Mahabharat – Karna

Parshurama sleeping in Karna's lap

Karna – The respectable character from Mahabharata

Karna – The incomparable

Perhaps the most respectable character in Mahabharata, because he cannot be faulted for his actions. Perhaps the most deserving and worthy who achieved nothing, because everyone around him was plotting against him. From Indra to Krishna. Perhaps the odds were stacked against him, perhaps this was his destiny that his own guru cursed him. Even on the battlefield,everyone was on Arjuna’s side and he lost the duel inspite of fighting better. In my opinion, he was better archer, a better human being who did not get his due.

For those who want to know more about this character, please read Rashmirathi penned by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. You will not find a better representation of this character. Perhaps I am taking too much time and not going into the details – so here is the story of Karna for you.

Karna is one of the central figures in Hindu epic Mahabharata. He was the first son of Kunti, and was thus brother to the Pandavas, and the eldest of them. Although Duryodhana of the Kauravas appoint him king of Anga, his role in the legend far exceeds the importance of a king. He fought for the Kauravas in the great battle at Kurukshetra.
Karna's chariot stuck in mud
Karna’s chariot stuck in mud

Read more about Karna

Birth of Karna

The princess Kunti, while young attended to the sage Durvasa for a full year, while he was a guest at her father`s palace. The sage was pleased with her service and so he granted her a boon whereby she could call upon any of the gods through a mantra and the god would grant her a son equal to the god in splendour. Unsure of whether the boon would actually be granted, Kunti, while still an unmarried young girl, decided to test the mantra and called upon Lord Surya, the Hindu deity of the sun. When Surya appeared before her, she was completely overawed. Bound by the power of the mantra, Surya granted her a son as radiant and strong as his father, although she did not want a child. Through his divine power, Kunti retains her virginity and honor. Thus Karna was born. As Surya`s son, Karna is born with an armour (`Kavacha`) and a pair of earrings (`Kundala`) which are dipped in Amrit the nectar of immortality.

Kunti’s embarassment

Kunti was now in the embarrassing position of being an unwed mother. Unable to face the world with her divine child, she placed Karna in a basket and floated him down a river with his jewelry, praying fervently that he would be kept safe.

The child Karna was borne down the river and picked up by King Dhritarashtra`s charioteer, Adhiratha, a suta(meaning son of a Kshatriya man and a Brahmin woman). Karna was raised by him and his wife Radha (not the same Radha who was Lord Krishna`s Companion at Mathura) as their son and named Vasusena (born with wealth), due to his natural set of armour and earrings. They knew something of his parentage by the jewellery he was found with, and never hid from him the fact that he was not their biological child. He was also known as Radheya because of the name of his mother Radha. His younger brother, Shon, was born to Adiratha and Radha after Karna`s arrival.

Birth of Karna and Kunti letting him go away
Birth of Karna and Kunti letting him go away

Karna born with Kavach and Kundal
Karna born with Kavach and Kundal

The bond between Karna and his foster family was one of pure love, respect and affection despite the lack of blood relationship. Adhiratha was honored by Karna in front of all the warrior kind, and Karna lovingly performed his duties as a son and brother within his foster family, despite his rise as king of Anga and the eventual revelation of his true birth.

Training

As he grew into adulthood, Karna sought to be a warrior – being a Kshatriya and divine at that, it is said to have run in his blood. He correspondingly moved to Hastinapura. He approached Dronacharya, who at that time had established his school and was training the Kuru princes, requesting admission into his school. Drona refused to teach him, as he was a sutaputra. Karna realized his caste would continue to be a barrier in his quest for knowledge. He decided eventually to approach Parashurama himself. He did so, and was accepted as a student by Parashurama, who was under the impression he was a brahmin. Karna is spoken of as a diligent student, whose attention and concentration mirrored Arjuna`s. Parashurama trained him, to the point where he declared him his equal in the arts of war and fighting. During his stay in Vishnuavatar Parashurama`s hermitage, Karna befriended many Rakshasas, Yakshas, Gandharvas and Nagas.

