Friday, February 26, 2010
During the next 13 years Karna went from strength to strength----conquering and subjugating many territories and making these into vassal States of the Hastina Pura Empire.His relationship with Duryodhana was now a bond of brotherhood and his lineage was no more an issue.His reputation as a Warrior and as a generous man was by now well established---he was highly respected by the elite and commoners---both.
The13 years of exile over,the Pandavas returned---only to be rebuffed by Duryodhana---he refused to return their kingdom to them.They sent Krishna as their emissary to the Hastina Pura Court---to no avail---Duryodhana was firm about not returning "even a grain of Sand on the tip of a Needle!!!" were his exact words.At this,War was the definite outcome.Krishna and his vast army were divided----his army was chosen by Duryodhana---while Arjuna chose only Krishna----who had declared not to fight in this War.Arjuna requested Krishna to act as his charioteer---Krishna's skill in handling the horses was legendary!!!
The first day of the War the two armies stood face to face------Bhishma was the "Sena Pati"----Commander in Chief---and he left Karna out---much to Karna's humiliation!!!Arjuna developed cold feet at the thought of fighting against his own kin---Sri Krishna then propounded the Gita---the most relevant Shloka being"Karmanyey Vaadhikaa Rastey---Maa Phaleshu Kadaachana" translated meaning----Each Human Being must continue to do his/her duty---not look the benefits or deficits of the act----it is our hands only to act as willed by God and only His to reward the actions He deems fit.He also said that the "Aatmaa"---Soul----is Immortal---like a body changes clothes the Soul changes bodies---it is indestructible---therefore cannot be destroyed by fire, or death---the Soul lives on-----repeatedly being reborn till all the cycles of rebirth are fulfilled and finally it attains "Moksha"---Salvation and merges with the Almighty.
Energised by this speech Arjuna took up his weapons with renewed vigour and the terrible War began---all the descriptions of the War match with Nuclear Weapons fall out terms---did they have access to Nuclear Weapons???Debatable Topic---definitely worth researching. One by one the Generals fell and the loss in terms of both Life and loss was great.Finally the day to appoint Karna as the Commander in Chief of the army arrived----the day he was waiting for!!
Two days previous to this, when it became apparent that his turn as Commander was approaching,Krishna approached Karna's Camp.He revealed the secret of his birth to Karna and asked him to join his brothers---to fight on the side of Justice.He also tempted Karna with various plus points of becoming the oldest Pandava---besides being husband to Draupadi,Karna's word would be law to his younger siblings---he would get all the respect that was his due!!!!Karna was badly shaken at this---but the one thing that kept him anchored to the Kauravas was his love and loyalty towards Duryodhana-----who had befriended him when he needed it most.He asked Krishna that why was it now that this had come about??Where was all this concern when he was being publicly humiliated---and his humiliators included his brothers?Why had no one told them the truth---why him and why now????Krishna asked him to reconsider his decision and leaving a shaken Karna alone,returned to the Pandava Camp.
Kunti came to meet him the next day on the Banks of the River,early in the morning.As soon as Karna emerged after his ablutions,she asked for a private talk with him----he obliged. What she had to say hit him like a bolt from the blue----first she begged him to consider his obligations to her as his mother---watching her sons fight amongst themselves was a fate worse than death for her---when her pleadings did not change his resolve she asked him for a boon.She said she had always been known as the mother of 5 sons---and so she would like to remain as long as she lived!!!This statement made Karna answer her in kind---he would not fight against any of his other brothers---only against Arjuna-----that too till Death---whichever oneof them survived, she'd still remain the mother of 5 sons!!!He also brought home to her the fact that she no longer thought of him as her son----had perhaps never done so--hence was here to plead for those other 5 sons of hers!!!
That night Karna dreamt of his father---the Sun God.His father came to warn him against Indra.Fearing his prowess as a Warrior,Indra--Arjuna's father----was coming to ask for the signature of his invincibility---the Armour and Ear Rings which were his blessing from his father at birth.He asked Karna to refuse these as Alms to the poor old Brahmin who'd ask him for these on the river bank after his worship was over.
Karna woke up early and went to the River early to pray for forgiveness from his father---he had no intention of refusing Indra---he was willing to part with whatever the old Brahmin would ask for!!!As expected Indra showed up and was presented with the Alms he asked for----which so impressed him that he gave his personal weapon---The Vajra---Bolt of Lightning----- to Karna as a blessing.This was highly destructive and could be used only once in any battle.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The Pandavas built up "Indra Prastha"into a beautiful country through their hard work----levelling the land and making it fertile.The capital City was built by "Mayaasur" a friendly Demon King who was renowned as a Magician.The Palace in particular was truly awesome---there were illusions of various objects---so lifelike that one realised only after falling prey to the Magic that these didn't exist at all!!!One of these was a floor which looked like a Water Lily Pool---the seemingly solid ground beside it was in fact the Pool!!!!
After the completion of their hard work,The Pandavas invited all their cousins---the Kauravas and Krishna over for the traditional house warming "Yadnyaa"(Sacrificial Fire).Karna too accompanied the Hastina Pura contingent as an invitee.The festivities passed off with a few hiccups and a tour of the Palace was undertaken by the guests.As luck would have it,Duryodhana fell into the Pool---he didn't realise that the Lily Pool was actually the floor!!!Before this too he had walked into walls thinking them to be doors-----this fall was the last straw!!!Seeing him fall the imperious Draupadi who stood by watching his antics nearby taunted him----calling him"the blind son of a blind father!!!!"Already furious and mad with both anger and jealousy ,Duryodhana stormed off with Karna and the rest of his contigent in tow.On reaching Hastina Pura,he began plotting the downfall of the Pandavas with the help of his maternal uncle Shakuni---a wily old fox.Shakuni was the brother of Gaandhaari--the wife of Dhritarashtra and the mother of the Kauravas.He was the King of Gaandhaar(Afghanistan) but had accompanied his sister for her wedding and lived in Hastina Pura ever since. He was bitter about the fact that his beautiful,chaste and pious sister had to marry a blind man---also that out of her deep sense of commitment and vow of chastity towards her husband,she too always wore a blindfold.Thus his main aim was to establish his nephew as the Emperor of all the territories over which Hastina Pura was spread.This was Shakuni's revenge against Bhishma, who had arranged the union and who favoured Yudhishthira rather than Duryodhana for the positiion.
Shakuni now got a special pair of Dice made---and invited Yudhishthir and his brothers over for a "Yadnyaa" at Hastina Pura.The unsuspecting Pandavas arrived and during the course of the proceedings were invited to play"Dyoota"an ancient form of Indian Chess.Shakuni was a master of this game while Yudhishthira, though fond of the game, was a novice.The game began with Yudhishthira representing the Pandavas and Shakuni,the Kauravas.Though his brothers tried to dissuade Yudhishthir from the game,he was in the mood to play and asked his brothers to sit back and watch.As the eldest brother,his word was law to his siblings---so they sat behind him as mere spectators. Initially the game was played for innocous stakes---as Yudhishthira began to lose---the stakes began to rise.Yudhishthira lost his Kingdom and his brothers---who were seated quietly behind him---but he continued to play.The final stake was their common wife Draupadi----to which all his brothers objected firmly---only to be ordered by Yudhishthir to keep quiet!!!This stake too was lost by Yudhishthir---and a menstruating Draupadi was dragged before the Court by her hair---led there by Dushaasana--a younger brother of Duryodhana.
During the menstrual cycle Women in India observed certain rules---many still do---and were to rest in seclusion till the cycle was over.During this period the women of that era wore a single piece of a long,Cotton cloth wound around their bodies and their hair was left unbound and loose.In this state of deshabille,Draupadi was presented in the Court and humiliated.She pleaded with Karna to help her---he called her a whore who lay with five men and turned his face away!!!The stunned Elders seated on their thrones all around her were speechless with shock----finally it was Bhishma who asked for this shameful act to stop.Legend has it that Dushaasana tried to strip Draupadi of her single covering--she in turn invoked Lord Krishna and He supplied her with cloth after cloth till Dushaasana collapsed due to the strain of pulling at the never ending length of Cloth!!!It was then that Bhima swore his terrible oaths---he'd break Dushaasana's chest and drink his blood after anointing Draupadi's flowing long hair----till then she would not tie her hair-----and would break the very thigh on which Duryodhana had asked Draupadi to take a seat.Karna deeply regretted his statement---said in the heat of the moment----- what he said to a chaste woman upset him immensely----but the public humiliation he had suffered because of her many years earlier----made him lose his balance and clear thinking.
It was decreed that the Pandavas would have to serve a sentence of 13 years----live for 12 years exiled to the Forest and spend the 13th.year in anonymity-----should they fail in this,they'd have to repeat the sentence.The Era was drawing to a close----the hour of the great War was drawing nearer---the stage was being set by Destiny----and the puppets were being moved by an unseen hand!!!!
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Karna's mother Kunti was the biological daughter of King Sura Sena----her younger brother was Vasudeva, the father of Lord Krishna .She was the widow of King Pandu---and her sons were a gift of the Mantra bestowed on her by Sage Durvaasa---the eldest Yudhishthir, was the son of Yama the God of Death----Bhima the son of Vaayu,the God of Wind and Arjuna the son of Indra,the King of the Gods.Nakula and Sahadeva were the sons of her co-wife Madri to whom she gifted the Mantra and were the sons of the Ashwini Twins.Pandu's blind brother, Dhritarashtra was the ruler of Hastina Pura and the father of the Kauravas who were a 100 in number and he had one daughter---Dushaala..A few days after Karna's return to Hastina Pura,there was an Event held to test the Martial Skills of the Princes----all the Kuru Princes were to take part including Karna's half brothers---Kunti's other 5 sons.These were named Yudhishthira,Bhima,Arjuna,Nakula and Sahadeva.The other Princes were the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra, the blind King of Hastina Pura-----Duryodhana was the eldest Prince among these.The two sets of cousins could not get on together and were constantly trying to pull the other side down.Also the sons of Kunti viewed Karna with contempt----due to his talents despite his low birth.
Thus the Tournament began--the Princes showed off their skills in the Martial Arts taught to them by the Sage Drona----the Princes were also joined by Ashwathaama, the son of Drona.After the Princes had presented their skills the Commoners---among them Karna---were given an opportunity to show their prowess.Karna excelled in everything and was crowned the winner in his category.Now the Grand finale took place-----the archery Contest.Arjuna was renowned for his skill with the Bow and Arrow----so he challenged the crowd---including his cousins---to defeat him in Archery----only Karna stepped forward to answer the challenge.Drona was quick to point out the fact of Karna's low birth---he was not a fit opponent for Arjuna.At this Duryodhana stepped forward and crowned Karna the King of Anga---a vassal state---and declared Karna to be his personal friend!!!The Duel took place----both archers shot an arrow towards the target---while Arjuna hit the defined target,Karna hit the unseen one---a parrot---and was declared the winner after Bhishma's intervention---much to Drona's chagrin!!!
Kunti too saw Karna and recognised him---but kept her peace throughout the proceedings.Thus Karna became Duryodhana's fast friend----for life.Karna was unaware of his lineage but was drawn to the Sun God---since early childhood he'd begin his day with a dip the holy waters of the Ganga and offer ablutions to the rising Sun.He'd perform his Puja for the Sun God and then only begin his daily routine.After being crowned the King of Anga he began bestowing Alms generously on the needy---no one was turned away----no matter what the demand-----thus gaining the reputation of "Daanshoor" Karna-----"Generous Karna".His foster parents lived with him and he was called "Radheya Karna"-----Karna, the son of Radha.He married and began family life--growing in stature due to his Martial Skills---his friendship with Duryodhana too strengthened with passing time.
