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Karna-The Real Hero of Mahabharata, The World's Greatest Epic From India (Part II)

Updated on June 25, 2015
Krishna explains to Karna
Krishna explains to Karna | Source

The Story of Karna, the brave hero is a tragic episode of Mahabharata. His life story, I had revealed in my previous article titled 'Karna-The Real Hero of Mahabharata, The World's Greatest Epic From India (Part I)'. This is the second installment of the series on Karna's story. To comprehend the story fully, I advise you to read the first part before reading this. Reading the first part will equip you to comprehend the story clearly. Karna's childhood and his youthful period are briefed here.

Karna being the son of the most powerful Sun God had an interest in weapons. The thirst for learning fighting techniques was there in his blood. His ambition and passion to excel were so intense that he mastered all the weapons in a short time. Having learned the use of all the astras (arrows), the missile weapons, he wished to learn the 'Brahmastra', the most powerful one capable of destroying the three worlds.

His request to teach him 'brahmastra' was rejected by his guru. He told Karna that the 'brahmastra' can be taught only to Brahmins and Kshatriya of extra ordinary qualities. The irony was that both the master and the disciple were not aware of the true lineage of the disciple. The Brahmins were of the priestly caste and Kshatriyas were the ruling warrior caste.

Karna was actually a Kshatriya by birth, but destiny concealed the fact. However, Karna was not ready to give up his interest. He decided to learn it from Parasurama, the great master of all weapons. Here too there was a problem. Parasurama taught only Brahmans. It is a blocking factor for Karna, but he was not going to let his lineage come in the way.

Karna played a trick (which, later played against him!). He disguised as a Brahmin and approached Parasurama and politely said, 'I am a Brahmin and have come to learn from you'.


Karna's stay at the Himalayas with Parasurama played a crucial role in his life. Two incidents here, another turn of cruel destiny, played a decisive role and cost him dearly.

Crucial Fate: Incident 1


Karna lived so happily at Parasurama's hermitage learning and mastering all tricks. Parasurama loved him well for he was so perfect in learning and performing archery and weapons.


One day, while Karna was practicing his most loved archery, he saw something move in the marshy land near the hermitage. He immediately shot an arrow at it. Sadly for Karna, the arrow took the life of a cow that had got bogged down in the marsh.


The scene of the cow lying crying for his life was heartbreaking. The owner a Brahmin, who was at the spot found the young man, who killed his beloved cow. He cursed Karna saying you are arrogant because you can use weapons. So I curse you that the wheels of your chariot will sink in the battlefield at a crucial time when you fight for your life, just as the legs of this cow did, in this mire'. Later, in the battle of Mahabharata, Karna had to pay the price.

Cruel Fate: Incident 2


Karna lived happily at Parasurama’s hermitage. He was his master’s best student and served his guru with utmost sincerity and respect. One day Parasurama was laying down with his head on Karna’s lap and fell asleep soon.

A flesh-eating insect bit Karna and damaged his thigh by digging a hole. It was very painful. But Karna stayed still fearing his guru will wake up from his rest. He could not brush off the insect without moving his master’s head. So he suffered the killing pain silently. But the blood, which flowed from the wound touched Parasurama’s cheek and he woke up.

Parasurama jumped up and asked about it. Karna told him the whole thing. He further explained, “You would have woken up if I had moved and so I stayed still. I am sorry the blood polluted you”.

Parasurama was sure of one thing by then. He thought no Brahmin could have suffered such a pain in silence and the boy has to be a Kshatriya. He asked him to tell the truth. Karna explained everything honestly. The explanation made Parasurama angry. His favorite pupil’s trick made him furious. He cursed Karna, “You will forget the use of all these great weapons you learnt by tricking me when you most need them".

Karna begged for forgiveness. Parasurama consoled him saying “you will become famous as a great warrior on earth”. He further added he has no longer angry with him and any knowledge earned by tricking would naturally vanish when it is mostly needed. This incident later played a role and Karna had to pay again a price.

Karna's crucial meeting with three important characters in the Mahabharata


Was Karna aware of the truth behind his birth before his death? And who conveyed the real story to him? Karna meets three important persons in his life term and all the three share the truth with him. These meetings have a significant role in his fateful life and it made him happy and sad alike.


