We all know that Karna was the greatest archer. As no archer, regardless of his level of supremacy, can win all the time. Even Krishna suffered defeats. Did Karna suffer defeats during his lifetime? If so, then what were the encounters?
During Gandharva war he was group attacked by Gandharvas and could be considered as a defeat . In Virata war he was defeated by Arjun. In Kurukshetra war he was defeated by Abhimanyu,Arjun,Bhima,Satyaki.
But defeat cant be considered as a parameter to judge the skills of a warrior . The same Karna defeated Bhim,Yudhishtir,Nakul,Sahadev,Satyaki,Dhrishtadyumn etc and he also had upper hand over Arjuna many times .
Source : KM Ganguly Mahabharath translation . You can find it
Yes, he suffered defeats. Although I'm a fan of Karna, I'm going to say all his losses that I know, but I'm going to expose Karna's defeats:
1- Arjuna defeated Karna in the Virata War both individually and in a group, just as he defeated him on the 14th.
Arjuna can only dream of defeating Karna, you can see this answer where I expose such a thing: War between Karna and Arjuna - Mahabharata
2- Bhima defeated Karna in his Rajasuya conquest, just like on day 14 and 17.
There is no cross reference for the defeat of Karna in Rajasuya, Bhishma, Shalya or Kripa never mention such a thing. Dhritarashtra even asked Sanjaya how Bhima can not be defeated by Karna on the 14th:
O Sanjaya! Pandava is blazing in his prosperity. But how could he not be vanquished?
Yes Bhima defeated Karna in Rajasuya, why Dhritarashtra asks Sanjaya that?
Now, fleeing from the battlefield is not defeat, Dhritarashtra said on day 14, that Satyaki was unbeaten by Drona, but that same day, Satyaki fled from Drona but returned to fight with him:
Shini's descendant abandoned the preceptor and proceeded quickly. I have told the charioteer, 'Drona will make every effort to restrain me. Or charioteer! Take care in this battle. Listen to these supreme words of mine. Behold. There is the extremely resplendent army of the Avantis. Next to that, there is the extremely powerful army from the south. Next to that, there is the large army of the Bahlikas. Joined to the Bahlikas, there is the large force of Karna. Or charioteer! These armies are different from each other, but they are dependent on each other. They support each other and will not give up the field of battle. Cheerfully goad the horses into the space that is between them. Or charioteer! Adopt a medium speed and take me there, where the Bahlikas can be seen, with many weapons raised in their arms and there are many from the south, with the son of the suta at the forefront. His army of elephants, horses and chariots can be seen in an array. They have been raised from many countries and are stationed in the midst of the infantry. I have avoided the brahmana and spoke thus to his charioteer. 'Pass through the gap, towards Karna's extremely large and fierce army.' Drona became angry at this and followed him, releasing many arrows. But the mighty-armed Yuyudhana left and did not return.
Satyaki returning to fight against Drona:
'Sanjaya said, "At the time when the soldiers were scattered by Shini's descendant, Bharadvaja's are repulsed him with a great shower of arrows.
After a hard fight, Satyaki manages to cross Drona's Vyuha because he destroyed his chariot, and taking advantage of that, he left but Drona did not follow him because of the shattered Vyuha:
'Drona's horses are running away. Grab them. 'These were the sounds that arose from all the princes and the kings. O king! The maharathas quickly abandoned the battle with Satyaki. All of them swiftly rushed to the spot where Drona was. On seeing that all of them were running away, afflicted by Satvata's arrows, your soldiers were again shattered and distressed. Drona went and again stationed himself at the mouth of the vyuha. He had been borne away by horses that were the fleet as the wind and had been afflicted by Vrishni's arrows. The valiant one 241 saw that the vyuha had been shattered by the Pandus and the Panchalas. Therefore, he devoted himself to protecting the vyuha and did not follow Shini's descendant. The fire that was Drona consumed and countered the Pandus and the Panchalas. The flame of his ire blazed, like the sun that arises at the end of a yuga. "'
Dhritarashtra calling Satyaki unbeaten by Drona along with other warriors after Bhurishrava defeated him:
Dhritarashtra asked, "He was undefeated by Drona, Radheya, Vikarna and Kritavarma. Fulfilling his promise to Yudhishthira, the brave one passed through that ocean of soldiers. How was he checked and humiliated in the battle by Kouraveya Bhurishrava and forcibly thrown down by him on the ground? "Sanjaya replied," O king! Listen to the ancient account about the origin of Shini's descendant and also that of Bhurishrava.
3- Drupada defeated Karna along with Duryodhana and his brothers in the war of guru dakshina
According to the original Mahabharata (BORI), the pupils of Drona invaded Panchala and captured Drupada with their advisors, there is no mention that Drupada will defeat a pupil of Drona in that war:
Vaishampayana said, 'O ruler of the earth! One day, Drona the preceptor assembled his pupils together and asked all of them for his fee.
"Capture Drupada, the king of Panchala, in a raid and bring him here to me. Or fortunate ones! That will be my greatest dakshina. "
Agreeing, all of them armed themselves with weapons and quickly climbed into their chariots and set out, accompanied by Drona, in order to pay the preceptor's fee.