During this period things between the Royal cousins went from bad to worse and the Pandavas were sent into exile----that story will follow later!!!While the Pandavas were in exile, the invitation to attend the "Swyamwar" of Princess Draupadi of Panchaala was recieved by all the Kings---Karna was one of the recipients.There was a challenge to be won for the hand of the Princess.A Fish was hung over a pool of Water.The archer had to send an arrow through the eye of this Fish----looking at it's reflection in the Water!!!When Karna's turn came and he got into position to hit the target---Draupadi imperiously asked him to stop---his low birth was his biggest disqualification according to her---she would not accept him as her husband if he won!!!Humiliated badly by this Karna left the gathering with Duryodhana----coming back to Hastina Pura with a heavy heart.The Princess's hand was won by Arjuna who attended the function disguised as a Brahmana----this caused further rift between the two---Karna and Arjuna.
Duryodhan was an egoistic man---given to wrongful ideas about his own importance---he wanted to rule over the Empire---though as the eldest, this was meant for Yudhishtira.The rivalry between the two existed since early childhood and Dhritarashtra secretly favoured his own son as the Crown Prince.Karna as Duryodhana's friend stood staunchly with him againt the Pandavas---bound to Duryodhana by bonds of loyalty and friendship.
The seeds of discontent were sown and the simmering rivalry resulted in giving the Pandavas a parcel of waste land known as "Khaandva Prastha" as their kingdom.Here they established their own city"Indraprastha".This is today's Delhi---the capital of modern India while Hastina Pura has been identified as modern day "Meerut" another city nearby.
What follows has all the ingredients of high drama---a fatal one at that!!!
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The Epic Poem of "Maha Bharata"relates incidents of a period roughly estimated to have taken place 2500-3000 B.C.----approximately 4500---5000 years ago.Said to have been penned by Lord Ganesha to the Sage Ved Vyaasa's dictation,this deals with an ancient war fought between two branches of the same Family---the Kuru Kula(Clan)---involving all of the Indian Sub Continent----hence the name "Maha Bharata".It's characters even today are very much a part of the Indian Conciousness and one of our sacred Texts---"The Shri Bhaagwad Geeta"was narrated by Lord Krishna on the first day of this Epic war to his cousin Arjuna---the fourth son of Kunti by Lord Indra,the King of the Gods.It deals with human emotions and situations still valid in this day and age----some things just never change!!!
These are my feelings which I express here---I do not claim to be a Scholar or a Pundit on the topic of the Maha Bharata---I merely write what I feel----it is my feeling that on the whole Karna got a raw deal---he definitely deserved better and here's why I think so.I will just list the basic facts and let you decide for yourself----who was wrong or right!!!
Kunti,the adopted daughter of King Kuntibhoja,tirelessly and devotedly served the Sage Durvaasa on his visit to their Palace.She looked after his Devotional needs as he was there to perform a religious ceremony and needed to do so in peace.Sage Durvaasa was known to be intolerant,quick tempered and stubborn---he also had the habit of Cursing all those hapless beings who according to him were not up to the mark.Thus Kunti had taken on a near impossible feat to accomplish and she did so with great Success.As a blessing, Durvaasa gave her a sacred Mantra(Chant)which would give her the power to recieve great sons from whichever God she thought of while chanting it.This way she could beget herself 5 sons.
