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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Karna’s final moments - Maha Bharatha Series 48



The latter part of Book 8 is full of details about Karna’s feats in the battle. The descriptions are monotonous and fill several pages. Hidden between those descriptions are a few episodes and interesting conversations.

In one of them, Aswatthaman is advising Duryodhana to make peace with the Pandavas. He says that there are four ways of making friends: natural, those made by conciliation, those made by wealth and those made through the use of power.

Later, when the wheel of Karna’s car is stuck in the mud (through a curse on Karna), he asks Arjuna to give him time to get the car un-stuck and appeals to Arjuna’s virtues. He points out to Arjuna how it is not virtuous to kill an enemy who is at a disadvantage. The reply comes to Karna from Krishna, and not Arjuna. Krishna asks Karna how is it that he (Karna) did not remember what virtue is at so many times in the past. “How did you not remember that virtue when you insulted Draupadi in public? How did you not remember virtue when the kingdom was snatched away from the Pandavas by deceit?”

One other point that caught my attention in this chapter is the details of flags carried by each warrior. Arjuna’s flag has Hanuman as the emblem. Krishna’s (Vishnu’s) is Garuda.

The last portion of Karna Parva (Book 8) calls Vishnu, Agni, Vayu, Soma and Surya as sacrifices (Yagna). The idea that the sacrificer is the sacrifice and that even Prajapati was sacrificed in Yagna is given in the Satapata Brahmana. The sage Vyasa gives all the benefits one acquires by reading or listening to this Section with description of Yagnas.

The importance given to pilgrimage and listening to puranas (epics) seems to have come about because most ordinary folks could not perform Sacrifices (yagna or yaga). Some of them required to be performed over several years, and required enormous wealth to be given as gifts (dana) and sacrifice of scores of animals. Only kings could perform those yagnas. The kings, who were ksahtriyas needed the brahmins to officiate. Women and those of Vysya and Sudra castes were not entitled to perform these. In order to help those who were excluded, it is said that our ancestors established several other methods for acquiring virtues (punya). They include pilgrimage and listening to epics (purana).

And, so it is that Ramayana and Mahabharatha came into being. In the process, Valmiki and Vyasa made esoteric philosophies accessible and practical for the masses.

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