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A 19th century artist's imagination of Karna
|Children||Vrishasena and Vrishaketu|
Kunti and Surya (biological parents)|
Adhiratha and Radha (adoptive parents)
Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva (brothers)
Karna (Sanskrit: कर्ण, IAST transliteration: Karṇa), originally known as Vasusena, is one of the central characters in the Hindu epic Mahābhārata. The epic describes him as the king of Anga (present day Bhagalpur and Munger).
Karna was the son of Surya and Kunti, 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 Kurukshetra War. Karna fought against misfortune throughout his life and kept his word under all circumstances. It is believed that Karna founded the city of Karnal, in present Haryana.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Story
- 3 Hostilities with the Pandavas
- 4 Fight with Chitrasena
- 5 Virata war
- 6 Prelude to War
- 7 Kurukshetra war
- 8 Previous Birth Story
- 9 Family
- 10 Themes and analysis
- 11 Secondary literature and media
- 12 Notes
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
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The name he became renowned for in the epic was "Karna", meaning the cutter/peeler of his own skin/natural armor. Lord Indra granted this name for Karna's great act of donating his natural armors.
Birth, education and curses
As a young woman, Kunti, the princess of the Madhura 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 and having an illegitimate son, 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. However, according to some versions of the tale, appreciating Karna's boldness, Drona tells Adhiratha to call his son "Karna". After being refused by Drona, Karna wanted to learn advanced skills of archery and hence he decided to learn from Parashurama, Drona's own guru.
As Parashurama only taught Brahmins, Karna appeared before him as such. 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. One day, towards the end of his training, Karna happened to offer Parashurama his lap so his guru could rest his head and take a nap. While Parashurama was asleep, a bee stung Karna's thigh. Despite the pain, Karna did not move, so as to not disturb his guru. When Parashurama woke up and saw the blood oozing from Karna's wound, he at once deduced that Karna was not a Brahmin. Enraged, Parashurama accused Karna of stealing knowledge, and laid a curse upon Karna that he would forget all the knowledge required to wield the Brahmastra.
Upon Karna's pleading, Parashurama relented and modified his curse, saying that Karna would only lose the knowledge when he needed it most while fighting against an equal warrior. This curse would come to haunt him in his final fight against Arjuna. Rewarding Karna's diligence, Parashurama gave him his personal celestial weapon Bhargavastra which no one else possessed. Karna was also cursed by a Brahmin for killing his cow while practising his skills with bow and arrow. The Brahmin got angry and cursed him that he would die if & only if Karna become helpless in the same way that Brahmin's innocent cow had died.
To display the skills of the Kuru princes, their guru Dronacharya arranged a friendly tournament. His student Arjuna, third of the Pandava brothers, was a gifted archer. Karna arrived at this tournament, uninvited, and displaying 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. Due to his low standing, Karna was not allowed to fight Arjuna. He was further insulted by Bhima who compared him to a stray dog, for his mixed caste and lineage. This incident marks the beginning of a feud between Karna and the Pandavas. Duryodhana, the eldest of the one hundred sons of the king Dhritarashtra, was envious of the martial prowess of his cousins, the Pandavas. 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. Neither of them knows that Karna was in fact Kunti's eldest son, born to the Sun God Surya. When Karna asked him what he could do to repay him, Duryodhana told him that all he wanted was his friendship. Karna later married women belonging to the Suta caste, as per the wishes of his foster father Adiratha.
Fight with Jarasandha
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 Bhishmaka, Vakra, Kapotaroman, Nila, Rukmi, Sringa, Asoka, Satadhanwan etc. were defeated by Karna. Jarasandha, the king of Magadha later challenged Karna to a one-on-one fight. Karna and Jarasandha fought & 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. The victory over Jarasandha made Karna famous. 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.
Hostilities with the Pandavas
Upon prodding by his uncle Shakuni and Karna, Duryodhana goes forward with a plot to kill the Pandavas through treachery, apparently succeeding, And Duryodhana plotted many evils plan against Pandavas .
Karna was a suitor for Draupadi at her Swayamvara. like most other contenders, he also failed to string the bow and got defeated in task. Having escaped Varnavat after burning nishadas woman and children, 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. The assembled kings in the Swayamvara argued that a Brahmin was ineligible and they took their weapons and attacked the disguised Arjuna. Arjuna defeated Karna, Karna agreed his defeat, praised the skill of the Brahmin and compared it with the skill of Drona or Bhishma. Arjuna threatened to kill Karna which made Karna flee from battlefield. 
