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This article is about a hero in the Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata. For other uses, see Karna (disambiguation).
Karna in Kurukshetra.jpg
Karna in battle
Spouse(s) Vrushali
Children Vrishasena, Chitrasena, Satyasena, Sushena, Shatrunjaya, Dvipata, Banasena, Prasena and Vrishaketu
Parent(s) conceived by (Kunti and Surya), adopted by (Adhiratha and Radha)

Karna (Sanskrit: कर्ण, IAST transliteration: Karṇa), originally known as Vasusena, is one of the central characters in the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, from ancient India. He was the King of Anga (present day Bhagalpur and Munger). Karna was one of the greatest warrior, whose martial exploits are recorded in the Mahābhārata and the only warrior believed to be able to defeat Arjuna in battle, an admiration expressed by Lord Krishna and Bhishma within the body of this work.[1] Karna was the only warrior in the Mahabharata who single-handedly successfully conducted Digvijay Yatra, conquering all kings in every direction in order to establish Duryodhana as the emperor of the world and to conduct the Vaishnava sacrifice.[2]

Karna was the son of Surya (a solar deity) and Kunti. He was born to Kunti before her marriage with Pandu. Karna was the closest friend of Duryodhana and fought on his behalf against the Pandavas (his brothers) in the famous Kurukshetra war. Karna fought against misfortune throughout his life and kept his word under all circumstances. Many admire him for his courage and generosity. It is believed that Karna founded the city of Karnal, in present Haryana.[3] Karna, Mahabali, Harishchandra are the three most famous personalities in Hinduism based on the merits they earned by giving charity.They are often quoted for their sacrifice,courage,charity,valour and selflessness they exhibited for helping a fellow being


The name he became renowned in the epic was Karna meaning the cutter or peeler of his own skin/natural armor.

Karna's other names according to Mahabharata are :

  • Radheya - Son of Radha
  • Vaikarthana - The one who gave away his impenetrable natural armour & earrings to Indra. Also mean the one who is related to or belonging to the Hindu solar deity, Surya
  • Rashmirathi - One who rides the chariot of light
  • Vasusena - Birth name meaning the one born with wealth,ie, golden Kavacha Kundala (natural armour and ear rings).
  • Suryaputra - Son of Surya
  • Parashurama Shishya - Disciple of Parashurama
  • Angaraj - King of Anga
  • Vijaya Dhari - One who wields the celestial bow Vijaya
  • Adhirathi - Son of Adhiratha
  • Daanveer - The hero possessing undying charitable nature;
  • Daanshoor - One who fought like a true warrior
  • Vrisha - One who is truthful in speech, engaged in penances, observant of vows, kind even to enemies. Vrisha also means bull, and Karna was referred to as bull among warriors by Vyasa
  • Souta - Son of Suta or belonging to charioteer caste
  • Sūtaputra - Son of Sūta or belonging to charioteer caste
  • Kaunteya - Son of Kunti


Birth, education and curses

Surya, father of Karna, the Hindu Sun god.

As a young woman Kunti, the princess of the Kunti Kingdom, had been granted a boon by sage Durvasa to be able to invoke any deity to give her a child. Eager to test the power, while still unmarried, she called upon the solar deity Surya and was handed a son Karna wearing armour (Kavacha) and a pair of earrings (Kundala). Afraid of being an unwed mother Kunti, placed the baby in a basket and set him afloat on a river. The child was found by Adhiratha, a charioteer of King Dhritarashtra of Hastinapur. Adhiratha and his wife Radha raised the boy as their own son and named him Vasusena. He also came to be known as Radheya, the son of Radha.

Karna became interested in the art of warfare and approached Dronacharya, an established teacher who taught the Kuru princes. But he refused to take Karna as his student, since Karna was not a Kshatriya. After being refused by Dronacharya, Karna with his brother Shona's help started his own's education and appointed the sun god as his guru. But, Karna wanted to learn advanced skills of archery and hence he decided to learn from Parashurama, Dronacharya's own guru.[4]

As Parshurama only taught to Brahmins, Karna appeared before him as a Brahmin. Parashurama accepted him and trained him to such a point that he declared Karna to be equal to himself in the art of warfare and archery. On a day towards the end of his training Karna happened to offer Parashurama his lap so his guru could rest his head and nap. But while Parashurama was asleep, a bee stung Karna's thigh and despite the pain, Karna did not move, so as not to disturb his guru's sleep.In some versions,Lord Indra became afraid of the fighting prowess of Karna and he himself took the form of a bee and stung Karna's thigh in order to benefit his son Arjuna.[5] With blood oozing from his wound, Parashurama woke up at once deduced that Karna was not a Brahmin. Parashurama, who had sworn to teach Brahmins only, laid curse upon Karna that he would forget all the knowledge required to wield the divine weapon Brahmanda astra, at the moment of his greatest need. Upon Karna's pleading, Parshurama gave him the celestial weapon called Bhargavastra, along with his personal bow called Vijaya, for being such a diligent student.

