Karna was the only person who was able to defeat Arjuna. Karna was stronger and kinder than Arjuna, but still he got an undeserved death at the hands of Arjuna,on the advice of Lord Krishna. What is the reason behind ending the life of a great person?
Karna & all other warriors who were cheated (by Krishna) actually should thank PAndavas for giving majorly a fair fight in general. Because the premises of the MahAbhArata war itself was on deceit.
Let's discard the fact that, Duryodhana replaced himself with Shakuni during the dice game and defeated Yudhishitira, because here the latter was also responsible for gambling too many things. But in any case, below things were not justified:
- LAkshAgriha: Attempt to kill PAndavas by burning the palace
- Draupadi's insult: She still had a valid question, which was not answered; Yet, she was insulted
- Breaking the agreement post AgyAtavAsa: It was decided that if PAndAvas finish 12 + 1 years then they will be given their kingdom back with all due respect; But they failed to get even 5 villages
Karna was aware of all these actions, if not involved directly. Still he had decided to fight in side of Duryodhana. Which means he was already fighting for wrong reasons.
(not so) Great person
Being philanthropist doesn't make a person good. There were many evil kings in past who were good in donation and Yagna etc.; e.g. RAvana, JarAsandha. Those were much powerful and bigger than PAndavas + Kauravas combined.
Karna was not stronger than Arjuna. If you gauge strongness by uncompromising attitude, then except Bhima there will be hardly anyone who will pass that test (not even Krishna). Everyone has retreated from war at one point or the other.
There were many duels, between Bhima or Arjuna against Karna and many times the latter had to retreat. These duels were on the might of equal weapons.
During the final battle, wheel of Karna's ratha (car) got stuck into the mud. And he was trying to bring it outside. I feel that, Karna was buying time. This was noted in BR Chopra's episode. He was a mahArathi, hence should have taken the other car, but he din't. It's unclear what his saarathy king Shalya was doing all the time! At the best they should have retreated (like before).
Already being involved in deceitful killing of Arjuna's son Abhimanyu, Karna didn't have any say about morals. It's not that, Arjuna shot the last arrow out of the blue. Karna did plead to Arjuna to wait a while until he gets his wheel out of the mud as mentioned here. During that Karna also asked Arjuna to remember the teachings of righteousness (Dharma). However Krishna replied him:
Then Vasudeva, stationed on the car, addressed Karna, saying, "By good luck it is, O son of Radha, that thou rememberest virtue! It is generally seen that they that are mean, when they sink into distress, rail at Providence but never at their own misdeeds. Thyself and Suyodhana and Duhshasana and Shakuni, the son of Subala, had caused Draupadi, clad in a single piece of raiment, to be brought into the midst of the assembly. On that occasion, O Karna, this virtue of thine did not manifest itself. When at the assembly Shakuni, an adept in dice, vanquished Kunti's son Yudhishthira who was unacquainted with it, whither had this virtue of thine gone? When the Kuru king (Duryodhana), acting under thy counsels, treated Bhimasena in that way with the aid of snakes and poisoned food, whither had this virtue of thine then gone? When the period of exile into the woods was over as also the thirteenth year, thou didst not make over to the Pandavas their kingdom. Whither had this virtue of thine then gone? Thou didst set fire to the house of lac at Varanavata for burning to death the sleeping Pandavas. Whither then, O son of Radha, had this virtue of thine gone? Thou laughedest at Draupadi while she stood in the midst of the assembly, scantily dressed because in her season and obedient to Duhshasana's will, whither, then, O Karna, had this virtue of thine gone? When from the apartment reserved for the females innocent Draupadi was dragged, thou didst not interfere. Whither, O son of Radha, had this virtue of thine gone? Thyself addressing the princess Draupadi, that lady whose tread is as dignified as that of the elephant, in these words, viz., 'The Pandavas, O Draupadi, are lost. They have sunk into eternal hell. Do thou choose another husband!' thou lookedest on the scene with delight. Whither then, O Karna, had this virtue of thine gone? Covetous of kingdom and relying on the ruler of the Gandharvas, thou summonedest the Pandavas (to a match of dice). Whither then had this virtue of thine gone? When many mighty car-warriors, encompassing the boy Abhimanyu in battle, slew him, whither had this virtue of thine then gone? If this virtue that thou now invokest was nowhere on those occasions, what is the use then of parching thy palate now, by uttering that word? Thou art now for the practice of virtue, O Suta, but thou shalt not escape with life. Like Nala who was defeated by Pushkara with the aid of dice but who regained his kingdom by prowess, the Pandavas, who are free from cupidity, will recover their kingdom by the prowess of their arms, aided with all their friends. Having slain in battle their powerful foes, they, with the Somakas, will recover their kingdom. The Dhartarashtras will meet with destruction at the hands of those lions among men (viz., the sons of Pandu), that are always protected by virtue!'"
