9

Background:

  • I saw some Karna movies and Mahabharata TV episodes and in there it's told that the main reason for Karna's defeat is that he was cursed (śāpa) by Lord Parashurama.
  • All of them refer to Lord Parashurama cursing Karna that he would forget Brahmastra. But contrary to that, Karna used the Brahmastra against Arjuna as mentioned in this chapter of Karna Parva, Mahabharata.
  • This means that Karna could use the Brahmastra and there was no curse.

Question:

  • If Karna was not cursed to use Brahmastra then what was the curse given to Karna by Lord Parashurama?
  • How can both stories – Parashurama cursing Karna that he would forget the Brahmastra and Karna actually using Brahmastra on Arjuna – be true?
  • How to solve this paradox?
  • 2
    Karna attained vidya by uttering a lie. We cannot say it as a curse completely. Because, any education attained through wrong ways or saying a lie doesn't give results. So Parasura said/cursed you attained education from me by saying a lie. You will forget this vidya when it is needed to you at the most. Hence Karna could not use a counter astra against arjuna at the time of his death. – Sarvabhouma Jan 17 '17 at 8:56
  • 1
    @SreeCharan he used brahmastra and it was not forgotten arjuna killed him while lifting it and not due to forgetting vidya. is there any reference for karna not countering arjunas astras due to his curse ? – Sakthi Jan 17 '17 at 9:06
  • Lifting the wheel has nothing to do with curse. Kings will have people followed only to help in these issues like supplying arrows, lifing and repairing chariots. But due to fierce battle betweem Karna &partha, they lost track. Arjuna's chariot was also stuck in the ground. Krishna Himself pulled it from the ground. But shalya refused to pull Karna's chariot from ground. – Sarvabhouma Jan 17 '17 at 9:56
  • @SreeCharan i was saying that karna was killed by the time when lifting process was going i didn't mean to say curse of lifting. – Sakthi Jan 17 '17 at 12:50
  • why not address your question to the 'pundit' scriptwriters of the TV program? This forum is not meant for addressing bollywood scripts. – Swami Vishwananda Jan 26 '17 at 5:10
3

TL;DR: Karṇa was not cursed either by the brāhmaṇa or by Paraśurāma. Karṇa's chariot wheel was not even stuck in the battlefield. The battle between the two greats Arjuna and Karṇa on the 17th day of the Mahābhārata war was a fair fight; there was no adharma by Kṛṣṇa or Arjuna.


For the following reasons, I strongly believe Paraśurāma's curse (śāpa) on Karṇa is an interpolation i.e., it's not part of the original Mahābhārata text but a later addition.

  1. These four incidents all find mention in the first few chapters of Śānti-parva and nowhere else in the Mahābhārata in so much detail:

    • Karṇa first goes to Droṇa to acquire the skill of Brahmāstra but Droṇa rejects him saying he's neither a brāhmaṇa nor a kṣatriya to receive the archery skills.

      Here, the scene is set such that Karṇa should approach Paraśurāma next.

    • Karṇa then goes to Paraśurāma and lies that he's a Brāhmaṇa to acquire Brahmāstra and other weapons.

      Here, Karṇa is portrayed as a liar.

    • While roaming about one day, he accidentally kills a Brāhmaṇa's cow and gets cursed ("the earth will swallow up the wheel of your chariot"). Karṇa begs for forgiveness, offers the Brāhmaṇa, cows, gemstones etc. as compensation, but the Brāhmaṇa is not convinced, sticks to his guns and doesn't offer Karṇa a way out (prāyaścitta).

      I find this whole incident ludicrous, because, throughout our scriptures, e.g., BG 18.42, we're told that peacefulness, self-control, tolerance etc., are qualities that differentiate a brāhmaṇa from the rest and yet this particular brāhmaṇa is quite the opposite.

      This is what happens before the Brāhmaṇa delivers his śāpa:

      Once, near that hermitage, he was roaming around on the shores of the ocean. The son of the suta was wandering around alone, with a sword and a bow in his hand. O Partha! There was a person who was knowledgeable about the brahman and who performed the aghnihotra sacrifice every day. Unwittingly, he killed his homadhenu. Having unwittingly performed this deed, Karna went and repeatedly told the brahmana, so that he might be pacified, 'O illustrious one! I have unwittingly killed your cow. Please show me your favours.'

