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Karna Parva


Chapter One

The Sixteenth Day of Hostilities


Dhritarastra said: O Sanjaya, hearing of Drona's death, my heart trembles. One by one all the renowned maharathis are being drowned in the Pandava ocean. Due to the deceitful nature of my son, I don't think any of the great kings will survive. Please tell me, O Suta, who took charge of the Kaurava divisions after the fall of the mighty preceptor.

Sanjaya said: O King, after the fall of the preceptor Drona and after the forces were withdrawn on the fifteenth day of the battle, Duryodhana held consultation with his generals concerning the next commander of the army. They all gave their opinions on what should be done, and finally Ashvatthama spoke, "We should not be discouraged at the loss of so many of our men. After all, destiny shall decide who will be the victor in this war. As for our commander, I think Karna should lead our army to victory over the Pandavas. He is the most competent among us in the use of weapons and cannot be slain. As powerful as Yamaraja himself, he will certainly vanquish our enemy." Agreeing with Ashvatthama's proposal, Duryodhana chose Karna as commander in chief of the Kaurava army.

When the dawn of the sixteenth day arrived, both armies arrayed their troops in battle formation. Both were eager for combat and both blew on their conches, beat drums and sounded trumpets. The Kaurava army was headed by Karna, and the Pandava army was headed by Arjuna and King Yudhisthira. When the two armies met, there was a tremendous clash of weapons. Bhima was riding on a beautiful elephant and began to afflict the enemy forces with iron lances. He came upon the King of the Kulutas, who was also riding on an elephant. They began to afflict each other with their weapons, and Bhima was soon seen with six lances piercing his body. Not minding those weapons, he jumped down from his elephant and smashed the head of his opponent's elephant. The king of the Kulutas, jumping down from the dead beast, rushed at Bhima with an upraised sword. Bhima, however, with one blow from his mace sent that King to the other world.

Arjuna encountered the angry son of Drona, and after a fierce battle, he killed his charioteer and sent him running from the battlefield. When Ashvatthama finally stopped his horses, he no longer desired to fight with Partha, having been stung by his forceful arrows. Arjuna then engaged in battle with the remnants of the Samsaptakas headed by King Susharman.

After his defeat by Arjuna, Ashvatthama came upon King Pandya, who was raining arrows from his chariot and killing the Kaurava host in great numbers. King Pandya had brought to the Pandava's cause a full akshauhini division of troops. He was regarded by both sides to be a great fighter. Ashvatthama challenged him to battle and covered him with hundreds of arrows. King Pandya was conversant with many celestial weapons, and invoking the Vayavya weapon, he blew away the mass of arrows released from the bow of Drona's son. Greatly angered, Ashvatthama killed his four horses and charioteer and then shattered his chariot to pieces. To escape death, King Pandya jumped to the ground. At that time there happened to be a wild elephant running amongst the warriors with no rider. King Pandya quickly ascended that elephant and continued his fight with Ashvatthama. He took up a golden lance and with all his strength threw it at Ashvatthama, shouting, "You are slain! You are slain!" That forceful lance shattered Ashvatthama's radiant crown which was bedecked with all kinds of precious jewels. Seeing his valuable crown shattered, Ashvatthama could not tolerate the King's success. With three crescent shaped arrows, he cut off the two arms and the head of that great warrior. Falling from the elephant, King Pandya lay on the ground, having been severed into four pieces.

On the sixteenth day of the battle, Sahadeva encountered Duhshasana and defeated him soundly. He then began to crush the innumerable troops that were assisting the sinful brother of Duryodhana.

While Nakula was engaged in destroying the Kaurava divisions, Karna came up to challenge him. Smiling all the while, Nakula taunted him, "O sinful person, by good luck I am able to see you standing before me today. You are the root cause of this terrible war. Slaying you today, I will regard myself as one who has achieved his objective."

"Strike me, O hero and prove your prowess," Karna replied. "Having achieved some meager feats in battle, you think yourself powerful. Today I will vanquish your pride with my powerful shafts."

Having said this much, Karna released seventy arrows, but the son of Madri, Nakula, baffled those arrows and released eighty at the Suta's son. Karna shattered Nakula's bow and also killed his charioteer with a broad-headed shaft. With four more arrows, he killed his four horses, and Nakula then jumped down to the ground with a spiked bludgeon in hand. He released that weapon with all his might, but it was diverted by Karna's arrows. Nakula then ran away to another part of the battlefield. Karna pursued him, and when he came upon him, he touched him with the horn of his bow and said, "Your boastful words have now proved futile. Can you repeat them once more? Do not, O son of Pandu, fight with those who are superior to you. Only fight with those who are your equals. Go and take shelter of Krishna and Arjuna." Karna did not kill Nakula remembering his promise to Kunti before the battle had begun. After having been freed from the jaws of death, Nakula went in the direction of King Yudhisthira's chariot, his head lowered in shame.

King Yudhisthira encountered King Duryodhana and a fierce duel took place between those two great heroes. In the end Yudhisthira deprived Duryodhana of his chariot and all his weapons. Standing on the battlefield under the fear of death, King Duryodhana did not know what to do. Coming up to save him were Kripa, Karna and Ashvatthama. They surrounded the King and fully protected him.

