The fourth chapter refers to the meeting between Karna and Lord Indra where Karna makes the ultimate sacrifice which I have referred to in the beginning of my blog. The chapter brings out the principles that Karna has sworn by:

‘Bhuj ko chhod na mujhe sahara kisi aur sambal ka,

bada bharosa tha, lekin is kavach aur kundal ka!

Par, unse bhi aaj door sambandh kiye leta hoon,

Devraaj! Lijiye khushi se mahadaan deta hoon!’

(I need nothing besides my arms, though I did value my magical armour a lot; today I make this supreme sacrifice with pleasure and give you this magical armour)

The fifth chapter portrays the meeting between Karna and his birth mother Kunti, wherein she tells him of his true lineage and pleads with him to side with his brothers. Once again, Karna refuses to trade his friendship with Duryodhana for a kingdom and the love of his mother that he had always yearned for.

The sixth chapter describes Karna’s taking over the role of the commander after the death of Bheeshma and Dronacharya. Dinkar uses the following words to describe Karna’s valour on the battlefield:

‘Sagar sa garjit, kshubhit ghor, vikraal dandadhar sa kathor,

aridal par kupit Karna toota, dhanu par chadh mahamaran chhoota!

Aisi pahli hi aag chali, Pandav ki sena bhaag chali!’

(Roaring like the angry oceans Karna destroyed his enemy like death itself; his first volley of arrows itself was so deadly that the pandava army started to flee)

However, the best weapon that Karna possessed was wasted on Ghatotkach, the demon son of Bhima, due to an intrigue enacted by Krishna.

Ultimately, the seventh chapter describes the final battle between Karna and Arjun, which has been portrayed as the ultimate battle between two worthy people. So much so, that the armies of the two warring sides stop their battles to watch the big fight:

‘Is aur Karna martanda sadrish, us aur Parth antak samaan,

ran ke mis, mano, swayam pralaya, ho utha samar me moortimaan!

Jhoojna ek kshan chhod, swatah, sari sena vismay vimugdh,

Aplak hokar dekhne lagi do shitikanthon ka vikat yudh!’

(The battle between Karna and Arjun was like a death battle; the two armies were so awed by this lethal display that they stopped fighting and watched the two great soldiers instead)

This battle comes to an end with Arjun slaying Karna, deviously, on the advice of Krishna. With that, the world lost one of its finest men, an unparalleled epitome of bravery and character. While the Pandavas were rejoicing, Krishna stood serene and overwhelmed, moved by the death of mother Earth’s most deserving son.

Dinkar concludes with moving words spouting from Krishna’s heart:

‘Samajh kar Drona man me bhakti bhariye,

pitamah ki tarah samman kariye!

Manujta ka naya neta utha hai!

Jagat se jyoti ka jeta utha hai!’

(Revere him (Karna) like Dronacharya and Bheeshma; a symbol of humanity has died leaving darkness and a void behind him)

The book succeeds in portraying the intrigue that Karna’s mind plays in its constant upholding of the values of friendship and loyalty. To my mind, Karna and Arjun are two sides of the same coin. Karna represents the illegitimate avatar of Arjun.

Be it bravery or skill, Karna was Arjun‘s equal, if not better than him. However, all his life he lived under the shadowy slurs of his lowly birth, which made him feel small amidst the royal Kshatriya clan. It was this perceived illegitimacy that Karna fought with his valued principles of friendship and righteousness.

Although, destiny always sided with his opponents, Karna refused to go astray in his path of truth. Even Yudhishthira erred on his path of truth, but not Karna. He epitomises truth, honesty, righteousness and benevolence in measures one can only dream of.

Ashamed of his low birth, Karna, is a self-learner. Watching the great gurus of India, Karna, toils day and night to achieve the skills, which surpass those of everyone around him. He is determined to erase the slur of his low birth with his unparalleled bravery and his quest is brought under a rude censure by the royals. It is then that Duryodhan comes forth and appreciating Karna’s bravery, making him forever indebted by gifting him a kingdom and his friendship. And it is this sense of gratitude that Karna pays ultimately with his life.

