What is Karna's varna (caste)? A Kshatriya by birth, then assumed a different one after being raised by foster parents (belonging to a different varna) and finally reclaimed it?

Who all (during the Mahabharata time) knew of Karna's true identity and his varna due to birth?

  • His birth is of anulOma type. Father was Surya - a Divinity and hence highest available caste is brahmana and his mother was Kunti -a kshatriya. Hence, if birth based type is accepted, then he must be a brahmana. Very few people knew of his identity Mar 9, 2020 at 2:01

3 Answers 3

  • His mother was Kshatriya (Kunti) that is why He has been considered as Kshatriya.
  • He brought up as child of chief charioteer of King Dhritrashtra.
  • As per Mahabharata, Parshurama only taught to Brahmins but When Parshurama go to know that Karna is a Kshatriya, Parshurama laid curse upon Karna.

Sources :

  1. Karna
  • Welcome to Hinduism.SE! You should cite sources. Jun 1, 2016 at 14:35
  • 4
    TV serials are not an acceptable source on this site, because they tend to take a lot of artistic license. It's best to give a citation to a specific chapter of Vyasa's original Mahabharata: sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm Jun 1, 2016 at 14:45
  • Varna are decided by quality not by birth
    – Goi Garg
    Mar 8, 2020 at 22:46


In theory, he was of Karna identity.

  • For practical purposes he was Kshatriya
  • Considering his adoptive parents, he was Suta


His actual name was "Vasusena" or "RAdheya", after his adoptive mother "Radha".

And seeing the child furnished with bright mail and golden ear-rings, the twice-born ones named him Vasusena. [source]

However, it's noted (at least in BRC Mahabharata) that Bhishma [& possibly Vidura] knew the correct identity of RAdheya already. For experienced & knowledgeable person like them, it would have been easy to match his attributes with his biological mother Kunti, whose other sons were 5 PAndavas.
My assumption is that, Karna would have possibly named so by such dignitaries only.


As discussed in this answer, Kunti herself was adopted by her father. Her biological father Sura was from the Vaishya class.

Kunti was married to the king PAndu, who was from Kshatriya class. Hence all her sons, were considered PAndava-s:

  • Vasusena/RAdheya -- who was abandoned by her before marriage, and adopted by Adhiratha & RAdha
  • Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhima -- her biological children
  • Nakula, Sahadeva -- children adopted by Kunti, after the death of her biological mother MAdri

A child born to a Kshatriya (PAndu) and a Vaishya (Kunti) is considered as "Karna". This was applied to Yuyutsu.

During that year, O king, was begotten upon her by the illustrious Dhritarashtra a son endued with great intelligence who was afterwards named Yuvutsu. And because he was begotten by a Kshatriya upon a Vaisya woman, he came to be called Karna. [Above linked answer]


However it's clarified that why Vasusena was named as Karna. So it's quite likely that above theory may not have any support and is wrong.

The son of Surya was before this known by the name of Vasusena. But since he cut off his natural armour, he came to be called Karna (the cutter or peeler of his own cover). [source]


Usually a son carries his biological father's class. However in the case of Niyoga, the son carries his adoptive father's class, which could be PAndu in this case. With that logic, Yudhishtira, Bhima, Arjuna could also be considered "Karna"-s, to be precise. Because all of them were born to Kunti from certain celestial deity.

If we consider that, Kunti's own class was changed to Kshatriya after her adoption, then all PAndava-s were Kshatriya-s.


Karna specifically always recognised himself with his adoptive parents, as discussed in this answer hence he was considered as Suta, usually helpers to the Kshatriya kings.

And it came to pass that at this time a Suta named Adhiratha, who was a friend of Dhritarashtra, came to the river Ganga, accompanied by his wife. [source]

Suta is a subclass, which originates, when a Kshatriya man begets a child to a Brahmana woman:

If a Kshatriya begets a son upon a Brahmana woman, such a son, without being included in any of the four pure orders, comes to be regarded as a Suta The duties of a Suta are all connected with the reciting of eulogies and encomiums of kings and other great men.

  • 1
    "Her biological father Sura was from the Vaishya class"- u mean to say Krishna's grand father was from the Vaisya class... Don't u think he was from Vrashni clan of Yadavas who were Kshatriyas...
    – YDS
    Jun 15, 2018 at 14:52
  • Irrespective of where and by whom he was raised, he will remain a Kshatriya by birth.
    – Just_Do_It
    Jun 15, 2018 at 20:52
  • 1
    @iammilind Kunti's biological father Surasena was a Kshatriya; he was a descendant of the lunar dynasty king Vrishni. See this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam: vedabase.com/en/sb/9/24/chapter-view Jun 19, 2018 at 14:34
  • 1
    @KeshavSrinivasan "There are countless instances of this in Hindu scripture" - that's not going to do it, please cite a verse from the smritis stating the rule. Jun 19, 2018 at 15:40
  • 1
    "Considering his adoptive parents, he was Shudra" -- even his adoptive parents were not Shudra..They were Suta..
    – YDS
    Jul 8, 2018 at 10:57

Varna is decided by quality not by birth

If you are a seeker teacher or guru you are bharaman If you are solder, diplomat, government official you are a shatria If you are business man, farmer you are a vaiya If you are a labour you are a shudra It doesn't mean you can only have same quality You can change your Profession anytime

Bhagvad Gita 18.41: The duties of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras—are distributed according to their qualities, in accordance with their Skills (and not by birth).

Bhagvad Gita 18.42: Tranquility, restraint, austerity, purity, patience, integrity, knowledge, wisdom, and belief in a hereafter—these are the intrinsic qualities of work for Brahmins.

Bhagvad Gita 18.43: Valor, strength, fortitude, skill in weaponry, resolve never to retreat from battle, large-heartedness in charity, and leadership abilities, these are the natural qualities of work for Kshatriyas.

Bhagvad Gita 18.44: Agriculture, dairy farming, and commerce are the natural works for those with the qualities of Vaishyas. Serving through work is the natural duty for those with the qualities of Shudras.

Karna was a Kshatriya as by his quality

  • Your answer appears to be advocating guna-based based varna system but my question is about Karna's birth-based varna. Read the last line of my question again, 'Who all (during the Mahabharata time) knew of Karna's true identity and his varna due to birth?' Mar 8, 2020 at 23:13
  • You can not ask someone Verna on birth based as it's a quality that's doesn't make any sense you are asking what is the profession of a Person if his father was a teacher does it make any sense?
    – Goi Garg
    Mar 9, 2020 at 8:55

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