Karna – Mahabharatha’s Dark Horse

The sutaputra in Mahabharata is probably the most fascinating character in the epic. Son of Kunti and the sun god, Karna also happens to be a controversial character and the center of many debates as well as discussions. Has anyone ever wondered, what would have happened, if Draupadi had followed her heart instead of listening to the elders? If the Panchala princess had let Karna participate in her Swayambara instead of humiliating him for being a sutaputra then Karna would have won the challenge and Draupadi would have become the queen of Anga instead of Hastinapur.

Two events determined the turn of events all those years ago – Karna’s humiliation at the hands of Draupadi in her Swayambara and Draupadi’s vastra haran at the hands of Duryodhana in the court of Hastinapur. If all those years ago Draupadi had followed her heart and married Karna instead of Arjuna then Karna would not have nursed the bitterness in him that led to providing encouragement to Duryodhana into humiliating Draupadi in public. The war amongst the Kuru cousins at Kurukshetra could have been avoided. A thousand lives could have been saved!

Fortune has been very unkind to Karna. He was abandoned by his mother, Kunti because he was born out of marriage and was later brought up by his sutaputra parents, Adhiratha and Radha. In his quest for becoming the best archer in the world, he had initially gone to Guru Dronacharya who refused to take him in because he was of low birth, the same reason for which he was not allowed to participate in Draupadi’s Swayambara. Ironically, Ashwatthama, Dronacharya’s son became Karna’s best friend and Uruvi, the Princess of Pukeya chose Karna as her husband over Arjuna in her Swayambara.

Further, in his most important battle against the Pandavas, he lost to Arjuna only because he was a cursed man throughout his life. His guru Parashurama had cursed him that he would forget all that was taught to him in his most important battle. Also the goddess of earth had cursed him that in his most important battle, the wheels of his chariot will fall apart. And that is exactly what happened in his final face off with Arjuna.

Arjuna and his charioteer confront Karna.

Karna was a good man but with misplaced loyalty. There is more to him than this. What about the son he lost in the scuffle that followed Draupadi’s swayamvara? What about the humiliation that he faced at every step? He was cursed because he had lied about his lineage but it is not taken into account that he himself wasn’t aware of his own lineage. His loyalty was misplaced because it was Duryodhana who had stood by him and given him the kingdom of Anga instead of the morally correct Pandavas who only revelled in humiliating him. He was abandoned when he was a child, a Kshatriya of celestial birth, Karna has been wronged at every step. Not all heroes are morally correct. Mahabharata is not all about how Arjuna was the hero and Krishna was his adviser. Mahabharata sheds light on how Karna, wronged at every step, is more human than any other character- the world is not divided into only black and white. It has different shades of black, white and grey and Karna is one big example.

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