Karna was also cursed by a Brahmin for killing his cow while practising his skills with bow and arrows. The Brahmin got angry and cursed him that he would become helpless in the same way the innocent cow had become, by his chariot wheels getting stuck in the ground.[6] Folklore from Andhra Pradesh further relates that Karna once encountered a child who was crying over her pot of spilt ghee. On asking her the reason for her dismay, she stated that she feared that her stepmother would be angry over her carelessness. Refusing to take new ghee from Karna, the child insisted that she wanted the same ghee. Taking pity on her, Karna took the soil mixed with ghee in his fist and squeezed it with all his might, so that the ghee dripped back into the pot. During this process, Karna heard the agonized voice of a woman. When he opened his fist, he realized that the voice was that of Bhoomidevi, the Earth goddess. She furiously chastised Karna for inflicting enormous pain on Mother Earth for the sake of a mere child and cursed him that at a very crucial moment in battle, his chariot wheel would be trapped as tightly as he had held that fistful of soil.[citation needed]

Friendship with Duryodhana

The coronation of Karna

To display the skills of the Kuru princes, guru Dronacharya arranged a friendly tournament. His student Arjuna, third of the Pandava brothers, was shown to be a particularly gifted archer. Karna arrived at this tournament uninvited and surpassing Arjuna's feats, challenged him to a duel. Kripacharya refused Karna his duel, asking first for his clan and kingdom; for according to the rules of duelling, only a prince could challenge Arjuna to a duel and due to his low birth, Karna was not allowed to fight Arjuna.He was further insulted by Bhima by comparing him to a stray dog, for his mixed caste and lineage. This incident marks the beginning of a feud between Karna and Pandavas.[7][8] Duryodhana, the eldest of the one-hundred sons of the king Dhritarashtra, knew that his cousins Pandavas were better at warfare. Seeing Karna as a chance to get on even terms with them he immediately offered Karna the throne of the kingdom of Anga, making him a king and hence eligible to fight a duel with Arjuna.[9] Neither of them knows that Karna is in fact Kunti's oldest son, born to (sun god) Surya. When Karna asked him what he could do to repay him, Duryodhana told him that all he wanted was his friendship.[10]

Karna was a loyal and true comrade to Duryodhana. Karna helped Duryodhana marry the Princess Bhanumati of Kalinga.Duryodhana abducted Princess Bhanumati from her Swayamvara ceremony in a chariot and Karna fought with the rest of the suitors.Many legendary rulers like Shishupala, Jarasandha, Bhishmaka, Vakra, Kapotaroman, Nila, Rukmi, Sringa, Asoka, Satadhanwan etc attended the ceremony and Karna easily defeated the pursuing Kings, who dejected and abandoned their pursuing after seeing the fighting prowess of Karna to protect his friend Duryodhana.The ashamed Jarasandha,the king of Magadha later challenged Karna for a one to one fight.Jarasandha earlier 18 times defeated Lord Krishna and every time Lord Krishna and his brother Balarama ran away from Jarasandha.The defeat by the hands of Jarasandha prompted Lord Krishna to abandon Mathura and built the new capital city Dvārakā for the Yadavas. Karna and Jarasandha fought 21 days continuously and Karna defeated Jarasandha by trying to tear him apart during a wrestling fight.Jarasandha gifted the city of Malini to Karna as a token of appreciation.Jarasandha accepted and declared Karna as the greatest warrior in world and thus Karna become the king of both Anga and Malini.The victory over Jarasandha made Karna famous all over the world.Later following his accession to the throne of Malini, Karna took an oath that anyone who approached him with a request, when he worshipped the sun, would not leave empty-handed.[11]

Hostilities with Pandavas

Karna was a suitor for Draupadi at her swayamvara, or her choosing of a marriage partner. Unlike most other contenders, he was easily able to wield and string the bow, but Draupadi refused to allow him to take part,rejecting him for being a "suta-putra" - son of a charioteer.The entire kings and the assembled people insulted Karna for his low birth and only Duryodhana supported and argued for Karna. The Pandavas were also present in the swayamvara, disguised as Brahmins. Following the failure of the other princes, Arjuna stepped into the ring and successfully hit the target, winning Draupadi's hand.After the marriage was over, the assembled Kings in the swayamvara argued that a Brahmin cannot attend the swayamvara and they took their weapons and attacked Arjuna disguised as Brahmin. Arjuna fought with all the assembled kings and defeated them easily except Karna. Karna entered the battle field to protect his friend Duryodhana and terrible battle was fought between Karna and Arjuna who was disguised as Brahman. Karna never knew that the Brahman was Arjuna and this was the first time when these two ace archers fought each other.But Arjuna recognized Karna and the two Maharathi's fought each other. The battle was so intense that sky was filled with arrows and visibility was lost in the cloud of arrows.With both archers not gaining upper hand,they turn to use celestial weapons and sky and earth trembled due to the usage of celestial weapons.With battle continued neither of them gaining upper hand news came to Karna that his nine-year-old son Sudama was dying. Karna praised the skill of the Brahmin and compared it with the skill of Drona or Kripa. Not being intreseted in doing the sin of Brahmahatya i.e hurting or killing a Brahmin,which is considered as a grave sin as per scriptures Karna withdrew from the fight and rushed to his son Sudama.It was then revealed that Sudama was hit by an arrow send by the Brahmin warrior when fighting earlier with the other kings.The bystander, nine-year-old Sudama was deeply hurt by Arjuna's arrows and died in the hands of Karna.When Arjuna's identity was later revealed, Karna's feelings of hostile rivalry with him further intensified and sworn to kill Arjuna and his family.

