It was the second half of the 18th day of the great war. Only Duryodhana, Ashwathama, Krupacharya and Krutavarma remained on the Kaurava side. Duryodhana had fled the battlefield and had hidden in the Dwaipayana sarovara.
Duryodhana had undertaken “Jalastambhana” inside the pond and was performing japa of a few mantras which were given to him by Sage Durvasa. A successful completion of those mantras would ensure that the Kaurava warriors would all become alive again. Not just that, the warriors who returned would be invincible thereafter. Even after losing everything that he had, Duryodhana, the Avatara of Kali, had not given up hope of pursuing Adharma.
Although Sri Krishna knew everything, he had it arranged that some hunters who were returning from the forest overheard Duryodhana conversing with Ashwathama and the others. They promptly approached Bhimasena and reported the sighting of Duryodhana. Soon, the Pandavas along with Sri Krishna approached the Dwaipayana sarovara. Ashwathama, Krupa and Krutavarma fled from there leaving only Duryodhana.
Duryodhana faked a story about having attained Vairagya towards the Kingdom and asked the Pandavas to take the land and rule it. The truth was of course that he intended to complete his mantra japa and cheat them once again. Yudhisthira refused the concession by his cousin and challenged him to come out and face them in battle. Unable to bear the insult being heaped upon him, Duryodhana emerged out of the water and accepted to fight them.
A momentary lapse of judgement on Dharmaraja’s part led to him offering the choice of any of the Pandava brothers as the opponent. He also allowed Duryodhana to chose the weapon of his liking. Further, he declared that if Duryodhana won against that one Pandava, the entire Kingdom would be forfeited. Sri Krishna was not pleased with this magnanimity of Dharmaraja. However, Duryodhana’s pride ensured that he could choose only Bhimasena as his opponent. He did not want the taint of having chosen a weaker opponent and thereby having earned victory. He also chose the “gada” as the weapon for the fight.
Duryodhana then proposed the site of the sacred Syamantapanchaka for the final duel. The Pandavas agreed and all of them moved there. Meanwhile, Balarama had heard of this climax from Sage Narada while near Kurukshetra and returned on time to witness the clash between two of his favourite students. He had undertaken a tirthayatra for 42 days, starting on a Pushya nakshatra day and returning on a Shravana nakshatra day, that was also an Amavasya.
Soon, Bhimasena and Duryodhana stood face to face. Both had powerful maces in their hands. The gada of Bhima was nearly 1.5 times heavier than that of Duryodhana. But Duryodhana had one thing going for him. He had undertaken immense preparation for this battle for the past 13 years. Sri Krishna explained to Arjuna that this was one potential advantage Duryodhana had!
Bhima and Duryodhana appeared like two elephants on “mast”. It was as if two mountains were moving towards each other and were about to collide. Their eyes were red with anger and appeared to emit poison like two snakes. Their roar sounded like heavy clouds that had burst. It was as if Devendra and Vrutrasura were about to face off, once again!
As their duel was about to commence, numerous nimittas appeared around the place. The omens suggested a terrible battle. Hundreds of thunder strikes were noticed in the sky. The Sun became dull. Tremors were felt on the ground. Heavy winds blew across the place. Many trees were uprooted. Strange birds and animals of different sizes were seen moving around. Foxes and jackals let out eerie cries.
Understanding that the time for the final battle had arrived, Bhimasena spoke to his elder one. He recalled all the acts of Adharma that Duryodhana had committed so far. Not one of them qualified for pardon. He recalled the incident where he was placed between snakes, when his food was poisoned, when he was drowned in water, the burning of the wax palace, the stealing of all wealth and the Kingdom during the game of dice, the insults heaped in the hall of dice and the subsequent vanavasa and ajnatavasa.
Bhima recalled the great insult and attempt of molestation made at Draupadi. He roared and declared that the main aim of his fight that day was to fulfill his vow. After all, for a Kshatriya, keeping his vow was the bigger Dharma than any rules of war! Just to let everyone know, Bhima repeated his oath once again in that field.
