Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Karna

Mahabharata


Soon, the education of the Kuru princes was complete. Drona went to Bhishma and suggested that a festival be held, in which the princes will have an opportunity to display the talents that they have acquired and to prove to their subjects that they would be capable rulers in the future. Accordingly, an auspicious day was chosen and a stadium erected, where the people would be able to observe the feats of their princes.

In addition to the people of the Kingdom, all the members of the royal family were also present among the audience. Drona appeared first and introduced all the princes. Bhishma declared the festivities open. Both the Kauravas and the Pandavas performed many feats of strength and displayed their skill with various weapons. After a general display, a friendly contest between Duryodhana and Bheema with the mace began. At least, it started out as a friendly contest, but the hatred that each contestant had for the other, soon caused it to escalate into a deadly combat in earnest. The audience also started taking sides. Seeing the unrest in the audience and fearing that it could lead to violence, Drona sent in his son Ashwatthama to separate the contestants and to declare the contest a tie.

After this, it was the turn of Drona's favorite Arjuna to display his talents. Such was the radiance emanating from his person, that people were fooled for a moment into thinking that it was Lord Indra himself in person, who had appeared in their midst. Arjuna performed many feats of marksmanship with his bow and arrows. He demonstrated the use of the Agneyastra, setting the field on fire, the Varunastra by putting out the fire with water, the Anthardynastra by making himself invisible, the Parjanyastra by causing clouds to assemble and many more such missiles. The audience was spellbound by the skill of the third Pandava. They began to think that here among them, was the greatest archer that the world had ever known.

Just at this moment, there was a commotion at the entrance to the field, for a youth of dazzling aspect, clad in armor that shone like the sun, and with earrings to match his armor, strode into the field like a lion, armed with bow and arrows. He came to Arjuna and said, "Arjuna, do not swell up with pride. There are many in the world who can perform these feats of archery that you have performed. The use of the missiles is also not unique, there are many warriors who would consider the missiles that you have used to be kids' stuff. Let me show you what real archery is like."

Meanwhile, Kunti fainted away in the stands, for she recognized this youth who was challenging Arjuna. She knew that it was her eldest born, Karna (The youth was not named Karna at that time. He earned that title later by becoming a great philanthropist. However, for convenience, we shall continue to call him Karna). She recognized him because of his radiant armor and earrings. Unable to bear the thought of her two children fighting each other and struck by guilt, for she had abandoned Karna as a baby, she fainted away, and was taken to her quarters by her hand-maidens.

After challenging Arjuna the youth proceeded to demonstrate all the feats that Arjuna had performed, and then some more. Naturally, this angered Arjuna, for he felt insulted that some nameless youth had come and effortlessly bested his feats. Duryodhana, who was watching all this was glad, for he was mortally afraid of Arjuna's skill with the bow. He perceived that he would have no cause to worry, if only he could get Arjuna's rival on his side.

Karna then turned to Arjuna and said, "You are priding yourself on being the best archer in the world. There is only one way to settle this question. If you will meet me in combat, I, the disciple of the sage Parashurama, will defeat you and prove to the world as to who is better."

This further inflamed Arjuna, but he looked to his elders for guidance. Kripa then came forward and said, "Before this combat can take place, both contestants must know each other's lineage. A fair combat can only take place between equals. The world knows that Arjuna is the son of Pandu, by the grace of Indra and is the scion of the Kuru dynasty. Now it is your turn to proclaim your lineage, and then the combat may begin."

Hearing this, Karna lowered his head in shame. He did not know who he was, who his real parents were. He had been found floating in the casket by a charioteer, who adopted him as his son. This man and his wife Radha were the only parents he had known.

However, Karna did not want to be a charioteer, he was always longing to become a warrior, and was convinced that he was born a Kshatriya. He went to various celebrated Gurus and tried to enroll in their hermitage, but he was turned down as he could not prove his lineage. At last, in desperation, he pretended to be a Brahmana and enrolled himself under the tutelage of Parashurama, who hated all Kshatriyas. There, he developed his skill with the bow, and also learned the use of all the divine Astras (missiles), including the ultimate weapon, the Brahmastra.

One day, Parashurama was sleeping with his head in the lap of Karna. An insect started biting Karna on his leg, but he did not want to chase it away, as it would disturb the sleep of his Guru. He silently bore the pain. The insect continued to bore through his leg. At last, the blood flowing from his wound, touched the face of Parashurama who at once woke up. When he saw what had happened, he was exceedingly angry. He said, "You have lied to me. There is no way a Brahmana could have borne such a pain without flinching. Only a Kshatriya could have borne such a pain without raising a murmur. As you have lied to me, may all the skills that I have taught you, become useless to you in the hour of your need. May you forget the use of all the missiles, when you most need them. Go away from my presence, and never return!".

Karna was terrified by the curse of his Guru. He pleaded ignorance to his descent, and sought his teacher's forgiveness, but to no avail, Parashurama would not relent. So Karna had to leave the hermitage in disgrace. When he came back to his parents, he learned about the festival where feats of skill would be performed, and went there to watch it. However, when he saw Arjuna winning universal acclaim, the demon of jealousy was aroused within him, and he came forward to challenge him, leading to the events narrated above. Now he stood silent, unable to expound his lineage, for he did not know who he was."