The moral high ground that Karna adopts is exemplified throughout the epic and he stands out as the only person with an untainted character through this complex intrigue of thought and action.

With the Sun God as the insignia of his chariot flag (and hence the name Rashmirathi), Karna is the symbol of Dharma itself!

Dinkar‘s rich verse perfectly complements the richness of Karna‘s character. In my years of literary pursuits, I am yet to come across such powerful work.

35 thoughts on “Rashmirathi-II

  1. Very well written indeed, Sir.It was a pleasure going through the famous lines of Rashmirathi after such a long time. I had a suggestion that the verses would be easier to read and comprehend if they were written in Hindi. If you do consider my suggestion favourably and feel that others might also find value in it, here is a convenient tool http://www.google.com/transliterate

    1. Thank you. Indeed I had tried to use it but for some reason it was omitting some of the “swars” like the “anga” bindu etc. However, I will try and figure out some way around it.

  2. It is not difficult to fall in love with Karna. He has all the elements of a hero but is not allowed to be one – by his mother, his brothers, his teacher, even God. Our heart goes out to him.
    Why did Krishna kill Karna with Arjuna in such a horrible way? Scholars say this is God’s way of achieving karmic balance. In his previous life, Krishna was Rama. And Rama had sided with Surgiva, monkey son of Surya, the sun-god, and shot Bali, monkey son of Indra, the rain-god, in the back. As Krishna, it was necessary to reverse the situation. God sided with Arjuna, who was the son of Indra, while shooting Karna, the son of Surya, in the back.

  3. Karna has undoubtedly been the most tragic hero of Mahabharata. Knowing about two books which have different perspectives about the epic, one being Yuganta, which has criticized most of the male characters and Rashmirathi, which depicts Karna as a hero, they both have come down to the same point when they talk about Karna. I would like to relate it to Indian sport circuit where the concept of lobbying for a birth prevailed very much till some years back. May it be cricket, athletics or national sports hockey, regular news about corruption or promising stars struggling in the domestic circuit were prominent. Somewhere down in our subconscious, the feelings of being superior in terms of cast or power still run which prevents us from taking an unbiased decision. Now with India regaining its glory in almost all major sports, with sponsorship and up-to-date thinking at place, it feels good to see the ‘Karnas’ getting their due respect and claiming their stakes to the prestigious ‘Arjuna Awards’.

  4. The “Odyssée” is an old greek epic, written by Homère , who would have composed it after the “Iliade”, towards the end of the 8th century BC. It is considered as one of the biggest masterpieces in literature and, with the “Iliade”, as one of the founding poems of the European civilization.

    The “Odyssée” tells the come back of the hero Ulysse, who, after the Trojan War in which he played a determining role, puts ten years coming back to his island Ithaca, to meet again his wife Pénélope, that he delivers from her lovers, and his son Télémaque.

    Ulysse remains the idealized image of the hero by his eloquence and his ability to get out of the most inextricable situations. Even today, we can consider him as a model. It seems to me, according to what I have read today on Rashmirathi, that we can compare Ulysses with Karna.

  5. I think Karna being the eldest of the Pandavas had all the best characteristics, he was as morally correct as Yudhisthira and as skilled as Arjuna. But in Mahabharata the theme of the best quality of a person becoming his undoing is recurrent. Be it with Bhisma “Pledge of not marrying” or with Karna “Giving away the armour”. Or was it just to hide the weaknesses of these characters. Was Karna given a curse by Pursurama or was he not skilled enough to fight Arjuna.

  6. As written in the third chapter of Rashmirathi, while replying to Krishna, Karna says that when he was not a great warrior everyone despised him and the world considered him worthless and then no one came to him. It was only Duryodhan who in a way gave birth the the great warrior Karna. So his life is forever indebted to Duryodhan.

    Kunti also approached Karna only in the time of calamity. In a way on both the sides there were people who were selfish and devious. It was only Karna who was always following his Dharma.

