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Karna and Krishna
Spouse(s) Vrushali
Children Sudama, Vrishasena, Chitrasena, Satyasena, Sushena, Shatrunjaya, Dvipata, Banasena, Prasena and Vrishaketu

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 one of the greatest warriors, whose martial exploits are recorded in the epic, 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] As per the Mahabharata, Karna was the only warrior in that era who conquered the entire world.[2] Karna single-handedly successfully conducted Digvijaya Yatra, a campaign in which he conquered all kings in every direction of the world, was instrumental in establishing Duryodhana as the emperor of the world and to conduct the Vaishnava sacrifice.[3] Karna was equal to 2 Maharatha warriors.[4]

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.[5] Karna is often quoted for his sacrifice, courage, charity, valour, and selflessness.


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

Karna's other names are:

  • Radheya - son of Radha
  • Vaikartana - the one who gave away his impenetrable natural armour and ear-rings to Indra. Also means the one who is related/belonging to the Hindu solar deity Surya
  • Rashmirathi - one who rides on the chariot of light
  • Vasusena - birth name of Karna, meaning the one born with wealth (his golden Kavacha and Kundala)
  • Suryaputra - son of Surya
  • Parashurama Shishya - disciple of Parashurama
  • Angaraj - King of Anga
  • Vijaya Dhari - one who wields Vijaya bow
  • 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, and kind even to enemies
  • Souta - son of Suta or belonging to charioteer caste
  • Sūtaputra - son of a 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 and having a bastard, 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".[6] 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.[7]

As Parshurama only taught to 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. On a 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. But while Parashurama was asleep, a bee stung Karna's thigh. Despite the pain, Karna did not move, so as not to disturb his guru. 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.[8] With blood oozing from his wound, Parashurama woke up and at once deduced that Karna was not a Brahmin. Enraged, Parashurama accused Karna of stealing knowledge, and laid curse upon Karna that he would forget all the knowledge required to wield the Brahmanda astra.

Upon Karna's pleading, Parshurama relented and modified his curse, saying that Karna would only lose the knowledge when he needed it most when fighting against an equal warrior.[9] Rewarding Karna's diligence, he gave him his personal celestial weapon Bhargavastra which no one else possessed. Repenting over a curse made in anger, and in order to nullify said curse, Parashurama gave Karna his personal bow Vijaya to be ever victorious in battle and blessed Karna with greatness.[9]

Second Curse

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 and die in the same way the innocent cow had become, by his chariot wheels getting stuck in the ground.[10]

Meeting 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. Due to his low standing, 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.[11][12] 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.[13] 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.[14] Karna later married Vrushali 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 Shishupala, Jarasandha, Bhishmaka, Vakra, Kapotaroman, Nila, Rukmi, Sringa, Asoka, Satadhanwan etc. were defeated by Karna. The ashamed Jarasandha, the king of Magadha later challenged Karna to a one-on-one fight. Karna and Jarasandha fought continuously with different weapons until Karna defeated Jarasandha by trying to tear him apart during a wrestling fight. Jarasandha concedes defeat and Karna spared his life. Jarasandha gifted the city of Malini to Karna as a token of appreciation. 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.[15]

Hostilities with the Pandavas

Upon prodding by his uncle Shakuni, Duryodhana goes forward with a plot to kill the Pandavas through treachery, apparently succeeding. Throughout the planning and execution, Karna tries to convince his friend to call it off, desiring to defeat the Pandavas with honor on the battlefield. However, Duryodhana is unmoved and apparently succeeds in his plot.[16]

Though a monogamist, Karna was a suitor for Draupadi at her Swayamvara, attempting to win her for Duryodhana. 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".The entire kings and the assembled people insulted Karna for his low birth; only Duryodhana supported and argued for Karna, saying Great Sages, Philosophers, and Warriors have no source. They are made great, not born great. Having escaped Varnavat, 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 fought with all the assembled kings and defeated them with ease. Karna entered the battle to protect his friend Duryodhana; a terrible battle was fought between Karna and Arjuna. In some versions of the story, Arjuna manages to disarm Karna, causing Karna to withdraw and wonder on the Brahmin's schooling and identity. In other versions, Karna is distracted by the news that his son Sudama has died, and withdraws from the fight; he later learns that Arjuna's arrow had wounded Sudama. In either case, Karna's rage towards Arjuna intensifies once the Pandavas' identities are revealed.

