Biographies | Men
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
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.
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.
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
Karn and Dronaachaarya
Karn and Parashuraam
Parashuraam's Shaap to Karn
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.
Other Curses on Karn
(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."
Karn Meets Duryodhan
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
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
Karn Donates His Kavach and Kundal to Indra
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
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?
Created by Sushma Gupta On 5/27/04
Modified on 04/14/14