  7. “When a man strives, even rocks turn into water. There is no obstacle strong enough to stop the brave from achieving what they have set themselves to achieve.” This is the quote that struck me. I appreciated Karnas determination and I suggest to everybody to keep it in mind especially when they think to have not enough strengths to achieve their goals.
    This book summarizes some of the most important aspects of the live: truth, honesty, righteousness and benevolence guided Karna during his path and made him an interesting character from which we can learn a lot: from facing obstacles to keeping a friendship alive.

  8. Going through this blog I felt like reading one of the most famous epic book which we are used to read in Europe, the Odyssey by Homer. This is a Greek epic poem which talks about the grand voyage back home of a Greek boy named Ulysses. The blog remembered me of this important poem, because both the Rashmirathi and the Odyssey, tell stories about life, death, courage and respect. In addition, the two protagonist of these books, Ulysses and Karna are similar in being guile, cunning and determined to reach their objectives. Finally, I can say that, they are the kind of books which are really able to make you feel important sensations and from which you can extrapolate some key learning.

  9. I had read Rashmirathi as part of our curriculum in 8TH standard in school. I am very much grateful to my teachers who taught me this amazing work of Shri Ram dhari Dinkar and I get as much please today as I used to get when I Rashmirathi back then ; in fact it’s a little more as I can appreciate it better now .

    सुनकर रामधारीसिंह दिनकर जी की यह कविता अदभुत
    रोम रोम मेरा पुलकित हो जाता है
    एक बार नहीं सहस्र बार
    जैसे कानों में कोई मिश्री घोल जाता है

    कर्ण की अपार व्यथा का वर्णन
    कुंती के मातृत्व और मातृत्व का द्वंद्व
    हरि की कर्ण को वह चेतावनी कठोर
    परशुराम का वह भीषण क्रोध

    दुर्योधन के लिए उसका स्नेह अपार
    हो न सका कर्ण का स्वप्न साकार
    हार गया वह वीर सूतपुत्र,
    अर्जुन के हाथों हुआ उसका सँहार

    पढ़कर यह कविता, दामिनी की लहर दौड़ जाती है
    दिनकर जी की अत्यंत प्रभावशाली पन्क्तियाँ
    सरलता से हृदय को छू जाती हैं

    मेरा कोटि कोटि प्रणाम ऐसे महान् कवि को
    मेरा प्रणाम भारत के ऐसे कई सपूतों को

  10. Karna exemplifies hard work and determination and to me he is the real hero of Mahabharata. He fought against all odds and achieved greatness. Karna fought for equality. He was loyal, generous and a man of ideals. He didn’t change sides even when Krishna and Kunti, his own mother, asked him to do so and offered him the kingdom. I believe he did not change sides also due to the fact that both Krishna and Kunti tried to bribe him with the offer of kingdom. All Karna wanted was to be respected for his abilities and not be judged by his low birth. Karna is an example for everyone to emulate.

  11. Although you can’t not be impressed by Karna’s braveness and commitment to achieve his goals, I consider these qualities to be much more admirable when they come along with values such as loyalty, honesty and gratitude.
    Given the fact that nowadays people are much more self oriented and selfish, it is impressing how Karna did not forget what Duryodhana he helped him and what has done for him: he kept this friendship always into consideration even if it meant to not please his birth mother’s desire. Sometimes people incline to forget other people’s favors very easily and they are not very willing to give up to their own interest on the behalf of a sincere friendship.

  12. Such as Davide and Candice, Rashmirathi makes me think about the Odyssey.
    At school, we have to read it when we are 12 more or less and we study this book also when we are 18 or 20. It teaches us that we have to follow our dreams and our destiny. It’s an example for us, Europeans, like Rashmirathi seems to be for Indians.
    Both are must be read.
    The Odyssey inspired a large number of literary and artistic works during the centuries, and the term “odyssey” became by antonomasia a common noun meaning a “travel story filled with singular adventures”.