After Shakuni won a Pachisi, game of dice by trickery, Draupadi, now queen to all five Pandavas, 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 one husband is nothing but a whore, to which Arjuna took an oath to kill Karna for insulting the sacred lady.
Fight with Chitrasena
After the Pandavas lost in a dice game and went on an exile, Duryodhana planned to humiliate Pandavas by showing them the luxuries enjoyed by all Kauravas and Karna. So all of them had set to the forest where the Pandavas were living. During this journey, Duryodhana abducted a lady not knowing that she was a Gandharva. Then Gandharvas attacked the entire Kauravas and Karna, who tried to flee after being defeated. However, he couldn't as Gandharvas captured them all. Knowing this, Yudhishtira asks Arjuna to free them since it would be Hastinapur that would be insulted. Arjuna followed his eldest brother’s order and defeated Chitrasena easily. Chitrasena agreed his defeat and granted Arjuna Sammohanaastra. 
Hearing about the death of Keechaka, Duryodhana surmises that the Pandavas were hiding in Matsya. A host of Kaurava warriors attack Virata, presumably to steal their cattle, but in reality, desiring to pierce the Pandavas' veil of anonymity. Full of bravado, Virata's son Uttar attempts to take on the army by himself while the rest of the Matsya army including rest of Pandavas has been lured away to fight Susharma and the Trigartas. As suggested by Draupadi, Uttar takes Brihannala with him, as his charioteer. When he sees the Kaurava army, Uttar loses his nerve and attempts to flee. There, Arjuna reveals his identity and those of his brothers'. Switching places with Uttar, Arjuna takes up the Gandiva and Devadatta. Eager to defend the land that had given him refuge, Arjuna engaged the legion of Kaurava warriors. Many warriors including Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Karna & Ashwatthama attacked Arjuna altogether but Arjuna defeated all of them multiple times. During the war, Arjuna killed Sangramjit- the foster brother of Karna. Instead of taking revenge, Karna took heroic fight in order to save his life from Arjuna. Karna tried to fly away but he couldn't since Arjuna invoked Sammohanaastra which made entire army fell asleep.
Prelude to War
Indra realized that Karna cannot 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 approached Karna in the form of a Brahmin beggar and asked his Kavach and Kundal as alms, Karna reveals that he knew the Brahmin's true identity but assured that he would never turn anyone away. Indra became happy and took his normal form. Cutting the armor and earrings off his body, Karna handed them to Indra.. Indra granted the boon as Vasavi Shakti, with the stipulation that Karna could only use the weapon once. In some versions of the story, Indra gives Karna the name "Karna" for this act.
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 Yudhishthira would give the crown of Indraprastha to him; even Duryodhana will happily see his friend get the crown. 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.
Krishna went to Kunti and asked her to emotionally blackmail Karna by revealing the truth about his birth. According to Krishna when Karna knows about his real identity it will emotionally weaken him and Kunti can manipulate Karna. Krishna told Kunti that it is up to her to make a decision to choose between Karna and her 5 other son. As the war approached, Kunti met Karna and in desperation to keep her children alive asked Karna to join the Pandavas. Kunti revealed the truth about Karna's birth. Surya Deva also validated the words of Kunti and Karna was emotionally weakened. His hatred against Pandavas become weakened. But Karna rejects the offer of Kunti again. Knowing that Karna will fight against Arjuna with a motive to kill, Kunti extracted a promises from Karna that he will not kill any of the Pandavas except Arjuna. Karna requested his mother to keep their relationship a secret till the end of the war, as pandavas will not fight against their own brother in the Dharma Yuddha if she reveals the truth to them, due to dharma against fighting a brother/father figure. After the end of the war she is supposed to reveal his birth identity to everyone and also promised that at the end of the war she would still have five sons, the fifth one be either Arjuna or Karna himself.
Bhishma is appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army. Giving the reason that Karna had humiliated Draupadi and disrespected their shared guru, Parashurama, Bhishma refuses to take him in the Kaurava army. At the tale of Rathi's and Atirathi's, Bhishma called Karna as Artha Rathi(Half a Rathi) warrior since Karna had a very bad habit of flying away from the battlefield after being defeated as he flew away from Arjuna after Draupadi Swayamvara war & Virat war. Duryodhana wanted Karna to fight in the war from the beginning, but Bhishma threatens that he will not fight if Karna is in the army. Duryodhana considers instead installing Karna as the commander, but due to Karna's low birth, he knows that many kings would threaten not to fight under Karna when people like Bhishma and Dronacharya are present. So Karna decides that he will not fight until the fall of Bhishma. Knowing the Karna's situation on Kurukshtra war that Karna will not fight till Bhishma was present, Lord Krishna requested Karna to stay with him and Pandavas in Pandavas camp and insists Karna that he may join Kaurava side whenever the Bhishma has slain. But Karna politely dismissed Lord Krishna's appeal that he has dedicated his life to fight for his friend Duryodhana and will not do anything that is unpleasant to him. Only after Bhishma falls on the eleventh day did Karna enter the war.
