Kurukshetra War Day-1

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The Kurukshetra War detailed in the Hindu epic Mahabharata was between the ancient Hindu clans of Kaurava and Pandava and lasted eighteen days.

On day one, Kaurava army stood facing west and the Pandava army stood facing east. On day one wind blew from east to west, against the Kauravas. In the morning when the war started, the Padavas appeared illuminated due to the sunshine on their faces and the Kauravas appeared shaded and dark.

Krishna revealed the sacred revelation of Bhagvata Gita to Arjuna on this day.

Outcome of the Day One fight: Pandavas defeated

Military formation of the Kaurava Army

(MBh 6.17)

  • Name:- Missing
  • Shape:- With face towards all sides
  • Architects:- Bhishma, Drona, Bahlika, Kripa
  • Nature:- Elephants formed its body; the kings, its head; and the steeds, its wings.

War-elephants, were a speciality of ancient Indian armies. A war elephant with a bowmen placed on its top, forms a powerful unit. A few such elephants can form a defensive wall around a small army-unit. It can protect an important war-hero in a chariot, deploying his long-range weapon, viz the arrows, shot with high-precision. Such heroes, usually the kings from various kingdoms, act like the intelligence-unit or the heads of the army. The steeds or the cavalry is the most mobile element of an army. Hence a fleet of cavelry is considered as the wings of an army. The wing also means the sides of an army, in military terminology employed in Mahabharata. Thus, this cavelry could be places on the sides (wings) of the army, ready to be mobile, as and when it is required.

Military formation of the Pandava Army

(MBh 6.19)

  • Name:- Vajra
  • Shape:- Needle mouthed (?)
  • Architects:- Yudhistira, Arjuna
  • Nature:- Faces on all sides, bows its lighting
  • Policy employed: Few must be made to fight against many by condensing them. (This is because the Pandavas knew their army is only 7/11th in size to that of their enemies)

The concept called bow its lighting is explained as follows: The enemy-army will be attacked with a surprise-shower of arrows from the bowmen hidden behind the smitters in the frond. This sudden shower of arrows will be as silent and lethal as a lighting, followed by the loud thunder, which is nothing but the charging of the smitters in the frond. The smitters in the frond are equipped with short-range weapons like the maces, battle-axes, swords, lances etc.

The name Vajra have dual meaning. One meaning gives the shape of the array, viz, it is needle-shaped (in other words, a thin array, due to its lesser number of warriors). The small Pandava army will act like a needle, that will pierce into the huge array of the Kauravas. A hard needle used to bore diamonds and gems is called Vajra. Another meaning of Vajra is thunder-bolt. This meaning gives the initial action performed by the array as a lighting (arrow-shower from behind) followed by the thunder-sound (the charging of the smitters).

The heroes of the Kaurava army in Day One

(MBh 6.17)

The Kaurava's formed a hero-centric approach, from day 1 to day 10 of the war. They were alwas alert in protecting their main asset viz their commander-in-chief Bhishma, who though aged, was still a high precision bowmen with keen eye-sight, excelling even Arjuna. But owing to his old age, he had less stamina, and required more protection, against counter-attack. The whole of the narration of the war from day one to day ten is replete with passages mentioning protection to Bhishma. Dushasana, the brother of king Duryodhana, was the military-officer in-charge for Bhishma's protection. On day one, Dussasana, Durvishaha, Durmukha, Dussaha, Vivinsati, Chitrasena and Vikarna -- all brothers of Duryodhana -- protected Bhishma. Besides this his army was protected by the armies of the following 12 tribes/kingdoms:- Abhishahas, Surasenas, Sivis, Vasatis, Swalyas, Matsyas (Matsyas on Kaurava side was located in western regions), Amvashtas, Trigartas, Kekayas, Sauviras, Kitavas and Other mixed tribes.

The above army was surrounded by the Magadha army containing 10000 elephants, lead by Magadha king (Jayatsena).

