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See also     Life of Kuntee   Parables About Karn

Karn is a Mahaabhaarat character. He is the central and one of the most fascinating character of the MBH. He was a great warrior and the great donor of his times. He was the son of Soorya and Kuntee. He was brought up by Adhirath and his wife Raadhaa. In his childhood he was known as Raadheya because of being the son of Raadhaa. Adhirath named him as Vasusen. Devoted to Braahman, truthful in speech, engaged in Tap, observant of vows, kind even to enemies - because of these qualities he was known as Vrish also. He was given the name Karn first by Drone when his father took him there for his education, then by Indra when He came to beg his Kavach and Kundal to save his own own son Arjun from him in coming battle. Karn gave them to him and after giving them he was called Vaikartan.

Dhritarashtra refers to Karn as one characterized by bitter speech while Yudhishthir speaks of him as “one whose teeth are spears and arrows and whose tongue is a sword”.

Birth of Karn
When Kuntee was in her father Kuntibhoj's house, once Durvaasaa Rishi came there. She served him very well and pleased him with her services. He asked her to ask for any Var. Kuntee said - "Mahaaraaj, you can foresee the future, give me such a Var which is useful for my future. Then Durvaasaa Rishi gave her a Mantra which could compel any Devtaa to come and give her what she wanted.

Now one day a desire arose in her heart that she should test that Mantra. She offered Jal (water) to Soorya Dev and continued to see him for some time. When she again offered Jal to him she used that Mantra. Although she was just testing it but Soorya Dev really appeared before her and asked - "Kuntee, What do you want?"  Kuntee got scared seeing him in front of her, she said - "Hey Dev,  I don't need anything. Muni Durvaasaa gave me this Mantra, I was just testing it. You may go now."

Soorya Dev said - "Kuntee, I can't go now without giving you something, because this will be insult to Durvaasaa's Mantra. And if this Mantra fails then the minute balance of this Universe will be imbalanced. Therefore I give you a son." Kuntee again got scared, she said, "Son? But I am an unmarried girl. If I will have a son, I will be defamed in the society." Soorya Dev said - "Don't worry. You will still be unmarried. He will be born with his own Kavach (protector or armor) and Kundal (ear-rings). He will be a great alms giver so you name him Karn." And thus Soorya Dev went away after giving her a son. According to MBH, G-4-Van/52, it was on the Paush Shukla 1, Prithaa conceived a son from Soorya Dev. The boy had "Kavach and Kundal" on his body. He was shining like Soorya. With this Kavach and Kundal he could win even the whole Tri-Lok. Even Vishnu's Chakra could not kill him.

Now Kuntee was worried about that son. She could not think of anything else about him except that she had to get rid of him. So she flowed him in Gangaa River keeping him in a basket. Adhirath used to live at a short distance from there. He was taking bath at that time in Gangaa River. He saw a basket coming in the river and heard a cry of a baby, so he opened the basket and brought the baby home. He and his wife Raadhaa were childless. They brought him up as their own son. Adhirath was the Saarathee of Raajaa Shaantanu.

He named him Vasusen. Since his mother's name was Raadhaa, he was more often called Raadheya. When Raadheya grew up, he didn't show up any interest in driving chariots, he was always interested in learning weapons and their use. Once he asked his mother that why it was so, but poor Raadhaa couldn't tell any more than this that they found him in a basket, wrapped in finest silk, floating over Gangaa waters and she believed that he should be a son of some god or king. Since he was born with Kavach and Kundal, and they couldn't be of earthly origin.

Karn's Family
MBH mentions the names of his seven sons - Vrishasen, Sushen, Bhaanusen, Satyasen, (these four sons' names appear in MBH, G-6/33-battle-17) and Prasenjit and Satyasandh. MBH, G-6-War/5 mentions one more name - Vrishketu, as his son.

