Shalya is anointed as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army
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 mace 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 why he was such a good charioteer and why he could excel at mace-fighting despite his slight build.
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.
Attempting to make Nakula and Sahadeva his heirs
Years after Madri had killed herself, Shalya, each year, for a spell, brought his nephew's Nakula and Sahadeva to Madra, desired to make them his heirs. On their eighteenth birthday, Shalya revealed his intention to the twins. Shalya argued that Nakula could be a king one day, instead of fourth-in-line to the throne of Hastinapur...provided that Yudhishthira was named the crown prince in the first place. The wise Nakula pointed out that Shalya only wanted Nakula and Sahadeva as his heirs, because both were children of God-in fact, Shalya was eschewing his own children with this gambit. Nakula claimed that while he and Sahadeva staying with the Pandavas would give them no power, his brothers and Kunti genuinely loved him, and would never try to make Nakula and Sahadeva their pawns. Through some deliberation, Nakula is convinced that Shalya is being genuine. He and Sahadeva become the heirs to the throne, but Sahadeva told his uncle on one condition: they will always stay with the Pandavas.
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 Shalay thinks is 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 the 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 realized he had underestimated their brotherly bond.
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.
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. Later, Abhimanyu, Uttar Kumara's brother-in-law took revenge by killing Shalya’s brother and disabling Shalya himself so badly that the great warrior could not even move in Dronacharya's chakravyuha.
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.
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.
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. In the end, Arjuna kills an unarmed and disadvantaged Karna with the Anjalika weapon.
While reporting the events to a desolate Duryodhana, Shalya cannot help but rage at Arjuna for his cowardice, while praising Karna's character. Though he was reluctant to be Karna's charioteer, considering it a slight that a kshatriya should serve a charioteer's son, Shalya concludes that Karna's conduct not only proves that he belongs on the battlefield, but proves that Karna is one of the foremost fighters of his time. Duryodhana names Shalya as the commander-in-chief.
After Karna's death, 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 kill the powerful warrior because the eldest Pandava was not a man of aggression and could meet Shalya's coolness in battle. Shalya is killed by Yudhishthira in spear-combat.
- Ganguly, Kisari. "The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa".
- Rajagopalachari, C. (. (1970). Mahabharata (10th ed.). Bombay : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
- Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 9780595401888.
- Shalya giving boon to Yudhisthira http://sacred-texts.com/hin/m06/m06043.htm
- Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. p. 151. ISBN 9780595401888.
- Meiland, J. (2005). Śalya ; Vol. 1. New York: New York Univ. Press.
- Srivastava, Vishnulok Bihari (2009). Dictionary of Indology. New Delhi: Hindoology Books. ISBN 9788122310849.