The Mahabharata Home
"Vaisampayana said, Dhritarashtra's son, accompanied by all the kings, then addressed Bhishma, son of Santanu, and with joined hands said
these words, 'Without a commander, even a mighty army is routed in battle like a swarm of ants. The intelligence of two persons can never agree. Different commanders, again, are jealous of one another as regards their prowess. O thou of great wisdom, it is heard (by us) that (once on a time) the Brahmanas, raising a standard of Kusa grass, encountered in battle the Kshatriyas of the Haihaya clan endued with immeasurable energy. O grandsire, the Vaisyas and the Sudras followed the Brahmanas, so that all the three orders were on one side, while those bulls among the Kshatriyas were alone on the other. In the battles, however, that ensued, the three orders repeatedly broke, while the Kshatriyas, though alone, vanquished large army that was opposed to them. Then those best of Brahmanas enquired of the Kshatriyas themselves (as to the cause of this). O grandsire, those that were virtuous among the Kshatriyas returned the true answer to the enquirers, saying, 'In battle we obey the orders of one person endued with great intelligence, while ye are disunited from one another and act according to your individual understanding.' The Brahmanas then appointed one amongst themselves as their commander, who was brave and conversant with the ways of policy. And they then succeeded in vanquishing the Kshatriyas. Thus people always conquer their foes in battle who appoint a skilled, brave, and sinless commander, observing the good of the forces under him. As regards thee, thou art equal to Usanas himself, and always seekest my good. Incapable of being slain, thou art, again devoted to virtue. Be thou, therefore, our commander. Like the sun among all luminaries, like the moon unto all delicious herbs, like Kuvera among the Yakshas, like Vasava among the gods, like Meru among mountains, Suparna among the birds, Kumara among the gods, Havyavaha among Vasus, thou art amongst ourselves. Like the gods protected by Sakra, ourselves, protected by thee, will assuredly become invincible by the very gods. Like Agni's son (Kumara) at the head of the gods, march thou at our head, and let us follow thee like calves following the lead of a mighty bull.'
"Bhishma said, 'O mighty-armed one, it is even so, 'O Bharata, as thou sayest. But the Pandavas are as dear to me as ye yourselves. Therefore, O king, I should certainly seek their good as well, although I shall certainly fight for thee, having given thee a pledge (before) to that effect. I do not see the warrior on earth that is equal to me, except that tiger among men, Dhananjaya, the son of Kunti. Endued with great intelligence, he is conversant with innumerable celestial weapons. That son of Pandu, however, will never fight with me openly. With the power of my weapons, I can, in a trice, destroy this universe consisting of gods, Asuras, Rakshasas, and human beings. The sons of Pandu, however, O king, are incapable of being exterminated by me. I shall, therefore, slay every day ten thousand warriors. If, indeed, they do not slay me in battle first, I will continue to slaughter their forces thus. There is another understanding on which I may willingly become the commander of thy forces. It behoveth thee to listen to that. O lord of earth, either Karna
should fight first, or I will fight first. The Suta's son always boasts of his prowess in battle, comparing it with mine.'
"Karna said, 'As long as Ganga's son liveth, O king, I shall never fight. After Bhishma is slain, I shall fight with the wielder of Gandiva.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'After this, Dhritarashtra's son duly made Bhishma the commander of his force, distributing large presents. And after, his installation in the command, he blazed forth with beauty. And at the king's behest, musicians cheerfully played upon drums and blew conchs by hundreds and thousands. And numerous leonine roars were sent forth and all the animals in the camp uttered their cries together. And although the sky was cloudless, a bloody shower fell and made the ground miry. And fierce whirl-winds, and earthquakes, and roars of elephants, occurring, depressed the hearts of all the warriors. Incorporeal voices and flashes of meteoric falls were heard and seen in the welkin. And jackals, howling fiercely, foreboded great calamity. And, O monarch, these and a hundred other kinds of fierce portents made their appearance when the king installed Ganga's son in the command of his troops. And after making Bhishma--that grinder of hostile hosts--his general, and having also caused by abundant gifts of kine and gold to the Brahmanas to pronounce benedictions on him, and glorified by those benedictions, and surrounded by his troops, and with Ganga's son in the van, and accompanied by his brothers, Duryodhana marched to Kurukshetra with his large host. And the Kuru king, going over the plain with Karna in his company, caused his camp to be measured out on a level part, O monarch, of that plain. And the camp, pitched on a delightful and fertile spot abounding with grass and fuel, shone like Hastinapura itself.'"
Next: Section CLVIII