Seeing him in this predicament, Duryodhana came forward and said, "If the only objection to this man is that he is not a King, I will remove this obstacle immediately. I shall crown him the king of Anga, which is under my dominion." With this, Duryodhana signalled the assembled Brahmanas to perform the rites that would crown Karna as the King of Anga.

Karna was deeply touched by Duryodhana's gesture. He said, "O Prince, you have won my eternal gratitude by your selfless act. I do not know how I could ever repay you!"

To this Duryodhana said, "I desire nothing but your friendship. All that is mine, is yours. All your enemies are mine. Let us be friends for all time to come."

This was the start of the most celebrated friendship in the Mahabharata. Both Karna and Duryodhana were friends, taking part in each others' triumphs and sorrows, till Karna's death in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The other celebrated friendship in the Mahabharata is between Arjuna and Krishna.

Both Arjuna and Karna were now ready for combat. Their divine fathers Indra and Surya appeared in the sky, to watch this contest. At this moment, another commotion was heard. The charioteer, who had adopted Karna, came to the field, and embraced his son.

Seeing this, Bheema said, "O Karna, you may have become a king, but you have no right to rule the kingdom of Anga. You are the son of a charioteer, that is your proper sphere. Just as a dog is not eligible for eating the sacrificial oblations, you are not eligible to fight with Arjuna."

Hearing this, full of wrath, Duryodhana said, "Bheema, your words are without merit. To be a king, it is only essential that you be skilled in arms and of exemplary valor and bravery. Who are you to talk about birth? Everyone knows that you Pandavas are not really the sons of your father Pandu. This Kripacharya who spoke about descent, was born inside a bamboo basket. Why, even the birth of our teacher Drona is of questionable nature. A man does not become something because of his birth, only his deeds shall determine the class to which he belongs."

At this moment, the sun set, and Duryodhana and Karna left the field with the rest of the Kauravas. Arjuna and Bheema stood alone in the field, hanging their heads in shame.

Now that the education of the princes was complete, it was time for the difficult feat to be set by Drona. He summoned them all and narrated the incidents that connected him with the Panchala king Drupada, and of his humiliation at his friend's court. He said, "The fee that I ask for your education, is that you defeat Drupada in battle, and bring him as a prisoner in front of me."

The Kauravas then started for battle with great fanfare. Drona warned them that Drupada was an accomplished warrior, but they did not pay much attention to it, so confident were they in their own prowess. The battle raged long and hard. In the end, the Kauravas were routed and had to flee from the battlefield.

Now it was the turn of the Pandavas. They did not take any army with them, just the five of them formed the force that attacked Drupada. Once again, it was a hard fought battle, but the skill of Arjuna won the day for the Pandavas. Drupada's army could not withstand the onslaught of the third Pandava's arrows. Ultimately the Panchalas were defeated and Drupada was taken prisoner and presented before Drona.

Drona said in a taunting voice, "Drupada, we were bosom friends once. When I came to your court some time ago, it pleased you to disown my friendship. You said at that time, that there was no friendship possible, unless it were between equals. Now, you stand before me defeated, stripped of your kingdom. Now I own your kingdom, and you have nothing. I still desire your friendship, so I will give you half your kingdom back. That will make us equals, making friendship possible."

Drupada hung his head in shame. However, the memory of this humiliation by Drona gnawed away at his soul, and revenge became the reason for his existence from then on. When he returned to his kingdom, he could think of nothing else. He knew that Drona was a matchless warrior and could not be defeated in battle easily. At last he resolved to perform a great Yagna (sacrifice), where he would seek the boon of a son who would kill Drona in battle.

He approached the two brothers Yaja and Upayaja, who were skilled in the art of performing sacrifices and put his request before them. They were reluctant, but at last were persuaded to assist the king. The great sacrifice was performed, with thousands of Brahmanas in attendance. When it came to be the time for pouring the sacrificial offerings (Havis), Drupada's queen could not be present for she had not had her bath. She asked the head-priests to wait, for she would be back soon. However, they would not brook any delay and said, "This sacrifice, performed by Yaja and sanctified by Upayaja, does not need a woman to be present. When we pour this sacrificial offering into the fire, there will be born one of the greatest warriors the world has seen, he will be the slayer of Drona. Drupada, do you wish for anything else?"

Drupada thought for a moment and said, "I was most impressed with the valor of Arjuna in battle.I would like a daughter who would marry him, thus securing me an alliance with the greatest archer in the world."

The priests said, "So be it!", and then started pouring the sacrificial offerings, accompanied by the chant of the final Mantras (incantations). From the fire sprang a radiant youth, fully clad in battle-armor, with a shield and drawn sword. A disembodied voice from the heaves proclaimed, "This youth will be a matchless warrior, and will slay Drona in battle. May he be named Dhrishtadhyumna." Immediately after him a beautiful maiden, who rivalled the Apsaras in beauty, emerged from the sacrificial altar. Since she was dark complexioned she was known as Krishnaa (Krishnaa=dark color). She was also known as Panchali, for she was the Panchala princess, but the name by which she came to be known was Draupadi.

Drupada sent his son, to the gurukul (school) of Drona to be trained in the art of war. Despite knowing that this youth would be the cause of his death, Drona was obliged to teach him, for in those days, no teacher may refuse to teach an eligible student.

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Last Modified At: Sun Nov 7 16:20:04 2004