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Uttara as Abhimanyu leaves for the war

Abhimanyu is a tragic hero in the Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata. He is the son of Arjuna and Subhadra, the half-sister of Lord Krishna.He was a partial incarnation of Chandra.


Birth, Education and War

Rock carvings showing Abhimanyu entering the Chakra vyuha.

As an unborn child in his mother's womb, Abhimanyu learned the knowledge of entering the deadly and virtually impenetrable Chakravyuha (see Wars of Hindu Mythology) from Lord Krishna. The epic explains that he overheard Lord Krishna (his mother Subhadra's half-brother) talking about this with Subhadra from the womb. Lord Krishna explains to Subhadra in detail, the technique of attacking and escaping from various vyoohs (an array of army formation) such as Makaravyoha, Kurmavyooha, Sarpavyuha etc. After explaining all the vyoohs, he explains about the technique of cracking Chakravyuha. Krishna tells how to enter the Chakryavyuha. When he was about to explain how to exit from the Chakravyuha, he realises that Subadra is asleep and stops explaining about the Chakravyuha further. In return, the baby Abhimanyu in the womb did not get a chance to learn how to come out of it.

Abhimanyu spent his childhood in Dwaraka, his mother's city. He was trained by Pradyumna, the son of Sri Krishna, and by his great warrior father Arjuna, and brought up under the guidance of Krishna. His father arranged his marriage to Uttara, daughter of King Virata to seal an alliance between the Pandavas and the royal family of Virata, in light of the forthcoming Kurukshetra War. The Pandavas had been hiding in cognito to live through the final year of their exile without being discovered, in Virata's kingdom of Matsya.

Being the grandson of Lord Indra, god of mystical weapons and wars, Abhimanyu was a courageous and dashing warrior. Considered an equal to his father owing his prodigious feats, Abhimanyu was able to hold at bay great heroes like Drona, Karna, Duryodhana and Dushasana. He was praised for his audacious bravery and absolute loyalty to his father, his uncles and to their cause. Abhimanyu took part in the war of Mahabharat and killed important personalities such as Lakshman, the son of Duryodhana and Brihadbala, the king of Kosala of the Ikshwaku dynasty.

Abhimanyu's death

A depiction of the Chakravyuha formation as a labyrinth.

On the 13th day of battle, the Kauravas challenged the Pandavas to break a circular battle formation known as the Chakravyuha (see Wars of Hindu Mythology). The Pandavas accepted the challenge since the knowledge of how to defeat such a formation was known to Krishna and Arjuna.

However, on that day, Lord Krishna and Arjuna were dragged into fighting a war on another front with the Samsaptakas. Since the Pandavas had already accepted the challenge, they had no choice but to attempt to use the young brave warrior Abhimanyu, who had knowledge on how to break into the formation but none whatsoever regarding how to break out of it. To make sure that Abhimanyu did not get trapped in this endeavour, the remaining Pandava brothers decided that they and their allies would also break into the formation along with Abhimanyu and assist the boy in breaking out of it. It is important to note that the plan was hatched well after Arjuna and Krishna had been distracted away by the Samsaptaka army led by Susarma.

Using his knowledge of the Chakravyuvha Abhimanyu successfully broke into the formation. The Pandava brothers and allies attempted to follow him inside the formation, but they were effectively cut off by Jayadratha, the Sindhu king, who made use of a boon from Shiva to that enabled him to hold off all Pandavas except Arjuna for a day. Abhimanyu was left to fend for himself against the entire Kaurava army.

Abhimanyu commanded his charioteer to lead his chariot towards Drona. The charioteer, thinking it was not wise to do so, raised objections and requested the sixteen-year-old to take time to think about it before he began the battle. He pointed out that Abhimanyu had grown up amidst great love and comforts and he was not a master of the battle arts as Drona was. Laughing aloud, Abhimanyu said to his charioteer: “What is this Drona or even the entire world of kshatriyas to me? I can fight Indra himself, mounted on his Airavata, along with all the gods! Why, I can fight in a battle even Lord Rudra himself, to whom the entire world of beings pays homage! This battle that I am going to wage today does not bewilder me in the least. This entire army of enemies is not equal to one sixteenth of my power.

