Abhimanyu's Marriage and Death


The Chakravyuha and Military Formation
Scene from the Mahabharata War, Belur, Halebid
[ Click for larger version ]

Sep 25, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — Last in a two-part summary of the life and pastimes of Abhimanyu, famed warrior of the Mahabharata.

Arjuna's Great Revenge

When news of the despicable acts committed on Abhimanyu reached his father, Arjuna, he vowed to kill Jayadratha the very next day by sunset, and failing to do so, would commit suicide by self-immolation immediately.

The Kaurava army the next day placed Jayadratha furthest away from Arjuna, and every warrior including the Samshaptakas (mercenaries who vow to return from the battlefields only upon victory, or die) attempted to prevent Arjuna from reaching anywhere close to Jayadratha. Arjuna literally hacked his way through the Kaurava army, killing more than a hundred thousand soldiers and warriors in a single day.

As sundown approached, Arjuna's chariot as still nowhere near Jayadratha's. He became despondent, realizing that his failure was imminent, and started getting mentally prepared to self-immolate. Krishna, being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, used His powers to temporarily to create an eclipse. The Kauravas and Pandavas alike believed that indeed the sun had set, and the war stopped according to the rules. Both sides approached to watch Arjuna self-immolate. In his haste to see Arjuna's death, Jayadratha also came to the front. Krishna gained the opportunity He had effectively created, as the sun came out again. Before the Kauravas could take corrective action, Krishna directed Arjuna to pick up his Gandiva and behead Jayadratha. Arjuna's unerring arrows decapitated Jayadratha, thus his vow to kill Jayadratha by sunset that day and avenge Abhimanyu's death was fulfilled.

The reason Krsna having created the eclipse is suggested at many places as having been a plot to save Arjuna from death, because Jayadratha had gotten a boon from his father that whoever would cause Jayadratha's head to fall onto earth would also die immediately. Lord Krishna wanted everything to happen in this way, so that Jayadratha would be on an easy aim. When Arjuna beheaded Jayadratha, he did so skillfully, so that the head fell straight into the lap of his father, who was sitting under a tree. His father being greatly shocked stood up, causing Jayadratha's head to fall to earth, thus the father was killed immediately.

Demonic Qualities of Abhimanyu

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. There, Abhimanyu is understood to be 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 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 cursed him to be born as a Rakshasa in his future life because he refused entry to the sage into Rama's court. However, the reason for Krishna desiring Abhimanyu's death was not exactly because he was a Rakshasa, but because Abhimanyu is capable of killing the entire Kaurava clan all alone, and that would make it impossible for the Pandava brothers, who had taken vows of killing the individual Kauravas.

Abhimanyu and Ashwatama

Abhimanyu is often discussed in the context of his partial knowledge about Chakravyuha, which he knew how to penetrate, but not how to exit from. Similarly, Ashwatthama had partial knowledge in the context of Brahmastra. He knew how to invoke it, but did not know how to withdraw it. This contributed to his being cursed by Krishna during the end of Mahabharatha war. It was only Arjuna who had complete knowledge of both Chakravyuha (to break into and exit from it) and Brahmastra (to invoke it and withdraw it).

Abhimanyu was actually an incarnation of Kalayavan and was capable of killing Krishna at a later point. In this pastime, however, he had taken birth in a very good family, so Krishna was aware of this and being the guru of Abhimanyu (via Pradyumna) in Dwaraka, saw to it that Abhimanyu was ignorant about how to exit from Chakravyuha Hence, even though Abhimanyu wished to know how to exit from Chakravyuha, Krishna did not tell this secret, but instead wished that Abhimanyu seek that knowledge from Arjuna. Abhimanyu never got a chance, however, because he was in exile.

Abhimanyu was such a hero that none from the Kaurava side (except Bhisma) could kill him in one-on-one combat (dwandva yudha). Hence, the 13th day on the battlefield, when the Chakravyuha is launched by Dronacharya, he defeated all the Maharatis in one-on-one battle. Abhimanyu caused great losses to the Kaurva forces on that day. In retaliation, the Kaurava Maharatis merged together to kill him after making him weaponless. This was the only way in which Abhimanyu could attain moksha. Hence, he plays a very great role on the 13th day of the Mahabharata war.

In the case of Ashwatama, Dronacharya did not trust Ashwatama in the same way that he trusted Arjuna. Hence, he taught Ashwatama to only invoke Brahmastra, but not 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. So to avoid Ashwatama from invoking Brahmastra multiple times, Dronacharya only gave partial knowledge about it.

Meeting of Duryodhana and Vatsala's Father

Abhimanyu's Wedding with Vatsala (Shashirekha)

Aside from the battlefield stories, in which the history of Abhimanyu's activities is so bittersweet, the best-loved of his pastimes are those surrounding his marriage to Vatsala. Vatsala was a daughter of Balarama, who had great affection for Duryodana. Before the birth of Abhimanyu, he wanted his sister Subhadra to marry Duryodana, instead of Arjuna. Hence, Krishna, who was aware of this, saw to it that Arjuna abducted Subhadra and they got married. In the case of Abhimanyu, that same scenario repeated a generation later.

Lakshmana was the son of Duryodana, and Balarama wanted his daughter Vatsala to marry Lakshmana instead of Abhimanyu. Hence, Krishna advised Abhimanyu to seek help from Ghatothkacha to solve this problem. Ghatothkacha abducted Vatsala so that Abhimanyu could wed Vatsala.

In a folio of Sri Mahabharata from Paithan, Maharashtra, c. 1850, there is a series of excellent paintings which illustrate the pursuits of Abhimanyu in his efforts to marry Vatsala. The engagement, intrigue, abduction and wedding pastimes are nearly as epic as the battlefield activities.

Subhadra Tells Abhimanyu that his Engagement to Vatsala has been Annulled

Disguised Ghatotkacha Arriving at Vatsala's

On the Road to Dwarka, Abhimanyu and Subhadra Meet Ghatotkacha

Ghatotkacha Abducting Vatsala

Disguised Ghatotkacha in Vatsala's House

Ghatotkacha Attacks Abhimanyu

Abhimanyu Shatters the Boulder Held by Ghatotkacha

Fight with Ghatotkacha

Hidimba Reveals their Identity

Subhadra and Abhimanyu Converse as Ghatotkacha Lies Unconscious

Ghatotkacha Revives and Embraces Cousin Abhimanyu While the Two Mothers also Embrace

Vatsala and Abhimanyu being Blessed by Elders

Drummer and Horn Player at the Marriage of Abhimanyu and Vatsala

Blessing of the Groom and Bride with Ghatotkacha


The Sun News Editorials Features Sun Blogs Classifieds Events Recipes PodCasts

About Submit an Article Contact Us Advertise HareKrsna.com

Copyright 2005, 2012, HareKrsna.com. All rights reserved.