Is there any story behind Karna's miserable life despite his benevolent nature? Any prior karma in a previous life to justify his current life?

I read it somewhere that when Karna died, Lord Krishna was not happy so Arjuna asked about it and he replied about Karna's daanveerta when they went to the battlefield where Karna laid dead. They went there in Brahmana form like they were looking for some alms but due to incapability of Karna they are returning. So Karna stopped them and took a brick and broke his golden teeth and offered this to Lord Krishna.

So my question is even though the nature of Karna was so good why did he lead a sorrowful life? What previous karma of his caused his sorry state of life?

  • 4
    excellent question. Read one of the possible the answer here, hindumythologyforgennext.blogspot.in/2012/09/karnas-karma.html Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:18
  • @VineetMenon In the link story there is no reference of death of dambodhava so how he gain birth as a child(Karna) when he was not dead ?
    – Trialcoder
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 4:19
  • There's a comment in the link which says that when one yuga ends, the universe resets and every soul takes rebirth. IDK about the authenticity. Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 7:55
  • @VineetMenon That comment is completely incorrect. The Pralaya or destruction of the universe comes at the end of the Kalpa. There's 1000 Mahayugas in a Kalpa, and we're living in the 28th Mahayuga of the Shwetavaraha Kalpa. So there was definitely no Pralaya between the time of Nara and Narayana and the time of Karna. Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 21:44
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Could be, I'm no way attesting the correctness of that comment. I'm not even sure what that comment means. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 6:23

4 Answers 4


The other two answers cite this webpage, which claims to be telling a story from the Srimad Bhagavatam, but you can read the Srimad Bhagavatam here; I don't see any such story. As far as I'm aware, the only place in Hindu scripture where the story of Dambhodbhava is told is in the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata, and it doesn't mention anything about Dambhodbhava reincarnating as Karna.

When Krishna went as an envoy of the Pandavas to the Kauravas' palace, the Kauravas remained silent after Krishna made his offer of peace. So Vishnu's other incarnation Parashurama, who happened to be in palace at the time, admonished them by recounting the story of Dambhodbhava:

There was a king of yore named Dambhodbhava, who was the Head of the earth. It hath been heard by us that his sovereignty extended over the whole world. And that mighty car-warrior, rising every morning after the night had passed away, called the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas unto himself and asked them, saying, "Be he a Sudra, a Vaisya, a Kshatriya, or a Brahmana, is there any one who is superior or even equal to me in battle?" ... And some high-souled Brahmanas then ... told him, "There are two persons who are foremost of all men and who are always victorious in battle. Thou, O king, wilt by no means be equal to them if thou seekest an encounter with any one of them." ... And the two Rishis received the king hospitably, with fruits and roots, and a seat and water.... [T]he king said unto them the same words that he was in the habit of saying unto all. And he said, "The whole earth has been conquered by the might of my arms. All my foes have been slain. Desiring a battle with you both I have come to this mountain. Offer me this hospitality. I have been cherishing this wish from a long time." Thus addressed, Nara and Narayana said, "O best of kings, wrath and covetousness have no place in this retreat. How can a battle, therefore, be possible here? There are no weapons here, and nothing of unrighteousness and malice. Seek battle elsewhere. There are many Kshatriyas on earth."

Although thus addressed, the king still pressed them for giving him battle. The Rishis, however, continually soothed him and overlooked his importunity. King Dambhodbhava, still desirous of battle, repeatedly summoned those Rishis to fight. Nara, then, O Bharata, taking up a handful of grass-blades, said, "Desirous of battle as thou art, come, O Kshatriya, and fight! Take up all thy arms, and array thy troops. I will curb thy eagerness for battle hereafter!" ... Dambhodbhava with all his troops, desirous of slaying that ascetic, covered all sides with a shower of arrows. That ascetic, however, by means of those blades of grass, baffled all those terrible shafts of the king that were capable of mangling the bodies of hostile warriors. The invincible Rishi then let off towards the king his own terrible weapon made of grass-blades and which was incapable of being counteracted. And highly wonderful was that which happened, for that ascetic, incapable of missing his aim, pierced and cut off, by those grass-blades alone, the eyes and ears and noses of the hostile warriors, aided also by his power of illusion.

And beholding the entire welkin whitened by those grass-blades, the king fell at the feet of the Rishi and said, 'Let me be blessed!" Ever inclined to grant protection unto those that sought it, Nara then, O king, said unto that monarch, "Be obedient to the Brahmanas and be virtuous. Never do so again.... Blessed be thou, and with our leave, go hence, and never again behave in this way. At our command, enquire thou always of the Brahmanas as to what is for thy good!" The king then, worshipping the feet of those two illustrious Rishis, returned to his city, and from that time began to practise righteousness. Great indeed, was that feat achieved of old by Nara. Narayana, again, became superior to Nara in consequence of many more qualities. They that were Nara and Narayana in days of yore are now Arjuna and Kesava.