As Karna`s training comes to completion, Parashurama learns the truth. One afternoon, when he is tired, he requests Karna to bring a pillow for him, so he may sleep outside in the shade. Karna instead offers him his lap as a pillow. While Parashurama is asleep, an insect comes by, and alighting on Karna`s thigh, bites him. Despite the pain, Karna does not move as it would disturb his Guru. The insect bites deeply into his leg, causing blood to flow out, the warmth and feel of which wakes up Parashurama. He asks Karna how he could withstand the pain and the sight of blood, neither of which brahmins are capable of. He deduces he is a kshatriya, as only they possess the resolve to withstand such pain. He curses Karna, stating that when he requires an astra (divine weapon) the most, he will be unable to recall its incantations. Radheya pleads with him, upon which Parashurama tells him, in a mollified tone, that while his curse is irrevocable, Karna will eventually achieve what he senses as his goal – fame. He tells Karna that eventually, his name will become immortal.

Parshurama sleeping in Karna's lap
Parshurama sleeping in Karna’s lap

Karna leaves Parashurama`s hermitage, and wanders about for some time. One day, seeing something flash by him, he shoots an arrow at it out of reflex reaction. The arrow kills his target which turns out to be another brahmin`s cow. Its owner, seeing it dead, curses Karna stating that when he is fighting the most crucial battle of his life with his dearest enemy, his chariot wheel will sink and he will be helpless.

Cursed twice over, Karna returns to his home. He does not tell his family about the curses, merely that his training is complete. Eventually, he decides to seek out a position at the court in Hastinapura.

 

Tournament of Hastinapur and becoming King of Anga desh


Drona held a tournament at Hastinapura, to display the skills of the Kuru princes, whose training was also complete. Arjuna emerges in this tournament as a particularly gifted archer. Karna, who was at that time a member of the audience, decided to challenge Arjuna, who was fairy complacent about his position and ability. He repeated all of Arjuna`s feats, to the chagrin of Drona and the Pandavas, and the amazement of Duryodhana. To establish a clear winner, Karna challenges Arjuna to single combat. Drona, however refuses Karna his duel, asking first for his clan and kingdom – according to the rules, only a prince may challenge Arjuna who is a prince of the Kuru house. Duryodhana, eldest of the Kauravas, offers Karna the throne of Anga (today`s Bhagalpur in Bihar), so that Karna would be a king and thus eligible to participate in the contest. This act is considered one of the few truly noble actions carried out by Duryodhana. When Karna, who is emotionally overcome at this, asks him what he can do to repay him, Duryodhana tells him all he wants is his friendship. `I want your heart` he tells Karna, to which Karna says it is already his.

Friendship with Duryodhana

This event establishes key relationships in the Mahabharata, namely, the strong bond between Duryodhana and Karna, the intense rivalry between Karna and Arjuna, and the enmity in general between the Pandavas as a whole and Karna.Karna is spoken as a loyal and true friend to Duryodhana. While he was later party to the infamous game of dice to please Duryodhana, he was opposed to it to begin with. Karna disliked Shakuni, and advised Duryodhana continuously to use his prowess and skill to defeat his enemies, rather than deceit and trickery. When the attempt to kill the Pandavas in the house of lac fails, Karna chides Duryodhana in his despondence, telling him the ways of cowards are doomed to failure and exhorting him to be a warrior and obtain what he wants through valour.

As a king, warrior and friend of Duryodhana, Karna became part of the Hastinapura court. He went on to repeat Bheeshma`s actions in bringing the princesses of Kashi to Duryodhana as wives, appearing at the Kashi court, seizing the princesses, and challenging the kings and princes to take them from him if they can.

