Ask any ten followers of Mahabharat, who their favorite character is, invariably, most of them would say “Karna” – the valiant warrior who possessed all qualities of five Pandavas together. He had moral values of Yudhisthir, physical strength of Bhima, archery knowledge of Arjuna, good looks of Nakula, and knowledge of Sahadeva.
Being raised in a low-caste household, he was a victim of caste-based discrimination all his life. Abandoned by his princess mother, discarded by so-called virtuous teachers such as Dhrona, and even after becoming an accomplished archer, rejected by the society just because of his lineage, Karna’s story indeed generates a sense of anger and helplessness. And perhaps that is why we tend to ignore his wrongdoings, and make him our favorite and most-loved tragic hero.
Karna’s life actually teaches us about choices we make in our life, and how a bad choice can inevitably lead to the final fall. When Duryodhan made him the king of Angha, he was aware that Duryodhan’s support was selfishly motivated. Nonetheless, so blinded Karna was to prove that he was a better archer than Arjuna, he was ready to be with the “dark side”. He created his own illusion of “Dharma”- and his new self-made “Dharma” was to blindly support Duryodhan because in Karna’s mind, Duryodhan was the only person that had ever shown him kindness, and thus he was indebted to Duryodhan.
It is noble to be loyal; however, if one chooses to support an immoral act in the name of loyalty, is not that person also liable for that act? Worse, Karna used prejudice against him by others as an excuse to justify his acts. Be it the conspiracy to kill Pandavas in the house of Lac, the game of dice, or the killing of young Abhimanyu, he supported Duryodhan whole-heartedly, and kept justifying his acts by giving excuses of him being treated unfairly by others and how Duryodhan supported him. And the worst kind of sin he committed when he “whole-heartedly” and “actively” participated in assaulting Draupadi – the wife of Pandavas.
A special mention has to be made about how Karna’s role in assaulting Draupadi was more wrong than that of Duryodhan, Dushasan and Sakuni. Unlike the other three, Karna was a righteous man. He had power and sense of mind to ask Duryodhan not to insult a woman. In that courtroom, it was only “righteous” Karna whose words Duryodhan would have listened to. Instead, it was Karna who started the assault by calling Draupadi “a prostitute”, and suggesting “a prostitute can have no honour or dignity.” His statement actually led to a collective idea of stripping Draupadi naked in front of all. He justified this act as Draupadi had earlier rejected to marry him and called him “suta putra” (son of charioteer/ son of a low-caste man).
Some of us might argue that it was Draupadi who insulted Karna; however, I still wonder how it is any different from one of those jilted lovers who decide to throw acids on girls’ face because they are not able to accept the rejection. Draupadi had every right to choose her husband, and she wanted to marry Arjuna. It was her desire to marry Arjuna and her fear that Karna could win the competition made her announce that she did not wish to marry a “low-caste” man. Perhaps, her justification was wrong. Perhaps, she could have given some other reasons. Nonetheless, it was still Draupadi’s choice whom she wanted to marry.
So enraged Karna was with Draupadi, in his mind, he thought it was acceptable to insult her by making her naked in the courtroom attended by all male members of her family. Nothing can justify Karna’s act when it comes to what he did to Draupadi. And in today’s world, when violence towards women is so rampant, it is even more important to highlight how wrong Karna was. (On a side note, all noblemen that witnessed the disrobing of Draupadi on that day were wrong, including the Pandavas. The only man who reprimanded till the end was Vidhur, and he was not a warrior. Or else, warriors like Bhisma, Drona, Arjuna, and Bheema could have easily challenged Duryodhan and his cohort to rescue Draupadi (even if it meant challenging the Kingdom of Hastinapur). Alas! No one raised voice, not even her husbands because loyalty to the Kingdom was more important than a woman’s honor, be it the Queen of Indraprast.
Whatever said and done – we have tendency to support Karna, perhaps because he met with a tragic end. Perhaps we have answers for his faults. Some stories report that he was remorseful about his deeds . However, we as ardent fans of Karna, should be able to acknowledge that Karna was wrong in many ways. And perhaps the karmic balance justifies his tragic end.