Duryodhana had fallen; the war was over, and the Pandava guard was down. The queens and wives of the victors had joined their men in the camp to meet and bid their farewells to Grandsire Bhishma. And the patriarch of the Kuru race finally surrendered his hold on life and returned to join his brothers, the Ashta-Vasus.

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During the eighteen days of battle, three rings of guard surrounded the Pandavas’ once sprawling camp-city. After Duryodhana’s demise, the Pandavas let down their precautions; only one ring provided security, and even that was aimed at thwarting wild beasts and scavengers that wandered into camp.

Every day, the camp-city dwindled in spread and size as people departed in their thousands. Many people, with petitions unresolved, lingered and waited their turn. The Pandavas and their families and close allies remained behind to address their people’s woes.

Then, one night, a moonless sky bore witness to an unspeakable tragedy.

Ashwatthama’s shadowy figure sneaked into the Pandava camp. The brahmana-warrior entered Dhrishtadyumna’s tent and killed him in a short, brutal fight. Face covered in blood, Ashwatthama found Sikhandi and killed him in his sleep. In battle, the two children of King Drupada of Panchala had withstood the best warriors, but under the new moon’s sky, they succumbed to treachery.

Their sister, Panchali, wife of the Pandavas, did not fare any better.

Before the night was over, Drona’s son found and murdered all five of Panchali’s children; each of whom were fathered by Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, and Arjuna.

But the camp roused and an extensive search trapped Ashwatthama. He was brought, bound hand and foot, to the Pandavas and Krishna. Satyaki, the adirathi-general of Krishna’s Vrishni army, who was among the handful of surviving champions of the war, was present too.

Bheema wanted to kill Ashwatthama for his heinous act, but Yudhishthira stopped him. Krishna, too, counselled against more killing.

“The weeding is over, Bheema,” said Krishna. “The ones who perished today had run out of their life spans; paid the price.”

“Panchali will never forgive us if we don’t take this fallen brahmin’s head,” said Bheema. “Will you tell her, O Yudhishthira? Or you, Arjun? Or my beloved twins, will you?” His brothers remained silent.

“There is no need to tell me.”

The crowd parted and Panchali appeared. She had gathered and tied her hair. It was matted brown with Duryodhana’s blood. Dark rings circled around her eyes, but she exuded calm.

“Drona’s son had committed heinous sins today, but it is not for us to exact vengeance,” she said. “I had cried enough. All the women in Bharata had wept enough. I do not wish for Kripi, who is still mourning her beloved husband, Dronacharya, to mourn her son too.” She went up to Yudhishthira and placed a soft hand on his chest and said,

“Sentence him as you see fit, my Victorious Emperor.”

Yudhishthira banished Ashwatthama to wander the lands as a mendicant and to live on alms. He was not allowed to sleep under a man-made roof or drink from man-made receptacles. No one was allowed to serve his needs. He will have to rake and cover his own latrine and attend to all other activities that required the services of the meanest classes.

Drona had provided well for his son. Ashwatthama, unused to the deprivations of the low-born, suffered. Within months, he succumbed to disease. He was last seen wondering about the lands; his body covered in lice and pus-filled boils and open sores.

***

The aftermath of the war was a drawn-out and painful toting of the costs in shattered human lives. The stories shared many parallels that threatened to numb the people and even treat the consequences as normal. Droves of people gathered along the banks of the Ganga to conduct the last rites for the fallen warriors.

Supriya stepped forward to pray for Karna. She was shocked when Kunti Devi joined her.

“Mother, we admire Karna’s prowess and his adherence to the kshatriyan code in battle,” said Yudhishthira. “But pray tell, what compels you to step forward? Is it because he spared the lives of your sons?”

Kunti revealed the secret that has been burning within her all her life. The shocked Pandavas slumped to the ground and buried their heads between their knees. There was a great outpouring of grief.

Throughout the Bharata lands, tears ran like rivers. Not a single household escaped the ravages of the war and its aftermath.

Gandhari cursed Krishna, but the latter smiled because ultimately all the good and less good words issued from him and returned to him.

During the war, the jostling for supremacy between Kritavarma and Satyaki devolved into a deadly feud. After the war ended, their differences smouldered. Many within the Yadu clans viewed Kritavarma as a traitor for aligning himself with the Kauravas. Their argument spiralled out of control and led to a deadly fratricide that destroyed the Yadu nation.

The Blue One himself succumbed to a hunter’s arrow. His task accomplished and time on earth nearing end, he decided to depart for the heavens. Krishna did not simply leave; he fulfilled another small part in his cosmic play.

During his lifetimes over the aeons, many enemies had sworn to take his life. Obviously, one cannot kill the avatar of Maha Vishnu unless he chooses to die. He turned into a deer and a hunter shot and killed him with an arrow. There was much speculation about the hunter’s identity; many vidhuans wondered which of his numerous enemies took rebirth and succeeded with revenge. But that mattered not, for Lord Krishna chose to depart and he left.

After his departure, Dvaraka sank below the waters of the advancing oceans. The superstitious gave undue credit to Gandhari’s curse; but the enlightened knew it was all Krishna’s doing, for he had completed his task on earth.

Heartbroken and buffeted by endless grief, Yudhishthira lost the will to live. He abdicated the Hastinapura throne to Arjuna’s grandson, Parikshit, and, as was the custom, retired to the forest to spend his time in prayer and penance. His brothers and Panchali accompanied him. The people followed them as far as the foothills of Mount Himavan. Beyond which, only a dog—so goes the tale—accompanied the Pandavas and their wife.

They ascended the mountain and were not seen or heard from again.

*** The End ***

There is more to this chapter but as usual, it is reserved for my newsletter subscribers.

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

Print Book (Paperback)

Paperback copies scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2023:

  1. Mahabharata: The Beginning
  2. Mahabharata: Dice Game & Exile
  3. Mahabharata: Kurukshetra War

Closer to hand, I shall provide an update regarding release dates for the paperback print copies.

Going forward, after a short break, I shall post multi-genre short stories. There will be something for everyone: history; mystery; mythology; family life and love; horror; humour; uplifting stories; tear-jerkers; business snippets; politics; and thrillers. The posts will NOT be password protected 🙂

That’s all the update for now.

I enjoyed writing the Mahabharata stories; it proved to be exhilarating, entertaining, and educational.

Thank you for having journeyed with me.

Let’s continue with new adventures,

Eric Alagan

###

2 comments

    1. Hello there, Onyango, my friend 🙂

      Good to see that you’ve been following the weekly posts.

      When I started the weekly serial more than two years ago, I wasn’t sure that I would complete the epic. Man, it was a ride all right!

      Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

      Cheers!
      Eric

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