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.