After Shakuni won a 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 four husbands is nothing but a whore. Arjuna subsequently swore to kill Karna for that insult.[17]

Conquering the World

Later after Pandavas were in exile, Karna took up the task of establishing Duryodhana as the Emperor of the world. Karna embarks upon a worldwide military campaign, otherwise called Digvijaya Yatra, conquering all kings in every direction in order to subjugate kings, impose Duryodhana's imperial authority over them and establish Duryodhana as the emperor of the world. He commanded army that marched to different parts of the world 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 all over the world and made submission of entire kingdoms in the world. Among these include the Panchals, the kings of the Himalayas, the Angas, the Kalingas, the Magadhas, Chedi, Yavana, etc. Having thus conquered and brought under his subjection the entire world, Karna came back to Hastinapura with immense wealth and power the world had never witnessed before.[2][18][19]

King Dhritarashtra praised Karna, comparing him favourably to those like Bhishma and Drona, who had never returned such tribute. Bringing tribute and allegiance from all the world's kings, Karna helped Duryodhana to perform the Vaishnava yagna to please Vishnu and crown Duryodhana as "Emperor of the World", as Yudhisthira did with the Rajasuya Yagna. No person in the entire universe, except Lord Vishnu and Indrajit, the son of Ravana had performed this Vaishnava sacrifice before. Duryodhana thus become the most powerful and the most wealthiest man in the world. Duryodhana even made plans and preparations to conquer Indra, the lord of the heavens and the father of Arjuna with the help of Karna in order to become the sovereign ruler of both heaven and earth.[20]

Prelude to war

The Pandava elder brother Yudhisthira always considered Karna as the foremost warrior in the world and worries about this fact in the prelude to the war.[21]

Indra 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 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 ashamed and took his normal form. Cutting the armor and earrings off his body, Karna handed them to Indra. As he does so, heavens opens up and all the gods and celestial beings in all realms appeared in sky and showered flowers on Karna. They praised that it was the greatest charity the world have ever witnessed. In order to escape from such severe shame Lord Indra asked Karna to accept a gift in return. Karna rejected this offer telling that he didn't give charity expecting anything in return. All Gods, Deva's, sages and celestial beings requested Karna to accept any gift in return in order to save them from the insult that was caused by Indra upon them. Obeying the celestial beings and as per the request of Lord Indra, Karna, as his father had instructed him, asked for the Vasavi Shakti. Indra granted the boon, 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 great act.[22]

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; Draupadi who rejected him earlier will become his wife; 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.[23]

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.[24][25] But Karna rejects the offer of Kunti 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 except Arjuna 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 Rudraastra 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 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.[26]

Kurukshetra war

Sitting out

Bhishma is appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army. But giving the reason that Karna had humiliated Draupadi and disrespected their shared guru, Parashurama, Bhishma refuses to take him in the Kaurava army. Secretly, he knows of Karna’s lineage and doesn't want Karna to fight his own brothers. At the tale of Rathi's and Atirathi's, Bhishma further insults Karna and declares him as just an Ardha Rathi(Half a Rathi) warrior.[27] 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 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.[28] Only after Bhishma falls on the eleventh day did Karna enter the war. After the fall of Bhishma, Karna visits him on the bed of arrows and Bhishma reveals his knowledge about Karna's birth. He then explains his previous attitude, praises Karna's prowess, relates Karna's exploits, and gives Karna his blessings.[29]

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

Joining the battle

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 [30][31] 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.

