Hindi Film 101: Ramayan and Mahabharat Part 4, Karna, the Saddest and Best Character

The Mahabharat is so complex, each character is the lead in their own story, and each character (of the many many characters) could easily have their own post.  But I am going to restrain myself and just focus on the two most intriguing (to me) characters of the epic who are not part of the Pandavas or the Kauravas, Krishna and Karna.

The main story of the Mahabharat is between two sets of cousins, the Pandavas, 5 brothers who are mostly good but with their own moments of weakness.  And the Kauravas, who are lead by one very bad oldest brother Duryodhana but can have their own moments of greatness.  However, while the Pandavas and the Kauravas are the central figures in the battle, each of them truly triumphs thanks to their respective allies, Krishna and Karna.  And the stories of Krishna and Karna could, arguably, be the real stories.  Because both of them in their own way were more powerful than the leaders they supported.


Let’s start with Karna. Mostly because he is my favorite.  Karna was the result of Kunti’s pre-marital sexual experiments, son of the Sun God Surya.  Because inheritance law accepts any child of a wife as her husbands, that means that Surya was technically the true heir of the kingdom, the oldest of the Pandava brothers.  Really those are two separate things.  First, that all of this inheritance battle and debate was in fact moot because secretly, Karna was the heir.  And second that the Pandava’s, who hated and insulted him and vice versa, should have loved and revered him as their oldest brother while he should have protected and taught them as his younger brothers.

(This movie is mostly the Ramayan, but this moment when Shahrukh hates Hrithik, not realizing it is his beloved younger brother, is pure Karna and the Pandavas)

Kunti was ashamed of this child, tried to pretend he had not existed.  Even to the point of Surya “restoring her virginity” after his birth.  She abandoned him in a basket on the river.  But she carefully waterproofed the basket with wax, and cried many tears as she sent him away.  It’s a powerful vision of a teenage mother, one that resonates through to today because of how real it was.  One moment of sexual exploration and joy, which turns into fear and embarrassment as she sees her pregnancy, and finally the horrible heartache of sending away the baby that she is too young to be able to keep, floating him off into the world in a fragile basket that she seals with her love.

Karna was found by a humble charioteer’s wife.  She brings him home and she and her husband love the baby and raise him as their own.  But when he is grown, they tell him the truth of how they found him and a bitter sense of unworthiness grows within him.  He wonders what was wrong with him, why his parents did not love him, why his mother did not keep him.  It is a pain that resonates down to today, every adopted child feels this, especially the child of a closed adoption who has not answers available to them.  Poor Karna.

(Watch 2:30 to 5:00 in this video to see Mani Ratnam take on the heartache of Kunti sending away Karna)

Karna is a naturally gifted child.  He is sent to train with the greatest noble children, learning from the greatest noble teachers.  In the Mahabharat and the Ramayan, skills of combat (particularly archery) are seen as the greatest possible achievements.  They are the sign of the Kshastriya caste, intelligence and nobility and strength all combined.  Karna excels at them, along with all the other topics of training.  And his fellow students, all noble born, hate him for this.  They tease him for his low blood and blow caste (being the son of a charioteer as they all think).  The cruelest of the bullies (according to some versions) is his own brother Arjun who delights in pointing out his humble background.  Arjun is the only student who can match him in learning, the two boys constantly challenge each other.  Karna grows up solitary and quiet, slow to make friends.  But at the same time extraordinarily kind to anyone he sees as weak or in need.

Duryodhana, the Pandavas evil cousin, also grows up with Karna.  He sees him (correctly) as the only one with the talent to present a challenge to Duryodhana’s rival Arjun.  When they are all grown, they all enter a competition together.  Before the competition begins, each contestant must declare his lineage.  If Karna declares he is the son of a charioteer, he will be disqualified and thrown out of the competition.  At which point Duryodhana steps in and declares that Karna is in fact a king in his own right, with one word making him the ruler of part of his kingdom.  Karna is struck dumb with gratitude and asks Duryodhana what he wants in return, to which Duryodhana merely asks for Karna’s friendship.  Karna finally has a friend, an ally, the first in his entire solitary life.

