Mahabharat Episode 42: The Strongest Warrior in Mahabharat
Who was the strongest warrior in Mahabharat? Was it Krishna or Arjuna? Maybe Dronacharya or Karna? No, it was a warrior from the south.
What happened so far : So far in the Mahabharat series, the Pandavas and Draupadi have completed their thirteen years of exile. Still, Duryodhana is unwilling to return their kingdom. The Kauravas launch an attack on the Pandavas but are forced to withdraw, humiliated by Arjuna. The conflict is about to spiral into a full-fledged war when the strongest warrior in Mahabharat arrives at the scene.
A Last Push for PeaceSadhguru: The war was inevitable. A few last-ditch efforts were being made, though there was really no hope of peace. What individual human beings say or do at a time like this is the truest of them in their whole lives. In comfortable situations, people could make you believe all kinds of things. In an emergency situation or a moment of crisis, you will know who is who – who can take how much and to what extent they will go. Whether they like it or not, the situation will suck them in. That will produce a different kind of people. A crisis manufactures people. Those you thought are no good may stand up like giants; those you thought are great may whimper at the first moment – all kinds of things can happen. But it is in the pre-crisis situation, when crisis is inevitable, where you will actually see what someone is made of.
In the last peace negotiations, Yudhishthira said, “I have no wish to be the reason for this war. If everything else fails, I will accept just five towns to make peace. Let Duryodhana give me Indraprastha, Vrikaprastha, Jayanta, Varanavatha – these hold memories for us. The fifth one, let it even be a village of his choice.” Duryodhana said to his father Dhritarashtra, “Hear me clearly, my lord, and all of you: I will never return the kingdom to the Pandavas – not all of it, not five towns, not five villages. I will not even give them a needlepoint of land.”
Draupadi said, “I want war! Krishna, I want war, and nothing else but war. A bloody war to avenge what I suffered on that terrible day, and for the thirteen years after. I want every Kaurava killed. The elders who sat by, not lifting a finger to help me when I begged them to – I want to see them dead. I know Yudhishthira has always been for peace, at any cost to himself and his family. But when I hear Bhima, Arjuna, and Nakula talking of peace today, I can hardly stand it. I want neither peace nor friendship with the Kauravas. If you love me at all, Krishna, if you ever felt sorry for what happened to me, make sure there is war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. I must see my enemies lying dead on the field as carrion for jackals and vultures.” That’s her.
Dhritarashtra sent Sanjaya to convey a message of peace to Yudhishthira: “My lord, you have not heard the whole message I bring to you from the king: ‘Man’s life is brief, Yudhishthira. Why let it end in shame? Why allow yourself to be remembered as the Kuru who spilled the blood of his own kinsmen? Don’t lead your life into this war. That will be the end of you, regardless of whether you win or lose. What does an earthly kingdom count for anyway, Yudhishthira? For a man of dharma like you, it would be better to live on the kindness of Vrishnis and Andhakas or Yadavas than fight this war against your own blood.
“The desire for material possessions is what steals a man’s judgment from him. A man like you, a seeker of truth, should burn every vestige of desire in his heart. The longing for wealth and power is a shackle on the spirit, an obstacle on the path to salvation. Few men can renounce it – you are one of the few, Yudhishthira, prince of dharma. My last word to you is, give up your anger. Forget everything that happened and return to the forest. Spend the rest of your life in quest of nirvana, and win undying fame and joy for yourself. Or else, live with Krishna in Dwaraka; live off the alms of the Yadavas. They will see to your every need and comfort. You have walked the high road of dharma for so long – why leave it now for the alleyways of sin? I beg you, forget the bloodshed you are planning. Live in peace.”
Obviously, this effort towards peace was bound to fail. Inevitably, they hurled themselves towards war. It was decided they will fight the war on the field of Kurukshetra, where Parashurama, in the earlier generation, had slaughtered hundreds of Kshatriyas, creating pools of blood. The armies assembled. The Kauravas had eleven akshauhinis, or we could say battalions, in modern terminology. The Pandavas had seven. So the ratio was 7:11. In this war, two key people did not take sides: one was Rukmi, Rukmini’s brother; the other one was Balarama, Krishna’s brother. Because of their relationship with Krishna, they kept out of it.
Barbarik Loses His Head
A warrior from the south arrived on the battlefield. His name was Barbarik. No one had seen him before. With only three arrows in his quill, he came to battle. Krishna and others were there, and pre-battle preparations were underway. People asked him, “How come you have only three arrows?” The warrior from the south said, “With one arrow, I can kill all the Kauravas. With one arrow, I can kill all the Pandavas. So, three is more than enough for me.” When Krishna heard this boast, he said, “Why don’t you show your skills?” He pointed to a banyan tree with thousands and thousands of leaves, and he said, “Let me see how many leaves you can pierce with a single arrow.” With a single arrow that had the necessary occult empowerment, Barbarik pierced every leaf on the tree. And eventually, the arrow went down and hovered around Krishna's feet, under which was a fallen leaf – it was waiting to pierce that.
Krishna said, “That’s very impressive. On whose side will you fight?” Barbarik said, “I will always fight on the losing side. From day to day, I will see – if the Kauravas are losing, I will fight for them. If the Pandavas are losing, I will fight for them. Anytime I see a particular army is losing, I will fight for them.” Krishna saw that if this guy is on the other side, you should not win – that would be the formula for success. Because if this guy is on your side and you start winning, he will go and join the other side. So, Krishna said, “If I ask you for something, will you give it to me? I want you to remove the head of one warrior.” Barbarik said, “For you, I will do it. Tell me who it is.” Krishna went into his camp, brought a mirror, and held it in front of Barbarik.
Barbarik knew he was done in, but he had given his word. He made one request: “Yes, but I came all the way from the south to see this great war. The warrior that I am, I don’t want to miss this spectacle.” So Krishna said, “That’s okay. You remove your head – I will see to it that your head can see and speak.” Then Barbarik took his sword, removed his own head, held it by the hair, and gave it to Krishna before his body fell down. They placed the head on the battlefield, at a vantage point where he could see everything. And it so happened that when the war began, anytime he saw something cowardly, something funny, Barbarik would laugh so uproariously he would unnerve a lot of soldiers. Just his laughter would create such a disharmony.
Editor’s Note : A version of this article was originally published in the Forest Flower magazine, March 2018.