The Life and Legend of Abhimanyu

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

Abhimanyu was the son the Arjuna born to Subhadra, his second wife. He was a great warrior prince, who acquired the most secretive knowledge of strategic warfare from his father Arjuna and his maternal uncle Sri Krishna.

Abhimanyu was born for a purpose and played a significant role in the Mahabharata war, although he lived for a short time.

He overheard the conversation between his mother and her brother Lord Krishna about an advanced battle formation known as Chakravyuha, even while he was still in the womb of his mother Subhadra, and grasped the secret of advancing through it successfully.

Unfortunately he could not listen to the latter part of the conversation in which Sri Krishna explained to his sister how to emerge out of it successfully.

On the 13th day of the epic Mahabharata war, the Kauravas decided to engage the Pandavas with a Chakravyuha, planning at the same time to keep Arjuna busy on another front with the help of some gifted warriors. Arjuna alone had the knowledge of dealing with the Chakravyuha, but as he was busy, Abhimanyu came to the rescue of the Pandavas and entered the battle formation all alone, although he knew only how to enter into it.

So great was his valor on that day that eminent warriors like Dronacharya, Duryodhana and Dussasana on the Kauravas' side could not stand against him. Unable to face him directly, they resorted to treachery. They surrounded him from all sides and broke his bow by shooting arrows from behind.

Then they engaged him from all sides and killed him in the most gruesome manner by smashing his head.

Angered by the unjust manner in which he was killed, the next day Arjuna avenged the death of his son by unleashing a reign of terror on the Kaurava army and slaying thousands of enemy warriors.

In many ways the death of Abhimanyu was a turning point in the Mahabharata war. It changed the mindset of the Pandavas and made any chance of reconciliation impossible.

The manner in which he was killed amplified the animosity and vengefulness between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. It also exposed the duplicity of many members of the Kuru community, who were complicit to the daylight murder of Abhimanyu against established norms. It also exposed the character flaws of many elderly statesmen on the Kaurava's side and made the Pandavas rethink about their rules of engagement.

From then on what mattered most was how to destroy each other and achieve victory, so much so that it made the Pandavas disregard all norms or propriety and engage in the unjust killing of Bhishma, Dronacharya, Karna, Asvaththama and even Duryodhana.

At the end of the Mahabharata war, Abhimanyu's son Parikshit was the sole survivor of the Kuru clan and eventually succeeded Yudhishtir to the throne of Hasthinapur.

In the epic Mahabhara, Abhimanyu exemplifies many virtues, such as courage, righteousness, selflessness, respect for elders and love for one's family.

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