After Shakuni won a game of dice by trickery, Draupadi, now queen to all five sons of King Pandu, including Arjuna, was dragged into the court by Dushasana. Duryodhana and his brothers attempted to strip her. Karna insulted Draupadi by saying that a woman with more than four husbands is nothing but a whore and that the Pandavas were all like sesame seeds removed from the kernel and she should now find some other husbands. On the spot, Bhima, another of the Pandava brothers, vowed that he would personally slaughter Duryodhana and his brothers in battle. Arjuna subsequently swore to kill Karna.[12]

Later after Pandavas were in exile, Karna took up the task of establishing Duryodhana as the Emperor. He commanded army that marched to different parts of the country to subjugate kings and made them swear allegiance to Duryodhana, the king of Hastinapur or else die in battle. In this military adventure, Karna waged wars and reduced to submission numerous kingdoms including those of the Kambojas, the Shakas, the Kekayas, the Avantyas, the Gandharas, the Madarakas, the Trigartas, the Tanganas, the Panchalas, the Videhas, the Suhmas, the Angas, the Vangas, the Nishadas, the Kalingas, the Vatsa, the Ashmakas, the Rishikas and numerous others including mlecchas and the forest tribes.[13]

Prelude to war

The Pandava elder brother Yudhisthira always considered Karna as the foremost warrior in the world.[14]

Following failed peace negotiations with Duryodhana, Krishna is driven back to the Pandavas by Karna. Krishna then revealed to Karna that he is the eldest son of Kunti, and therefore, technically, the eldest Pandava. Krishna implored him to change sides and assures him that Yudhisthira would give the crown of Indraprastha to him; Draupadi who rejected him earlier will become his wife. Shaken from the discovery, Karna still refuses these offers over Duryodhana's friendship. Krishna is saddened, but appreciating Karna's sense of loyalty, accepted his decision, promising Karna that his lineage would remain a secret. In addition, Karna was elated to learn that his true father was none other than Surya.[15]

Indra, the king of the Devas and the father of Arjuna, realized that Karna would be invincible in battle and unable to be killed as long as he had his kavach and kundal. He approaches Karna as a poor Brahmin during Karna's sun-worship. Surya warned Karna of Indra's intentions, but Karna thanked Surya and explained that he was bound by his word and could not send anyone from his door empty-handed. When Indra approaches, Karna reveals that he knew the Brahmin's true identity but assured that he would never turn anyone away. Cutting the armor and earrings off his body, Karna handed them to Indra. For Karna's generosity Indra decided to reward him and Karna asked for Indra's powerful weapon, the Vasavi shakti. Indra granted the boon, with the stipulation that Karna could only use the weapon once.

As war approached, Kunti met Karna and in desperation to keep her children alive asked Karna to join the Pandavas. But Karna denies the offer again.Knowing that Karna will fight against Arjuna with a motive to kill, Kunti extracted couple of promises from Karna that he will not kill any of the Pandavas and against Arjuna he will not use a same celestial weapon twice. This particular request by Kunti as suggested by Lord Krishna led to the death of Karna in the war as he did not use Nagastra and Rudra-astra twice against Arjuna. Lord Krishna knew that Lord Parashurama gifted entire celestial weapons to Karna and Arjuna don't have any counter to many of these weapon. Karna requested his mother to keep their relationship a secret till his death as pandava brothers will not fight against their own brother if she reveals the truth to them, due to dharma and after his death she is supposed to reveal his birth identity to everyone and also promised that at the end of war she would still have five sons.

Celestial weapons (Astra's) of Karna

Earlier Sage Parashurama satisfied with the behavior of Karna in obliging the orders of elders and performing the act that is assigned to him, gives many weapons to Karna, called Shastra's and Astra's.The weaponry is categorised mainly into two types.One is Shastra, a handheld weapon like sword, lance or mace.The other is astra, a projectile missile invoked by reciting hymns. Parashurama told Karna,[16][17][18]

Shastra's that are given to Karna are,

Shastra Effect
Kaal Disc Time disc,Renders a piteous state of the enemy, full with magical powers,ending in air, and water filled, ends in craters with fire, generates fire
Vishnu Disc It first sparkles with cosmic holes, contains high degree radiance, revolves with one lakh revolutions per foot, very panicking is its projection
Indra Disc Disc of King of Gods
Danda Disc Punisher Disc
Dharma Disc Virtue Disc
Modaki Mace The Beater mace
Shikhari Mace The tower of Protection mace
Dharma Paasha The noose of Lord Dharmma
Kaala paasha The noose of Time
Naga Pasha Noose of The Nagas,Upon impact, this weapon would bind the target in coils of living venomous snakes.
Kankaalam The deadly Pounder weapons that are wielded by demons
Impellers Presided over by the power of Vishnu
Impellers Presided over by the power of Rudra
Kapaalam Weapons that are wielded by demons, Rod for the elimination of those very demons
Kankanam Weapons that are wielded by demons,Rod for the elimination of those very demons.
Vijaya Bow The bow of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer.Lord Shiva left it in the care of Lord Indra who on instruction from Lord Shiva gave it to Lord Parashurama. Lord Parashurama kept it as his personal bow and later gave it to Karna. The Sanskrit name ‘Vijaya’ means ‘victory’ and this bow is said to give sure victory to the possessor. The string of this bow cannot be broken by any kind of astra or weapon.Every time an arrow is released from this bow, it created a terrible twang, which is said to be loud as thunder causing terrible fear in enemies and produces flashes of light as brilliant as lightning, which blinds the enemy. Every time an arrow is aimed, the energy of the arrow is amplified by multiple times as this bow is charged with sacred mantras.No weapon, not even Pashupatastra, can harm a warrior who has Vijaya bow in his hand, as the name Vijaya implies

victory to the wielder.