      Ch. 1330 (2), The Mahabharata: Volume 8, Bibek Debroy

      Now, how can one "inadvertently" kill a sacred cow? The explanation is deliberately left out.

    • Yudhiṣṭhira curses his own mother Kunti and all other women on earth for hiding Karṇa's identity.

      Thus addressed by his mother, king Yudhishthira, with tearful eyes and heart agitated by grief, said these words, 'In consequence of thyself having concealed thy counsels, this great affliction has overtaken me!' Possessed of great energy, the righteous king, then, in sorrow, cursed all the women of the world, saying, 'Henceforth no woman shall succeed in keeping a secret.'

      Ch. 1334 (6), The Mahabharata: Volume 8, Bibek Debroy

      Again, Yudhiṣṭhira cursing entire womenfolk including his own mother appears very flimsy. Also ask yourself: Why didn't he curse Kṛṣṇa, the mastermind who knew Karṇa's true identity as well and had a talk with Karṇa prior to the battle?

  2. If Paraśurāma did really curse Karṇa, then Karṇa should have really forgotten how to invoke the Brahmāstra. Here's Paraśurāma's actual curse:

    However, he [Paraśurāma] smiled and said, 'You acted in this false way because of your greed for weapons. O stupid one! In a different place, when the time for your death has come, you will be engaged in a fight with someone who is your equal and the brahmastra will not manifest itself before you. The qualities of a brahmana will never remain with someone who is not a brahmana. Leave this place, since this is not meant for an untruthful one like you. There will be no kshatriya on earth who will be your equal in battle.'

    Ch. 1331 (3), The Mahabharata: Volume 8, Bibek Debroy

    Now let's examine the effects of the so-called curses in the real battlefield. Here's the first mention of them:

    Because of the brahmana's curse, the chariot was whirled around in the encounter. Because of Rama's curse, the weapons no longer manifested themselves.

    Ch. 1216 (66), The Mahabharata: Volume 7, Bibek Debroy

    But Karṇa has no problem invoking the Brahmāstra. He launches not one but two Brahmāstras on Arjuna:

    Karna trembled. However, he exhibited great capacity. Using his strength, he invoked brahmastra. On seeing this, Arjuna invoked mantras and released aindrastra. Dhananjaya also invoked mantras on the bowstring of Gandiva and the arrows. He released showers of arrows, like Purandara pouring down rain. Those energetic arrows issued from the immensely valorous Partha's chariot and were about to destroy Karna's chariot. However, when they arrived in front of him, maharatha Karna repulsed all of them. When that weapon was destroyed, the brave one from the Vrishni lineage said, 'O Partha! Radheya is destroying your arrows. Release supreme weapons.' Using mantras, Arjuna released brahmastra. With those radiant arrows, Arjuna shrouded Karna. But Karna used extremely energetic arrows to angrily sever his bowstring. Fixing another bowstring, Pandava enveloped Karna with thousands of fiemy arrows. In that battle, when Karna severed his bowstring, he fixed another one so quickly that no one could make this out. It was wonderful. Using his weapons, Radheya countered all of Savyasachi's weapons.

    Ch. 1216 (66), The Mahabharata: Volume 7, Bibek Debroy

    ...

    When Vasudeva addressed Radheya in this way, Pandava Dhananjaya remembered all this and was overcome by great rage. Energetic flames of anger seemed to issue out from all the pores on his body and it was extraordinary. On seeing this, Karna again invoked brahmastra against Dhananjaya. He showered down arrows and tried to extricate his chariot. Pandava countered those weapons with his own weapons. Kounteya then released another weapon, beloved of the fire god, towards Karna. It blazed fiercely. Karna pacified the fire through a varuna weapon.

    Ch. 1217 (67), The Mahabharata: Volume 7, Bibek Debroy

    If you notice keenly, Karṇa himself doesn't recollect those curses. It is either "kāla" or the narrator(s) adding those curses into the mix.