Wikipedia says that he had two wives - Vrishaalee, another charioteer's daughter, and Supriyaa - she was very close to Bhaanumatee (Duryodhan's wife)

Wikipedia also mentions that Karn had nine sons - Vrishsen, Sushen, Sudaamaa, Susharma alias Baansen (may be Bhaanusen), Satyasen, Shatrunjaya, Dwipat, Chitrasen,  and Vrishketu.
--Sudaamaa was killed by Arjun in the melee that followed Draupadee's Swayamvar.
--Shatrunjaya and Dwipat died in the Kurukshetra war at the hands of Arjun, during the days when the Dronaachaarya commanded the Kaurav forces.
--Sushen was killed in the war by Bheem.
--Satyasen, Chitrasen and Susharmaa died at the hands of Nakul.
Karn's eldest son Vrishsen was killed by Arjun during the last days of the war, when Karn himself commanded the battle forces. Vrishsen's death illustrates some gruesome battle detail in the Mahaabhaarat. Karn's son Vrishsen, angered at the death of his brother Chitrasen, rushed at Nakul. A fierce battle ensued and Vrishsen managed to kill Nakul's horses and pierce him with many arrows. Descending from his chariot and taking up his sword and shield, Nakul severed the heads of two thousand horsemen as he made his way toward Vrishsen. Vrishsen, seeing Nakul coming towards him whirling his sword, shattered it with four well-aimed crescent-shaped arrows. Nakul then quickly ascended Bheem's chariot and, as Arjun came near to them, he asked him for help - "Please slay this sinful person." Arjun then asked Krishn - "Proceed toward the son of Karn. I will kill him within his father's sight." Unsupported by anyone, Vrishsen challenged Arjun releasing many different kinds of arrows. He pierced Arjun's arm with ten arrows and Krishn also with ten. Arjun became enraged, and exclaimed loudly to the Kaurav kings including Karn, "Today, O Karn, I will kill your son as you unfairly killed my son, Abhimanyu! Let all the warriors protect him if they can. I will kill him, and then, O fool, I will slay you; and Bheem will slay the wretched Duryodhan, whose evil policies have brought about the great battle." Having threatened Karn, Arjun struck Vrishsen with ten arrows that weakened him. With four razor headed arrows, Arjun cut off his bow, his two arms and his head that was adorned with beautiful earrings. Beholding Vrishsen killed, Karn wept bitterly, and his eyes were red with rage. He then proceeded toward Arjun challenging him to fight.

Vrishketu was Karn's only son to survive the horror of the Kurukshetra war. He later came under the patronage of the Paandav. Vrishketu accompanied Arjun and participated in battles with Sudhanvaa and Babruvaahan during the Ashwamedh Yagya of Yudhishthir. During that campaign, Vrishketu married the daughter of king Yavanaath, perhaps a King in the west. It is recorded that Arjun developed a great affection for his nephew Vrishketu and trained him to be one of the best archers in the world.

[This is really strange that if one son of Karn (Vrishketu) survived the MBH war then what was the problem of "who will rule for Paandav"? It should have been him only, as he was the son of the eldest brother and also the eldest surviving man in the next generation. OR it means Paandav still did not regard the lineage of Karn as their own.

In fact Vrishketu was the youngest among all the sons of Paandav, and moreover his mother refused to make him king as she did not want another war. But Vrishketu spent all his life with Krishn and Arjun. In fact Uttar Mahaabhaarat describes the affection of Arjun and Vrishketu. Also Vrishketu was the last person to see Brahmaastra, Varun Astra, Agni Astra and Vaayu Astra on Earth. Krishn asked him not to pass this knowledge to anybody else as the Kali Yug was near and this knowledge could cause mass destruction.

MBH Kathaa Serial 43  by BR Chopra shows that Vrishketu was killed Arjun's son Babhruvaahan while Arjun was on the tour for Ashwamedh Yagya. He called Vrishketu from Indra Prasth to accompany him on the tour.]

According to MBH, G-6-War/24 Karn was even superior to Ashwatthaamaa, Kripaa, Drone and Bheeshm together.