Karna's first meet with his Father, The Sun God


Karna had some special protective gears, the gifts by his father, the Sun God, at his birth itself. The Earrings and Armour gave him extra protection. No one can beat or kill Karna if he wears them.


One fine morning, while Karna was worshiping Surya, he heard his father's voice. The voice greatly surprised him. Yes, Karna was going to know the secret of his birth for the first time. The voice said, "Dear Karna, you must hear the secret of your birth. You are my son born to Kunti before she was married".


Thus, at last Karna knew the truth of his birth that he was not the son of a Charioteer but born to a God and a Kshatriya princess. The voice further informed him that Arjuna is the son of Indra. Indra is fearful of Karna killing his son Arjuna. He also warned "Indra will come in the guise of a Brahmin to rob you of the earrings and armour, which I gave you at birth. Do not give them to him as you will lose your invincibility if you do so".


But Karna cannot buy his father's words for he had a noble mind. He gave whatever a Brahmin asked for. At the risk of his life too he was not ready to abandon that noble practice.


Later, as exactly the Sun predicted, Indra approached Karna in the guise of an old Brahmin and demanded the most valuable articles on his person the earrings and armour he wore.


Karna was Karna. He tore the earrings and armour from his body. Indra was pleased and blessed Karna. He even gave him the most powerful weapon, his divine trident, when Karna asked.


Needless to say, later, the absence of his protective gears cost him so dearly in the Kurukshetra war.

Karna meets Lord Krishna


For the restoration of Pandava's kingdom, Krishna played a great role. He came to Hastinapura as the mediator. None of the efforts by Krishna brought any result for the blind Kauravas were not ready to listen to even the Lord. Now, the only option left is a war. When Krishna was returning after his failed mission, he took Karna to a distant place saying he has something to convey him personally.


Krishna appraised him of the issues clearly and told him that Duryodhana's claim is not a righteous one and requested Karna to join the Pandava side. He conveyed the birth story of Karna and said, Karna is the first son of Kunti. Krishna also said the Pandavas would accept him as their elder brother when they know the truth.


Karna patiently informed Krishna that he cannot change his loyalty as he owed his very life to Duryodhana. He also said he cannot betray him now.


Here, see the magnanimous mind of Karna. Krishna had offered him every assistance. He even offered him the kingdom as the head of Pandavas. But Karna remained on his principles. He was not ready to betray his savior Duryodhana and the Kaurava camp at a crucial time. Karna requested Krishna during their conversion that, "don't tell the Pandavas that I am their brother because they might not fight me if they hear the truth". This incident also proves how great Karna was.

Karna's first meet with his Mother Kunti


One day, while Karna was on meditation, he felt someone near him. When opened eyes, he saw Kunti standing beside him. Her appearance seemed she had some pray before Karna.


With tears on eyes, Kunti told Karna the story of his birth and the related developments. She said she had come here to take him to the Pandava side. She also informed that the Pandavas would only be happy and welcome their brother with due respect.


Karna had no mood to accept this request. He told his mother that it was Prince Duryodhana, who saved him at a crucial moment offering him dignity and a royal crown to wear. He added, he cannot betray his savior, who gave him a helping hand at a time even his own mother ignored him.


What Karna told Krishna was more or less the reply to Kunti too. Here also, his loyalty to Duryodhana was what he held high. And why in spite of the genuine request of Lord Krishna and Mother Kunti, he stood with Duryodhana? We will discuss it in the next part of this series.


Karna asked mother if she had any other demands. To which, Kunti said, "Then I have one request: don't kill your brothers. Promise me that you won't take their life".


This too a difficult request to consider. Yet, Karna replied, "I shall keep them safe. All your sons except Arjuna will be spared. But I must meet Arjuna on the war front. After the war too, you would have five children, four of the Pandavas and the fifth one either Arjuna or me". Looking at the weeping eyes of his mother, Karna requested her not to reveal the secret she had kept for so long and revealed him now. Hearing this great secret, the Pandavas may turn away from the war, he told his mother.


Kunti was relaxed on one thing while returning- a big secret is finally shared!

When the Lord Krishna too failed on his attempt to solve the boiling issue between the Pandavas and Kauravas, the only option left was war. Now, it is the time for war, the great Kurukshetra or Mahabharata war. Krishna too finally gave his permission to strike the war.