Offensive astra's that are given to Karna are,

Astra Effect
Aishiika Astra Grass-Blade missile,aisiika missile is dried blade of grass, which by invoking with hymns will become a projectile weapon
Shushka Astra The Drier astra
Aardra Astra The Drencher astra
Krouncha Astra The Wrester astra
Mohana Astra The Stupefier,astras of Gandharvas
Prashamana Astra The Pacifier of enemy's anger,astras of Gandharvas
Maanava Astra The Humane astra of Gandharvas
Varshana Astra The Rainer astra
Shoshana Astra The Drainer astra
Santaapana Astra The Humidifier astra
Vilaapana Astra The Weep inducer astra
Mohana Astra The Intoxicator,an unassailable intoxicator and a dear astra of Manmatha
Paishaca Astra The Monster missile, astras of pishaacas, monsters
Teja Prabha Astra Solar missile the sequestrator of others' brilliance
Shishira Astra The Cooler,the missile of Moon-god
Sudaamana Astra A very deadly astra of Tvasta
Shitaisu Astra Dangerous Astra of Bhaga
Samvarta Astra, Mausala Astra, Satya Astra, Maaya Astra Indomitable astras
Vaidyadhara Astra, Taamasa Astra, Saumana Astra Indomitable astras
Naga-astra Astra of the Nagas,The weapon would have an unerring aim and take on the form of a snake, proving deadly upon impact.
Twashtar Astra Astra of Twashtri,the heavenly builder,When used against a group of opponents (such as an army), would cause them to mistake each other for enemies and fight each other.
Manavastra Astra of Manu (Hinduism), father of the human race,Could overcome supernatural protections and carry the target hundreds of miles away. Can inspire humane traits in an evil being.
Parvataastra Would cause a Parvata/mountain to fall on the target from the skies.
Bhaumastra Astra of Bhūmi, goddess of earth,The weapon could create tunnels deep into the earth.
Agneyastra Astra of Agni, god of fire,the weapon discharged would emit flames inextinguishable through normal means.
Varunastra Astra of Varuna, god of water,the weapon discharged would release torrential volumes of water. This weapon is commonly mentioned as used to counter the Agneyastra.
Vayvayastra Astra of Vayu, god of wind,Bring about a gale capable of lifting armies off the ground.
Suryastra Astra of Surya,the solar diety and the father of Karna,Create a dazzling light that would dispel any darkness about/dry up water bodies/ can produce blinding light.
Indraastra Astra of Indra god of weather and King of Devas,would bring about a 'shower' of arrows from the sky.
Vasavi Shakti Magical dart of Indra god of weather and King of Devas,Infallible.
Mohini Astra Astra of Mohini, an Avatar of Vishnu,Dispel any form of maya or sorcery in the vicinity.
Hayagriva Astra The Astra of the Horse-head avatar of Vishnu
Bhargavastra Astra of Lord Parashurama ,Guru of Karna.This astra possesses Parashurama's skill in archery. Infallible. It brings a shower of arrows much more powerful weapons than the Brahmastra and could cause total destruction of a planet if not retracted.
Rudra Astra Astra of Rudra,a form of Lord Shiva,Contains the power of a Rudra. When it is used, it invokes the power of a Rudra out of the Ekadasha (Eleven) Rudras and destroys the target.

The mantra for the Siva kavach(armour) can be weakened by the Rudra astra

Maheshwarastra Astra of Lord Maheshwara, a form of Lord Shiva,Contains the power of Shiva's third eye. Shoots a really fast fiery beam which can turn even celestial beings to complete ashes. Infallible and unstoppable.It has the power to turn the entire creation to ashes
Shiva Astra The Astra of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer.
Brahma Astra Astra of Lord Brahma, the Creator,Capable of killing devas,would destroy entire hosts at once. Could also counter most other astras. It is said that the weapon manifest with the single head of Lord Brahma as its tip.It is the only weapon capable of piercing the Brahma Kavach (invincible armour of Lord Brahma). Extremely powerful.
Brahmashira Astra Astra of Lord Brahma, the Creator,Capable of killing devas.It is the evolution of the Brahmastra, 4 times stronger than Brahmastra.
Brahmanda Astra Astra of Lord Brahma, the Creator,Capable of repelling the Brahmastra and Brahmashira astra and any other weapons ever created.The weapon manifest with the all five heads of Lord Brahma as its tip.This weapon is said to possess the power to destroy the entire solar systems or Brahmand, the 14 realms according to Hindu cosmology when used for offensive purpose.Highly prohibited to use against an inferior enemy. Designed to neutralize Vaishnavastra of Vishnu and Pashupatastra of Shiva.

Defensive astra's or Upasamhaara astras, which can be used to neutralize enemy's astra's are,

Defensive Astras or Upasamhaara Astras
Upasamhaara Astras!
Satyavanta, Satyakeerti, Dhristha, Rabhasa, Pratihaaratara, Paraanmuka, Avaanmukha, Lakshya, Alakshya, Dhridhanaabha, Sunaabha, Dashaaksha, Shatavaktra, Dashasheersha, Shatodara, Padmanaabha, Mahaanaabha, Dundunaabha, Svanaabha, Jyotisha, Shakuna, Nairaashya, Vimala, Yungandhara, Vinidra, Daitya, Pramadhana, Suchibaahu, Mahaabaahu, Nishkali, Virucha, Saarchirmaali, Dhritimaali, Vrittiman, Ruchira, Pitrya, Ssaumansa, and also thus Vidhoota, Makara, Karaveerakara, Dhana, Dhaanya, Kaamaroopa, Kaamaruchira, Moha, Aavarana, and thus Jrimbhaka, Sarvanaabha, Varana.

