Can someone please give me a brief analysis of who Karna was and what legacy he left behind?
Is he representative of anything (i.e., any symbolism attached to him) in Indian mythology?
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KARNA is one of the most fascinating characters of MAHABHARAT, the longest Sanskrit epic written two millennium ago. Besides being an invincible warrior he was known for his generosity.
Story behind Karna's Birth:-
Karna was the son of Surya (a solar deity) and Kunti. He was born to Kunti before her marriage with Pandu. The story is that Kunti, while still very young, had occasion to serve Rishi (sage) Durvasha. She looked after him with great dedication. Durvasha was highly pleased. He gave Kunti a mantra(chant) and said that whichever God she would think of after reciting the mantra, would appear before her and bless her with a son endowed with his own godly qualities.
Kunti got scared and wanted the Sun God to go away, but he pleaded his helplessness against the power of mantra. Surya however assured Kunti that even after being blessed with a son, she would still remain a virgin and would not have to suffer any opprobrium. And so Karna was born with kavach and kundal (armor which would make him invincible).
Nurturing of Karna:-
Kunti was nevertheless afraid of social stigma and therefore she abandoned the child. She put Karna in a basket and placed the same in the Ganges river, the basket was seen by Adhirath, a charioteer, who had no issues. He picked up the baby and brought him up. That is why Karna is also sometimes referred to as Sarathiputra.
Karna was keen to acquire the Brahmastra mantra from the great teacher Parshuram. However, he knew that Parshuram gave instructions to Brahmins (the priestly tribe) only. So he disguised as a Brahmin and beseeched Parshuram to accept him as a shishya(disciple). Parshuram accepted him as such and started giving him instructions. One day when Parshuram was resting in Karnas lap, it so happened that a bee stung Karna on the lower portion of his thigh. It was very painful and he started bleeding. However, fearing that if he moved his legs, he would awaken Parshuram, he did not move at all and continued to suffer. When Parshuram woke up, he saw Karna bleeding. He asked, Son, tell me truthfully who you are? A Brahmin cannot suffer so much physical pain. Only a kshattriya (the warrior tribe) can endure so much discomfort. Karna was obliged to disclose his identity. Parshuram was greatly annoyed because he was a sworn enemy of Kshattriyas. He therefore cursed Karna that as he had learnt through deceit, he shall forget the vidya (skill) which Parshuram had taught him at the crucial juncture.
Arjuna had killed Karna's son, Vrishasena, in order to make Karna experience the pain that he himself had borne when Abhimanyu was brutally executed. But Karna refused to grieve his son's death and continued to fight Arjuna in order to keep his word and fulfill Duryodhana's destiny.
Finally when Karna and Arjuna came face to face, a serpent called Naga Ashwasena secretly entered Karna's quiver. This serpent was the one whose mother was relentlessly burnt when Arjuna had set Khandava-prastha ablaze. Ashwasena, being in his mother's womb at that time, was able to save himself from getting charred. Destined to avenge his mother's death by killing Arjuna, he transformed himself into an arrow and waited his turn. Karna unknowingly released Naga Ashwasena at Arjuna. Realizing that this was no ordinary arrow, Lord Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer, in his bid to save Arjuna's life, sunk the wheel of his chariot in the ground by pressing his feet against its floor. This made the Naga, who was speedily advancing like a thunderbolt, missed his target and hit Arjuna's crown instead, causing it to fall on the ground. Disheartened, Naga Ashwasena returned to Karna and asked him to fire him towards Arjuna once again, this time making a promise that he would definitely not miss his target. After hearing Ashwasena's words, this is what the mighty AngaRaj said to him:
"It is beneath my stature as a warrior to shoot the same arrow twice. Find some other way to avenge your family's death."
Saddened by Karna's words, Ashwasena tried to kill Arjuna on his own but failed miserably. Arjuna was able to finish him off in a single stroke.
Who knows what would have happened had Karna released Ashwasena for the second time. He even might have killed Arjuna or at least would have injured him. But he upheld his principles and did not use the presented opportunity. Such was the character of AngaRaj. He was the man of his words and the epitome of morality. He was the ultimate warrior.
