Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Karna at Wikipedia or the Urday website: Birth of Karna (also, Urday: Karna and Indra).

KARNA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] Son of Pritha or Kunti by Surya, the sun, before her marriage to Pandu. Karna was thus half-brother of the Pandavas, but this relationship was not known to them till after his death.

Kunti, on one occasion, paid such attention to the sage Durvasas, that he gave her a charm by virtue of which she might have a child by any god she preferred to invoke. She chose the sun, and the result was Karna, who was born equipped with arms and armor. Afraid of censure and disgrace, Kunti exposed the child on the banks of the Yamuna, where it was found by Nandana or Adhiratha, the suta or charioteer of Dhritarashtra. The charioteer and his wife, Radha, brought him up as their own, and child passed as such.

When he grew up, Indra disguised himself as a Brahman, and cajoled him out of his divine cuirass. He gave him in return great strength and a javelin charged with certain death to whomsoever it was hurled against.

Karna became king of Anga or Bengal. Some authorities represent his foster father as having been ruler of that country, but others say that Karna was made king of Anga by Duryodhana, in order to qualify him to fight in the passage of arms at the swayamvara of Draupadi. This princess haughtily rejected him, saying, "I wed not with the base-born."

Karna knew that he was half-brother of the Pandavas, but he took the side of their cousins, the Kauravas, and he had especial rivalry and animosity against Arjuna, whom he vowed to kill. In the great battle he killed Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima, with Indra's javelin. Afterwards there was a terrific combat between him and Arjuna, in which the latter was nearly overpowered, but he killed Karna with a crescent-shaped arrow.

After Karna's death his relationship to the Pandavas became known to them, and they showed their regret for is loss by great kindness to his widows, children, and dependants.

From his father, Vikarttana (the sun), Karna was called Vaikarttana; from his foster-parents, Vasusena; from his foster-father's profession, Adhirathi and Suta; and from his foster-mother, Radheya. He was also called Angaraja, 'king of Anga;' Champadhipa, 'king of Champa;' and Kanina, 'the bastard.'

karṇa [Source: from the Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary]
• the ear
• the handle or ear of a vessel
• the helm or rudder of a ship
• N. of a king of Aṅga (and elder brother by the mother's side of the Pāṇḍu princes, being the son of the god Sūrya by Pṛithā or Kuntī, before her marriage with Pāṇḍu
• afraid of the censure of her relatives, Kuntī deserted the child and exposed it in the river, where it was found by a charioteer named Adhi-ratha and nurtured by his wife Rādhā
• hence Karṇa is sometimes called Sūta-putra or Sūta-ja, sometimes Rādheya, though named by his foster-parents Vasu-sheṇa) MBh. BhP. &c

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM