Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Death Of Karna

One of the most interestingly ironic characters in the entire Mahabharata is Karna. Born to the Sun God and Kunti, disavowed by his own mother, grew up as a "Sut Putra", just simply craving for acceptance finds himself by the side of Duryodhana. In his moral code a.k.a Dharma, it didnt matter which side he fought as long as he fought upto his own standard of satisfaction. An extract from "The God Of Small Things" helps drive home the point :

"He is Karna, whom the world has abandoned. Karna Alone. Condemned goods. A prince raised in poverty. Born to die unfairly, unarmed and alone at the hands of his brother. Majestic in his complete despair. Praying on the banks of the Ganga. Stoned out of his skull.

Then Kunti appeared. She too was a man, but a man grown soft and womanly, a man with breasts, from doing female parts for years. Her movements were fluid. Full of women. Kunti, too, was stoned. High on the same shared joints. She had come to tell Karna a story.
Karna inclined his beautiful head and listened.

Red-eyed, Kunti danced for him. She told him of a young woman who had been granted a boon. A secret mantra that she could use to choose a lover from among the gods. Of how, with the imprudence of youth, the woman decided to test it to see if it really worked. How she stood alone in an empty field, turned her face to the heavens and recited the mantra. The words had scarcely left her foolish lips, Kunti said, when Surya, the God of Day, appeared before her. The young woman, bewitched by the beauty of the shimmering young god, gave herself to him. Nine months later she bore him a son. The baby was born sheathed in light, with gold earrings in his ears and a gold breastplate on his chest, engraved with the emblem of the sun.

The young mother loved her first-born son deeply, Kunti said, but she was unmarried and couldn't keep him. She put him in a reed basket and cast him away in a river. The child was found downriver by Adhirata, a charioteer. And named Karna.
Karna looked up to Kunti. Who was she? Who was my mother? Tell me where she is. Take me to her.

Kunti bowed her head. She's here, she said. Standing before you.
Karna's elation and anger at the revelation. His dance of confusion and despair. Where were you, he asked her, when I needed you the most? Did you ever hold me in your arms? Did you feed me? Did you ever look for me? Did you wonder where I might be?

In reply Kunti took the regal face in her hands, green the face, red the eyes, and kissed him on his brow. Karna shuddered in delight. A warrior reduced to infancy. The ecstasy of that kiss. He dispatched it to the ends of his body. To his toes. His fingertips. His lovely mother's kiss. Did you know how much I missed you? Rahel could see it coursing through his veins, as clearly as an egg travelling down an ostrich's neck.

A travelling kiss whose journey was cut short by dismay when Karna realised that his mother had revealed herself to him only to secure the safety of her five other, more beloved sons - the Pandavas - poised on the brink of their epic battle with their one hundred cousins. It is them that Kunti sought to protect by announcing to Karna that she was his mother. She had a promise to extract.

She invoked the Love Laws."

Ahh! The Love Laws being invoked against a man who wouldnt refuse them or go against his own code . BTW For the movie junkies Maniratnam's "Dalapati" was inspired by this and Our "Thalaivar" Rajnikanth played this role of Karna in a metaphorical sense)

Its a pity to have such prowess and yet find his talent failing him when he needed the most. As long as Duryodhana was by his side, he did shine brilliantly. The moment Duryodhana expected something of him, he did fail his captain not as much due to his own as due to his past.

Imagine a dementor taking his toll just at the moment of your greatest glory. I had this weird dream. That I was dying exactly like Karna did. That I was to be stuck when I needed my wits the most. The good part though is what follows next but the bad part is that only I know the better part.The rest of the world knows just Karna's tragic demise but not what happens after. I recollect visiting the alleged place of Karna's death in Haryana called "Baan Ganga". I was with my brother at that barren place trying to conjure up the image of India's greatest war ever. In the words of Emily Dickinson

"Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality."

My personal theory is that he is an alter ego of Arjuna.It was as though this plan had been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons now in his last moments crystallized with the pain of death.


iii said...

Nice post. Reminded me of the great movie karnan (tamil) starring shivaji ganesan. What a fantastic mythological figure!

Hirak said...

Nice post. The Mahabharatha is so rich because of these conflicts and incidents that seem to go against the grain of morality and rationality.

jhgasuhvkjahklnsdlksnlknmlwvlckn said...

Interesting connections in this post - one thing to find Mahabharata's traces in your dream and another to relate it to an Emily Dickinson work - nice connections. Dalapathi was indeed about a metaphorical Karna, though I hadn;t realized that...good stuff.

"The carriage held but ourselves
And immortality"



Anonymous said...

When a son of the sun
Was eclipsed by
A descent of the crescent
Who was to blame?

Mother of four sons, who abandoned her past
Son of two mothers, who left his first
Hater of kings, who felt cheated
King of Gods, who disguised as beggar
Bearer of waters, who cracked her skin
Son of a river, who stood in silence

Or was it just to say, none
If the means could justify the chosen end
And it so happened
This son took his own ground.


Paddy said...

[iii] I have seen Shivaji Ganesan in "Karnan". Pretty Intense actor ("Karnan" or not"). BTW Glad to see you back.
[Hirak] I agree the richness of Mahabharata is partly due to the simple layout of the complex spectrum of Human psychology.
[Rajesh] Welcome to my lair! Glad you liked the stuff being dished out.You might like to read more Dickinson for seeing greaterdepths of profoundness.I see you are a techie too.
[7~] Pretty Nice Summary of One Life without swallowing the world :)

aj said...

I liked your epilogue to the whole Karna Dilemma; What if he were Arjun's alter-ego after all. Chk out M.T. Vasudevan Nair's version of the Mahabharat. It give's u the story thru the eyes of Bheem Another perspective on the whole story.Your idea's in the same ball park and am beginning to fall in love with it. A whole 'Fight Club' take on Karna and Arjun...

In Homer's Illiad - Hector was one whose valour and courage were superior to those of Achilles. Hector's humility and humanity were greater than those of Achilles, who fought for himself or, at best.

Hector, who, despite his odd interpreation of the quality 'honour', detests a meaningless war, and tries to spare as many of his enemies' lives as he can. He is clearly an anachronism, however, and his ignoble slaughter at the hands of a brutal gang suggests what price chivalry has to pay.

Now here's my take on the whole thing, How can two tales have characters so similar? Rather interesting i'd say...

After Thought: Moses the pauper was put in a basket and floated off to be raised a prince; Karna the prince was put in a basket and floated off to be raised a pauper.

Paddy said...

[Arun] Excellent Points! Glad to note you liked the epilogue.I have to check out the MT Vasudevan Nair's version of The Mahabharata. Did you check out "The Great Indian Novel" by Shashi Tharoor?

The analogy of Hector didnt strike me though I always look for parallels among various mythologies.

>Now here's my take on the whole thing, How can two >tales have characters so similar? Rather interesting >i'd say...

We always have to be keen to coincidences I say because they might have originated from the same fundamental source and hence the resonance.

>After Thought: Moses the pauper was put in a basket >and floated off to be raised a prince; Karna the >prince was put in a basket and floated off to be >raised a pauper.

Hmm..This is something I thought of but nicely put as in the sense of Mark Twain's "Prince and Pauper".

A very well written comment and I look forward to more gems from you :)