Karn, According to Krishn
Krishn describes Karn to Arjun while proceeding to battle in Karn Parv:
Karn is possessed of might. He is proud and accomplished in weapons. He is a Mahaarathee. He is accomplished (in the ways of battle) and conversant with all modes of warfare. He is also well-acquainted with all that suits place and time. What need is there of saying much? Hear in brief, O son of Paandu, I regard the mighty car-warrior Karn as thy equal, or perhaps, thy superior! With the greatest care and resolution shouldst thou slay him in great battle. In energy he is equal to Agni. As regards speed, he is equal to the impetuosity of the wind. In wrath, he resembles the Destroyer himself. Endued with might, he resembles a lion in the formation of his body. He is eight Ratnee (Eight Ratnee equals eight cubits which translates to about 11' 9"). in stature. His arms are large. His chest is broad. He is invincible. He is sensitive. He is a hero. He is, again, the foremost of heroes. He is exceedingly handsome. Possessed of every accomplishment of a warrior, he is a dispeller of the fears of friends.

Karn and Dronaachaarya
Seeing his interest in archery, his father took him to Dronaachaarya for his education. Dronaachaarya saw the child and identified his talents. He asked his Kul (family) and Gotra etc and refused to educate him on the basis that Raadheya was a son of a Soot, and he was there to educate only princes and Kshatriya. But looking at him he couldn't resist to say - "Raadheya name doesn't suit your talents and glow of your face. Your name should have been Karn." Once his father called him  Karn but he said to him, "Father, others may call me by any name but you should always call me only Raadheya."

Karn and Parashuraam
When Karn could not get educated by Drone, he went to Parashuraam Jee and when he asked his caste, he told him that he was a Braahman. He had to lie him because he knew that Parashuraam Jee trained only Braahman, not the Kshatriya. Kshatriya were his the greatest enemies. He had got Prithvi empty from Kshatriya 21 times. Thus he got his education from Parashuraam Jee. Parashuraam Jee who had the ultimate weapon capable of destroying the whole world was very happy with him as his teacher. When his education was over and Karn asked him to pay about the Guru Dakshinaa, he said - "Don't worry about it, one gets a disciple like you only rarely. I feel proud of you. When I will need it, I will ask for it." Now he has grown up as a fine handsome young man, so Parashuraam Jee rather gave him his personal bow, Vijaya, to him. Parashuraam cuts the 1,000 arms of Sahastraarjun, one by one, with his Parashu and killed him. He repelled his army by showering arrows on them. The whole country greatly welcomed the destruction of Sahastraarjun. Dev Raaj Indra was so pleased with him that he presented his most beloved bow named Vijaya to Parashuraam. Indra had destroyed demon dynasties with this bow. By the fatal arrows shot with the help of this bow Parashuraam destroyed the miscreant Kshatriya 21 times. Later Parashuraam presented this bow to his disciple Karn when he was pleased with his intense devotion to the Guru (Guru Bhakti) . Karn became unconquerable with help of this bow.

Parashuraam's Shaap to Karn
Read also   Bhrigu's Shaap to Dansh Asur

This story comes in MBH, 12-Shaanti/1. Once Parashuraam was resting keeping his head in Karn's lap. That a scorpion crawled on Karn's body. Its stings bled Karn's thigh, but Karn didn't even move from his place. After a while Parashuraam Jee woke up and saw Karn bleeding, he asked - "What has happened?" Karn said - "A scorpion crawled up on my body. Its nature is to sting so it stung, and that caused bleeding." On Parashuraam Jee's asking that why didn't he remove it, he said - "If I had moved, your sleep would be disturbed, that is why."

Parashuraam Jee said - "This type of patience is not found in Braahman. No Braahman can bear so much pain, so tell me who are you?" Karn confessed that he was a Soot-Putra. At this Parashuraam Jee filled with rage gave him Shaap - "Whatever you have learned from me, you will not be able to use it when you will need it most. You will forget everything." And he went away. Karn pleaded for his forgiveness, then he said - "My words cannot go lie, but you will get abundant fame. You will be known as the best archer, and you will be famous for your generosity."

Because of this Shaap, he could not remember the Mantra to invoke Brahm Astra and was killed by Arjun.

My Note
Some say that since Parashuraam Jee told him to get Guru Dakshinaa at his will. And when he came to know that Karn was not a Braahman, he cursed him - "Since you lied to me, I take all your education back in Guru Dakshinaa." Any comments?

