Why Bheesma Did Not Allow Karna to Fight under his Flag?

We have a question from Soumya

Why Bheesma did not allow Karna to fight under his flag? What is the real reason? Many texts suggest that Bheesma had severe clashes with Karna and he did not like him. Is that the real reason or is it something else?

It is true that Bheesma and Karna had conflicts in the past but this is not the real reason. The real reason is far, far more complex and I will explain the backdrop of this decision. I will present the logics first and throw some light into different point of view’s of decision makers.

Point of Views in Kaurava Camp

There are four decision makers here – Duryodhana, Shakuni, Karna and Bheesma. The entire plot of who shall become the commander in chief revolves around Arjuna


I have to win this war at any cost. The only barrier to me is Arjuna. I can tackle Bheema alone, so he is not a problem. Yudhisthir, Nakul and Sahadev – my 99 brothers will do that task. Drona will take care of Drupad and Dhristyadhuma, since he has personal enmity with the Drupad family. Abhimanyu is a kid while King Virat is an old man. Bheesma can take care of rest of the army.

Bheesma and Drona won’t kill Arjuna because Arjuna is their favorite. Only Karna can kill Arjuna and hence, I want Karna to be the commander in chief of my army.


My goal is the destruction of the entire Kaurava clan, which includes both Kauravas and Pandavas. Duryodhana is not aware of my “real” intention. If Karna becomes the commander in chief of the Kaurava Army, Arjuna is going to die. This is because Karna has the “Vasava” shakti which he has achieved from Indra. Nobody can counter this weapon so if Karna becomes the commander in chief of the Kaurava army, Arjuna will die and Kauravas will win effortlessly. In that case, who is going to destroy the rest of the Kaurava clan? Hence, I cannot let Karna become the commander of chief of Kaurava army.


My goal is to kill Arjuna. I don’t care who wins or loses this war, my only intention is to beat Arjuna and kill him to prove to the world that I am superior than him. I am using this war as a platform, that’s all. Bheesma and Drona will not kill Arjuna, that is good for me. This gives me an opportunity to prove my superiority over Arjuna.


My goal is to protect Hastinapura in long term, no matter who wins this war. Only six has the merit of saving Hastinapura from foreign intrusion

  • Myself
  • Drona
  • Arjuna
  • Karna
  • Krishna
  • Aswathhama

I am not going to live, there is Shikhandi in enemy camp, she is re-incarnation of Amba and I know why she is here. She is going to kill me and fulfill her prophecy.

Drona is not going to live either, there is Dhristyadhumna in enemy camp and he has been given birth for a reason. He is going to take vengeance of his father’s insult. So we can rule out Drona as well.

Krishna is not a member of Kaurava family and after the war is over, he will go to his own kingdom – Dwarka.

Aswathhama is good but he knows how to use Brahmasthra only once. Hence, I cannot rely on this fellow for long term security of Hastinapura.

Next remains Arjuna and Karna. At least one has to stay alive after this war, so that he can protect Hastinapura from foreign instrusion and possible destruction. Let me do an SWOT analysis and see the strengths and weakness of all the A players from both sides.

We can clearly see that every A lister has a counter and can be stopped.

  • Arjuna has Brahmasthra as well as Divyashtra but he can be stopped by Drona, since Drona also has knowledge of these weapons. If Arjuna uses these weapons, Drona will stop him.
  • Krishna has Sudarshan chakra but he has pledged he won’t use any weapons so we can rule him out.
  • I have Ichhamrityu but since Shikhandi is there in enemy camp, Krishna will eventually use him against me and can stop me.
  • Drona has the knowledge of divine weapons but the presence of Arjuna in enemy camp ensures that Drona can also be stopped.
  • Karna has obtained Vasava shakti from Indra by exchanging his “Kavach – Kundal” and we do not have a counter of this weapon. Even a Brahmasthra or Divyashhtra is not going to stop this beast. There is no counter for this weapon and nobody can stop Karna.

We have already seen that at least one of Arjuna or Karna has to stay alive to protect Hastinapura in long term. If I let Karna fight, he will kill Arjuna for sure. If Arjuna is dead, Duryodhana wins and becomes the king. Karna is not a a member of the Kuru family and he will eventually leave, having settled scores with his arch rival Arjuna. Hence, Hastinapura is exposed to foreign attack which Duryodhana will not able to withstand in long term.

However, if Arjuna lives and Karna dies in the war, Yudhisthira will become King. This will  ensure Hastinapura always has Arjuna, who can protect Hastinapura from foreign intrusion.

Hence, for the sake of Hastinapura’s future, Arjuna has to live and Karna has to die.

Bheesma’s Logic

So we can clearly see how Bheesma is thinking through the situation and takes protective measures to ensure a bright future for Hastinapura. It doesn’t matter who wins of loses this war, his objective is to protect Hastinapura and his decision is correct.

He prevents Karna from entering the war because he has to protect Arjuna and Hastinapura’s future. Here is what went in his head

I will be the commander in chief of this army. I will ensure that this war is lingered and goes towards a stalemate. I have Ichhamrityu, noone can kill me. Eventually both sides will get tired and will agree to a stalemate. If that happens, it is the best solution. Everyone lives and the future of Hatinapura is secured.

However, if a stalemate doesn’t happen and I am killed, Karna will enter the battle. Then Arjuna might get killed. There is nothing I can do and my vow of protecting Hastinapura is still upheld, since I have pledged to protect Hastinapura’s future so long I am alive. If I am dead, it is upto the Gods and Time to decide what is right for Hastinapura.

But so long I am alive, I have to protect Arjuna as he is the only one who is the suitor of my role – guardian of the throne where Yudhisthir  is worthy of sitting, not Duryodhana.

Bheesma convinces Duryodhana that if Karna fights this war, he will not enter the battlefield. It is upto Duryodhana to choose – he can either choose him or Karna but not both at a time.

Shakuni convinces Duryodhana to choose Bheesma citing the reason that it is necessary for Kauravas to destroy the army of Pandavas, which Bheesma alone can take of. Once the army is destroyed and Pandavas are weakened, then Karna can take over Arjuna.  But the reverse is not true.

Listening to the logic of both Bheesma and Shakuni, Duryodhana decides to keep Karna as “Reserve force” and appoints Bheesma as the commander in chief. Both Bheesma and Shakuni badly wanted this and they both smiled, because their “personal” objectives are fulfilled if Karna does not enter the war.

This is the biggest tactical mistake Duryodhana made. Had he chosen Karna as the commander in chief, Arjuna would have died on day 1. After Arjuna, Drona alone could have finished the rest of the Pandava army with his Divine weapons, there was no need of Bheesma to be used in the war at all.

Before the war started, Karna had told Duryodhana that he was doing a mistake by not allowing him to fight the war from day one. But since Shakuni and Bheesma had already convinced Duryodhana, he went with his conviction.

And he ended up losing the war.

So why Bheesma did not allow Karna to fight under his flag? To protect the future of Hastinapura, which is Arjuna, not Karna.

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