Then, what happened to Karna during the war? Did he meet Arjuna as planned? What was the outcome of the Karna-Arjuna fierce fight? All these and more to read on the third and final part of this series titled "Karna- The Real Hero of Mahabharata, The World's Greatest Epic from India".

+++++Mahabharata is the greatest epic in the world. Naturally, to extract even some simple stories from this great book, we need to refer and research a lot. I too referred a lot of available materials, both print and electronic, to tell you this story. My thanks to all those known and unknown authors, whose great efforts made my work comparably easier++++++

© 2013 Sunil Kumar Kunnoth

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      dnagarathinam1960@gmail.com 2 years ago

      Parasurama used to take Brahmans as his students. Then how did he take Bhisma as his student?

    • profile image

      ramesh 2 years ago

      mahabharat ko likhe huy hazaro varsh beet gaye, tab se ab tak samay -2 par kai badlao kiye gaye jiske karan original cheez khatm ho chuki hai , maine to kai nami kitabo me karna ko bheem,satyaki,nakul, sahdev,drishtidyuma adi se harte huye pada hai lekin mera prashna hai yadi karna itna kamzor tha to kisine uska vadh kyon nahi kiya aur ant me use anyay se khatm kyun karna pada vo bhi arjun ko plz reply

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 2 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Thanks for the post. You have brought my attention to a new dimension.

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      kunaseelan 2 years ago

      Thanks Arijeet. Your lengthy explanation is sufficient to enlighten readers.

      Many have wrong mindset of Karna by watching Mahabharat serials which portrayed Karna as Hero. They failed to understand that Karna's Jealousy of the Pandavas (Arjuna in particular)was the root cause for the Mahabharat War.

      Kisari Mohan Ganguli's text is a great book to read.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      I shall check and study. Thanks for the suggestion.

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      Arijeet Takkar 3 years ago

      TO FIND OUT WHO IS THE GREATEST WARRIOR KARNA OR ARJUNA FROM ORIGINAL VYAS'S MB,VISIT:

      https://www.facebook.com/karnavsarjuna

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      Anand 3 years ago

      Karna of course lived the life of a miser, which he was, We all sympathise with him because of his bad luck throughout of his life, But if we take a closer look, we can see why Karna never was the hero , he is made of. He throughout his life had only a dream of proving himself superior, But he proved himself as a weak character , since he sold himself to Duryodana, Just for some material favour. Such act amounts to selling your soul to devil. Therefore he could;d not achieve anything significant in life.

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      Arijeet Takkar 3 years ago

      For all karna's Fans:

      (SOURCE-TRANSLATION OF ORIGINAL MAHABHARAT OF VYAS BY KESARI MOHAN GANGULY

      & WHICH IS THE ONLY PRECISE TRANSLATION AVAILABLE ON PUBLIC DOMAIN):

      Incident 1:Karna fled rom battlefield from Arjuna(Virata Yudh):

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m04/m04060.htm

      Incident 2:Karna defeated by Gandharwa chitrasena:

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03239.htm

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03240.htm

      Incident 3:Arjuna defeat Ghandarwas & rescued Duryodhan & kurus:

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03243.htm

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03244.htm

      Incident 4:Karna defeated & freightened by Abhimanyu in chakruvyuhu:

      Hearing these words, Karna, afflicted with the shafts of Arjuna's son, once more said unto Drona, 'Exceedingly afflicted with the shafts of Abhimanyu, I am staying in battle, only because (as a warrior) I should stay here. Indeed, the arrows of this south of great energy are exceedingly fierce. Terrible as they are and possessed of the energy of fire, these arrows are weakening my heart.'

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m07/m07045.htm

      What Karna's own friend Ashwathama & kripacharya think of karna:

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m04/m04049.htm

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m04/m04050.htm

      what Lord Krishna think of karna's bravery:

      Krishna said(To Arjuna):.I swear by Truth to thee, O friend, that my limbs are burning at the thought that while the son of Subhadra was thus advancing, consuming the hostile army with his shafts, even on that occasion the wicked-souled Karna was engaged in acts of hostility to that hero,Unable, O Partha, to stay in that battle before Abhimanyu's face, mangled with the shafts of Subhadra's son, deprived of consciousness, and bathed in blood, Karna drew deep breaths, inflamed with rage. At last, afflicted with arrows, he was obliged to turn his back upon the field.

