Mahabharata (abridged)

258,337 words | ISBN-10: 8121505933

The English translation of the Mahabharata: one of the two major Sanskrit epics of India. Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life". NOTE: this is a Summary Study (...

Chapter 4 - The Death of Karna

Dhritarastra inquired: O Sanjaya, the prowess of Kunti's son, Arjuna, is well known. What happened after Krishna and Arjuna left the tent of the the great King Yudhisthira? Tell me in detail what happened in the encounter between the son of Indra, Arjuna, and the son of Surya, Karna.

Sanjaya continued: O Monarch, when Arjuna reached the front line of battle, he saw Bhima ripping open the Kaurava ranks. Following him were six bullock carts filled with his weapons. Duryodhana had sent Shakuni to challenge Bhima, but Shakuni could do nothing against Bhima's anger and was ultimately forced to retreat. Arjuna made his way toward Bhimasena and informed him that the King was resting after being mangled by Karna's arrows. Hearing of the King's welfare, Bhima became joyful, and descending from his chariot, he attacked the Kaurava army with mace in hand. He began to whirl his mace about his head causing mass destruction of the enemy soldiers. He soon killed ten thousand warriors and hundreds of elephants. His mace was covered in blood and flesh as he scorched the ranks of Duryodhana's army. He then ascended his chariot and proceeded behind Arjuna toward the place where Karna was engaged in combat.

Karna was exhibiting the full qualities of an adhiratha. He was singlehandedly fighting the great warriors of the Pandava army. Dhristadyumna, Satyaki, the five sons of Draupadi, Shikhandi, Uttamaujas, Yudhamanyu, Nakula and Sahadeva were all fighting against Karna. Karna killed Satyaki's four horses, but Satyaki then killed the son of Karna, Prasena. Greatly enraged, Karna released an arrow to encompass Satyaki's death. As the arrow came blazing toward Satyaki, Shikhandi shattered it with his own weapons. Karna then killed the son of Dhristadyumna, even as Dhristadyumna looked on. As Karna was defeating the great Pandava generals one by one, he was also causing a great slaughter of the army. He pushed back the enemy ranks causing a massacre of men. Four thousand chariot fighters lay to his right and four thousand to his left. Hundreds of elephants were prostrated to the ground along with their riders by the arrows of Surya's son. The Pandava army was sinking in the ocean of Karna, and to save it the boat of Arjuna came forward granting life to those who were sinking.

Meanwhile, Duhshasana came forward to fight with Bhima. He shattered Bhima's bow and pierced him with nine arrows sending up a loud roar on the battlefield. Not tolerating his enemy's victory, Bhima released a dart with all his strength. However, Duhshasana cut it off with his powerful arrows and pierced Bhima once more. Enraged at the sight of Duhshasana, Bhima exclaimed, "O hero, I have been pierced by one who is about to die. Now see if you can bear the force of my mace as I send you to the other world. Today, I shall fulfill my vow and drink your blood on the field of battle!" Duhshasana quickly threw a dart at Bhima, but the second son of Pandu released his club that shattered the dart and struck the son of Gandhari on the head. The mace was thrown with such speed that Duhshasana was knocked ninety feet from his chariot. Duhshasana lay on the ground rolling in pain. His armor, crown, hair and ornaments were displaced, and blood was flowing from his head. Bhima then remembered the offenses this person had committed in the past. He remembered how Duhshasana had grabbed the sanctified hair of his queen, Draupadi, and how he had uttered so many unkind words. His face became red hot, and he descended from his chariot. He then addressed Karna, Duryodhana, Kripa and Drona's son, "Today, I will kill this wretched Duhshasana. Let all of the warriors protect him if you can." Bhima then rushed at Duhshasana and drew his razor sharp sword. He placed his foot on his neck and cut off the arm that had touched Draupadi's beautiful hair. He then opened Duhshasana's chest with his sword, and in the presence of all warriors, he drank the blood of that sinful person. He then severed Duhshasana's head and displayed it for all to see. With blood dripping from his mouth, he announced to the Kaurava warriors, "The taste of this blood I regard as superior to the taste of milk, honey, butter and ghee." Laughing with his mouth wide open, Bhima presented an appearance like Yamaraja himself. Some of the Kaurava warriors fell down in fear, and others dropped their weapons and stood feebly, overcome with disbelief. Some warriors fled away exclaiming, "This one in no human being!" Others said, "This Bhima must be a Rakshasa!"

