Introduction :

Of all the characters in the great Indian epic Mahabharata it is undoubtedly the role of Karna that demands special attention not only because of his brave character and chivalry but also for the critical misfortune and moral dilemma that destiny had quite unjustly imposed upon him since the very time of his birth. In spite of being the son of the highly respected Sun God, he is given a brutal and helpless death.

Even while alive, he has never been given his due respect by any character in the text, no matter how wise they may be. In spite of being lawfully the eldest son of Kunti and hence the eldest brother of the Pandavas he never has received that blissful seat and by the curse of destiny has to bear the identity of a Suta-putra, that continuously deprives him from his due respect and glory. Still he manages to receive brilliance in warfare and becomes invincible with his supreme ability.



This sheer quality of him as an invincible warrior is timely noticed and capitalised by the evil-minded Duryodhana who since the inception of his friendship with Karna endows him with enormous respect and gifts so much so that can literally purchase the gratitude of Karna. As a result when the time comes for Karna to know his true identity and switch sides in favour of the Pandavas he has to reject his responsibility of bloodline and give priority to his indebted responsibility of gratitude. Ironically this could also be considered as the turning point in the story of Mahabharata.

Karna  had the unsympathetic attitude and ability to cast a severe demolition upon the Pandavas in war. Other great warriors like Bhishma or Dronachariya in Kaurava army were to some extent fond and sympathetic of the Pandava brothers. Hence if Karna could have switched sides in proper time, the havoc of the Kurukshetra war could have been avoided. But again this might have been the God’s will or the individual destiny of each soldier in the great war.


Summary :

Considering the grand epic style and length of the episode of Temptation of Karna the entire phase can be chronologically divided into several important sections. Each section builds up the tension which gradually turns out to be fatal both for the men involved in the war and for Karna himself. But the sheer grandeur of the episode is such that we rather tend to sympathise with this robust character and never blame him for not obliging to the lawful temptation of power and respect and authority.

Krishna’s approach to Karna : Having judged the inevitability of war Srikrishna approaches Karna to make a final attempt to save the world from war. Srikrishna had known this well that if Karna can switch sides the Kauravas would invariably become the weaker side and thus the war might have been avoided. So he employs his persuasive skill and attempts to make a diplomatic deal with Karna.

He reminds Karna that the latter is well versed in “the subtleties of scriptures regarding the Law” and has received education from eminent Brahmins. Hence it is the expectation from Karna to remain unaffected against any material greed; it does not suit an erudite person like him to forgo the path of lawfulness and favour the Kaurava. Srikrishna lets Karna know his true identity that he is the eldest son of Kunti and that the sun God is his father. It was only due to immature fear of degradation that Kunti had at an early age abandoned Karna.

By virtue of his education Karna must know that a son born to a woman before marriage is “counted the son of her wedded husband as the son she bears in marriage”. However, it should also be noted that the first three of Pandavas were all born to Kunti through some or the other Gods and not through Pandu. Hence Karna deserves to be the eldest of the Pandavas and receive all due respect and recognition. It is thus justified for him to join the Pandava camp instead of taking up arms against his own brothers. At this point Srikrishna presents a list of salutations that are due for Karna,



“Come with me today, my son; the Pandavas shall have to recognise you as the Kaunteya senior to Yudhishthira. The five Pandavas shall clasp your feet as your brothers, and so shall the five sons of Draupadi

, and the unvanquished son of Subhadra.”

He adds that all the kings and barons and other dignitaries of the Pandava side would offer tributes and honour to Karna. He would be consecrated the king and Yudhishthira would mount the chariot only after Karna; the mighty Bhima would hold the grand white umbrella over his head; Arjuna would drive Karna’s chariot drawn by white horses. Abhimanyu, Nakula, Sahdeva and the five sons of Pandavas would willingly be at Karna’s service. This mighty alliance of brothers would shatter all enemy sides.

Karna’s moral dilemma : In spite of being a fierce warrior Karna had always been a very gentle, sensible and kind-hearted character. Though he has suffered a lot due to Kunti’s abandoning him after his birth, he remains very humble and polite to the proposal of Srikrishna and greets the latter with due respect. He obliges to the information that he received just now that he is the son of Kunti and that as per law deserves the right to be the senior Pandava.

He also respects Srikrishna’s sincere endeavour to reveal the harsh, but necessary truth and prevent Karna from taking the wrong side in battle. But at the very same time he has certain other moral obligations as well. He may not be the real child of Adhiratha and Radha, but this mere fact cannot undo their love and affection for him and cannot thus entitle him to deny his responsibility towards them. Switching to the Pandava side would indirectly recognise him as Kaunteya and this new identity would show disregard to his present parents. Hence his moral dilemma is justified and Kunti must have to take responsibility to this consequence of her abandoning him at birth.



