When I feel Life has been Unfair to me, I think of Karna

Have you ever felt that Life has been unfair to you? That some how, fate has not allowed you to be all you could have been, to achieve all that you could have achieved with some luck? Next time you feel so, think of Karna. Compare your experiences to how Fate treated Karna and you will be grateful for how life has treated you. 

Imagine the potential of Karna:

  • Conceived as the pure, immaculate, Yog-based conception of the Divine Surya (Sun), a representation of the Brightness of God;

  • Born with a golden body armor and golden ear rings that made his body impregnable to all weapons;

  • Divinely handsome looks and an intellect to match;

  • Born physically to Kunti, a virtuous and noble daughter of a renowned King;

  • Divinely blessed child destined for greatness on earth.
Fate had something else in mind for Karna. Princess Kunti was unmarried at that time. Knowledge of her conception would have meant public disgrace for Kunti and her father. So, Kunti went into seclusion, delivered the glorious baby  and then, with a heavy heart, placed the baby in a wicker basket and sent the basket down the river that flowed near the royal palace.

The basket sailed down the great river and was retrieved downstream by a charioteer named Adi-Rath, a humble servant of the Emperor, and his wife Radha, They were overjoyed to receive this gift of a golden child. They hid all the royal ornaments that accompanied the baby and brought up the baby as their own son Karna.

So, the son of the Divine Sun born to highest nobility on Earth came to be known as Suta-Putra, literally a Charioteer’s son. A child born of divinity and to greatness now became the child of a servant! The title Charioteer’s son became Karna’s title and, as you will see, his Karna’s destiny.

Kunti, still a virgin due to the divine, immaculate nature of Karna’s conception, was married to Pandu, the reigning Emperor of the Kuru Dynasty. Pandu was unable to bear children and so Kunti relied on the divine Mantra gifted to her by the great Rushi (Sage) Durwas. In succession, she called on different representations of God for divine, Yog-based immaculate conception of three children:

  • Yudhi-Shthir or Dharma – For the Righteousness and the Law of God

  • Bhim – For the Power and Swiftness of God represented by the Divine Wind

  • Arjun – For the Protective Nature, Military Prowess and Bravery of God – represented by Indra, The Lord Protector of Heaven.

  • Kunti also gave the divine mantra to Pandu’s second wife Madri who bore twin sons, Nakul and Sahadev from the divine “Ashwins”.
Born due to Kunti’s divine Mantra, all five sons were called “Kaunteya”or literally sons of Kunti, while Kunti’s first son, Karna became known as “Radheya” or literally son of Radha, after the woman who raised him. Since the five “Kaunteya” were conceived while Kunti was the Wife and Queen of Emperor Pandu, they had the legal right to be called  “Pandav” (literally sons of Pandu) and therefore, inherited the royal right of succession and ownership of the Empire. Of course, Karna was simply the charioteer’s son and as such has no rights.

Pandu died and his elder, but blind brother Dhruta-Rashtra took over as Emperor. His eldest son, Suyo-Dhan became Crown Prince and the Pandav became royal cousins. The rivalry between the 100 sons of Dhruta-Rashtra led by Suyo-Dhan and the 5 Pandavs became the story of Maha-Bharat.

In those days, knowledge of great weapons was a closely held secret known to a few great Gurus and imparted by them to a select few students.  The elders of the Kuru Empire requested the great Drona-Acharya, the renowned Brahmin Guru, to teach the art and science of war to the royal sons of Dhruta-Rashtra and Pandu.

Karna approached Drona and requested Drona to accept him as a student. With his golden armor, golden ear-rings and handsome looks, the young Karna looked a splitting image of the halo of Sun. Yet, Drona rejected Karna calling him a charioteer’s son and hence unworthy of learning with the royal princes.

Drona was dazzled by the natural gifts of Arjun, the son of Indra. Drona promised Arjun that Drona would make him the greatest warrior on earth. Arjun and his elder brother Bhim, the son of the Divine Wind, dominated all and proved to be incomparable warriors. The 100 sons of Dhruta-Rashtra, led by the Crown Prince Suyo-Dhan, could not compete with Arjun and saw their future hopes dim.