Bhima then spoke to all present, "All heroes, listen to my words! The vow that I have taken has now been accomplished. I will now fulfill my other vow by killing the sinful Duryodhana." Having said these words, Bhima began to roar with his mouth covered in blood. This sight struck fear into the hearts of all warriors.

Chitrasena, a brother of Karna, fled from the scene speaking harshly of Bhima. Yudhamanyu chased after him and challenged him to battle. With a single arrow, Yudhamanyu cut off the head of the powerful Chitrasena. Witnessing his brother's death, Karna was filled with rage and began to exterminate the Pandava troops. He was filled with simultaneous anger and grief over the death of Duhshasana and his brother. Stretching his bow to full length, he began a massacre of men, horses and elephants.

Sanjaya continued: Overcome with lamentation at the death of their brother, ten of your sons, O King, rushed at Bhima. They were Nishangin, Kavachin, Pasin, Dundahara, Dhanurgraha, Alolupa, Saha, Shanda, Vatavega, and Suvardhasas. These ten assailed Bhima from their chariots, releasing their deadly arrows. The second son of Pandu, however, cut off their heads with ten broad headed shafts. Upon the fall of those ten sons, all the Kaurava soldiers fled away. Witnessing Bhima's prowess, Karna was also overcome with intense fear. Seeing this, Salya spoke to him, "At this time in the battle, do not grieve, O son of Radha. Afflicted by fear of Bhima, all the great generals are flying away from the fight. Duryodhana is completely senseless over his brother's death, and Kripa and others are trying to pacify him. Just now Arjuna is coming to challenge you. Collect all your strength and prowess, for the entire burden of this battle is now placed upon your shoulders."

While this conversation was going on, Vrishasena, angered at the death of Duhshasana and Chitrasena, rushed against Nakula, desiring to fight with his father's enemy. A fierce battle then ensued between those two heroes. Vrishasena managed to kill Nakula's horses and pierce him with many arrows. Descending from his chariot, Nakula took up his sword and shield, and making his way toward Vrishasena, he severed the heads of two thousand horsemen. Vrishasena, seeing Nakula coming towards him whirling that sword like a discus, shattered the sword and shield with four crescent shaped arrows. Nakula then quickly ascended Bhima's chariot. As Arjuna came near, Nakula requested him, "Please slay this sinful person."

Arjuna then ordered Lord Krishna, "Proceed toward the son of Karna. I will kill him within his father's sight." Unsupported by anyone, Vrishasena challenged Arjuna releasing many different kinds of arrows. He pierced Arjuna's arm with ten arrows and Krishna also with ten. Arjuna became enraged, and exclaimed loudly to the Kaurava kings including Karna, "Today, O Karna, I will kill your son as you unfairly killed my son, Abhimanyu! Let all the warriors protect him if they can. I will kill him, and then, O fool, I will slay you; and Bhima will slay the wretched Duryodhana, whose evil policies have brought about the great battle."

Having threatened Karna, Arjuna struck Vrishasena with ten arrows that weakened him. With four razor headed arrows, Arjuna cut off his bow, his two arms and his head that was adorned with beautiful earrings. Seeing his son slain by Arjuna's arrows, Karna challenged Arjuna to battle.

Upon seeing Karna rushing with great speed toward the chariot, Lord Krishna encouraged Arjuna, "Behold, O son of Pandu, the furious Karna rushing toward you for combat. The sound of his bow can be heard at all points of the battlefield. You are the only one who can withstand the arrows of this great adhiratha. You have satisfied even the great Shiva by your prowess. Let prosperity, therefore, be with you and obtain victory in battle."