Whenever Karna fans start losing a debate, like typical losers they always cry - If Arjuna was so great why did he kill an unarmed Karna when he was lifting his chariot.They abuse Arjuna, even abuse lord Krishna for this.
Well, as per the most researched Sanskrit texts, Karna was not killed in the weaponless state.He was fighting Arjun, even discharged Brahmastra and Varunastra, he got killed because he failed to counter Anjalika Weapon of Arjun.
It's a bit long narration, but read each and every line to know the truth. Source - BORI Critical Sanskrit Edition, researched from more than thousand manuscripts with 50 years of research.
Karna Parva, Chapter 67
SCENE:- KARNA'S CHARIOT WHEEL STUCK IN GROUND, NOW HE IS TALKING OF WISDOM LORD KRISHNA ACCUSING KARNA OF ALL THE SINFUL DEEDS HE DID IN HIS LIFE.
एवमुक्ते तु राधेये वासुदेवेन पाण्डवम् | मन्युरभ्याविशत्तीव्रः स्मृत्वा तत्तद्धनञ्जयम् ||६|| तस्य क्रोधेन सर्वेभ्यः स्रोतोभ्यस्तेजसोऽर्चिषः | प्रादुरासन्महाराज तदद्भुतमिवाभवत् ||७||
“When Vasudeva addressed Radheya in this way, Pandava Dhananjaya remembered all this and was overcome by great rage. Energetic flames of anger seemed to issue out from all the pores on his body and it was extraordinary.”
तं समीक्ष्य ततः कर्णो ब्रह्मास्त्रेण धनञ्जयम् | अभ्यवर्षत्पुनर्यत्नमकरोद्रथसर्जने ||८|| तदस्त्रमस्त्रेणावार्य प्रजहारास्य पाण्डवः ||८||
“On seeing this, Karna again invoked brahmastra against Dhananjaya. He showered down arrows and tried to extricate his chariot. Pandava countered those weapons with his own weapons.”
ततोऽन्यदस्त्रं कौन्तेयो दयितं जातवेदसः | मुमोच कर्णमुद्दिश्य तत्प्रजज्वाल वै भृशम् ||९|| वारुणेन ततः कर्णः शमयामास पावकम् | जीमूतैश्च दिशः सर्वाश्चक्रे तिमिरदुर्दिनाः ||१०||
“Kounteya then released another weapon, beloved of the fire god, towards Karna. It blazed fiercely. Karna pacified the fire through a Varuna weapon. He covered all the directions with clouds and it was as dark as a rainy day."
पाण्डवेयस्त्वसम्भ्रान्तो वायव्यास्त्रेण वीर्यवान् | अपोवाह तदाभ्राणि राधेयस्य प्रपश्यतः ||११|| तं हस्तिकक्ष्याप्रवरं च बाणैः; सुवर्णमुक्तामणिवज्रमृष्टम् | कालप्रयत्नोत्तमशिल्पियत्नैः; कृतं सुरूपं वितमस्कमुच्चैः ||१२|| ऊर्जस्करं तव सैन्यस्य नित्य; ममित्रवित्रासनमीड्यरूपम् | विख्यातमादित्यसमस्य लोके; त्विषा समं पावकभानुचन्द्रैः ||१३|| “Pandaveya was not frightened.While Radheya looked on, the valiant one used the vayavya weapon and dispelled all the clouds. His standard had the marks of an elephant’s housing. It was decorated with gold, pearls, jewels and diamonds. It had been crafted by excellent artisans over a long period of time. It was expensive and beautiful in form.It always inspired your soldiers and terrified and frightened the enemy. It was renowned in the world and blazed like the sun and the moon. ” ततः क्षुरेणाधिरथेः किरीटी; सुवर्णपुङ्खेन शितेन यत्तः | श्रिया ज्वलन्तं ध्वजमुन्ममाथ; महारथस्याधिरथेर्महात्मा ||१४|| यशश्च धर्मश्च जयश्च मारिष; प्रियाणि सर्वाणि च तेन केतुना | तदा कुरूणां हृदयानि चापत; न्बभूव हाहेति च निस्वनो महान् ||१५||
“Kiriti used a razor-sharp arrow that was gold-tufted and pointed. With that, he brought down the handsome and blazing standard of the great-souled maharatha, Adhiratha’s son. O venerable one! When that standard was uprooted, fame, dharma, victory and everything that was dear to the hearts of the Kurus also fell down. Great sounds of lamentation arose.”