Another story goes that Karna aided Duryodhana in marrying the princess of Chitragandha(not to be confused with Princess Chitrangada of Manipur). In her swayamvar, the princess rejected Duryodhana and was going to garland some other king when the eldest son of Dhritarasthra forcibly lifted and carried her away. The other kings present at the swayamvar pursued Duryodhana. However, Karna defeated them single-handedly.Among the kings present in the princess of Chitragandha`s swayamvar were Jarasandha, Shishupala, Dantavakra and Rukmi.

As a token of his appreciation of Karna`s valour, Jarasandha is said to have gifted Karna a portion of Magadha (modern day Bihar).

Military Campaign

During the Pandavas` exile, Karna took upon himself the task of establishing Duryodhana as the World Emperor. Karna commanded an army to different parts of the country to subjugate kings and made them swear allegiance to Duryodhana, the king of Hastinapura or else die in battle. While Karna succeeded in all the battles, subjugating even the allies of the Pandavas, the conquest was not permanent. In this military adventure, Karna is stated to have waged wars and reduced to submission numerous tribes including those of the Kambojas, the Shakas, the Kekayas, the Avantyas, the Gandharas, the Madarakas, the Trigartas, the Tanganas, the Panchalas, the Videhas, the Suhmas, the Angas, the Vangas, the Nishadas, the Kalingas, the Vatsa, theAshmakas, the Rishikas (i.e south-western Rishikas located in Maharashtra) and numerous others including mlecchas and the forest tribes.

Generous Karna

Karna is most famous for his generosity, which was said to surpass that of the gods. Following his appointment as king, he took an oath : Anyone who approached him with a request at midday, when he would worship the Sun, would go away with his request fulfilled. He would never let anyone leave empty-handed. This practice contributed to Karna`s fame as well as to his downfall, as Indra and Kunti took advantage of it.
Several stories are told as to Karna`s generosity. One goes that a brahmin, who required sandalwood to cremate his departed wife,  approached Karna for it. It was raining heavily and the brahmin needed dry sandalwood (an alternate version is that there was a shortage of sandalwood in the city). Karna, unable to procure sandalwood from the market, noticed that the pillars of his palace were of sandalwood, and calling for an axe, cut them down to give the brahmin his wood.

Read more about Karna

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Damyanti Swayamvara

Damyanti - A beautiful maiden

Damyanti

Damyanti was a very beautiful lady, who was the daughter of King of Vidarbha. She was so beautiful, that even the gods wanted to marry her. King of Devas, Lord Indra wanted that she should marry a god and not Nala.

Damyanti - A beautiful maiden

Damyanti – A beautiful maiden

Damyanti’s sickness

She wanted a swayamvara to be arranged for her, but getting a swayamvara arranged was not as easy as Damayanti thought. It would be highly improper of her to approach her parents directly. She began to drop hints by eating less and losing weight, by pretending to forget things, by looking lost and gloomy and other such things. At last her mother noticed that Damayanti was not her former self and told the king about it. The king immediately ordered the royal physicians to find out what sickness was troubling her daughter. It was only after the physicians drew a blank that the king realised that his daughter was now a grown-up maiden and it was time for her to get married.

Announcement of Swayamvara

The swayamvara was announced. News reached Nala also and Nala left immediately. Since he was an excellent equestrian he made good progress. The news of the swayamvara had reached the heavens as well.

Ruckus between Indra and Nala

Four of the demi-Gods, Indra, Agni, Varun, and Yama, had also descended to the earth for the swayamvara. They accosted Nala as he was nearing Vidarbh. Indra told Nala that he would have to do them a favour. Nala protested that he needed to know what was being asked of him before he could commit. Indra got angry. “Humans consider it an honour when we ask them to do something. But you are creating a fuss. Don’t you know our power? We can make you disappear and not reach the swayamvara at all,” he thundered. Nala meekly acquiesced. Indra then told him to approach Damayanti and plead with her to choose from the four demi-Gods. Nala was aghast. “How can I act against my own interest,” he pleaded. The threat of dire consequences was repeated. Nala tried a different route. “We are allowed in the palace only on the day of the swayamvara and that too only where the swayamvara is to be held,” he said, “How will I access Damayanti?” Indra reminded Nala that he was the king of the demi-Gods and would arrange the meeting.