Duryodhana then ascended another chariot and again challenged Yudhisthira. Another battle then ensued in which both combatants exhibited extreme animosity. Duryodhana threw a golden dart at Yudhisthira that sped through the air like a meteor. However, Yudhisthira shattered that weapon, and then pierced Duryodhana with many arrows. Duryodhana countered and covered Yudhisthira with hundreds of arrows sending up a loud roar. Yudhisthira could not tolerate his victory and released a golden shafted arrow that pierced Gandhari's son and entered into the earth. Falling unconscious for a few moments, Duryodhana sat down in his chariot. When he regained his senses, he picked up his mace and ran at Yudhisthira to end his life. Seeing him coming Yudhisthira hurled a mighty dart blazing like a meteor. That dart hit Duryodhana in the chest, causing him to fall into a swoon. Then Bhima, recollecting his vow he had taken at the gambling match, reminded Yudhisthira, "This one should not be slain by you, O King." With these words, Yudhisthira refrained from killing that sinful person who was the cause of destroying the entire kshatriya race.

Then Arjuna began to annihilate the entire Kaurava army. With his mighty weapons, he caused a great carnage of men on the Kurukshetra plain. In all directions there were thousands of slain warriors, elephants, and horses. Broken axes, scimitars, maces, javelins and darts were scattered all over the battlefield. Severed heads, arms and legs were seen everywhere and the whole battlefield appeared like Yamaraja's abode where the sinful are punished. For those who were weak hearted, the battlefield appeared like a ghastly scene, and for those who were heroes and took delight in battle, the battlefield appeared like an entrance into the spiritual world. Thus those two armies fought on until the sun set on the horizon. With this, the sixteenth day of the great war ended and thus the two armies withdrew to their camps.


Thus Ends the First Chapter of the Karna Parva, Entitled, The Fifteenth Day of Hostilities.




Chapter Two

Salya Becomes Karna's Charioteer


King Dhritarastra inquired: O Sanjaya, at the dawn of the seventeenth day of battle what did Duryodhana do, relying on the strength of Karna? How, also, did Arjuna encounter Karna now that he had lost his Shakti weapon? Without doubt destiny is supreme, for now my sons are reaping the terrible fruit of their activities in the form of annihilation of their nearest of kinsmen and friends. Please relate to me in detail all that happened on that eventful day.

Sanjaya said: When the sun appeared on the horizon dissipating the darkness of night, Karna went to King Duryodhana and spoke the following words, "Today, O King, I shall engage in battle with Arjuna. Either I will slay him, or he will slay me. Without killing him, I will not come back from the field of battle. Partha will definitely seek battle with me especially since I am deprived of the Shakti weapon. Please listen to my request that will assist me in victory. My celestial weapons are equal to the effectiveness of Arjuna's. As far as countering the feats of powerful enemies, I am superior to Arjuna. In lightness of hand and range of arrows, in hitting the mark and in skill, I am superior to Arjuna. In physical strength, in courage, in knowledge of weapons, and in prowess, I am superior to Arjuna. My bow called Vijaya, which was made for Indra by Vishvakarma, is superior to the Gandiva. That foremost bow was given to my preceptor, Parashurama. He has previously used this bow to kill all the kshatriyas twenty one times. With this bow given by Parashurama I will fight with Arjuna. Today, I will achieve my objective. Arjuna will never be able to stand in front of me as I release my selected weapons.

"Listen, however, to the points in which Arjuna is superior to me. The chariot driver of Arjuna is the divine son of Devaki, Krishna. He is worshiped in all the three worlds. His celestial chariot given by Agni cannot be penetrated by any weapon. His horses can travel at the speed of mind and cannot be slain. Arjuna also possesses an inexhaustible quiver of arrows and the string on his bow is also celestial. The ape on Arjuna's banner is, indeed, wonderful. Although I am inferior to Arjuna in these respects, I will still fight with him. If it were possible for me to obtain a chariot driver that was equal to Krishna then I would certainly obtain victory. I think that Salya, the King of Madras, is equal to Krishna as a chariot driver. As Krishna is acquainted with horse lore, so also is Salya. Salya is superior to Krishna, and I am superior to Arjuna. I request that many carts filled with weapons be close to me, ready for use at my disposal. In this way I will become superior to Arjuna. If you can promise all that I have asked for, then I will give you victory."

"I will certainly supply you with the necessary weapons," Duryodhana replied. "I will personally accompany you and protect you on all sides as you fight with Arjuna. Now, I will go to Salya and request that he take the reins of your chariot and guide you to victory."

Sanjaya continued: Your son, O Monarch, went to the ruler of the Madras and spoke as follows, "O foremost of rulers, I have come to solicit your help. To assist Karna in slaying Arjuna, I request you to become the chariot driver of Karna and guide him to victory. O great warrior, you are equal to Vasudeva as a warrior. Just as the Divine Krishna protects Arjuna, so you must protect Karna. The Pandavas have slain my soldiers in great numbers, and my army is at the point of annihilation. Karna desires to challenge Arjuna to combat, but he needs someone who is equal to Krishna as a charioteer. If you, who are greater than Krishna, take the reins of Karna's chariot, then victory will go to Karna. With the death of Arjuna, the whole Pandava army will be destroyed easily. O invincible monarch, if you combine with the son of Radha, I am sure that the demigods united will not be able to harm you. I am now taking shelter of you as the demigods take shelter of Lord Vishnu. Please assist the Suta's son, and help me gain complete sovereignty of this earth."

