Categories: Hindu Mythology

Shalya: The Unsung Hero of the Mahabharata

Shalya, the brother of Madri (the mother of Nakula and Sahadeva) and ruler of the Madra kingdom, plays a significant yet often overlooked role in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Renowned for his skill with the mace and his formidable prowess in battle, Shalya was deceived by Duryodhana into fighting for the Kauravas. Despite his slight build, Shalya’s calm demeanor and deliberate fighting style made him a formidable warrior on the battlefield.


Becoming Pandu’s Brother-in-law

During a journey to Hastinapura, King Pandu encountered Shalya’s army. Impressed by Shalya’s general during a parlay, Pandu formed a friendship with Shalya. Bhishma, the head of Pandu’s family, learned of Shalya’s beautiful sister, Madri, and decided to arrange Pandu’s second marriage with her. Shalya agreed to the proposal and received gold and jewels from Hastinapura as gifts.

Attempt to Make Nakula and Sahadeva His Heirs

Years after Madri’s self-immolation, Shalya invited his nephews, Nakula and Sahadeva, to Madra, intending to make them his heirs. On their eighteenth birthday, Shalya revealed his intentions, arguing that Nakula could become a king rather than remain fourth-in-line to Hastinapura’s throne. Initially, Nakula suspected that Shalya had ulterior motives and wanted to use them because of their divine parentage, potentially sidelining his own children. However, Nakula and Sahadeva eventually agreed to become Shalya’s heirs on the condition that they would always stay with the Pandavas, realizing that Shalya had genuine intentions and was not trying to manipulate them.

Falling Prey to Duryodhana’s Trick

As the Kurukshetra War approached, Shalya marched with his army to join the Pandavas. On the way, Duryodhana tricked Shalya by hosting a grand feast for him and his men. Believing Yudhishthira to be his host, Shalya was generous with his praise. When Duryodhana revealed the ruse, Shalya felt compelled to grant a boon due to the hospitality he had received. Unable to refuse, Shalya reluctantly joined the Kauravas. When he informed the Pandavas of the deceit, Nakula and Sahadeva were enraged, questioning their brotherly bond. However, Yudhishthira quickly reassured them, emphasizing their unity and reprimanding the twins for suggesting they were mere step-brothers.

Yudhishthira’s Plan Against Karna

Before the war began, Yudhishthira sought blessings from elders on the Kaurava side. Shalya, though aligned with the Kauravas, blessed Yudhishthira and expressed his desire for his victory. Yudhishthira requested Shalya to praise the Pandavas in front of Karna to infuriate him and undermine his confidence.

The Early Days of the War

Shalya confronted many great warriors during the early days of the Kurukshetra War. On the first day, he attacked Yudhishthira and snapped his bow, though Yudhishthira quickly retaliated. Shalya killed Uttara Kumara in a duel and praised his bravery. On the second day, his eldest son Madranjaya was killed by Virata, seeking revenge for Uttara.

The Midst of Battle

On the 13th day, Shalya’s sons, Rukmangada and Rukmaratha, were killed by Abhimanyu, and Shalya himself was helpless against the young warrior. On the 14th day, Shalya attempted to stop Arjuna‘s advance towards Jayadratha but was severely injured. During the night battle at the end of the day, he vanquished Virata, forcing him to flee.

Serving as Karna’s Charioteer

On the 16th day, Shalya served as Karna’s charioteer. Karna spared Nakula and Sahadeva, citing their youth and lack of equality in battle. During his confrontation with Arjuna, Karna invoked the Ashwasena snake on an arrow. Shalya advised Karna to follow it up with another arrow, but Karna disregarded the advice, leading to Krishna saving Arjuna by driving his chariot into the earth. On the 17th day, Karna, unarmed and on foot, was killed by Arjuna. Shalya consoled Duryodhana, reminding him of the inevitability of Karna’s death. Duryodhana then named Shalya the new commander-in-chief of the Kaurava forces.

Shalya’s Death

As the new commander-in-chief, Shalya was engaged by Yudhishthira in a fierce archery duel. With Bhima‘s assistance, Yudhishthira deprived Shalya of his charioteer and horses. In a fit of rage, Shalya rushed towards Yudhishthira with a sword and shield, but Bhima destroyed his weapons. Undeterred, Shalya charged at Yudhishthira with bare hands, only to be killed instantly by a spear belonging to Shiva, hurled by Yudhishthira.

Shalya’s tale in the Mahabharata is one of bravery, loyalty, and tragic missteps. His story reflects the complexities of war, kinship, and the profound bonds of family that transcend even the fiercest of battles.


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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