    At that time, when the hour of Karna's death had come, Kala, approaching invisibly, and alluding to the Brahmana's curse, and desirous of informing Karna that his death was near, told him, "The Earth is devouring thy wheel!"

    Also, we don't find the above line (from Ganguli's tr.) in Debroy's tr. based on the latest critical edition.

    Why do I think Karṇa himself should have recalled those curses? Because in Rāmāyaṇa we see that Daśaratha recollect a similar curse:

    O, Kausalya! The sin I myself committed through ignorance on that day, by invoking an arrow and hitting an invisible object the sound of which was heard, I remember it now on reflection over it.

    O, my dear lady! Those words of that noble sage, saying that I shall give up my life due to grief for the loss of my son, have come true to me now.


How to make sense of all this?

Clearly, the later narrators of the Mahābhārata have interpolated several verses into the original text to suit their whims and that of their listeners and readers. The chapters describing Karṇa's two unfortunate curses are also such interpolated verses.

What could have really happened is that Karṇa's chariot skid and one of its wheel was stuck. Given that this was the 17th day of the war and there were several dead bodies of men, horses etc. still lying in the battlefield, it's plausible Karṇa's chariot was stuck momentarily. Karṇa then quickly tried to recover his chariot assuming Arjuna would not shoot arrows. But Kṛṣṇa had other plans.

Another strong possibility is that Karṇa's chariot was not really stuck! It was a fair fight after all and Arjuna was simply better at the end. And there was no adharma-yuddha for which Kṛṣṇa is often criticized by many!

Why do I think so?

  1. There's no report later of the chariot wheel being freed magically or manually:

    The brave Karna fell down on the ground. Mangled by arrows, blood flowed out from his body. On seeing that he was lying down on the ground and seeing that the standard had been severed, the king of Madra [Shalya] withdrew on the chariot. When Karna was slain, the Kurus fled.

    Ch. 1217 (67), The Mahabharata: Volume 7, Bibek Debroy

  2. Śalya doesn't report any adharma-yuddha to Duryodhana either. He simply blames it on destiny rather than Arjuna shooting at Karṇa unfairly.

    He swiftly went to Duryodhana's side and spoke these sorrowful words. 'The elephants, horses and best of rathas in your army have been destroyed. It looks like Yama's kingdom. The large armies with men, horses and elephants that are like mountain tops have clashed against each other and have been killed. O descendant of the Bharata lineage! There has never been a battle like that fought between Karna and Arjuna today. Karna clashed against the two Krishnas and others who are your enemies and has been devoured. Destiny flows according to its own rules. That is the reason it is protecting the Pandavas and weakening us...'

    Ch. 1218 (68), The Mahabharata: Volume 7, Bibek Debroy

    Duryodhana also says all witnesses praised the fight, there were no complaints:

    The foremost of brave ones among the Kurus had witnessed the terrible encounter between Dhananjaya and Adhiratha's son, destructive of lives. They were amazed. Now that it was over, they praised it and departed.

    Ch. 1218 (68), The Mahabharata: Volume 7, Bibek Debroy

3

This is what Mahabharata says:

Unto the cheerless and trembling Karna, prostrated with joined hands upon earth, that foremost one of Bhrigu's race, smiling though filled with wrath, answered, 'Since thou hast, from avarice of weapons, behaved with falsehood, therefore, O wretch, this Brahma weapon shall not dwell in thy remembrance. Since thou art not a Brahmana, truly this Brahma weapon shall not, up to the time of death, dwell in thee when thou shall be engaged with a warrior equal to thyself! 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 duly taken his leave.

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section III

This is what happened at the time of Karna's death.

'At that time, when hour of Karna's death had come, Kala, approaching invisibly, and alluding to the Brahmana's curse, and desirous of informing Karna that his death was near, told him, "The Earth is devouring thy wheel'. Indeed, O foremost of men, when the hour of Karna's death came, the high Brahma weapon that the illustrious Bhargava had imparted unto him, escaped from his memory.......When his car began to reel from the curse of the Brahmana and when the high weapon he had obtained from Rama no longer shone in him through inward light, and when his terrible snake-mouthed shaft also had been cut off by Partha, Karna became filled with melancholy.'

