Mahabharata is Itihasa. Traditionally, it’s a History, rather than imagination. And therefore, like in the real life all its characters are neither fully dark nor fully bright, but gray. Characters tilted towards the darker side are Kauravas and their allies. But even in those characters, the most vindictive was Karna. Yes, the very Karna who is presented as a hero by some writers of fictional fantasies and tv fanboys.
Karna was not even a good warrior as his fans want to present. Allow me to give you an example. After finishing the studies, Dronacharya asked Kauravas and Pandavas to wage war on King Drupad. During the duel, the so called invincible Karna was severely wounded and fled the battlefield. He did the same after many years too while fighting with Brihannala, i.e. Arjuna while all the Kauravas tried to abduct the cows of King Virat. Karna abandoned his best friend Duryodhana and fled during the battle with Chitrarath Gandharva too. All this while his so called Kavacha and Kundala, i.e. body armor and earpieces were intact. It is mentioned that during the Mahabharata war, Karna even retreated while facing Bhima. And no, they weren’t fighting with a Gada, i.e. a Mace, Bhima’s weapon of choice, it was a battle in Archery!
In the Lakshagruha arson conspiracy, Karna was an active conspirator with Duryodhana. After the Lakshagruha and the Swayamvar, when Dhritarashtra was of the mind of separating the Kingdom between Kauravas and Pandavas, it was Karna who advised against it. Remember, Pandavas were the rightful heirs and Kauravas were but the trustees who became greedy. It is said that Karna was insulted during the Swayamvar. But the truth was that he tried to compete despite being clearly aware of the rules.
Karna always lusted after Draupadi. During the Dyuta, i.e. the game of dice, when Dusshasan dragged Draupadi in the hall, Karna cheered and congratulated Dusshasana. He was the one who called the queen Draupadi a whore and argued that whether she wears clothes or not is immaterial. So stripping her off was Karna’s idea. He even called for her enslavement. Undoubtedly, Duryodhana was the head of the conspiracy. But lest we forget to assess Karna’s active role too. Remember, all this happened to that woman while she was menstruating.
Karna was a very charitable person. But his charity too wasn’t absolute. In Mahabharata he takes an oath, that until I kill Arjuna, no needy person will leave from my door without an appropriate donation. It simply means that his intentions behind the charity were not pure, but were dependent on the event of him Killing Arjuna. In other words, Karna knew that he was a sinful man and wanted to gather Punya, i.e. good virtues before facing Arjuna.
Duryodhana was a villain. He openly expressed his envy towards Pandavas many times. But he was a villain that everyone could see. Karna was more dangerous than Duryodhana because he concealed his villainy well behind the veil of a good image. He was unpredictable to common minds. He played victim card whenever it suited him. Duryodhana called Karna his friend, but Karna manipulated him several times for his desires, made sure that Duryodhana’s envy towards Pandavas will keep on burning. And when the time came for the supreme sacrifice, he shirked away. In fact, Bhishma while openly criticizing Duryodhana served his purpose better than the so called best friend. Yes, Karna was killed while not wielding a weapon and that was wrong, but then what lives wrongfully ends wrongfully too. That is why even Karna couldn’t counter Krishna when he recounted all the past sins of the latter.
Karna was deprived of status, wealth everything from childhood. But then, even Krishna faced exactly the same fate. One was emerged as the greatest philosopher of all time and other a sociopath. Karna was taken under Duryodhana’s wings at the early stages of life, while Krishna was a self-made man who survived many attempts on his life since very childhood. Krishna’s approach was positive even in poverty while Karna’s was negative even in abundance. Mahabharata is history. But it is a study in psychology too. Read original scriptures written by Vyasa who, let me add, was a contemporary of the times, and you will see a picture completely different than tv shows and novels.
— © Vikram Edke