Karna – was he a Hero or Villain?


Sadhguru: In India, for people who are conversant with the Mahabharata, there is a whole culture where Karna is a kind of anti-hero. He is a sweet mango gone bad. He was a wonderful human being gone totally bad because he invested in bitterness. His bitterness took him into a disastrous life story. He was a man with a phenomenal sense of integrity and generosity but all this was lost. He died in the battle in a bad way.

The “low-born” king

Karan birthHe was resentful because he did not know whose child he was. But the people who brought him up, did so with utmost love. His foster parents, Radha and Athiratha, loved him immensely and brought him up very well, the way they knew. He always remembered how much his mother loved him. “That is one person who loved me for who I am,” he says. Out of his competence and the will of fate, he became Angaraja – the king of Anga. He got many things and was given a position and place in the palace. In many ways he was also a big king’s sidekick. Duryodhana held him dear and took advice from him. He had everything that life could offer. If you look at his life, the fact of it is that he was a charioteer’s son who became a king. He should have been really happy. A child who is found floating on the water grows up to become a king. Is it not a wonderful thing? But no, he did not give up his resentment. He was always unhappy and miserable because he could not come to terms with what he was being labeled as. Wherever he went, people referred to him as a suta or “low-born” because of his ambitions. Throughout his life he complained about this. All the time, he nourished bitterness within himself about his so-called low birth.

This bitterness made a wonderful human being into such a nasty and ugly character in the Mahabharata. He was a great human being and showed his greatness in different situations, but because of this bitterness, in many ways it was he who turned everything wrong. For Duryodhana, it did not matter what Shakuni said or did, it was Karna’s advice which always sealed the deal. After everything was decided, he would look at Karna, “What shall we do?” Karna could very easily have turned the direction of the whole story.

Tragedy and sacrifice

indra_gives_indrashakti_to_karnaHis life went through various pitches of tragedy and sacrifice alternately. He displayed this sense of sacrifice continuously, but no good came out of it because he was destroyed by the one thing that mattered to him the most – he wanted to be somebody that he was not, at least in the society. Maybe he actually was in reality, but as far as society was concerned, he wanted to be somebody he was not. Because of this obsession, he continuously blundered. He was an intelligent man. He had enough sense to see that what Duryodhana was doing was wrong. But he was not just a passive participant, he was an active participant who goaded Duryodhana on, many times. Duryodhana’s life could have been saved if only Karna used his intelligence rather than his loyalty and gratitude. He failed to use his intelligence and continuously went from one blunder to another.

A life full of wrong turns

When Krishna came to sue for peace, he spoke to Karna. “Why are you doing this to yourself? This is not what you are. Let me tell you what your parentage is. Kunti is your mother and your father is Surya.” Suddenly, Karna broke down. He always wanted to know who he was and where he came from. He always wanted to know who it was who let him off in the river in that little box. Suddenly, he realized that he had been actively trying to nurture hatred towards the five Pandavas, even though it was not naturally so. Because of his gratitude to Duryodhana, somewhere, he believed he must hate these five people. Though there was no hatred in his heart, he worked it up all the time and came out meaner than anyone. If Shakuni said one mean thing, he would say the next mean thing. And he wouldn’t stop there because he was always working up his hatred trying to prove his loyalty and be grateful for what Duryodhana had done for him. Somewhere deep inside, he knew that everything he was doing was wrong, but his loyalty was so strong that he continued to do it. He was a wonderful guy but he continuously made mistakes. All our lives are like that – if we make one wrong choice, it takes ten years to recover, isn’t it? He never recovered because he made too many wrong turns.

Life is fair!

karan-vadhExistence is not making a judgment about who is good or bad. It is only social situations that try to judge people as good and bad. It is only individual human beings who try to judge you as good and bad. Existence never judges because it is not written anywhere that one thing is good and some other thing is bad. It is just that if you do the right things, the right results happen to you. If you don’t do the right things, the right things do not happen to you. I think that’s perfectly fair. All the Karna fans think it is unfair that he should have been put through so much. I think it’s perfectly fair. Society may not be fair, but the existence is perfectly fair – unless you do the right things, the right things will not happen to you. If existence was not like this, there would be no value for doing the right things or for human intelligence. Nothing that we value in our life would be valuable if you could do wrong things and still the right things happened to you. Life doesn’t work like that.



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  • My pranams to Sri .Sadguru.
    Every one agrees, Kar na has done so many mistakes, which led him to his doom.Let us think for a moment,what would have happened, if Kar na does another mistake of going back on his word and refuses to give his Kavacha,& Kundala.In this case he will not die,though he may be defeated.The situation would be all kauravas perish in the war,Kar na will not die.May be pandavas make him the king to rule Hasthinapura, since he is the eldest pandava, who does not die.Really pathetic as he will be lonely in this world till the end of Kaliyuga.
    2.Had he be not that way as he was, there would be no war.The main purpose of Krishna Avatar would fail.
    3.The title Suta putra attached to his name brought him disgraces everywhere.He was not accepted by Drona.He was cursed by Parasurama. He was rejected by Draupadi.All this because of the mistake committed by one individual : pregnancy before marriage-The root cause of Mahabharata. Here again the law of the land at that time : Vedavyasa was bor n to Satyavathy before marriage. Here we see clearly, when a man proposes, it was not wrong but when a woman proposes: not acceptable to the society,that time.
    4. It was basically deva danava war fought on the earth.All the danavas perished.We have to see it as the game plan of the supreme.

  • Nice article. Vasusena always did the wrong things in spite of knowing that it was wrong for the sake of showing gratitude to Dhuryodhana. He was a villain by doing wrong things and a hero by generosity, courage, loyalty.

  • Karna was not a Pandava. Pandavas are those who are the sons of Pandu. Karna was born before Kunti married Pandu. So Karna didn’t become king even if he was alive and he was not righteous always. Yudhistara is the one, who was always righteous to the people. Pandu first wants son of a Dharmaraj to rule this world with Dharma. Pandu after died in the heaven asks Narada that he wants his son to rule this world bcoz. adharma is increasing and bad kings were growing. So after knowing his fathers desire Yudhistara did Rajasuya Yaga in which he ruled most of the Bharata Kanda with the help of his four brothers. But still there were many bad kings that have to be abolished. This is the one of the main reason why Dharma Yudha happened. Duryadhana gathered all the bad kings in the world and will become the cause of their death along with him. Later Yudhistara did Aswametha yaga and ruled this world like Lord SriRama.

  • nice article .but one have to remember that without suffering there is no redemption.
    he showed whatever his mistakes will be he will keep atleast one virtue generosity even it causes his death