Greatest DaanVeer ever:-
Duryodhan, in fact, built him up as a counterweight to Arjuna. On the eve of the famous Mahabharata battle, Lord Indra, the rain God and king of heavens, disguised as an old Brahmin went to Karna and asked for his Kavach and Kundal in daan (donation). Indra was apprehensive that Karna, by virtue of his phenomenal skills as a warrior, may be able to overwhelm Arjuna. He therefore asked for this gift so as to reduce his strength. Karna had been cautioned by the Sun God that Lord Indra was going to make some such move. But Karna was so large hearted that he could not refuse anyone. Knowing fully well, that Indra was playing a trick on him disguised as a Brahmin, he yet parted with his Kavach and Kundal, which were parts of his body since birth and which made him invincible. Lord Indra was taken aback at Karna's capacity to give away anything asked for. He said, Karna, what you have done today, no ordinary mortal could have done. I am immensely pleased with your generosity. You can ask for any vardaan. Karna said, If you are really pleased with me, then you may kindly give me your weapon Shakti which has the potential to destroy any enemy. Lord Indra gave Shakti to Karna with the proviso however that he could use it only once and that thereafter the weapon shall return to him (Lord Indra).
One more story about his charity:-
When Karna was on his death bed, Krishna came to test him. He disguised himself as a Brahmin saint , and asked Karna for some offering in the name of Dharma.Karna cited his debilitated condition and asked Krishna, "O Lord Brahmin, what can i offer you in this capitulated condition". Krishna teased him ,"I thought you were the greatest philanthropist on earth, are you not going to offer anything to this old brahmin?"
Karna thought for a while and then grabbed a stone from his macabre surroundings. He then thwarted the stone into his mouth and although his brutally beaten frame was cursing every movement he was afflicting upon himself, he kept doing that continuously. Meanwhile Krishna was surprised as well as awed by courage of this great warrior. After many strong blows, Karna was able to break two golden teeth he had, and offered them to the disguised Krishna.Krishna being extremely impressed by the valor of this great warrior , did not show any visible emotions. Instead he cursed Karna(to test him again) on how he was offering such saliva ridden teeth to such a pious brahmin. Karna deeply engraved by this statement, tried to crawl up to his bow and arrow. His bow was in tatters and the thread supporting it was nowhere to be seen. He cursed himself upon the defeat he faced to Arjuna in the earlier part of the day, and kept crawling to find an auxiliary thread to support his bow. Luckily he found one a few feet away from him. Every inch that he crawled made his wounds even more blood stained, and he was slowly losing his consciousness.
But he kept crawling as the legend of Karna will not have an apt ending if this saint would not be satiated by him. Finally having reached the supporting thread he drew the thread in his bow. Meanwhile his hand continued to bleed profusely, and his nerves were on the verge of bursting up.He finally launched the final assault on his body and caressed the final arrow of his life into the ground. Subsequently, a stream of water came bursting out of the ground. He washed those saliva and blood stained teeth in this pristine stream of water and offered them to the disguised saint. Krishna embarrassed and visibly taken aback, gave up his disguised identity and came in his original form. Bowing to the great warrior he said, "Karna, if you want i can make you alive at this moment and make the world bow at your feet, Until you are there at the face of this earth , i am assured that Adharma shall never ever reign on this planet".Karna replied. "O Lord Krishna ,you are the creator and are omnipresent everywhere. Don't insult me by bowing in front of me. I have had enough of travails and hardships in my life, so much so that even the most ebullient luxuries are not able to lure me back into this life again. Let me die in peace and assure me that the legend of Karna may inspire generations to come. I beg forgiveness for all the wrongs that i have done unintentionally. Let the world turn into a righteous place, where the reign of Dharma shall ensure prosperity to everyone irrespective of their not caste and their not so noble beginnings”. Krishna silently nodded in agreement and blessed the warrior prince.
In short HE WAS REAL HERO.
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