"O son of Gandhari," Salya replied, "you are insulting me by asking me to drive the chariot of someone who you think is superior to me. I do not consider the son of Radha to be my equal. Just behold these two massive arms which are a strong as thunderbolts. Also, behold my bow by which I can conquer all men on the field of battle. Behold my chariot and horses which can travel at the speed of wind. Do you not see my mace covered in gold? With this weapon I can split the earth or shatter mountains to pieces. The Supreme Being created the kshatriyas from His arms, and the sutas have been created from the castes that are servants of the shudras. Karna comes from such a caste, and therefore, why should he not drive my chariot? I have undergone the ceremonies befitting a king. I deserve the praises and worship that is due to a king. I will, therefore, never fight in such humiliating circumstances. I ask your permission to return to my kingdom."

Sanjaya continued: Having spoken his heart, Salya, a lion among men, endeavored to leave the assembly of kings. However, Duryodhana caught him and affectionately spoke to him again, "Without doubt, Salya, what you have said is true. Karna is not superior to you, nor am I trying to humiliate you in an assembly of warriors. I have a certain purpose in mind. Karna is superior to Arjuna in the use of weapons, and you are superior to Krishna in caring for horses. It is known that Vasudeva is the foremost of warriors, yet still He is driving the chariot of Arjuna. You are twice superior to Krishna and a mighty adhiratha. There is no doubt about this. There is not the slightest humiliation in driving Karna's chariot. There is only glory for you and victory."

"Since you have described me as being superior to Krishna," Salya replied, "I am pleased with you. I will take the reigns of Karna's chariot under the condition that he must tolerate whatever I say."

Agreeing with Salya's conditions, Karna then set his heart on battle. He ascended his chariot along with Salya, and all present praised those two bulls among men. To the beating of drums and cymbals and to the blowing of conchshells, Karna and Salya arrived at the front line of the battle. While the Kaurava soldiers were joyous over the mighty combination, they failed to notice the evil omens that surrounded them. A shower of meteors fell from the sky. Thunder and lightning were seen and heard in a cloudless sky. Bones fell from the firmament and fierce winds began to blow. Overcome by the influence of time, they did not know that those evil portents spelled death.

Feeling that victory was in his grasp, Karna began to boast, "While stationed on my chariot, I can challenge even Indra, the king of heaven. Beholding Bhishma and Drona lying on the field of battle, I do not feel the least fear. I know that it is I who must face Arjuna and slay him in battle. Bhishma and Drona were too affectionate to Arjuna, and therefore, they did not feel it in their hearts to kill him. However, I do not feel such affection towards Partha. Therefore, destiny has left it up to me to slay Arjuna in battle. Behold, Salya, this chariot covered in tiger skins and ornamented in gold. It is guided by the finest horses which were personally given to me by my preceptor Parashurama. It is filled with the foremost weapons for slaying the enemy in combat. Even if the demigods unite with Partha, they will not stop me from fulfilling my oath to kill Arjuna."

Sanjaya continued: Hearing the boastful words of Karna, Salya gave the following reply, "O Karna, do not pierce my ears with these conceited words of vanity. Arjuna is the foremost warrior, and you are the lowest of kshatriyas. Who else but Arjuna could have kidnapped Subhadra in the presence of all the Yadu princes and kings? Who, save Arjuna, could have satisfied the great Lord Shiva in battle? To protect the Khandava forest and assist Agni, who, save Arjuna, could have fought with all the heavenly gods, headed by Indra, and defeated them in battle? Was it not Phalguna who released Duryodhana from the hands of the Gandharvas after you had run away from the battlefield? When the cows were stolen away from the kingdom of Virata, wasn't it Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Ashvatthama, Duryodhana and yourself who were defeated by Arjuna? Why did you not endeavor to defeat him then? Now on this occasion, you will get another chance to fight with the son of Kunti, and I think that if you do not flee from battle, you will be slain by Arjuna."

"You are certainly an enemy wearing the guise of a friend," Karna said. "Why are you trying to discourage me before facing Arjuna in battle? No one, not even Indra what to speak of a mere mortal, will deter me from my determination to kill Arjuna in battle."

"When you come face to face with Arjuna," Salya replied, "and feel the force of his arrows, you will retract your boastful statements. You are like a croaking frog inviting the black snake of Krishna to devour you. You are like a dog in the forest barking at the forest roaming tiger. You are like a jackal and Dhananjaya is like a mighty lion. You can boast these words as long as Arjuna has not cut off your head with his golden shafted arrows."

