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Karna

The word Mrityunjay is a sandhi (sun-dhee) as I would say in Marathi. A sandhi is formed by the combination of two words, which in this case are ‘Mriytu’ and ‘Jay’; and its meaning is the sum of the two. Mrityunjay means ‘victory over death’ or as I relate to it: “victorious through a fatal defeat”. The one who is accorded this honor is my favorite character from the Mahabharata – Karna, also known as Daanveer Karna, Shoorveer Karna, Radheya, and alas from what he really was – Kuntiputra Karna.

I came to know him from author Shivaji Sawant’s adaptation of the epic Mahabharatha from Karna’s perspective. His novel was the first to call him by the name Mrityunjay. This was also the first Marathi novel I read. I read it during my summer holidays in 8th standard and as I remember I couldn’t put the book off till I had read it whole (a habit I have retained ever since).

I can recite each and every incident described in the book over here, but I think I will choose some which are my favorite. But first, let’s just get some background for the uninitiated on Karna.

The eldest of Kunti’s sons, he never was treated as one all his life. He was born when Kunti, still only a girl and an unmarried princess, childishly tried to see for herself if the blessing she was given by Maharishi Durvasa was for real. Immensely satisfied from Kunti’s reverence, Durvasa had blessed her with a mantra using which she could summon any God and bear his son.

She tried it on the Sun God the first. I picture it as Kunti standing in the courtyard of a huge palace one late afternoon, musing about the mantra Durvasa has given her. She looks at the setting sun and in that impulse decides to summon the Sun himself. When she recites the mantra, she sees a huge ball of light coming towards her from the sun and then she goes unconscious. When she wakes up, it dawns on her that a part of the sun is inside her.

Karna was born thus, by keeping Kunti’s condition secret from everyone in the Kingdom. He was left in a basket on a river and he floated down to the parents who brought him up – King Dhritarashtra’s charioteer, Adhiratha, a sutra, and his wife Radha. It was a time when children were known by their mother’s name, and so Karna got his name Radheya. Karna thus grew up as a charioteer’s son. But as is wide knowledge, Surya had endowed him with Gold armory and earrings (more like earlobes) which were part of his skin and so it could not be kept from him that he was not Adhiratha and Radha’s biological son.

He had a natural inclination to be a warrior and so assiduously searched for a Guru. Not being a Kshatriya, in spite of being more than one, he was denied any such teachings. He eventually sought Parshuram and learned the art of war from him. Even though he was regarded a sutra all his life, based on pure ability, in the end, he still became a King. He was the King of Anga.

The second picture I want to paint for you is when Karna met his wife, Vrushali, as beautiful as the name is. One early morning, Karna was on his way to the river that flowed through the kingdom of Hastinapur. As was his wont, he offered his prayers to Suryadeva every morning, defying the river’s flow, by standing in the middle of its breadth. He never noticed in his prayers that another girl came to bathe in the river water everyday and to gather water in her pots.

It had rained continuously for three consecutive days and the river was flowing in strong currents. It was raining even on that morning, but both, unfazed, continued their daily rituals. It was then that Vrushali, while filling her pots, lost her balance and was caught in the river’s flow. Her screams finally grabbed Karna’s attention and he rushed to her help. Vrushali was clinging on to a huge stone for her dear life when Karna helped her out of the predicament. Exhausted by the effort, and breathless by the near brush of death she lay in Karna’s arms as he hauled her against the river’s flow. It was then that he noticed her and fell in love. Vrushali was the only one he remained married to all his life.

In another incident, at the brink of the ‘War of Kurukshetra’, Shri Krishna comes to meet Karna to reveal him his true identity, that he is a Kaunteya and not a Radheya. Shri Krishna comes to Karna’s palace one evening and asks him to go for a walk. The mild evening sun had sprayed the earth in his own color, of pale golden yellow. As they talked, the sky slowly forced its inky purple on the horizon.

Krishna wants Karna to come to the aid of his true siblings (the Kaunteyas) and join them in their war for dharma. Karna knows that with Shri Krishna and the truth on their side, victory of the Pandavas is certain. But he cannot betray Duryodhan, the only friend he ever had, one who saw him for his abilities and not for his heritage. He foregoes all the glory he could have had by joining as the eldest among the Pandavas, replacing Yudhishtir as the crown prince. He could have finally been revealed as a true Kshatriya after being scorned at whole of his life, first as a charioteer and then as a false King. He did all that for loyalty towards friendship. He chose, to set in stead.

There are many more incidents which come to mind, but now I am partly tired of writing and partly sleepy (for it is a Saturday ‘leisure-sleep’ afternoon). So I am going to stop right here. Karna’s life for me has epitomized that the path of righteousness is not always easy and one has to stand many tests throughout its course. It has taught me that life has many apparent defeats and failures but one should never stray from righteousness. Always aspire to be the best in your actions and qualities, and be generous with your givings. This and a lot more.

Everyone has a childhood hero, for me its Karna.

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5 Comments

  1. Did you say long post?? If it was, I didn’t realise the length. It made for gripping reading. I wish I could capture the essence of our epics so beautifully!
    Btw, who’s your Hero No. 2? 🙂

  2. So finally commenting.. 🙂
    Very nice post. Karna is one of the ignored Heroes, I suppose. I, Somehow, find him a better man than Pandavas who were more of egoistic snobs than any hero 🙂
    You captured Karna’s essence beautifully

  3. Thank you ladies… 🙂

  4. Podra decirse que no estoy completamente deacuerdo con la manera de comentarlo,
    sin embargo si estoy deacuerdo el contenido en s.S2

  5. very nice post. I am really happy to read this post. Atlast Karna my lord deserves love and respect of his true fans.


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