Joining the battle
There is a popular folklore which is totally false that on the morning of 11th day of battle, Surya offered his invincible chariot and his charioteer Aruṇa to Karna, just like Lord Indra who gave his chariot to Arjuna. The chariot of Surya was brilliant as the sun, yoked with 7 horses of different colors and only a person with divine vision could look into it. Confident in his own skills, Karna rejects this offer, saying he didn't want to be remembered as a person who depended upon others strength to gain victory, indirectly referring to Arjuna who depended upon Lord Krishna. Drona took the commander-in-chief position.His nine sons also entered the battlefield with their father, Karna. Drona took the commander-in-chief position.His nine sons also entered the battlefield with their father, Karna.
To trap Yudhishtira; Drona forms chakravyuha on 13th day of the war. At the same time Arjuna was diverted to the other side of the battlefield. But out of their expectations Abhimanyu entered the chakravyuha. As soon as Abhimanyu entered the formation, Jayadrath, the ruler of Sindh blocked the other Pandavas, so that Abhimanyu was left alone. Drona gave some places to all the warriors with Duryodhana being at center protected by Dushasana & Drona himself. Other warriors were arranged in subsequent forward rows. Inside the Chakravyuha, the trapped Abhimanyu went on a killing rampage, intending on carrying out the original strategy by himself and killing tens of thousands of Kaurava soldiers, Duryodhana's son Lakshmana and many others. Abhimanyu defeated the mighty warriors of kauravas Side including the great Drona, Kripa and Karna. Karna along with his foster brothers came forward to kill Abhimanyu but Abhimanyu killed all the brothers of Karna. Karna became angry on seeing his foster brothers' deaths and attacked Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu defeated Karna easily but refused to kill Karna because he knew that his father Arjuna had taken oath to kill Karna. It is said that Karna flew away from Abhimanyu to save his life from Abhimanyu.In this way Abhimanyu defeated all the warriors. Duryodhana became so threatened that Abhimanyu could break Chakravyuha easily. Hence, a strategy was formed and a joint attack on Abhimanyu followed. On Duryodhana's advice, Karna broke Abhimanyu's bow from behind since it was impossible to face an armed Abhimanyu. . Kripa killed his two chariot-drivers, and Kritavarma killed his horses; Abhimanyu took up a sword and a shield but these weapons were cut off by Drona and Ashwatthama (though in other versions of the story, the perpetrators change while the acts remain the same). Abhimanyu then took up a chariot-wheel and started fighting with it, but Kripa cut the wheel. In this way, many warriors attacked the sixteen year old Abhimanyu when he was unarmed. Abhimanyu's body was pierced by dozens of arrows. But Abhimanyu faced all of the Kaurava warriors and still managed to kill many enemy soldiers. Abhimanyu attacked son of Dushasana with a mace. They fought on with son of Dushasana gaining upper hand in battle because Abhimanyu was already very injured and exhausted due to fighting with multiple opponents. Soon both of them lost their sense. Son of Dushasana regained his sense first and Abhimanyu who just regained his sense was hit by son of Dushasana under his mace which lead the liberation of soul of Abhimanyu. It is said that Abhimanyu was hit by son of Dushasana on head from behind, an area on which hitting in duel was prohibited. In this way, Abhimanyu was killed unfairly by many warriors including Karna, Duryodhana, Drona, Shakuni, Dushasana, Kritavarma, Shalya, Kripacharya & Ashwatthama etc.
Uncharacteristically, the battle on fourteenth day extended into the dark hours. Taking advantage of that was 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 against Ghatotkacha, killing him. Krishna is pleased with the fact that Karna could no longer use the weapon against Arjuna.
Karna Parva, the eighth book of the Mahābhārata, describes sixteenth and seventeenth days of the Kurukshetra war. A concern for the Kaurava forces is the perceived favour Arjuna has because of the skills of his charioteer, Krishna. To balance this, Duryodhana requests that the talented Shalya, the king of Madra and the Pandavas' maternal uncle, be Karna's charioteer. Though disconcerted over serving as a charioteer of Karna who was being a charioteer's son, Shalya agrees to the task. Prior to the war's start, when tricked on to the Kauravas' side, Shalya promised Yudhishthira that he would demoralize and frustrate Karna.
