Mahabharat Stories – Karna
From Adolescence To Adulthood
All the princes returned to Hastinapur after completing their studies at Drona’s ashrama. They grew into healthy and powerful adults. All were trained in various branches of knowledge including statesmanship, diplomacy, economics, sociology, and so on. Moreover, everyone excelled in one particular skill of war-game. Yudhisthira was expert in swordsman-ship and throwing javelin, while Bhima and Duryodhana excelled in fighting with mace – heavy metal club. Excellence of Arjuna in archery is already mentioned.
Story of Karna
The great Karna, away from Hastinapur, also grew up as a very powerful and generous adult. Our interest at present is to know about Karna’s boyhood and education etc. For his studies, Karna went to the ashrama of Parashurama, the Guru of Brahmins. Parashurama had decided to take only Brahmin boys as his disciples. Therefore, Karna went there in disguise of a Brahmin boy and learnt old scriptures, Vedas, Upanishads, and became exceedingly expert in the art of bow and arrow, archery. It was said that nobody, not even Arjuna, could equal Karna in archery. The Guru was pleased with Karna’s sincerity, hard-work, devotion and similar noble qualities.
One day sage Parashurama was resting with his head in the lap of Karna. Soon he fell asleep. Meanwhile a big insect started to bite the thigh of Karna. He felt agonizing pain and blood started to ooze from the wound. But he endured lest the sound sleep of his revered Guru should be disturbed. But the stream of hot blood reached the Guru due to which he was awakened from his sleep. He was amazed at the degree of tolerance and endurance of Karna who did not even stir or move his body at such a great pain. But a thought crossed Parashurama’s mind: how could a Brahmin boy tolerate such great pain! Brahmins are not known to show such grit in enduring physical suffering, rather warrior caste is known for such a feat. Thence, Parashurama asked Karna his real name and identity.
Karna could not tell a lie now. He told his story to his Guru and begged his pardon to have come in the disguise of a Brahmin. Parashurama was angry that he was deceived to accept a low caste fellow as his disciple. Therefore, he cursed Karna saying: “O Karna, even though you are great in bravery, art of archery, and in service to me, still as you have deceived your Guru, I send a curse to you that at a crucial time on the battle-field the wheels of your chariot will get stuck in the earth. The consequences would be grave.”
The disappointed Karna returned to his parents. His restless heart wanted some change and, therefore, he requested his parents to permit him to visit Hastinapur.
The Show of Skills
At that time a great festival of competitive sports was held in Hastinapur. Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Duryodhana and others exhibited their skills in various arts like archery, mace-fight, javelin and sword warfare, etc. the Royal bench was graced by such dignitaries as Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Kunti, Gandhari and Dronacharya. Everyone was praising the great expertise of the princes.
In particular, the skills of Arjuna in archery like bringing rains after hitting the clouds and building a bridge of arrow, etc. surprised and immensely impressed the spectators. Karna was also present in the crowd. He could not resist his desire to compete with Arjuna in the skills of bow and arrow, where he was sure he was superior to Arjuna. Therefore, Karna got up in the crowd and challenged Arjuna to compete with him. The people were jubilant as they were sure to see their favourite Arjuna to win. But Guru Drona was doubtful. He suspected that this little known archer might pose problem for his beloved disciple Arjuna and therefore, Dronacharya decided to stall this show of skill between the two. He objected to Karna’s demand to compete wit Arjuna saying:
“O young man, who are you? Please identify yourself and let us know your credentials. Of what state are you a king or a prince? Arjuna will be pleased to compete with you only if you are one from a royal family.”
The sut-putra Karna (i.e. of low caste) understood the trick Dronacharya played on him, but could do nothing. Therefore Karna kept silent.
At this, the jealous Duryodhana saw a great opportunity to humiliate Arjuna. He immediately stood up and went to Karna. Covering him with the royal cloth from his own attire, Duryodhana declared, “Listen, dignitaries and people of Hastinapur, I accept Karna as my best friend and make him the king of Anga Province. At present that province is under my rule and I have full authority to nominate anyone as the king of that land. So be it Karna. Henceforth Karna is not a low caste ordinary citizen of Hastinapur, but should be respected as Angraja – King of Anga Province.”
Thus Karna was put under the obligation of Duryodhana forever. He accepted the friendship of Duryodhana for which he gave his life, about which later.