Karna: A popular myth busted

It so happened that before the time the Pandavas were incognito in the kingdom of Matsya, Indra asked Chitrasena – the king of the Gandharvas – to teach Arjuna song and dance in his own realm of Amaravati.

Shortly in the days before the exile, in a curious episode, Duryodhana and Karna got drunk and ventured into Dwaitavana – a rather beautiful lake forest. The 2 drunken warriors tried to enter the camp of Chitrasena who was camping there already before they came. Chitrasena, knowing who they were and being a comrade of both Arjuna and Indra, told them courteously to go away.

The two drunken warriors with their soldiers started to insult Chitrasena in foul language and this started a fight between them. Chitrasena was more powerful than most men on Earth at his time and ravaged most of the troops of the Kaurava prince. In addition, he assaulted Karna and Duryodhana personally at which point, Karna RAN AWAY into the forest, deserting his only (so-called) friend in life to face certain death all alone.

Some of the soldiers who escaped that tumultuous battle quickly realized that Yudhishtira was nearby and knew what an honourable man he was. They soon went to him and begged him to save Duryodhana. Most of the Pandavas were incensed by the request but Yudhishtira calmly told them – “It is Kshatriya dharma to give refuge to any and every person who seeks it of them – even if it be an enemy.” He then dispatched Arjuna to save Duryodhana. Arjuna heeded his elder brother and according to the code of a Kshatriya, rode out and stopped Chitrasena from killing his own enemy (Duryodhana).

Duryodhana was so ashamed and still inebriated that he ran around the forest searching for his traitor friend. Karna was found skulking under a rock, crying in fear. And when Duryodhana told him that the worst was over, Karna continued crying saying that “He was still scared about Chitrasena.” Duryodhana was so ashamed at this point – of being betrayed by his own friend and of being saved by his enemy that he almost committed suicide. Karna stopped him and then vowed that he himself wouldn’t touch alcohol or meat till the Pandavas were all killed. Karna never fulfilled the vow, getting himself killed on the 17th day of Kurukshetra. What is to be learned –

  1. Karna was never a true friend and that was only evident because Duryodhana never made him a king recognizing his qualities. He made him a king purely to piss of Arjuna. If this was not true, according to the likes of Amish Tripathi and other heretics, why then did Duryodhana not make Ekalavya a king instead of Karna when Ekalavya was a greater archer than even Karna? That was because Ekalavya knew his limits and knew that a forest dweller could not become a king overnight. He stayed within his limits and never even turned up for the archery fest. He had greater respect for an evil guru (Drona) than the guru himself had for him.
  2. The soldiers who begged Yudhishtira to save their master were more honourable than Karna ever was and yet no one remembers their names. Karna broke an oath he had sworn to Duryodhana earlier about being loyal to him unto death. All it took to make him break that oath and desert the one man he considered his friend was an angry Gandharva. Some friendship? Go figure!
  3. Duryodhana never valued Karna. While Duryodhana made Karna a king and is extolled for breaking the ‘caste system,’ what people forget is the circumstances under which he made Karna a king. The circumstance was that Arjuna did not want someone who was not royalty to participate in the archery fest – something that Bhishma, Drona and Kripacharya also agreed with, as the express aim of the fest was to bring out the strong prince and not the strongest commoner or strongest man in Hastinapura. However, Duryodhana sees an opportunity to gather yet another pawn against Arjuna and makes Karna a king. If Duryodhana wanted only talent and had no personal vendetta or agenda in making Karna a king, why then did he not make the Nishada Ekalavya King of Anga? Ekalavya was of an even lower estate than Karna and this would have been in line with the so-called breaking of the caste system.

Fact is that Duryodhana cared two hoots for caste as long as his agenda was fulfilled. The fact that he was able to portray his dubious agenda as a sort of caste-breaking was his evil genius. Nevertheless, that does not reduce the nature of the inherent vileness present in the act of making Karna a king. When Karna deserted Duryodhana to face Chitrasena all alone, Duryodhana later on never revoked Karna’s imperial privileges. Wouldn’t you at least reprimand a friend who deserts you – if you ever truly valued his/her friendship? Duryodhana does not even question Karna. He in fact seems to have expected nothing more than this from this duplicitous ‘friend.’

