Growing up in India I have, of course, had several opportunities to hear about, read, and listen to India Mythology. In school, for example, we would have Value Education classes each week that would look at various mythologies, stories, and more that were supposed to help us understand our country, the culture, and learn from them.
The two of the most famous epics in the Indian/Hindu history are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata! While I’ve read or watched several versions of the Ramayana growing up, I’ve for some reason, never had the chance to get to know the entire story of the Mahabharata. I had an idea, and I knew bits like the Bhagavat Geeta for example, but never the full story. This quarantine helped me cross that bridge. I sat and watched the entire Star Network Series with my parents over the last few months.
Of the various aspects of the epic that stuck with me, the story of Karna was the one that I’ve been pondering over, the most.
On a very basic overview, Karna, to me, seemed like any one of us who got dealt a bad hand and ended up on the wrong side. I had a lot of arguments with my dad where I said, “This can happen to any of us and it’s in our hands to look at a situation as objectively as we can and not do fundamentally wrong things. No matter what!”. And to an extent, I still do believe I was right.
It took me more time and learning the complete story and a little research before my view changed.
Any one of us can indeed have ended up being dealt a had hand. And yet, Karna got dealt the worst. Here’s why;
- Despite being the son of the ‘Sun God, Surya’, Karna got abandoned for absolutely no fault of his as a baby.
- Growing up the son of a charioteer, he is the perfect example of working hard for what you want. And yet, he was refused the opportunity to learn (warfare).
- And despite it all, his thirst for knowledge kept him striving and he learned from ‘Parasurama’ and indeed became the best. And yet, fate had other plans. Lord Parasuram cursed Karna that he would forget all that he learned when he would need them the most. This was not fair. Lord Parasuram of course, knew the truth of Karna’s birth, right from the beginning. And yet, he cursed Karna for not being honest with him. I mean, this could have happened in the beginning instead.
- Despite having proved his talent on various occasions, he got shooed away in several situations simply because he grew up a charioteer’s son!
- At various points of his life, Karna continued to be the caring, selfless person that he was and kept falling into bad situations for this. He got cursed by a Brahmin, he got cursed by the Mother Earth, he got humiliated by Bhishma, he got tricked by Lord Indira for his golden armor, his mother appealed to him to not kill his brothers despite him being on the other side of the war.
- During the Kurushetra war, in a situation when Arjuna’s chariot wheen got stuck in the mud, Karna respected the rules of the war and paused the fight. And yet, Karna lost his life trying to get his chariot wheel out the mud and through an arrow shot by Arjuna.
Disclaimer here, these are just a few points and definitely not the full story.
But what stuck with me through it all was that despite every situation that he was forced into, Karna did the best he could to do the right thing. He made a few mistakes in the process and got punished worse than most others would have. And he took it all within his stride. He stuck by a friend (bad guy, but a friend) who had been there for him even if it meant to be on the wrong side.
What we need to remember is everything Karna taught us. Selflessness, true friendship, courage, strength and so much more.
Karna was, at the end of the day, the greatest of the men in the Mahabharata!
Oh and if you know Tamil, here is my all-time favourite version of the song of Karna from the movie (Karna, 1964). – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n-J46YnTAo