him soundly. Jayadratha, the King of Sindhu desha, tried his luck next with trying to subdue the son of Arjuna. He was badly beaten.
Seeing all this, and realizing that Abhimanyu could run away with the day, Shalya, the King of Madra, rushed towards the teenaged lion and hurled a powerful Shakti at him.
(Note: Shakti is somewhat equivalent to a bomb. It carried a lot of firepower and would burn the victim. It however targeted only specific people, against whom it was hurled)
In one of the most dramatic scenes of the war, Abhimanyu caught the burning Shakti astra with a hook and hurled it back at Shalya’s chariot. All the seniors in the Pandava camp, including Bhima, Drupada and others, witnessed this amazing fight by Abhimanyu and applauded his courage and skill.
The returning Shakti hit Shalya’s own chariot and caused a blast. The chariot was completely destroyed and the charioteer was dead. Humiliated and angry, Shalya got down from his car and ran towards Abhimanyu with a gada (mace).
During the time of the Mahabharata war, Shalya was one of the greatest fighters with the mace. There were only a handful of people who could even match him, let alone defeat him. Abhimanyu was not one of those, and Bhimasena knew it. So when Abhimanyu, unable to control his adrenaline, responded to Shalya’s invitation and rushed towards him, Bhima quickly intervened and stopped him.
वारयित्वा तु सौभद्रं भीमसेनः प्रतापवान् |
शल्यमासाद्य समरे तस्थौ मेरुरिवाचलः ||
The valiant Bhimasena stopped the son of Subhadra; He approached Shalya and stood there like the Mount Meru.
The uncle asked the nephew to step aside. It was time for a class. A masterclass.
For a moment, both warriors, with huge maces that resembled the ‘danda’ of Mahakala, stood gazing at each other. It was as if two tigers were getting ready to show who owned the territory.
Seeing the two of them ready to engage, the soldiers around there stopped their fight and started beating drums, blowing conches and started making huge roars and noises.
Bhima and Shalya started going around in a ‘mandala‘. It was like two wrestlers waiting to pounce on each other. Only they had maces in their hands. In a moment, they jumped at each other and swirled their weapons. Huge flames came to be caused by the friction from the two gadas.
They again started circling around each other.
तौ वृशाविव नर्दन्तौ मण्डलानि विचेरतुः |
आवर्तितगदाहस्तावुभौ शल्यवृकोदरौ ||
Shalya and Vrukodara started circling in a mandala, holding maces in their hands, and shouting at each other like bulls.
They again crashed into each other and swirled the weapons. This time, the blow from Bhima was larger, causing Shalya’s mace to weaken and crack. Shalya, though, did not give up the fight. They again went back circling each other.
The duel moved into a higher pitch. The two of them started hurling the gada at each other. The two maces crashed into each other mid-sky and huge flames erupted.
ते चैवोभे गदे श्रेष्ठे समासाद्य परस्परम् |
तथा विसृजतां वह्निं नागकन्ये इवोज्ज्वले ||
The two excellent maces struck each other powerfully; They produced flames (in the sky) which appeared like bright Nagakanyas dancing in the air.
This duel continued for quite a while. It was like two tigers pouncing on each other with their nails. It was like two bull elephants hurting each other with their tusks. The two repeatedly stuck powerful blows against each other.
The two of them were profusely bleeding. To onlookers they appeared like two trees that had blossomed red flowers all over.
The repeated blows by Bhimasena started tiring out Shalya. But he did not lose heart and kept fighting. Their fight reached a climax.
अथाप्लुत्य पदान्यष्टौ सन्निपत्य गजाविव |
सहसा लोहदण्डाभ्यामन्योन्यमभिजघ्नतुः ||
Thereafter they went back eight steps and, like two elephants, jumped on each other, with their iron maces and smashed each other.
The two of them stopped circling around and slowly went back eight steps. It was to be the final assault. A huge roar came out of their throats and they jumped in their air and swirled their maces at each other.
From the middle of the sky the two warriors fell down at the same time. It was like two comets crashing on to earth.
तथा विह्वलगात्रं तं निःश्वसन्तं पुनः पुनः |
शल्यमभ्यपतत् तूर्णं कृतवर्मा महारथः ||
Krutavarma, the Maharatha, approached Shalya, whose body was badly damaged and who was panting heavily again and again.
The warriors assembled there started to wonder what had happened to the two of them. Krutavarma quickly realized that Shalya had fallen unconscious unable to bear the blow. He quickly rushed towards Shalya and picked him up in his chariot and drove away.
All eyes turned towards Bhima. What had happened to him?
भूमौ निपतितो वीरो निमेषात् पुनरुत्थितः |
भीमसेनो महाबाहुर्गदापाणिरदृश्यत ||
In a minute, Bhimasena the powerful, who had fallen down, was seen getting up and holding his gada again.
Bhima was ready for battle. Again. Only his opponent was nowhere to be seen.
One of the great warriors of the gada, Shalya, thus had to face a humiliating defeat at the hands of Vrikodara.