Uttara pleads to Abhimanyu as he leaves for the war
Abhimanyu (Sanskrit: अभिमन्यु abhimanyu) was the son of Arjuna and Subhadra and his life story is documented in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. He was the nephew of Lord Krishna and was married to Uttarā, the princess of Matsya. Abhimanyu was killed on the 13th day of the Kurukshetra War. His son Parikshit was born after his death in the war.
Abhimanyu inherited both courage and fighting ability from his father, Arjuna, and his grandfather, Lord Indra. He was considered to be an equal to his father owing to his prodigious feats. Abhimanyu participated in the Mahabharata war when he was 16 years old. During the Mahabharata war, Abhimanyu held at bay many great warriors such as Drona, Karna, Shalya, Kripa, Ashwatthama and Duryodhana inside the Chakravyuha.
After six days of war, Abhimanyu is most recognized for destroying the banner and checking the advance of Bhishma on the first day of the war, Abhimanyu's short but eventful life gains the most prominence on the thirteenth day of the war when he is made to enter the powerful Padmavyuham battle formation of the Kaurava army. Drona had made this contraption in order to capture Yudhishthira. On the side of the Pandavas, only Pradyumna, Krishna, and Arjuna were aware of the secret technique to break this seven-tier defensive spiral formation used by Dronacharya. King Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisha lures Arjuna away from the battlefield. Yudhishtir asks Abhimanyu to break the Chakravyuh and he accepts to help the Pandavas break the Chakravyuh but he also makes it known to them that his knowledge is limited to breaking in and didn't know how to exit. As promised, Abhimanyu enters the Chakravyuh followed by his kinsman. But as soon as Abhimanyu enters the Chakravyuha, Jayadrath stops the four Pandavas from entering it. Thus, Abhimanyu becomed trapped inside but puts on a brave fight against all the warriors.
Being the grandson of Lord Indra, god of mystical weapons and wars, Abhimanyu was a courageous and dashing warrior. Considered an ace archer, Abhimanyu was able to hold at bay great heroes like Drona, Duryodhana and Dushasana. Determined to exit the Chakravyuha by shattering it from within, Abhimanyu goes on rampage, reaching the heart of the trap. Fighting with such ferocity, none from the Kaurava side could beat him in a one-on-one combat (dwandva yudha). Proceeding, Abhimanyu defeats all the maharathis in a one-on-one battle, highlights including injuring Shalya so badly which causes him to faint, killing Shalya's younger brother, piercing Drona and Kripa, injuring Dusahshana badly, piercing Karna and cutting off his bow, killing Karna's younger brother and Brihadbala, the king of Kosala of the Ikshwaku dynasty. Abhimanyu really proves very expensive for the Kaurava army, destroying 3/4 of an akshouhini army single-handedly. Incensed at the admiration that those like Kripacharya and Drona express for Abhimanyu, Duryodhana attacks the boy. Sparing him so that his uncle Bhima can fulfill his oath, Abhimanyu leaves Duryodhana chariotless and weaponless, bleeding all over. With a single arrow, he also kills Duryodana's son Lakshmana, who had come to defend his father. Enraged, Duryodhana orders all the Kaurava maharathis to attack Abhimanyu, who with disgust, counters all their attacks. He then attempts to arrest Duryodhana. Stung by Duryodhana's doubts in his abilities, Drona suggests that Abhimanyu could only be killed through illicit means. Following the orders of the commander, Karna cuts off Abhimanyu's bow . Then Drona and Kripa kill Abhimanyu's horses and charioteers. Abhimanyu draws a sword and shield and continues to wreak havoc on the Kaurava army, only to be disarmed from afar once again. Drona destroys the hilt of the sword and the shield. Abhimanyu, who famously uses the wheel of a broken chariot to fend off attackers in lieu of his weapons. The wheel is broken into fragments by the enemy forces. Abhimanyu picks up a mace and pounces at Ashwathama. Ashwathama leaps back to avoid Abhimanyu. A mace battle between Durmasana the son of Dushasana and Abhimanyu ensues. During this mace battle, both of them are thrown to the ground. But Dushasana's son rises first and hits the crown of Abhimanyu's head as the latter was in the process of rising up from the ground but Abhimanyu killed him before he died. Karna kills him by stabbing for taking revenge because Arjuna killed three of his sons. Thus he was killed by seven unequal veterans in the battle.
News of the despicable acts committed on Abhimanyu reached his father Arjuna at the end of the day, who vows to kill Jayadratha the very next day by sunset, and failing to do so, commit suicide by self-immolation immediately. Arjuna kills many soldiers of the Kaurava army however when an eclipse covers the sun, everyone thinks the sun has set. Arjuna thinking he has failed his vow orders his soldiers to light a pyre so he can immolate himself. Jayadratha upon hearing this goes mad and comes to taunt Arjuna. However, when the eclipse ends the sun starts shining again and Krishna informs him that the sun had not set but it was an eclipse. Arjuna then picks up his weapon and cuts off Jayadratha's head in revenge for Abhimanyu's death.
His son, Parikshit, born after his death, remains the sole survivor of the Kuru clan at the conclusion of the Mahābhārata war, and carries on the Pandava lineage. Abhimanyu is often thought of as a very brave warrior on the Pandava side, willingly giving up his life in war at a very young age. Abhimanyu was praised for his audacious bravery and absolute loyalty to his father, his uncles.
Abhimanyu and Ashwatama
Abhimanyu is often quoted as an example for his partial knowledge about Padmavyuha. Since, he knew how to penetrate the Chakravyuha, but did not know how to exit from it during the time of danger, he was not able to escape and was killed brutally. Similarly, Ashwatthama too had a partial knowledge in the context of Brahmastra, only knew how to invoke it, but did not know how to withdraw it. Karna had full knowledge of Bramhastra but the weapon fails to materialise due to his Guru Parashuram's curse.
In case of Ashwatthama, Dronacharya did not trust his son Ashwatthama the manner in which he trusted Arjuna. Hence, he taught him only to invoke Brahmastra, but did not teach him how to withdraw it. If an archer is aware of both the invocation and withdrawal of Brahmastra, then he can invoke it as many times as he wants. Hence, to avoid Ashwatthama from invoking Brahmastra multiple times, Dronacharya only gave a partial knowledge about it. After the Kurukshetra War, Ashwatthama killed the sons of Draupadi as well as Drishtyadyumna, as revenge for the deceitful murder of his father Drona and other Kuru warriors. After knowing that Pandavas were alive and the ones actually dead were the Pandavas' offsprings, Ashwatthama invoked Brahmastra to kill the baby in Uttarā's womb; Arjuna also did the same to counter it.
The life of Abhimanyu is made into dramas and films in different languages. Some of them as part of the Mahabharata story, while others are done exclusively to tell his story beginning from his birth till his death in war.
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 61.
- Dowson, John (1888). A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature. Trubner & Co., London. p. 1.
- Media related to Abhimanyu at Wikimedia Commons
- Small story showing Abhimanyu's Valour
- Mahabharata Online