Had a bad day recently? You have that nagging feeling that fate has not been fair to you, and everything you do, however earnestly always fails.
Before you give up and spend the days dejected, spend a few minutes reading about Karna and how life played a cruel game with him. Not because you take comfort in knowing that someone has had it much worse than you, but because someone had it much worse than you and he still had a respectable life.
So respectable, that people still respect him today.
1. Karna was literally abandoned by his own mother
Kunti, the princess was given a boon by sage Durvasa that she could invoke a mantra and call any god and have a child. While still unmarried, she called Surya (sun god) and Karna was born.
Kunti, was ashamed of this “bastard” and didn’t know how to explain the birth. So she put the child in a basket on a river.
2. He was refused the knowledge of warfare, because he was a charioteer’s son
Karna was brought up by a charioteer, a class much lower than the mighty Kshatriyas. But in his blood, he was a warrior.
He went to Dronacharya to learn warfare, but Drona rejected his proposal, because he was not a Kshatriya.
3. Undaunted with a thirst for learning, he disguised himself as a brahmin to learn
He disguised himself as a brahmin to learn warfare from Parshurama. And learned everything there is to learn about warfare. Such was his dedication.
4. Parshuram cursed him even though he knew that Karna was a Kshatriya
We all know the story where Parashurama is resting his head on Karna’s lap and the wasp lands on Karna’s thigh and burrows a hole.
Parshurama knew that Karna was a kshatriya way before this incident. He knew Karna lied about being a brahmin.
And he still cursed Karna. He cursed that Karna would lose all essential knowledge of weapons when he would need them the most.
5. He even outshone Arjun when they finished their training, but was shooed away like a dog by Dronacharya
After the Pandavas and the Kauravas finish their training, a grand gala was organized where they showed off their awesome skills. Karna made his way to this gala, and did feats that leave all the Pandavas and Kauravas embarrassed. He outshone each of them.
Then he is shooed away from the place by Drona for not being a Kshatriya – again. Drona also accused Karna of adharma, because he thought that Karna stole all the military knowledge because he is not entitled to it.
6. He won Draupadi’s hand in marriage even before Arjuna by hitting the fish’s eye but again was rejected
At Draupadi’s Swayamwar, Karna shoots the fish before Arjuna. But is rejected outrightly in front of everyone by Draupadi.
She proclaimed in front of the whole crowd that she would never marry a Suta (the lowly caste).
Karna accepted this and walked away.
7. He was cursed by a brahmin for accidentally killing a cow while practicing archery
Once when Karna was practicing his archery, he accidentally killed a cow. The cow belonged to a brahmin, who is enraged. He cursed Karna that he will also be killed by an arrow when he is the most helpless.
Karna is killed when he was trying to remove his chariot wheel from the mud.
8. He helped a small child and was cursed by Mother Earth
Once, a small girl was carrying a bowl of ghee to her mother and she accidentally spills it on the ground. She was very afraid that her mother would scold her for this. Karna decided to help her by invoking powerful incantations to squeeze ghee out of Earth itself.
This caused great pain to Mother Earth and she cursed Karna, that when he would be the most vulnerable, she would abandon him.
Thus, his chariot wheel could not be taken out of the mud it was stuck in.
9. He was not allowed to fight because Bhishma refused to fight alongside a warrior who was not Kshatriya
Before the Kurukshetra war started, both camps were supposed to appoint a commander-in-chief and Duryodhan nominated Karna.
Bhishma refused to fight under or along with a warrior who was not a kshatriya.
So Karna was humiliated once again and had to wait until Bhishma fell, so that he could take part in the battle.
10. Karna gave his enchanted armor to a disguised Indra, even when he knew it was dirty trick
Karna was born with an impenetrable golden armor – a gift from his father – Surya. Indra – Arjuna’s father – knew that this armor would prevent Karna’s death, and so went in a disguise to ask for the armor.
The armor is not an armor that one puts on like clothes. The armor is attached to him and is a bodily part.
He nevertheless ripped out the armor and gave it away as we would rip out a chunk of flesh from our body.
11. Kunti pleaded to Karna to not kill the Pandavas, even if that meant that Karna died.
When the Kurukshetra war was almost at close, the Pandavas were reeling from the assault by Karna. Karna had defeated every Pandava brother except for Arjuna.
One night after the battle, Kunti approached Karna and appealed to him to not kill any Pandavas. Karna agreed and said that Kunti will have all her 5 sons, and he said this in spite of knowing that Kunti is his mother.
And this is in spite of Kunti knowing that Karna is her son.
She would rather see the five brothers live rather than six.
12. Arjuna’s chariot wheel was stuck in their duel, and Karna paused the fight, respecting the rules
On the day Arjuna faced off with Karna, the weather was horrible because Indra (god of rain) was in full force to support his son. Arjuna’s chariot wheel was stuck in the mud while fighting Karna and Karna stopped fighting, because it was not fair.
Krishna and Arjuna pulled the chariot wheel free and then the fighting resumed.
13. Only to be killed in the most wretched fashion
Then, Karna’s chariot wheel was stuck.
And all the curses followed.
He forgot the incantations to divine weapons.
And Arjuna killed him when he was the most vulnerable.
14. And then, when he was almost dying, he still had something to give…
When he was in the mud, dying, Krishna came forth in a brahmin’s disguise and asked for some alms from Karna.
Karna took a stone from the ground and broke two of his gold teeth and gave it to the brahmin. The brahmin cursed Karna for giving him teeth with saliva on it.
Karna, almost dead, took a bow and arrow and punctured Earth so that there was a spring of water to wash the teeth clean. He offered the clean gold teeth to Krishna.
Krishna was so impressed by Karna, he showed him his Vishwaroop. Thus, Karna becomes only the third mortal to see this vision.
All his life, Karna was ridiculed, shamed and humiliated. Every time. And not just by other characters. He was shamed by fate itself. But he never stopped learning, and never stopped fighting. And he never stopped being a loyal friend to Duryodhana.
And he never refused to stand up for what he believed in – Dharma.
And the most important of all – he never stopped giving. He gave away his most valuable at a request, even though he knew how cruel fate was.
So, if you think you have had a bad day, and life is not going as you want it to, take heart from the story of Karna and face it nonetheless, without fear of failure and without any interruption in learning.
Because at the end of the day, and at the end of time, were you unflinching in the eye of a cruel fate and stayed your path?
Because in real life, fate does seem to be cruel and life unfair.
Weather the storm and live your life in humility, generosity and dignity – just like Karna.