Seeking - Humanity's heroes
by Jamuna Rangachari
Despite the hostile onslaughts of destiny, Karna and Mahatma Gandhi retained their integrity and character and became eternal heroes, says Jamuna Rangachari
Karna: The epitome of heroic sacrifice
Karna has always been an epitome of the underdog, who faced severe challenges, in spite of being a sterling character. Similarly, Gandhi, inspite of being responsible for a non-violent victory over the British, was beleaguered by the violence that submerged the subcontinent soon after Partition. Surely, these people have something to teach us?
Today, a materialistic life seems to be the key of happiness. Therefore, many of us compromise in our eagerness to get there. Very often, we say, “I couldn’t help it. The situation was too difficult,” and even deride those who remain idealistic despite challenges.
Actually, it is righteous character alone that can take us to greater spiritual heights. One must realise that it is one’s character alone that is one’s eternal bank balance. Mythology is replete with examples of such people and one of my favourites is the story of Karna, the son of the Sun God and Kunti, and yet someone who never belonged to anyone. Many believe that he was the greatest warrior of the Mahabharata, but Arjuna defeated him due to the many odds stacked against him.
The legend goes that one afternoon Parashurama requested Karna to bring a pillow for him to place his head on in the shade of a tree. Karna offered his teacher his lap, but while Parashurama was asleep, a giant bee stung Karna’s thigh. Despite excruciating pain, Karna did not move, so as not to disturb his guru’s sleep. As the bee bored deeper into Karna’s thigh, the wound began to bleed. Parashurama was woken up by the blood and deduced at once that Karna was a Kshatriya and not a Brahmin, since only a Kshatriya could have endured such pain. Parashurama, who had sworn vengeance against all Kshatriyas, laid this curse upon Karna: that he would forget all the mantras required to wield the divine weapon Brahmastra, the most destructive weapon in archery, at the moment of his greatest need. This is actually what happened in his battle against Arjuna.
Later, Lord Indra, in the guise of a Brahmin, asked for the armour which his father, Surya, had given him, and he did not refuse him, as his legendary generosity was one of his strongest traits. When his mother asked him to join the Pandavas, he was clear that he could not do so as that would be betraying the trust of his friend, Duryodhana. However, he promised his mother that he would not attempt to kill any of the Pandavas except for Arjuna. He told Kunti that she could only keep five sons – the fifth would either be himself or Arjuna.
Against all odds
Karna knew that Arjuna was under the divine aegis of Lord Krishna, and hence would be invincible. However, even with all odds stacked against him, he continued to perform his dharma, never compromising on any of his principles.
The movie, Karnan of 1964, was re-released recently with new prints in Tamil Nadu and ran to packed audiences. At around the same time I heard an interesting metaphor from a friend while watching the film, Gandhi. In the film, the judge gets up with respect when Gandhi enters the room, quite distressed that he had to punish Gandhi, as he was such a sterling character. It shows that though the judge had to punish Gandhi, to uphold the law of the land, he was extremely pained to do so. My friend said that this was similar to what Lord Krishna had to do during the Mahabharata to Karna. Karna was on the wrong side but he too was a person of such integrity and generosity, that Lord Krishna felt truly pained at having to ensure he did not win. This made me remember Karna, and all the aspects of his personality to revisit his true message to humanity. Karna, the abandoned child, Karna, the rejected suitor, Karna, the disciple who was cursed due to his endurance and tenacity, Karna who remained a loyal friend until the end, and of course, Karna the giver. Karna was generous until the end of his life.
Often we wonder why good people are made to suffer in this world. However, from another perspective, it is the dharma of good people to show us what is right even in the most challenging situations. It is their dharma to uphold what is right whatever the external situation may be, which is why they are a personification of the Divine.
This is what is conveyed in the Tamil movie, Karnan, where Krishna says,“The best among mortals indeed go through most difficult times and find peace always eluding them.” According to Krishna, that is the divine law, as they are the only ones who can face such challenges and become eternal heroes to humanity. So Krishna says,“ Karna, please accept whatever is coming to you and whatever situations you are presently facing – indeed I am also facing them with you.”
I am sure the Almighty would have said the same thing to Gandhi. Although Gandhi and Karna may have died lonely deaths, poor in the material sense, and even betrayed by some of their people, they would have been embraced by the higher consciousness as they epitomise goodness and dharma and never compromised on their principles. Surely, their eternal message to us is to walk step by step in the direction showed by them and make the Almighty proud of us.
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