Uttara pleads to Abhimanyu as he leaves for the war
Abhimanyu (Sanskrit: अभिमन्यु Abhimanyu) was the son of Arjuna and Subhadra. He was a tragic hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. He was the nephew of Lord Krishna and was married to Uttara, the princess of Matsya Kingdom. Abhimanyu was killed on the 13th day of the Kurukshetra War.
Abhimanyu possessed incomparable courage, valour and fighting ability. He was considered to be a warrior equal or perhaps superior to his father (Arjuna) owing to his prodigious feats. During the Mahabharata war, as a sixteen-year-old, Abhimanyu had equated supreme warriors like Bhishma and Karna, and vanquished many other great warriors such as Drona, Salya, Kripa, Aswatthama, Duryodhana, Dussasana, Alamvusha and Kritavarma.
According to some stories, Abhimanyu was the reincarnation of the son of the moon-god (Somadeva/Chandradeva). When the moon-god was asked to let his son incarnate himself on earth, he made a pact that his son will only remain on earth for 16 years as he could not bear to be separated from him.
Abhimanyu was also a scion of the Lunar dynasty and heir to the legends of such men as Bharata, Ajameedha, Kuru, and so on. His mother was Subhadra, a Yadava princess, on whose side too his ancestry could be traced to Yadu, the founder prince of the Yadava line and through him to the same legendary Puroorava, Nahusha and Yayati. And, beyond all this, he was the nephew of Krishna himself.
Abhimanyu in the Kurukshetra War
Abhimanyu was a 'leader of leader of car-divisions' as described by Bhishma during the tale of the Rathas and Atirathas. Abhimanyu was expert in using all weapons, including the bow and arrow, the sword, and the mace.
On the 1st day of the war, Abhimanyu defeated Kripa, Kritavarma, Salya and Durmukha (one of Duryodhana's brothers), and equated Bhishma in battle.
On the 4th day of the war, Abhimanyu defeated Aswatthama, Salya, Bhurisrava and Duryodhana's son Lakshmana.
On the 9th day, Abhimanyu defeated the Rakshasa Alamvusha in a single combat, saving the lives of the Upapandavas, and taking the revenge of the slaughter of his half-brother Iravan (Iravan was deceitfully killed by Alamvusha on the previous day's battle). On this day, he also defeated elite warriors like Drona, Kripa, Aswatthama and Jayadratha.
On the 11th day, Abhimanyu defeated king Paurava (who possessed the might of 10,000 elephants) by disarming him and dragging him by seizing his hair. Jayadratha came to rescue the helpless king, but was defeated in a sword-fight by Abhimanyu.
Abhimanyu's story came to prominence on the 13th day of the war when he was made to enter the powerful chakravyuha battle formation of the Kaurava army. Drona had made this contraption in order to capture Yudhishthira. On the side of the Pandavas, only Krishna and Arjuna were aware of the secret technique to break this seven-tier defensive spiral formation. Seeing Yudhishthira's panic, Abhimanyu revealed that while he didn't know how to exit the formation, he would be able to break into it. A plan was formulated that the Pandava forces would enter the Chakravyuha after Abhimanyu, and shatter it from within. But as soon as Abhimanyu entered the Chakravyuha, Jayadratha stopped the four Pandavas from entering it.
Inside the Chakravyuha, the trapped Abhimanyu went on a killing rampage. He killed tens of thousands of Kaurava soldiers, and attempted to break through the Kaurava formation from inside. He repeatedly defeated great warriors like Drona, Kripa, Aswatthama, Duryodhana, Salya, Dussasana, Bhurisrava and others, and killed many prominent heroes including Duryodhana's son Lakshmana, Salya's son Rukmaratha, Kritavarma's son Matrikavata, Salya's brother, king Vrihadvala and many others. Karna was the only warrior who managed to eqate the young warrior in battle, but he too failed to defeat or kill Abhimanyu.
Finally, a strategy was formed and a joint attack on Abhimanyu followed. Karna cut off Abhimanyu's bow, Kripa killed his two chariot-drivers and Kritavarma killed his horses. Abhimanyu took up a sword and a shield, but these weapons were cut off by Drona and Karna. Abhimanyu then took up a chariot-wheel, and threw it at Drona but Karna and Aswatthama saved Drona by cutting the wheel. Abhimanyu then took up a mace, and smashed Aswatthama's chariot, upon which Aswatthama ran away from there. Turning, Abhimanyu killed one of Sakuni's brothers, and many soldiers and elephants. Then he smashed the chariot of Dussasana's son, who took a mace and confronted Abhimanyu. A badly wounded and exhausted Abhimanyu was finally killed by Dussasana's son, who smashed the fallen Abhimanyu's head with his mace.
News of the despicable acts committed on Abhimanyu reached his father at the end of the day. Arjuna vowed to kill Jayadratha the very next day by sunset, and failing to do so, would commit suicide by self-immolation immediately. On the fourteenth day of battle, Arjuna ravaged the Kaurava army, and in the end, decapitated Jayadratha with the Pasupatastra.
His son, Parikshit, born after his death, remained the sole survivor of the Kuru clan at the conclusion of the Mahabharata war and carried 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 and his uncles.
Abhimanyu and Chakravyuha
Abhimanyu is often quoted as an example for his partial knowledge about Chakaravyuha. Since, he knew how to penetrate the Chakravyuha, but did not know how to exit from it during the time of danger, he could not exit and was killed brutally. It is said that when Subhadra was pregnant, Arjuna told her the technique to enter in Chakravyuha and child Abhimanyu listened in mother's womb. But before Arjuna would tell her the way to get out she fell asleep and the child could not listen to it. This is often quoted as an example on how much partial knowledge can be destructive to an individual and society.
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.
- Media related to Abhimanyu at Wikimedia Commons
- Small story showing Abhimanyu's Valour
- Mahabharata Online