Meeting of Nala and Damyanti

A day before the swayamvara Indra transported Nala to Damayanti’s chamber using his divine powers. The two recognised each other instantaneously. After a long embrace Nala stated the purpose of his visit. Damayanti told him not to worry. He had kept the promise made to the demi-Gods and nothing could dissuade Damayanti from garlanding Nala in the swayamvara ceremony. Nala faithfully repeated the conversation to Indra. “You have kept your word only in letter and not in spirit,” Indra stated, “Now I will do what has to be done.”

The swayamvara

A galaxy of princes was gathered at the swayamvara. Nala sat in one corner so as to avoid the demi-Gods, but they sought him out and sat next to him. At the appointed time Damayanti entered the hall. To her amazement she saw five people exactly like Nala sitting in a corner.

Damyanti recognises Nala

She realised that the demi-Gods were trying to trick her but was confident that her love would prevail. After watching the five for a few minutes she realised that four stared at her with unblinking eyes while the fifth was blinking regularly. She garlanded the fifth person. The four demi-Gods assumed their true form and blessed the bride and groom and went back to heaven. Another account says that Gods did not have shadows while Nala, being a human, had a shadow.

Nala and Damyanti
Nala and Damyanti

This shows that Damyanti was not only beautiful, but she had the brains too.

Diwali festival

The festival of Diwali

Diwali or Deepawali is one of the most celebrated and important festivals of Hindus. This festival is celebrated across india on the day of Amavasya (no moon). Series of festivals are celebrated during diwali. The festival starts with Dhanteras on which most business communities begin their financial year. The second day of the festival is called the Naraka Chaturdasi.  Amavasya, the third day of Diwali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The fourth day of Diwali is known as Kartika Shudda Padyami. The fifth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya, and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes. This is also known as Bhai Dooj.

Each day has its own tale, legend and myth to tell. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees.

Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dwitiya (also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

Diwali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolises wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.

Legends behind worship of Goddess Lakshmi

There are two legends that associate the worship of Lakshmi on this day. According to the first legend, on this day, Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, during the great churning of the oceans, which is also known as  Samudra manthan.

Devi Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu
Devi Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu

The second legend (more popular in western India) relates to the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu, the incarnation he assumed to neutralise the king Bali. On this day, Vishnu came back to his abode the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her benevolent mood, and are blessed with mental, physical and material well-being.

Story from Ramayana behind the Diwali festival

The Ramayana is one of the two most important epics in Indian Mythology, other being The Mahabharat. There are various stories behind the festival of Diwali, but the most popular and the one which we have grown up listening to, is the story of Ram, Sita and Ravana.
Rama and Ravana and Diwali
Rama and Ravana

Ram, the king of Ayodhya, was living in exile for fourteen years. This was because Manthara, a royal maid, plotted against him. Ram was accompanied by his brother, Laxman during the exile. Demon king Ravana took her away to lanka. Ravana was the king of lanka.

Ram defeated Ravana on the day of dusshera. He was helped by his friends, Sugriva and Hanuman. Hanuman was the true disciple of Lord Ram and he served Ram, Laxman and Sita with full devotion. Hanuman saved Laxman’s life during the battle between Ram and Ravana. After defeating Ravana, Vibheeshana was made the king of lanka.

After that, they returned to Ayodhya in the chariot named Pushpak Vimana. This chariot was owned by Ravana. It took them to reach twenty days to Ayodhya, and this day was observed by people of Ayodhya as Diwali. In this day diyas are lit, people wear new clothes. This day falls exactly after twenty days of Dusshera. Diwali represents the victory of good over evil, light over darkness. This day is observed on Amavyasya. This night is enveloped by darkness. But this darkness is dispelled by the Diyas and other lighting which we light to steer away the darkness.