  13. This story makes me think about Greek mythology which is a huge part of European culture, more precisely the Trojan War. This war was waged against the city of Troy by the Greeks after Paris took Helen from her husband Menelaus (king of Sparta). This episode is part of our literature. At the beginning it was related orally but after the centuries it was written in the form of poetry.
    Heroes of Greef mythology learn from divinities but also from their experiences and their destiny depends on their acts.
    Achille is a central character of this war. He is also a great leader. The legends states that he was invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel. Thus even if a leader is strong he has also have weaknesses.

  14. I would have been awed by this description of Karna by Dinkar, had I not read Yuganta prior to this. Even Ramanand Sagars Mahabharata painted an awe-inspiring image of Karna in my mind but the critical reasoning of Irawati Karve seemed to have intrigued my technically bent mind more than anything else. Karna’s prompting Dushasana to molest Draupadi, his failure to prove himself when the time comes – inspite of all the claims about him – go against the greatness associated with this figure. Such contrasting opinions make one wonder what the truth is. If we go by the theory that Mahabharata is a personification of complexities of human nature then Karna would represent the internal conflict of human nature.

  15. Karna was a great warrier but he displayed his loyalty and war skills for the wrong side.Since he acted against dharma of supporting the right side in battle field he couldnt be called a man of courage and conviction.He could have accepted his low birth and would have joined hands with Krishna or Yudhisthir rather than supporting Duryodhana just because he offered him the kingdom of Angh to hide his low birth and to challange Arjun to become the best warrier.
    His acts of daanveer Karna would also have evolved from the fact that he must have known that he is supporting the wrong people and thus would have found himself helpless in front of mirror.

  16. Epic texts have the great ability to give a deep insight into a nation or culture through a historical perspective. Spoken or written, the texts have developed through the years in a collective authorship, which is why the texts can be said to highly reflect the cultures socially constructed reality, and the values, beliefs and attitudes that come with it.

  17. Karna’s character as mentioned here did have a luminous quality. In another version of Mahabharata that I had read years back, I remember that it was mentioned that even in death his body seemed to shine despite the soul having abandoned it. Karna is also famous for his generous spirit. The more he gives the stronger he gets. But Karna can seem fixated at times – in his devotion to Duryodhana especially. We can contrast this with Arjuna who tends to flitter from one stance to another. Karna’s personality reflects steadfast character that is firm in good times and stubbornly fixed in bad times. Karna has also been sometimes referred to as destiny’s child. Most people love him because they pity his plight, his condition. Yet, he chose and followed the path he was given, uncomplaining and immensely proud. This kind of strength of inner conviction is what makes his character so alluring. Despite all the Krishna’s charms, Karna did not sway – perhaps the only example of such behaviour in all of the Mahabharata.

  18. Karnas character reflects and is reflected upon by two other characters, Arjuna, and Bhishma. The archrivals Karna and Arjuna both aggressively cling to their worldviews; while Arjuna is the idealized devotee, Karna embodies some of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, but without devotion (bhakti). In the reconciliation between Karna and Bhishma, neither character denies the power of destiny, but Karna allows for and believes in human initiative.

  19. Karnas story is definitely riveting! Many authors have argued that he was more talented and gifted than Arjuna himself! While discussing Yuganta, we brought up this topic in the class. Should we stick to our loyalty/promise when we know that it might not be in favour of larger good. Kunti requested Karna to join Pandavas who were actually justified to win this war. Karna knew that Duryodhana was wrong yet he stuck to Duryodhana due to his loyalty. Bheeshma also did the same when he stuck to his celibacy vows when the kingdom wanted a prince. This leads us to many current dilemmas. Say for example, a lawyer. What would he do if he knows that his client is a criminal? Would he argue in his favour and make him win on account if his promise/loyalty or would he give out the truth for the larger good?! It definitely leaves me pondering!

  20. Despite not being equipped with the fancies of kingdom as the Pandavas, the qualities of loyalty, bravery, gratitude and humbleness that Karna possessed were far more appreciated by me than anything else. His journey throughout the Mahabharata is very tragic and his losses cannot be explained. But he portrayed the real heroism by not trading his friendship and the love from his mother which he yearned for all his life.