Becoming agitated by Salya's words, Karna replied, "You are ignorant of my merits because you have not seen my prowess in battle. You, obviously, cannot judge between the powerful and the weak. In my quiver I have a special arrow in the form of a snake. I worship it with sandalwood and garlands. That arrow has the power to kill large numbers of soldiers and elephants. It has the power to penetrate Mount Meru. I will not use that weapon against anyone except Arjuna and Krishna. O Salya, you will behold today both Krishna and Arjuna slain by this arrow as two pearls are pierced by a needle and thread. You are a fool because you have allowed fear of battle to enter your heart. After killing Krishna and Arjuna, I will kill you along with all your kinsmen. I do not harbor any fear of Krishna and Arjuna. I am prepared to fight with a hundred Krishna and Arjunas and slay them in battle. You are born in a sinful country, and therefore, I do not take your words seriously. It is known that the inhabitants of Madras are the lowest of men, and whatever they speak is like dirt. It is well known that women in Madras are like camels and asses, and will have intercourse with anyone. Because you rule over such a low class of people, if I kill you, I will cast your carcass to the carnivorous animals who will devour it. To save yourself from such a fate, do not speak such words again. If you speak to me again like this, I will crush your head with my mace which is hard as thunder."

While taunting each other, Duryodhana suddenly appeared and pacified them both. He urged them to fight the enemy and not each other. Salya then guided the horses to the front part of the formation.

Dhritarastra inquired: How, O Suta, did Karna arrange the vast forces of my son's army? How also did Dhristadyumna arrange the forces of the Pandavas for battle? Please tell me everything in detail for I am eager to hear of it.

Sanjaya replied: Hear from me how, on this seventeenth day, the armies of both sides arrayed their troops. In your son's divisions, Kripa and Kritavarman took up the right wing of that formation. Beyond them were the divisions of the Gandharas headed by Shakuni and Uluka. On the left wing of the formation were the Samsaptakas led by King Susharman. Also your sons took up their positions amongst that formidable host. At the rear of the army was your son Duhshasana, riding on a huge elephant supported by thousands of troops. Behind him was Duryodhana surrounded by the foremost warriors of the Kaurava army. Behind the King and taking up the tail of that division was Ashvatthama. The body of the formation was led by Karna, supported by tens of thousands of warriors. Behind Karna was his son Vrishasena and his other sons Banasena and Shusena. They were all prepared to lay down their lives for their father.

Dhristadyumna, in consultation with Arjuna, then arrayed their troops in a counter formation to assure their safety. Beholding the Samsaptakas standing before him, Arjuna challenged them, desiring to finish the remnants of those unretreating heroes. When the two armies met their was a loud sound of warriors desiring victory. The two armies had diminished considerably since the first day of the battle.

When Karna came upon the Panchalas he killed five of their foremost warriors whose names were Banadeva, Chitrasena, Senavindhu, Tapan and Surasena. The two protectors of Karna's chariot wheels were two of his sons, named Satyasena and Sushena. The oldest son of Karna, Vrishasena, was protecting him from behind.

Coming up to challenge the Suta's son was Dhristadyumna, Satyaki, the five sons of Draupadi, Bhima and Shikhandi. There was also Nakula and Sahadeva surrounded by the Panchalas, the Chedis and the Matsyas. Shusena quickly cut Bhima's bow as Bhima came rushing toward Karna. Vrikodara picked up another bow and quickly pierced Shusena with ten arrows and Karna with seventy. Bhima then cut off Banusena's head with a razor sharp arrow even in the presence of his father. Having slain one of Karna's sons, Bhima began to afflict Karna's supporting troops.

Penetrating the Pandava host, Karna came upon Yudhisthira and pierced him with ten arrows. Yudhisthira then set on his bow a golden shafted arrow capable of taking the life of the Suta's son. Releasing the arrow with full force, it pierced Karna's side forcing him to fall to the floor of the chariot. Seeing the precarious situation, Karna's division thought that he was slain. Salya was about to take him from the battlefield when he regained consciousness. Karna then set his heart on killing Yudhisthira. With a couple of razor headed arrows, Karna killed the two warriors that were protecting Yudhisthira's chariot. He then cut Yudhisthira's bow in two and with his arrows stripped his armor from his body. Yudhisthira picked up a golden dart and released it at Karna with full force. Karna, however, shattered it with his own weapons. King Yudhisthira then pierced Karna with four lances. Two lances pierced his arms, one his chest and one his head. Blood poured from his wounds, and Karna became furious. He destroyed Yudhisthira's chariot forcing him to ascend another. King Yudhisthira, not feeling capable of further fighting, fled the battlefield. However, Karna would not allow him to escape. He came near Yudhisthira and seized him by force. Karna then remembered his promise to Kunti and did not harm him.

Laughing and making fun of him, Karna said, "How is it that you are born of such a noble race, and you are running from the battlefield desiring to save your life. You are inclined toward the life of a brahmana, and therefore not inclined to the life of a kshatriya. Do not, O son of Kunti, fight with brave warriors and use harsh language. Go to your tent or take shelter of Krishna and Arjuna. I will grant you life and not slay you." Karna then left Yudhisthira and returned to the thick of the fighting.

