The Seventeenth day of the war came. Duryodhana went to Salya and with folded hands made his request. He said, "Karna is going to kill Arjuna today but only flaw in his plan is, there is no charioteer in the world like Krishna. You are the only one who can equal or even excel the prowess of Krishna. Karna is sure to kill Arjuna, if only you could be kind enough to be his charioteer." Initially Salya was furious. He said, "How dare you suggest that I a Kshatriya do the work of a Sutaputra for a sutaputra? I am great king. I wear a crown. I have been given the sacred coronation bath. I am a Maharathi. You are asking me to become a servant of a low-born? Despite your over confidence in him, he is no match to me. I can easily defeat him. I can fight Indra and defeat him. Do not insult me. I shall go back to my kingdom."
Duryodhana again spoke with tears in his eyes. "My lord, who can dare to insult you? Who does not know your superiority? My request is only that since no one can match Krishna’s skill in charioteering except your honoured self. Most humbly we request you to guide the course of Karna’s chariot. So that he may kill Arjuna. It is like lord Brahma taking the reins of the chariot of Shiva when he went to kill Triparas." Now, Salya was pleased with the humulity of Duryodhana. He said, "I am pleased to hear you say in the midst of all the army, That I am superior to Krishna. I will accept to become the charioteer of Karna." Duryodhana fell at his feet to express his gratitude.
Karna too, was humilated to know that Salya had agreed to become his charioteer. He expressed his gratitude to Salya. He was pleased with Karnas. Salya went and prepared a chariot for Karna and brought it before him. Karna did pradakshina of his chariot and then saluted his father the sun. He made Salya enter the chariot first and they he followed him. Duryodhana gave him a fond farewell. Karna said that it is Arjuna or me, who would die in the battle.
Salya had made a promise to Yudhisthira to dampen the enthusiasm of Karna to break his morals. He had been praising the Pandavas all they way and belittling Karna. Karna only said. "My lord, I do not wish to displease you by contradicting what you say."
Karna had arranged his army beautifully today. Krishna said, "Arjuna today you must face Karna and kill him. Bhima has to kill Duryodhana." The fight started in all its fury. Karna was decided for a fight to death. He wanted to put up the best possible show of his skills and prowess. Arjuna advanced alone. He saw that his sons Sushama, Satyasena and Vrishasena protected the chariot of Karna. The Pandavas who were ranged against Karna were, Satyaki, Dhristadhymna, Bhima, Shikhandi, sons of Draupadi, Nakula and Sahdeva. But they could not check the progress of Karna. Bhima killed Satyasena. The other two sons of Karna were wounded. The army of the Pandavas was no match to Karna today. It just blew away like clouds in a gale.
Yudhisthira came to face him. A great fight took place. Karna was hurt in the beginning but he fought back routing Satyaki and others who came to help Yudhisthira. He cut the bow of Yudhisthira to pieces. He also smashed the chariot of Yudhisthira. Then with an arrow he broke his armour too. Now Yudhisthira was standing there helpless at his mercy. Yudhisthira threw a few javeline at him but they all were broken into pieces. Then Karna touched him with his bow and said, You are one of the noblest of men born a Kshatriya but more a Brahmin by heart. Do not challenge your superiors. As you rightly said that I a sutaputra should not vie with the Kshatriya, my lord you, too have failed to act as a Kshatriya. Go to Arjuna you can never defeat me in a single combat. He then turned to the other side of the field.
Bhima was very angry at the insult offered to Yudhisthira. He advanced menacingly towards, Karna, Salya warned Karna about him. Bhima rushed at Karna and was able to hurt him so badly that he fainted. He came around soon and began fighting again. Arjuna defeated Ashvatthama in a duel. Yudhisthira again came to face Karna but was taken to his tent badly hurt. Arjuna and Krishna went to his tent to know about his welfare. Thereafter, Arjuna and Krishna re-entered the field and their horses were refreshed.