(Amitabh in Deewar, his mother and brother just gave him obligations, his father abandoned him, but the gangster is the first to treat him with respect and recognize his value. And thus his life changes course)

Duryodhana quickly moves forward with the ceremony to confirm Karna as a true king.  Karna’s father, the charioteer, is brought to the competition grounds to witness and take part in the ceremony.  The Pandavas sneer at his low status and name him as “dog-like”.  Karna’s hatred for them grows at this insult to his humble loving father.  Karna competes in the competition and does well, but the other competitors ignore and avoid him in disgust at his low status and background.  Duryodhana seeks him out and stands by him in support, Karna is won over to a lifelong loyalty for Duryodhana by these actions.

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(That loyalty, unquestioning and forever promised, even when he knows on some level that those to whom he is loyal are wrong, that is why Kattappa=Karna)

As tensions between the Pandavas and Kauravas continue, Karna is always at the side of Duryodhana, and always quick to use his position to take revenge on the 5 brothers who abused and insulted him his whole life.  With the position and security Duryodhana has given him, he is no longer solitary and silent.  Instead he becomes a confident aggressive braggart, declaring he can do anything Arjun can do and better.  He is always quick to take advantage and twist the knife whenever the Pandavas suffer a loss.  But at the same time, he remains noble and generous to anyone he sees as needy or weak.  It is only the Pandavas that suffer his hatred.

The Pandavas and Draupadi.  Karna is at her Swayamvar along with the disguised Pandavas.  According to some versions, Karna actually succeeds in the impossible task of hitting a fish’s eye with an arrow, but Draupadi refuses to marry him because he is low caste and therefore (to her) disgusting.  In other versions, he just barely misses the target.  Or he does not even participate, merely observes.  In any case, Arjun succeeds in the challenge.  But he does so while in disguise as a Brahmin.  If caste rules were to be fairly observed, he would not be qualified for Draupadi’s hand just as Karna was disqualified for being a lower caste.  Karna objects to him winning, but Draupadi overrules him and garlands Arjun anyway.

The general interpretation of Karna and Draupadi’s relationship is that she looked down on him for being low caste (she thought) just as her husbands did.  While he resented her for being the wife of his enemies and looking down on him as they did (including rejecting him at her Swayamvar).  However, it is also possible to interpret their relationship as poisoned love.  This is a popular, although not supported by the text, interpretation.  That Draupadi secretly longed for Karna but could never be with him because their positions prevented it, and therefore pretended a hatred in public.  More than that, that Draupadi was in fact cosmically “intended” for Karna, Karna combined within himself all the virtues that his 5 younger brothers spread between themselves.  Or the reverse, that Draupadi was cosmically “intended” for the 5 Pandavas, but as a woman she desired Karna.  Again, this is NOT a correct interpretation, but it’s continued existence and popularity is a sign of the popularity of Karna as a character (we can believe Draupadi secretly loved him because we love him) and a greater sign of female longing, that the proper perfect husband(s) are fine and yet we wish for someone else we could not have.  The whole thing is expressed beautifully in the Rajinikanth-Shobhana romance in Thalapathy.

(Rajinikanth and Shobhana love each other passionately, but they belong in two different worlds, she is the calm hymn sung to the temple, he is the wild dance in the streets)

Karna’s lowest moment in the epic comes when he lets his jealousy and anger towards Draupadi free.  When Draupadi is dragged out during the dice game, Karna encourages the misbehavior towards her.  He is not the one to attempt to pull off her sari, but he does nothing to stop it.  Worse, he taunts her for being a loose woman who has 5 husbands.  And suggests she tour the kitchens and pick out a servant for a new husband since all of her current 5 are now slaves of Duryodhana having gambled away their freedom.  These are terrible insults to give to any woman, especially Draupadi in this moment, and Draupadi in particular who is the pinnacle of virtue and propriety.