King Yudhisthira was angered by Karna's words, but as he looked around he saw that he had no weapons to challenge him. Bhima then came upon Karna, and a fierce battle ensued. Karna managed to shatter Bhimasena's bow, but Bhima strung another bow and pierced Karna with many arrows. Karna countered with twenty arrows, but Bhima pierced Karna in the chest with a broad headed shaft released with the force of lightning. The arrow hit Karna with the sound of thunder, and Karna fell to the floor of the chariot in a deadly swoon. Salya then took Karna from the battlefield to save his life.

Witnessing Karna's defeat, Duryodhana sent twenty of his brothers to fight with Bhima. They were like flies about to enter fire. Bhima was red hot like fire and could not be stopped. Duryodhana's brothers surrounded him, and began to afflict him with deadly arrows. Furious, Bhima struck off the head of Vivitsu, whose head resembled the full moon. With his forceful arrows Bhima then killed Vikata and Saha, who fell to the ground like a couple of trees uprooted by the wind. Bhima then killed Krata, Nanda and Upananda. Seeing their brothers killed, the others fled from the sight of Bhima.

Descending from his chariot, Bhima then began to annihilate the enemy troops as the wind destroys clouds. Seven hundred elephants then assaulted Bhima intending to trample him to death. However, Bhima prostrated all seven hundred with his unrelenting mace. Scorching the Kaurava army, Bhima then crushed one hundred chariots and two hundred infantry. Then five hundred chariot warriors inspired by Duryodhana rushed against Bhima to kill him. They roared fiercely and came upon him with great speed. None the less, Bhima made a mountain out of those five hundred warriors, and licking his lips, prepared to receive three thousand attacking horsemen sent by Shakuni. With his mace covered in flesh and blood, Bhima made a separate mountain of those oncoming horsemen. Not satiated with battle, Bhima entered the ranks of the Kauravas completely devoid of any kind of fear. His mace, which whirled about him constantly, was like a discus which was meant for the destruction of the whole world. No one could stop Bhima as he toured the battlefield mace in hand. The whole battlefield became a ghastly scene as Bhima pummeled chariots, horses and elephants into shapeless masses. Rivers of blood flowed in all directions. Infantrymen were slipping in pools of blood as they tried to make their way toward the angry Bhima. With one swing of his mace, Bhima was killing thirty soldiers at a time. Soldiers crushed by Bhima's mace were forcibly smashed into the soldiers behind them, forcing a merge in the bodies of men. The heads of elephants were either struck off or torn open, causing the brain of the beast to fall on the ground. Chariots, along with their warrior and horses, were reduced to unrecognizable shapes laying here and there on the battlefield. The Kurukshetra plain was ghastly, and the whole Kaurava army fled from the presence of the mighty armed Bhima, seeking Karna as their refuge. Bhima stood on the battlefield like Yamaraja himself. His mace and body were covered in flesh and blood. His anger was so intense that no one could recognize him. Thus Bhima released his wrath on the sinners for having touched the sanctified hair of his wife Draupadi.


Thus ends the Second Chapter of the Karna Parva, entitled, Salya becomes Karna's Charioteer.




Chapter Three

Lord Krishna Saves Yudhisthira from Death


Dhritarastra said: O Sanjaya, the feats that Bhima accomplished were exceedingly wonderful. The field of battle could not tolerate the forceful play of his powerful mace. Now, O Suta, please tell me what happened between the two foremost chariot fighters, the son of Kunti, Arjuna and the son of Radha, Karna. Their encounter must have been wonderful for they are both considered the best among adhirathas. Please relate to me all that happened on that seventeenth day of battle.

Sanjaya said: O King, during the progress of the Kurukshetra war, the sound of the Gandiva bow was heard above all else. Arjuna was engaged in slaughtering the Samsaptaka headed by King Susharman. Greatly angered, the Samsaptakas surrounded Arjuna's chariot and began to cover it with a deluge of weapons. King Susharman pierced Arjuna with ten arrows and Krishna with three. He then pierced the monkey Hanuman who was emitting earth trembling screams from Arjuna's banner. Not tolerating that shaft, Hanuman began to roar with a thunderous voice, and the Samsaptaka warriors stood petrified out of intense fear. Indeed, they all stood like trees in a forest. However, inspiring his troops, King Susharman rushed at the chariot of Krishna and Arjuna releasing his mighty weapons. The Samsaptakas overcome with intense anger began to strike Arjuna's divine chariot. They hacked at the wheels, the shaft, the horses and every other part. Some of the soldiers tried to seize Lord Krishna as He was driving the chariot through the mass of soldiers. Others were trying to grab Arjuna or hit him with their weapons. The lotus eyed Lord Krishna pushed away the warriors who were trying desperately to kill Him, and Arjuna began to mangle the soldiers around the chariot with short arrows meant for close encounters. Cutting off their arms, legs and heads, he drove away the large force from the chariot.