अथ त्वरन्कर्णवधाय पाण्डवो; महेन्द्रवज्रानलदण्डसंनिभम् | आदत्त पार्थोऽञ्जलिकं निषङ्गा; त्सहस्ररश्मेरिव रश्मिमुत्तमम् ||१६|| मर्मच्छिदं शोणितमांसदिग्धं; वैश्वानरार्कप्रतिमं महार्हम् | नराश्वनागासुहरं त्र्यरत्निं; षड्वाजमञ्जोगतिमुग्रवेगम् ||१७|| सहस्रनेत्राशनितुल्यतेजसं; समानक्रव्यादमिवातिदुःसहम् | पिनाकनारायणचक्रसंनिभं; भयङ्करं प्राणभृतां विनाशनम् ||१८|| “To ensure Karna’s death, Pandava took out an anjalika arrow. It was like the great Indra’s vajra, or like a rod that was made out of a fire. It blazed in its rays, like the one with one thousand rays.It was capable of penetrating the inner organs and smearing itself with blood and flesh. It was extremely expensive and was like the fire and the sun. It could destroy men, horses and elephants and was three cubits long, with six tufts.801 It travelled straight and possessed a great force. In its energy, it was like the vajra of the one with one thousand eyes. It was as difficult to withstand as predatory beasts. It was like the pinaka and Narayana’s chakra. It was fearful and destructive of living beings”
युक्त्वा महास्त्रेण परेण मन्त्रवि; द्विकृष्य गाण्डीवमुवाच सस्वनम् | अयं महास्त्रोऽप्रतिमो धृतः शरः; शरीरभिच्चासुहरश्च दुर्हृदः ||१९|| तपोऽस्ति तप्तं गुरवश्च तोषिता; मया यदिष्टं सुहृदां तथा श्रुतम् | अनेन सत्येन निहन्त्वयं शरः; सुदंशितः कर्णमरिं ममाजितः ||२०|| इत्यूचिवांस्तं स मुमोच बाणं; धनञ्जयः कर्णवधाय घोरम् | कृत्यामथर्वाङ्गिरसीमिवोग्रां; दीप्तामसह्यां युधि मृत्युनापि ||२१||
“He invoked mantras and affixed that supreme and great weapon to Gandiva. He loudly said, ‘I am grasping this great weapon, which is in the form of an arrow. It is extremely difficult to withstand and is capable of destroying the body . If I have tormented myself through austerities and have satisfied my seniors, if I have listened to what my well-wishers have told me, through that truth, let this arrow slay my armoured enemy, Karna, and bring me victory.’ Having said this, for the sake of Karna’s death, Dhananjaya released that terrible arrow. It was as fierce as rites performed by Atharvan and Angiras. It blazed and was impossible to be endured in a battle, even by Death itself.”
ब्रुवन्किरीटी तमतिप्रहृष्टो; अयं शरो मे विजयावहोऽस्तु | जिघांसुरर्केन्दुसमप्रभावः; कर्णं समाप्तिं नयतां यमाय ||२२|| तेनेषुवर्येण किरीटमाली; प्रहृष्टरूपो विजयावहेन | जिघांसुरर्केन्दुसमप्रभेण; चक्रे विषक्तं रिपुमाततायी ||२३|| तदुद्यतादित्यसमानवर्चसं; शरन्नभोमध्यगभास्करोपमम् | वराङ्गमुर्व्यामपतच्चमूपते; र्दिवाकरोऽस्तादिव रक्तमण्डलः ||२४|| तदस्य देही सततं सुखोदितं; स्वरूपमत्यर्थमुदारकर्मणः | परेण कृच्छ्रेण शरीरमत्यज; द्गृहं महर्द्धीव ससङ्गमीश्वरः ||२५||
“Kiriti cheerfully said, ‘Let this arrow bring me victory.’ Wishing to slay Karna, bring about his end and convey him to Yama, he released the arrow, which was as radiant as the sun and the moon. Cheerfully, so that he could be conveyed towards victory, the one with the diadem and the garland shot the arrow. It was as radiant as the sun and the moon. He harboured feelings of enmity and wished to slay his enemy. That weapon, blazing like the sun, was shot. Like the sun, it lit up the earth with its radiance. The head of the commander of the army was severed. Like the sun, with a red disc, it seemed to set.”
