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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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).