But Karna is human.  Later, he confesses to Krishna that he deeply regrets his actions in that moment.  And that he only spoke so in order to please his friend Duryodhana, he gave in to peer pressure (essentially).  And he regrets it and knows he will pay a price later in some way for his actions that went against Dharma.  This is the primary time in the epic when Karna directly goes against Dharma.  His rivalry and insults towards Arjun never quite crossed that line.  Otherwise, he is a brave smart young man who reacts to the constant insults and injustices given to him with clever rejoinders and a burning loyalty to those few who always stayed by him.

Karna was always going to face Arjun and one of them would fall, there was no way around it.  But until the end, even Krishna (the Avatar of God who understood things on a deeper level) is trying hard to prevent this confrontation.  Because he sees that both men are perfect examples of Dharma and they should rightfully be allies, not enemies.  And so he makes one last desperate attempt, during the final battles at Kurekshatra, one evening he secretly goes to visit Karna and give him the choices in life he never really had.

(This sequence is ridiculous and I love it.  Dharmendra finally finds his younger brothers, but makes the choice to turn away from them because he no longer feels he has a place with them)

Krishna tells Karna the truth of his parentage.  And not only that, promises him that if he accepts his heritage and his birth, Krishna can guarantee that the Pandavas will acknowledge him as their oldest brother and, together, they can defeat the Kauravas.  Karna will become the rightful and just king of all the earth.  And best of all, he will become one of the husbands of Draupadi.  It is everything anyone could want, and it is his birthright and his destiny.

But Karna declines.  His real mother is the woman who found and raised him.  His real father is the man who loved him as a son.  His real wife is the humble woman his charioteer father picked for him.  “Bonds of love” are worth more than all the wealth and power in the world.  He will not betray them, all those who cared and believed in him, by switching sides.

Krishna still has hope.  The next night, he sends Kunti to Karna.  Karna greets her, knowing her to be his biological mother, and introduces himself proudly as the son of “Radha and Adhiratha” (his adoptive parents).  Kunti tells him that he is her firstborn son, and the god Surya appears to confirm her story.  Karna’s response is to say “You discarded me.  You destroyed me in a way that no enemy could ever do.”  He loves the people who gave him love, his parents and his friends.  And so he will stand by them until the end, and reject those who rejected him.  The bonds of blood means nothing next to the bonds of love.  The best he can offer Kunti is a promise to kill only Arjun and leave her other sons alone.  Therefore, no matter the outcome, Kunti will always have 5 sons, just as before.

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(Karna bows to her in greeting, as his elder.  He rejects her love, but with the respect due to her age and station)

That last promise, that is a complex emotional weapon Karna is wielding.  Declaring that, as of now and for all time in the past, Kunti only had 5 sons.  Rejecting any claim she may have on him as her 6th son.  And equally arguing that Kunti’s only concern is to maintain a stable number, Arjun or Karna, she will not grieve, so long as she still has her 5.

This is not the first opportunity Kunti had to claim Karna.  Over and over, she stood by and did nothing while her sons shamed him, going as far back as Draupadi’s Swayamvar.  Now, at the last moment, she is trying to stake a claim on him after years of rejection and take him away from the parents and friends who loved him all these years.  Of course, from Kunti’s side, she was a scared teenager who wrapped the child in all the love she had to give, and now has been tormented for years watching as the enmity grows between the two sets of her children and she could not find the strength to tell any of them the truth.  It’s just sad, in that painful heartstopping way that cannot end and has no respite for either side.

