Karna’s Story: a tale of birth and merit | The Mahabharata

The great Hindu epic Mahabharata portrays numerous unsung heroes who were destined to an entirely different fate by the virtue of their birth rather than the virtue of their merits. One such formidable character was Karna, the spiritual son of the Sun and Princess Kunti.

In the epic, there are oodles of miraculous narratives revolving around the birth of Karna that leave us spellbound. Every birth in this universe is guided by inexplicable cosmic forces without an ounce of human interference. These cosmic forces carry the weight that decides the fate of every child. Without any known merits, some of us get access to a plethora of privileges right from birth whereas some of us struggle for even the basic necessities. 

In this process, the privileges that the fortunate ones take for granted become distant dreams for those who were not fortunate enough from birth. That’s how we all embark on the journey of life, unaware of the bitter-sweet reality of our birth.

Oblivious of the reality of his birth, Karna also did the same. He was fostered by Suta (charioteer) parents Radha and Adhiratha after being abandoned by his mother Kunti in a basket on the Ganges river. The naïve Kunti was unaware of all the events that were to unfold in the future revolving around her eldest son, who was born with heavenly earrings and breastplate.

Karna was indeed a man of innumerable merits. He was a dexterous warrior, a great orator, a loyal friend and above all a man with the heart of gold, who was widely known for his impeccable generosity.

Birthright and the Throne

If we try to encapsulate the whole plot of Mahabharata, it was about the eldest Kuru son being crowned as the king of Hastinapur and the events circling around it.

For instance –  there was Dhritarashtra, who could not be throned due to his blindness. When his younger brother Pandu became the king, Dhritarashtra is filled with bitterness and agony. He felt that he was entitled to become the king as he was the eldest son of the Kuru clan. Knowingly or unknowingly, he undermines the importance of merits as a deciding factor to elect a king.

Later on in the epic, he faces a similar quandary when it comes to his own son Duryodhana. Yudhistir – the eldest son of Pandu – deserved the title of the king not only on the basis of age but also on the basis of merit. Dhritrisartra, however, was not able to make peace with this situation.

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Destiny and Merit 

When all this was happening on the grounds of righteousness, there was one more person, who was struggling to come out of the vicious cycle of birth and merits. By virtue of his birth as well as his merits, Karna was destined to become a king. But, since nobody knew the veracity of his birth, destiny took an ugly turn and brought him on the path of becoming a charioteer.

Karna was insulted, defamed and subjected to ridicule based on his roots. In one of many such occasions, Karna was restrained from participating in an archery competition due to his lineage. That is when Duryodhana intervened and announced him as the King of Angas (modern-day Bengal).

Though Duryodhana had hidden motives for defeating Arjuna with the help of Karna, Karna perceived Duryodhana’s action as a great kindness and became indebted to his friendship for life. His undying devotion towards Duryodhana is palpable throughout the epic.

But was Duryodhana’s proclamation enough to nullify the injustice? Sadly, no.

Karna and Draupadi 

Karna was reminded of his low birth even as a king at the Swayamvar (a process of self-selection of the groom) of Draupadi. The princess of Panchal mocked Karna and highlighted his natural inadequacy as a royalty. This rejection hurt Karna considerably.

Later on in the epic, Draupadi regretted her decision of rejecting Karna after knowing that he was Kunti’s eldest son. Draupadi also felt that if Karna would have been her husband, she would not have suffered the public humiliation imposed on her by the Kauravas.

All the insults and mockery affected Karna profusely. He always made it a point to prove his dexterity in front of others who often doubted his integrity as a warrior. It was Karna who suggested the idea of Kurukshetra war to slay the Pandavas, who always looked down at him – incognizant of the harsh reality that they were his younger brothers. During the war, after Kunti made the revelation, Karna is seen fighting two battles on the field, one with the charismatic opponents and the other with his conscience as an elder brother. 

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There exist immense possibilities of what Karna would have become if he would have been judged on the basis of his merit. The human race has come a long way since then. Nowadays, the talent of a person becomes his or her identity. We can’t deny the fact that the birth of a child still remains an intriguing event and the struggle to achieve our dreams beyond the stated limit of the society still exists. However, the changing dynamics of the modern world have made us confident that eventually – hard work will pay off.

The main teaching of Karna’s story is to always accept people for who they are and not for where they come from. Life is a beautiful gift itself by the kind cosmic forces. It is important that we stop taking our privileges for granted and instead use them to uplift others whom the cosmic forces have trusted us with.

About the Author 

Udita Mith booksUdita Nayak is a bibliophile who wants to explore the world and pen down all her adventures. She has an inclination towards things that have artistic significance. She strongly believes in the power of ripple effect and dreams of publishing her own book in future. By day, she works in consulting. 

Author: Mith Books

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