Karna

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Radheya, (the son of Radha) stood on the river bank. It was time for the morning ablutions. Time to offer water to Surya. (The Sun).

He stood tall, radiant and proud. Shining brilliantly like the Sun above him. Conscious of his strength, his powerful arms and body and his dazzling good looks. It was good to be Vasusena (one born with wealth : his natural armour and ear-rings) that morning. He had still not acquired the name Karna (the cutter : of his natural armor).

He came home to his mother Radha. His joy in himself clearly reflected in her loving, admiring, proud eyes. “My darling son,” she said, setting about getting him something to eat, “what’s all the excitement about?”.

“I am going to win”, he said. “I am like the Sun himself in brilliance, No one is a better archer than me”. “My blessings are with you my dear Radheya” she said. “Win, and make me proud of you. But is there a competition?”

“There is an exhibition in which the Kuru princes are going to display their proficiency to the king. Everybody is going there. I will go and display my prowess there”, he said.

Radha’s face creased with worry. She remembered the day, her husband Adiratha had found their son, with his natural armor, ear-rings and radiance and the joy he had brought them.

She remembered, how the Kuru teacher, Drona, rejected him for not being a Kshatriya. She remembered the day he returned home cursed by his Guru, Parasurama.

Vasusena had pretended that he was a Brahman, but Parasurama had divined that he was a Kshatriya in reality.

Why was this child, so bent on acquiring mastery of archery? And then, so bent on proving himself the best? He was probably a Kshatriya or even a Half-Celestial by the looks of him. Why could he not be content with driving a chariot like Adhiratha? Sutas (Charioteers) are also half kshatriyas, (born of Brahman mothers). But they are content with chariot reins. Then she thought again. “Why should my darling son, not have a fair chance? Just because I brought him up? Why did his Kshatryia mother abandon him? The Kshatriyas abandoned him at birth, probably an illicit affair. His Celestial father, Surya himself, more likely than not, is content to let him be raised by Sutas. Why? And this child is so keen to take on the Kshatriyas, to prove himself better than them. He has accurate suspicions about his real parentage, just as we all do. And he is not content to belong with the Sutas and to do Suta work. Had he been her natural son, would he have reconciled himself to his caste?

Radha sighed. Directly after her son left for the exhibition, she sent someone to look for Adhiratha and sent the father after the son…..

…. “When the exhibition had well-nigh ended, the excitement of the spectators had cooled, and the sounds of instruments had died out there was heard proceeding from the gate, the slapping of arms, betokening might and strength, and even like unto the roar of the thunder. And, O king, as soon as this sound was heard, the assembled multitude instantly thought, ‘Are the mountains splitting or is the earth itself rending asunder, or is the welkin resounding with the roar of gathering clouds? And then all the spectators turned their eyes towards the gate”….the MahaBharata

Vasusena made a spectacular entrance at the exhibition. He performed all the amazing feats of Arjuna, the best Kuru archer. Duryodhana was delighted. He hated his Pandava cousins and considered himself a match for Bhima anyday. But he always feared that no one would be a match for Arjuna. In the inevitable conflict for the throne of Hasthinapura, he wanted a supreme archer on his side. He embraced Vasusena and offered him whatever he wanted. Vasusena only wanted a single combat with Arjuna.

Arjuna angrily readied himself for combat. Vasusena took up his bow and arrows. The celestials Indra and Surya, the fathers of Arjuna and Vasusena viewed the arena from the sky blessing their own sons. Kunthi viewed both her sons, each one ready to slay the other in battle and swooned. When she was revived with sandal-paste and water, she maintained a terror-stricken silence.

Then the Kuru teacher, Kripa introduced Arjuna, as a Kuru prince, a Pandava, (son of Pandu) and the youngest son of Kunthi and he asked Karna to state his lineage. For the law of the land was that only equals could fight.

Karna’s handsome face lost its radiant pride. Lineage mattered. And though the son of the Sun and the eldest son of Kunthi, guessed his lineage he could not lay claim to it.

Kunthi did not speak. Did she hold her honor above the honor of her first born son? Or did she see only shame for both of them in such a disclosure? Did she value honor over love for her son? Who knows why? As an innocent maiden she had no courage to acknowledge her son – she cast him into the river in a basket. As the celebrated mother of five powerful, obedient men, themselves half-celestials – she still thought it fit to keep quiet. Even when her eldest and youngest sons stood there preparing for single combat.

It was Duryodhana who spoke.

…………Duryodhana said, ‘O preceptor, verily the scriptures have it that three classes of persons can lay claim to royalty, viz., persons of the blood royal, heroes, and lastly, those that lead armies. If Phalguna (Arjuna) is unwilling to fight with one who is not a king, I will install Karna as king of Anga’ .….Mahabharata

And that he did.

Karna turned to him with gratitude. “What can I do for you in exchange?” he asked. Suyodhana said “Be my friend”. And they embraced each other in joy, and experienced great happiness.

At this point in the story a joyful Adiratha ran forward, and hugged Karna with tears of love. Seeing the charioteer, the Pandava Bhima took Karna for a charioteer’s son, and derided him as unfit for Anga, for a single combat with Arjuna and fit only to hold a charioteer’s whip in his hands.

The great, radiant, hero Karna paled at these words. With slightly quivering lips he looked at the Sun. The Sun, his Celestial father, who could cover him with glory would not speak, and the Suta, his low-caste father who spoke inopportunely.

