What a tragedy?
Karan born out of blessings of Sun God to Princess Kunti lived all his life with the social stigma of being son of a Suta, a charioteer. The question haunted him all his life, Who am I?
Out of curiosity or otherwise, Kunti had committed a blunder. Saint Durvasa had given her a boon that she could have a son from the Sun God anytime she wanted. She just had to look at Sun and chant a mantra. Kunti was getting restless. How could she test veracity of the boon. And then she did what she should have never done.
One morning, she bowed to Sun God and chanted the mantra. Straight away, she was blessed with a son. The child was born with golden breast shield and earrings and looked divine.
Kunti was in a state of shock and was trembling. What a blunder she had committed. She was an unwed mother. Her parents, relatives and society would never condone such a mistake.
She had no option but to abandon the child. She kept the child in a basket and put it in the flowing river water. The basket floated along with current of water until a charioteer Athiratha spotted it. He took the child home where he was brought up as son of Radha and Athiratha, a low caste Suta.
Karna suffered all his life for the mistake he had never committed. Here you are reminded of a famous saying by poet Umar Khayyam;
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
A question that puzzles your mind is why a saint grant should such a boon to an adolescent girl. And why should Sun God not caution her about its dire consequences. Mind you it happened five thousand years ago during Mahabharata times, when society was based on rigid caste lines.
If it is not destiny, what else it is. If Karan was born to Kunti after she was married, but still with the blessings of sun god, script of Mahabharata would have been different. Poor Karna was a victim of circumstances. You can only console him by saying, Don’t mourn over the past Karna, it has no pity for you. Don’t cry over the present; it has no sympathy for you, and don’t weep over the future; it has no mercy on you.
Karna, a high caste born to a princess suffered the ignominy of being taunted as a low caste all his life. What is worst taunts coming from his own blood brothers borne out of his own mother.
Let us look at the same scenario from a deferent perspective. Karna, a low caste rises rapidly in life and becomes king of kingdom of Anga and is called Angraj. It was indeed rapid rise of a charioteer’s son to become a king. He was best friend of prince Duryodhana and held high position in the royal court of Hastinapur. But all this did not matter much to Karna.
What hurt him the most was why did his mother abandon him. He should have known that past is a closed door, filled with pain. Karna was a man with a phenomenal sense of generosity and integrity, but he had invested heavily in bitterness. He was highly in indebted to Duryodhana for making him a king and giving him social standing despite being considered a low caste. He was mistreated by almost everyone in life. He was rejected by Dronacharya.
As a disciple, taunted by Draupadi in her Swayambar, insulted by his blood brothers and manipulated even by the Gods. Karna is the classic tragic hero of Mahabharata war. When the war was at its peak, Indra, god father of Arjuna knew that Arjuna could not defeat Karna as long as he had protection of breast armour and earrings.
Arjuna was also a boon to Kunti from Gods, but he was born after her marriage to Pandu. Hence he was a legitimate child, a Kshatriya, and a Price. Indra, disguised as a Brahmin, went to Karna, and asked for alms.
Karna knew he is Indra but still obliged him. Indra asked for his breast armour and earrings, which Karna gladly gave knowing fully well their importance in his battle with Arjun. That is why Karna was called Danveer Karan.
Arjun and Karan were warriors of equal calibre. Karna considered Arjuna his biggest enemy. And to beat Arjuna, he desperately wanted to learn Brahmastra mantra, to evoke the ultimate weapon. Since Drona Acharya refused to accept Karana as disciple, he decided to approach Parshuram, who accepted only Brahmins as his disciple.
Karna disguised himself as a Brahmin and approached Parshuram. Seeing his potential, Parshuram accepted him as pupil and taught him the Brahmastra mantra. But once the guru knew Karna had tricked him, he cursed him that he would forget mantra when he needed it the most.
This is what exactly happened. He forgot the mantra during his battle with Arjuna in Mahabharata war which cost him his life. It looks like Karna was a mixture of good, bad and ugly.
He had all the three Guna of nature, Satvik, Rajas and Tamas, but since he was in the camp of adharma, Rajas and Tamas dominated most of the time. One of his worst deeds of adharma was siding with Duryodhana in disrobing Draupadi.
There is one very interesting episode in Mahabharata, when Karna narrates his tales of woe to Krishna. Karan is bitter, frustrated and disgusted with the way human beings, gods and luck treated him. He laments that nothing went right in his wretched life.
Krishna looks at Karna with compassion and a smile and asks him a counter question?
Karna, do you think my life has been a bed of roses. I was born in a jail. Death was waiting for me even before my birth. The night I was born I was separated from my birth parents.
From childhood, you grew up hearing the noise of swords, chariots, horses, bow, and arrows. I got only cow herd's shed. Several attempts were made on my life when I was a child. Even my own maternal uncle was thirsting for my blood. From dawn to dusk, I was grazing cows in the jungle.
Referring to Radha, Krishna said, I didn't get the girl I loved & rather ended up marrying those who desired me or the ones I rescued from demons. I had to move my whole community from the banks of Yamuna to far off seashore of Dwarka , to save them from Asura Jarasandh. I was called a coward for running away.
Remember one thing Karna, said Krishna, everybody has challenges in life. But what is dharma is known only to your conscience. Now stop whining Karna. Life’s unfairness does not give you a license to walk the wrong path.
It was Krishna only who revealed to Karna that Kunti was his mother. He was eldest among Pandava brothers. Mind you, it was just before the Mahabharata battle begun. Even Kunti approached Karna and begged him to join the Pandava camp.
Karna got the answer to question which haunted him all his life, who am I. The offer made by Kunti was too tempting. But Karna looked at it as betrayal of his friend Duryodhana. He could not ditch his friend when he needed him the most.
Tomorrow, he will meet Arjuna in a decisive battle at Kurukshetra. One of them was sure to die. But he asks Kunti not to worry. She will still have five sons. Karna tells Kunti that it will be shame if I hasten to call mother of kings my mother and abandon my own mother in charioteer’s home. He pleads with Kunti to leave him like she left him on the night of his birth, naked and unnamed to disgrace. Karna now knew his identity and he also knew his fate. But he was at peace with himself. Like a true Kshatriya, he was ready to accept his fate and embrace death in battlefield.
What would you call it, diplomacy, or love. Just before the crucial battle between Karna and Arjuna, both Krishna and Kunti had played their card. Karan had waited all his life to meet his greatest adversary, Arjuna in battlefield. But now, he will be fighting his own blood, his younger brother.
Karna, a man of character and integrity, would prefer death than to kill his brother. Let us go back to beginning of battle of Mahabharata, where Krishna takes Arjuna's chariot between two armies. Arjuna is bewildered looking at his guru, grandfather, and other relatives in the opposing army. He asks Krishna, how can I kill my own people. Karna will be faced with same question; how I can kill my own real brother. Arjuna will be better placed, since he does not know that Karna is his elder brother. But then, that is destiny and we have to accept it.