Now Kunti was very young at the time and did not take Sage Durvaasa's gift seriously---she had doubts and so decided to try it out.She focused her mind on the setting Sun God ,Surya and invoked the Mantra---and Surya stood in front of her---ready to grant her her wish!!!Now frightened out of her wits,she begged Surya to go back but to no avail.The Sun God was bound by the Mantra and so he could leave only after granting her a son.Thus she became preganant and was terribly frightened of the consequences.Her old Nurse Maid found a way out----telling King Kuntibhoja that the pressure of attending to Sage Durvaasa had taken a toll on Kunti health,she asked his permission to take Kunti for a sojourn to his Hunting Lodge in the Forest----to help her regain her strength and vigour.The King agreed and Kunti came to a secluded spot in the Forest---cut off from Society's prying eyes.In due course she gave birth to a beautiful baby--a son Karna---who wore a glowing golden armour from head to toe and had a pair of beautiful Ear Rings in his ears---"Kavacha"(armour)"Kundala"(ear rings) both gifts from his father--the Sun God.As the son of an unwed mother,he was placed in a wooden casket by the old Nursemaid and floated on the River Ganga with heartfelt blessings to find a new life elsewhere.A few days later Kunti returned to Court and her old life there----Karna became a faint memory!!!She went on to marry King Pandu who ruled over Hastina Pura which was a large Empire with many vassal States.The mainstay of this Empire was Pandu's Grand Uncle Bhishma---a venerated and well loved personality----the oldest Elder of the Kuru Kula(Clan).
The Casket was rescued from the River by a charioteer named Adiratha.His wife Radha and he were childless---thus this baby was a dream fulfilled---a wish granted!!!Legend says that Radha felt such a rush of Maternal love for the baby that she could feed Karna her Breast milk--generated at the sight of him.Thus Karna began growing up as a Sut Putra---the son of a lower caste charioteer!!!Adiratha was Bhishma's charioteer at Hastina Pura and was in his good books. Being the son of a God made Karna exceptionally capable at all the skills he undertook and Archery became his favourite sport.With Bhishma's blessings Adiratha took Karna to Sage Drona to better his skills.However Sage Drona,the Teacher of the Princes of the Kuru Kulaa refused to teach him on the grounds of his low birth---so Karna had to look elsewhere.He journeyed West to the Konkan where the Sage Parashurama lived---the ultimate Teacher of Weaponry of the era.There was however one hitch----he taught his skills only to the Brahmanas and other castes---not the Kshatriyas or Warrior caste.Karna reached his Ashrama(residential School) and posed as a Brahmana and was accepted as a pupil by the Sage.
Here Karna learned the art of Archery and became so good at it that he could shoot an arrow unerringly towards any unseen target------based only on the sound alone---bird or beast.To practice this and polish it up further he went into the Forest surrounding the Ashrama.Here he shot an arrow towards the sound of an animal drinking Water from the Stream---thinking it to be a Deer.Unfortunately it was a Cow belonging to a Brahman householder----the poor Cow died stuck in the thick mud on the banks of the stream.The householder cursed Karna"Just as the Cow died helplessly caught in the mud---so shall you die as haplessly!!!"No amount of pleading about it being a mistake made by Karna moved the householder one bit.
Karna returned to the Ashrama saddenned by the event----the death of the Cow---a sacred animal---lay heavy on his conscience.A few days after that Sage Parshurama asked Karna to let him use Karna's thigh for a pillow during the Sage's afternoon siesta.Karna was overjoyed to have been honoured thus.The Sage slept and after a while a Beetle began boring it's way into Karna's thigh.Though in immense pain,Karna sat still so as not to wake the Sage----the Beetle continued driving deeper and deeper.Finally when the Sage awakened he saw the pool of blood let out by the Beetle----and asked Karna as to how he could sit still??Karn replied that he didn't want to disturb the Sage's rest---the reply made the Sage furious.He asked Karna about his true lineage---and Karna had to admit the truth.The Sage said to Karna"You have learnt this art from me under false pretenses----may this art be of no use to you when you need it the most!!!You are not anything but a true Kshatriya---for only a Kshatriya can bear such pain with such fortitude!!" and banished Karna from his Ashrama.
Karna returned to Hastina Pura in time to take part in a Contest of various Martial skills which was to take place in a few days.
The next part in the next blog---bear with me please!!!
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