Addressing Lord Krishna, Arjuna said, "Behold the mighty Samsaptakas fighting fiercely in battle. Without doubt, there is none on earth that could bear such an attack on his chariot except myself." Arjuna then blew his conchshell the Devadatta, and Lord Krishna blew His the Panchajanya. Then that subduer of hostile armies invoked the Naga (snake) weapon which paralyzed the legs of the Samsaptaka army. While in that helpless condition, Arjuna cut them down like a great wind storm cuts down trees. When the chariot had been freed from the mass of soldiers, Arjuna began slaying the Samsaptakas in thousands. Seeing all his troops tied up in with the snake weapon, King Susharman invoked the Sauparna astra which created countless birds to devour those snakes. Freed from their bonds, the Samsaptakas released their arrows and hurled their weapons at Lord Krishna and Arjuna. King Susharman released a deadly arrow that pierced Arjuna's chest, causing him to fall to the floor of his chariot. All the Samsaptakas loudly cried, "Arjuna is slain!, Arjuna is slain!" To the beating of drums and the blowing of conchshells, they rushed against the chariot of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Recovering his senses and seeing the Samsaptakas nearing, Arjuna invoked the Aindra weapon, and from that single arrow thousands upon thousands of arrows issued from the Gandiva bow. Striking down the troops like lightning bolts strike down trees, that deadly weapon created a slaughter of men, horses, and elephants. Within a short period of time seventeen thousands warriors, and three thousands elephants littered the battlefield. Those Samsaptaka warriors who were unretreating in battle continued their attack on Arjuna making death or victory their goal.

Sanjaya continued: While Arjuna was engaged in battle with the Samsaptakas, Yudhisthira was fighting with Duryodhana. Sahadeva and Nakula were protecting Yudhisthira's chariot wheels, and also aiding Yudhisthira in his battle with the Kaurava King. Sahadeva invoked a celestial weapon and pierced Duryodhana with many arrows. The King was deeply lacerated and in great danger released many arrows which afflicted the sons of Pandu. Not tolerating the situation, Karna appeared on the scene. He began to destroy the troops supporting Yudhisthira and then pierced him with many arrows. Yudhisthira countered and pierced Karna with fifty arrows. Yudhisthira then began to afflict the Kaurava army with his mighty weapons and cause it to retreat from the field of battle. Wherever Yudhisthira cast his eyes, the Kaurava army broke and fled. Inflamed with rage, Karna assaulted Yudhisthira and lacerated him with many weapons. Karna released three broad headed shafts that caused the King to sit down on the chariot. The Kaurava army, seeing Yudhisthira weakened, called out, "Seize him! Seize him!" To protect the King, seventeen hundred Kekaya soldiers came forward and pushed back the enemy front line.

Karna would not allow Yudhisthira to escape. Yudhisthira had been mangled by Karna's arrows and was returning to his tent to receive attention to his wounds and rest for a while. He was being protected by Nakula and Sahadeva. Karna followed closely behind and pierced Yudhisthira with three arrows. Sahadeva and Nakula turned on Karna and attacked him. They covered him with many arrows, but the son of Radha managed to kill the horses that were drawing Yudhisthira's chariot. Smiling all the while, Karna, with a single arrow, knocked the crown from Yudhisthira's head. He then killed Nakula's horses and shattered his bow. Nakula then ascended Sahadeva's chariot and continued fighting with the cruel Karna.

Wanting to save Yudhisthira's life, Salya said to Karna, "Why are we engaged in this useless battle with Yudhisthira? It is Phalguna that you are to fight with. What will you gain by killing Yudhisthira. Just now you can hear the sound of the Gandiva bow. Certainly, Arjuna is killing the foremost Kaurava warriors. Bhima is also fighting with Duryodhana, and we must act in such a way that the King may not be harmed."

Upon hearing Salya's advice and seeing Duryodhana faring badly in battle with Bhima, Karna ordered the chariot to be taken to the front line. After Karna had left, Yudhisthira ascended Sahadeva's chariot and returned to his camp completely humiliated. He entered his tent, and Nakula and Sahadeva pulled out Karna's arrows. He then laid down on his bed to rest for some time. He ordered Nakula and Sahadeva to go and assist Bhima.

Meanwhile, on the front lines Arjuna engaged in a fierce duel with Ashvatthama and drove him from the battlefield. The mighty armed son of Kunti then looked in all directions, but nowhere could he see Yudhisthira's royal banner. He went to Bhima and inquired about the King's whereabouts. Bhima said, "King Yudhisthira has left the battlefield. His limbs were scorched by Karna's arrows. I am doubtful whether he still lives." Hearing this news, Arjuna ordered Lord Krishna to drive his chariot to the camp.

Upon entering Yudhisthira's tent and seeing that he was still alive, both Krishna and Arjuna were joyful. They worshiped the feet of the King and inquired of his welfare. Yudhisthira thought that Arjuna had slain Karna and had, therefore, brought the good news. He greeted them in the following words, "Welcome, O Lord of the Universe, who has Devaki for a mother, and welcome, O Dhananjaya. I am pleased by your presence. I see that without being wounded, you have slain the evil minded Karna. Karna had engaged me in battle and lacerated me with many arrows. He humiliated me and left without a chariot, horses or weapons. That I am still alive is due only to Bhimasena's prowess. Never before, even while fighting with Bhishma or Drona, did I experience such humiliation. Please tell me in detail how the death of that mighty hero took place."

In reply to the illustrious King's inquiry, Jishnu (Arjuna) said, "O King, after defeating Drona's son in battle and defeating the Samsaptakas, I have come here to see you, not knowing whether you were dead or alive. Bhima doubted that after your duel with Karna, you were still living. Karna is presently slaying our troops in great numbers. With the powerful Bhargava weapon, he has slain seventeen hundred of our foremost princes. Come with me now and witness as I kill Karna with all his kinsmen and followers."

