Monday, April 18, 2011

Episode 53 - The Temptation of Karna

Episode 53 - This episode is devoted to the classic scene of the Mahabharata in which Krishna reveals to Karna his true descent.  He never was the Son of a Suta, which everyone called him with scorn.  No, he was in fact the eldest of the Pandavas-- the original Partha.  Now that the truth was out, all Karna needed to do was embrace his Dharma, join his brothers, and assume the title of King of India.

Poor Karna, always the victim of bad timing.  It was way too late for such an offer.  Perhaps if Kunti had stood up and claimed him as her son during the Pandavas' first military exhibition, he might have come around then, but now there was too much water under the bridge.  Karna had been tossed out as a baby like the day's garbage, and had been scorned as a Suta when he tried to display his Kshatriya nature.  His modest Suta parents and the evil Kauravas had been the only ones to come to his aid, and he would never give them up.

Krishna failed in turning Karna, but somehow he allowed Sanjay to know of the entire conversation, so the story of Karna's descent and temptation was made known to all the Kauravas.  Kunti caught wind of the encounter, and she made a go at turning him.  She also failed, but she at least got the promise that he would spare her other sons, and should Arjun die, Karna would take his place as her fifth son.


  1. Thanx a milli !,what a great retelling of the Mahabharata. Love your podcast ,painful to wait every week.Found your podcast on google in January and listened to all 43 episodes before you released the next one. I pray you have the energy to complete your great work,well done for doing it for so long already.May you get the blessings and smiles of Srila Vyasadev and Sri Radha-Krishna.
    ps. can't wait for the WAR!

  2. You are one more reason that proves the Internet & podcasts are great, waiting impatiently for more every week,I am a driver and got my passengers hooked to your podcast. Kinda sucks because they don't want to leave mid episode and I find myself waiting outside their work places waiting for you to finish the episode.
    Thanx for making this great epic so easily available and interesting to all people. From South Africa with love and gratitude.

  3. You've got it now! And the good news is that I was delayed because I actually recorded TWO episodes last night. I still need to edit & publish Episode 55, but it is already recorded, so it should be out later today, god willing. That's two for a little bit more than the price of one... :)

  4. Is it just coincidence or deliberate effort... the way you talk about Karna? From my childhood days and the TV serial I remember Karna to be pious and very sympathetic character. Infact, during the Draupadi Saree Act, he was the one who, in vain, refrains/restraints Dushasan.

    The motives of Krishna, if he knew Karna (as you refer to Sutaputra) was not that 'IMPORTANT' (atleast according to Bhisma) wouldve been to ignore him altogether rather than elevating him to being one among "Pandavas'. The more I ponder, it makes me think that there is a missing puzzle to this entire thing.

    Could it be that Karna was holding a kingdom that held water reservoirs (important for war)? Could it be that Karna had some sort of iron ore reserves in his kingdom, that would enable the Cronies to have unlimited supply of superior weapons? (remember he has the ultimate BRAMHA NUKE, which of course he cant use at the time of need). Or is just a manipulation along the way to make Karna a hero (deliberate attempt of some Indian King in early 13th century to get his Ancestor to become famous)?

    Would greatly appreciate if you can dig into this. Thanks for the wonderful podcast btw :)

  5. I'm not making this stuff up! I am presenting Karna as he is in the Critical, Bombay, and Calcutta editions of the Mahabharata. As I recall, during the dice game, he just says some offensive things and suggests that Duryodhana have Draupadi summoned to court. He does not lay hands on her, like Dushasan, nor does he do anything lewd, like Duryodhana does. But he never does anything to redeem himself during this incident either.

    The epithet "Sutputra" is mostly used by Bhisma, and sometimes by Drona, who both dislike him intensely. The author is much more ambivalent about his character. As a military threat, he often seems insignificant compared to Arjun, Bhisma or Drona, but he is still the eldest Pandava, and he makes the best of his Dharma that he can, given the circumstances.

    The TV series allows room for interpreting Bhisma's antipathy for Karna as possibly his way of protecting the Pandava. If you imagine that Bhisma knew of Karna's birth (not a big stretch), then you might see his conflict with Karna as a subtle means of getting him out of the fight, and away from the court, so he might be saved from extermination. I thought that was possible based on the TV series' portrayal, but I definitely do not get that impression from the book. Bhisma really seems to dislike Karna-- there's no concealing it!

    According to the Dharma of a Kshatriya, there is nothing wrong with being rude, boastful, or truculent. In fact, those things are expected. Thus, the qualities that make him appear to be a "bad guy" don't really apply to whether he is righteous or not, in terms of Dharma.

    There are other instances in the book, where the sages warn us of the evil that comes when there is mixing of the castes, and people do not stick to their own Dharma. Karna is the tragic example of what happens when the strictures of society are breached. He was born out of wedlock, and abandoned to a Suta adoption. This confusion of birth, caste, and Dharma is what made Karna a "bad guy", and it had little or nothing to do with his own character.

    I think the author would agree that had Karna been born a legitimate son of Pandu, and recognized as such, he would have made a perfectly good Pandava. Perhaps not as wise as Yuddistira, nor as strong as Bhima, nor skillful as Arjun, but he'd be better than the twins!

    So please don't confuse Bhisma's words with my own opinion. I don't have any personal antipathies against Karna. In fact, he's definitely the most interesting guy in the whole book!

    Take care,