Other Curses on Karn
(1) After leaving Parashuraam's Aashram, Karn was roaming here and there and was practicing his archery. Accidentally he killed a cow that was rushing to him, by his arrow. At this the Braahman who owned the cow, cursed him - "As you have killed this innocent animal, you will also be killed in a helpless condition."

(2) This story has been taken from Wikipedia and is said to be an Aandhra folklore (or maybe Kerala folklore). Once Karn was driving his chariot in his kingdom Ang, that he encountered a child who was crying over a pot of Ghee which had spilt. She was scared of her stepmother for this matter. Karn assured her to have another Ghee, but the child wanted the same Ghee mixed with soil. Taking pity on the child, Karn took the soil in his hands, squeezed it hard to take out the Ghee and poured the extracted Ghee in the pot. In this process he heard a voice of a wailing woman. He opened his fist and realized that the voice was coming from the soil, the Earth goddess (Bhoo Devee). She cursed him that "in his very crucial battle of his life, she would trap his chariot wheel in such a way as he held her soil in his fist, thereby vulnerable him to enemy."

Unfortunately all these three curses came true at the same time in Kurukshetra war.
But it is strange - While the last story focuses on the might and generosity of Karn, it shows us how the intent of the deed, we always sing the praise of, was immaterial in this case. The intent was good; it was to help a young boy, yet Karn suffered. On the other side, when Bheeshm asked for water to drink, Arjun shot an arrow into the ground (Bhoomi Devee) and water gushed out to quench Bheeshm's thirst. It is said that Gangaa changed her course to quench the thirst of her son. Here, the Earth found no fault with Arjun. It was fine if Arjun did it, but when Karn does it, it becomes a point to curse. What is this?

Karn Meets Duryodhan
After Kaurav and Paandav completed their education, Dronaachaarya Jee brought them to the royal court to demonstrate what they had learned - the use of various weapons, archery, Gadaa etc. All princes were showing their talents there. Yudhishthir was good at spear, Bheem was good at Gadaa, Nakul and Sahadev were good at using swords, Duryodhan was good at Gadaa. Arjun was good at archery, so he demonstrated his archery. Dronaachaarya declared him the best archer in the world.

Karn was also looking at this demonstration from the gate. He protested Drone's decision and requested that others should also be given chance to demonstrate their talents then only the best archer should be declared. How one could be declared the best without giving any chance to others?

It surprised everyone. Duryodhan was very happy to see him as he did not like this at all that Arjun should be declared as the best archer. Karn repeated all the feats of Arjun and challenged for the contest. He was told that no commoner was eligible to contest there with princes. That hurt him in the bottom of the heart. Looking at the opportunity, Duryodhan came to his rescue, and declared him as the King of Ang Desh (present Bhaagalpur in Bihaar). But still Dronaachaarya didn't allow him to contest. Kuntee was also there. She recognized him as her first-born son from his "Kavach and Kundal" but could not say anything.

At the same time Adhirath came running there to see his son at the news that his son became a King, and both embraced each other. So now all knew that he was a son of Soot. Bheem got the opportunity, so he said - "Only Kshatriya could fight a Kshatriya, Soot-Putra could not." Karn wanted to contest but the Sun had gone down, so the time came to an end of the demonstration. Karn didn't get any opportunity to show his talents, but Paandav and Drone got embarrassed at the turn of these events.

This incident brought Karn close to Duryodhan and he became his best friend and loyal to him because he gave him respect and status when everybody insulted him. This incident also sowed the seed of jealousy in both Karn and Arjun's hearts towards each other and they became life-taking enemies of each other. On the other side Karn became faithful friend of Duryodhan and remained till the last of his breath.

Karn and Draupadee
There are two occasions on which Karn encountered Draupadee - the first one was in her Swayamvar. Karn was a very good archer. He was almost sure that he would win Draupadee as Paandav were already supposed to have died in Baaranaavat affair. He had already lifted the bow, no other person was able to even move it before him, but at the right time when he was about to pierce the eye of the fish, Draupadee refused to marry a Soot Putra even if he had shot the aim. He got so much embarrassed hearing this that he all the time was burning inside. In fact he was tired of hearing "Soot Putra" for himself.

