The last battle of Karna

On the sixteenth day of the Kurukshetra war when Karna was the commander of the Kaurava army, he single-handedly defeated all of the Pandava brothers with the exception of Arjuna. He stuck by the promise that he made to Kunti that he would not kill any of the Pandava brothers with the exception of Arjuna.

When he defeated Bhima, he leaves him alive stating that as Bhima was younger than him he wouldn’t kill him. When he defeated Yudhisthira, he leaves him alive asking him to practice all that his gurus and teachers have taught him. Similarly he refuses to kill Nakula and Sahadeva after defeating them in one to one battle on that day.

Finally Karna asks his charioteer to take him to where Arjuna was on the battlefield. In the fierce battle that ensues between these two great warriors, neither one budged or hesitated. When Karna shot the powerful Nagastra at Arjuna, Krishna gently presses Arjuna’s chariot downwards using his divine powers, enabling the Pandava prince to survive this assault. Not to be outdone, Arjuna showers Karna with all his arrows, but Karna manages to neutralize all of them with arrows of his own.

Finally when all of Arjuna’s weapons are exhausted and he is defenseless, the only thing that saves him on the sixteenth day was nightfall, and since it was against the code of war to battle at night, Arjuna managed to escape the wrath of Karna that day.

However, as a parting shot, Karna shouted out “Oh Arjuna, today you were saved from the powerful Nagastra due to the insidious tactics of your beloved Krishna. But mark my words Pandava prince, tomorrow will be your last day on this earth.

On the seventeenth day, both the warriors resumed their dueling, which was so fierce that it is said that even the Gods from heaven were witnessing this spectacle. Karna managed to cut Arjuna’s bowstring many times, but Arjuna managed to tie it back so soon that Karna had to acknowledge his rival’s skills with the bow as a weapon.

As the duel went on, Karna slowly began to forget all the divine incantations that were revealed to him during his training with Parasurama. This was the result of a curse of his guru Parasurama as a punishment for lying about his caste.

And suddenly his chariot wheel also got stuck in the wet mud of the battlefield. Descending from his chariot, when Karna was trying to pry open the greasy chariot wheel from the mud, Krishna reminded Arjuna of all the rules and etiquettes that Karna had violated in the past, by assisting Duryodhana in trying to kill the Pandavas in the house of lacquer, by encouraging Duhshasana to disrobe Draupadi after the game of dice. Krishna advices Arjuna that he would not get a better opportunity to kill Karna and that he should go ahead and kill him despite the fact that he was unarmed and the rules of war forbade attacking an unarmed warrior.

Reminded of these incidents, an enraged Arjuna uses the Anjalika weapon grievously injure Karna and leave him dying on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Thus, Karna, the charioteer’s son died on the battlefield tending to his chariot. Now, if that wasn’t poetic justice, what else is.


This post has been written for the Three Word Wednesday prompt where the post had to include the words greasy, insidious and reveal, and that is the reason that these words have been underlined in the post.

37 thoughts on “The last battle of Karna

  1. Well-written post!
    To me, Karna is one of the most interesting characters in the Mahabharata, probably the lives because many persons in India resemble his: talented, but born in a not so privileged family; recognised for his skills and talent by one section of society, but not accepted by the rest; man of honour, but keeps the wrong company, probably due to lack of choice; etc..

    • @Proactive Indian, loved the last part of your comment, yes, he probably kept the wrong company due to lack of choice, but having said that he refused to join the Pandava army even after it was revealed that he was the eldest brother. And that was due to his loyalty to his friend, Duryodhana, the only one who stood by him when he was insulted and made to cringe in front of the entire world.

    • @Shelly, thank you so much, the fact that you think these posts are descriptive enough for you to appreciate the context and the story itself means a lot 🙂 glad you enjoy these posts 🙂

    • @Rickie, in my opinion this was more of a “anything is justified for the greater good of the greater number” kind of situation 🙂

  2. Lovely post. Karna is my favorite character in Mahabharatha. I guess his loyalty and his generosity count a lot. It’s a rare trait these days.

    • @Aditi, what is it about this incident that bothers you so much? Maybe I can address those concerns in a separate post.

  3. I have a soft spot for Karna. I always feel he got a bad deal. His story is among my favorites in this epic. Always end up crying a little. But then, his story is the story of millions of people. Unsung heroes.

    • @Vidya, not quite the unsung hero given the number of novels and movies that have been made with this character as the central one, but yes, his is an interesting story no doubt

  4. Karna has always been my favourite character, because I feel he was always subjected to injustice without much of his fault. Rightfully, being the first child of Kunti, he should have been the one to lead Hastinapur, isn’t it? Unfortunately enough, he was bestowed death too in an unjust manner.

    • There is a book called in malayalam titled “Ini njhaan urangatey”. It is an detailed account of Karna and his plight. Touching it is. 😦

      • @Rekha, will try and look for an English translation, it has such a catchy title, doesn’t it?

      • There is no English translation yet. I have been searching for the same for a while now. If you happen to find, do let me know. It sure is one worth reading.

    • @Rekha, once again Krishna’s wonderful rule of ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies here as well. Some versions have the part where Krishna actually approaches Karna and asks him to fight for the Pandavas, but he refuses despite knowing the truth, citing loyalty to Duryodhana.

  5. I have always felt that Karna deserved more in life. He did get a raw deal. My observations are solely based on the Mahabharat serial of yore. I haven’t actually read the epics.

    • @Rachna, there is so much more to this character than what was shown in the Doordarshan serials or any of the movies made on him. An extremely grey character with lots of layers. There will be more posts coming up on him on my blog for sure. Let’s see how many layers we can uncover.

  6. I have always found Karna to be a very interesting character. Even though life was not too fair for him, he could’ve made better choices in life. That said, I guess I also feel he was the eldest in that clan and should’ve been the rightful owner of the throne.

    • @Kajal, well said, even though life was not fair to him, he also made some wrong choices, didn’t he? And regarding your second point, he refused to take the Pandavas side even when Krishna offered it to him citing his loyalty to Duryodhana as the reason, once again, a question of the choices he made.

    • @Jyothi, yes, it is one of those stories from the Mahabharata which has absolutely no joy or happiness in it for sure

  7. Karna is probably everyone’s favorite character in the Mahabharatha- the underdog who never gets his due. Nice story.

    • @Sugandha, thank you , glad you liked the post, and yes, this is quite a well known story from the Mahabharata 🙂

  8. I had gooseflesh reading the last line. It is so sad…. And to think he was actually a pandava by virtue of being kunti’s son…

  9. I differ. Arjuna was never rendered defenseless and unarmed. He had the Brahmastra and Pashupatastra; which he did not use right till the end of war.

    This day 16 story of sunset-dialogue is not a part of Mahabharata; but probably taken from MB serial. Yes, the Nagastra was dodged. What’s the big deal?
    The duel occurred only on day 17 and he was killed by noon.

    Bheem and Satyaki both defeated him on day 14 (on day Jayadratha died). But both let him go unharmed in view of Arjuna’s vow. Stop putting down Arjuna for no good reason.

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