अस्योरू गदया राजन् भेत्तास्मि समरेsनया |
नायं प्रवेष्टा नगरं पुनर्वारणसाह्वयम् ||
“O King (Yudhishthira)! I shall break his thighs today in battle, with my gada. From today onwards he will not be able to enter the city of Varana (Hastinapura)”
Bhima made it clear that he would break both the thighs of Duryodhana.
Duryodhana responded to Bhima’s outburst by inviting him to battle. He let everyone know how he had been preparing for years to come face to face with Bhima.
The battle commenced.
Like two bulls, they hurled themselves against each other and hit the opponent with their gadas. For a while, they kept hitting each other with powerful blows. Both of them started bleeding profusely. The battle halted for a duration of a muhurtha and then recommenced.
They started moving in mandalas (circular fashion), letting repeated blows at the opponent. Whenever their maces collided, thunder-like sounds emanated. The two of them showed their immense skills in gada-yuddha. They performed amazing moves to stun and confuse the opponent.
One of the moves was “go-mutri-bhangi” which involved going forward and backwards repeatedly. Other moves involved stepping back suddenly, rushing directly at the opponent, stopping the enemy firmly, holding the opponent from below, moving in clockwise and anti-clockwise manner, jumping in the sky and landing very close to the opponent. Both of them thus fought a terrible battle and the duel kept progressing.
Duryodhana hit Bhima on the side of his arms. Bhima in return hurt Duryodhana with a powerful blow. Bhima’s gada touched the ground which caused a mini-quake at the place. Out of great anger, Duryodhana hurled his gada and hit him on his head. Bhima, though, did not move an inch!
त्वया त्वभिहतो भीमस्तव पुत्रेण पाण्डवः |
नाकम्पत महाराज तदद्भुतमिवाभवत् ||
“O King! Even though Bhima was hit by a powerful blow from the gada of your son, he did not flinch even a little. This was amazing!”
Duryodhana too appeared to not show any fear of Bhima’s blows. The duel was hair-raising.
As the fight continued, Bhima’s gada fell down on earth. At that moment, Duryodhana started hitting Bhima on his chest disregarding the rules of engagement (of not hitting an unarmed opponent). Appearing to be hurt a little, Bhima gained composure again and picked up his weapon. The battle resumed. An angry Bhima then hit a very powerful blow at Duryodhana’s sides. Duryodhana sunk on the ground and held himself against the ground with his knees.
Every time Bhima appeared to be hit, the Kaurava soldiers cheered Duryodhana. When Bhima hurt Duryodhana, the Pandavas let out a roar of approval.
Duryodhana then managed to cut off the kavacha of Bhima. In the absence of protection, the Pandavas started worrying about Bhima. Arjuna then asked Sri Krishna who amongst the two was the better fighter. Sri Krishna replied that the learnings of both Bhima and Duryodhana were similar. Bhima was the stronger of the two but Duryodhana had undertaken more practice.
Sri Krishna then told Arjuna that Bhima would not kill Duryodhana with the established rules of engagement and that he must resort to deviation. Sri Krishna reminded Arjuna about Bhima’s vow in the hall of dice. Bhima had to break Duryodhana’s thighs and therefore whatever was required to achieve that vow must be done. When Sri Krishna said thus, Arjuna looked at Bhima and patted his thighs. Bhima understood the signal from Arjuna to be the permission from Paramatma Sri Krishna.
Bhima started moving around Duryodhana in circular fashion. As their maces collided, sparks flew rapidly. The two of them took a break for another muhurtha and resumed battle again. Bhima hurled his gada at Duryodhana but he managed to escape its blow. Duryodhana in turn hurled his gada at Bhima and caused a lot of bleeding. Since Bhima was still firmly standing on his feet, Duryodhana could not take advantage of this situation.
When Bhima started hitting Duryodhana repeatedly, Duryodhana wished to cheat Bhima and started to jump in the air (in the form of a somersault). Bhima quickly realized Duryodhana’s intention. When he again jumped in the air in that manner, Bhima aimed his gada at Duryodhana’s spine and smashed it. Instantly, both of Duryodhana’s thighs were broken.