Those bulls among men destroyed Panchala and went to the capital of the immensely powerful Drupada and attacked it. O bull of the Bharata lineage!
Thus capturing Yajnasena Drupada and his advisers in battle, they brought him to Drona.
In fact, according to BORI, Drupada was a poor warrior who was not a worthy rival to Vrishasena, Duryodhana or Jayadratha, moreover, Drupada could never defeat a warrior in his life.
Now, the defeats of Karna according to the original Mahabharata:
1- By gandharvas:
'O king! Being thus oppressed by a great army, they were frightened. They fled the field of battle and went to where King Yudhishthira was, seeking refuge with him. Everywhere, the soldiers of the sons of Dhritarashtra were being destroyed. O king! Vaikartana Karna was the only one who stood immobile like a mountain. Duryodhana, Karna and Shakuni Soubala were severely wounded in the field of battle, but kept fighting the gandharvas. With a desire to kill Karna in battle, hundreds and thousands of gandharvas rushed collectively towards him. With a desire to kill the son of the suta, the immensely strong ones surrounded him from all sides, with swords, javelins, spears and maces. Some sliced off the yoke, 38 others brought down the flagpole. Some brought down the shafts, the horses and the charioteer. Some sliced down the umbrella, others the fenders39 and the diadem. In many thousands, the gandharvas shattered the chariot. Holding a sword and a shield in his hand, the are of the suta jumped down from the chariot. He leapt onto Vikarna's chariot and whipped the horses, so that he might escape. '
I did not consider running away as a defeat, but I consider him a defeat because the Gandharvas were killed by the Pandavas, how can someone return to face someone dead?
2- By Abhimanyu:
Sanjaya said, "Phalguna's are once again pierced Karna in the ear with a barbed arrow. Angering him even more, I have pierced him with fifty arrows. Radheya pierced the great warrior back in turn. Or descendant of the Bharata lineage! Covered with arrows all over his limbs, I have 107 looked extremely radiant. Extremely enraged, I have caused Karna to be covered in blood. Covered with arrows and streaming blood, the brave Karna was also resplendent. Both of them were beautiful with arrows on their bodies, and blood flowed from their wounds. Those great-souled ones looked like flowering kimshuka trees.
3- Ghatotkacha together with an akshouhini of rakshasas:
Bhimasena's are 71 angrily countered him. He was on an extremely large and terrible chariot that was made completely out of iron and covered with the skins of bears. It was drawn by mounts that looked like elephants. But those were neither horses, nor elephants. It had eight distorted wheels. A king of vultures was perched on the top of the standard. It dilated its eyes and shrieked. The flags were red and green and decorated with garlands of entrails. He was stationed on that large chariot with eight wheels. Riding this, I was surrounded by one akshouhini of rakshasas, possessing terrible forms. On seeing him advance with his great bow, the kings were agitated and distressed. He was like the Destroyer at the end of a yuga, like Yama with a staff in his hand. On seeing him, your son's army was agitated and afflicted by fear. They were like waves in the Ganga, agitated by the wind into whirlpools. Ghatotkacha roared like a lion and terrified by this, the elephants exuded urine. The men were extremely miserable. Eleven twilight has passed, the rakshasas become even more powerful on earth. In every direction, they brought down a shower of boulders. Iron wheels, catapults, hauls, javelins, spears, shataghnis and battleaxes showered down incessantly. On seeing the fierce and terrible state in the field of battle, the kings, your sons and Karna were distressed and fled in different directions.
This is a case similar to his defeat by the Gandharvas, he fled and someone else killed them.
4- By Satyaki:
Satyaki, for whom truth was his value, roamed around in the paths of the chariots and was within the reach of Drona, Karna and Kripa. On seeing this, the great-souled Vishvaksena 100 and Dhananjaya honored Varshneya 101 and applauded him, since the undecaying one had repulsed the divine weapons of all the warriors. Vishvaksena and Dhananjaya descended on the soldiers. Dhananjaya told Krishna, 'O Keshava! Behold. Satyaki, for whom truth is his value, and who is the extension of the Madhu lineage, is sporting around before the preceptor.
Critical edition of Mahabharata translated by Bibek Debroy
Yes karna did indeed suffer quite a few defeats. I can't give you all of them because it will become a boring answer then.
Against Drupada (Adi Parva)
Drupada was attacking Karna too fast for him to see properly. It was as if their were hundreds of Drupadas instead of just one Drupada on them. Also the citizens of the Pancala kingdom attacked karna and his comrades too. Karna was not alone. Other people were also fighting along his side. Duryodhana, Duhsasana, Yuyutsu, Vikarna, Chitrasena (Kaurava brother), Durmukha, Dussaha, Durmasana & other students of Drona. What is most surprising about this incident is not just the fact that Karna lost this fight even though he had the support of 101 Kuru brothers/princes, several other warriors and his armor/ear-rings. It is not even that Panchala citizens wounded Karna, but the fact that Karna actually cried and wailed to the Pandavas. Look up the definitions of the word "wailing", that is the most astonishing incident in this chapter.