Killing Ghatotkacha

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. Lord Krishna told Satyaki that he had applied his maya or illusion on Karna in order to protect Arjuna from Karna's celestial weapons, preventing them from engaging in direct combat.[32]

Karna Parva

Yudhishthira wrestling with Karna

Karna Parva, the eighth book of the Mahābhārata, describes sixteenth and seventeenth days of the Kurukshetra war where, post-Drona’s death, Karna took over as the commander-in-chief. Karna took his Vijaya bow for the first time in battle. As Karna drew the Vijaya bow, a terrible twang was produced because of the immeasurable energy of this bow and it silenced all other loud sounds.[33] Hearing this and anticipating a likely battle to the death between Karna and Arjuna, Krishna warned Arjuna calling Karna to be the foremost of the heroes.Lord Krishna told Arjuna, [34]

{Cquote|Hear in brief, O son of Pandu! I regard the mighty Karna as thy equal, or perhaps, thy superior ! In energy he is equal to fire. As regards speed, he is equal to the impetuosity of the wind. In wrath, he resembles the Destroyer himself. Endued with might, he resembles a lion in the formation of his body. He is eight ratnis in stature. His arms are large. His chest is broad. He is invincible. He is sensitive. He is a hero. He is, again, the foremost of heroes. He is exceedingly handsome. Possessed of every accomplishment of a warrior, he is a dispeller of the fears of friends. No one, not even the Gods with Vasava at their head, can slay the son of Radha. No one possessed of flesh and blood, not even the Gods fighting with great care, not all the warriors of the three worlds fighting together can vanquish the son of the chariot-rider.|Lord Krishna to Arjun|}}

According to Krishna, Karna had all the qualities of the five Padavas - the righteousness of Yudhisthir, strength of Bhima, archery skills of Arjuna, handsomeness of Nakula and wisdom of Sahadeva. 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 a warrior of lesser rank as Karna being a charioteers 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.

Sixteenth Day

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 the terrible death of Dussasana, he ordered his charioteer Shalya to move towards Arjuna, Karna deciding to finish him off for once and all. So violent and offensive were Karna's attacks that Arjuna's defenses soon crumbled before it. Karna then moved in for the kill. He arms his Nagastra, the same celestial weapon that was used by Indrajit against Rama 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. Karna and Arjuna then waged a rough war against each other. As promised to Kunti, Karna used a celestial weapon only once against Arjuna. Regaining the upper hand, Karna has a chance to kill Arjuna but spares the latter as the sun was about to set. In some versions, Lord Krishna realized that only miracles can save his ward Arjuna from death and caused the Sun to set prematurely.[35]

Later Lord Krishna made plans to kill Karna by cheating and revealed his plan to Arjuna. Lord Krishna told Arjuna that there will come a time where Karna would be defenseless and unarmed; that was the time for Arjuna to strike.[36]

Karna's wheel is stuck
Arjuna kills Karna

Seventeenth Day

On the seventeenth day of the war, Karna defeated Yudhishthira[37] and Bhima[38] 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.[39] Arjuna was unable to counter this weapon and so Krishna caused him to desist and retreat temporarily. Then they visited Yudhisthira who was outside the battlefield, having been badly wounded by Karna's weapons. However, Yudhisthira insulted Arjuna for retreating.[40]

After the Bhargavastra was withdrawn, the battle resumed. Insulted by Yudhisthira, Arjuna returned to battle field. The two foes, Karna and Arjuna faced each other once more. To witness this great battle between the greatest of all the heroes, heavens opened up. All beings from all the higher realms appeared in the sky. There appeared all the Devas, celestial Rishis, Apsaras, Gandarva and all the beings in the higher realms and they offered flowers to these great warriors. The asuras and beings from all the lower realms also appeared and assembled to witness the battle. Both Pandava and Kauvarava forces stopped their fight and assembled on their respective sides to witness the battle. All the Kauvarva's and Pandava's cheered their side and awaited the eagerly for witnessing the battle between Karna and Arjuna. As the battle started, 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. 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. 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, and Karna is pushing it 2 feet (0.61 m) every time by the energy of his arrows. Krishna said no human ever had or ever will attain this feat as it is impossible even to shake the chariot containing Maha Vishnu.[41] 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 had 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 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 against the rules of engagement of the war, and the enraged Arjuna attacked Karna while he was trying to lift his sunken chariot wheel. Karna defended himself and invoked Rudraastra, hitting Arjuna on his chest.[42] Swooning, Arjuna lost his grip on his Gandiva, which fell down from his hand for the first time. Following the rules of engagement of war, Karna did not try to kill the unconscious Arjuna 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 attacked Karna from the back and killed him as suggested by Krishna. It was later revealed that Karna could be killed only when all the 3 curses acted together upon him, and this made Krishna employ deceit to kill Karna.