In world mythology, many fascinating stories are available, but Mahabharat and The Ramayana are the epics from Indian mythology, can be included anywhere. Such is the diversity and range of these epics. The Ramayana is written by the sage valmiki, who was a thief. Tulsidas has also written Ramcharitramans in recent times, which is written in a different language than The Ramayana written by Sage Valmiki.

Further Reading: The Navratri Festival

Shikhandi – The determined

Shikhandi – The determined

As we know, every character in the Mahabharata is found to be serving a purpose, for the fulfillment of bigger goal, victory of Truth over falsehood. Here we find a controversial character who ultimately became the cause of Bhishma’s downfall. But wait, we will find good reasons for that.
Shikhandi - Arjuna
Shikhandi – Arjuna

The unknown story of Shikhandi from Mahanharata

Shikandi is a character in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharat. The son of Drupada, he fought in the Kurukshetra war on the side of the Pandavas.

He had been born in an earlier lifetime as a woman named Amba, who was rejected by Bhishma for marriage. Feeling deeply humiliated and wanting revenge, Amba carried out great prayers and penance with the desire to be the cause of Bhishma’s death. She even went to Parshurama for help. There is another story that Parshurama and Bhishma fought for long periods, and Bhishma could not be defeated by his guru.

Amba then takes upon herself to kill Bhishma. She performs lots of penances. Pleased with this, Shiva grants her the boon that she will attain this goal in her next life. He elaborates that she will born to King Drupad first as a woman but then later will change to be a man. Saying this he disappears. As soon as he disappears, Amba jumps into the fire to kill herself so that she can take rebirth soon.

Amba was then reborn as Shikhandini at Panchal to King Drupad. She was the third sibling of Dhrishtdyumna and Draupadi.

From her birth, a Divine voice told her father to raise her as a son. So Shikhandini was raised like a man, trained in warfare and eventually married. On her wedding night, her wife insulted her on finding out the truth. Contemplating suicide, she fled Panchala, but was saved by a Yaksha who exchanged his sex with her. Shikhandi came back a man and had a happy married life with his wife and had children too. After his death, his masculinity was transferred back to the Yaksha.
In the battle of Kurukshetra, Bhishma recognised him as Amba reborn, and not wanting to fight ‘a woman’, lowered his weapons. Knowing that Bhishma would react thus to Shikhandi, Arjuna hid behind Shikhandi and attacked Bhishma with a devastating volley of arrows. Thus, only with Shikhandi’s help could Arjuna deal a death blow to Bhishma, who had been virtually invincible until then. Shikhandi was finally killed by Ashwatthama on the eighteenth day of Mahabharata war.

Panchkanya

Panchkanya – five reverred ladies in Indian mythology

[quote]Daily remembering the five maidens great,Ahalya, Draupadhi, Kunti,Thara and Mandodari will destroy the greatest sins[/quote]

In Hindu mythology, panchkanyas have been given special importance. These are Ahilya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari. One unknown fact here is that all these ladies have been subjected to indecent behaviours from men or some of have been married twice, but we still give them their due. This is in contrast to today’s societies when faults of others are conferred on them. Read on, you will appreciate the fact.

 

Ahilya

Ahilya was the consort of Sage Gautam. She was made by Brahma and was surreal beautiful. Indra, the king of natural forces, had lecherous dreams about her. Once sun and moon assisted Indra in confusing Gautam that it is morning (while it was night). While Gautam was away for morning ablutions, Indra, disguised as Gautam, approached Ahilya and proposed sexual desires in front of her. By her penance powers, Ahilya realized that it is Indra himself who came down for her. Filled with pride, she got subdued by the lust. Finally, Gautam, on return, caught them and cursed. He cursed Ahilya to become a stone for an indefinite period of time. She was later rescued[read here] by Lord Rama.
Liberating Ahilya by Rama
Liberating Ahilya by Rama

Draupadi

 

Draupadi was born from the sacrificial fire with the objective of being the cause of the destruction of the Kauravas. Her bold step was that she agreed to be the wife of five husbands at a time when polygamy was rampant. She became the cause when the Kauravas tried to have her disrobed in full court. Thereafter she exhorted her husbands to war till finally her mission was accomplished. Though all her five sons were killed in the war. Read more on Draupadi.