The second time is in the Duyodhan's Dice Game. When Dice Game was being played for the first time, and Paandav had lost even Draupadee in that game. Duryodhan ordered Dushaasan to bring Draupadee dragging in the court by her hair. Dushaasan brought her like that and Duryodhan asked her to sit on his thigh. When Draupadee protested his offer, Karn said - "What is the harm for a woman, who is the wife of five husbands, in sitting on my friend's thigh?"

Krishn and Kuntee Talk to Karn
When Krishn went to Hastinaapur as a Peace messenger and was coming back from there, He talked to Karn about joining Paandav, then Kuntee also talked to him, but he was so faithful to Duryodhan that he did not agree with either of them. Krishn approached him even at the time of just commencing the war also, still he was firm in his ideas and he did not abandon Duryodhan.

Karn Donates His Kavach and Kundal to Indra
During the whole episode of Mahaabhaarat, Karn always favored Duryodhan with his true friendship and loyalty towards him. Since he was born with special blessings of his father Soorya, "Kavach and Kundal", he was undefeatable.

Indra knew that as long as he had those Kavach and Kundal, Arjun would not be able to win him, so He planned to take his Kavach and Kundal. Soorya knew this so he cautioned Karn in his dream that "Indra would come to beg your "Kavach and Kundal" in the form of a Braahman, you should refuse Him." Karn told that he could not have refused him whosoever he was and whatsoever he asked for, even his life. Then Soorya suggested him to ask for a Power in return of his "Kavach and Kundal".

As usual, after taking bath in Gangaa River Karn used to give alms to anyone asking for anything. So Indra came next day in disguise of a Braahman and asked for his "Kavach and Kundal". Since Karn knew it already, he gave his "Kavach and Kundal" to him. Indra asked him to ask for anything in return of them, but Karn said - "If I ask for anything in return of them then what is the value of my giving alms, but I do not want to disrespect you so I ask your Shakti (Power - its name was Naikartan). Indra gave him the Power, but warned him that "You will be able to use it only once, it will destroy at whom it will be aimed, but then it will come back to me". Karn said - "I need it to use only once." Soorya said - "I know that you need it to kill Arjun, but he cannot be killed because Krishn protects him, not even my Shakti." Still Karn was satisfied with that, he said - "I will do my job, rest is in the hands of my fate." (read Indra Begs Karn for fuller details)

Kuntee Also Begs Karn
Kuntee knew that Karn was fighting for Duryodhan. She went to tell him that he was her son and should join Paandav then he will be the King being the eldest Paandav. Everybody will give him respect but Karn was very faithful to Duryodhan but he refused her request too, still he said - "Since you have come to ask something from me, and I cannot fulfill your wish, but at the same time I cannot send you empty-handed also. I promise you that your five sons will remain alive after the war, whosoever dies, Arjun or me."

My Note
These three incidents: (1) Parashuraam's taking his education back in Guru Dakshinaa; (2) Indra's asking for Karn's Kavach and Kundal; and (3) Karn's promise to Kuntee that her 5 sons will remain alive; are very pathetic in Mahaabhaarat making Karn very helpless and restless. In fact his whole life seems useless. I don't know why did he come on Earth. As he was born, he was thrown away by his mother. Somehow he was brought up by Adhirath, but could not get proper and desired education. Somehow he succeeded in getting good education, but it became useless by his Guru's Shaap. Then he had Braahman's Shaap.

Unfortunately he fell in Duryodhan's hands to be forced to declare him as his friend. This kept him on evil's side. Even though he was approached by Krishn and Kuntee later to come to Paandav's camp but it was too late. Last but not the least, he was forced to donate his Kavach and Kundal, which were his life savers, to Indra in disguise of a Braahman. What for did he come as a son of Soorya? What role did he play here? Why did Soorya send him here? To suffer only?



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Created by Sushma Gupta On 5/27/04
Modified on 04/14/14