  21. This brings to mind another of Dinkars poems, Kurukshetra, where he espouses the cause of war to preserve basic freedoms. “Kshama shobhati us bhujang ko jiske paas garal ho, usko kya jo dantheen, vishratheen, vineet saral ho?” Dinkar is a romantic figure for me because of the tragic story that was given at the end of this poem back in school. It said that Dinkar penned this poem during the final hours of his life, in excruiating pain from an anareusym. Yet he had a loving jest for life which combined with his strong views, made for a writer whose work is imbued with a forceful directness.

  22. Karna was cursed to live the life of a ‘soot-putra’ in spite of being ‘Surya-putra’. He chose to be on the wrong side for the sake of loyalty and friendship. His bore the cure of Parashurama. Krishna tried to use him as a pawn in the war. Kunti came back to him only when she feared for the lives of her sons. Karna had an inherent weakness of excessive generosity and tolerance. But the human-ness in his character is impossible to be ignored. It makes us relate to him on a level higher than any other character in Mahabharata.

  23. Every culture has its important epics which tell about the cultures treasured heros. They tell about the heroes virtues and vices, their victories and their defeats. In the process of telling stories, they also raise questions of ethics and give examples for model or questionable behaviour. Often, these stories dont reveal their treasures to the first time reader. They need to be excavated in careful studying.
    Thank you for raising my attention to this text.

  24. Karnas situation when asked to join the Pandavas, both by Kunti and Krishna is very relevant to the present world. We make many friends. Do we stand by them even after realizing that they are doing something wrong? Does our integrity come to question if we abandon them? Should we help them find the righteous path? Is our righteousness the same as theirs? I think, the biggest learning for me from leadership through literature has been to ask questions about things I had never pondered on before. This continues in the discussion of Karna.

  25. Karna, for me, stands for 3 different virtues. First, Karna stands for loyalty, who even after knowing that he is the eldest son of Kunti and so the heir to the throne, still stood by his friend Duryodhana. Someone else in his place could have easily switched sides for their own purpose.
    Secondly, Karna also reminds me of ones duty to give back to society what one has got from it – for its very easy to forget the time when others are in need of our help, but we often remember the tough times when we were not offered help.
    Thirdly, Karna, for me, stands for the unfortunate, who despite their strengths and virtues, are not given the chance to lead because of their caste/social status. However, once given the chance, they shine bright and move ahead of the rest because of their passion and urge to succeed.

  26. To me, Karna is the embodiment of that class of society not privileged by birth. An exemplification of those whose origins deny them the opportunities in life afforded to the luckier ones. However Karna also stands for that struggle against destiny, that urge to forge ones own path, that urge to claim ones rightful place in the sun. Karna stands for his convictions against great odds, probably even against his own conscience. His sense of duty to his friend, his readiness to sacrifice his own interest for what he believed in and his humility all make Karna the real hero of the Mahabharata.

  27. I would like to imagine Karna and Arjuna as the same person placed in two separate contexts. Both are half-brothers and equally skillful. Arjuna grows up as a prince and has access to all resources. Karna hides his identity and carries the burden of various curses for which he’s not personally responsible.
    One such story – One day a little girl carrying an oil can hits Karna’s chariot while crossing the road and falls down spilling the oil down. She cries uncontrollably for the oil and Karna tries to squeeze the soil to recover the oil. In the process, mother earth gets angry for Karna’s misadventure and curses him for attempting to recover back what has been offered to her. The curse is that his chariot would get stuck in the soil in a battle field which would ultimately lead to his death.
    I try to relate the contrast between Karna and Arjuna with the differences in opportunities across the society. Equally skillful people may not always be offered equal opportunities be it due to fate or whatever. Indeed, Karna’s character is an example of integrity. He never compromised on his word and sacrificed his personal life to satisfy both the warring sides.