Karna refused to accept his given status. He was determined to become a great warrior and learned the science of war by watching the education of the royal princes in secret. Watching the accolades heaped on Arjun, his resolve grew and so did his anger at the unfairness of life.

A few years later, the education of the royal princes was complete. A show was held in the royal amphitheater in which the royal princes demonstrated their skills. Arjun’s demonstration was a reflection of his divine heritage and the entire leadership of the Empire hailed him as the incomparable warrior on earth.

At that time, from the gate of the amphitheater, a great roar was heard. All eyes turned towards the door and they saw a young man, resplendent in golden body armor. As the Maha-Bharat describes him, Karna stood there “…with splendor, beauty and luster like the sun, the moon and fire, this youth was as tall as a golden palm tree and as robust as a lion;”

Young Karna walked in to the center and addressed Arjun “watch me perform your heroic deeds better than you”. Karna then proceeded to demonstrate his skills with the great weapons and proved himself to be as good as or better than Arjun. The crowd and leadership was stunned.

Then Karna stood in the center of the vast ring and challenged Arjun to a duel. Kunti, now the Queen-Mother, recognized the golden-armored young man as her first son.  In utter horror, Kunti watched her first son challenge her younger son to a duel. She fainted from the shock and lost consciousness.

This gave the elders of the Empire a chance to intervene. Kripa-Acharya, one of the elders, announced Arjun’s lineage and asked Karna to reveal his.

Karna had no answer and looked down in shame. Suyo-Dhan, the Crown Prince, saw in Karna a hand of destiny, a heaven-sent opportunity for their side to match the great prowess of Arjun. He stepped forward and argued that there were three ways to become a King; by birth, by being a champion or by leading an army.

The Crown Prince anointed Karna as the King of Anga (today’s south-eastern Bihar). Karna asked Suyo-Dhan what he could give the Crown Prince in return. Suyo-Dhan replied “Atyantam Sakhyam” or literally, Friendship For Ever.

Karna was not only a King now but he had been accepted as a friend and an equal by the Crown Prince of the Empire. This made Karna’s challenge to Arjun legitimate. As a young man of about twenty, Karna was well-matched against the fifteen-year old Arjun. The duel could have enabled Karna to kill Arjun, proclaim himself as the greatest warrior and change the course of world history.

Yet, at this precise moment of profound personal triumph for Karna, fate intervened.

Adi-Rath, the Charioteer and Karna’s legal father, entered the ring. Karna immediately greeted him with reverence and was embraced by Adi-Rath. This enabled Bhim, Arjun’s brother, to immediately mock Karna as a charioteer’s son and to declare that Karna had no right to challenge Arjun or to rule a kingdom.

In one historic moment, the entire leadership of the Kuru Empire branded Karna as a mere charioteer’s son. Suyo-Dhan, the Crown Prince, stepped forward again to compare Karna with other great figures in history with mixed provenance and questioned the lineage, the nature of the birth of the 5 Pandavs. He said of Karna “How could a doe give birth to this tiger who seems like the Sun and who, with his earrings and armor, is distinguished by divine symbols?”

However, the duel could not take place and Karna was denied his glory. But, a deep bond was sealed between Karna and Suyo-Dhan that repeatedly found expression in deep affection and loyalty. This friendship provided Suyo-Dhan and his brothers the ability to match Arjun and to compete with the Pandav cousins on an equal footing. This equality and the deep bond between Suyo-Dhana and Karna led the inexorable march to the final Maha-Bharat War and the ultimate destruction of an entire generation.

Karna, the son of the Divine Sun and the adopted son of a charioteer, had entered the world’s stage. Yet, this was just the beginning of what fate had in store for Karna.

The quotations and the descriptions from the Maha-Bharat are from “Maha-Bharat, Book Eight –  Karna,Volumes One and Two” by Adam Bowles, published by the New York University Press (http://www.nyupress.org) and the JJC Foundation. These books are a part of the Clay Sanskrit Library series featured on June 28 in our article The Greatest Publishing Project of Recent Years.

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