A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Karna and his karma

In a couple of previous article we read about how ones present life was affected due to the acts of one’s past life, w.r.t. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari from the epic Mahabharata. Our epics are full of examples of Karmic destiny, especially Mahabharata. Nearly all characters have been subject to this, including Lord Krishna.

However, Karna was one character in Mahabharata whose tragedy had nothing to do with his past life (or so it seems as nothing has been found in any texts). His tragedy is due to his being good, yes; all that goes wrong with him is because he wanted to be of help to someone. Let’s see how.

It is said that Karna was training under the great ascetic-warrior, Parashuram (who was also an avatar of Lord Vishnu). Karna had told him the truth that he was raised by a charioteer and did not know his caste. Once, Parashuram went off to sleep with his head on Karna’s lap. A blood-sucking insect bit Karna on his thigh. It pained Karna, but he did not move, lest it woke up his Guru. When Parashuram came to know about it, he was shocked that someone could bear so much pain in spite of all the blood that had been lost. According to him, only a Kshatriya could have it in him to bear such pain and Parshuram hated Kshatriyas. This enraged Parashuram so much that he cursed him that, all that he had learnt from him would go in vain, as he would never be able to use it, especially when he needed the most.

Isn’t this tragic? Karna was honest enough to say what he did as he had no clue about his parentage and by not moving after the insect bite, he was only allowing his Guru a peaceful nap. Was this fair?

Another legend says that long ago, Karna saw a young girl crying as she had spilt milk on the ground. To stop her from crying, Karna is supposed to have taken soil from the ground where milk was spilt and squeezed out the milk so that the child could have it. This angered Bhoo-devi (Earth-deity) and she is supposed to have cursed Karna that it would be the same soil that would one day, hold him to his death, as he had squeezed out milk from her soil.

During the war of Kurukshetra in Mahabharata, at a very strategic point, the wheel of Karna’s chariot was stuck in the soil and no efforts would get it out of the soil. He got down the chariot to do so physically, as he had forgotten the magic formula taught to him by Parashuram to release a wheel if stuck on the ground, is when he gets hit by Arjuna. His end was brought by the act of kindness that he had shown to his guru and the crying girl.

This make one feel that Karna’s tragedy had nothing to do with his karma, but was some sort of a conspiracy to make sure that he suffers. The following story also lends credence to the same theory.

Karna’s charioteer was Shalya, the King of Madra. Shalya was the maternal uncle of the younger Pandavas, i.e. Nakula and Sahadeva. When Kings and regions were aligning themselves for the great war of Kurukshetra, Shalya left for the battlefield. On his way, he was pleased to see that arrangements were made for his army and was impressed at the thoughtfulness of the Pandavas. Later he learnt that he had been duped into accepting the hospitality, from the Kauravas, due to which he had to fight on behalf of the Kauravas. To humiliate him further, Duryodhan asked Shalya to be the charioteer of Karna, the arch-enemy of the Pandavas. On Krishna’s advice, Shalya would continuously praise Arjuna during the battle, to de-motivate and distract Karna.

Also, when anything goes wrong with a chariot, it is the responsibility of the charioteer to alight from the chariot and repair it. When Karna’s chariot got stuck on the ground, Karna is supposed to have asked Shalya to do so, but Shalya refused to alight as he was a King and it was below his dignity to such things, besides the fact that he did not know how to get the wheel out of the ground. It was only when Shalya refused to do anything, did Karna have to alight, disarming himself, which made him vulnerable to Arjuna’s attack.

All this lends credence to the theory of conspiracy. Where is karmic destiny here? Karna had been wronged from the time he was born to an unwed mother, Kunti. All through the epic he had been insulted about his lack of knowledge of his parentage, when two of the most important characters of the epic, Kunti and Krishna were actually aware of it but had opted to keep quiet. He is apprised of the truth at a wrong moment in the epic and that too as an effort to buy his support. At the end, he dies a heroic death. It is said that the day he was killed, the war came to an early end for that day, as all the charioteers from both the sides mourned his death, as he was raised by a charioteer.

Could the author of the epic have decided to create a tragic character and thus such characterisation? Or was it the ideal example of a good guy on the wrong side?

Whatever, be the case, Karna’s tragedy had nothing to do with his karma.


  1. Hello Utkarsh,
    The list of injustice happened to Karna is too long, I know you have mentioned just few of them.

    (1) Karn was not allowed to take a part in shooting the arrow to a circling fish so he could not marry Draupadi.
    (The Draupadi Swayamwar)

    (2) Indra went to Karn and asked for Kavach and kundal (Kavach is chest protecter) from him. In the whole Mahabharat, no warrier had any weapon that could kill Karna as long as he wears both. In order to save Arjun, Indra did this to him. Indra is the father of Arjun.