  28. “Blood is thicker than water” is a German proverb which generally means that the bonds of family and common ancestry are stronger than those bonds between unrelated people (such as friendship).
    But did Karna disproves this by taking Duryodhanas side when he found out who his real mother was? He decided to stick with Duryodhana instead of going with his mother, who had abandoned him at birth. It was his friend who gave him his status, not his mother. But at the same time, he promised her that he would not kill any of the Pandavas other than Arjuna, but maybe he knew in his heart that he would not be able to defeat Arjuna because of the various curses and Indras & Krishnas effort.
    So in the end, indirectly, did he actually take the side of his family by blood?
    Even then, there is absolutely no doubt on Karnas loyalty and generosity.

  29. Rashmirathi provides an insight into the battle through the eyes of Karna, one of the most influential yet ignored and unlucky character in the tale. A man who would never refuse the request for any gift or donation, howsoever costly that might be and irrespective of the consequences of giving to his own well being or security. One analogy that can be drawn from his character and to the modern day scenario is howsoever good you are, at times being very honest and true would end up in some problem or the other. It can be argued that we should not directly compare the events with present scenario as Karnas character was portrayed as an epitome of honesty, integrity and generosity. But the truth is that the rules of the game are different now and a thin line of strict values and system would not be the best way to live during most of the present situations.

  30. Wow! I remember reading parts of Rashmirathi-II in my childhood…and it is indeed very beautiful prose. Karna is the single most heroic character in the whole Mahabharata. Imho..ethics, values, beliefs are personal, but there is one quality “Integrity: Saying what you do and doing what you say” that can be used to judge a person. I judge a mans strength of character is judged by his ability to keep his word. I guess that is the reason Rama is so highly revered, more so than Krishna. Probably that is the reason “Karna” or “Karan” is such a popular name, more so than even “Arjun”. Karna, despite his ill luck and injustices, manages to come out in shining colors through Mahabharata.

  31. Karna was someone who had always defied norms be it the draupadi swayamvar, the skill show of the prices, hiding information to be trained by Parshuram or his rejection of his birth mother. This was because as is very clearly stated, he learnt from his surroundings and did not accept things at face value. Kunti was his birth mother but he chose the parents who brought him up because that is what he had seen and that was the meaning of being a mother for him. He chose Suyodhan to be his ally though he could have personally gained a lot by doing otherwise because Suyodhan was the one who acted as a brother and not the Pandavas. Thus I believe that he stood by the adage “The relations that matter are those which you choose to make and not those which god has ordained for you”

  32. Karna throughout his life was condemned as Adhirathi being the son of a charioteer. Duryodhana Uncles Shakuni never treated him among equals. He regarded him only because he was a close friend of Duryodhana. But the valour with which died, even made shakuni call him Maharathi.
    Karna life gives a sneak peek into our lives too. It is ones actions which shape the identity of the person. He/She is remembered by the deeds which he/she did in his lifetime, once he is gone from this world. Caste and Upbringing hold no relevance rather cast shadows over the brilliance/valour of the individual.

    Saint Kabir summarises the theme very well when he says Jaati na poochiye sadhu ki pooch lijo gyan, Mol karo talwar ka padi rehn do myan..

  33. Karna was way to obsessed with the title of the greatest archer in the world. He always wanted to prove that he was better than Arjun in archery. Such pride in unknown of in great warriors. As a friend of Duryodhan it was his responsibility to ensure that his friend stays on the path of virtue considering the fact that Duryodhan valued his opinion the most. Instead Karna just fueled the bloated ego of Duryodhan. He would have upheld the values of friendship had he showed the right path to his friend instead of blinding supporting him to prove his loyalty. He may have had a high pedestal for morals but when it came to responsibility towards his friend and the nation as a whole he was a failure.

  34. Its intriguing to find how important is equality for ones existence as human being and yet so many classes. Our stratified society is yet to overcome the mindset which differentiates human beings on the lines of lineage. And therefore adding one more struggle for those who are at the receiving end.
    Though meritocracy is highly appreciated in India but it is yet to reach its goal completely. The success of a society lies in acceptance of differences. Else there will be several Karnas wasting their energy and talent to get their fundamental rights , which could have been used for the greater good of the civilization.

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