The heroes of the Pandava army in Day One

(MBh 6.19)

The Pandava army on day one, had Bhima at its frond. He was the foremost of the smitters, skilled in mace-fight. He can, with his mace slew large number of warriors on foot or on horses. He knew to fell the chariots by striking at the weak points of a chariot, viz its horses, its yokes and its wheels. He knew how to fell a war-elephant by striking its vulnerable parts, like cutting its trunk, or by mounting on it and striking at the center of its head. There was none equal to him in this act. (Duryodhana was more skilled than Bhima in mace-fight, but only in a dual-fight.). Nakula and Sahadeva protected Bhima's sides (wings). Both were smitters skilled in sword fight. The five sons of Draupadi, all bowmens, protected the rear of Bhima. They were the surprise bowmen. Behind them was Abhimanyu for additional protection. In the middle was the king Yudhisthira the think-tank. He was followed by Dhristadyumna, skilled as a bowmen and as a smitter using sword. Behind him was Shikhandi and behind him Arjuna. This greatest of all bowmen viz Arjuna, was in charge of the surprise attack involving a shower of arrows at the enemy army. Behind him was the Yadava chief Satyaki, Arjuna's disciple in bow fight. He was followed by Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas two Panchala princes. They were followed by the Kekaya brothers. Behind them was Chedi king Dhristaketu, followed by the Yadava chief Chekitana. The rear of the army was protected by king Virata of Matsya and king Drupada of Panchala, both old in age.

The highlights of Day One fight

Bhishama clashed with Arjuna, Satyaki with Kritavarma, Abhimanyu with Brahdala, Bhimasena with Duryodhana, Dushasana with Nakula, Durmukha with Sahadeva, Yudhishtra with Shalya, Dhristadyumna with Drona, Maharatha Dhristketu with Bahlika, Ghatotkach with Alambusha, Shikhandi with Ashwathama, Virata with Bhagadatta, Kripacharya with Brahatkshatra, Drupada with Sindhu Raja Jayadratha, Vikarana with Sutasoma, Susharma with Chekitana, and Shakuni with Yudhishtra's son Prativindhya. Similarly Srutakarama, son of Sahadeva attacked maharatha Sudakshina of Kamboja (Sudakshinaam tu rajendra Kambojanam maharatham). Sudakshina covered Srutakarama with numerous sharp arrows; Srutakarama too responded in kind (6.45.60-68). Later in the day, after the slaying of Uttara (son of Virata ) by Shalya, his brother Sveta was greatly upset. He gave a very fierce fight to Srutakarama and later also he clashed valiantly with seven maharathas of the Kauravas viz., Brahadala, Jayatsena, Rukamratha, princes Vinda and Anuvinda of Avanti, Sudakshina of Kamboja and Jayadratha of Sindhudesa (6.47.47-49). Sveta was also finally slain by Bhishma.

Pandavas were defeated at the end of the day, their commander slain

Warriors Slain

Chapters-wise Summary

  • 6,44-Day1 Forenoon - First encounter
  • 6,45-Day1 Forenoon - Many dual encounters
  • 6,46-General combat description
  • 6,47-Day 1 Noon - Virata's son Uttara's death
  • 6,48-Day 1 AfterNoon - Virata's son Sweta's death
  • 6,49-Day 1 AfterNoon - Virata's son Sankha's fight

Virata's son Sweta was a great warrior, described as a commander of Matsya army. However the role he played was that of a commander-in-chief, for the whole of Pandava army for Day One.

Then when their commander (Sweta) was slain, Arjuna and Krishna, slowly withdrew the troops (for their nightly rest). And then the withdrawal took place of both the armies. Kauravas made shouts of victory. The Pandavass entered (their quarters) cheerlessly, thinking, of that awful slaughter in single combat of their commander. (6,48).

On Day One night, after the death of this hero, and after the Pandava's defeat in the day's battle, there is mention of a meeting in which Dhristadyumna was elected as the commander of Pandava army. This arises a doubt, that Dhristadyumna was not the commander in chief for day one. He might have taken that position only after Sweta's death.

Refer (6,5):-

Yudhisthira to Dhristadyumna in the meeting:- "O Dhrishtadyumna, mark these words that I say unto thee. Approved by Vasudeva Krishna, thou hast been the commander of our forces. As Kartikeya, in days of old, was ever the commander of the celestial host, so also art thou, O bull among men, the commander of the Pandava host. Putting forth thy prowess, O tiger among men, slay the Kauravas. Rest of us will follow thee"


  • C. Rajagopalachari, Mahabharata, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 1994
  • Kamala Subramaniam, Mahabharata, Bhavan's Book University, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai 2001

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