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Karna was the son of Kunti and Surya, the Sun God. He was born with divine gold armour and earrings and was bright and beautiful like the Sun.

After the birth of the child, Kunti once again became a virgin as a result of a boon granted by Surya.

As per the divine plan for her, Kunti was to bear the child, and not raise it.

Karna, was reputed to be the only warrior capable of defeating Arjuna.

However, he could not play any significant part in the Mahabharata war, as a warrior.

One aspect of Karna’s personality,which made him renowned, was the quality of benevolence.

Karna was with the Adharmic side{the Kauravas}, in the Mahabharata.

But,he also performed some good acts.

What were the good acts performed by Karna in the epic, Mahabharata?

  • nobel has its own meaning in a given context. Karna supported Duryodhana in most of his activities, and Karna himself used to think that he is doing nobel, while doing so, although it is now well known that Duryodhan was on wrong side of Dharama. Hence, can you be more specific what is mean by Nobel here? – AADHinduism Aug 20 '16 at 7:05
  • @AADHinduism I think Karna knew Duryodhana was on the wrong side in the Mahabharata war, he just supported him because he felt honor-bound to be loyal to Duryodhana. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 25 '16 at 22:28
  • @KeshavSrinivasan ya, that is the same I wrote in my comment that Karna knows what Duryodhana is doing. it is hard for me to fathom the fact that a person like Karna gives so much importance to his so called loyalty/friendship to Duryodhana that instead of educating him on diff. between good/bad, he choose a simple way of being silent observer of Duryodhana's acts. I know there may be some exception to this, and Karna may have opposed some acts of Duryodhana but by and large Karna was on side of Duryodhana which we all know is not the side you should be. – AADHinduism Aug 26 '16 at 2:34
  • @AADHinduism Well, sometimes being on the right side and doing the right thing don't coincide. Bhishma, Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Karna, Shalya, and Kritavarma were among the finest paragons of moral excellence alive at the time, but they were in a tragic situation where their moral rectitude put them at odds with the outcome they would otherwise desire. Bhishma believed with conviction that the Pandavas ought to win, and even gave them advice on how they could defeat him, but at the same time he fought as hard as he could on the Kaurava side. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 26 '16 at 3:11
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Karna was the son of Surya, the sun God and Kunti {the mother of the Pandavas and sister of Vasudeva, Krishna’s father}.

As per a divine plan, Kunti gave birth to Karna but could not raise him. Karna was raised by his foster parents viz by Adiratha {the chief charioteer of king Dhritarashtra} and Radha, his wife.

Though born with kshatriya blood {being the son of Kunti}, he was known in society as a charioteer’s son {Sutaputra Karna}.

Karna had to struggle a lot, against the social stigma attached with his birth and a few other caste based problems, which were prevalent in the Dwapara Yuga.

Karna had to struggle a lot, to obtain training in weapon science {from esteemed Preceptors} because of this caste factor.

And he also got cursed by his preceptor, Parashurama, because of this factor {as he had hidden the details of his birth from him and did not tell him that he was a Suta, being the foster son of charioteer Adhiratha}. This curse seriously effected his prospects of success, during the fierce battle with Arjuna, during the subsequent Mahabharata war and Karna finally lost his life.

Since thou hast, from avarice of weapons, behaved here with falsehood, therefore, O wretch, this Brahma weapon shalt not dwell in thy remembrance 1. Since thou art not a Brahmana, truly this Brahma weapon shall not, up to the time of thy death, dwell in thee when thou shalt be engaged with a warrior equal to thyself! 2 Go hence, this is no place for a person of such false behaviour as thou! On earth, no Kshatriya will be thy equal in battle.' Thus addressed by Rama, Karna came away, having duty taken his leave.

And again, it was the caste factor, which was the principal objection, raised, during the Swayamvara of Draupadi, and Karna could not take full part in that event.

Karna that foremost of all wielders of the bow went to where the bow was, and quickly raising it strung it and placed the arrows on the string. And beholding the son of Surya--Karna of the Suta tribe--like unto fire, or Soma, or Surya himself, resolved to shoot the mark, those foremost of bowmen--the sons of Pandu--regarded the mark as already shot and brought down upon the ground.