Hearing that Karna was still alive, Yudhisthira was agitated and spoke harshly with Arjuna saying, "The army is being devoured by Karna, and you have come here deserting the brave Bhima on the front line of battle. You have promised to kill Karna. Therefore, why have you come here, except out of fear of the enemy? If, in the Dvaitavana forest, you had said to me that you would not fight with Karna, then I would have made other arrangements. You possess all abilities to slay the Suta's son, yet, out of fear you do not use them. If you had given the Gandiva bow to Keshava, and you had driven the chariot, then certainly He would have slain Karna by now. If you are unable to defeat Karna, then you should give the Gandiva bow to a superior king, and allow him to slay Karna. Because of this cowardly act, it would have been better if you were never been born in Kunti's womb."

When scorched by Yudhisthira's words, Arjuna drew his sword and was prepared to kill his brother. Quickly Lord Krishna pacified his friend and appeased his anger. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said, "Why, O Partha, are you drawing your sword? I do not see, O Dhananjaya, anyone here whom you should fight with. We should now go to the front line of the battle and fight with Dhritarastra's sons or the mighty Karna, whom you have vowed to slay."

Replying to Krishna and casting an enraged glance at Yudhisthira, Arjuna said, "I have taken a secret vow, O Govinda, that anyone who suggests that I give my Gandiva bow to another king should be slain. To keep my vow, I will now kill this brother who faults me for falling from virtue."

The lotus eyed Lord then spoke to Arjuna these words, "O tiger among men, you have yielded to anger at a time when you should not have done so. No one, who is conversant with truth, would act in this way. You desire to commit a deed that is condemned by the holy scriptures. Everything has to be seen through the eyes of scripture and great saintly persons. To kill one's older brother can never sanctioned by learned personalities. The killing of a person not engaged in battle, or one who has turned his face from battle, or one who seeks protection, or one who is carless, is never authorized by scripture. Why then do you wish to kill this revered superior? Morality is very difficult to understand. Listen to a story illustrating this point. Once there was an ascetic named Kausika, who did not have much scriptural knowledge. He lived a small distance from a village where several rivers met. He made a vow saying, 'I will always speak the truth.' He then became famous as one who never told a lie. One day some innocent persons, who were seeking refuge from some robbers, entered the forest near the sage's dwelling. Soon, the dacoits appeared there searching for these men to rob them. Approaching Kausika, they inquired, 'O holy one, by which path have those men gone who recently came here. Asking in the name of truth, reply to us.' When questioned in this way, Kausika said, 'Those men have entered the woods just near here.' The cruel thieves then slaughtered those innocent persons and took their wealth. For this sin, Kausika fell into hellish life and suffered greatly. There must be some process of distinguishing virtue from sin. Therefore, great sages have indicated that seeing through scriptural eye is the only distinct path to follow. However, the scriptures do not provide for every case. Hearing this from me, you should now decide whether your brother should be slain or not."

"O Krishna," Arjuna said, "Your wisdom always saves us from dangerous situations. You are like a father and are a refuge in all circumstances. You know my vow regarding anyone who says that I should give away my Gandiva bow. Now the King has repeatedly used these words. If I kill him, I will not be able to live in this world for a moment. Having vowed my elder brother's death, I am covered by sin. I now ask You to give me good counsel by which I will not break my vow and at the same time Yudhisthira will still live."

"O hero," the lotus eyed Vasudeva replied, "when the King spoke to you, he had just been humiliated by Karna. He was badly wounded and fatigued. It was for this reason that he spoke such unkind words. He, therefore, does not deserve death. Listen now to My instructions by which Yudhisthira will be thought as dead, but his body not slain. As long as one receives respect, he is considered living within this world. When, however, he is disrespected, he is considered dead although still living in this body. The King has always been respected by all your brothers including yourself. If at this time of argument, you speak to him disrespectfully, it will be thought that he is dead although still alive. In the past you have addressed him as 'Your Majesty'. If you chastise him disrespectfully, he can thus be thought of as dead. This kind of death King Yudhisthira will never regard as offensive. Having verbally slain him in this way, you may then worship his feet and soothe his wounded honor. You will be freed from breaking your vow, and the sinful act of killing your brother. You will then be able to slay Karna."

Following Lord Krishna's instruction, Arjuna spoke harshly with his older brother, accusing him of casting the whole kshatriya race into hell because of his desire to gamble. He spoke to him in many unkind words, and after speaking in this manner, he fell at his elder brother's feet and begged forgiveness.

At this time Lord Krishna informed Yudhisthira, "O King, I will now explain to you the vow Arjuna has taken. Arjuna has vowed to kill any person who says, 'Give your Gandiva bow to another.' You have uttered these very words to him in chastisement. To make good the vow and at the same time not see you slain, he has spoken apparent words of disrespect."