Offensive astras and their Defensive astras or Upasamhaara Astras that can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes are,[19]

Astras and their Upasamhaara Astras
Astra Upasamhaara Astras
Andhatamisr Astra Mahatarany Astra
Pakhand Astra Gayatry Astra
Andh Astra Chakshushmat Astra
Shaktinash Astra Vishvavasumah Astra
Antak Astra Mriityunjay Astra
Sarvasmritinashan Astra Sarvasmritidharan Astra
Bhay Astra Abhayankaraaindr Astra
Maharog Astra Namatray Astra
Ayurnash Astra Kalasamkarshan Astra
Mahasur Astra Muladurg Astra
Muk Astra Mahavagvadiny astra
Vedataskar Astra Mahamatsy Astra
Arnav Astra Adikurm Astra
Hiranyaksh Astra Mahavarah Astra
Hiranyakashipvastra Ugranrisimh Astra
Balindr Astra Vaman Astra
Haihaya Astra Bhargava Astra
Ravaana Astra Kodandaram Astra
Dvivid Astra Haladhar Astra
Rajasur Astra Vasudev Astra
Sankarshan Astra Pradyumn Astra, AniruddhAstra
Kalyastra Kalkyastra
Mahamoh Astra Shambhav Astra

Lord Parashurama trained Karna for decades in the Mahendra mountain after pleased by his intense devotion to learn the science of weapons.At the time of Kurukshetra war Karna was 85 years old.[20][21]

Kurukshetra war

Bhishma was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army. But giving the reason that Karna had humiliated Draupadi and disrespected his guru Parashuram, Bhishma refused to take him in the Kaurava army. He secretly knew of Karna’s lineage and hence did not want him to fight his own brother.At the tale of Rathi's and Atirathi's, Bhishma further insulted Karna and declared him as just an Ardha Rathi(Half a Rathi) warrior.But in real Karna was equal to 2 Maharatha warrior.[22] Bhishma done this to weaken the energy of Karna when fighting against his brothers Pandavas.Bhishma also know that if Karna fight from day one then the war will end in 2 days as the Pandavas cannot deal with the overwhelming power of Kaurava Maharathas. Bhishma already gave the blessing of victory to Pandavas so it was his duty to ensure the victory to Pandavas by keeping Karna away from battlefield.But Duryodhana wants Karna to fight in the war from the beginning,but Bhishma threatens that he will not fight if Karna is in the army.Duryodhana wanted Karna as the commander of his army but due to Karnas low birth many Kings threatened to not fight under Karnas leadership and the moral of the army started to weaken.So Karna decided that he will not fight till the fall of Bhishma and the grandsire Bhishma took the commandership. Only after Bhishma fell on the eleventh day did Karna enter the war.After the fall of Bhishma, Karna visited him on the bed of arrows and Bhishma said to Karna.[23]

Karna (left) kills Ghatotkacha (centre) as Arjuna (right) watches

Dronacharya took the commander-in-chief position on twelfth day and the thirteenth day ended with Abhimanyu’s (Arjun’s son) death in the specially organized Chakravyuha formation. Uncharacteristically, the battle on fourteenth day extended into the dark hours. Taking advantage of that, Krishna introduced Ghatotkacha, Bhima’s half-Asura son, as asuras gained extraordinary power at night time. Ghatotkacha’s destroyed the Kaurava force and also injured Dronacharya. Seeing the desperate situation, Karna used his Vasava Shakti, that was the boon from Indra, against Ghatotkacha, thus killing him. Krishna however was pleased with the fact that the powerful weapon could not be used against Arjuna in future as Karna had only one chance to use it.Later Lord Krishna told Satyaki that he always applied his maya or illusion on Karna inorder to proctect Arjuna from Karna's celestial weapons.[24]

Karna Parva

Yudishthira wrestling with Karna

Karna Parva, the eighth book of the Mahābhārata, describes sixteenth and seventeenth days of the Kurukshetra war where post Dronacharya’s death Karna took over as the commander-in-chief. Anticipating a likely battle to the death between Karna and Arjuna, Krishna warned Arjuna calling Karna to be the foremost of the heroes.[25][26]

As promised to Kunti, Karna aimed at killing only Arjuna. On the sixteenth day, he fought with all the Pandava brothers but Arjuna,defeated them all in direct combat and spared each one of them after insulting them with harsh words.After defeating them, he ordered his charioteer Shalya to move towards Arjuna.After the terrible death of Dushassan, the brother of Duryodhana and egged by the Kaurava prince, Karna decided to personally take on Arjuna and finish him off for once and all. Karna cut his way ruthlessly through the Pandava forces and headed straight for Arjuna.So violet and offensive was Karna's attacks that Arjuna's defenses soon crumbled before it.Karna then moved in for the kill. He used Nagastra, the same celestial weapon that was used by Indrajit against Rama in Ramayana, in an attempt to kill Arjuna, but Krishna saved Arjuna from certain death by lowering their chariot wheel into the earth. Karna and Arjuna then waged a rough war against each other. As promised to Kunti, Karna used a celestial weapon only once against Arjuna. Karna had a chance to kill Arjuna but spared the latter as the sun was about to set.In some versions,Lord Krishna the charioteer of Arjuna realized that only miracles can save his ward Arjuna from death and in order to protect Arjuna who was seriously wounded by the arrows of Karna,Lord Krishna caused the Sun to set prematurely.[27]

