The epic Mahabharat is full of innumerable tales of heroism with many great heroes. However, there is no dispute about the greatest of them all – it is Arjun. Who comes next? Abhimanyu, the son of Arjun can legitimately claim that honor. Although he lived for only sixteen years, he left his mark of bravery in the Kurukshetra War when he went inside the trap of Chakrabyha that was created by the Kauravas to trap and kill anyone who would enter it.
Abhimanyu was born to Arjun and Subhadra, who was Lord Krishna’s sister. Because of his famous maternal uncle, Abhimanyu was automatically the most adorable child of all Pandavas.
When he was just about three years old, the Pandavas had to leave their kingdom to go into “Banabas”(living in forest), because they lost to the Kauravas in the game of “Pasha”, the modern day version of “Crap” as played in casinos. The Pandavas were banished for a total of 13 years, and Abhimanyu missed his father during his whole childhood. Abhimanyu stayed back with his mother at his uncle’s kingdom at Dwaraka, in company of Lord Krishna, and Balaram, Krishna’s elder brother. Abhimanyu received his education and training of archery and other sports from them and became an impressive young teenager.
The thirteen years of banishment of Pandavas included twelve years of living in forest, followed by one year of living in anonymity. During this period of anonymity, Arjun became a “eunuch”, an ineffectual man, to serve out a curse he had received previously. He took the name “Brihannala”, and worked as a dance teacher of “Uttara”, the daughter of King Birat. At the end of the period of anonymity, when the identity of Arjun was revealed, King Birat was very happy to learn that Arjun, the greatest warrior known to the world, was the teacher of her daughter. Overwhelmed with joy, he wanted to give her daughter to him in marriage. Arjun said to King Birat:
“I am honored by your proposal of marriage, but I cannot accept Uttara as my wife. She has always looked up to me as her teacher, and her Guru. But I like her so much that I will like to get her as my daughter-in-law. If you permit, then I will have my son Abhimanyu to marry your daughter”.
King Birat agreed, and Uttara got married to Abhimanyu, who was just about 16 years old.
At the end of fulfilling all requirements of the gamble they lost at the “Crap” game, the Pandavas were now ready to reclaim their kingdom back. They sent their representative to Duryodhan, the King of Kauravas, to have a discussion. As expected, Duryodhan, who had no intention of living in harmony with the Pandavas, rejected their claim to the throne, or to give them any part of the kingdom. Thus the seed was sown for a war between the two factions of the family that originated from the same ancestry of King Bichitrabirya.
The war was fought at Kurukshetra, near the Kingdom of Hastinapur. It was an 18-day war, and the details of it is immortalized in the epic “Mahabharat”, written by Vyasdev. Both sides amassed enormous armies, enlisting all kings that ruled various parts of the land of Bharat at the time. Among the most notable warriors of the time, Bhisma, Drona, Karna, and some others stayed with Kauravas because they more or less lived together under the rule of Duryodhan. On the Pandava side, Krishna was claimed by Arjun, as they were close friends. The Pandavas believed that Krishna was God himself, and with him on their side, they could not lose. Although Krishna had declared to both sides that he would not take up any arms himself, and that he would merely serve as the driver of Arjun’s chariot, the Pandavas fervently wanted him on their side.
On the very first day of the war, as Krishna placed the chariot of Arjun in the middle of the field of Kurukshetra, Arjun went into despair by looking at the enemies, who were none other than his own relatives, and those he respected as elders.
“How can I kill my own cousins, my grandfather Bhisma, my Guru Drona and such others”? He thought. There, before the war could begin, Krishna gave Arjuna and the world, the lessons of Hindu philosophy. These lessons are compiled in eighteen chapters of “Gita”, which is a part of the epic “Mahabharat”, and is accepted by Hindus as the central theme of Hindu philosophy. Armed with the knowledge of Gita and at the direction of Krishna, Arjun was convinced to battle in the field of Kurukshetra.
Abhimanyu, who was just a teenager, was not used by the Pandavas in the battlefield. However, on the thirteenth day of the war, he got introduced into it. The Kauravas made a special plan to defeat the Pandavas by making a Chakrabyuha, an impenetrable arrangement of warrior placement. Only Drona knew how to make the Chakrabyuha where the Kauravas could stay inside it and attack the Pandavas without any fear of retaliation. They knew that Arjun was the only person in the Pandava side who knew how to penetrate the Chakrabyuha, and therefore, they managed to divert Arjun out of the way by challenging him to fight with Susharma and Trigartas in a different area of the battlefield.
Yudhisthir knew that there was another person who knew how to penetrate the Chakrabyuha, and that was Abhimanyu. It so happened that one day, after Arjun and Subhadra were married, they were just spending some happy time together. Amongst many things they were talking about, Arjun told her about the impenetrable Chakrabyuha, and that only he learnt the process of going in and coming out of it. At Subhadra’s insistence, Arjun started to tell her the details. However, after he finished telling her the process of going into the Chakrabyuha, he was interrupted by Krishna who called Arjun away on some other work. Subhadra was pregnant with Abhimanyu at the time, and he listened to what his father said. So, he learnt the process of going in, but never learnt about how to come out of it. Just to complete the story, Krishna and his son Pradyumna also knew about the Chakrabyuha.