A man who knows the law and always took care to listen to the scripture of the Law? Adhiratha, the suta, thinks of me as his son, and my love demands that I think him as my father.”

Added to this is his indebtedness to Duryodhana. Since the beginning of his career everyone had always  neglected him  due to his identity as a sutaputra. He possessed all the qualities that a royal family son ought to, even in some higher degree. Just because his true identity was hidden from the world he had to suffer rejection from all important spheres in his life.

Duryodhana  had extended him the courtesy of his friendship and gave him a separate province to take care. Duryodhana involved Karna into more serious activities related to administration. Now if it happens , Duryodhana had a pre-planned strategy to capitalise Karna’s valour later on against the Pandavas, it does not enable Karna to deny Duryodhana’s services to him at this point after duly taking benefit of all those services.

By saying this Karna regrets to Srikrishna that it would be unjustified for him to join the Pandava. His newly revealed identity must not compel him to disobey his previous commitments. And even if he accepts the kingdom and throne of the Pandavas, he would be passing it on to Duryodhana out of his gratitude for the latter. This would not be what Srikrishna desires. Instead, it would be better if the army formation of both the side remain the same.

And by the grace of almighty the Pandava side must win the battle because they are at the side of law and truth. Let Srikrishna be their mentor. Karna also shows his deep regret for his past insulting behaviour against the Pandavas and especially Draupadi. As a self esteemed gentleman he wishes that life must come to a full circle at the end of war. Perhaps this hints towards his wish for his own punishment too.



Srikrishna is also not happy to let him go like this. It is true that Karna cannot forget his past and delve into his newly found identity of grandeur. But at the same time remaining at the evil side even after knowing about their true self is also not a wise judgement. But nothing is  going to persuade Karna. He knows that he has chosen the paths of gloom. Still he is bound by his conviction of commitments. He declares that victory should come to the Pandavas for sure.

They are at the side of law and truth. Whoever would support Duryodhana, Duhsasana, Shakuni, destiny must damn them because this is the company of all ill-deeds and evil minds. Soon Arjuna’s Gandib would dominate the field of Kurukshetra; Bhima would drink the blood of Duhsasana, and gradually the Kaurava side would see their men dying. Karna would have to go to Guru Drona and Kripachariya to ask to stop the war as this is not going to have anything other than death.

Karna also says that he has ominous premonitions about the calamity of all Kauravas. Surely great danger is larking for the Kauravas as the configuration of stars and planets hint at: “Meteors are falling from the sky with hurricanes and earthquakes. The elephants are trumpeting, the horses are shedding tears and take no pleasure in water and fodder, Madhava.



But even after having full knowledge of this inevitable damnation Karna has made up his mind to remain to the evil side and succumb to his fate. Here lies the bravery and chivalry of a royal hero who is not only marvellous in battle, but also supremely wise in his moral judgement, no matter how critical it may be.

Kunti’s approach to Karna : Srikrishna is not the only one to approach Karna for melting his heart for the Pandavas, Kunti, in fact plays a much bigger role in the same endeavour and meets Karna beside river Bhagirathi. But this attempt is more out of apprehension of the defeat of Pandavas in the hands of Karna than out of concern for her lost first child. We all know that Karna is capable to cause havoc in the battle and that the great archer Arjuna is going to be the prime rival of him. More over Karna has obtained certain deadly weapons to his collection that can kill an entire Pandava army in minutes. Added to this is his Kabach Kundala that makes him invincible and immortal in war. Hence she has a deliberate intention to make a visit to him:

Karna is obdurate in a great cause, and always strong enough to visit disaster on the Pandavas; and that burns me now. Today I hope to soften Karna’s heart towards the Pandavas, when I approach him and show him the truth.”

She remembers her maidenhood when she enjoyed the freedom and honour in her father’s house. Once the sage Durvasa appeared there and granted her the boon of conjuring up gods. Just out of curiosity she had reckoned the sun God and conceived his child without having the least idea of its consequence. When the baby came to the world, she started worrying about her honour.

Her honour was more important to her than her affection towards her own very first child. This is why she could abandon the new born baby. Though this act of abandoning does not endow her to receive any respect from that child later on, still she expects that now Karna would obey’ her. It is ironical that she appeals for the safety of her children from her own child whose safety was  a matter concern of her.

When she meets Karna by the banks of river Bhagirathi Karna is  reciting a prayer in folded hands facing the river. She waits for his recitation to finish. Then Karna turns to her and calmly and respectfully addresses her in a manly approach and introduces himself as the son of Adhiratha and Radha. Although he has already known about his relationship with Kunti, he does make no mention of that. It is Kunti first who makes the approach and repeats the same information to Karna about his birth.