"My victory, O Krishna, is certain" replied Arjuna. "There is no doubt of this, since, You, who are the master of the three worlds, are pleased with me. Urge the horses forward for I will not return from battle without killing Karna. O Govinda, either I will slay him, or he will slay me. As long as the earth will exist, people will speak of this great encounter."

Beholding Vrishasena killed, Karna wept bitter tears, and his eyes were red in rage. He then proceeded toward Arjuna challenging him to fight. To the sounds of drums, trumpets and conchshells, Karna's chariot proceeded toward Arjuna. The Kaurava soldiers were joyous and sent up loud roars. Similarly, the Pandava soldiers beat their drums and blew their conchshells, encouraging the mighty armed son of Kunti. All the warriors stopped their fighting as the two faced each other in combat. The heavens became filled with demigods, rishis, Gandharvas, Rakshasas, Nagas, Pitris, Apsaras and Vidyadharas. They all came to witness this greatest of battles. Surya, the sun god shone brightly and wished his son victory. Similarly, Indra, appearing in the heavens, prayed for his son's success. All those who appeared in the heavens took one side or the other. The Lord of the universe was driving Arjuna's chariot, and Salya, the ruler of Madras, was driving Karna's chariot. Those two great heroes then began to afflict each other with their weapons. The combatants on both sides then picked up their weapons and supported either Arjuna or Karna. Supporting Karna were Duryodhana, Kritavarman, Kripa, Shakuni and Ashvatthama. They all rushed at Arjuna releasing their selected weapons. Behind them were tens of thousands of Kaurava soldiers. The heavenly denizens began to sing the praises of Krishna and Arjuna. They caused gentle breezes to blow and flowers to fall from the sky.

When the fierce duel began, both warriors set their hearts on victory. Arjuna invoked the Agneya weapon which sped toward Karna, scorching his supporting troops with fire. Karna countered that weapon with the Varuna weapon. That water weapon caused dense dark clouds to appear in the sky and pour torrents of rain. Arjuna then invoked the Vayavya weapon and blew away the clouds with fierce winds. Partha then invoked a weapon given to him by Indra, and when he did, thousands of arrows shot forth from the Gandiva bow piercing Karna in all parts of his body. Karna was furious and invoked the Bhargava weapon which began to kill the Pandava warriors in thousands. That weapon, given to him by Parashurama, began to exterminate the Panchala and the Somaka armies. Encouraged by Krishna and Bhima, Arjuna invoked the Brahmastra weapon which countered the weapon released by the son of Radha. With that weapon Arjuna killed four hundred elephants, eight hundred chariot fighters, one thousand horsemen and eight thousand foot soldiers.

Enraged, Karna took five snakes from his quiver, turned them into arrows and released them at Krishna. Scorching through the air, they pierced the transcendental body of the Lord and entered into the earth. As they came out of the earth and were returning to Karna's quiver, Arjuna cut them into three fragments. Lord Krishna was not hurt in the least by Karna's arrows, and He appeared unaffected. Greatly angered, Arjuna then killed two thousand chariot fighters that were supporting Karna and drove the other great generals to other parts of the battlefield. Karna was then left alone to fight with Arjuna. The fighting continued and was indeed wonderful. All were filled with joy upon seeing the two warriors duel using diverse kinds of weapons.

While the fighting was going on, the snake, Ashvasena, who managed to escape the devouring of the Khandava forest by Agni, was living in the lower regions. He was very envious of Arjuna, and hearing about the battle between Karna and Arjuna, he rose up to watch the wonderful fight. He remembered how Arjuna had killed his mother as she was trying to escaped the forest fire set by Agni. Desiring to gain revenge against Arjuna, he entered Karna's quiver. He entered the arrow that was being kept by Karna for Arjuna's death. When Karna saw that he could not defeat Arjuna with all his weapons, he set that arrow on his bow and drew back his bow string to full length. He then said to Arjuna, "Now you are slain!" When the arrow was released, meteors fell from the sky, and the demigods, headed by Indra thought that Arjuna would be killed. Seeing the blazing snake mouthed arrow come toward Arjuna, Lord Krishna pressed down on the terrace of the chariot and caused it to sink into the ground about a foot and a half. When this happened the horses were forced down to the ground. Karna's deadly arrow then swept off Arjuna's crown and smashed it to pieces. Indeed, the beautiful celestial crown, a gift of Indra, was knocked off Arjuna's head and shattered.