(Reminds you a bit of Snow White, doesn't it?). As you can see, there's no mention of Dambhodhbhava reincarnating as anyone, only about Nara and Narayana reincarnating as Arjuna and Krishna. And the story ends with Dambodhbhava actually being blessed by Nara and Narayana, not cursed as the webpage says. So the webpage's claim seems to be erroneous.

In any case, the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata describes who the different characters were incarnations of, and this is what it says about Karna:

Karna--the first of all exalted men--the foremost of all wielders of weapons--the slayer of foes--and the best portion of [Surya] the maker of day--was the friend and counsellor of Duryodhana

So Karna was an incarnation of Surya, just as Arjuna was an incarnation of Indra. Now recall that in the Ramayana, Sugriva was an incarnation of Surya and Vali was an incarnation of Indra. So it's often said (although it may not have a basis in scripture) that Arjuna killed Karna in an underhanded way to get even with Karna's previous birth Sugriva being involved in the underhanded killing of Arjuna's previous birth Vali.

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    These two statements seem to be conflicting, could you please clarify: "Nara .. reincarnating as Arjuna" vs "Arjuna was an incarnation of Indra". Very good research and write-up otherwise, always a pleasure to read your answers. What did you mean by the snow-white comment though? :)
    – a20
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 8:26
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    @a20 Arjuna was both an incarnation of Indra and a partial incarnation of Vishnu. His previous birth Nara was also only a partial incarnation of Vishnu, which is why Narayana taught the Ashtakshari mantra to Nara and not the other way around. In any case, Dambodhbhava reminded me of Snow White because every morning he asks his advisors whether there's anyone equal to him in battle, until one day they say it's Nara and Narayan. It's similar to how the evil queen kept asking "Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all" until one day it said Snow White. I doubt it's a copy though :-) Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 14:41
  • If narayana gave him blessings of 1000 armours then why did Nara had taken only 999 armour leaving only one.
    – user7341
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 20:44

The story of Sahashrakavacha, the previous birth of Karna, is as in this short story told in the Padma Purana. Indra objected to cause Arjuna's birth because, as Rama, Shri Vishnu had previously killed Vali, the son of Indra in the Treta yuga, by taking side of Sugriva, the son of Sun. So Vishnu gave word to Indra that He would take care of Arjuna in Dwapara yuga and aid him in killing Karna, the son of Sun:

avatāraṃkariṣyāmi martyaloketvahaṃprabho
suryaputrasyanāśārtha jayārthamātmajasyate
[Pdm. Pu. - 1.14.71]

O lord of the gods, I will descend on Earth to cause victory of the son born of you (Arjuna) and for destruction of the son of Sun (Karna).

So in one way the destruction of Karna was pre-settled. And in the same birth as Karna, he also committed faults like learning the art of war by lying to his guru which led him to get curses that eventually played a vital role in getting him killed in the battlefield.


Eons before events in Mahabharatha, Karna was a Tyrant or Demon called Dambhodbhava who was granted extra ordinary protection by Suriya (Sun) due to his devotion. He misused it and caused harm to the world.

After he was killed he was born again as Karna, and still he had the grace of Surya. However he had to undergo a hard life due to his past life.

According to http://hindumythologyforgennext.blogspot.in/2012/09/karnas-karma.html

  • This story on this website is unbelievable. If one armour is broken at a time by Nara and Narayana respectively, how long did Dambhodbhava live on earth? Already he had to wait for Narayana complete his penance for 1000 years and then another thousand years were taken by Nara. Everytime only one armour was broken. So are you saying that Dambhodbhava lives on earth for more than 2000 years? Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 5:55
  • sure why not? is there a defined timescale for hindu legends?
    – a20
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 7:10
  • wow.. So there were special human beings living in this world for over 2000 years.. Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 4:42
  • Also, if this is in Tetra Yuga. Which Tetra Yuga are you talking about? Because there is no mention of such an avatar of Vishnu (Nara and Narayana) in this Tetra Yuga? Nara and Narayana are beyond the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu... Also why did Nara and Narayana both did not do penance together for 1000 years? Why did only Narayana do it? They could have done the penance together right? Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 5:09
  • @user3750229 2000 years is nothing. Dasharatha lived for 60 thousand years, and Ravana lived through at least 27 generations of kings of Ayodhya; see my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6525/36 Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 6:47

Scholars say this is God's way of achieving karmic balance. In his previous life, Krishna was Rama. And Rama had sided with Surgiva, monkey son of Surya, the sun-god, and shot Bali, monkey son of Indra, the rain-god, in the back. As Krishna, it was necessary to reverse the situation. God sided with Arjuna, who was the son of Indra, while shooting Karna, the son of Surya, in the back. He who is blessed with divine favors in one lifetime loses it in the next; thus are the books of karma balanced and closure achieved.

reference : http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/mahabharata/a-boy-called-karna.html

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    Welcome To Hinduism SE! Although you have provided a article as source in your answer , it's not a authentic Hindu Scripture.Its more better to quote directly from authentic Hindu Scriptures like Mahabharata and then explaning the events from perspective of scholars/author's. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:37
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    Agree with @SwiftPushkar Devdutt Patnaik is not a valid source for discourse on Hinduism.
    – user1195
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 9:08

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