Mahabharata character
Shalya is anointed as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army
Relatives Madri

In the epic Mahabharata, King Shalya (Sanskrit: शल्य, lit. pointed weapon) was the brother of Madri (mother of Nakula and Sahadeva), as well as the ruler of the Madra kingdom. Shalya, a powerful Spear fighter and a formidable charioteer, was tricked by Duryodhana to fight the war on the side of the Kauravas. Shalya was an incredibly calm and deliberate fighter, which is why he made a good charioteer and why he could excel at mace-fighting despite his slight build.[1]


Shalya means 'a pointed weapon'. His other names are Madraraj which means the King of Madra

Becoming Pandu's brother-in-law

On his way to Hastinapur, King Pandu encountered Shalya's army. At parlay, Shalya and his general met with Pandu; Pandu was very impressed by Shalya's slight general. Shalya proposed that they could either decide the victor by war, or, by marriage. He then revealed that his general was none other than his sister Madri. Looking at her beauty, Pandu accepted the lady willingly and took her to Hastinapur, and Shalya bent the knee to Hastinapur.[1]

Falling prey to Duryodhana's trick

When Shalya heard of the impending Kurukshetra War, he marched forth with his army to join his nephews. On the way, Shalya was tricked by Duryodhana, who arranged a huge feast for Shalya and his men, entertaining him for hours. Impressed, Shalya is generous with his praise and asks to see Yudhishthira, who Shalya thought was his host. When Duryodhana reveals the treachery, Shalya is astounded but is compelled to grant a boon due to the hospitality. Unable to turn down Duryodhana's request to join the Kauravas, Shalya met the Pandavas and apologized for his mistake. Nakula and Sahadeva became enraged, saying that Shalya had truly proven that Nakula and Sahadeva weren't real brothers to the Pandavas, but only step-brothers. Yudhishthira quickly stepped in and reprimanded the twins, commanding that they were never to again cheapen their relationship by saying they were "step" brothers. At this point, Shalya realised he had underestimated their brotherly bond. Yudhishthira promised to Shalya that he will kill him in war.

Kurukshetra War

Prior to the start of the war, Yudhishthira met with his elders on the Kaurava side, asking for their blessings. Shalya readily gave his blessings to Yudhishthira, blessing him with victory. He requested Yudhisthira to ask for a boon.

Deducing why Duryodhana had desired Shalya in the first place, Yudhishthira demanded from Shalya that he would demoralize Karna and dampen his spirits when he eventually became Karna's charioteer. Shalya promised to do so.[2][3]

War with Uttar Kumara

Though not spirited in his fight, Shalya confronted many great warriors during the war. Shalya killed Uttar Kumara on the first day of the war. Shalya killed the boy with his spear after a fantastic duel; Shalya saluted Uttar's brave death.[4]

Fourteenth day of battle

On the fourteenth day of battle, Shalya was charged with keeping Jayadratha away from Arjuna. Shalya attempted to check Arjuna's advance. Arjuna responded by tying Shalya's to his chariot using his arrows, much in the same way Abhimanyu had done the day before.

Karna's charioteer

Karna and Shalya relations were not good. Karna insulted him for allowing change of caste in his kingdom and not following strict caste system while Shalya insulted him for selling of woman in his kingdom. But somehow Duryodhana persuades him and he agrees.

On the 16th and 17th days of the war, Shalya served as Karna's charioteer, while continuously praising the Pandava prince and citing Karna's shortcomings. On the 16th day, Karna is fighting Arjuna and has the upper hand. He aims the Nagastra at Arjuna. Shalya interrupts, telling Karna to aim at Arjuna's chest. Disgusted at Shalya's constant praise of Arjuna, Karna thinks that that advice must be inaccurate, and aims at Arjuna's head. Krishna pushes Arjuna's chariot into the ground; the astra only takes off Arjuna's crown instead of his head and hence he was saved.

During the next day's battle, Karna defeats but spares Nakula and Sahadeva, saying that they are younger and not his equals, therefore not deserving of death by his hands. Against his will, Shalya finds his respect for Karna growing. Still desiring Arjuna's victory, he continues to deride Karna, and doesn't come to Karna's aid when, during the epic fight with Arjuna, Karna's chariot-wheel gets stuck in the mud.Karna jumps to move the wheel instead of taking other chariot. As Karna was not interested in taking Shalya's advice he couldn't help him much. Karna dies at hands of Arjuna as the latter attacked Karna when he was lifting the chariot wheel by Anjalika astra.

The eighteenth day

Being highly impressed by Karna, Shalya, now impassioned to fight for the Kaurava cause, takes over as the commander of the Kaurava forces, rallying them from retreat. Krishna suggested that Yudhishthira should not show mercy on Shalya taking him to be his uncle. Yudhisthira had already chosen Shalya as his rival and Krishna wanted him to not take him lightly. Shalya used his intelligence and countered Pandavas bravely. Arjuna was busy fighting Ashwathama while Nakula was fighting three sons of Karna. Shalya was protected by Ashwatthama, Kripa, Kritvarma and their armies on the day. Group attack started from both sides and shalya was targeted fiercely. Shalya wisely used his protection and kept fighting. However, once he got injured and fell down from chariot but returned on other chariot. Yudhisthir then declared that only he will kill Shalya. So other warriors attacked shalya only to break the protection and allowing yudhisthir to slay him. Yudthishtir them became angry and started fighting with full force Bhima then faced Duryodhana and by his arrows Duryodhana fainted. Bhima also broke chariot of Kritverma and he ran away. on seeing this Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma left to help Duryodhana leaving Shalya with his army and younger brother. Then Yudhishthira rushed towards Shalya and started clearing his army, on this Shalya attacked him. Shalya in an arrow play broke Yudhishthira's chariot. Shalya even slayed his charioteer and steeds. Yudhishthira took his spear and launched it on Shalya, killing him. Shalya's younger brother was also killed by Yudhishthira on the same day.


  1. 1 2 Ganguly, Kisari. "The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa".
  2. Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 9780595401888.
  3. Shalya giving boon to Yudhisthira
  4. Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. p. 151. ISBN 9780595401888.
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