Arjuna asked Krishna to take him to Karna.Krishna took him to Karna. Salya saw the chariot of Arjuna coming towards Karna. By now Salya was very deeply impressed by the bravery, heroism and generosity of Karna. He had already stopped praising the Pandavas and denouncing Karna. He could see that there was no one in the battlefield that could match the sterling qualities of Karna. He was very much overwhelmed by Karna’s devotion to his duty and to his king.
He said Karna now the time has come to fulfill your promise to kill Arjuna. He is killing our army in hundreds and thousands, kill him. Then the Pandavas will lose the war. He further said, I know the prowess of Bhishma and Drona and I am no mean warrior myself. But no one can stand up to you. Only you can kill Arjuna. Karna’s eyes were filled with tears of gratitude, hearing the words of Salya. He said, my lord, you have made me the happiest person in the world. I feel very honoured and I shall try my best to live upto your expectations. You are my lord, master and friend with your blessings. I hope to kill Arjuna, kindly take me to meet him half way.
The chariot of Karna was stopped by Bhima and Satyaki. Satyaki killed Sushama, the son of Karna. Karna killed the son of Dhistadhyumna. Now Shikhandi, Janmejaya, Yudhamanyu, Uttamaujas and Dhritadhymna, five great warriors were fighting Karna. He defeated all of them and they all fled away from him. Duryodhana came to help him with his brother Dussasan. Bhima and Dussasan met and a terrible duel was fought. Both hated each other that put extra sharpness in their fight. Bhima said, "Dussasan I am grateful to you, Today by coming to fight with me. You have given me an opportunity to repay a debt.
I remember, your evil hands touched the blessed hair of Draupadi. Ever since, I think of your misdeed,I always wanted to repay you." Bhima fought a long drawn duel with Dussasan. Finally he was able to smash his chariot and break his bow. Now Dussasan was fallen on the ground. Bhima caught him by his throat. Then he threw him on the ground. He cut his hands and threw them on the ground. He had promised to Draupadi that the evil hands, which touched her, would fall on the ground. Bhima ripped the chest of Dussasan. The blood from his heart spurted. Bhima put his lips to it. This terrible deed was performed by Bhima to fulfill his oath. The brother of Duryodhana, Dussasan was dead.
Vrishasena, the son of Karna, advanced towards the Pandavas army. The sharp arrows of Arjuna killed him while Karna was looking. Now, Karna was eager to fight Arjuna. The two greatest warriors were facing each other.
Their duel began, they started with the ordinary arrows, then warned up to the use of divine astras. They used astras of Agni, Varuna, Indra in turn and neutralized the astras of the other. Now, Karna, sent a terrible astra, a special gift of his guru, Parashurama, called Bhargavastra. This astra was more powerful than all the astras used so far by them. The army of the Pandavas was much harassed by this astra. Bhima was furious he told Arjuna to put an end to Karna otherwise he would kill him with his mace. Krishna asked Arjuna to go all out, otherwise, it would not be easy to kill Karna.
Arjuna invoked Brahmastra, Great upheavals took place in all the directions. It cleared the cloud of arrows created by Karna Now Karna sent another deadly astra. The astra illuminated the entire field. It went like lightening. Everyone was watching with bated breath. Even Devas like Surya and Indra had been watching the duel between the two.
Krishna did an unusual thing. He pressed his chariot and it sank six inches into the ground. As a result the astra aimed at Arjuna’s neck could hit his crown only. The famed Kiriti fell down on the ground but Arjuna remained unharmed. Now there was no astra as powerful in Karna’s arsenal. But he continued his fighting. The Pandavas could breath easier after they saw that Arjuna escaped from the dreadful Magastra.
Now the fate has started its work against Karna. The earth became soft all of sudden and the wheels of Karna’s chariot went deep in to the ground. The protectors of his wheels had run away already. Karna was getting furious. Then Arjuna sent Aindrastra at him. Karna could invoke Brahmastra to counter it with great efforts of will.Now his memory was failing and he had lost the power to invoke astras by saying appropriate incantations.
