Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Krishna not save Abhimanyu?
Two possibilities exist for why Krishna does not save Abhimanyu: (1) He does not know that Abhimanyu is dying, because at the time he is busy helping Arjuna fight the Samshaptakas, or (2) He knows about Abhimanyu being trapped, but decides that his death is necessary to bring out Arjuna’s ruthlessness.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna did not save Abhimanyu.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
On the eve of the thirteenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Drona resolves to build the Chakra Vyuha the next morning in an attempt to lure and trap at least one Pandava atiratha in it.
But there is only one snag: both Krishna and Arjuna know how to penetrate, break open, and exit the Chakra Vyuha. As long as Arjuna is present on the battlefield, therefore, Drona cannot hope to gain much with his array.
So he employs the services of a group of soldiers in the Kuru army called the Samshaptakas. (These are actually soldiers who fight under Susharma, the king of Trigarta. They take an oath to fight Arjuna to the death, and earn the name of ‘Samshaptakas’.)
The Samshaptakas have a simple task on the thirteenth day: challenge Arjuna early in the morning and drag him away to a remote corner of the battlefield. Keep him away from the Chakra Vyuha so that Drona can capture his prey.
(Suggested: Where was Arjuna during Chakravyuha?)
Did Krishna know?
The Samshaptakas perform their task admirably on this day. Arjuna and Krishna are diverted away from the main battle area to a remote edge, where the soldiers keep the Pandava and the Yadava busy.
As such, Arjuna is unaware of what is happening inside the Chakra Vyuha. He only discovers the truth about Abhimanyu’s death at the end of the day, after he returns to camp and sees everyone desolate.
How much Krishna knows about Abhimanyu’s death – as it occurs – is debatable. On one side you have the argument that Krishna, like Arjuna, is oblivious to Abhimanyu’s torment. Like Arjuna, Krishna also learns of his nephew’s death at the end of the day when he returns to camp.
If we accept this premise, we must answer that Krishna does not save Abhimanyu for the same reason Arjuna does not save Abhimanyu: because he does not know that Abhimanyu is in trouble.
On the other side of the argument is the all-knowing Krishna, who – while he is helping Arjuna fight the Samshaptakas – is also aware that Abhimanyu is caught inside the Chakra Vyuha. He makes the deliberate choice not to go to his aid, and to let him die.
Krishna does not seem personally affected by news of Abhimanyu’s death, despite the fact that the boy is the son of his sister Subhadra. In fact, he consoles Arjuna that deaths in a battle must not be taken personally.
He goes to Subhadra and Uttara, and informs them that Abhimanyu has earned for himself a place in heaven with his heroic deeds.
From all this, it seems plausible that Krishna did know about what was happening and still chose not to act. He may have believed that the death of Abhimanyu is necessary to awaken Arjuna’s ruthlessness as a warrior.
All this time, despite his reluctant participation in the removal of Bhishma, Arjuna has been fighting in a restrained manner, plagued by hesitation whenever he faces any of his Kuru kinsmen.
The death of Abhimanyu kicks him in the gut, and for the first time he is wrenched by grief that is so powerful that he vows to eliminate everyone responsible for his son’s death.
Krishna might have known that only Abhimanyu’s death is capable of lighting the fire in Arjuna. So he may have chosen not to go to his nephew’s aid despite knowing of it.
If we accept Krishna as the incarnation of Vishnu, then it is likely that he knows of Abhimanyu’s destiny.
Abhimanyu is the incarnation of Varchas, the son of Soma. At the very beginning of the story, when all the gods have a meeting to discuss how they are going to destroy evil on Earth, it gets decided that each one of them will contribute their energy in some manner to the cause.
Some gods pledge their sons to fight on the side of virtue, but Soma – attached as he is to Varchas – refuses to do so.
Vishnu, then, decrees that Varchas will only be required on Earth for a short time – sixteen years – but that his heroic deeds will overshadow all his longer-living brethren.
He will also, says Vishnu, orchestrate the most pivotal moment of the Kurukshetra war with his death, after which the fall of Dharma will become absolute.
In other words, when Krishna gets to know during the battle that Abhimanyu is trapped, he would have merely smiled and thought to himself: it is as it should be.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 0: Why did the Mahabharata Happen?)
The Turning Point
Abhimanyu’s death is often cited as the turning point of the Kurukshetra war. While this is true, the real destruction happens on the next day, Day 14, on which Arjuna ruthlessly pursues and kills Jayadratha, the king of the Saindhavas.
Following closely on his tracks are Satyaki and Bhimasena, who both individually break into Drona’s ‘impenetrable array’ and blaze their own trails.
Together, the three warriors – Arjuna, Satyaki and Bhima – kill seven akshauhinis (of the total eighteen at the beginning of the war)of Kuru troops on this single day.
More importantly, they break the will of Duryodhana on this day. Despite the entire Kuru army arranging itself to protect one man – Jayadratha – they have failed.
And despite Drona claiming that his arrangement is impenetrable ‘even by the gods’, three men have individually broken it open.
From here, the war takes on a distinctly more merciless hue. The battle at midnight, the killing of Drona, the rage of Ashwatthama, the death of Karna, and the final massacre at the Pandava camp – all follow one another relentlessly.
(Suggested: 12 Mahabharata Stories from the Drona Parva – Part 2.)
Two possibilities exist as to why Krishna does not protect Abhimanyu. The first is that he is unaware of Abhimanyu’s predicament. He is busy helping Arjuna ward off the Samshaptakas.
The second is that despite knowing of what is happening, Krishna decides that it is for the best to let Abhimanyu die for the greater good.
Abhimanyu’s destiny as the son of Soma is to participate in the war and to provide it with a push into depravity. Krishna realizes that the young man has to die in order to kindle Arjuna’s ruthlessness, which will in turn propel the Pandavas to victory.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story