Karna is one of the most misunderstood characters in the epic called Mahabharata. Some people consider Karna as the tragic hero, some people consider him as the person who didn’t follow dharma and got the correct treatment. But if you take a step back and think deeply the concept of Karna is much more complex. Infact in my view Karna was the most important character after Krishna in the entire context of Mahabharata.
So let us start from the beginning –
Karna was the son of Surya and Kunti in a relationship which was before Kunti’s marriage(this was due to the mantra of Durvasa rishi, but I feel Kunti should have been much more responsible).
Karna was discarded as Kunti’s son and was raised as a charioteer’s son from his birth. This part of the story became the base of his conflict(Imagine a programmer like linus torvalds working in a call center).
Whenever his strength would come to the forefront because of his tasks, the society along with the royalty would disregard it stating that charioteers cannot have strength as if strength is a birthright of Kshatriyas. This pissed of Karna even more and he wanted to develop his skills to be much better than the prevalent Kshatriyas. And this is where he did his first mistake. Instead of making himself the best he can be, he started comparing himself with Arjuna, Bhishma and Dronacharya. The moment a person starts comparing himself with others is the moment he loses his individuality.
Eventually after being trained by the great god incarnation Parshurama, Karna became one of the finest warriors of our ancient history. But still there was one flaw, he was driven by his zest of being the most superior being on earth. When he decided to come back to Hastinapura and face Arjuna in the showcase of valor tournament, he proclaimed himself to be the greatest warrior on this earth(Maybe he was the greatest warrior on earth at that point of time, but his proclamation of that in the public made him nothing more than an arrogant aspirant warrior). Once he alleged his life to Duryodhan it was pretty evident that his end is now a matter of time.
However he was best human beings to live on earth since he perfectly followed his dharma, empathized with general people, attained the title of Param Danveer(since he did a bhishm pratigya that whoever will ask for anything from him, first thing in the morning after sunrise, he will give it to him no matter what). He loved his wife, he loved his mother, he loved his brother and friends and went to great extents to protect them.
Let’s come to the battlefield – The great war of Mahabharata.
The Demigod Bhishma is incapacitated, The great sage and teacher Dronacharya is dead. The onus of leading the Kaurava army is now on Karna. Karna with all his archery skills is wreaking havoc on the Pandava army. Killing by thousands, he marches on, his Vijaya bow unstoppable. First he defeats Nakula and Sahadeva, spares them saying they are kids. Next he defeats Yudhisthira but spares him again. Bhima comes next but is defeated with Karna’s mace skills, but he spares him too since he promised his mother that her five sons will be alive till the end. Next comes Arjun. He fights valiantly but has no answers to Karna’s lively weapons. Krishna tries his best to protect him but was struggling to protect the great Arjuna from Karna’s mighty weapons. Fortunately for Arjuna, Karna’s father chose to go down and when Karna was ready to launch his most devastating attack, he had to stop to follow the rules of war.
Next day the same pattern followed and Karna started destroying the army of Pandavas. Seeing all this devastation Krishna played a masterstroke and brought Arjuna directly in front of Karna. An unforgettable war started, weapons started clashing and earth started withering down. Krishna knew that Karna cannot be stopped as long as his Vijaya bow is his in his hand. Hence he implemented the curse of Parshurama, Bhoomi devi and the Brahamana all at once. Karna’s chariot got stuck in the mud. Out of desperation he requested Shalya his charioteer to get the wheel out the mud, but when Shalya refused saying that he is king and is unfit for these tasks, Karna took upon himself the burden of freeing his chariot. The valiant warrior dropped down his bow and arrow, jumped from his high chariot and touched the ground with his full intensity. He started removing the wheels of his chariot from the mud but destiny had other plans and all his strengths started to nullify.
Lord Krishna knew that this is the only moment when Arjuna would be able to defeat Karna and hence ordered his disciple to launch Anjalika astra. Arjuna though unsure, followed his lord’s command since he was aware of the full existence of Krishna and believed Krishna’s word to be the ultimate truth. reluctantly he released the dangerous weapon and decapitated the most glorious warrior of dwapar yuga. It was later revealed by Krishna that Karna could have been killed only when all the three curses would come together, otherwise it was impossible for a man, rakhshasa or deva to kill the ultimate warrior.
Though the most capable and epic warrior of Mahabharata, Karna paid the price of siding with adharma. And more so even after knowing that his best friend Duryodhana is the epitome of adharma. Karna was the perfect creation of Krishna but he chose the wrong side and faced the consequences.
You might be the most capable person in this world but if you are on the wrong side of the truth, you will be punished, by any means necessary.