Although born to Yadav Princess Kunti as a result of ‘divine virgin birth,’ with blessings of the Sun God, Karna was raised by a family of charioteers and hence, suffered lifelong humiliation for having lower social status.
His was a life full of trials and tribulations. Had the turn of events, right from his miraculous birth and education to alliance with the Kauravas and death in the battlefield shifted even a bit, this warrior would perhaps have far surpassed Pandavas in popularity.
Here, we present before you a set of 23 lesser known facts about this warrior:
1. Karna was adopted by Adhiratha (and his wife Radha) who found him by the riverbank after the frightened virgin princess (Kunti) decided to let go of her firstborn and flew him down the river in a basket.
She was afraid that hardly anyone would believe the ‘divine virgin birth’ story. From birth, the child had divine earrings and a vest that would protect him from all dangers, including all kinds of weapons. She prayed to the Sun God to protect their son and lowered the basket into the river.
2. Adhiratha, Karna’s foster father, was charioteer of Pitamah Bheesma.
3. Adhiratha warned the young lad against practicing archery.
Only the Kshatriya clan (the warrior class) had this privilege. Adhiratha feared that his son, due to his divine vest & earrings, and a possible superiority in archery over princes, could easily offend the high and mighty in the capital.
4. But Karna had an unquenchable thirst for learning the art of war, and archery in particular.
5. So, he pleaded with Guru Dronacharya (master of advanced military arts) to accept him as a disciple; Dronacharya refused to train Karna due to his low social status.
The royal preceptor to Kuru princes, Dronacharya even insulted Karna for aspiring to learn military arts alongside the royals despite having come from the family of charioteers. Obviously, the young boy was infuriated. He swore to become a disciple of the one who trained Dronacharya himself. On that very day, he was on his way to Parshurama’s abode.
6. Karna tried to fool Parshurama into believing that he was a Brahmin.
He faked his identity to become a disciple of Parshurama, a legendary Brahmin warrior who had earlier trained Guru Dronacharya and Pitamah Bheesma.
Although it is hard to believe that a saint and warrior of Parshurama’s stature would get beseeched by Karna, the sage anyhow agreed to train the young boy in military arts.
7. Later, when it became obvious that Karna had lied, the great teacher cursed him that he’d lose all his knowledge and training in military arts just when he needed it the most.
An honest confession by Karna could not save him from the wrath of Parshurama.
8. Karna had already acquired Brahmashtra mantra from Parshurama by then.
9. For having killed a cow by mistake, he was cursed a second time by a Brahmin.
The Brahmin, whose cow had died, cursed Karna – ‘The wheels of your chariot will get stuck in the mud, just like the feet of my cow, when you would need it the most.’ The curse later conjured at the scene of his death.
10. Later on, Karna tried to use Brahmashtra, the ultimate weapon against Arjuna during the war but couldn’t invoke the sacred mantra.
This was the moment when Parshurama’s curse materialized.
11. Karna, after having learnt everything he could from Parshurama, returned to Hastinapur and challenged Arjuna for a duel.
Karna showed up during military arts demonstration by Kauravas and Pandavas in the arena when Dronacharya proclaimed the Pandav prince Arjuna to be the greatest archer on the planet. There was no way Karna could accept Arjuna, a disciple of Dronacharya, to be the greatest archer.
The spectators, royals and elite at the arena insulted Karna for challenging a prince despite having a lower social status.
Duryodhana, sworn enemy of Arjuna and his brothers, saw in Karna a counterweight to Pandavas. He at once declared Karna as the king of a small state, putting concerns regarding his social status to rest.
On this day Karna, although a great archer, was humiliated by one and all in the capital, in front of his foster parents and Kunti, his biological mother.
For having stood by his side, Karna swore to forever serve Duryodhana.
12. Though he had all the wisdom to see through Duryodhana’s ways, he refused to do anything against the prince, right unto his death!
13. Karna was aware of the fact that Duryodhana and Shakuni had hatched an evil plan to burn Kunti and Pandavas alive at Lakshagrih.
Grieved, he went home to his parents Adhiratha and Radha. Fond of Kunti (his biological mother) as a motherly figure since his childhood years in the capital, he ended up passing on a hint about the plan to Adhiratha.
Adhiratha informed Pitamah Bheesma, who in turn headed straight to rescue Kunti and Pandavas. By then, all 6 of them had escaped.
Karna, anyhow, was saved from the sin of partaking in an evil plan, designed to murder his kin.
14. Upon learning the great dilemma Karna was in for having sworn allegiance to Duryodhana, his father Adhiratha advised him to absolve himself of sins by donating his wealth and belongings to the needy.
This is how Karna acquired the name Daanveer – a hero with undying charitable nature.
15. At the right moment, before the war began, Indra showed up as a Brahmin and demanded the protective gear as donation from Karna.
Even though Karna was well aware of this treacherous plan, he still decided to rip apart the divine vest & earrings and hand them over to Indra, the spiritual father of Arjuna.
16. Pleased with the donor’s generosity, Indra handed over amogh shakti (a weapon that won’t miss its target) as boon to the donor.
No mortal could have had the courage to do what Karna did on the eve of Mahabharata. So, Indra was obliged to reward him with the finest weapon.
17. Upon Duryodhana’s advice, Karna was all set to kill Arjuna in war on the 11th day but amogh shakti had to be used on someone else the night before.
Lord Krishna knew well that Karna would use the weapon on Arjuna. The battle on the previous night continued beyond sunset and that’s when Lord Krishna advised Bheema to call in his son, Ghatotkach (a brave warrior who was half demon, half human) to unleash hell on Kaurava army during the wee hours of night.
A helpless Duryodhana had to request Karna to use amogh shakti on Ghatotkach instead. Arjuna’s life was thus saved.
18. When Lord Krishna revealed the truth about his birth to Karna, and asked him to join the Pandava camp – it was Karna who had requested him to keep all this secret from his brothers.
“They might not fight me, if they hear the truth,” he said.
19. Kunti requested Karna not to kill any of his young brothers i.e. Pandava princes in the war; Karna obliged his mother’s request by telling her that he’d only kill Arjuna and no one else.
He had several opportunities to kill other four Pandava princes but spared their lives.
20. According to a legend, Draupadi had a secret liking for Karna.
The same was disclosed in a story in which Draupadi reveals the names of men she has loved to a tree, in order to save herself from the wrath of a meditating saint.
21. Even though Yudhisthir had the right to perform the last rites of Karna, the same was overruled for Dhuryodhan who had been more close to him all his life.
It was Lord Krishna who performed the last rites of Karna.
22. Karna’s wife Vrushali committed sati on the funeral pyre of Karna.
In South India, a famous play titled ‘Kattaikkuttu’ is staged on the life events of Karna.
23. Believers hold that the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple in South India was built by Arjuna to absolve himself of his sin of killing an unarmed Karna.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, for his role of the charioteer in the Kurukshetra war.
24. Noted Hindi poet, academic and essayist, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar wrote ‘Rashmirathi’ (meaning Sun’s Charioteer), a novel about Karna.
It is one of the most popular works of Dinkar. The famous, ‘Do nyay magar to aadha do’ poem is a part of this very novel.
25. Mahunag Temple in district Mandi (Himachal Pradesh) is dedicated to Karna.
Here at this temple, Karna is believed to have acquired the form of Bee God.