Karna's wheel is stuck
Arjuna kills Karna

On the seventeenth day of battle the two foes faced each other once more. This battle between Arjuna and Karna is perhaps the most cataclysmic and awesome of the great epic. The warriors on the battlefield and the devas in heaven watched the battle in speechless amazement and terrified admiration of the strength and skill of these greatest of warriors. On the seventeenth day, Karna cut the string of Arjuna’s bow many times.As the battle intensified, Arjuna pushed back Karna's chariot 10 steps backward every time by the energy of the arrows,but Karna was only able to push Arjuna's chariot 2 steps backward.Seeing this Lord Krishna praised Karna and admired the skill of Karna.Arjuna questioned Lord Krishna and asked why Krishna is praising Karna.Lord Krishna said it is impossible for any human ever to push his chariot backwards because the chariot of Arjuna contains both Hanuman and Lord Krishna and it holds the entire weight of the universe.Even to shake the chariot is an impossible task and Karna is pushing it 2 feet every time by the energy of his arrows. Krishna said no human ever had or ever will can attain this feat as it is impossible even to shake the chariot containing Maha Vishnu.[28] The epic states that initially, the battle was even between the two foes, but then Karna's chariot wheel was trapped in the mud as a result of the curse he received earlier from a Brahmin. He still defended himself, but at the crucial moment forgot the incantations to invoke Brahmanda astra, as a result of his guru Parshurama's curse. Karna got down from his chariot to free the wheel and asked Arjuna to pause, reminding him of the etiquette of war. But Krishna reminded Arjuna of all the incidents - Abhimanyu’s death, the Laksha-Griha conspiracy, Draupadi’s insult and others - and attacked Karna while he was trying to lift his sunken chariot wheel. Karna defended himself and invoked Rudraastra against Arjuna and this astra hit Arjuna on his chest.[29] Arjuna lost his grip on his bow, Gandiva, which fell down from his hand for the first time and Arjuna fell down in a swoon. Following the rules of engagement of war, Karna did not try to kill him but instead tried to utilize the time in extracting the wheels of his chariot. Arjuna recovered and using the Anjalika weapon decapitated the weaponless Karna, who was still trying to lift the sunken chariot wheel. Though it was highly forbidden according to the rules of engagement of the war to attack a weaponless warrior or to attack an enemy from the back, Arjuna was spurred by Lord Krishna to do so. It was later revealed that Karna could be killed only when all the 3 curses acted upon him, and this made Krishna employ deceit to kill Karna.

Later, when it was revealed that Karna was actually Arjuna's older brother, Arjuna became haunted by Karna's killing, and took it upon himself to treat Vrishakethu, Karna's only remaining son, with great care.[citation needed]

Another part of this event is that Karna's guru Parasurama appears in Karna's dream during the period of the Kurukshetra War and when Karna asks him to release him from Parasurama's curse, Parashurama revealed that he had known all along Karna was a Kshatriya, but because he was a worthy student Parashurama had instructed him regardless. The avatar explained to Karna that the Brahmanda astra had to fail him when he needed it most. If he killed Arjuna, Duryodhana would be king instead of Yudhishthira,[30] and chaos would ensue. Parashurama asked Karna to accept his curse and asked him to die at the hands of Arjuna,so that the world might live in peace. Karna accepted his gurus words and in return the grateful guru, Parashurama blessed Karna with immortal glory and everlasting fame. Also,Lord Krishna asks Karna to accept the above destiny to enable Dharma to triumph.Thus Karna submits to be killed by Arjuna so that Dharma may triumph.

In some versions as Karna lay dying on the battlefield, his father Surya and Arjuna's father Indra fell into a debate as to who among their sons was superior and decided to test Karna's generosity and appeared before him as Brahmins asking for alms. Karna said that at this point he had nothing to give them while one of the Brahmins remark that he has some gold in his teeth which could be of use to them. Karna on realizing this promptly took a stone and broke his teeth handing them over to the Brahmins,thus proving his superiority.[31] In other versions of the epic, Krishna appears as a Brahmin and asks for Karna's punya or merit and once Karna gifted his life's Punya to him, Krishna rewarded Karna with the Darshan of Krishna's Vishwaroopa. Karna's wife Vrushali went sati on Karna's pyre after his death. A play is staged in South India known as Kattaikkuttu which is based on the events that occurred in Karna's life on the day of his death.[31]

Following the end of the war, Tarpan vidhi were performed for all the fallen. Kunti then requested her sons to perform the rites for Karna and revealed the truth of his birth. The brothers were shocked to find that they had committed fratricide. Yudhishtira, in particular, was furious with his mother and laid a curse upon all women that they should never thereafter be able to keep a secret.[32] Later Arjuna built the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple during his conquest for Ashvamedha in South India.[33] Legend has it that Arjuna built this temple, to expiate for the sin of having killed Karna on the battlefield, against the dharma of killing an unarmed enemy.The temple is dedicated to Parthasarathy, Lord Krishna's role as Arjuna's charioteer in the Mahabharatha war.

Ascension to svarga

The Mahabharata mentions that after his death in the Kurukshetra war, Karna's soul ascended to Suryalok (the abode of his father, Sun god), and along with his sons and "attained" the "state" of a god.[34][35]

Karna's family

According to the Mahabharata, Karna was married to Vrushali. He had nine sons; Vrishasena, Vrishaketu, Chitrasena, Satyasena, Sushena, Shatrunjaya, Dvipata, Banasena and Prasena; eight of them took part in the Kurukshetra war. Prasena was killed by Satyaki, Shatrunjaya, Vrishasena and Dvipata by Arjuna, Banasena by Bhima, Chitrasena, Satyasena and Sushena by Nakula. Vrishakethu was his only son who survived the war as he was too young to participate in the war.[36][37] After the war when Pandavas were made aware of Karna's lineage, Vrishakethu was offered to be the King of Indraprasth, being the son of their eldest brother. He was under the patronage of Arjuna and took part in various battles that preceded the Ashvamedh yagna.[citation needed]

Themes and analysis

Within the various Hindu mythologies, Karna draws resemblance with various other characters. The attributed author of Mahabharata, sage Vyasa, is also noted to be born from an unwed union of Satyavati and sage Parashara, just the way Karna is born before Kunti's marriage.[38] Philologist Georges Dumézil also compares him with his father Surya in the sense that he too has two mothers, Kunti and Radha, just the way Surya in Vedas has two mothers, the night and the dawn.[39] German indologist Georg von Simson, notes the similarities in the names of Karna and of the Kumbhakarna, the demon brother of the main antagonist Ravana of the epic Ramayana. He also notes that both Karna and Kumbhakarna did not take part in the great wars of their respective epics at the start.[40] Scholars internationally have also drawn parallels with various European mythologies. Karna's kawach (armour) has been compared with that of Achilles's Styx-coated body and with Irish warrior Ferdiad's horny skin that could not be pierced. He has been compared to the Greek character Achilles on various occasions as they both have powers but lack status.[41]

