Karna – the very name pricks up the ears of many and pierces their hearts at one once like a powerful arrow.
Despite being gifted with a natural armour, Karna was not exempted from experiencing the pain of repeated injustice. Therefore, people who idolize him and deem him their greatest hero are left distraught by his life story.
An overwhelming majority of people feel indignant and are moved by the very thought of Karna. Who is Karna? The one who tried his best to defend his position by supporting the evil-minded Duryodhana, and mired in his own plight, persecuted not just the Pandavas but also his own mother Kunti, and even the master orchestrator of the Mahabharata, Lord Sri Krishna.
Many, in fact, are willing to tilt the scale of sympathy towards Karna insted of Draupadi.
Karna's woes during her marriage ceremony are perceived as more agonizing than Draupadi's humiliation in the public assembly. They are of the firm opinion the Draupadi owed this dishonour to her own decision of not allowing Karna to partake in her Svayamvara, by stating that she wouldn't marry a Suta, and thereby denying him a chance to exhibit his valour.
She made him give up his astra (weapons), and this very act set law of LKarna in motion, forcing Draupadi to abandon all her vastra (clothes).
Karna's admirers advocate that universally, no woman should suffer what Draupadi did, but Draupadi deserved it. According to them, she needed to endure the very pain she had administered to the oppressed Karna – the lesson of public humiliation. Sounds logical, doesn't it?
His believers also question the ill treatment meted out to him throughout his life, the opportunities denied to and snatched away from him, and the foul means that were eventually used to kill him.
It is very interesting to note that sometimes, in the plot of a storybook or a movie, the protagonist's heroism is forgotten and the audience empathizes with the villain. The hero kills the villain, but instead of clapping their hands proudly or sighing in contentment for the hero's victory, the audience bursts into tears for the slayed villaian.
This is exactly what happened in the Mahabharata. When the celestial being gathered to watch the duel between Arjuna and Karna, they showered flowerpetals over Karna instead of Arjuna, just as Karna's life was setting.
Srila Vyasadeva, a very neutral personality and the compiler of the Mahabharata, compared the fall of Karna to the fall of the great Kalpa vriksha tree. Kalpa vriksha is a desire-yielding capacity for charity was like the bounty of the wish-fulfilling tree, so that Karna's fall resembled the fall of the mighty tree.
Shalya, Karna's charioteer, caused Karna great pain when she gave up his responsibility as the charioteer – Karna ignored Shalya's advice of aiming the Nagastra at Arjuna's chest instead neck, to which Shalya took offence – just hours before Karna was to receive the final blow of injustice and meet his death at the hands of Arjuna.
Despite being his adversary, even Shalya was deeply moved by Karna's demise. So it is natural for a bystander to be affected by the saga of Karna's life. Many generations of followers of Karna have stood the test of time to defend and protect the position of Karna, irrespective of whether he was right or wrong.
Certain incidents, such as the attempt to burn the Pandavas, quietly allowing the agambling match to take place, insistently labelling Draupadi a prostitute and, of course, the cowardly backstabbing of Abhimanyu, thus causing his death are some of the episodes in the great epic that have showcased the cruelty of Karna but have been relegated to the background.
Karna's followers have always remained loyal to him, by aggressively defending, silently approving, expressing helplessness over his seemingly cruel behabiour, and turning a blind eye to everything before setting him on a pedestal of greatness. Where does one find such loyalty? It is indeed incredible. However, we must understand that this loyalty comes from their heart's perspective.
One must ask oneself – do we possess the ability to use our intelligence and analyse the Mahabharaa from a historical and psychological perspective, as done by the most impartial person, it very compiler, Srila Vyasadeva?
Srila Vyasadeva simply narrates everything as it happened, without prejudice, like a CCTY camera. Unlike, today's some media that is partial, selfish and manipulative, making the audience believe the channel's representation of truth and clouding the viewers' judgement, Srila Vyasadeva is purely stating that which had happened without colouring it with his opinion.