धृत्या वञ्चयतो राजन् पुनरेवोत्पतिष्यतः |
ऊरूभ्यां प्राहिणोद् वीर्याद् गदां वेगेन पाण्डवः ||
“O King! When he (Duryodhana) thus jumped up again in order to cheat, Bhima threw his mace with great speed, intending to break both his thighs”
Sri Madhwacharya, in his Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, has explained that Bhima’s blow actually landed on Duryodhana’s spine exactly in the middle of his thighs. This caused both of his thighs to become immobile. Such a blow was delivered even as Duryodhana was in the air and was in the somersault position. So technically Bhima did not hit Duryodhana below the waist!
Duryodhana let out a loud wail due to pain and collapsed on the ground. At exactly the same time, a meteorite fell in the sky. The battle was over. Dharma had won! Adharma had been defeated!
The Pandavas and Panchalas became greatly pleased. They congratulated each other.
Bhimasena approached the fallen Duryodhana. He reminded him of the insults heaped on Draupadi. He also reminded him of his foolish, and unpardonable, attempts at arresting Sri Krishna during the sandhana prior to the war. For these terrible crimes, he punished Duryodhana by stomping his head with his feet. He reminded Duryodhana how he had mocked them by calling them “Pashu! Pashu!” when they were proceeding to the exile. Bhima said it was their turn now to call the Kauravas as animals!
Yudhisthira stopped Bhima, without realizing that the act of Bhima did not violate the Bhagavata Dharma that his younger brother was practicing. It was the duty of Bhima to severely punish anyone who insulted Sri Krishna. And that was what he had just done.
Balarama then erupted in anger. Saying that Bhima had violated the rules of gada-yuddha he approached Bhima with the intention of engaging him. Sri Krishna stopped his elder brother.
Sri Krishna then explained how Bhima’s methods were perfectly in line with Dharma. The death and destruction of the Kauravas was the foremost requirement for the preservation of Dharma. It was the “uttama” Dharma. In order to achieve the same, any method was legal. Further, it was more important for a Kshatriya to keep his vow than to adhere to the norms of battle. Bhima had repeatedly declared his intention to break the thighs of Duryodhana. And he had done exactly that. Therefore, there was no reason to consider the act as Adharma.
Sri Krishna explained that it was not Adharma to kill an enemy with deception when that enemy was himself a cheat.
निकृत्या निकृतिप्रज्ञं यो हन्याद् वैरिणं रणे |
अधर्मो विद्यते नात्र यद् भीमो हतवान् रिपुम् ||
“It is not Adharma if one employs deception to kill an enemy who is a cheat. It is in this way that Bhima has killed his enemy”
Sri Krishna offered a final point of clarification. The rule about not hitting the opponent below the waist is applicable only when the engagement is on the ground. When the opponent is cheating by jumping in the air, no such rules apply!
ऊर्ध्वमुत्क्रम्य वेगेन जिघांसन्तं वृकोदरः |
बभञ्ज गदया चोरू न स्थाने न च मण्डले ||
“Bhima broke his thighs when he was jumping in the air. He did not do so during any formation or during circular motion”
In spite of all these explanations by Paramatma himself, Balarama was not convinced and he left the battlefield and returned to Dwaraka.
Dharmaraja was confused about the whole incident and declared to Sri Krishna that he was not going to approve the methods. Sri Krishna replied saying “So be it”.
Sri Madhwacharya has explained that Bhimasena, the great devotee of Sri Krishna, visualized the Rushabha Sukta of the Rig Veda during the fight with Duryodhana. After breaking his thighs and ending the war, Bhima offered all his karma at the feet of Sri Krishna.
Sri Krishna, in turn, approved every single act of Bhimasena and blessed him profusely.
इत्युक्त्वा वासुदेवोsपि भीमसेनप्रियेप्सया |
अन्वमोदत तत्सर्वं यद्भीमेन कृतं रणे ||
“Having said thus, Sri Krishna, out of great love for Bhimasena, approved every act of his in the battlefield”
Thus, the principal lieutenant of Sri Krishna brought an end to the great Mahabharata war.