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WHEN he learnt that Bhishma lay wounded and dying, Karna hurried to the place and fell at his feet and said:
"Eldest of the race, Radha's son, who, through no fault of his, incurred your great displeasure, humbly prostrates himself before you."
When after humble salutation Karna stood up, the grandsire, greatly moved, tenderly placed his hand on Karna's head and blessed him. "You are not Radha's son, young man," he said in loving tones: "You are Kuntidevi's own first born. Narada, who knows all the secrets of the world, himself revealed this to me. Son of Surya, truly I entertained no dislike for you. But I was grieved to see your increasing hatred of the Pandavas although they gave you no cause for it. I know and admire your valour and your open-handedness, and I know also that you belong to the class of Phalguna and Krishna in prowess. It is meet you befriend the Pandavas. Therein lies the right path for you who are their brother. With the closing of my part in this war, may the chapter of your enmity also close. This is my wish, Karna."
Karna listened respectfully and replied: "Grandsire, I know I am Kunti's son, and not charioteer-born. But I have eaten Duryodhana's salt and must be true to him, to be true to my own lineage. It is impossible for me to go over to the Pandavas now. You must permit me to repay with my life, if it so be, the debt I owe to Duryodhana for his love and trust. I have erred greatly in word and deed. You must forgive me for it all and give me your blessings."
The great acharya, who knew all the laws of right conduct, reflected for a while on what Karna said, and replied: "Do then as you wish, for that is the right way."
Even when Bhishma was mortally wounded and lay dying, the battle did not cease. Discarding the grandsire's words of wisdom, the Kauravas resumed the battle.
Deprived of Bhishma's leadership, the Kaurava forces felt like sheep without a shepherd when Bhishma no longer led them. Indeed even as Bhishma fell wounded, the men shouted:
"O Karna, you are the one left to lead and protect us."
The Kaurava warriors felt that, if but Karna would agree to take up the command, victory was certain. During the first ten days when Bhishma led the forces, the son of Surya kept away from the battle. As already narrated, deeply hurt at the grandsire's contumely, Karna had said: "So long as you are up fighting, I shall keep aloof. If you slay the Pandavas and bring victory to Duryodhana, I shall be glad; and I shall then, taking the king's leave, go to the forest. But, if you be defeated and go to the abode of the brave I who am not deemed by you as an adhiratha will ride my chariot and oppose those whom you deem to be of greater prowess than myself and, defeating them, bring victory to Duryodhana."
Thus had Karna sworn and, with Duryodhana's consent, kept aloof from the battle during the first ten days. Now he went on foot to Bhishma who lay on his bed of arrows waiting for his end and saluting him, addressed him thus:
"Veteran grandsire, vanquisher of Parasurama, you lie on the field of battle, struck down by Sikhandin. If you, who had reached the summit of right living and were an embodiment of purity itself, must lie wounded in this manner, it is clear that no one can attain in this world what he deserves by his merit. You were the one boat on which the Kaurava princes depended for crossing the flood of their troubles. Heavy indeed will be as will now deal at the Kauravas and great will be their consequent distress. Like fire and wind burning down the forest, Arjuna and Krishna will destroy the army of Kauravas. This is certain. Turn your gracious eyes on me and bless me, who have accepted the command of the forces."
Bhishma gave his blessings to Karna. "You are like the good earth to the seeds, like rain clouds to living beings, ever dependable, firm in your loyalty. Serve Duryodhana and save him. You vanquished the Kambojas for him. You put down the Kiratas of the Himalayan fastnesses for him. You fought the Girivrajas on his behalf and defeated them. Many more things you have accomplished for him. Take charge of the Kaurava army now as your own rich possession and guard it well. May you lead Duryodhana's forces to success! May you have every good fortune Fight your enemies, go."
Karna, having received the benediction of the grandsire, mounted his chariot and rode to the battlefield. When the valorous Karna entered the field on his war chariot, Duryodhana's joys knew no bounds. His sorrow, at having lost Bhishma, was in some degree alleviated.