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The Personality of Karna

Friday January 21 2005 08:25 IST

By Karmayogi

Karna was the eldest Pandava, born to Kunti and Surya. He knew not his birth. He grew up as the adopted child of a charioteer. Drona refused to teach him, as he was not a Prince. Parasurama, who taught him believing him to be a Brahmin, cursed him at the end that his knowledge would desert him at the most momentous crisis. He was constantly humiliated by Bhima and Arjuna as sudaputra. When Karna challenged Arjuna in the Assembly, Arjuna would not accept the challenge from an inferior person. Nor could he introduce himself at the Assembly. He received the friendship of Duryodhana, the crown Prince, who was a personification of evil. In war, no one could defeat him except Arjuna. All his life, he devotedly served Evil. At the royal court where Draupadi was dishonoured, he committed the heinous crime of calling her a whore and bade her come and sit on Duryodhana's lap.

He was one of those great warriors who, breaking codes of a warrior, butchered Abhimanyu who was unarmed. Indra came and deprived him of his protective shield and earrings. His own mother forsook him. On top of that, she asked him not to kill Arjuna, meaning she would rather he died in favour of Arjuna. Why this fate for Karna? What should he have done had he severely struck to the path of utter righteousness? Man's life has a potentiality and a reality that is actual, called actuality. Not all men are aware of great inner potentialities. Those who are aware of rich potentialities acutely feel the injustice done to them by their parents, boss or by life. The fruits of these talented men go to other undeserving careerists, either by chance or unjust design.

The rare few among them learn to obey their circumstances uncomplainingly with infinite Patience. In the beginning, it is a chain of injustices but in the end a glorious award, their desert, is handsomely presented to them by Life. We see this phenomenon in the lives of those who rise meteorically to very high positions in life. Most of them will fit this description. Vice-chancellorship came unsought to a talented academician three times. The talents in such people have an urge. The energy of that urge cannot easily be contained or brushed aside. The warrior instincts of Karna were overpowering. There was no question of his quelling them. Suppose he had patiently accepted his social position and learnt to drive a chariot, all the immense wealth of reward and recognition that he deserved would have come to him unasked. It is an unfailing rule of life that changes the course of life or even history.
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