The Birth of Karna

Kunti, the wife of Pandu and the mother of five Pandavas, has been projected as one of the most tragic characters in Mahabharata. She was married to an arguably impotent king and in no time was put to competition against her husband’s second wife. Being the wife of a king, she spent a considerable part of her life in the forest, first with her husband and then twice with her sons (each phase consisted of several years). Yet, the biggest of all tragedies that she probably faced was seeing her eldest son die at the hands of her fourth son in the Kurukshetra war. What made it worse was that all her life she couldn’t give her eldest son the love of a mother and the care that was his right.┬áThis son, of course, was Karna.

Kunti’s original name was Pritha and she was the daughter of Shurasena. Biologically, she belonged to the Yadava clan. However, she was adopted by Shurasena’s friend, Kuntibhoja and he renamed her Kunti. She led a life of princesses at the palace of Kuntibhoja. Those were probably the only years of her without misery.

Once Rishi Durvasa, the sage known for temper as short as the name of Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘superhit’ movie “D”, an expert at pronouncing curses, visited the kingdom of Kuntibhoja. People were so scared of crossing his path that they weren’t sure what would anger the sage that would make him pronounce a curse that will ruin their lives forever. I have never been able to understand why this person was honoured and respected so much by one and all when being a sage he had not get rid of his anger. Anyway, the king, being aware of Mr. D’s special requirements, made sure that he is not attended by any maid, but by his adopted daughter, Kunti.

Kunti’s values par excellence ensured that no wish of Mr. D was returned unfulfilled. As a fourteen year old teenager, she displayed extra-ordinary skills of hospitality that far from a curse, Mr. D was actually impressed. When it was time to leave he told Kunti…

Mr. D: Kid, you’re good! Your parents have brought you up well and I’m impressed. Tell me what do you wish for and it will be yours.

Kunti: Respectable Mr. D, I have still not added items on my Flipkart wish-list, and my wifi is down, so please bless me with something that you think I will require in future.

Now no one knows what Mr. D actually foresaw, but he blessed Kunti with a mantra through which she could invoke a deva and bear a son from him. Probably, he foresaw that Kunti would be married to a (arguably) impotent king and would need this boon to run the future generations. Or simply, he would have thought what could be a better blessing for a future queen to have supernatural sons. Finally, he left.

Remember the time when you were a teenager and your parents told you to take care. Not many parents allow their kids to experience some kind of adventures too early in life. This female has a big role to play in that. One day, when Kunti was offering her early morning prayers to the Sun-god, she was fascinated by the sheer purity of the light that originated from the far-away star. She wondered whether the boons she had actually had the power to invoke a deva and make him appear before her. In her curiosity, she invoked the mantra given by Mr. D while thinking of the Sun-god. In an instant, she was surrounded by the brightest beam of light and saw the Sun-god appear before her.

Sun-god: Thanks for the invitation Kunti! Let me offer what I have been invited for.

Kunti: No Sun-god. I invoked you just to check if the mantras really worked. I have no such intentions. I am still a kid. A fourteen and a half year old teenager who still plays with dolls.

Sun-god: That might be true Kunti, but no one can overturn the power of mantras. If I have been invited on earth by this specific mantra, then I will have to give you a son irrespective of your situation. Not performing up to the mantra will disrupt the cosmic balance of nature. Your culture might not allow you to have a son as a teenager, but nature has no such barriers. The son has to be provided.

Kunti: But please think about me once. I will grow up to be married to a king. Who will marry me once I deliver a child before marriage. No king shall accept me as his wife if I am not a virgin.

Sun-god: What you will do is not my concern. I am here to perform my duty and I will. You decide what you want to do with the son. You have taken an action, bear the consequences. All that I can do is to ensure that your virginity will stay in tact even after your delivery. Your husband will never know about the reality unless you reveal it to him personally.

Saying this, the Sun-god finally gave Kunti a beautiful son, an infant bedecked with a celestial armor and earrings.

The Birth of Karna 1

Sun-god: This celestial armor and earrings are my blessings to this son of ours. No weapon can harm this boy as long as they are on him. He is destined to be a great warrior, and he will need these. It’s time for me to leave.

And the Sun-god disappeared just as quickly as he had arrived. The teenager Kunti was now suddenly a mother. But who could she reveal it to? No one. For having a son as a teenager would have brought great shame to her as per the culture and more so, as she was the daughter of a king. With great agony in her heart, she decided to abandon the son and promised herself not to reveal the secret to anyone.