But seeing Karna, Draupadi loudly said, 'I will not select a Suta for my lord.'

Karna’s story is the story of a heroic struggle of an individual, who was as bright as the Sun{his father} but despite proving his superlative merits in front of society,could not succeed in changing the societal mindset and the general consensus.

Karna, achieved great fame when he successfully conducted the Digvijaya Yatra, conquering all kings in every direction of the world.

Karna was crowned the king of Anga. And, in prince Duryodhana, he found his greatest support-to make an emphatic statement in society viz that though born a Suta, he was indeed a Digvijaya king who had conquered all the kingdoms in the world, and he was very much at par with all the esteemed Kshatriyas.

Good acts of Karna

  1. Karna had taken an Oath of never refusing anybody, who came and asked for his help, immediately after completion of his worship/prayers. When Indra {the father of Arjuna} came in disguise and asked him for his armour {kavach, kundal}, knowing fully well that it was Indra asking for his life-protection,Karna readily gave it to him, without asking for anything in return.This was a good act of Karna and well aligned with the Dharmic path.

  2. When Kunti came asking for a promise, not to kill her son Arjuna, Karna accepted her request, though not making the exact statement {Karna promised Kunti that she would still have five son, after the end of the war}. Karna kept his promise and never tried to kill any Pandava princes {except Arjuna}. This is another good act of Karna and in line with Dharma.

The intelligent Karna, with joined hands, then replied unto his trembling mother, saying, 'If I get thy four other sons even under my power, I will not slay them. Without doubt, O goddess, thou shalt continue to have five sons. If Karna be slain, with Arjuna, thou shalt have five!

  1. Karna did made a request to Kunti that she should not tell the Pandavas that he was their elder brother. And thus he did not try to weaken the Pandavas psychologically before the war. Karna has displayed his very good side in this act also.

These three acts of Karna are the prominent good acts of Karna. Karna performed these acts with great conviction,and all three acts were well aligned with the Dharmic path.

Lord Sri Krishna disclosed to Karna the details of his birth and destiny. But, he could not make full sense of that. And he chose to remain on Duryodhana’s side {the Adharmic side in the Mahabharata}.

From a theological dimension, Karna’s story, is indeed the struggle of the Jivatman {Karna} failing short of reaching the Parmatman {Lord Sri Krishna}, due to various factors.

Friendship with Duryodhana is an example, of a false sense of bondage with the Rajas Guna.

From a larger perspective, the very purpose of Karna’s birth, was to become the agent, who would provoke a general war, which would ensure that all the Kshatriyas, cleansed by weapons would attain to regions of bliss.

This was disclosed by Celestial Sage Narada to Yudhishtra, after the Mahabharata War had ended.

The details of the conversation between Yudhishtra and Narada, are given herewith.

Yudhishthira said

Why, indeed, did the earth swallow up the wheels of his car at the time of battle? Why was my brother cursed? It behoveth thee to recite all this to me. I desire to hear everything from thee, O holy one! Thou art acquainted with everything in this world and thou knowest both the past and the future!'

Vaisampayana said

That foremost of speakers, the sage Narada, thus questioned, narrated everything about the manner in which he who was believed to be a Suta's son had been cursed (in former days).'

Narada said

It is even so, O mighty armed one, as thou sayest, O Bharata! Nothing could resist Karna and Arjuna in battle. This, O sinless one, that I am about to tell thee is unknown to the very gods. Listen to me, O mighty-armed one, as it befell in former days. How all the Kshatriyas, cleansed by weapons should attain to regions of bliss, was the question. For this, a child was conceived by Kunti in her maidenhood, capable of provoking a general war.

Reference-Mahabharata,Book-8, Karna Parva.

Reference links:-

{1} http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08008.htm

{2} http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m12/m12a001.htm

{3} http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m12/m12a002.htm

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    A small correction - Karna did study under Dronacharya. He was only refused the knowledge of Brahmastra because he was according to Dronacharya not mature enough to learn it (at that time). – Surya Sep 5 '16 at 2:46

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