Secondary literature and media


Rabindranath Tagore wrote a poem, "Karna Kunti Sangbad" based on the meeting of Karna and Kunti before the war. Karna also has been topic of various contemporary literary works. The Marathi books of Radheya (1973) authored by Ranjit Desai and Mrityunjay (1967) authored by Shivaji Sawant bring forth Karna's private and personal life on paper.[42] Sawant also received Moortidevi Award, instituted by Bharatiya Jnanpith, for his work[43] and was translated into nine languages.[44] Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in 1978 published an epic poem Rashmirathi (translation: One who rides the Chariot of light, 1952) which narrates Karna's life.[45] The poem has later also been adapted as play.[46]

Film and theater

The 1964 epic Tamil film Karnan depicted his life and friendship with Duryodhana, starring Sivaji Ganesan in title role. In 1977, the Telugu movie Daana Veera Soora Karna starred the Indian film actor, director and producer N. T. Rama Rao. Shyam Benegal's 1981 film Kalyug adapted the Mahabharat as a conflict between rival business houses with Shashi Kapoor playing Karan, the character based on Karna. One of the songs from the 1991 Indian movie Thalapathi, based upon the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana, has been voted number 4 in the BBC's 'World's Top Ten Revealed' worldwide music poll.[47] In Peter Brook's filmed version of the epic (1989), Karna was played by British actor Jeffery Kissoon. Recently in 2010, Prakash Jha directed the Bollywood film Raajneeti, a fictional adaptation of the Mahabharata, set within a backdrop of Indian politics and starring the actor Ajay Devgan, playing a character based on Karna.[48] Karna was portrayed by Pankaj Dheer in 1988, in the television series Mahabharat, for which he is popularly known.[49] Aham Sharma portrayed the role of Karna in the Mahabharat (2013 TV series) and won the award for Best Actor Supporting at Indian Telly Awards for the same role.[50]

South Indian film actor Mohanlal performed Karna on the stage in Karnabharam, a Sanskrit play that was premiered in New Delhi in 2001 as part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav directed by Kavalam Narayana Panicker. The play depicts Karna's mental agony a day before the Kurukshetra War, as he thinks about his past and his faith.[51]

In popular culture

Karna, synonyms like Karan,Karnan is one of the most popular choice of name for Hindu male child in Indian subcontinent.This name is believed to bring glory and fame as per the blessing on it by sage Parashurama.[52]