As promised to Kunti, Karna aimed at killing only Arjuna. On the sixteenth day, he fought with all the Pandavas except Arjuna, defeated them all in direct combat and spared each one of them after insulting them with harsh words. After the terrible death of Dushasana, he ordered his charioteer Shalya to move towards Arjuna, Karna deciding to finish him off for once and all. Karna then moved to kill Arjuna. He arms his Nagastra, the same celestial weapon that was used by Indrajit against Rama and Lakshmana in Ramayana. Intervening, Shalya tells him to aim at Arjuna's chest. Frustrated at Shalya's constant insults, Karna believes that the advice must be bad, and instead aims at Arjuna's head. Krishna saved Arjuna from certain death by lowering their chariot wheel into the earth; the arrow strikes Arjuna's helmet instead of his head. Before this incident, Krishna promised Arjuna that he won't apply any illusion. so Arjuna stopped attacking & started looking Krishna for the act Krishna did to save Arjuna's life. Taking this as advantage, Karna cut the string of Arjuna’s Gandiva twice but Arjuna retied it. Sun sets & day completed.
On the seventeenth day of the war, Karna defeated Yudhishthira in duels. Later on the day, when the Kaurava troops were hard-pressed by their opponents, Karna used Bhargavastra against the Pandava army. As a result, heavy casualties were inflicted on the Pandava army. Arjuna was unable to counter this weapon, lord Hanuman on the flag saved Arjuna from this destructive weapon. The two foes, Karna and Arjuna faced each other once more. As the battle intensified, Arjuna pushed back Karna's chariot 10 steps backward every time by the energy of the arrows, but Karna was unable to push Arjuna's chariot. When questioned by Arjuna, Krishna said it is impossible for any human ever to push his chariot backwards because the chariot of Arjuna contains both Hanuman and Krishna, thus holding the entire weight of the universe. Even to shake the chariot is an impossible task. Being pushed back by Arjuna, Karna began coming forward but then Karna's chariot wheel was trapped in the mud as a result of the curse he had received earlier from the goddess Earth. He still defended himself, but at the crucial moment, forgot the incantations to invoke Brahmastra, as a result of his guru Parashurama'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 spurred Arjuna to attack Karna reminding the way Karna killed Abhimanyu by stabbing him from behind- which are against the rules of engagement of the war. Being spurred by Krishna, Arjuna used Anjalikastra to kill Karna which cut the head of Karna, leading to his death. 
It is said that, Duryodhana never shed a single tear drop for any of his real brothers who were killed in the battlefield, but when his beloved friend Karna was slain, he was inconsolable.
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. Yudhishthira 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. In some versions it is said that right after the death of Karna, Kunti revealed the truth about Karna to her sons and the world, just as she promised to Karna. Yudhishthira went to Duryodhana and told that being the second eldest brother, only he owned the right to cremate Karna. Duryodhana protested and Krishna verified that Duryodhana had the highest right over Karna. Hence, Karna’s final ceremony was performed by Duryodhana, reducing the Pandavas to mere spectators of this event. Karna's wife Vrushali committed 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.
Later, Arjuna built the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple during his conquest for Ashvamedha in South India. Legend has it that Arjuna built this temple to expiate for the sin of having killed Karna against the Dharma of killing an unarmed enemy. The temple is dedicated to Parthasarathy (Lord Krishna's role as Arjuna's charioteer in the 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.
The Superior Son
There are various folklores of later origin revolving around Karna, that do not appear in Ved Vyasa's epic. One such folklore says, as Karna lays dying on the battlefield, his father Surya and Arjuna's father Indra fall into a debate as to who among their sons is superior. They decide to test Karna's generosity and appear before him as Brahmins asking for alms. Karna says that at this point he had nothing to give them while one of the Brahmins remarks that he has some gold in his teeth. Realizing this, Karna promptly takes a stone and breaks his teeth, handing them over to the Brahmins, thus proving his superiority.
In some versions, during the night of 15th day of battle, Karna had a dream in which he envisioned his guru Parashurama and asked him to take back the curse he had placed years back. 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 Brahmastra had to fail him when he needed it most. If he killed Arjuna, Duryodhana would be king instead of Yudhishthira 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 guru's words and in return the grateful guru.