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.[43] 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.[44] 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.[citation needed]

Later, Arjuna built the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple during his conquest for Ashvamedha in South India.[45] 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.[46][47]

Other stories

The Superior Son

One tale relates that 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.[48]

Dharma-Devata's protection

In other versions of the epic, when Arjuna used the Anjalika astra on the weaponless Karna, Krishna found that Karna was still alive even though seriously wounded. Krishna found that Dharma-Devata, the Goddess responsible for protecting Dharma, was guarding Karna from death and resisting every arrows sent by Arjuna. Krishna explained to Arjuna that the Dharma-Devata herself was protecting Karna from death because of the massive good merit Karna earned by giving charity during his lifetime. Krishna said wherever Dharma is present there is victory and this time Dharma was with the side of Karna. So Krishna went down from his chariot and appeared as a Brahmin and asked for Karna's punya or merit, to him as charity. Karna gave his entire merits as charity to the Brahmin in the form of his blood and once Karna gifted his life's merit to him, Krishna rewarded Karna with the view of Krishna's Vishwaroopa. Krishna told that only this way it was possible to kill Karna and when Karna gave away his life's merit to Krishna, Dharma-Devata disappeared. Karna asked Krishna to cremate him in a virgin land where nobody else is present. Then Krishna went back to his chariot and asked Arjuna to take the kill shot on Karna. Later Krishna himself spread the cremations of Karna at Karnaprayag.[49]

Parasurama's command

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 Brahmanda astra 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, Parashurama blessed Karna with immortal glory and everlasting fame.[50][51]


According to the Mahabharata, Karna was married to Vrushali. He had ten sons: Vrishasena, Sudama, Vrishaketu, Chitrasena, Satyasena, Sushena, Shatrunjaya, Dvipata, Banasena, and Prasena; eight of them took part in the Kurukshetra war. Sudama was killed by Arjuna at Draupadi's swayamvara when he was 9 years old. Prasena was killed by Satyaki. Shatrunjaya, Vrishasena, and Dvipata were slain by Arjuna. Bhima killed Banasena; Nakula killed Chitrasena, Satyasena, and Sushena.[52][53] Vrishakethu was his only son who survived the war.After the war when Pandavas were made aware of Karna's lineage, Vrishakethu was under the patronage of Arjuna and took part in various battles that preceded the Ashvamedha yagna. Vrishakethu was killed by Arjuna's son Babruvahana during the battle fought during Ashvamedha Yagna.[54]

In addition, in the original sentence is described as "bhāryāś", which is plural, meaning "wives" (Mahābhārata: Udyogaparvan/05139010c).[55]

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.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58] 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.[59]

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.[60] Sawant also received Moortidevi Award, instituted by Bharatiya Jnanpith, for his work[61] and was translated into nine languages.[62] Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in 1978 published an epic poem Rashmirathi (translation: One who rides the Chariot of light, 1952) which narrates Karna's life.[63] The poem has later also been adapted as play.[64]

Film and theater

Year Name Channel Played by
1964 Karnan N/A Sivaji Ganesan
1977 Daana Veera Soora Karna N/A N. T. Rama Rao
1977 Kurukshetram N/A Krishnam Raju
1988 Mahabharat (1988 TV series) DD National Harendra Paintal/Pankaj Dheer[70]
1989 The Mahabharata (1989 film) N/A Lou Bihler/Jeffrey Kissoon
1993 Krishna (TV series) DD Metro Govind Khatri
2013 Mahabharat (2013 TV series) STAR Plus Gananay Shukla/Vidyut Xavier/Aham Sharma[71]
2015–Present Suryaputra Karn Sony Entertainment Television Vishesh Bansal/Vasant Bhatt/Gautam Rode

2015–Present - Bharatanatyam exponent and scholar Bala Devi Chandrashekar < Bala Devi Chandrashekar> portrays Karna in her production " Karna - Destiny's Child".


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Further reading

External links