With no great joy in his mind, the charioteer took his master forward and Abhimanyu broke into the padma vyuh . In a mighty battle that followed, he slaughtered ordinary enemy warriors and mighty heroes alike. Abhimanyu fought valiantly single-handedly slaying several warriors who came in his way including Duryodhana's son Laxman. Among the others who were killed were Ashmaka’s son, Shalya's younger brother, Shalya’s son Rukmaratha, Drighalochana, Kundavedhi, Sushena, Vasatiya, Kratha and numerous other great warriors. He wounded Karna and made him flee, making Dushshasana faint in the battlefield such that he had to be carried off by others. Upon witnessing the death of his beloved son, Duryodhana was incensed and ordered the entire Kaurava force to attack Abhimanyu. Continually frustrated in attempts to pierce Abhimanyu's armor, Karna on Dronacharya's advice shattered Abhimanyu's bow by firing arrows from behind him. His chariot broke shortly after, the charioteer and horses were killed, and all his weapons were laid to waste. He attempted then to fight off the bow wielding warriors sitting on horses and elephants with a sword and using a chariot wheel as a shield. Dushasana's son engaged in fierce hand to hand combat with Abhimanyu. Ignoring all rules of war, the Kauravas all fought simultaneously with him. He held his own until his sword broke and the remaining chariot wheel shattered into pieces. Abhimanyu was killed shortly thereafter when Dushasana's son crushed his skull with a mace. However, Abhimanyu killed him with his own mace before dying.

It is also said that he was killed by Karna by stabbing him with his sword from the back which is another violation of the rules of conduct of the Mahabharata war. It is this act of Karna which Krishna narrated to Arjuna when Karna had requested Arjuna to stand by while he removed the wheels of his chariot which was stuck in mud during the battle. And shortly after this Arjuna beheaded Karna.

It is said that it is Abhimanyu's death that marks the end of the adherence to the rules of war. Lord Krishna cited the despicable manner in which Abhimanyu was killed as the reason for Arjuna to kill Karna. Indeed, the failure to follow the laws of the battlefiled was a reason to kill all Kauravas including Duryodhana.

Arjuna's Great Revenge

News of the despicable acts committed on Abhimanyu reached his father Arjuna at the end of the day, who vows to kill Jayadratha the very next day by sunset, and failing to do so, commit suicide by self-immolation immediately.

The Kaurava army the next day places Jayadratha furthest away from Arjuna, and every warrior including the Samshaptakas (mercenaries to vow only to return from battle fields only upon victory else death) attempts to prevent Arjuna from reaching anywhere close to Jayadratha. Arjuna literally hacks through the Kaurava army and kills more than a hundred thousand soldiers and warriors in a single day. However, almost by sundown, Arjuna's chariot is still nowhere near Jayadratha's. Arjuna becomes despondent because he realizes that failure is imminent, and starts getting mentally prepared to self-immolate. Lord Krishna being the Almighty God uses His powers to temporarily create an eclipse. The Kauravas and Pandavas alike believe that indeed the sun has set and the war stops according to the rules. Both sides come to watch Arjuna self-immolate. In his haste to see Arjuna's death, Jayadratha also comes to the front. Lord Krishna removes the eclipse He has effectively created, and the sun comes out again. Before the Kauravas can take corrective action, Lord Krishna points out to Arjuna and asks him to pick up his Gandiva and behead Jayadratha. Arjuna's unerring arrows decapitate Jayadratha, and his vow to kill Jayadratha by sunset that day and avenge Abhimanyu's death is fulfilled. The reason for creating eclipse is also suggested at many places as a plot to save Arjuna from death, because Jayadratha had got a boon from his father that whoever would cause Jayadratha's head to fall onto earth would also die immediately. So Lord Krishna wanted everything to happen in this way so that Jayadratha would be on an easy aim. When Arjuna beheads Jayadratha, he does it so skillfully that the head falls straight into the lap of his father who was sitting under a tree. His father is shocked and stands up, causing Jayadratha's head to fall to earth. Thus his father is killed immediately.