END OF KARNA
So as we all can read, Karna was killed pretty fairly, the only thing unfair was Karna fighting on the ground, but he did have his Vijaya bow in hand, he also used Brahmastra and Varunastra but he failed to counter the deadly Anjalika Arrow which dispatched him to Yama's abode. Even Arjun faced Kuru Army on foot without any chariot on Day 14, inside chakravyuh.Just using a bow, Arjun vanquished them all.That time Arjun was fighting a "Maharatha" (One on Many), but here both Karna and Arjuna were fighting as "Rathas" (One on One). Karna fans say that Abhimanyu was killed fairly, group attacks were common, So what about this, Karna didn't even have to face any group attack.Abhimanyu was not on his chariot, similarly, Karna was not on his chariot.Abhimanyu had to face 7 warriors together, Karna just had to face one warrior.If Abhimanyu wadh was fair then this is perfectly fair.
Karna Parva Link - कर्णवधः ६७
It was simply because of lack of skill.
During the final battle, the only thing Arjuna did was kill Karna's support and he did not run anything significant against him, although he counteracted some of his weapons. For more information see my answer: War between Karna and Arjuna - Mahabharata
Karna on the 17th was very scary, he even captured Yudhishthira that day but let him go because of his promise to Kunti. Because Karna had his hand on Arjuna (in fact Krishna already knew that something like this was going to happen), he was murdered unjustly simply to obtain the throne of Hastinapura.
Although that if, to justify itself on the murder of Karna, Krishna used of argument its behavior in the sabha:
'Sanjaya said, "Vasudeva was stationed on his chariot. I said, 'O Radheya! It is fortunate that you remember dharma. Quite often, when they are immersed in hardships, inferior ones censure destiny, but not their evil deeds. O Karna! When you, Suyodhana, Duhshasana and Shakuni Soubala brought Droupadi to the assembly hall in a single garment, did dharma not show itself to you? When, in the assembly hall, Yudhishthira, who was not skilled at says, was defeated by Shakuni, who was skilled at says, where did dharma go then? O Karna! During his season, Krishna 798 was under Duhshasana's subjugation in the assembly hall and you laughed at her. Where did dharma go then? O Karna! Resorting to the king of Gandhara and coveting the kingdom, you challenged the Pandavas. 799 Where did dharma go then? 'When Vasudeva addressed Radheya in this way, Pandava Dhananjaya remembered all this and was overcome by great rage. Energetic flames of anger seemed to issue out from the pores on his body and it was extraordinary.
The irony is that Karna lamented all his words towards the Pandavas in his conversation with Krishna, obviously he had to regret his words in the sabha:
'"' O Krishna! I regret the harsh words I used against the Pandavas to please Dhritarashtra's are. I am now tormented by that deed.
In fact that was his only wrongdoing, BORI removed his name from the burning of the lacquer house and the Pandavas or Krishna never blame him for the Bhima poisoning. The most he did was as the saying "add more fuel to the fire" but as described in the previous quote, he regrets those words.
While with the murder of Abhimanyu, he only breaks his bow in a fair fight:
Having heard the preceptor's words, Vaikartana Karna used his arrows to swiftly slice down the bow of the light-handed one. Bhoja 115 killed his horses and Goutama 116 the charioteers who guarded his flanks. Once his bow had been severed, the others enveloped him with a shower of arrows. '"At that time, when he was bereft of his chariot, the six maharathas 117 quickly and ruthlessly showered him with arrows, while the child fought single-handed.
But most likely his arrows were stuck in Abhimanyu's armor because it was described as being a porcupine by the arrows stuck, it is more than obvious that because of his armor. The arrows did almost nothing.
Moreover, Arjuna or Krishna never considered that he cut his bow unjustly or blamed him for his murder, because he only cut his bow (although it was important for his murder)