Karna is one of the central characters in the epic Mahabharata, from ancient India. He was the King of Anga. Karna was one of the greatest warriors whose martial exploits are recorded in the Mahabharata, an admiration expressed by Krishna and Bhishma within the body of this work. Karna was the son of Surya and Kunti. He was born to Kunti before her marriage with Pandu. Karna was the closest friend of Duryodhana and fought on his behalf against the Pandavas in the famous Kurukshetra war.
Karna fought against misfortune throughout his life and kept his word under all circumstances. Many admire him for his courage and generosity. It is believed that Karna founded the city of Karnal. Many believe that he was the greatest warrior of Mahabharata since he was only able to be defeated by Arjuna along with a combination of three curses, Indra’s efforts and Kunti’s request.
Karna’s father was the solar deity Surya and his mother’s name was Kunti.
Karna was born before his mother’s marriage to prince Pandu. The story of Karna’s miraculous birth is this: When Kunti was a young woman, a wise though irascible old man, the sage Durvasa, visited her father’s palace, where Kunti served him with utmost care for an entire year. Pleased by her service and hospitality, the sage foresaw that Kunti would have difficulty having a child after her marriage to Pandu, and granted her a boon to overcome this difficulty. By this boon she could call upon any god of her choice, and receive a child through him.
Out of curiosity, Kunti still being unmarried, she decided to test the power of the mantra and called upon the god Surya. Compelled by the power of this mantra, Surya appeared before her and handed her a son, who was as radiant and powerful as Surya himself. The baby was wearing armour (‘Kavacha’) and a pair of earrings (‘Kundala’). Though Kunti had not physically given birth to the baby, she was unwilling to be accused of being an unmarried mother and so with the help of her maid Dhatri, she placed the baby Karna in a basket and set him afloat on ‘Ashwa’ a tributary of the holy river Ganges, the Ashwanadi, in the hope that he would be taken in by another family.
The child Karna was found by Adhiratha, a charioteer of King Dhritarashtra of Hastinapur. Adhiratha and his wife Radha raised the boy as their own son and named him Vasusena. He also came to be known as Radheya, the son of Radha. The name Karna, however, denotes ‘ear’, because Karna was born with divine earrings. The emotional bond between Karna and his foster parents would remain strong throughout his life, filled with love, respect and affection. Karna happily performed his duties as their son, but as he grew up, he became more interested in the art of warfare than in merely being a charioteer like his father Adhirata.
Karna met Dronacharya, who was an established teacher in the art of warfare. Dronacharya taught the Kuru princes, but refused to take Karna as his student, since Karna was a son of a charioteer and Dronacharya only taught Kshatriyas, or warriors. After being refused by Dronacharya, Karna sought his brother Shona’s help. But according to Indian culture, to learn an art you must have a guru (teacher), so Karna appointed the sun god as his guru, learned to wield his weapons during the day by gathering information about the various ayudhas (weapons) and practiced with them after sundown. Such was the life ok Karna, valiant, courageous and above all generous.
Battle at Kurukshetra forms a vital part of the great epic of Mahabharata which was believed to have continued for eighteen days. The battle dates from 5561 BC to 800 BC and it is based upon the astronomical and literary information from the epic itself. The mythology of the Kurukshetra war is also traced to the Battle of the Ten Kings which is also described in the Rig Veda. As per Aryabhatta, the great mathematician and astronomer of India, the Mahabharata was fought during the year 3137 BC. It was also known as the “Battle for Dharma”. In this battle at Kurukshetra two families, the Pandavas and the Kurus fought for kingship and the supportive kings took part in the Great War and war ended with the victory of the Pandavas.
Karna was the great tragic hero of the Mahabharata. He was a brave and expert warrior, who was first son of Kunti and thus the half-brothers of Pandavas. Duryodhana was his friend and appointed him as a King of Anga. But legend exceeds far more his role of just being a King. Karna also fought the great Battle of Kurukshetra for the Kaurvas. Karna fought the great battle of Kurukshetra with a great courage and grace. But he entered the battlefield only at the eleventh day as he felt insulted because Bhishma, the chief in commander of Kaurava’s side assigned Karna with a less important position. Bhishma knew that Karna was Kunti’s son and he did not want that brother’s fight among themselves. For that reason he wanted to put Karna away of battlefield.
On the thirteenth day of battle, Dronacharya organized ‘Chakravyuha’, a specific arrangement of the army. Only Arjun and Krishna knew how to invade ‘vyuha’but they were purposefully taken to another side of battlefield. Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu knew how to go inside the Vyuha. He entered there alone and was killed by seven warriors, among which Karna was also present. On the nightfall of fourteenth day, Bheema’s son Ghatotkacha started killing the Kaurava army in a mass. Duryodhana requested Karna to stop him and Karna employed the Shakti weapon on him. After being used once, Shakti returned to its real owner, Indra. Now Karna did not have any divine weapon to kill Arjuna while Arjuna had a wider range of divine weaponry. However Karna knew that he must face Arjuna in the battle and one of them would certainly die.