At this juncture of the war, with Arjun engaged at another front, the Kauravas had an upper hand and were destroying the Pandava side. Seeing that their side was getting annihilated, Yudhisthir had no other choice but to ask the teenage son of Arjun to take the lead in saving them. Yudhisthir told Abhimanyu:
“Go into the Chakrabyuha, and open the passage for other warriors to follow you. Bhim, Dhristadyumna, Satyaki and Panchal warriors will go behind you”.
Without any hesitation, Abhimanyu said:
“I am going to penetrate their army, like the wasps enter into a fire”.
Abhimanyu ordered his charioteer to proceed under his direction, and easily entered the Chakrabyuha. Showing amazing abilities of archery combined with courage and intelligence he learnt from his famous father and maternal uncle, he was unstoppable. He killed Laxman, the son of Duryodhan, who was leading the Kaurava side. Duryodhan got very angry at the loss of his son, and rudely told Drona to get into action to kill the young warrior. Then their six best warriors, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwathama, Brihadbal and Kritabarma circled around Abhimanyu to attack him. The Pandava supporters like Bhim, Dhrisadyumna and others were stopped in their path to follow Abhimanyu by the tactics of another Kaurava general, Jayadrath. Suddenly, Abhimanyu was all alone, fighting against the best Kaurava warriors. Still, he was unbeatable, and he badly hurt Karna, one of the greatest warriors. Drona then advised Karna to go behind Abhimanyu and break up his bow. Karna did just that, broke Abhimanyu’s bow and also killed his charioteer. Without his chariot and his bow, Abhimanyu was now at the mercy of his enemies as they kept attacking him with arrows. Under constant attack, Abhimanyu had no other recourse but to jump out of the chariot. Once on the ground, he was an easy prey for the enemy. Son of Dusshasan hit him with a “Gada” (a spherical head mounted on a shaft) on the head and killed him.
On the way back to the camp from his battle with Susharma and Trigartas, Arjun told Krishna, his charioteer, that he was feeling uneasy as if something has gone wrong. Upon arriving at his camp, he asked Yudhisthir:
“Why is everybody looking so sluggish? Has something bad happened? Where is Abhimanyu”?
Before Yudhisthir could answer, Krishna gave him the bad news:
“Yes, your son Abhimanyu has done his job as a Kshatriya warrior. He fought to the best of his ability, and now he has gone to the “Punyaloka”, the abode of all pious persons”.
Arjun was angry at his elder brother and said:
“You had so many great warriors to call upon, so, why did you have to send this little boy to the death trap”?
Arjun was trembling with anger at all the Kauravas who combined to kill his son. He particularly
expressed his anger at Jayadrath who made it possible to isolate Abhimanyu from the rest of the Pandavas. He promised to take the life of Jayadrath the next day. That night, Krishna advised Arjun to pray to Mahadev to get the most powerful “Pashupat” weapon, which would be needed to kill Jayadrath. Arjun prayed the whole night and he received the weapon before the morning.
But killing Jayadrath would still not be easy. Jayadrath had a boon that whoever would cut his head off and if it touched the ground, the head of the killer would be cut off.
Hearing about Arjun’s promise, Jayadrath was very fearful for his life, and asked Duryodhan and Drona to protect him. At Drona’s advice, Jayadrath was surrounded by six of the best Kaurava warriors the whole day. As the Sun was setting, and Jayadrath was still alive, Krishna covered the Sun to indicate the end of the day. As Jayadrath came out of the protective circle of the warriors, Arjun cut off his head. Before Jayadrath’s head fell to the ground, Arjun moved it in the sky with special arrows, into the hands of Jayadrath’s father. Immediately, the father’s head was gone. Then, Krishna removed the cover off the Sun, and Arjun’s promise to kill Jayadrath within the day was fulfilled.
Uttara, the wife of Abhimanyu, was pregnant with his son. After the war, as the Pandavas were getting ready to celebrate the win with “Ashwamedh Yagna”, Krishna, Balaram and others came to Hastinapur from Dwaraka. At this time, Uttara gave birth to a stillborn son. Uttara, Subhadra and all other Pandava ladies were crying loudly at such a debacle. Subhadra went to Krishna and said:
“Oh Madhusudan, you are the all-powerful God. My only son has died in the war, and now my only grandson is dead. Please Lord, save my grandson, save the lineage of the Pandavas”.
Uttara fell to Krishna’s feet, crying in an uncontrolled manner, and begged him to save her son. Krishna consoled them: “I will bring life back to the child”. With his blessing the young stillborn got his life back. Suddenly, all the melancholy was gone, replaced by hearty exclamations of joy and the sound of conch shell. Krishna named the young boy “Parikshit”, as he was the savior of the lineage of King Bharat. He would go on to become the King of the Pandava Empire.