Draupadi could have fourteen husbands

Draupadi cheer haran by Dushashan
Draupadi cheer haran by Dushashan

Kunti

Kunti was the classical unwed mother. As a girl she was taught an unusual mantra by Durvasa and immediately summoned Surya and bore his son Karna, whom she discarded in the river to avoid ostracism. Married to an impotent husband she, with his consent, summoned Dharma, Pawan and Indra and had sons, Yuddhishthir, Bhim and Arjun, through them. She had to go through the trauma of Arjun killing Karna only after which she revealed the secret of her eldest son.

Birth of Karna and Kunti letting him go away
Birth of Karna and Kunti letting him go away

Mandodari

Mandodari was the wife of the most powerful king Ravana. She was the only person who had the courage to speak out against her husband when he abducted Sita. Because of her intervention Sita’s stay in captivity was comfortable. An obscure version of the Ramayana states that she was Sita’s mother. She gave birth to Sita after she drank the blood of some sages that Ravana had killed. After the death of her sons and husband in battle she married her brother-in-law Vibhishan who had been crowned the new king.

Mandodari persuades Ravana to release Sita
Mandodari persuades Ravana to release Sita

Tara

Tara was the wife of one of the strongest personages of his time, the Vanara king Vali. She was known for her diplomacy and was the counterweight to Vali’s hotheadedness. Unfortunately Vali rarely heeded her and this resulted in his death at the hands of Rama. Quick to realize the gravity of the situation she maneuvered things so that she became the wife of Vali’s brother Sugriva on the condition that her son Angad becomes heir to the throne.

Tara curses Lord Rama
Tara curses Lord Rama

Tara is also said to have cursed Lord Rama, which was fulfilled in his next incarnation, Shri Krishna.

When Vishwamitra and Vasistha used Brahmastra weapon

Brahmastra (a weapon) used by sages

Here is  another story, related to Brahmastra from Indian mythology. Two great sages fought between them. Vishwamitra, who was king Kaushika, had stayed with his army at sage Vasishtha’s ashram (hermitage).  Vasishtha fed everyone and out of curiosity, Vishwamitra asked him – “How have you managed this?”

Vasistha said that – Sabala (or Nandini) , the daughter of Kamdhenu, has provided all the food. Kaushika thought that this would be very useful for him and asked for the cow. Vasishtha politely refused him. Vishwamitra became angry and asked his army to capture the cow with force.

The cow helped Vasishtha and Vishwamitra was defeated. Seeing this, Vishwamitra started penance of Lord Shiva. Due to his severe penance, Lord Shiva granted him the knowledge of all celestial weapons.

Armed with the knowledge of these celestial weapons, Vishwamitra came back to Vasistha’s ashram and in attempt to destroy his ashram and sage Vasishtha, he uses those weapons.

Vishwamitra and Vasistha - using Brahmastra
Vishwamitra and Vasistha – using Brahmastra

Vasistha became angry, as his ashram has been destroyed, but able to counter all the weapons used by Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra eventually summoned the Brahmastra. Vasishtha neutralized this by Brahmadanda. Out of anger, Vasishtha wanted to use Brahmastra. But moved by the prayers of humankind, he retracted this deadly weapon.

Vishwamitra again lost everything he had, and went on to do the penance again. After doing again severe penance, he attained the status of rajarshi. Here, we see, that out of anger and revenge, a king and then a sage, lost everything, which he obtained through severe penance. This is another story related to revenges in Indian mythology.

Note: Interesting here is that both these sages were associated of seventh avatar of Vishnu Dashavatar, Lord Rama.

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