On the fifteenth day of the war, Dronacharya, the gurus of Pandavas and Kauravas died in the battle and Karna was appointed as commander-in-chief of Kaurava’s side. Karna had individual confrontation with all the Pandavas, except Arjuna and he defeated all of them but did not kill anybody as he promised to Kunti. On the seventeenth day of battle, Arjuna and Karna finally confronted. The two of them were greatest among all the warriors. Karna had a bow gifted by Parashurama known as Vijaya (Pinakin). On Duryodhana’s request, Shalya who was the maternal uncle of Pandavas became the charioteer of Karna. Karna did not have the Shakti weapon with him anymore.
The battle was indeed an intense display of amazing archery, valor and courage. Since Karna had no divine weapon, he devised an intelligent strategy to defeat Arjuna, which was entirely based on his personal ability. Karna set naga-astram on Arjuna targeting his head. Krishna, being the charioteer of Arjuna, plunged the chariot in the earth to save Arjuna. The fierce arrow thus hits Arjuna’s only saving his life.
During this severe combat, Karna’s chariot wheel got stuck in loose soil as per the curse on Karna given by the Brahmin, Karna asked Shalya to get down and take the wheel out of the mud but Shalya refused. Then Karna got down by himself to take out the chariot and asked Arjuna for a recess in the battle. Arjuna agreed but Krishna reminded him Karna’s merciless nature while killing his son Abhimanyu. Karna was not able to lift the chariot wheel nor could he recall how to use the ‘Brahmastra’ as per the curse of Parashurama. In the meanwhile Arjuna administered the terrible weapon ‘Anjalika’ on Karna and beheaded the great warrior.
After Karna’s death Kunti revealed the secret of Karna’s birth to her sons. Pandava grieved Karna’s death. Yudhisthira was especially stirred at this incident. He cursed all women that henceforth they would not be able to keep a secret.
Karna was the tragic hero of epic Mahabharata. He was a brave hero and courageous spirit who fought against his destiny all his life. His death was also tragic though full of courage, valor and honor that took him to rise to immortality beyond the moral death. Karna was famous for his generosity and an example of a futile life in spite of having all the good qualities.
Karna’s character in the Mahabharata is one that has fascinated everyone. His story is one of the saddest, since he was ill-fated ever since his birth. There are valid reasons, though, for all of his actions and their repercussions.
Karna, though born a prince, was brought up by a poor father and this led to a refusal for teaching by Dronacharya, the teacher of princes. Karna eventually approached Parashurama who taught him the usage of Brahmastra but also cursed him for killing his cow. This curse led to Karna’s downfall, as explained here: Once in the ashram of Parashurama, Karna fired an arrow aimlessly and a cow belonging to a Brahmin died.
The Brahmin cursed him saying “Let the wheel of your chariot get stuck in the mud and at that very instant let someone kill you. This is your punishment for killing an innocent cow”. Aimless actions almost always have unwanted consequences and this seemingly harmless action cost Karna heavily, as this is exactly how he was killed in the battle of Kurukshetra.
Indra (the king of Gods), father of Arjuna did not want Karna to become more powerful and hence ensured that Parashurama found out that his disciple was not a Brahmin. At that instanct, Parashurama cursed Karna, a Kshatriya, for lying and said, “When you are fighting with an enemy and the enemy is about to kill you, you will forget everything you learnt from me”. At the battle of Kurukshetra, at a crucial moment, Karna forgot the holy incantations required to fight Arjuna and this led to his defeat.
Duryodhana had become a good friend of Karna, made him a prince and hence Karna joined the Kauravas. Along with Duryodhana, he developed hatredness towards Arjuna and all the other Pandavas,unaware that they were his brothers.
Indra soon devised a plan to get hold of the earrings and the divine armor of Karna, which would protect him at all times. Suryadeva, Karna’s father, advised him to not give his armor and earrings to anyone. But when Indra pretended to be an ordinary Brahmin and asked for the armor and earrings, Karna gave them away as he had immense respect for Brahmins and was a kind man. This left him very vulnerable in the battle field.
After the Kurukshetra war was declared, Kunti approached Karna, hoping to make him change sides. She accepted him as her son and asked him not to wage a war against his own brothers. But Karna refused, saying he would not fight any of her sons except for Arjuna. He said he was highly indebted to Duryodhana and it was time for him to show loyalty and gratitude to his dear friend. Such intense loyalty and ethics are traits of a good man, but Karna failed to see the difference between the right and wrong.
Apart from the humiliation of Draupadi, which Karna did with the Kauravas, his other biggest mistake was killing Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu, by unfair means and in a way that was against the fair code of war. He was compelled by his loyalty to Duryodhana but going against what is right is not justifiable. Thus Karna and Arjuna got involved in an intense fight.
Karna first used the Sarpastra, an arrow which is shaped like a snake, aiming it at Arjuna’s throat but Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer, managed to save Arjuana. Though the arrow flew back to Karna and asked him to use it again, Karna refused to do so as he promised his mother that he would never use the same weapon twice. Karna was always a man of his word and this again is the trait of a highly righteous person. But his failure to judge the consequences of such promises led him into trouble.