Previous Birth Story
Karna, in his previous birth was known as King Dambodbhava who by his misdeeds ended up being called a demon. Demons as usual will always want invincibility which they knew was not possible. So they end up asking for all the impossible, which at any cost will have a loop hole that will pave the way to their destruction. So was the case with Sahasra Kavacha. He meditated for years and paid austerities to Lord Surya and asked for boon as thus: that he should naturally have thousand armors attached to his body. To kill him one would have to meditate for 1,000 years and fight with him for yet another 1,000 years, by which he would lose just armor at a time. Thus, he would have to lose all his armors before he could be killed. In any case there was also a clause that stated that if anyone breaks an armor he or she would die, so once Nara had to be brought back to life by Narayana. Around the same time yet another demon was creating havoc all over the world in the name of Hiranyakashyap. To destroy that demon as we all know Lord took the avatar of Narasimha. After killing Hiranyakashyap, Lord Narasimha's head took the form of Narayana and the body took the form of Nara as a greater plan of vanquishing the thousand armored Demon Sahasrakavacha. Nara and Narayana took turns for fighting and meditating; while one mediated the other fought the duel with the Demon, thus destroyed all, but one armor. The Demon knew his end was near and he pleaded to the Surya for help, who intervened and helped him. Lord Surya had promised Sahasra Kavacha protection and refused to hand him over to Nara and Narayana. At this time, there was Pralaya on Earth due to the change of the Yuga because of which the Demon escapes death. But by his yogic power the all-pervading Lord Narayana had declared that he would incarnate as Krishna and the Demon was to be destroyed by Nara in the Dwapara Yuga who would be born as Arjuna, and the wicked Dambobhava alias Sahasrakavacha as Karna. In Dwapara Yuga, an "amsa" of Lord Surya and Dambodbhava was reborn as Karna with Kavacha. It is probably why Karna was said to have had both good & bad qualities. He was the greatest donor & one of the best warriors but at the same time he also possessed bad qualities like following adharma, scolding Draupadi etc. 
Mahabharata does not name Karna's wives specifically, though they are mentioned multiple times collectively in the epic. Because of this anonymity, various later writers had built up stories about Karna's wives, weaving in their own imagination. Shivaji Sawant in his famous book Mrityunjay, names them Vrushali and Supriya. Kashiram Das in his 15th Century retelling had named Karna's wife Padmavati. In Tamil stories, she is known as Ponnurvi, Uruvi and Kanchana. 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 were slain by Arjuna. Bhima killed Banasena; Nakula killed Chitrasena, Satyasena, and Sushena. Vrishaketu was his only son who survived the war. After the war when Pandavas were made aware of Karna's lineage, Vrishaketu was under the patronage of Arjuna and took part in various battles that preceded the Ashvamedha yagna.
Themes and analysis
Within the various Hindu legends, 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. 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. 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. 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.
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 a fictionalized account of Karna's private and personal life. Sawant also received Moortidevi Award, instituted by Bharatiya Jnanpith, for his work and was translated into nine languages. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in 1978 published an epic poem Rashmirathi (translation: One who rides the Chariot of light, 1952) which narrates Karna's life. The poem has later also been adapted as play.
Film and theater
- Sivaji Ganesan played the role of Karna in Karnan (1964).
- N. T. Rama Rao played the role of Karna in Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977).
- Rebel Star Krishnam Raju played the role of Karna in Kurukshetram (1977).
- 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.
- 1991 Tamil film Thalapathi, directed by veteran director, Mani Ratnam chronicles the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana. Here, the character based on Karna, named Surya, was played by Rajinikanth and Duryodhana by Mammotty. One of the songs from Thalapathi has been voted number 4 in the BBC's 'World's Top Ten Revealed' worldwide music poll.
- Ajay Devgan played a character based on Karna in the 2010 Bollywood film Raajneeti.
- 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.
- Bala Devi Chandrashekar plays the character of Karna in the 2015 Bharatanatyam production Karna – Destiny's Child.
|1977||Daana Veera Soora Karna||N/A||N. T. Rama Rao|
|1988||Mahabharat||DD National||Harendra Paintal/Pankaj Dheer|
|1989||The Mahabharata||N/A||Lou Bihler/Jeffrey Kissoon|
|1993||Krishna||DD Metro||Govind Khatri|
|2013||Mahabharat||STAR Plus||Gananay Shukla/Vidyut Xavier/Aham Sharma|
|2015–2016||Suryaputra Karn||Sony Entertainment Television||Vishesh Bansal/Vasant Bhatt/Gautam Rode|
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