Hearing the truth of the matter, King Yudhisthira immediately rose from his resting place, raised his brother and embraced him. Yudhisthira then spoke to Hrishikesha, "O Govinda, I have been guilty of a great sin, and now I have been awakened to the real truth. O husband of the goddess of fortune, by Your mercy we have been saved from a great calamity. We have been rescued from a distressful ocean by taking the boat of Your lotus feet. We, along with are relatives and friends, have now passed over the great mountains of sorrow and grief, having obtained You as our master and Lord." King Yudhisthira then embraced Lord Krishna and then again Arjuna. He requested Arjuna to now kill the Suta's son. Assuring the King of success, Arjuna and Lord Krishna mounted their chariot, and Lord Krishna urged the horses toward the front line of the battle.


Thus Ends the Third Chapter of the Karna Parva, Entitled, Lord Krishna Saves Yudhisthira from Death.


Chapter Commentary


Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has made a point in this chapter that is instructive to all persons trying to make advancement in spiritual life. One must be able to see through the eye of scripture in order to understand certain situations in their proper light. Lord Krishna told Arjuna before the battle, tasmac chastram pramanam te, karyakarya-vyavasthitau, jnatva sastra-vidhanoktam, karma kartum iharhasi, "One should understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures. Knowing such rules and regulations, one should act so that he may be gradually elevated." ( B.g. 16.24) We must learn to see through the eye of the scripture. The holy books have been left for us by the previous acharyas to help see how to get out of this material world. Sufficient hearing of the these holy books, especially, Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita will provide the eyesight to find our way out of this material entanglement. One who rejects the holy scriptures and acts whimsically is putting himself in a very dangerous situation. Lord Krishna told Arjuna, yah sastra-vidham utsrjya, vartate kama-karatah, na sa siddhim avapnoti, na sukham na param gatim, "But he who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination." (B.g. 16.23) There is a three way check and balance in spiritual life: guru, sadhu and scripture. Of the three, scripture is the central point. The guru and sadhu must be able to quote scripture to support their points. If one doesn't support himself or his ideas using scriptural authority, he may cause a disturbance to people in general. This is confirmed by Rupa Goswami, sruti smrti-puranadi, pancaratra-vidhim vina, aikantiki harer bhaktir, utpatayaiva kalpate, "Devotional service to the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upanishads, Puranas, Narada-Pancharatra, etc., is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society." (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.101)

In this age of Kali the Shrimad-Bhagavatam will light the pathway to the kingdom of God. krsne sva-dhamopagate, dharma-jnanadibhih saha, kalau nasta-drsam esa, puranarko 'dhunoditah, "This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krishna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana. (S.B. 1.3.43) Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the transcendental sound vibration which cleanses our dirty hearts, and help us to fix our minds at the lotus feet of Krishna. This is also confirmed in Shrimad-Bhagavatam, anarthopasamam saksad, bhakti-yogam adhoksaje, lokasyajanato vidvams, cakre satvata-samhitam, "The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vyasadeva compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth." (S.B. 1.7.6)

If we neglect or doubt the revealed scriptures, then our future is very dim. Lord Krishna told Arjuna, ajnas casraddadhanas ca, samsayatma vinasyati, nayam loko 'sti na paro, na sukham samsayatmanah, "But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting should there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next." (B.g. 4.40) The conclusion is we must take the time to learn the holy books and see through their eyes. The spiritual master gives us these books to cure the cataract of material vision. om ajnana timaran dasya jnana jnana salakaya chaksur unmilitam yena tasmai shri guruve namah, In this verse the word salakaya means a medical instrument which applies medical ointment to the eye which is afflicted with cataract. Our spiritual eye is afflicted, and therefore the spiritual master applies the ointment of Vedic knowledge to open this eye by which we can see the kingdom of God. For this reason we offer our most humble obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master.



Chapter Four

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.


Chapter Commentary


In this chapter there is another point concerning morality. One may criticize Arjuna for killing Karna while he was pulling his chariot from the mud. However, if we remember from the Adi Parva, Karna was cursed by a brahmana to be killed while his chariot wheel was stuck in the earth. Arjuna was the instrument to fulfill that curse. According to the code of warfare, an enemy should not be killed when he is not properly armed, and Karna requested that Arjuna not kill him till his chariot was out of the earth. However, Lord Krishna reminded Karna of his lack of virtue and morality, and asked him why he was now requesting mercy, when he previously gave none. If Lord Krishna requested Arjuna not to show mercy to Karna, then that is the highest morality. Karna surely attained an exalted destination for seeing Lord Krishna and Arjuna at the last moment of his life. Lord Krishna informed Arjuna before the battle, anta-kale ca mam eva, smaran muktva kalevaram, yah prayati sa mad-bhavam, yati nasty atra samsayah, "And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt." (B.g. 8.5) Karna was fortunate to be killed while looking at Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

One may also criticize Bhima for drinking the blood from Duhshasana's chest. It will be learned later that Bhima never actually drank the blood, but put his mouth on Duhshasana's chest, giving the apparent scene of drinking Duhshasana's blood. Bhima certainly looked ghastly as he rose from Duhshasana's body, but that is the vow he took at the gambling match, since Duhshasana forcibly grabbed his wife, Draupadi, and tried to strip her naked. The sinful are always punished, eventually, in one way or another.