Upon witnessing the feat of Lord Krishna, which saved Arjuna's life, the demigods showered flowers and beat on their drums. That snake, having smashed Arjuna's crown, came back to Karna and informed him, "It is I that you have released from you bow. Having failed the mark, you may release me again. This sinful son of Pandu has killed my mother without reason, and I seek his death. Even if Indra protects him, I will cause his death, today." Karna replied, "I will not gain victory by someone else's power. Even if I have to kill a hundred Arjunas, I will not release the same arrow twice."

The snake Ashvasena was not satisfied with Karna's sense of warfare. He proceeded himself for slaying Arjuna. When Krishna saw what was taking place, he ordered Arjuna, "Slay that snake for he has become your enemy!"

"Who is this snake that seeks to kill me?" Arjuna inquired.

"While you were engaged in killing animals in the Khandava forest," Krishna replied, "this Ashvasena was in his mother's body. The mother rose up into the sky, but you killed her with your arrows. However, the son escaped. He has now appeared on the battlefield seeking revenge." Arjuna quickly cut up the snake into six pieces as it came scorching through the sky.

After this, Lord Krishna, the protector of His devotee, personally pulled Arjuna's chariot out of the earth, and again Arjuna proceeded against Karna. Those two great heroes began to pierce each other with their blood sucking arrows and sent up loud roars on the field of battle. Arjuna then shattered the crown, earrings and armor that Karna was wearing. Having deprived Karna of his protection, he then pierced him with many arrows causing him great pain. Karna dropped his bow and sat down on the seat of his chariot. Arjuna, who was conversant with the codes of fighting, did not wish to kill Karna in that condition. However, Krishna said to the mighty armed son of Kunti, "Why, O son of Pandu, have you become so forgetful of the sins this man has committed. Do not spare him. Kill him immediately!"

Desiring to please the Lord of the universe, Arjuna set to his bow an iron arrow and inspired with the force of Indra's thunderbolt. At that time when the hour of Karna's death had come, Kala (time) appeared there and informed Karna that his death was near. Kala told him, "The earth is devouring your chariot wheel!" Suddenly, Karna could not remember the mantras to call his celestial weapons. He suddenly forgot how to call the Brahmastra weapon with which he desired to kill Arjuna. Karna's chariot wheel then sunk into the earth and would not move. When this happened, he thought that destiny was supreme. He became unhappy at the turn of events. Suddenly he remembered the incantation for the Brahma weapon and released it at Arjuna. However, Arjuna countered with the Aindra weapon, and the two powerful weapons were neutralized. Karna then cut Arjuna's bow string, then another, then another until ten strings were severed. Karna did not know that Arjuna had one hundred strings in reserve for fighting on the battlefield. Karna then began to pierce Arjuna in every part of his body. Seeing this, Lord Krishna said, "Release your superior weapons at Karna without fail!" Arjuna then invoked the Raudra weapon and set it to his bow. At this time Karna got down from his chariot and tried to free it from the earth. However, it would not move. Karna was shedding tears, and seeing Arjuna about to release his weapon, he requested him, "O Partha, wait for a moment till I free this chariot from the earth. Do not kill me like a coward, but observe the practices of great warriors. You are the bravest man in the world, and you should know that now is not the time to kill me. Excuse me for a moment till I can free my chariot which is stuck in the earth."