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08073.htm

      & Finally karna himself accepting Arjuna's supeority:

      Narrative:

      "'Karna said(about Arjuna), "As far as I have heard,

      such a superior car-warrior has

      never been born on earth! Behold

      my prowess, since I will contend in

      battle with even that Partha who is

      such. This prince of Kuru's line, this

      foremost of car-warriors, careers in

      battle, borne by his steeds white in

      hue. Perhaps he will despatch me to

      Yama's abode today. Know, however,

      that with Karna's death, these all

      will be exterminated. The two arms

      of this prince are never covered with

      sweat. They never tremble. They are

      massive and covered with cicatrices.

      Firm in the use of weapons, he is

      possessed of great skill and endued

      with great lightness of hands.

      Indeed, there is no warrior equal to

      the son of Pandu. He taketh a large

      number of arrows and shooteth them

      as if they were one. Quickly fixing

      them on the bow-string, he

      propelleth them to the distance of

      two miles. They always fall on the

      foe. What warriors is there on earth

      that is equal to him? That Atiratha,

      endued with great activity, with

      Krishna as his ally, gratified the god

      Agni at Khandava. There, on that

      occasion, the high-souled Krishna

      obtained his discus, and Savyasaci,

      the son of Pandu, obtained his bow

      Gandiva. There that mighty-armed

      one, endued with might that knows

      no decay, also obtained his terrible

      car unto which are yoked those white

      steeds, as also his two great

      celestial and inexhaustible quivers,

      and many celestial weapons, from

      the God of Fire. In the region of

      Indra he obtained his conch

      Devadatta and slew innumerable

      Daityas, and all the Kalakeyas. Who

      is there on earth that is superior to

      him? Possessed of greatness of soul,

      he gratified Mahadeva himself in fair

      fight, and obtained from him the

      terrible and mighty weapon Pasupata

      that is capable of destroying the

      three worlds. The several Regents of

      the world, united together gave him

      their weapons of immeasurable

      energy, with which that lion among

      men quickly destroyed in battle

      those united Asuras, the

      Kalakhanjas.

      So also, in Virata's city,

      moving on a single car he

      vanquished all of us, and snatched

      from us that wealth of kine, and took

      from all the foremost of car-warriors

      (portions of) their garments.

      Challenging that foremost of

      Kshatriyas, that hero having him of

      Vrishni's race for his ally, that

      warrior who is endued with such

      energy and such attributes, I regard

      myself, O Shalya, to be the foremost

      of persons in all the world in point

      of courage. He is, again, protected by

      that Keshava of great energy, who i

      Narayana himself and who is without

      a rival, that high-souled Vasudeva,

      that ever-victorious Vishnu armed

      with conch, discus, and mace, whose

      attributes all the world united

      together, cannot (in narrating)

      exhaust in 10,000 years. Beholding

      the two Krishnas together on the

      same car, fear entereth my heart

      together with courage. Partha is the

      foremost of all bowmen!

      Source:origial mahabharat by vyas..trans by km ganguly!

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08079.htm

      FINAL KARNA ARJUNA BATTLE(DAY 17 OF MAHABHARATA):

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08089.htm

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08090.htm

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08091.htm

      ACCORDING TO MY ANALYSIS OF THIS TRANSLATION IN THE FINAL BATTLE OF MAHABHARATA,ARJUNA & KARNA ASSAULTED EACH OTHER 35 TIMES WITH NUMEROUS, THOUSANDS & LAKHS OF ARROWS ………8 TIMES THEY NULLIFIED EACH OTHER ARROWS ,12 TIMES BOTH KARNA & ARJUNA PIERCED EACH OTHER BUT THE REMAINING 15 TIMES ARJUNA PIERCED KARNA IN EVERY PART OF HIS BODY & KARNA’S LIMBS,YOKE,STANDARD,STEEDS,CHARIOT WERE RIPPED APART & KARNA WAS LEFT MANGLED BATHED IN BLOOD & KARNA HAD NO ANSWER FOR ARJUNA’S ARROWS!!!

      Authenciaty of vyas original mahabharat by km ganguly:

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kisari_Mohan_Ganguli

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