  1. ^ Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. The Mahabharata, Book 7: Drona Parva. Netlancers Inc, 2014. 
  2. ^ Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. The Mahabharata, Book 3: Vana Parva. Netlancers Inc, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Karnal". District of Karnal. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
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  5. ^ K M Ganguly(1883-1896) Karna to Salya about the cheating of Lord Indra for benfiting Arjuna October 2003,Retrieved 2015-03-08
  6. ^ James L. Fitzgerald (2003). The Mahabharata, Volume 7: Book 11: The Book of the Women Book 12: The Book of Peace. University of Chicago Press. p. 173. ISBN 0226252507. 
  7. ^ THE MAHABHARATA, BOOK1, ADI PARVA: SAMBHAVA PARVA, translated by KM Ganguli :......"Vaisampayana said, 'After this, with his sheet loosely hanging down, Adhiratha entered the lists, perspiring and trembling, and supporting himself on a staff. Seeing him, Karna left his bow and impelled by filial regard bowed down his head still wet with the water of inauguration. And then the charioteer addressed Karna crowned with success as his son. And the charioteer embraced Karna and from excess of affection bedewed his head with tears, that head still wet with the water sprinkled over it on account of the coronation as king of Anga. Seeing the charioteer, the Pandava Bhimasena took Karna for a charioteer's son, and said by way of ridicule, 'O son of a charioteer, thou dost not deserve death in fight at the hands of Partha. As befits thy race take thou anon the whip. And, O worst of mortals, surely thou art not worthy to sway the kingdom of Anga, even as a dog doth not deserve the butter placed before the sacrificial fire.' Karna, thus addressed, with slightly quivering lips fetched a deep sigh, looked at the God of the day in the skies.".......
  8. ^ Ganguli, KM. THE MAHABHARTA, BOOK1, ADI PARVA, SAMBHA PAVA CONTINUED. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "Vaisampayana continued, 'When the spectators, made way for that subjugator of hostile cities, Karna, that hero with his natural mail and face brightened with ear-rings, took up his bow and girded on his sword, and then entered the spacious lists, like a walking cliff. That far-famed destroyer of hostile hosts, the large-eyed Karna, was born of Pritha in her maidenhood. He was a portion of the hot-beamed Sun and his energy and prowess were like unto those of the lion, or the bull, or the leader of a herd of elephants. In splendour he resembled the Sun, in loveliness the Moon, and in energy the fire. Begotten by the Sun himself, he was tall in stature like a golden palm tree, and, endued with the vigour of youth, he was capable of slaying a lion. Handsome in features, he was possessed of countless accomplishments. And that foremost of eloquent men, the offspring of the Sun, in a voice deep as that of the clouds, addressed the son of (Indra) saying, 'O Partha, I shall perform feats before this gazing multitude; excelling all thou hast performed! Beholding them, thou shall be amazed.' And, O tiger among men, Duryodhana was filled with delight, while Vibhatsu was instantly all abashment and anger. Then with the permission of Drona, the mighty Karna, delighting in battle, there did all that Partha had done before. 'Arjuna, after this, deeming himself disgraced, said unto Karna, 'That path which the unwelcome intruder and the uninvited talker cometh to, shall be thine, O Karna, for thou shall be slain by me. Karna replied, 'This arena is meant for all, not for thee alone, O Phalguna! They are kings who are superior in energy; and verily the Kshatriya regardeth might and might alone. What need of altercation which is the exercise of the weak? O Bharata, speak then in arrows until with arrows I strike off thy head today before the preceptor himself! And beholding both the warriors with bows strung in their hands Kripa, addressed Karna, saying 'This Pandava, who is the youngest son of Kunti, belongeth to the Kaurava race: he will engage in combat with thee. But, O mighty-armed one, thou too must tell us thy lineage and the names of thy father and mother and the royal line of which thou art the ornament. Learning all this, Partha will fight with thee or not (as he will think fit). Sons of kings never fight with men of inglorious lineage.' 'When he was thus addressed by Kripa, Karna's countenance became like unto a lotus pale and torn with the pelting showers in the rainy season. Duryodhana said, 'O preceptor, verily the scriptures have it that three classes of persons can lay claim to royalty, viz., persons of the blood royal, heroes, and lastly, those that lead armies. If Phalguna is unwilling to fight with one who is not a king, I will install Karna as king of Anga.'.....
  10. ^ Text Archive, Internet Sacred. "Mahabharat : Adi Parva-Sambhava Parva; SECTION CXXXVIII". Internet Sacred Text Archive. Evinity Publishing INC. 
  11. ^ K M Ganguly(1883-1896) Karna defeating Jarasandha and becoming king of malini October 2003,Retrieved 2015-04-08
  12. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section LXII". 
  13. ^ MBH 8.8.18–20.
  14. ^ K M Ganguly(1883-1896 The Mahabharatha Book 3: Vana Parva SECTION XXXVI Yudishtira explains the might of Karna to Bhima,October 2003,Retrieved 2015-03-08
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  16. ^ Utgikar, N. B (1919). "Proceedings and Transactions of the All-India Oriental Conference". The mention of the Mahabharata in the Ashvalayana Grhya Sutra. Poona. 
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  18. ^ P.Lal. The Mahabharata of Vyasa ( 18 Volumes ). Writers Workshop. 
  19. ^ Mani, Vettam. (1975.). Puranic Encyclopedia. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  20. ^ Bibek Debroy. The Mahabharata: Complete and Unabridged - (Set of 10 Volumes). india: Penguin Books India. 
  21. ^ Pratisargaparvan (1959.). Bhaviṣyapurāna. bomby: Venkateshwar Press.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^ K M Ganguly(1883-1896)The Mahabharatha Book 7: Drona Parva SECTION I Karna is equal to 2 Maharatha warrior,October 2003,Retrieved 2015-04-11
  23. ^ K M Ganguly(1883-1896)The Mahabharatha Book 6: Bhishma Parva SECTION CXXIV Bhishma speaks to Karna on the bed of arrows,October 2003,Retrieved 2015-04-11
  24. ^ K M Ganguly(1883-1896)The Mahabharatha Book 7: Drona Parva SECTION CLXXXII Lord Krishna talk to Satyaki about the usage of his Maya on Karna,October 2003,Retrieved 2015-03-08
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  28. ^ Pattanaik, Devdutt. Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata. Penguin Books India,2010. 
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  30. ^ Parashurama#Fate of Karna
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  33. ^ David Abram; Nick Edwards (2004). The Rough Guide to South India. Rough Guides. p. 348. ISBN 1843531038. 
  34. ^ The Mahabharat:BOOK 8-KARNA PARVA : Thus cut off with that Anjalika, the trunk of Karna fell down on the earth. The head also of that commander of the (Kaurava) army, endued with splendour equal to that of the risen sun and resembling the meridian sun of autumn, fell down on the earth like the sun of bloody disc dropped down from the Asta hills. Indeed, that head abandoned with great unwillingness the body, exceedingly beautiful and always nursed in luxury, of Karna of noble deeds, like an owner abandoning with great unwillingness his commodious mansion filled with great wealth. Cut off with Arjuna's arrow, and deprived of life, the tall trunk of Karna endued with great splendour, with blood issuing from every wound, fell down like the thunder-riven summit of a mountain of red chalk with crimson streams running down its sides after a shower. Then from that body of the fallen Karna a light passing through the welkin penetrated the sun. This wonderful sight, O king, was beheld by the human warriors after the fall of Karna.
  35. ^ Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. "The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa; Book 8- KARNA PARVA". Internet Sacred Text Archive. Evinity Publishing INC,. Archived from the original on 2 January 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
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  38. ^ Brockington 1998, p. 23.
  39. ^ Brockington 1998, p. 70.
  40. ^ Brockington 1998, p. 71.
  41. ^ McGrath 2004, p. 4.
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  43. ^ "Moortidevi Awards for two writers". New Delhi: Times of India. 24 February 2003. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  44. ^ Date, Vidyadhar (23 September 2002). "Shivaji Sawant’s historical novels are a separate class". Mumbai: Times of India. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  45. ^ Ambika Chaudhary. "‘Dinkar’s portrayal of Karna changed my way of looking at public affairs’". Tehelka. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  46. ^ Chaturvedi, Devika (14 December 2010). "'Rashmirathi' takes audienc to another plane of thoughts". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  47. ^ Steve Wright page at
  48. ^ "Ajay Devgan had doubts about his role in 'Raajneeti'". New Delhi: The Economic Times. 4 June 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
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  50. ^ River, Trending. "13th Indian Telly Awards 2014- Nominees & Winners List Gallery". Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
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Further reading

External links