KARNA was a chivalrous and magnanimous hero in the class of Arjuna or Bhishma. But bad luck, wrong company and ill-fate always haunted him.
The birth, rise, fall and death of Karna, Kunti’s first born can only be read with tears.
Once, sage Durvasa visited the palace of Kuntihbhoja as a guest and stayed there for some time. Kunti, the beautiful and virtuous daughter of the king looked after the sage with devotion. Highly pleased with her hospitality he gave her a divine mantra and said: “Reciting this mantra if you call upon any God he will instantly manifest before you and bless you with a son.” And he departed. Kunti, in her adolescent innocence was attracted towards the resplendent rising Sun and recited the divine mantra. The Sun God appeared before her radiating unbearable light and blessed her with a son with divine armour and earrings.
She was in panic and fear of the world, since she was an unwedded mainden. Kunti, to hide her fault, placed the child in a sealed box and set it afloat in the river. Athiratha, a charioteer childless, observed the floating box. When he opened that, he could not believe his eyes and contain his joy. He owned him and named him Karna.
After the formal education the teacher Drona and Kripa fixed a day for the test of strength and proficiency of their students. Apart form the royal families there was a big crowd. Arjuna excelled in all tests which enhanced the hatred and envy of Duryodhana.
During the concluding part a thunder-like sound was heard at the entrance. There was a youth, in all bearing a super human personality, challenging with claps of his hand. It was Karna. Seeing and recognising her first born unexpectedly and on this volatile situation Kunti fell into a swoon.
Karna duplicated all the feast displayed by Arjuna with negligent ease. Duryodhana was burst into joy and embraced Karna and sued him for everlasting friendship. He coronated Karna as king of Anga then and there. Thereafter Karna challenged Arjuna for single combat. The fearful and envious Acharyas tried to prevent this asking Karna to reveal his family lineage. Right then Athiratha, the charioteer reached there and addressed Karna as son. They hugged each other. Bhima, knowing Karna’s parentage, burst into a roar and rebuked him unworthy of fighting Arjuna and asked to take up the reins of horses.
Karna approached Parasurama seeking further lessons in martial arts in the disguise of a Brahman. With his discipline and devotion he made the guru pleased and obtained the master weapons like Brahmastra. One day when the guru was relaxing with head on the lap of Karna, a stinging worm, borrowed into Karna’s thighs. The pain was unbearable and blood started streaming down, but Karna did not tilt. Parasurama got up as he could not stand to it. He asked Karna to reveal the truth, for a Brahmin cannot tolearate such pain. Parasurama, who was a born enemy of the Kshatriyas, cursed Karna that he would forget all the divine mantras that Parasurama taught at the needy hours.
Karna was tempted to do anything that would please Duryodhana, because Karna felt that it was Duryodhana who gave an ‘address’ to Karna. Falling into the bad company of Sakuni, Duryodhana and Dussana he even conspired to snatch Draupadi into the assembly half naked.
Otherwise, Karna was a very brave and magnanimous person. He had a weakness to donate anything asked of. Anticipating a direct combat between his son Arjuna and Karna, Indra decided to beg of Karna for his armour and earrings, which Karna donated willingly.
When the war was about , Kunti approached Karna to be on the side of the Pandavas because he was their eldest brother. Karna was shocked to hear that. Kunti narrated the entire story to him and begged of him again and again to go with her. He smilingly refused and said it would be against ‘Dharma’ to abandon Duryodhana at this juncture, because it was he who looked after him. And not only that if at this juncture, had Karna shifted his stance, the world would have called him a coward. But he did not allow his mother to go totally unheard. He said: “Mother, I cannot send you empty handed, even though you hd forsaken me at the very birth. I will fight only with Arjuna. I shall not kill any of your other sons. If Arjuna is slain I shall join the Pandavas. However, you will have five sons.”
In the single combat that ensued between Karna and Arjuna, fate deserted Karna. Salya, his charioteer abused, rebuked and taunted Karna intending to destroy his mental stamina. Sri Krishna helped Arjuna to win the war. And poor Karna fell into the Kurukshetra battle field hit by the arrows of his own brother.
A treasure earned illegitimately goes in vain. This is the lesson we learn from the story of Karna.