11-Karna-the greatest philanthropist!
Rishi Vaishampayan was thrilled when he narrated the story of Bharata race ancestors. He said, ‘O King Janmejaya, I have narrated how Karna was born to Kunti when she was in her maidenhood. Now, I shall tell you some striking incidents of Karna’s life! Listen to me carefully.’ Then he began—-
Karna was radiant and beautiful, and it seemed as if the light was emanating from his body like his father- Sun god! He was born with divine armour and a pair of earrings. After giving birth to Karna, Kunti was scared of being a mother in her maidenhood. To hide her fault, she placed the child in a box and set it afloat in the river Ganga. Coincidentally, Adhiratha- a charioteer found the box in the river. When he opened it, the charioteer was amazed to see the gorgeously beautiful child! He was overwhelmed with joy! He took it home and handed it over to his wife Radha. Thus Karna, the son of the Sun god and Kunti, grew up with his foster- parents. They gave his name Vasusena because he was born with wealth (divine armour and earrings). In the course of time, he grew up very strong and became an expert in all weapons. He was a great devotee of Lord Surya! Possessed of great energy, he worshipped the Sun until his back was scorched by its rays. When he was engaged in his worship, there was nothing on this earth that the heroic and intelligent Vasusena (the other name of Karna) would not give to anyone! *** All the princes of the Kuru race- Pandavas and Kauravas learnt the practice of arms first from Kripacharya and later from Guru Dronacharya. A day was fixed to show their proficiency in arms in the presence of Royal members and the public. A large crowd gathered in an open arena. The audiences were excited, and thrilled to see the extraordinary display of weapons by their beloved princess! With the command of Drona, the feats began. Everyone showed their skill but the crowd were lost in wonder and admiration seeing the superhuman skill of Arjun! Suddenly, a thunder-like sound- slapping of mighty arms shocked the audience at once! The sound was deep and challenging and came from the entrance of the arena. The feat was about to close but halted for the moment. Everybody's eyes turned in that direction to know who it was! A young, gorgeous youth entered the arena, casting a negligent look at Drona and Kripacharya. He was shining like a godly look! Fixing his eyes on Arjun, he spoke scornfully, ‘O Arjun! I can show better skill what you have displayed.’ With Drona’s permission, he displayed the feats at ease without much effort. Beholding the courageous, brave youth, Duryodhan draped his arm around his neck and said, ‘O noble mighty arms! We, the Kauravas and the whole kingdom are at your command. It seems the good fortune has sent you to us.’ Overwhelmed with joy, the youth said, ‘O king, I am Karna, truly grateful to you! I am honoured, my lord! I only wish for two things- your love and single combat with Arjun! Duryodhana hugged Karna once again. As love flooded Duryodhana's heart, so did blazing wrath fill Arjuna! Glaring fiercely at Karna, Arjun said, ‘O Karna! Don't wait to be slain by me and go to hell. You came as an intruder uninvited to show pride!’ Supported by Kauravas, Karna retorted, ‘Shame on you, Arjun! This arena is open for all not for you alone. Might is the sanction of sovereignty and the law is based on it. It's better to shoot arrows rather than mere words.’ Thus challenged, Arjun with Drona’s permission hastily embraced his brothers and stood ready for combat, while Karna was cheered by Duryodhana and other Kauravas faced him. As the combat was ready to begin, the divine parents of the two unbeatable heroes were ready to encourage their offspring and witness the fateful battle. Lord Indra- the lord of thunderclouds and Suryadev- the bearer of infinite rays appeared in the sky. Seeing Karna ready to confront to Arjun, Kunti knew him as her firstborn and lost her sense. Wise Vidura immediately asked the maid-servant to attend to her. A few minutes later she revived. But she stood speechless with anguish not knowing what to do. When both were ready to start, Kripacharya who was well versed in scriptures said, ‘O thou mighty arms, the young youth who stood before thee is the son of Pandu and Kunti, a scion of Kuru race! O noble stranger reveal your lineage. Only after knowing thy lineage, Partha can fight with thee Otherwise he cannot be engaged in single combat with unknown strangers.’ Hearing the announcement of Kripa, Karna drooped his head like a lotus under heavy rain. Immediately Duryodhana said, ‘If the combat cannot take place merely because he is not a prince, then I crown Karna as the king of Anga. With the permission of Bhishma and Dhritarashtra, he then performed all the rituals required for a king, giving crowns, jewels and other royal insignia. When the single combat was about to commence, at that time, Adhiratha- the charioteer entered the assembly to embrace his son. Overwhelmed with joy, he was trembling. Knowing Karna- the son of a charioteer, Bhimsen scornfully roared, ‘O son of a charioteer, better if you hold the whip to define yourself. You are not worthy of death by Partha.’ The bitter words of Bhimsen pierced through the heart of Karna. He glared at him full of hatred and anguish. Duryodhana retorted furiously, ‘O Vrikodara, shame on you and your little knowledge! Remember O second Pandava, valour is the hallmark of a Kshatriya! Look at this godlike form, his skill with weapons and his divine armour. I strongly believe- there is some mystery about him, or else can a tiger be born of an antelope?!’ Defending Karna strongly, Duryodhana took him on his chariot and drove away. Lord Indra foresaw that a supreme contest was inevitable in future between his son Arjun and Karna. So, Indra in disguise as a Brahamana came to him for alms. Ever engaged in doing good to Arjun, he asked for the armour and earrings. The Sun God had already warned him in his dream that Indra would try to deceive him in this manner. But, Karna was famous for his charity, so immediately he cut off his earrings and armour and gave them to the Brahmin (Lord Indra in disguise). Indra was exceedingly happy and granted a boon. Listening to his words, Karna said, ‘O lord! If you are pleased, then grant me your Shakti!’ Indra gave his Shakti and said, ‘O Karna! You can use it against one only! And it will kill whosoever it may be. But after killing, the weapon will no longer be with you. It will come back to me again’. After granting the boon to Karna, Indra disappeared. Dejected by Drona, Karna went to Lord Parshuram to become his disciple and to learn the mantra for Brahmastra. He knew that Parshuram didn't accept anyone except Brahmins as his pupil. So presenting himself as a Brahmin, he became the disciple of Lord Parshuram. He learnt all the divine mantras for celestial weapons. Once Parshuram reposed his head on Karna’s thigh and slept. A stinging worm burrowed Karn’s thigh and blood streamed out. He was in terrible pain but sat firmly without tremors. After a while, Parshuram woke up with the touch of his warm blood. He was surprised to see the firmness of Karna. Immediately he asked, ‘O Karna! Reveal the truth. A Brahmin has no strength to tolerate this pain except Kshatriyas. What are you?!’ At last, Karna very politely confessed his lie. The very next moment Ram roared, ‘You deceived your Guru! Because of this, you can never recall the mantras for Brahmastra when you need it most!’ That's the reason when Karna was engaged in the last fight with Arjun, his chariot wheel stuck into the ground. He tried his best to pull it and to recall the mantra of Brahamastra, but everything was futile. At last, Arjun killed him on the battlefield!