Teh Mahabharata wants us to grow, which is why it requires complete honesty to record so many apparently contradictory honesty to record so many apparently contradictory incidents and realities of life as they were. Therefore, it has all shades of stories, ranging from the time when Vishvamitra goes against the prescribed dharma and is willing to consume dog meat, along with his family and disciples, in order to survive a famine, to Vyasadeva the courage to call Karna a Kalpa vriksha, the desire tree, and making no bones about the fact that Yudhisthia was partial to the vice of gambling. Srila Vyasadeva even narrated the story of his own controversial birth, not because he is shameless, but because he is transparent. He is frank and unprejejudiced, and understands the importance of an unbiased compilation. That's why he is indeed considered to be an incarnation of Lord Narayana.
This book is an attempt to study the events in Karna's life in order to grasp the complete picture, not an isolated or exclusive picture, rather an integrated and all-inclusive discover the truth, and to analyse and compare the social politics prevalent then and now.
I request readers to curb their emotions and seal their hearts, to widen the horizons of their minds, to open the doors of intelligence and be thorough analytical investigators.
It is said that the sensory faculty – the five sense organs along with thought or mind – has different functions to perform. Senses are meant to perceive, the mind is to absorb, and the ego gives rise to identification. Heartfelt awareness is generally biased and deluded by emotions, only intellectual perception is impartial and accurate. When the functions of the senses are misplaced, adharma taken and everything become incoherent and illogical.
I am inviting the readers to impartially examine the events of the Mahabharata. Do broaden your vision and using all the resources that nature has provided, come to the right conclusion by deciding for yourself, not just emotionally.
It is adharma to judge by one's heart and ignore the mind when coming to a conclusion.
Are you ready to jump back in time and observe the incidents in Karna's life as they were – and not an edited or enhanced version?
I would also like to mention that being human, the stories are bound to affect me.
I may make certain observations of my own, but I assure you that these observations will only be based on the facts presented by Srila Vyasadeva in his Mahabharata. Nothing will be fabricated or imaginary.
In the introduction to the Mahabharata, Srila Vyasadeva uses analogies to present his viewpoint. Duryodhana is compared to a bitter tree full of anger, Karna to the trunk of the tree, Shakuni to the branch of the tree, Dushyasana to its abundant flowers and fruits, and Dhritharasthra - the culprit and the unenlightened one - to the roots of the tree.
On the other hand, Srila Vyasadeva describes Maharaja Yudhishthira as 'dharmaraja' - the just king.
Maharaja Yudhishthira is compared to a dharma tree with Arjuna as its trunk, Bhima as the branches, Nakul and Sahadeva as its unlimited fruits and flowers, and Lord Sri Krishna - the enlightened and the knowledgeable one - as the root of the tree.
In the Mahabharata, Shalya describes Karna's valour during the final battle between Arjuna and Karna - 'Karna was like the desire tree and fulfilled the wishes of anyone who made any demand, just like birds seeking shelter from a tree. Karna always gave regardless of the consequences'.
Then why is Karna, in the introduction to the great epic, referred to as the trunk of a bitter tree full of anger or the adharma tree? This brings us to the question of what constitutes righteous conduct?
The Mahabharata deals with the following four principles:
(a) Excellence [Skills]
This quality can be spotted effortlessly. One can easily tell the difference between a great and an average public speaker, or a good and a mediocre tabla (musical instrument) player. Of course, if the comparison is between two people having nearly the same extent of skill, it will be difficult to determine
(b) Morality [Values]
This quality, too, is easy to perceive. Values accepted in certain groups, society and culture. Abiding by certain rules and adhering to moral obligations like maintaining a dress code, following traffic lights in the absence of a policeman, being punctual, assisting someone in need, and so on, are the palpable virtuous aspects of a person's behaviour that are appreciated by others
It is not easy to gauge the character of a person based only on brief interaction. It can only be recognized by observing the person carefully for a length of time. Honesty, sensitivity to the needs of other people and humility are attributes that show strength of character. The society, at large, benefits from people with depth of character.
