Devdutt Pattanaik’s Retelling of Mahabharata, An Excerpt

Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt Pattanaik is one of the most loved mythology writers in the country today. His  retelling of the Mahabharata is an engaging read. Here’s an extract from The Boys Who Fought : The Mahabharata for Children:


When Arjuna looked at either army, he realized that on both sides were his uncles and cousins and nephews.

Enlightened by Krishna’s words, Arjuna raised his conch-shell trumpet and declared war. A brutal battle followed, with arrows being released from every direction. The clanging of swords and the crashing of clubs filled the air, as did the screams of humans and the cries of horses and elephants.

Every warrior had a conch-shell trumpet, which was given a special name. Arjuna’s conchshell trumpet was called Devdutt, while Krishna’s was called Panchajanya.

Hands were hacked off, stomachs ripped open, eyes gouged out. Every day, this began at dawn and ended at dusk, when the soldiers retired to their camps to nurse their injured bodies.

For nine days, the battle continued without either side winning. Both were equally strong. The Pandavas were confused.

Devdutt Pattanaik

PC: Puffin (Penguin Random House India)


With Shikhandi riding on a chariot before him, Arjuna attacked Bhishma. Bhishma refused to raise his bow against Shikhandi and so was easily toppled from his chariot. He could not be killed, so Krishna told Arjuna to pin the old man to the ground with his arrows.


After Bhishma’s defeat, Drona became commander of the Kaurava army. Drona was a ruthless warrior. Though a teacher, he broke all the rules of warfare. He created the Chakra-vyuha, a battle formation aimed at entrapping the Pandavas. But thanks to the efforts of Abhimanyu, the Pandavas escaped. Abhimanyu, however, got trapped.


Arjuna learnt how the Kauravas had killed Abhimanyu unfairly. The Pandavas told him how Jayadhrata had stopped them from re-entering the Chakra-vyuha and saving their nephew. So Arjuna took an oath that he would kill Jayadhrata before sunset, saying, ‘If I fail, I will kill myself.’ On learning this, the Kauravas did everything in their might to protect Jayadhrata until sunset. So Krishna used his powers and created the illusion that the sun had set.

Jayadhrata, king of Sindhu, was married to Dusshala, the Kauravas’ sister.

In the darkness, as the Kauravas cheered in triumph, Krishna asked Arjuna to shoot an arrow in the direction of Jayadhrata’s laughter. The arrow struck Jayadhrata and he was killed.


Drona accused Krishna of cheating. He ordered the Kauravas to continue fighting even after sunset, using lamps and torches to illuminate the battlefield. Krishna told Ghatotkacha to lead the Pandava armies for, as son of Hidimbi, a rakshasa woman, he gained strength at night. To kill him, Karna was forced to use his most prized divine weapon, which would never miss its mark.

Karna was known for his generosity. Just before he had entered the battlefield, a man had asked him for his divine armour and earrings. Karna had given them to the poor old man without a thought, even though his armour and earrings could save him from any weapon in the world. The man had then revealed to Karna that he was Indra, king of the gods. He had taken Karna’s protective armour and earrings away as they would make him more powerful than Arjuna on the battlefield. But he had been so impressed by Karna’s generosity that he had given Karna a weapon that would never miss its mark. ‘I will use it against Arjuna,’ Karna had said with a smile. Unfortunately, he had no choice but to use it against Ghatotkacha.


After being responsible for the deaths of Abhimanyu and Ghatotkacha, the fierce Drona went about killing Drupada and Virata. He seemed invincible, so Krishna came up with an elaborate plan to kill him.

Krishna’s plan worked. Drona was beheaded. The Pandavas heaved a sigh of relief.


Now Karna became commander of the Kaurava army. That’s when Krishna told Karna the secret of his birth—that he was the eldest brother of the Pandavas. And that if he joined the Pandava side, he could stop the war and even become king. But Karna refused to desert Duryodhana.

Kunti came to the battlefield at night and tried to get Karna to change his mind. He remained firm in his resolve. But out of the generosity of his heart, he made one allowance. ‘I will not hurt any of your sons, mother of the Pandavas, except Arjuna!’ he swore.

As luck would have it, during his fight with Arjuna, Karna’s chariot got stuck in the mud. Even the magic formulas taught by his teacher did not work. He had to drop his bow and push the wheel out with his bare hands. While he was thus unarmed, and vulnerable, Arjuna shot him dead on Krishna’s instructions.

 Excerpted from ‘The Boys Who Fought, The Mahabharata for Children’ authored by Devdutt Pattanaik, published by Puffin (Penguin Random House India), 2017. MRP: Rs. 199.

Also Read: Devdutt Pattnaik’s The Girl Who Chose, An Excerpt

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