In spite of the live presence of so many mythological characters in the epic Mahabharata, why this character attracted me the most? This great warrior, in spite of his amazing heroic qualities, was abandoned from every fields of life in the name of caste discrimination and was never allowed to be a hero. Negligence was his fate; acquiescence was his nightmare. The whole world was against him, including his mother, brothers, teachers and even the boasted effigies of royal castes. Amidst the hubbub of life, he was sequestered in the solitude of bitterness. Even Gods appeared in disguise and tested him for his sacrifice and integrity. There was no surprise he captured our sympathy and conquered our hearts. It was said that all the five qualities of Pandavas – the righteousness of Yudhistira, strength of Bhima, archery skill of Arjuna, charm of Nakula and knowledge of Sahadeva – were embodied in this single person;  Karna was his name;  a warrior by birth, born with natural armour and earrings (kavach and kundal), that would make him unbeatable.

How was Karna Born?

His birth itself was a subject of controversy. Kunti in her younger age, before her marriage, had a chance to serve Sage Durvasa, who was pleased with her service and gave her a mantra. Whichever God she was thinking about while chanting that mantra he would appear and bless her with a son with the qualities of that God. Thus Karna was born as son of Sun God. But Kunti was concerned about her social reputation and put the child in a basket and abandoned it in the River Ganges. Adhiratha a charioteer (suta) saved him from the river and brought up him as his own child.

Thus the son of God, born in the womb of a royal princess, became suta putra (charioteer’s son) throughout his life; a Kshatriya with a royal blood became a shudra, the lower caste.

Early Life

Karna approached Drona, the master of the royal princes, to learn archery, but Drona rejected him saying that he was not a Kshatriya, and advised him to do only those duties deserved for a shudra.

Karna then became a disciple of Parshuram under the disguise of a Brahmin, because Parshuram only taught to Brahmins. But, it happened once when the Guru was resting on the lap of his Shishya, a bee stung Karna on his leg and he started bleeding. However, he suffered the pain and did not move his legs at all, lest Parshuram’s sleep would be disturbed. When Parshuram woke up and saw Karna bleeding and his immense ability to withstand pain, he resolved that Karna was a Kshatriya. He became angry with Karna for telling lie, and cursed him that he would forget the invocatory mantra and would not be able to use Brahmasthra when he needed it most at a crucial moment.

Suta Putra became the King

In a competition organized by Bhishma to exhibit the skills of his grandsons Kauravas and Pandavas, the warrior in Karna woke up and Karna challenged Arjuna in the archery tournament. But, Kripacharya denied Karna’s eligibility. He said Karna was not a prince and cannot challenge the prince Arjuna. Now, Duryodhana rose to the occasion and made a cunning decision. He immediately made Karna the King of Anga Desha, thus transforming the suta putra into a Kshatriya by merit;…. though he deserved it by birth! How can Karna forget this great gesture of Duryodhana, who saved him from the humiliation on the grounds of caste discrimination and inflamed his blood with royal spirit? Thus began the intimate friendship of Karna and Duryodhana.

Insult by Draupadi

Even though he was assigned with the title of a king, still he was treated as suta putra. King of Panchal, on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter Draupadi, organized an archery contest. Only Arjuna was there in the heart of Draupadi, but she was afraid if Karna would win the competition. So, she publicly announced the disqualification of Karna on account of his low caste and unknown origin. It was another blow to Karna and might be one of the reasons why he supported when Draupadi was publicly disrobed by Kauravas.

Kunti’s Approach

Without Karna, Kauravas were nothing. To keep his loyalty Karna helped Duryodhana in all occasions, irrespective of whether it was for good or bad. Krishna was well aware about Karna’s strength. With Krishna’s advice, Kunti revealed Karna the secret of his birth and requested him to stand with Pandavas and to become the King, as he was her eldest son. The humiliation imprinted at the venue of archery competition was not faded from Karna’s heart. He asked his mother what prevented her from identifying him as her eldest son on that arena when pride and prestige scattered around and the whole world deafened him with fallacies and fouls. And he disagreed with Kunti’s suggestion, but promised that he would not kill any of the Pandavas except Arjuna, so that she would always have five sons.

The Man of Charity

Karna was such a great warrior that nobody could beat him as long he was having his natural armour. Indra wanted to save his son Arjuna, and he approached Karna in disguise of a Brahmin and asked for his kavach and kundal. Karna, famous for his sacrifice, gave that divine armour to Indra knowingly, being fully aware about the drama behind the scene. Delighted by Karna’s generosity, Indra, in return, gave him a most powerful weapon, but, which he could use only once. Even though Karna reserved this weapon to use against Arjuna, he had to use it against Ghatolkacha, the demon-son of Bhima, to save hundreds of Kauravas’ army from his devilish attack.

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Death of Karna

At last, they came face to face, the two greatest warriors of the epic, the two sons of Gods, Arjuna and Karna. It was said that even Gods in Swarga watched the fight between these two amazing fighters with wordless astonishment and deep appreciation. When Karna fired a powerful Nagastra to kill Arjuna, Krishna plunged his chariot into the ground resulting in a narrow escape of Arjuna’s head; the arrow hit his crown. But in the crucial moment, due to the curse of Parshuram, Karna forgot the Brahmastra mantra and could not use Brahmasthra against Arjuna. His chariot’s wheel got stuck in the ground and while Karna got off from the chariot and was trying to remove the wheel from the ground, Arjuna, under the instruction of Krishna, attacked the weaponless Karna and killed him. And that was the tragic end of a legendary warrior.

Conclusions

In addition to the five gunas of righteousness, strength, archery skill, charm and knowledge, Karna, the bravest warrior of all times was also well known for his loyalty and charity. He was loyal to Duryodhana throughout his life like a best friend and it was the expression of his sincere gratitude. Duryodhana was the only person in his life who was kind to him without asking his caste and family background and was the main reason why he indebted his life to Duryodhana, without discriminating good and bad.  Filled with insults and humiliations, his entire life was a pursuit for recognition. Throughout his whole life he was struggling for his rights, but, unfortunately, he could never achieve it.

In the final encounter, Karna was killed by Arjuna, when he was trying to lift his chariot’s wheel that was stuck in the ground; and the most important thing was that he was weaponless. It was against the rules of war in that dharma-kshetra (field of righteousness) to attack a weaponless warrior. How the unfair war can be justified?...It can be…. just by a single statement:…end justifies the means! That means, if the goal is to eradicate evil and establish righteousness, doing an unfair thing for that purpose can be justified?!

When Karna reminded that it would not be righteous to attack a weaponless warrior, Krishna questioned him where he lost his thoughts of morality when Draupadi was brutalized. Yes; it was a right question. And, perhaps it was the only unrighteous thing Karna had done in his life; he called Draupadi a whore and fully supported the disrobing act. May be the reprehensible words “suta putra” exploded from the throats of Draupadi at the venue of her swayamvara was reverberating within his disturbed mind forever, waiting for an occasion to revenge!!

But, I think Karna was not the only person to blame in this shameful incident. Who else were courageous, except Vidura and Vikarna, to question the immoral act of Kauravas to disrobe a helpless woman publicly in the royal court? Nobody, who were present in that court, including the brave Pandava warriors, prevented that ridiculous act, that would have made those dark chapters remained unwritten in the epic of Mahabharata. But, why nobody dared to throw away the laws and justice from the framework of life into the immaculate void of the universe, to protect the sanctity of a woman??.... because,… kingdom, throne and domination were their most important concern,....  rather than a woman’s esteem??!!

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Categoty:Karna


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