Then like an angered elephant the powerful Duryodhana spoke again and chided Bhima.

……..”Might is the cardinal virtue of a Kshatriya, and even a Kshatriya of inferior birth deserveth to be fought with. The lineage of heroes, like the sources of a lordly river, is ever unknown. The fire that covereth the whole world riseth from the waters. The thunder that slayeth the Danavas was made of a bone of (a mortal named) Dadhichi. The illustrious deity Guha, who combines in his composition the portions of all the other deities is of a lineage unknown. Some call him the offspring of Agni; some, of Krittika, some, of Rudra, and some of Ganga. It hath been heard by us that persons born in the Kashatriya order have become Brahmanas. Viswamitra and others (born Kshatriyas) have obtained the eternal Brahma. The foremost of all wielders of weapons, the preceptor Drona hath been born in a waterpot and Kripa of the race of Gotama hath sprung from a clump of heath. Your own births, ye Pandava princes, are known to me. Can a she-deer bring forth a tiger (like Karna), of the splendour of the Sun, and endued with every auspicious mark, and born also with a natural mail and ear-rings? This prince among men deserveth the sovereignty of the world, not of Anga only, in consequence of the might of his arm and my swearing to obey him in everything. If there be anybody here to whom all that I have done unto Karna hath become intolerable, let him ascend his chariot and bend his bow with the help of his feet.”…..Mahabharata

At that time the Sun set, and the debate ended. Kunti was relieved and happy to see her son crowned the king of Anga.

…..“And Duryodhana, O monarch, having obtained Karna (in this way), banished his fears arising out of Arjuna’s proficiency in arms. And the heroic Karna, accomplished in arms, began to gratify Duryodhana by sweet speeches”…..Mahabharata

……
Radheya excitedly talked to his mother. “Mother, I am a king now. Why don’t you look excited? Aren’t you proud of me?”.

Radha spoke carefully to her son. “Sweet Child, we are not one of them. Friendship with superiors brings no good result. And Duryodhana is one who has tried to poison his own cousin. The people speak no good of him. He is rash and rude to his elders. He respects not the rights and status of his cousins. He is counseled by his crooked, devious uncle. His father is blinded by ambition. You are beholden to him for the kingdom and you will be bound by gratitude to a person who is unworthy of it. Do you need this kingdom? This appreciation of those who have have always rejected you…your natural parents, teachers….” Radha paused.

“Mother, I know who my natural parents are. I can guess. Why was I rejected by my class? For my natural mother’s fault not mine. My abilities correspond to those of my natural class. I am brave, handsome, powerful and gifted. Today I was recognized for my abilities” said Radheya.

“Your abilities were recognized by a man who wants to use you against his cousins in order to attain the kingdom. Your friend is no social reformer who has gone around benefiting the causes of the downtrodden.” said Radha.

Adiratha came in to the room. Vasusena smiled at him, “Father, what do you like about being a charioteer?” Adiratha smiled back and said “Oh Great King! My son, I love the horses, the speed, the exactness with which I can control my chariot, only the legendary King Nala must be better than me”. Karna turned to his mother. “And that is the way it is with me and archery. This is what comes to me naturally and what I do best. This is what I would like to spend my life doing and perfecting. Only Duryodhana, has offered me this opportunity to be a king, a warrior and an archer and I am going to take it.”

Radha looked at her brilliant son, pride and love in her eyes. She said, ”Krishna could give you all this … and more. He is the friend of the people, of the friendless. He is the destroyer of the enemies of the people. He has the interests of others at heart. He would be with you in every battle that you have to fight, your mentor, your friend, your guide, even your charioteer, if that is what you need. Choose Krishna for your friend. He is, most likely your natural cousin, your mother’s brother’s son. Choose him, glory will follow at your heels.”

“The Duryodhanas of the world will seek you out because they need you to serve their interest. But Krishna you will have to seek, with the love and devotion that your heart is so full of. A leaf, a handful of puffed rice, a letter, a wish, a cry, an entreaty, anything will bring him to you. He is on the side of Dharma. If you must ask something of someone ask it of Krishna.” Then Radha fell silent.

“Dear Mother,” Karna responded, “You wish me to befriend Krishna, but I want to be like him. I too give anyone, anything, they ask of me. As the Sun shines on sinner and saint alike. If I seek Krishna, to ask him for a kingdom, will I not be like Duryodhana who you criticize as self-serving? In my heart I too love Krishna as everyone does. I can guess who he really must be, I too have heard of all the wonders.”

“Duryodhana gave me the kingdom without my asking. He asked for my friendship in return. And this I have committed. If Krishna were to befriend only the virtuous, is there any man alive deserving of his friendship? Would Krishna count his losses before helping or giving? Should I? What has anyone ever done for Krishna? What can they do, even if they wanted to?”

“My Dharma is generosity. My passion is archery and it is your love that fills my heart. These principles will guide my life and lead me to glory. Maybe one day Krishna himself will come to me, there may be something I can do for him.”

The King of Anga bowed down to touch Radha’s feet. Her eyes became moist as she blessed him with every element of her being. Adiratha blessed Karna, the son of the Sun and Radha, the mother of the King.

Jan 2005.

Authorship and Copyright Notice : All Rights Reserved: Satya Sarada Kandula

Karna’s son was Vrishaketu, he commanded the Angas in the Mahabharata war.

Adhiratha (Karna’s foster father) was in the line of Anga (per Srimad Bhagvatham)

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