Against Bhima (Rajasuya Yajna)
And making the earth tremble by means of his troops consisting of the four kinds of forces, the foremost of the Pandavas then encountered Karna that slayer of foes. "Thereupon, O king, taking the blazing dagger, Bhima began to peel off Karna's natural mail. And beholding Bhima punching his own body, the entire host of Anga set up a leonine roar. And beholding that hero among men thus cutting Karna's body with an weapon, smiling ever and anon, celestial kettle-drums began to be played upon and celestial flowers began to be showered on Bhima." And, O Bharata, having subjugated Karna and brought him under his sway, the mighty hero then vanquished the powerful king of the mountainous regions.
Another defeat against Bhima - Drona Parva
Against Gandharva's Vana Parva SECTION CCXXXIX
Indeed, Duryodhana and Karna and Sakuni, the son of Suvala, all fought with the Gandharvas, although every one of them was much wounded and mangled in the encounter. All the Gandharvas then, desirous of slaying Karna, rushed together by hundreds and thousands towards Karna. And those mighty warriors, desirous of slaying the Suta's son, surrounded him on all sides, with swords and battle-axes and spears. And some cut down the yoke of his car, and some his flagstaff, and some the shaft of his car, and some his horses, and some his charioteer. And some cut down his umbrella and some the wooden fender round his car and some the joints of his car. It was thus that many thousands of Gandharvas, together attacking his car, broke it into minute fragments. And while his car was thus attacked, Karna leaped therefrom with sword and shield in hand, and mounting on Vikarna's car, urged the steeds for saving himself.
Against Krishna (when Karna tried to capture him)
'O Radheya, listen now to these words of mine. At the gates of Champa, you the foremost of sutas, known by the name of Karna, covered Kesava with a mighty shower of spears. Desirous of seizing Madhava by putting forth all his prowess and exertion, you did not yet succeed in seizing him. Seekest thou to apprehend that Kesava by force? When Sauri went to Pragjyotisha, Naraka with all the Danavas succeeded not in seizing him there. Seekest thou to seize him by force? Slaying that Naraka in battle, he brought away (from his city) a thousand damsels and married them all, according to the ordinance. In the city of Nirmochana, six thousand mighty Asuras failed to seize him with their nooses. Seekest thou to seize that Kesava by force? In seeking to use violence towards Krishna, endued with mighty arms and unwearied by exertion, thou wilt, with all thy followers, perish like an insect failing into fire.'"
Meanwhile, the son of Subhadra, causing Karna by means of his arrows to turn away from the field, quickly rushed against the other great bowmen. Then Abhimanyu of fierce energy and great fame, filled with wrath, broke that host of diverse forces abounding with elephants and steeds and cars and infantry. As regards Karna, afflicted by Abhimanyu with countless shafts, he fled away from the field borne by swift steeds.
Against Rakshasas Drona Parva SECTION CLV
Then, thrown by the Rakshasas who had become more powerful in consequence of the night, there began to fall on the field of battle a thick shower of stones. And a ceaseless shower of iron wheels and Bhundis and darts and lances and spears and Sataghnis and axes also fell there. Beholding that fierce and awful battle, the kings, thy sons, and Karna, also exceedingly pained, fled away. Only the proud son of Drona, ever boastful of his might in arms, stood fearlessly.
Karna was NOT the greatest archer at all. He has done NOTHING to qualify as the greatest. Every time he ever won any fights in Mahabharata was when he was up against fodder warriors who you would expect him to be able to defeat like Nakula, Sahadeva, Virata etc. You would expect him to be at least be able to beat them right? Or his weapons would do all the work for him. He only killed Ghatotkaca using the Vasavi dart. Before that Ghatotkaca defeated him multiple times. Also Karna was literally forced to use that Vasavi dart because ALL OF HIS OTHER WEAPONS HAD FAILED HIM (Bhargavastra, Brahmastra, Nagastra etc). He had no other choice his life was in peril. And anyone who has the Vasavi dart can kill anyone, so it doesn't prove any great power of Karna. Anyone who has a nuclear weapon can drop it on a bunch of soldiers and kill them with it, but it doesn't make them stronger than those soldiers. He either never won through his own merit or always only beat weak people. As for his defeats in the Kurukshetra war he was defeated by Dhrishtadyumna 2 times (12th day and 15th day), Ghatotkaca defeated Karna 3 times, Abhimanyu defeated Karna 6 times, Satyaki defeated Karna 8 times, Bhima defeated Karna 10 times, Arjuna defeated Karna 7 times. Karna with his vijaya bow on the 17th day still lost to Satyaki, Bhima, Arjuna, Yudhishthira etc. And was stalemated by Dhrishtadyumna. Many people spared Karna's life. His life was spared many times and he ran away from countless battles. He always relied too much on astras. That is not what a "greatest" does. He is just an overrated warrior. Whoever's reading this you can find all of Karna's defeats in my blog post at logic astra.