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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Identity of Karna revealed - Maha Bharatha series 36

I request interested readers  to go to Book 5 of Maha Bharata and read sections 137 to 152. (In the Sanskrit version, these sections are different) It is story-telling at its best. Besides, the discussions are full of noble thoughts expressed in such beautiful words millennia back by Sage Vyasa.

The conversations between Karna and Kunti, Krishna and Karna and Krishna and Kunti are poignant and bring about subtleties of ethics and morals. No wonder these ideals have permeated the consciousness of those of us who were fortunate enough to have been born in India even without our knowing.

This is one area which confirms my bias that our traditional story tellers (Bhagavatars) do not teach us what they should be teaching. I wish they will spend at least an hour going into the details of these three conversations.

We already saw some of the thoughts expressed by Kunti to Krishna as a message to her sons. At the end of Chapter (138) there is a sentence which states that Karna and Krishna were alone in Krishna’s chariot for a long time before Krishna left. I wondered what it was about. In a masterly style, that mystery is clarified after another chapter or two.

This was what transpired between Krishna and Karna. Krishna tells Karna that he is indeed the son of Kunti, and therefore the elder brother of the Pandavas. Krishna asks Karna to join his natural brothers not only because they are indeed his brothers but also because they were on the right side in morals and values. Krishna points out that if he (Karna) joins the Pandavas, it is certain that Yudhishtra will stand aside after victory in the war and insist on Karna becoming the king, as the eldest of the brothers.

The words of Karna are amazing when he tells Krishna why he cannot do that! How many of us will have the courage to follow this kind of reasoning in the modern world and follow up with action? Even God, in the form of Krishna could not change Karna’s mind. Even blood relationship and the assurance of a kingdom could not change his mind. He said: “I know you wish well for me. I realize that morally I am Kunti’s son by Surya and belong to the Pandu’s family. But my mother left when I was so little and helpless without concern for my welfare. Radha and Adiratha raised me like their own son. They performed all my ceremonies and even my wife was selected by my father. All my love and affection are bound to them. I performed all ceremonies with the suta clan. I belong to them. I cannot leave them and become a Pandava for any reason whatsoever. Heaps of gold and the entire earth cannot move me. Besides, I have lived well under the protection of Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra for 13 years. How can I now turn my back on them? Duryodhana depends on me to fight against Arjuna. I cannot let him down and besides I would rather die in battle”.

Then comes the beautiful part. Karna requests Krishna not to tell anyone that he is the son of Kunti and therefore, a brother of the Pandavas. His reason: “ If Pandavas win and if king Yudhishthira, comes to know me as the firstborn son of Kunti, he will never accept the kingdom. If this empire comes to me, I will certainly give it over to Duryodhana. Let the virtuous Yudhishthira  become king forever”. Is this  what is meant by being loyal to one from whose hands we ate – in colloquial words “the hand that gave salt”?

Then, Karna gives a preview of the war and outcome. It is described as if it was a great homa or a sacrifice in which all the Kauravas and Pandavas and their supporters play a part. In this description we find the names of the priests (such as advaryu, hotr etc) who perform several functions.

Karna tells Krishna: “I truly repent for the harsh words I used against the Pandavas. Therefore, you will rather see them win. Oh, Krishna you have already ordained that the entire Kshatriya race will perish so that they can go to heaven. Let it happen in Kurukshetra. The fame of these heroes will last forever and people will recite the story of the great war of Bharatha”.  

Karna’s last sentence is “Please bring Arjuna before me for battle and keep our discussion a secret”. 

Later when Kunti decides, on her own (not knowing that Krishna has already told Karna who his mother is)  that she will tell Karna about her impetuosity as a youth and getting him as a son through Surya. She thought that this will bring Karna to change his mind. She indeed tells him. Surya also comes and tells Karna that this is true. But, Karna is not moved.

Karna says: “I respect you as my mother. I am obliged to listen to you.  But why did you abandon me when I was so young? By that act, I lost my status as a Kshatriya. When you should have taken care of my welfare you did not. Why are you doing this now? May be, it is for your own benefit? If I go to Pandavas, people may say that I am afraid. If just before the battle I claim to be a Pandava and change sides what will Kshatriyas think of me? Kauravas have been supportive of me. They depend upon me to win the battle. How can I leave them at this time having been under their protection for so long? I will have to fight for Duryodhana now and I cannot obey your commands. I will fight with your sons but will not slay anyone other than Arjuna. You will still have 5 sons, either with me or without me".

Kunti says: “The Kauravas will be eliminated and no one can prevent destiny. But you have pledged safety to four of your brothers. Remember that when you are shooting your arrows” and blesses him.

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