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The bravest and the wisest and the most capable ones actually don't get spoken about much in our popular stories and recollections. While story of Eklavya, who was the best warrior among him, Arjuna and Karna, finds frequent attention, the bravest and the mightiest one is not spoken of much except for some specific regions in the country. This story is however not part of the most circulated Vaisampayana's Mahabharata and comes from Skanda Purana that also speaks of many characters associated with Mahabharata and of the times in which Mahabharata took place.
When the war was about to start, Krishna went around asking all the prominent warriors about what they think about the duration of the way if they alone were to fight for their sides.
Bhishma said it will take him 20 days.
Arjuna said it will take him 28 days.
Dronacharya thought it will take him 25 days to finish the war on his own.
Karna thought it will take him 24 days.
And so did others made estimates of their individual strengths.
In the process, Krishna came up to an unaffiliated warrior, related by blood to Pandavas, but unaffiliated till then: Barbareek.
He was the son of Ghatotkacha, and that made him related to Pandavas. Ghatotkacha was son of Bhim and Hidimbaa, making Barbareek the grandson of Bhim. Ghatotkacha himself was summoned by Bhim to fight on behalf of Pandavas. But Barbareek was under no such obligations to anyone.
Other than being a warrior, Barbareek was accomplished in many ways. When the war was about to begin, he made a choice of aligning with the losing side. Different stories suggest that this choice was a promise made to his mother, who was also his greatest teacher. As he explained to Krishna later, with an army that was 40% smaller than that of Kauravas, Pandavas were going to be the losing side and in that case, Barbareek could change the course of the war for them.
When asked how long will Barbareek take to finish the war, Barbareek revealed that he can complete it in one minute. He had three arrows, one to mark the targets to destroy, another to mark what needs to be saved and the third one to complete the annihilation while saving what needs to be saved.
The combination of such tremendous power with an infeasible inconsistent virtuous position rang danger bells. Still, Krishna sought to see a demonstration of Barbareek's powers. Krishna asks him to tie down all the leaves of the Peepal tree they were standing under. Barbareek began his preparations and Krishna plucked a leaf and hid it under his feet taking advantage of Barbareek's distraction. When Barbareek fired his first arrow, it marked all the leaves on the tree and started hovering on Krishna's feet. Seeing this, Barbareek advised Krishna to move his leg as there was a leaf under it. If Krishna didn't move his feet, the arrow will pierce his leg to reach the leaf. Krishna moved and the arrow marked its target.
Krishna was now sure of his abilities, along with the precise objectivity of Barbareek's methods and even more unsettled of such abilities tied with a ridiculous and potentially all annihilating vow of fighting for the losing side. Krishna explained the problem with the whole 'fighting for the losing side' proposition, which meant Barbareek will shift sides everytime the scales are tilted and in the process annihilate everything but himself.
Having explained the consequences of Barbareek's powers combined with his predicament of fighting for the losing side, Krishna sought Barbareek's head as charity to avoid this potentially annihilating impasse. On Barbareek's request, Krishna placed his head on a hill to witness the entire battle.
After the battle, when vanity started taking root and different warriors were drowning in self-indulgence and praise as to who was the most important agent of victory, they turned to Barbareek for the answer. I leave that bit of revelation to the seekers to find out as it will be unfair to make a summary of such important wisdom.
After the war, Krishna merged himself with Barbareek's head. Khatu Shyam is still the presiding deity in several parts of Rajsthan, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The greatest warrior who could have changed the entire history didn't find a mention in the greatest tale he was witness to. Mahabharata is a tale like no other when understood and reflected upon.