This one is most difficult to ascertain. What is the purpose of all of the above? Understanding the purpose draws a clear picture and gives life some meaning. So, how are we to understand this larger picture? It is a little difficult, but not confusing. For e.g., wires inside a computer appear convoluted and complicated to us since most of us don't possess the knowledge. However, for those who do know, every wire has a specific purpose and they are aware of its relative functions. Similarly, life is like these clusters of wires; it can only be understood with the right knowledge. The science of dharma brings us closer to recognizing and understanding this life and its purpose.
Being the author, rishi and a neutral observer, Srila Vyasadeva writes about the purpose of the Mahabharata, in the beginning of the book. The aim of the Mahabharata is to describe: (a) the greatness of Lord Sri Krishna, (b) Gandhari's dharma and character, (c) the family of the Kurus, (d) the truthfulness of the Pandavas, (e) Vidura's progressive thinking, (f) Kunti's steadiness and determination, (g) the evil behaviour of the Kauravas.
Some characters in the Mahabharata clearly represent evil. We do not see anyone argue in favour of Dushyasana. The only brownie points he earned were for his birth in a royal family, but otherwise, his skills, values, morals and character were less than appealing and obnoxious. He fails to attract any sympathy or respect because of his lack of morality and corrupt nature.
On the other hand, there was nothing bad to be written about Vidura. He was a skilled minister, provided appropriate advice, and was adept in the art of dealing with conspiracies plotted by the enemies. He was very shrewd in the use of strategy and saved the Pandavas from death in Varnavata - Duryodhana devised a wicked plan to burn the Pandavas alive in an
inflammable palace, but when Vidura came to know about this horrific plan, he alerted Yudhishthira and ordered a miner to dig an escape tunnel from under the house that led to a dense forest. His values and morals were just and righteous, his character impeccable. He did not utilize his physical strength but made use of his strategic mind He represents complete purity.
Bhishmadeva, a self-sacrificing, noble and selfless personality, invokes everyone's sympathy. Even though some of his actions are questionable, they aren't bad enough to elicit anger in people.
Maharaja Yudhishthira's actions are also questionable: his fascination for gambling cost him and his brothers everything, and if that wasn't enough, Yudhishthira even put Draupadi at stake; when Dushyasana dragged Draupadi to the assembly, humiliating her, Yudhishthira didn't even put up a fight for his wife. But with the exception of these few events, Maharaja Yudhishthira's character is like a calm and clear river. It invokes serenity of the mind.
Nevertheless, Srila Vyasadeva has grouped Karna with four evil-minded people in the Mahabharata - Dustha Cathusthaya, Duryodhana, Dushyasana and Shakuni. Karna evokes powerful emotions among various kinds of people, including today's contemporary authors and traditional, old-fashioned writers. The writers and the general populace have glorified him as the greatest archer, labelled him as a loyal friend, and respected him for his generosity - even at the cost of his life,
Karna granted everyone their wishes, stayed true to his word and stuck to his principle of never letting anyone return anyone rempty-handed. When Lord Indra disguised himself as a brahmana to ask for alms, Karna gave away his life-saving armour, despite knowing the fact that he was Lord Indra and not a brahmana. Non only does he receive glory and sympathy, but also relentless support from his folowers when he is condemned by anyone who sides with his enemy or praises Arjuna. Along with Arjuna and his followers, even Karna's mother Kunti and Lord Sri Krishna – lord of all worlds and the savious of Mother Earth – receive the wrath of Karna's believers!
Let us, for the sake of intellectual and historical perspective, strip ourselves of our opinions and look for the truth. Does Karna deserve the sympathy while his foes are subjected to curses and hatred?
Srila Vyasadeva's commentary will be a part of the later chapters, namely – Caste and Injustice, Charity and Cheating, Character and Courtesy, Heroism and Strategy, Loyaly and Cowardice, Death and Freedom, and Karna and Dharma. We will also conclude with an overview of Karna's life, straight from the Mahabharata of Sage Vyasa.
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