  1. Karna was the worst Kshatriya ever. People say that Karna was the Angraj who gave away everything in charity. They forget the fact that any charioteer’s boy who has recently and randomly risen to royalty status would do the same for such an ad-hoc king would not know who is worthy and unworthy of alms. Part of the same Kshatriya code of conduct is that the Kshatriya assesses who is worthy of what and who isn’t worthy of alms of any kind – coin or kingship. If Karna was such a charitable man, pray who and what stopped him from giving his life for Duryodhana in combat with Chitrasena as a charity?
  2. Karna was the monster Sahasrakavacha – a foul Asura who got a boon of having 1000 armours planted on his flesh and each armour can be undone only after 1000 years of constant combat with him. Using this near-invincible strength, this monster terrorized many worlds for eons. Vishnu assumed 2 forms – Nara and Narayana to alternately meditate and combat this Asura for 1000 years each (when Nara meditated, Narayana would combat, and vice-versa. Each form of Vishnu needed 1000 years to meditate to gain the necessary strength to beat Sahasrakavacha in their respective forms of Nara and Narayana.). When the 999th armour was destroyed, Sahasrakavacha begged Surya to make him a human and save him temporarily. This human was Karna. The armour he wore at birth was the last remnant of the Asuric armour donned by the erstwhile cosmic monster Sahasrakavacha during his stellar cosmic battle with Vishnu. Krishna therefore comes to facilitate his slaying. Sahasrakavacha was not alone – his benefactors and friends were the evil forces Kali and another force only identified by its timeline of occurrence – Dwapara. Kali and Dwapara were respectively Duryodhana and Shakuni who karmically aid Sahasrakavacha and he aids them. Faced off against them is Krishna who alone can overcome them as he alone knows who these beings are.

Modern historians don’t accept Karma as a ‘scientifically’ provable concept and therefore, Karna, Duryodhana and Shakuni are normal humans to them. They also consider Krishna a normal human – something popular among the so-called ‘atheist’ Hindus. The point remains immutable – evil cannot be justified no matter how twisted a logic you might have.

  1. Arjuna and Yudhishtira had a level of honour unmatched by anyone of their or even our own age. They actually saved their mortal enemy and worst nemesis when by modern standards, they could have let him get killed. Krishna himself does nothing to stop them from helping Kali (the slaying of whom was Krishna’s self-ordained destiny) as Krishna knew that at no point should the Kshatriya Dharma be broken even if it meant Sahasrakavacha and Kali getting killed in the process. In other words – God himself is bound by his own laws for he chooses thusly.
  2. At no point was Karna even a moderately good person. Knowing that he was the brother of the Pandavas did not stop him from killing Abhimanyu – the grandson of the same Kunti who had begged Karna to spare his kin. Karna although agrees to spare all the Pandavas except Arjuna, has no qualms about butchering a boy trapped in the battlefield. If we notice the men who typically participated in the slaughter of Abhimanyu, they are some of the worst men in existence – the likes of Dushshasana, Duryodhana, Ashwatthama, Shakuni, Jayadratha, Bhurisravas, etc. If Karna was really a white knight, what stopped him from staying away from the slaughter of Abhimanyu? Did not Yuyutsu despite being a Kaurava brother himself categorically refrain from participating in the war itself? Yuyutsu is more honourable than Karna and yet no one speaks Yuyutsu’s name. Karna was rather happily in such company and he adored these men for what they were. They in turn partly defined him for what he was.
  3. Duryodhana never heeded his own guru’s advice (Drona and Kripa) regarding Karna participating in an archery contest made for princes. Why would he? After all, the same Drona had made Ekalavya cut off his finger and had deprived him of excellence. Following in the footsteps of a duplicitous guru, Duryodhana did the other extreme of elevating a reincarnation of the Asura Sahasrakavacha (i.e. Karna) to the position of a King without even a mild background check. All this was done for the equal but opposite reason as to why Drona made Ekalavya cut off his finger – to piss off and anger Arjuna.
  4. When a guru does a grave sin with an aspiring shishya, his other shishyas will pay him back in the same coin. As Drona had sinned against Ekalavya, he quite rightly got Duryodhana as a shishya who figuratively spat on his face while letting Karna participate in the archery fest and making him a king. Drona would pay back for his karma by having to fight on Duryodhana’s side and watching his students butcher each other. The worst for Drona was that his own son was one of the worst men of his time – Ashwatthama was a hot-headed vile brute who knew only one way to solve any problem – by killing the people who according to him were causing it. He even murdered a baby just to vent out his wrath.
  5. Who then is a true Kshatriya and what is such an example? The answer – Rama. While modern princes would take refuge from any royalty even when they themselves are in exile, Rama refused any vassal kingdom’s hospitality stating that being a Kshatriya, it is his duty to give to the worthy and never take from the worthy. A Kshatriya also gives only to the deserving. Rama makes Hanuman a messenger and retains him as one, for Hanuman makes the best messenger. He makes Sugreeva King not without allowing Vali to beat the living pulp out of him first (a tale into whose details I won’t go). He does not allow Sugreeva to take Vali’s wife in revenge. He also ensures that every Vanara in the army has only the position he best deserves without undue favoritism.
  6. What is an ideal friendship then? The answer – That of Rama and Hanuman. Here is a friendship of boundless love and zero expectation. A friend who constantly puts himself in harm’s way for the other and in return refuses every honour, wealth and title offered to him purely because he values that friendship above all else, and singing the praises of his friend through the remainder of earthly time alone is reward in itself. This friendship however is a topic for another day.

(This article originally appeared as a post on Facebook)

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About the Author

Aashrai Arun Shrivaths
I am a Hindu