Explanation of his Death

Abhimanyu is the reincarnation of Varchas, the son of the moon god. When the moon god was asked to let his son incarnate himself on earth by the other devas, 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 16 years old when he died in the war.

His son, Parikshit, born after his death, remains the sole survivor of the Kuru clan at the conclusion of the Mahābhārata war, and carries on the Pandava lineage. Abhimanyu is often thought of as a very brave warrior on the Pandava side, willingly giving up his life in war at a very young age.

Demonic qualities of Abhimanyu

Abhimanyu in Javanese Wayang

The demonic element in Abhimanyu is understood and highlighted in the Draupadi cult popular in northern Tamil Nadu and its neighboring areas in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Speaking of this, Alf Hiltebeitel in The Cult of Draupadi speaks of how in South Indian folklore Abhimanyu is an incarnate demon and Krishna, who knows this, schemes the death of his own sister’s son by seeing that he is left alone to protect Yudhishthira while Drona attacks him with the chakravyuha. According to one South Indian folk tradition, it is a curse from Durvasa that makes Abhimanyu a Rakshasa in his current birth. In a former life he was a gatekeeper at Rama’s palace and Durvasa curses him to be born as a Rakshasa in his future life because he refused entry to the sage into Rama’s court. The reason for Krishna desiring Abhimanyu’s death is not exactly because he is a Rakshasa though, but because Abhimanyu is capable of killing the entire Kauravas all alone(except Bhishma & Drona because Drona was scheduled to be killed by Drishtadumya). and that would make it impossible for the Pandava brothers who have taken vows of killing individual Kauravas.There is one more tale i.e abhimanyu is reincaination of lord krishna's uncle(brother of krishna's mother).He curses krishna at the time of last breath that"as you born to my sister and killed me i will do the same in My next birth" so Abhimanyu was meant to be killed at the time of great war.

According to yet another tale mentioned in the Glossary to Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Meghanadavadha Kavya, Abhimanyu’s birth again is a result of a curse, though a different curse. According to this tale, the moon failed to pay due deference to the sage Garga, and sage cursed him to be born as a human being on the earth and Abhimanyu is this accursed moon god. He dies at the young age of sixteen because the sage, moved by the moon’s begging for forgiveness, reduced the severity of the curse by saying that he would be killed in battle at the age of sixteen and could then go back to heaven. However, one must not dismiss the compassionate qualities of Abhimanyu. A romantic at an early age, he questioned everything. Something often mistaken as being arrogant. He was know to have a certain inborn quality of trusting people, a kind of trust that came from deep within. As few as there would have been to gain his trust, he remained forever faithful to them as they did to him, with humility.

Abhimanyu and Ashwatama

Abhimanyu is often quoted as an example for his partial knowledge about Chakravyooh. Since, he knew how to penetrate the Chakravyooh, but did not know how to exit from it during the time of danger contributed to his death. Similarly, Ashwatthama too had a partial knowledge in the context of Brahmastra. He only knew how to invoke it. But did not know how to withdraw it. This contributes for him to get cursed by Krishna during the end of Mahabharatha war. It was only Arjuna who had complete knowledge of both Chakravyooh (to break and exit from it) and Brahmastra (to invoke and withdraw it).

Abhimanyu was believed to be an incarnation of a demon named Kalayavan . The thing was, he has now taken birth in a very good family (Pandavas). If he is not killed in the Mahabharat war, then he will become invincible. No one will be able to defeat him later including Krishna. Hence, Krishna who was aware of this and being the guru of Abhimanyu (via Pradyumna) in Dwaraka, sees to it that Abhimanyu is ignorant about "how to exit from Chakravyooh". Hence, even though Abhimanyu was curious to know the way to exit from a Chakravyooh, Krishna does not tell this secret, but instead insists him to seek that knowledge from Arjuna. It so happens that Abhimanyu never gets a chance from his father as he was in exile. Further, Abhimanyu is such a hero that none from the Kaurava side (except Bhisma) can kill him in a one on one combat (dwandva yudha). Hence, on the 13th day of the battle field, when the Chakravyooha is launched by Dronacharya, he defeats all the Maharatis on a one on one battle. And Abhimanyu really proves very expensive for the entire Kaurva forces on that particular day. Hence, sensing the danger by his presence, the Kaurava Maharatis merge together to kill him after making him weaponless. This was the only way by which Abhimanyu can attain Moksha. Hence, he plays a very great role on the 13th day of Mahabharata war.

