Karna and Arjuna: the genesis
A gem of a boy named Vasusena (later Karna) appeared in the city of Champa, near the banks of Ganges. He was talented enough to rule the world. Additionally, he harboured the ambition to be a great warrior. This quest brought him to Hastinapura and especially to Duryodhana, a powerful prince. As time went by, this friendship blossomed.
Karna began dreaming of power and glory to such an extent, that he forgot his natural instinct and an urge to learn. Even though he had the best of teachers in Dronacharya and Kripacharya, he could not capitalise on it. Finally, he went to the master of all masters, Bhargava Parashurama, who was divinity manifested. Yet, he did not find peace, since, he was not aligned with his true nature of being a curious life.
At the same time, a boy named Arjuna started studying under Dronacharya. Initially, Drona was hesitant to teach him with all his heart. However, Arjuna’s dedication forced the acharya to teach him all that he knew. His simplicity of mind made brought out the most focussed version of himself, thus immortalizing him as the favourite of Krishna himself.
Eventually, Arjuna slays Karna, owing to many circumstances. However, what can we learn out of this rivalry? Keep reading!
Gratitude and Victimhood
Every aspect of our epics carries a much deeper significance than mere factual events. Karna-Arjuna rivalry is no exception to this allegorical nature of our epics.
Karna, who is portrayed as an unfortunate warrior (in popular culture and not in Mahabharata) represents a sense of victimhood. Many times in our lives we go through a feeling of being deprived of what was rightfully ours and Karna seconded this throughout his life. On the other hand, Arjuna is portrayed with abundance. Many people feel that he was blessed and received more than he deserved, while he himself was grateful for whatever he had. He represents a sense of gratitude. It is a logical corollary that your sense of ‘gratitude’ can kill your sense of ‘victimhood’ which is beautifully portrayed as Arjuna killing Karna.
Law of Karma
Existentially law of Karma never fails. We get what we deserve. Both the warriors received everything they deserved viz. glory, prosperity etc. They were wonderful human beings. However, Karna made himself miserable with his feeling of victimhood while Arjuna evolved as a better human being owing to his sense of gratitude. So, the meta point is, whenever you feel a sense of victimhood feel Gratitude for whatever you have. Arouse the Arjuna(Gratitude) within you to kill the Karna(victimhood) in you.
We can draw another profound lesson here. When Krishna visited Hastinapura for peace mission, he reached out to Karna to switch sides and in that process, he revealed the latter’s identity to him. Krishna robbed Karna of his hatred and resurrected the greatness in him: though Karna did not change sides. Please note that Krishna reached out to Karna. To the contrary, Arjuna reached out to Krishna in the Kurukshetra; the result being the Bhagvad Gita and Arjuna’s unconditional surrender to Krishna.
This brings in a very important point i.e. surrendering your individual ego to higher reasoning. Karna placed his ego and attachment to Duryodhana above Krishna and perished. Conversely, Arjuna surrendered to Krishna and rose above his attachment towards Bheeshma and Drona. One rejected Krishna and perished, another surrendered to him and lived.
- This was inspired by one of the talks of Amish Tripathi.
- Read a related article ‘Ajaya’: Analysing the invincibility of Duryodhana!
- A must-read article Arjuna’s Dilemma and Bhagvad Gita