Yudhishthira led his brothers and escorts towards the Kaurava armies. Along the way, hundreds of chariots bearing his allied kings— generals commanding the seven armies that comprised the Pandava forces—and their escorts joined the party.

The procession numbered several thousand chariots; caused a ripple of excitement as it cut its way through the assembled regiments. Up in the air, vultures and blackbirds circled. They knew when humans gathered in such vast numbers, a never-ending feast was in the making.

It was a full hour before the Pandavas cleared past their armies and crested the low ridge. Down below, in the vast open plains, Kaurava scouts galloped away towards their arrayed forces. Alerts went out; triggered excitement among the Kaurava ranks.

“Can there be so many?” said Yudhishthira. His army was vast in numbers, but the expanse of the Kaurava forces dwarfed the Pandavas.

“They travel in great opulence and comfort,” said Arjuna.

Spies had reported that for each warrior, even the most junior, there were no less than two servants. The kings each travelled with hundreds of attendants, servants and entertainers.

“More mouths to feed,” said Bheema with a smirk. “We’ve already won half the battle.” He was right, for how well an army marched and fought depended foremost on how well it was fed.

The Pandavas had in their possession the magical pot that Panchali received from Vivasvan, also known as Surya, the Sun God. With a single grain of rice, the pot could feed their entire army. This gave the Pandavas an unmatched advantage and reduced the number of servants required to cook and feed the army—and the long lines of wagon trains to cart food supplies. 

Various clans and tribes populated the Pandava armies, and each had their culinary preferences. The magical pot satisfied all palates and whims. The cost of feeding the army left the royal treasuries untouched. And money was never short to pay for wages and critical military victuals.

“Dear generals, please stay while the king and his brothers go to pay respects to our elders,” said Arjuna.

The five Pandava chariots took a leisurely drive down the gentle gradient and entered the flatland. Dushasana led a military party from the Kaurava side and met the visitors.

“Hail, Mighty Pandavas, what transaction brings you here?” said Dushasana.

“Don’t you know?” said Bheema. “We are here to secure peace, but before that, I’ll take your life and Duryodhana’s life too.”

“Bheemasena!” Yudhishthira’s sharp admonishment startled his horses. They neighed and blubbered.

“Perhaps you ought to first secure peace within your family,” said the Kaurava; and he spat in disdain.

“Dushasana, we’ve come to pay respects to our grandfather and mahagurus,” said Yudhishthira.

“You’ve come to kill them. Why this charade?”

“Do you deny my king’s wish?” Arjuna placed an arrow to his bow; and the Kaurava prince blanched.

“Follow me.” Dushasana’s chariot scribed an arc and raced away; his escort riding hard beside him. The Pandavas followed at a leisurely pace. 

Grandsire Bhishma, Dronacharya and Kripacharya had lined up their chariots in front of the Kaurava army. Duryodhana’s and Dushasana’s chariots were on the left and right of Bhishma.

The Pandavas removed their helmets and went before the grandsire and the preceptors. Yudhishthira went down on one knee and his brothers followed suit.

“O Grandsire, Son of Ganga, Patriarch of the Kuru Race and grandfather to us all, please bless your humble grandsons with victory as we set out to fight in the name of dharma.”

“Yudhishthira, if you wish to seek our grandfather’s blessings, do so,” said Duryodhana. “But do not embellish your plea with falsehood. It is I who am fighting for dharma.”

“Duryodhana, hold your tongue,” said Bhishma.

“If you accept what he says, then you’re better off fighting on the Pandavas’ side,” said the imperial prince.

“Duryodhana, my resolve to fight for your cause, remains fast,” said Bhishma. He addressed the Pandavas.

“Yudhishthira, Bheemasena, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, your visit gladdens my heart. You have come to seek the blessings of your elders and this speaks well of your innate excellent qualities, your blemish free pedigree and your excellent nurturing. You and your brothers have my whole hearted blessings. May you emerge from this terrible war unharmed and victorious.” To Arjuna, the Grandsire said,

“O Partha, you are generalissimo of the Pandava armies. From one generalissimo to another, I give you my salute and respects. I and my generals will exert ourselves to the utmost, as I trust you and yours will do so too, and let the side that fights for righteousness and truth prevail.” He also voiced similar words of encouragement to his other grandsons, Bheema, Nakula and Sahadeva.

Dronacharya blessed the brothers and for Arjuna, he had special words.

“O Bearer of the Gandiva, Perfect Warrior, you carry a heavy burden. I bless you with every success. Make me proud. I have taught you everything I know. It’s time for you to prove my words true; prove to the naysayers that you are in demeanour and deeds the Champion of Champions.”

Kripacharya gave his unremitting blessings to the Pandavas. To Bheema, he said,

“O Mighty Bheemasena, wielder of the magical Vrigodharam, cage your anger and no one can better you in battle. When you kill, do so without passion and you will secure your release.”

“Elders of the Bharata Race, my brothers and I, having secured your blessings, are assured of success,” said Yudhishthira. “What form that success takes, whether it is attached to our death and defeat, is beyond us to predict, for arrayed against us are the finest and most resolute warriors of Bharata.” The eldest Pandava looked troubled and Bhishma said,

“What is it, dear Yudhishthira?”

“I have a wish, Grandsire, if you will grant me.”

“I grant your wish,” said Bhishma.

“Grandsire, you don’t even know what he’ll ask of you, but you’ve already agreed,” said Duryodhana. “What if he asks you to retire from the field?”

“My dear Duryodhana, your elder cousin will never ask for something he knows I cannot give. Yudhishthira, reveal your wish.”

“I wish to address your armies.”

*** Copyright @ 2022, Eric Alagan ***

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