Karna pleaded with Arjuna that he could give him time to retrieve the wheels of his chariots. That was the rule of the righteous war. Krishna laughed and said, "talk of righteousness does not behove you. You have been the part of evil Duryodhana's all sinful schemes, you never protested against the insulting treatment given to Draupadi in their court, rather you were a party to aggravate it by your insulting remarks. You cannot forget the recent killing of Abhimanyu. Do you think that was righteous. You talk of righteousness, I cannot check my laughter."
Krishna's words hurt Karna deeply. He knew the words of Krishna were true. Yet he went to retrieve the wheels of his chariot from the ground. But Arjuna’s arrows rained incessantly. He came up again and resumed fighting. Arjuna sent Agni, Varuna and Vayu astras. Now Karna was finding it difficult to remember incantations to invoke appropriate astras to make these ineffective. Yet Karna could not be hurt seriously. Again he was trying to retrieve the wheels of his chariot from the ground. Krishna prompted Arjuna to make haste. Karna should be killed without any loss of time. Arjuna sent an arrow, which was like Vajr, the weapon of Indra. It cut the head of Karna. Karna's head rolled on the ground. A light left Karna’s body to go to the heavens.
Karna was dead and now there was nothing left for Duryodhana. The sun sank as if to mourn the death of his son. The rays of sun had lost their heart. The rays had become soft like that of the beams of the moon.
Salya was crestfallen and he went to Duryodhana. The king was deep in despair and a picture of woe. Tears flowed incessantly. He was unable to speak. He was still not reconciled to the fact that Karna was dead. Seeing Salya, the bow and chariot of Karna, Duryodhana broke down.
Salya found it very difficult to console the king. He himself was shaken to the very depths. Ashvatthama and others came to Duryodhana to console but they could not do much. Krishna and Arjuna went to see Yudhisthira and gave them the good news for which Yudhisthira had been waiting eagerly. Yudhisthira went into the field to see Karna. He saw the glowing body of Karna and also of his three sons. The seventeenth day had ended.
In the dead of night Duryodhana went to his grandfather and sobbed at his feet. Bhishma touched Duryodhanas head tenderly and said "Why do you weep my child? What is making you so much unhappy?" Duryodhana told him about Karna’s death. Bhishma said, "Do not grieve, Radheya wanted to die like a Kshatriya. He was one and he died like one.
Duryodhana was startled, He asked his grandfather what he meant by his words. He said, "I always believed that Karna was Kshatriya, his actions were all Kshatriya like. But since you say, that he was a Kshatriya. I request you to tell me about it." Bhishma said, "Only if you promise me that this secret will never be told by you to anyone., only then I can tell you this, Radheya wanted it that way. I had given a promise to him that I would tell about the secret of his birth to you, only after his death and that too on the condition that you do not tell it to anyone else." Duryodhana said, "If Karna wanted it that way, I shall respect the wishes of my friend. I will never tell this secret to anyone."
Bhishma then said "Radheya was Kaunteya. He was a Pandava. Then Bhishma told the tragic story of the entire life of Karna. His birth as a result of Sun visiting Kunti before her marriage, His abandonment in Ganga. Bringing up by Atiratha and Radha. His quest for knowledge rejection by Drona, learning acquired at Parashurama ashram. The curse of Parashurama, the curse of the brahmin, His gift of Kavacha and Kundala to Indra, and his meetings with Krishna and Kunti."
Now, Duryodhana was trying to absorb the extent of the greatness of his friends and his extreme devotion to him. He cried that why was he not killed in place of Karna. He became senseless with grief. Finally Bhishma consoled him. But Duryodhana had lost all his will to live. He wanted to die only. He walked back to his camp. He was thinking about the greatness of the man called Karna. He knew that he was the eldest Pandavas, yet he did not go to his brothers. He choose to remain with his friend Duryodhana. He gave away his life for the sake of friendship while fighting against his own brothers. The rain of tears from his eyes was unstoppable too, Overwhelmed with grief he quietly stole into his tent, but there was no trace of sleep in his eyes. The greatest of his supporter had fallen. The war was now a futile and hopeless exercise. He was,now for the first time not looking forward for the battle at the next day.