She swaddled the baby and placed him in a box. She put some of her jewelry into the box to ensure that whosoever finds the box just doesn’t view the baby as an onus but as a reward and that jewelry help him take care of the son, for as long as it could. Finally, the teenaged mother floated the box in the river and prayed Sun-god to take care of their child from the sky as she knew she would fail to do it on earth.

The Birth of Karna 2

This son was found by Adirath, the charioteer of the king of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra. Adirath had always longed for a son but he and his wife, Radha could never have one. He saw this son with celestial armor and earrings as a blessing of God and decided to adopt him. They named this son Vasusena, but the people who knew him also called him Radheya (the son of Radha). However, in her graduation certificate, the official name appeared as Karna.

The Curse of the Eight Vasus

The eight vasus are the eight demi-gods Anala, Anila, Soma, Ahas, Dhara, Dhruva, Pratyoosha and Prabhasa. Together, they represent the very elements of the Mother Nature.

Once, the wife of Prabhasa persuaded her husband to get her a cow which actually belonged to Rishi Vashisht. Prabhasa was initially reluctant to ask for anything from a Brahmin but disarmed by the usual weakness of a man towards his wife, he agreed to steal the cow for her. With the help of his seven brothers, the eight vasus purloined away Vashisht’s cow for Prabhasa’s wife. Rishi Vashisht, through his ascetic powers, figured out that the stealth was an act of the vasus. He cursed the eight vasus to be born on earth as mortals and suffer the pain like all mortals do.

The eight vasus begged Rishi Vashisht for mercy, but as I mentioned here, a curse could not be taken back. It could, at best, be modified. Rishi Vashisht granted some relief to the seven vasus that their lifetime on earth would be short and after that they could ascend to paradise. But the eighth vasu, Prabhasa, who instigated the other seven to steal the cow out of his passion for his wife would suffer the pain of the account of all the seven vasus.

He who committed a crime out of desire for his wife will never know the pleasure of a woman. Even without a wife and sons, he will spend his entire life struggling to serve his household. And in the end he will die at the hands of a woman, for his desire for a woman made him turn vasus into criminals.

The Eight Vasus

The eight vasus then went to the Mother of all beings, Ganga to help them keep their stay on earth short. Ganga, who too was cursed by Brahma to suffer as a mortal on earth promised them that she would give them birth through her own womb and will drown them in the waters of Ganga to set them free from the curse the moment they would be born. Ganga drowned the seven vasus immediately on their birth, but Rishi Vashisht’s curse came true when she was about to drown Prabhasa and she was stopped by Shantanu. It was Prabhasa who grew up as Devavrata, later to be known as Bheeshma for his terrible oath, the oath that will be the cause of all his suffering and also, in a way, the cause of the Kurukshetra war.

Vishnu and Bhudevi – The Preserver and the Earth Goddess

Now “Sustainability” is not just an MBA buzz word. It is a serious concept. A damn serious one. So serious that ignoring it and not trying to work in its direction can land you into battlefields (and mind you, here I am not being metaphorical).

Much before the Kurukshetra War (and probably after the menace caused by Parshuram), the Earth Goddess (aka Bhudevi) went to the Preserver of the Universe, Vishnu, in the form of a cow and begged for help. The following conversation took place (probably in Sanskrit).

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Bhudevi: I am replete with warriors, and these warriors think no end to themselves. In the quest of creating culture, cities, dams and armies they have mindlessly destructed all that I had for them. They have cut the forests, polluted the water and land. But their lust knows no limits. Moreover, a few rich and powerful are doing this in abundance while depriving the weaker of their rightful share. They have so recklessly squeezed milk out of my udders that they are sore.

(Vishnu was furious at this discovery. He tried to comfort the Earth Goddess and made a declaration.)

Vishnu: These homo sapiens of the warrior community are indeed a bunch of maniacs. They have forgotten their place, and they have forgotten yours. They do not see you, the provider of all resources, as their mother but they regard you as their property. Their greed has made them stoop down to this level that they have lost all sense of Dharma. They will certainly learn a lesson and that too the hard way. That’s a promise!

(Then looking towards the tragic face of the cow)

Do not worry! I will descend on Earth as a cowherd to protect you. I promise you that the greedy and unrighteous Kshatriyas will pay for your milk with their blood.

Krishna and Cow

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Thus Vishnu declared his arrival as Krishna, the cowherd, determined to teach unrighteous Kshatriyas a lesson and re-establish Dharma. Thus, one can say the war was, in a way, inevitable. The uncompromising Kuru princes were but the catalysts.