Karna’s quest to be accepted as a kshatriya

Soon after Krishna’s departure from Hastinapura, Kunti thinks of the looming war and decides to talk to Karna, her first-born.

Published: 08th January 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th January 2019 03:51 AM   |  A+A-

Soon after Krishna’s departure from Hastinapura, Kunti thinks of the looming war and decides to talk to Karna, her first-born. She meets him on the banks of the Ganga and tells him of his true family. In response, Karna addresses Kunti as ‘kshatriya lady’ and pulls no punches in describing her actions towards him as evil. He laments his abandonment, which effectively ensured that he would never have the renown that he could, and probably must, have possessed.

Through the emotional speech to Kunti, Karna also indicates what his essential quest has been: to be accepted as a kshatriya. Withdrawing support from the Kauravas and joining the Pandavas is something that Karna believes will lessen his kshatriya credentials. This points to a delicious paradox: by accepting his lineage, Karna shall become kshatriya by default; yet, this acceptance, if it were to happen, shall not befit the conduct of a kshatriya. On the other hand, by continuing to stick to the Kauravas despite his lineage becoming common knowledge, Karna is set free: he elevates himself above the very quest that has defined his life and becomes an immortal, someone whose example shall always be given.

Eventually, Karna tells Kunti that at the end of the war, she will have five sons alive, given that one of Karna and Arjuna is going to die at the hands of the other. Earlier, to Krishna, Karna had nearly confirmed that he will die at the hands of Arjuna. Perhaps the enigmatic declaration to Kunti is only to see how she reacts to it. Kunti is, in fact, resigned to losing one of her sons, and makes Karna guarantee that at least four of her sons will survive the war.

Back in Upaplavya, where the Pandavas are camped, Krishna narrates how he used the methods of conciliation (asking Duryodhana to part with five villages if nothing more), alienation (reminding the Kauravas of the Pandavas’ might), and dissension (asking Bhishma and other elders to restrain Duryodhana; and also making the offer to Karna, which he doesn’t disclose to the Pandavas). However, he informs that the Kauravas will not give up the kingdom without war and that the Pandavas must now be ready for it.

Immediately, Yudhisthira declares the names of the seven generals that shall lead his seven akshouhinis to battle. But, as is almost always the case with Yudhisthira, something that cannot be decided upon turns up. Given that the Kauravas are led by Bhishma, Yudhisthira invites opinions on who should be the overall military leader of the Pandavas. Names like Virata, Dhrishtadyumna, and Shikhandi are suggested. Yudhisthira cannot decide by himself and asks for Krishna’s opinion (contrast this with Duryodhana, who took the decision immediately). Krishna, thankfully, ignores the question and asks everyone to start moving towards the battleground.

The Pandavas set up new camps next to the Hiranvati river in Kurukshetra. All the necessary defense fortifications are overseen by Krishna himself. Similar arrangements aer made on the Kauravas’ side.

Tanuj Solanki

 @tanujsolanki

The writer is reading the unabridged Mahabharata

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