    (3) Karn had 2 special arrows that could kill Arjun and Lord Krishna. Ofcourse, Krishna had to do something about this. He asked Kunti to ask for both arrows. Kunti said how do I know which arrows to pick?
    Krisha became fly and set on both arrows and Kunti picked both of them. Again, Karn was robbed and he could not kill Arjun.

    (4) On 1 particular day of the bettle, Karn completely overpowered Arjun and he was about the end Arjun's life. Then again team of Indra and Krishna saved Arjun. There was a rule that they agreed upon not to fight after sun set. When Karn was about to kill Arjun, there was few minutes letf before the Sun set. The Indra asked Sun to set early so Karn can not shoot the arrow. Karn did not shoot the arrow obeing the rule of war and asked Arjun to come back next day. This was very unethical thing to do for Krishna and Indra to save Arjun. Though the truth is Karn had Arjun that moment.

    (5) Gurn Draun did not want to teach the archary to Karn and that is the reason he went to Parshuram.

    (6) I am not sure but either Bhishma Pita or Guru Draun asked Karn to stay home in the beginning of the bettle. Karn did not take any part in 1st 2 weeks of epic war. He could have been great help for Kauravs but that was not to be.

    (7) Krishna revealed the truth to him that he was the older brother of Pandavs just the days before the bettle. It was the worst time to reveal when he was about to kill them. All his life, Kunti and Krishna watched Karn get insulted but kept their mouth shut.

    1. Yes, you are right, the list is endless. Kunti recognised her Karna on the very first instance when Karna is introduced in Mahabharat, but chooses to keep quiet, and Krishna knew it all along. As I mentioned the timing of informing Karna was extremely political, to put it mildly.
      At the beginning of the war of Kurukshetra, Bhishma had declined to lead an army which had Karna in it, again an unfair treatment meted out to him. So it was decided that Karna would not fight till Bhishma was fighting and Karna joined the battle only when Bhishma was made to lay on the bed of arrows. Needless to say, that Karna was extremely respectful of the grand patriarch. In the entire epic, only 3 people were trained by Parashuram, i.e. Bhishma, Drona and Karna, so each knew the potential of the other and this could have been one reason of Bhishma trying to stop Karna from participating in the war. His caste was just a facade.

      Once can go on citing examples, but the objective is bring out the lack of any karma on his part. An out and out tragic hero of the epic. May be that is why he has more respect and the five Pandavas together!

  2. Hello friends,
    I completely agree that with you both that there was a lot of injustice done to Karna... All the above mentioned matter is true... agreed, and I do have a lot of respect for the great Dhanveer Karna, but I disagree that there was a lack of ANY karma that shaped karna's life. There was flat injustice in him getting those 2 curses from his guru and Bhoodevi. Yes, it was rotten politics to have taken advantage of his vow of charity. But I know about 2 instances in Karna's life where his actions were not appropriate and they finally justify the way he had to die.

    1) Karna had taken part in the very sad incident of Draupadi's humiliation. They dont know what happened to him on that particular day,(Even Karna himself regrets those moments later on), he states that Draupadi, on account of being married to 5 people at once, cannot be considered to be a respectable woman and calls her a vaishya(prostitute).
    Later in the war, Grandsire Bhishma does'nt allow karna to take part in the war. When Krishna asked the reason for this, Bhishma states that any student of the great Parashurama cannot be misbehaved. Karna had clearly misbehaved with draupadi and this had resulted in the insult of the great Guru, hence he had to punish him for he misbehavior.
    2)He aided in the unjust killing of Abhimanyu(Arjun's son). Abhimanyu was attacked by 7 people, that too when he was unarmed. The rules of War forbidded to attack any unarmed person. There was also a rule that only single person vs. another single person duel was allowed. Karna was one among those 7 warriors who attacked poor unarmed 15 yr old abhimanyu.
    That's the justification of him being killed by Arjun when he was as helpless as Abhimanyu.

    1. A little more into this: Karna attacked Abhimanyu from Back which is again against of War Rule.

  3. I have a different perspective. Karna was given all those curses so that ADHARMA can lose and thus making him a matyr rather than an accomplice of the tyrant.

  4. main unka adarsh,kahi vyatha na khol sakenge
    puchega jag,par pita ka naam na bol sakenge
    jinka nikhil vishva me koi na apna hoga
    mann me liye umang jinhe chirkal kalapna hoga..

