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.