Friday, 28 December 2012

Karna: Hero or villain??

Karna has been one of the most enigmatic characters of the Mahabharata  Historians have interpreted the character in a myriad ways, some extolling his greatness, while others taking potshots at his weaknesses. His followers consider him to be the greatest warrior, while members of the Arjuna club would cite examples where Arjuna has defeated this great adversary of his.
People better than me at history and mythology have already written volumes about Karna. Why my interest in him? And what is different in my version? Well, this began as a casual remark by a friend that set the ball rolling. What could be Karna's motivations?. What could be his passions? What events in his life made him the person that he is. These are certain questions that I pondered over, and in the process, made it into a blog post.

For the answers, my interest in Karna began as a sort of a villain worship, which was aided to some extent by the amount of interest this topic can generate. Elders chip in, friend butt in, and just about any body with a passing interest in mythology would be happy to share his views. This is just a collection of some of those ideas, which I would now call my "research" into the topic. What is different about my take on the topic is that I would like to take a peep into Karna's mind, and just think about the various markers, that determine his character.

Karna's life has been a constant turmoil. Being rejected by his mother at birth, identified his true calling in archery, yet being rebuked by the peers of his charioteer community. He managed to get enrolled under Parashurama's tutelage. However, fate had other things in store for him . Although he learnt enough to be a great warrior, all he could manage at the end of the training was a curse that his knowledge was to fail him when he needed it the most. According to one version of the Mahabharata  he was cursed by mother Earth, as he squeezed it in his palms to help a little boy who had accidentaly dropped his pot of ghee, and was scared that his folks back home would scold him. The kid wanted the ghee to be put back into the pot, and so Karna helped him. He gave up his armour and his earrings, which were a part of his body, fully knowing that it would help his adversary. He always revered Bheeshma, who never allowed him into the Battle field of Kurushkshetra, calling him an "Ardhrathi" , which means lowliest of the fighters.

Certainly, all these events would have had a profound impact on Karna's attitude towards everything. He is a person who craved for some success, some appreciated for what he has done. However, he did not get that from certain quarters. While the world agreed that Arjuna was the greatest, Karna claimed a place, which was no lesser. Karna, although a great warrior, was prone to making wrong assumptions and assuming himself to be the best archer on earth. Before the war began, Duryodhana asked the greatest warriors of his army the time they would take to rout the Pandava army. Karna said that he would destroy them in 5 days. Karna started his fight from the 10th day and he lived till the 17th day. Still, he could not rout the Pandavas.

While Karna merits a place among the great warriors, now, for me he is the second best archer. Always a shade below Arjuna, the foremost among the archers and a beloved friend of Sree Krishna.


  1. Interesting article.. Eventhough Karna was in the team of Duryodhana, his is a character we can't help falling for.. Maybe one of the most debated characters in Mahabharatha..

    1. Certainly.. I think one of those characters which stays on in our minds, with a haunting feeling....


  3. Karna is the most despicable character of the mahabharat. There are none that are worse than him. A total hypocrite to the very core of his being.