    Karna defenitely had tragic life..bt mahabharat also mentions dat u hav to pay for ur karmas either in dis life or next..like amba had revenge to take from bhishma so she took birth as shikhandi...it is said dat u attain moksha only ven u dont hav any sort of karmik link(whether good or bad) nd in ur nxt life ur karmic links affect ur consciousness nd u hav to pay for ur karmas..good deeds rewarded nd bad punished..karna's character must also had some previous karmas nd some of same life like breaking rule of war,insulting draupadi,though fiting fr ur king is duty,bt supporting wrong itself adds to ur karmas nd karna always supported nd stood nxt to duryodhan..even d gurus had to pay fr supporting wrong..his good karmas were definitely rewarded coz in history he is d most respected person nd remembered fr his virtues...

  5. Please Its to inform you all that Mahabharath and Ramayn both are not Mythology , they are itihaas for us Indians .

  6. Supposedly, a little known fact about Karna is that he was the Demon Tanasur in his previous birth. Was also called Sahastra kavach with 1000 heads. The demon was a devotee of Shiva and had a boon from him that, for for each head to be beheaded, the slayer had to do tapas for one hear and battle for another year to cut his head. arrogant with this power his attrocities were endless. In order to subdue him, Vishnu in the form of Nar and Narayan cut of 999 heads.. Nar battled to cut his head and simultaneously Narayan performed tapas. With the last head and kavach left in him, the demon supposedly took refuge in Surya lok. And it was from here that he was given an opportunity to attain salvation by the hand of Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu, as Karna, born to Kunti.
    Really speaking, one must be in awe with the infinite compassion and love of the divine who unconditionally loves all beings. Even the demon has a chance to love, mercy and eternal peace. Life and death are mere events that help transform an evolving soul into a condition of eternal peace. the ultimate destination of all that is manifested.
    How long we take to get there, or how quickly is left to our free will. The straightest path to this is simple - Following our individual Dharm and being in divine rememberance. which often conflicts with individual desires. And in the pursuit of this free will we lead ourselves through tortuous paths often alternating between the angellic life, demonic life and the human life endlessly suffering miseries.. Tragically if we only knew what the divine life really tastes like.....

  7. Karna previous birth

    Once there lived as asura called Dambhodbhava. Dambhodbhava wanted to be powerful. So he prayed to Surya, the Sun God. Actually he wanted to be immortal but Surya cannot give such boon as it is beyond his capacity. Thus demon tried to become immortal in round about away. So he got 1000 kavacha and one kavacha can be only broken by someone who had done penance for 1000 years. Also whoever broke his armour would die immediately.
    Immediately after getting the boon from Surya, Dambhodbhava started wrecking havoc in three world. Everyone was scared of fighting with him as there was no way of defeating him. Because of 1000 armours he was also called Sahasrakavacha.
    At that time King Daksha’s daughter Murti married to Dharma. So she prayed to Lord Vishnu to come and help the people. Lord Vishnu pleased with her appeared before her, 'Murti! I am pleased with your devotion! I will come and slay Sahasrakavacha! Because you have prayed to me, you would be the reason for slaying Sahasrakavacha!'
    Murti gave birth to twin sons Narayana and Nara. Sahasrakavacha started attacking the forest surrounding Badrinath, where both Narayana and Nara were staying. Both brothers came up with plan to kill Sahasrakavacha. One of them continued penance and other would fight with demon. Thus they did penance for 1000 years. After that Narayana fought with Sahasrakavacha for 1000 years and broke his first kavacha. Sahasrakavacha was not worried as he knew Narayana would die after breaking one kavacha. However, once Narayana fell to ground after breaking the kavacha Nara came and used his tapobala to revive him and started fighting with Sahasrakavacha and at the same time Narayana started doing penance. Thus both Nara and Narayana in turns started breaking one after another kavacha of Sahasrakavacha. Sahasrakavacha lost 999 of his armours. Realizing that he could never beat the two brothers, Sahasrakavacha gave up the fight and ran away. He decided to take refuge with the Surya as he was the one who had granted him the boon in the first place. Narayana and Nara both went to Surya, but since demon took his shelter it was Surya’s duty to protect him. So he requested Narayana to excuse the demon. However it was Nara turn to fight so it was destined that Nara would fight with demon one more time.
    Same Sahasrakavacha was born as Kunti’s first son and since his birth he was wearing the kavacha (last one left unbroken). To fulfil the promise to destroying Sahasrakavacha (Karna), Krishna and Arjuna – Narayana is expansion of Krishna and Nara is same as Arjuna came. As Arjuna would have died if he had broken the armour of karna as per boon thus his father Indra went in disguise and got the last armour of Karna. Thus Arjuna killed him in Mahabharatha war and fulfilled the promise given to Murti.