Hearing Karna's plea, Lord Krishna said, "It is by good luck, O son of Radha, that you are now remembering virtue. It was yourself, Duhshasana, Duryodhana, and Shakuni who ordered Draupadi to be brought into the King's assembly with the idea of seeing her naked. Where was virtue then, O sinful person? When Yudhisthira was defeated unfairly at dice by the deceitful Shakuni, why didn't virtue enter your mind then? When Bhimasena was given a poisoned cake by the sinful Duryodhana, why didn't your virtue come out? When the Pandavas were exiled for thirteen years in the forest, where was your virtue? When Draupadi was dragged into the King's assembly, it was you who said, 'The Pandavas, O Draupadi, are lost. They have sunk into hell. Why don't you chose another husband?' You looked on that scene with delight. Where was your virtue at that time? When Abhimanyu was being unfairly defeated by six great warriors, where were your moral word? If at these times, virtue never came to your mouth, why then suddenly are you demanding righteousness? Today, you shall not escape with your life, O sinful person. The Pandavas will defeat Duryodhana's army, and will win lasting fame. The Pandavas are protected by virtue."

Sanjaya continued: O King, thus addressed by the lotus eyed Vasudeva, Karna said nothing and hung his head in shame. With his lips quivering in rage, he took up his bow and continued to fight with Arjuna. He released a deadly weapon with the force of a thunderbolt and hit Partha in the chest, causing him to fall to the floor of the chariot. Karna then took the opportunity and tried to free his chariot. Although he struggled, he could not free the wheel from the ground. Then Lord Krishna said to Arjuna, "Cut off your enemy's head before he ascends his chariot." Agreeing with the words of the lotus eyed Lord, Arjuna quickly cut the standard from Karna's chariot. That banner which caused great inspiration the Kaurava army then fell to the ground signifying the death of the great hero. Arjuna then took from his quiver an Anjalika weapon that resembled Indra's thunderbolt. This arrow was six feet long and looked like a blazing rod of death. Upon setting the arrow to his bow, the earth began to tremble and the sky filled with wonderful sounds. Stretching his bow to full length, Arjuna released that arrow with the sound of a thunderbolt. Piercing through the sky, it severed the beautiful head of Surya's son. The mighty Anjalika weapon succeeded in slaying that foremost warrior of the earth. When Karna's head fell to the ground, a stream of blood shot out of Karna's trunk and with it came his life force. That spiritual spark then entered the sun planet to be united with his father.

Overjoyed at Karna's death, Lord Krishna and Arjuna blew on their conches and the Pandava warriors did the same. The demigods showered flowers on Arjuna and played on their drums and sounded their trumpets. The Apsaras began to dance and Gandharavas played their instruments. The warriors waved their upper cloths, and jumped up and down in great joy. The time of Karna's death was the late afternoon. Karna was like the sun, and the rays of that sun were his blazing arrows. Now that the Karna sun had set, the army was relieved of those burning rays. After Karna's death, his chariot was freed from the earth, and Salya drove it from the battlefield.

Witnessing Karna's demise, Bhima uttered loud roars and slap his armpits. He danced in different ways and jumped up and down frightening the Kaurava army. Duryodhana was grief stricken and shed tears that covered his body. Furious at the death of so many friends and relatives, he rallied twenty five thousand troops and rushed at Bhima to kill him. Bhima took up his mace and attacked the oncoming enemy. With in a short period of time all those soldiers were smashed into the earth by the forceful mace of Bhimasena. Seeing his troops slaughtered, Duryodhana, outraged, tried to rally the fleeing troops, but Salya pacified him, and thus the army was withdrawn on the seventeenth day of the battle.

Lord Krishna and Arjuna then went and informed King Yudhisthira of Karna's death. Yudhisthira was joyous and requested to be taken to the place where Karna's body lay. His fears for thirteen years were now gone, and he embraced both Lord Krishna and Arjuna in great happiness. Thus the Pandavas celebrated the death of the great hero, ignorant of the fact that he was actually their elder brother. Karna had granted life to four of the Pandavas, knowing well that they were his younger brothers. Not being able to give up his affectionate relationship with Duryodhana, he perished with his brothers and kinsmen.

Thus Ends the Fourth Chapter of the Karna Parva, entitled, The Death of Karna.

Thus Ends the Karna Parva.

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