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Karna - The hapless Mahabharata Warrior

“Karma is a bitch.” These must be the truest words ever spoken. Karna was so unfortunate because of his Karma. In his previous birth, Karna was a demon by name “Dambhodbhava”. He was an Asura, who like every other asura, wanted to be powerful and had a ridiculous desire to become Immortal. So, one fine day, he started to pray for Sun God “Surya Deva”.

Lord Surya was impressed by his devotion and intensity of his “Tapas (Deep meditation)” and asked him what his desire was. Dambhodbhava who was greedy for power asked Surya to grant him the one boon no one could grant i.e. Immortality.
“Everything that takes birth must die”.
This was the First Law Of the Universe and Surya told the asura, he can ask for anything except Immortality. Dambodhbhava was crestfallen as he thought that all the Tapas was a waste of time. Dambodhbhava unwilling to give up, was lost in thought for a long time. He was determined to go home immortal one way or the other. So, he devised a clever & tricky boon which had the following ridiculous twists that:
  • he be given Sahasra Kavacha (1000 Armours) .
  • only a warrior who has performed 1000 years of Tapas will be able to break his Kavacha.
  • whoever breaks a kavacha must die immediately.
Surya who was horrified at the idea was also impressed by his devotion. So, he had no choice,  but to grant him the seemingly impenetrable Sahasra Kavacha.

Dambhodbhava, who was now equipped with his 1000 armours , went on a spree of destroying peoples lives. He tortured Rishis and Sages. No one was powerful enough to touch him, let alone break his armour.

Lord Vishnu, who takes the responsibility of relieving BhuDevi’s (Mother Earth) plight everytime evil crosses its limits, took birth as “Nara” & “Narayana”. They devised a strategy to defeat the asura which is as follows:
  • Nara would fight Dambhodbhava for a 1000 years and destroy one Kavach of the Sahasra Kavach, while Narayana would meditate .
  • Narayana would fight Dambhodbhava for next 1000 years  and destroy one Kavach of the Sahasra Kavach while Nara would meditate.
  • The one who meditated would get the “Mrityunjaya mantra” which has the power to bring back the dead to life, and used it on the one who destroyed the armour.
This continued for 999 Thousand years and they succeeded in breaking 999 Kavachas. The petrified Dambhodbhava  immediately sought the shelter of Lord Surya, who refused to give Nara & Narayana his devotee to kill.

Nara and Narayana vowed to kill Dambhodbhava no matter what.

At this time, the Treta Yuga ended and Dwapara Yuga started. Nara & narayana were reincarnated as Arjuna and Lord Krishna respectively. Dambhodbhava was born as Karna.

Karna was born with the one remaining Kavacha from his previous life. And hence it was impossible for anyone to kill him as long as the Kavacha was protecting him.

The universe now conspires against Karna to bring him to his peril. This series of events show how unfortunate Karna was

1. Parashurama’s Curse :

Karna who found a Friend and Brother in Duryodhana, when the society didn’t accept him only because he was a Suta Putra (Son of parents belonging to a Lower Caste) takes an oath of ultimate loyalty to Duryodhana which is almost as strong as the bond between Nara and Narayana. He promises to help Duryodhana  with all his strength to defeat the Pandavas, especially Arjuna (Due to Dronacharya & Eklavya debacle).
So, he approaches Parashurama disguised as a Brahmin, as Parashurama only accepts Brahmins as his students. He learns everything there is to know about Warfare and battles. The lessons were coming to an end when fate strikes for the first time.
One day Parashurama was resting on the lap of Karna, as he was tired. Now, seeing this as a chance to strike,  Lord Indra ( father of Arjuna) turns into a beetle bites Karna, making him bleed uncontrollably. Since he didn’t want his Guru to be disturbed, he bore the pain. When Parashurama finally woke up, he noticed the blood and comes to a realization that Karna was not a Brahmin. So, he curses him in his rage.” All the knowledge you gained by deception will not come to your aid at the most critical of times“.

2. A Brahmin’s Curse : 

One not a very fine morning, Karna was travelling in a village when he sees a lion killing a cow. So , he tries to save the cow by trying  to kill the lion, not knowing the lion was Lord Indra again in disguise. The arrow he sent flying hits the cow and it dies instantly. The brahmin, who sees Karna killing his only means of living, curses him again. “Your chariot wheel will be buried in the ground just as my cow is going to be buried in the ground“.

3. Bhu Devi’s Curse:

Again on an unlucky day for Karna, a small girl , who is carrying a pot of ghee is frightened by his chariot, and drops the ghee. She, afraid of her stepmothers wrath, starts crying. So, Karna tries to help her by squeezing the ground in hopes of retrieving the ghee. Bhu Devi, who gets offended as the ghee was now a part of her, curses Karna again. "Your chariot wheel will be stuck as hard as you squeezed the mud

Lord Indra , who is determined to help Arjuna in every possible way, comes in disguise as a brahmin and asks alms to Karna. Karna promises him he will do everything in his power to give him what he wants. Indra asks for the last Kavacha. Karna in full knowledge that losing the kavacha is certain death, gladly gives it away.

Finally , when the battle of Kurukshetra was being fought, all the curses come into play at a critical time, leading to the death of the greatest warrior Karna , and bringing the greatest ” Karna vs Arjuna”  feud to an end.

Despite being the most generous and fiercest warrior on the planet, his Karma in his previous life , haunted Karna. Hence, karma is one single thing that no one can escape from. What goes around, always comes around.

Sources :
A. Stories from Hindu Mythology
C. Karna


  1. Upon Karna's pleading, Parshurama relented and modified his curse, saying that Karna would only lose the knowledge when he needed it most when fighting against an equal warrior.


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