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section XC

No definitive answer can be given to this question. One possible answer is to say that Arjuna+Krishna were superior to Karna in battle thus violating the 'equality in battle' condition. This weakened the effect of Parashuram's curse. Of course one may object and say that Krishna stayed passive throughout the battle against Karna. I would say that Krishna's presence was vital throughout the Mahabharata war. Just think of Arjuna's plight after Krishna's death. In fact Krishna himself hinted that he was not entirely passive during the war.

Krishna’s defense Krishna defended his actions as follows in a voice deep as that of the clouds or the drum: "All of them were great car-warriors and exceedingly quick in the use of weapons! If ye had put forth all your prowess even then ye could never have slain them in battle by fighting fairly! King Duryodhana also could never be slain in a fair encounter! The same is the case with all those mighty car-warriors headed by Bhishma! From desire of doing good to you, I repeatedly applied my powers of illusion and caused them to be slain by diverse means in battle. If I had not adopted such deceitful ways in battle, victory would never have been yours, nor kingdom, nor wealth! These four were very high-souled warriors and regarded as Atirathas in the world. The very Regents of the Earth could not slay them in fair fight. Similarly, the son of Dhritarasthra, though fatigued when armed with mace, could not be slain in a fair fight by Yama himself armed with his bludgeon! Ye should not take it to heart that this foe of yours hath been slain deceitfully. When the number of one's foes becomes great, then destruction should be effected by contrivances and means. The gods themselves, in slaying the Asuras, have trod the same way. That way, therefore, that had been trod by the gods, may be trod by all."

(Mahabharata, Salya Parva, Section 61)

  • 2
    Well, how does this solve the paradox? If Parashurama's curse really worked, Karna would have to completely forget the Brahmastra and its mantras. But he didn't. He eventually recollected the mantras and used it twice on Arjuna!! So what to make of Parashurama's curse? Did the curse fail? Isn't that the heart of OP's question? – sv. Jan 27 '17 at 23:52
  • 2
    @sv, you are right. The only way out is to say that Arjuna+Krishna were superior to Karna in battle thus violating the 'equality in battle' condition. This weakened the effect of Parashuram's curse. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jan 28 '17 at 11:38
  • Krishna was only an advisor-charioteer, he didn't raise any weapons against Karna. If you're adding Krishna into the mix, then you should also add Shalya on the other side. Anyway I suggest you add the above explanation to your answer. Right now, it doesn't really address OP's main question. – sv. Jan 28 '17 at 20:18
0

Well, this goes like this.

When karna went to Parshuram to learn archery skills, in time Parshuram was very impressed with Karna skills, courage, dedication, his knowledge of Dharma and Judgment towards Right or wrong and soon Karna become one of his very favorite.

Because of these qualities only Parshuram agreed to give Vidhya daan of the Brahmastra, since it is the Supreme and Ultimate weapon and not a ordinary weapon to distribute to everyone who isn't worthy of it.

when Parshuram was asleep on Karna's thighs and he was bitten by scorpion. When Parshuram woke up, he praised Karna's devotion as he bare so much pain but didn't let this to broke his Guru's sleep.

However at the same he Parshuram realized only a Kshatriya can had such an endurance and he understood karna had lied that he was not a Kshatriya.

Parshuram was very angry and said for such a fraud with me I wud hv killed that person, but O karna you r so dear n favorite to me that my heart is not allowing me to use my Farsaa(Axe) on you, even ur kawach n kundal can't protect u from wrath, if I wish.

So in anger he said "In time when you will need my teaching the most, at that time you won't remember my teaching."

So it was not like that karna can never use the Brahmastra. only at particular moment he didn't remember.

Arjun karna battle was that moment, when Arjun summons the divine weapon. Karna tried to summon Brahmastra but was unable to remember the mantra.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 2
    Welcome to Hinduism SE! .You should cite some sources. Visit How to Answer. – The Destroyer Mar 1 '17 at 7:58
  • 1
    You should add some sources for your answers. – Sarvabhouma Mar 1 '17 at 9:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .