Karna is the first son of Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata.
He is also a close friend of Duryodhana, the eldest of the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra who are together called the Kauravas. Duryodhana is the story’s prime antagonist, and Karna becomes his prime ally in his machinations against the Pandavas.
In this post, we will answer the question: Was Karna defeated by Abhimanyu?
Karna is one of the warriors defeated by Abhimanyu on the thirteenth day of the Mahabharata war. After being isolated inside Drona’s Chakra Vyuha, Abhimanyu goes on a rampage and defeats six atirathas and their troops. After this defeat, Karna asks Drona for advice, and together they hatch a plan to kill Abhimanyu.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Karna was defeated by Abhimanyu.
(For answers to all Karna-related questions, see Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
The Chakravyuha comes about as a result of Drona’s failing to capture Yudhishthir on Days 11 and 12 of the war. Drona promises Duryodhana at the beginning of each of the two days that he will capture Yudhishthir alive.
(Duryodhana’s plan is to force Yudhishthir to play another game of dice and send them again into the forest for twelve more years.)
On the eleventh day, Arjuna protects Yudhishthir from Drona. Drona then tries to divert Arjuna’s attention with the help of the Samshaptakas (a class of warriors led by the Trigarta ruler Susharma).
(Related Article: 12 Mahabharata Stories from the Drona Parva – Part 1.)
On the twelfth day, Drona almost succeeds in getting to Yudhishthir, but in the nick of time Arjuna returns to rescue his elder brother again.
On the twelfth night, therefore, Drona is overcome by shame at not keeping his word. This time he promises Duryodhana: ‘I will kill at least one Pandava atiratha tomorrow. But the Samshaptakas must keep Arjuna occupied for the whole day – not just part of it!’
The Samshaptakas agree, and Drona arranges the Kuru forces in the shape of a chariot-wheel.
This is called the Chakra Vyuha. Among the Pandavas, only Krishna and Arjuna know the art of both breaking into and out of it. And of the others, Abhimanyu alone knows how to break into it – but not how to escape if trapped inside it.
Abhimanyu gets Trapped
When Yudhishthir sees the impenetrable array in front of him, he has no choice but to entrust Abhimanyu with the task of leading them into it.
The plan is that Bhima and other Pandava warriors will follow close on Abhimanyu’s heels in order to keep the formation from healing itself. But Jayadratha guards the mouth of the array with such aplomb that Abhimanyu gets trapped inside the Chakravyuha.
Once he sees the Kuru ranks closing in behind him, Abhimanyu knows that his time has come. From then on, he fights like a man possessed, unleashing himself with full fury at the enemy.
He turns his wrath in particular against the Madra force owned by Shalya. Not only does he defeat Shalya in a one-to-one duel, he also kills several of Shalya’s brothers before laying to waste the entire army.
In his battle with Karna, Abhimanyu kills his horses, shoots down his banner, and breaks his bow. When the younger brother of Karna (perhaps another of Adiratha’s sons) arrives in support, Abhimanyu wastes no time in beheading him.
Seeing this, Karna flees from the scene.
Abhimanyu then is challenged by Lakshamana Kumara, Duryodhana’s favourite son. This battle is short and sweet, with the son of Subhadra slicing Lakshmana’s throat with a sharp arrow and causing his headless trunk to fall to the ground.
(Related Article: Mahabharata Episode 44: Abhimanyu Dies.)
Witnessing the death of Lakshmana, six atiratha converge upon Abhimanyu at once. But he picks them off one by one, and wounds them all while simultaneously flaying the Saindhava forces that have stayed behind from the front line.
Karna, Shalya and Ashwatthama together try to have another go at Abhimanyu, but the prince sends them scurrying back once again. Tired and hurt, Karna approaches Drona and says:
‘‘That son of Arjuna defeats us all, O Preceptor,’ he says, even as in the distance, Abhimanyu tears into Ashwaketu, the prince of Magadha. ‘What can we do to defeat him?’
Drona turns to Karna with a resigned smile. ‘Have you been able to find even one defect in this boy?’ he says. ‘I cannot see the difference today between Abhimanyu and Arjuna.
‘If the latter is invincible, so is the former. Even the mightiest of car warriors, those who have been hardened by decades of fighting, cannot find a single flaw in his armour. What can one do when a warrior displays such immense skill?’
Karna replies in angst, ‘The wounds he has left on my body sting me so, Acharya. I stay here without running away because I respect my duties as a Kshatriya. The arrows he shoots weaken my heart, and I am consumed with despair as I watch him.’
(Related Article: 12 More Mahabharata Stories from the Drona Parva – Part 2.)
Drona smiles some more, but this time there is a hard edge to his glance. ‘Abhimanyu is young. His mail is impenetrable. I had once taught Arjuna the art of creating defensive armour.
‘It looks like Falguna has taught his son well. See if you can, Karna, cut off his bow, bowstring, the reins of his horses, and the horses themselves from behind his chariot. Let us first force him onto his two feet. Let us deprive him of his weapon, and then we will see how long he will last.’
The First Blow
Eagerly following Drona’s words, Karna approaches Abhimanyu’s chariot from the flank and breaks his bow. Kritavarma kills his horses while Kripa accounts for the two rear guards.
The prince leaps onto the ground, therefore, and sees that six atirathas are speeding toward him with their bows upraised. Undaunted, he picks up a sword and shield and prepares to defend himself.
(Related Article: 12 Mahabharata Stories from the Drona Parva – Part 3.)
Drona cuts off the sword at the hilt, and Karna shatters the shield with a clutch of arrows. Cornered and left without a chariot, Abhimanyu now picks up a fallen chariot wheel, holding it above his head like Vasudeva would hold his Sudarshana Chakra.
And for a while he defends himself gamely, even managing to land a few blows on those soldiers that come close to him. After a short while, Abhimanyu gets into a mace fight with the son of Duhsasana, and is killed.
Karna thus plays an important part in Abhimanyu’s death.
On the thirteenth day of the war, after he is trapped inside the Chakravyuha, Abhimanyu defeats all the great Pandava warriors – including Karna. He also kills Karna’s younger brother, and severely injures Vrishasena, Karna’s son.
Karna fights with Abhimanyu on two separate occasions. The first time, he flees from the battle unable to withstand Abhimanyu’s onslaught. Then, he teams up with Ashwatthama and Shalya to have another go but they’re all soundly beaten and driven away.
Abhimanyu also kills Lakshmana, the favourite son of Duryodhana.
Karna then takes his revenge on Abhimanyu by cutting off the young prince’s bow from behind him (on Drona’s orders). In this way, he paves the way for Abhimanyu’s eventual death.
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