In case of Ashwattama, Dronacharya does not trust Ashwatama the manner in which he trusts Arjuna. Hence, he teaches Ashwatama only to invoke Brahmastra, but does not teach him how to withdraw it. If an archer is aware of both the invocation and withdrawal of Brahmastra, then he can invoke it as many times as he wants. Hence, to avoid Ashwatama from invoking Brahmastra multiple times, Dronacharya only gives a partial knowledge about it.

Abhimanyu's wedding with Shashirekha and Uttara

Shashirekha was a daughter of Balarama. Balarama has soft corner towards Duryodana. Before the birth of Abhimanyu, he wants his sister Subhadra to marry Duryodana instead of Arjuna. Hence, Krishna who is aware of this sees to it that Arjuna abducts Subhadra and they get married. The same scenario repeats one generation below.

Lakshmana is the son of Duryodana. Now, Balarama wants his daughter Shashirekha to marry Lakshmana instead of Abhimanyu when the Pandavas were in exile. Hence, Krishna advises Subhadra and Abhimanyu to seek help from Ghatothkacha to solve this problem. Ghatothkacha abducts Shashirekha and sees to it that Abhimanyu weds Shashirekha.

Apart from Shashirekha, Abhimanyu also weds Uttara. Uttara is the daughter of King Viraat. She learnt the dance from her guru Arjuna who was disguised as an eunuch as a result of Urvasi's curse in Virata's court. Once the Pandavas disclose their identity after their twelve years of exile and one year of incognito gets over, then King Viraat wishes Uttara to marry Arjuna. Arjuna being the guru of Uttara considers her as his daughter, but suggests her wedding with Abhimanyu. Thus, Abhimanyu also weds Uttara. Later, she will be the mother of Parikshit who was the only heir of the entire Kuru clan and eventually becomes the king of Hastinapur after the rule of Pandavas.

Factors that contributes for Abhimanyu's death

1) Abhimanyu's partial knowledge of Chakravyooh.

2) Absence of Krishna and Arjuna when Dronacharya launches the Chakravyooh.

3) The boon granted to Jayadrath by Lord Shiva to hold all the Pandavas except Arjuna for one day isolates Abhimanyu from the Pandavas in Chakravyooh.

4) The Kaurava maharathis violation of the war rules.

5) The ignorance of the remaining Pandavas(Arjun) to enter Chakravyooh.

6) Abhimanyu kills Duryodhana's son Lakshamana

7) The late arrival of Ghatothkacha.


The life of Abhimanyu is made into dramas and films in different languages. Some of them as part of Mahabharata story, while others are done exclusively his story beginning from his birth and to his death in War. It is as Tamil film titled Abhumanyu in 1948 starring M. G. Ramachandran as Arjuna. It is made as one of the hit Telugu films in 1965 titled Veerabhimanyu starring N. T. Rama Rao as Krishna, Kanta Rao as Arjuna and Sobhan Babu as Abhimanyu.

See also

External links

Other "Abimanyu"s

Other beings called Abhimanyu:

  1. Radha's husband. Also called Ayanaghosha. Son of Jatila, a woman of Vraja (Braj)or Chandra gosha. Ref.: Sri Sri Camatkara Candrika - by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura
  2. A serpent living in Kashmira, as mentioned in Nilamata Purana
  3. One of the seven Great Sages during the tenure of the Tenth Manu(Dharmasavarni). The other six sages are Havishmana, Sukirti. Atri, Apamurti, Pratipa and Nabhaga (cf Vayu Purana)


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