She even goes to the extent of proving it by praying the Sun God to appear and recognise Karna as their son “with inborn earrings and armour”. Thus he is proved as the child of God like the other Pandava brothers and as per law he deserves to be the eldest son of Pandu. Kunti argues that he should therefore “enjoy Yudhishthira’s fortune, the fortune once won by Arjuna and greedily stole by scoundrels.

Let Karna and Arjuna be like Rama and Janardana. When the two of you are united in spirit, what could you not achieve in the world! Surrounded by your five brothers, you shall surely shine forth, Karna like Brahma surrounded by the Vedas and their branches. … your title will no longer be that of the son of a suta; you shall be a heroic Partha!”



Karna greets both of them with due politeness. But then he declares that since the time of his birth up to this date a long time has passes and a lot of events have happened which are undeniable. Kunti’s act of mere innocent rejection of a new-born baby has caused irreparable damage to Karna. Now the consequences are due on her part to face. It would be an act of treachery for him if at this point of beginning of war he leaves the side of his benefactor, Duryodhana.

When there has been nobody by his side, it was Duryodhana only to have supported him and made him the king of Anga. When he has to choose between his new found due respect as the senior Pandava and his personal respect of commitment to his friend Duryodhana he would definitely go for the later one. It is the duty of a warrior. Therefore though this is his very first meeting with his biological mother Kunti and she has come to him begging for a reunion of her all sons, Karna is unable to satisfy his mother’s wish.

“What enemy could have done me greater harm than you have? When there was time to act you did not show me your present compassion. And now you have laid orders on me, the son to whom you denied the sacraments. You have never acted in my interest like a mother, and now, here you are enlightening me solely in your own interest.”

It would be cowardice for him to join the Pandava army now. The Kaurava army is banking upon him for he would be their chief warrior to fight against the left handed archer, Arjuna of the Pandavas. Now all of a sudden if he himself joins hand in hand with his sole competition Arjuna himself there cannot be anything more shameful and humiliating than that. However, since Kunti has taken the pain of coming to him and placing this request, he would not let her return empty-handed.

Hence he promises Kunti that he would not cause any harm to the other four Pandavas except Arjuna, because his duel with Arjuna is inevitable. He would have to fight against Arjuna till anyone of the two is alive. But either way, Kunti would not loose the number of her present sons; it would remain five irrespective of whoever · dies in that duel.



“In killing Arjuna on the battlefield I shall find my reward, or reap fame if the left-handed archer kills me. So never shall your sons’ number be less than five, glorious woman: either without Arjuna but with Arjuna, if I am killed.”
At the end Kunti has nothing more left to pursue Karna to her proposal and asks him to at least keep his promise and spare her four sons in the war.

The lurking war : We should all know that the real identity of Karna, though unknown to many, has never Leen a mystery to Srikrishna. He could have disclosed the truth much earlier if had wished. Still the revelation of truth has been postponed probably with the objective of trying to stop the war that had been a predestined event in history.

But even that political trick fails too. With the repeated failures of Srikrishna and Kunti to persuade and allure Karna to join the Pandava side comes in the inevitable prophecy of war.

If Karna had switched side the Kaurava battalion would have surely lost their half power and valour. The evil-minded Duryodhana might have given a second thought to announce the war. But now that hope is gone. The peace proposal brought in by Srikrishna is ruthlessly turned down by Duryodhana. Bhishma becomes furiously agitated and tries his best to remind Duryodhana about his own oath of not to marry and to forego the greed of power only for the sake of their clan.

Hence even after being the most senior member and one of the most competent members of the family he is still not the king. Thus Duryodhana should also let the elder Yudhishthira become the king and oblige to his sovereignty:


“Great-souled Yudhishthirs id the Heir; This realm has lawfully fallen to him. The master is he of the Kaurava people, For him to rule in majesty…

Cast off your delusion and render them half Of the realm and requisite mounts and retainers; Only the, lord of men, may you and your brothers Still have the rest of your lives to live.”

Vidura, Dronachariya, Gandhari and even Dhritarashtra too try to convince him not to wage war against the Pandavas. But so great is the influence of single Shakuni that none of these persuasions are able to penetrate the obstinate Duryodhana’s mind and he is reluctant to even allow as minimum as five villages to the Pandavas to live. The competence for the crown has to be judged only through war.

Thus at the failure of the Temptation of Karna episode, Srikrishna’s peace proposal phase also ends up in an utter failure. Most of the senior members in the court understand that Duryodhana is actually inviting his own doom, but he himself is unaware of this due to his vain pride. The Kuru race would soon disappear to pay off the cost of this pride. Yudhishthira has left with no option than to unwillingly accept the challenge of war.






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