On the twelfth day of the Kurukshetra War, Duryodhana sent Bhagadatta, the asuran king of the eastern kingdom of Pragjyotisha, to wreck carnage on the Pandavas ranks. The asuran was an acknowledged expert in elephantry warfare; and he rode atop an enormous brute of a bull elephant, Supratika. The man-beast pair proved invincible, and the earth soaked in the blood of humans and animals alike. Thousands of men perished. Great mounds of dead and dying war animals rose like hills on the battlefield.
A desperate Yudhishthira sent Bheema, mace fighter without equal and subduer of elephants, to stop Bhagadatta. Bheema’s unmatched strength was well known throughout the lands and he had often stopped an elephant in its tracks with one blow from his mace.
“Bheem, you are the only man strong enough to stop Bhagadatta and his demon, Supratika,” said Yudhishthira. “Confront the Pragjyotisha king, lest he rob us of our armies.”
With a roar, Bheema headed for the spot on the battlefield towards Bhagadatta. Enthused by their general’s fearless charge, his cohorts followed, eager to do battle. It was easy to locate the asuran king in the vast crowded field, for fighting men and war animals were fleeing from his advance. They rushed past Bheema as if Yama himself chased with his scythe held high.
In the distance, loud elephant trumpets resounded and vibrated. The earth shook. Men screamed; flew into the air as if they were grasshoppers. Horses too had sprouted wings, or so it seemed, as they rose in the air, and kicked their legs. A towering elephant, twice as tall as any bull Bheema had encountered, tossed men and horses about. Chariots and their drivers went flying and crashed to the earth to kill and maim more men on the ground.
“Over there. Bhagadatta!” Bheema pointed and his driver whipped the horses and gained speed. His cohorts, close behind, yelled and charged.
Bhagadatta’s elephant, Supratika, was a fearsome white animal. The gargantuan beast was composed, intelligent, and vicious. It swung its head left and right. Each sweep sent dozens of cavalry soldiers and their horses flying.
A rathi-general on an elephant approached Bhagadatta. The asuran laughed. He nudged with his knees and Supratika rose on its hind legs and smashed the rathi’s elephant. The animal’s skull cracked; its legs spread out from its sides, left and right; and bones snapped. The stricken beast dropped in a heap and died. The rathi jumped, but the asuran tossed a javelin and skewered the man in mid-air; killed the Pandava general before he hit the ground.
Bheema rode around his enemy’s massive elephant and peppered it with dozens of arrows. But Supratika wore a heavy, double-layered chain mail armour, and the shafts bounced off.
With a swing of its massive trunk, Supratika sent Bheema’s chariot flying. The Pandava had expected the move; hurled himself to the ground and rolled. He lost his helmet but with mace in hand, he jumped to his feet with the grace and agility of his spiritual brother, Hanuman. His driver was not so lucky. As the man, his arms and legs thrashing wildly, flew out of the doomed chariot, Bhagadatta killed him with another javelin throw.
“O Bhagadatta, I’m on foot. Come down and fight me.” Bheema ducked, missing Supratika’s swinging trunk.
“Do you take me for a fool, Pandava? Mount an elephant, if you must, and fight me on equal terms. Or die!”
Bhagadatta’s white elephant rose on its hind legs and smashed down; it burst a boulder and sent the stones flying, like a hundred slingshots. A dozen horsemen in Bheema’s packed cohort caught the sharp debris and toppled off their saddles. The elephant charged into the milling body of men and horses; trampling and killing as it went.
The bulky Pandava grabbed the mane of a riderless horse, swung onto its saddle, and gave chase.
Supratika was fast; caught up with several chariots and bludgeoned them from the rear. Wood cracked. Loose wheels clattered and wobbled and smashed into the backs of fleeing men.
Bheema hopped onto the saddle of his galloping horse; threw himself forward and grabbed Supratika’s tail. The enormous beast turned and turned; tried to shake off the Pandava. But he hung on tight. Soldiers who came close received hard slaps from the swinging trunk; and many men lost their heads. Other soldiers hesitated; thrust forward and jumped back. And thrust again.
Bheema exerted all his strength and dragged himself up the thick elephant tail which had hair as sharp as a porcupine’s quills. The white elephant’s tail swung back and forth, but Bheema found a toehold on a medallion attached to Supratika’s chain mail. He looked up.
Bhagadatta was standing above, on his elephant’s back, with a javelin in his hand. The asuran aimed and threw.
Bheema lost his grip and fell; as he dropped, he felt the shaft fly past his ear. The next moment, the elephant bent its hind legs; fell on its haunches and ground the earth with its backside.
The Pandava disappeared under the immense beast.
*** Copyright @ 2022, Eric Alagan ***