It is still the seventeenth day of the great war. There is a lull in the war after the horrific spectacle of Bheema drinking Dushyasana's blood, which stuns both the armies. Thinking about it, I wondered whether Dushyasana actually saw Bheema drink blood as it gushed out of his heart. He could have! Being a hardy warrior, he would have not died immediately out of shock. I suppose this is what what violence does. Our threshold level for horror goes up as we get used to more and more violence.
After a lull in the war, Dushyasana's brothers, Alambu, Jarasandha and others go after Bheema and rain arrows on him. But Bheema kills all the nine brothers attacking him with nine arrows. Seeing this Karna becomes afraid, but Vrushasena comes forward and faces Bheema. Nakula goes in between them and kills Vrushasena's horses. Meanwhile Arjuna shoots ten arrows, cuts his bows, arms and finally severs Vrushasena's head. Karna bears the loss of his son bravely and challenges Arjuna to a combat. The two chariots face each other! Many great warriors surround them with their chariots, blow their conch and shout encouraging words.
The fight begins. It appears as though two mountains are confronting each other. They invoke many different astras but as they are equally matched the battle continues with no clear advantage to either side for a while. Bheema looses patience and urges Arjuna. 'Why are you fighting like this Arjuna! Stand more firm, like you did in Khandava vana and kill him. Or let me use my mace and smash him into a pulp! His time has come! Let us not allow him to escape from here alive.' Krishna also counsels Arjuna, 'Do you not see that he has प्रत्यस्त्र answering astras to all your astras. Remember the way you fought Ishwara and pleased him. Apply all your skills and ability to kill Karna!'
Coaxed thus by both, Arjuna invokes Bhramhaastra, the astra envelopes Karna's chariot with innumerable arrows shining like the sun. Kauravs who were with Karna retreat in fear and Duryodhana's encouraging words to them does not have any effect. But Karna is unmoved and stops the Bhramaastra and attacks Arjuna with many sharp and severe arrows. Arjuna answers by shooting more arrows and the whole battle field is filled with arrows.
Karna then takes out the sarpaastra he had reserved specially to attack Arjuna. As he readies the astra, the whole area is lit with its radiance. As he aims it at Arjuna the arrow tilts a little. In his anger and eagerness, Karna does not notice this, but Shalya does. He tells Karna that his aim is not right and suggests that he correct it. Karna does not pay heed. He brushes aside Shalya's advice, 'Karna does not aim twice for a single target, Madraraja! People like us do not take war lightly!' Karna releases the astra as it is, shouting! 'Arjuna you are dead!'
Krishna notices the astra traversing through the skies and presses the chariot down a little. The sarpaastra hits Arjuna's crown and carries it with it. The crown falls a little ahead but the astra keeps moving up. Krishna tells Arjuna, 'Look at the snake which was meant to kill you.' Arjuna asks Krishna, 'Where did this food for eagles came from'. Krishna tells him that this snake survived while its mother died in the Kandava vana and was seeking revenge for its mother's death. Arjuna shoots six arrows at the snake and kills it.
As Karna's time of death is nearing, his sarpaastra goes waste and he forgets the astra which Parusharama had taught him. Added to this his chariot sinks into the ground and tilts. His horses stumble. His charioteer dies. All this upsets Karna and he bemoans his bad luck. He is injured all over and is tired and blames dharma. 'People who know dharma tell that dharma protects those who follow it. But it seems that dharma is killing them instead protecting them.'
Karna then looks at Arjuna and tells him 'Hey Partha! Wait a moment! I will straighten out my chariot, in the meantime do not shoot arrows at me in the ways of vile people. You know Yuddha (war)dharma. You are a hero, a khsatriya and born to a great family. You are sitting on a chariot at a higher level, so you should not attack me who is unarmed and sitting on the ground. I am not afraid of either you or Krishan. I am just asking you to wait.
Krishna intervenes before Arjuna speaks, 'It is fortunate that you remember dharma now! It is normal for people from the lower class to blame gods for their difficult times. They do not think that it is their own doing! Result of their bad acts. When you, Suyodhana, Shakuni and Dushyasana brought Draupadi to the sabha with just a single piece of cloth covering her body, was dharma not necessary? When you defeated an unskilled Yudhisthira in a game of dice, where did your dharma go? After completing Vanavasa for thirteen years, which dharma stopped you from giving his kingdom back? It is with your consent that Duryodhana tried to kill Bheema by feeding him poisoned food and letting poisoned snakes on him. Where did your dharma go then? You had planned to kill pandavas who were sleeping in the wax palace in Varanavrata, where was your dharma at that time? When Draupadi was held by Dushyasana in the sabha, where was dharma when you laughed at her? Where did dharma go, when you told her that pandavas are destroyed and advised her to marry another? When great warriors surrounded a mere boy Abhimanyu and killed him, where did dharma go?' Karna with no real answers, keeps quiet.
Then suddenly a very enraged Karna begins to fight again with ferocity. A fierce arrow hits Arjuna's shoulder and his bow Gandiva falls from his hand and he faints. Taking this opportunity, Karna jumps from the chariot and tries to lift it up. He does not succeed inspite of his strength! It seems fate intervenes again! Meanwhile Arjuna recovers and picks up arrow 'Pranjalika'! Krishna urges him to kill Karna before he climbs back to the chariot. Arjuna cuts off the Karna's flag hoisted on the chariot and takes another arrow 'Anjalika' invokes a maha astra with a prayer 'If I have performed penance, pleased my elders, let this arrow kill Karna by its virtue!' and lets the arrow fly! Karna's severed head falls like the sun from the heavens!