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(In some versions, this meeting ends with them embracing and crying together, before saying good-bye, never to speak again before Karna’s death.  Not sure if that is more sad, less sad, or equally sad to them ending their meeting without truly coming together)

Karna’s death comes because of another great gesture of humility and Dharma.  He was born with armor embedded in his flesh, a sign of his immortal legacy from his father the Sun god which always protected him.  In heaven the king of the Gods, Indra, father of Yudhishistra, comes up with a plan to take this armor away.  He will come to earth as a Brahmin beggar and ask Karna for it.  Surya, Karna’s father, learns of this plan and comes to warn his son.  But Karna rejects his warning, says that such a gesture of generosity would be legendary and give him fame beyond death.  And so when Indra in disguise comes to him, Karna cuts the armor from his flesh and gives it to Indra covered in his blood.  Indra, against his will, is struck by Karna’s greatness and gives him a weapon that will kill whoever it is aimed at but can be used only once.

Arjun and Karna are now set against each other as equals again.  Karna is without his immortal armor, but has gained the unstoppable weapon.  This is well into the war, the 14th day.  Both sides have suffered hideous losses, Arjun’s beloved son died the previous day (attacked from behind while trying to fix his chariot).  As the battle begins, Arjun fights terribly and is supported by his nephew, a half-demon who is a master of illusion.  For the first time sunset does not end the battle, it continues to rage.  Karna’s troops are dying around him.  He wants to save his weapon for Arjun, but in order to save his troops on this day and in this moment he must use it against Arjun’s nephew instead.  He sacrifices his one advantage in order to bring the bloody day to an end and save his men.

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(Here’s a cool statue from Indonesia of Karna killing Arjun’s nephew, Karna is the cool classy one with the arrow, the nephew is the demon seeming one standing on horses)

The next day, Arjun is determined to kill Karna.  Arjun goes to battle with Krishna as his charioteer.  Karna goes into battle with a king for his charioteer, a king who despises him as beneath his notice.  Karna wishes for an ally to help in the battle and instead he finds no support.  He still battles nobly and strong, holding Arjun off.  But Arjun is determined.  Finally, Karna’s wheel becomes stuck.  He must leap off the chariot and turn his back in order to loosen it.  With his back turned and his hands full, Karna is helpless.  Arjun shoots him from behind, killing him.

In some versions, Kunti wanders the field that night searching for the body of her lost son.  The Pandavas ask what she is doing, and in grief she reveals to them the truth.  That night there is a brief peace between sides as all come together to mourn Karna.  In some versions, the Pandavas perform the final rites.  In others, Duryodhana begs to be allowed to perform the rites for his best friend, although Yudhishistra has first right by birth, and the Pandavas agree to his request in sympathy for his great grief.

In other versions, it is not until after the war is over that Kunti reveals the truth.  Karna is thrown in a mass grave with the other warriors, buried before his family learns who he is, even in death remaining with the common people.

Every version agrees that after the death of Karna, Duryodhana lost all heart for battle and will to live.  He was a bad man, but his friendship for Karna was the best part of himself.  With the death of Karna, he had nothing, and let himself die the next day, falling to the Pandavas, his body desecrated by them.

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(Duryodhana, his body being kicked by the second Pandava brother Bheema)

And most versions agree that, after the battle was over, Karna’s widow was taken by the Pandavas, brought back to their palace and treated as a beloved sister.  Karna’s one remaining child was raised in the palace.  Arjun became a father and a teacher to him, trying to expatiate the sins of what he did to the father by what he could do for the son.

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(Arjun killing Karna at Krishna’s direction)

Karna is perhaps the best character in the epic.  Not the best in terms of morality or skill (although he is arguably that as well), but “best” as in the most complex and layered.  The most human, the most capable of pain.  And therefore, for many people, the one character they love the best.  In order versions of the epic, Karna is introduced without much backstory, like the beloved spin off character in a new sitcom.  The expectation is that the listeners will already know all about him and be excited to see him.

His lesson of love over bonds of blood, that relationships have to be earned, is a powerful one and a noble one.  And his place in the epic is to tell us that there are good people everywhere, those you think of as your “enemies” may in fact be your closest relatives, that everyone is owed love and respect and understanding.  And that we should honor those who accept their Karma, Karna pays the debt for his mother’s sin his entire life and rejects a chance to turn it over, to start fresh.  His life is what it is and he would not have it another way.

37 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Ramayan and Mahabharat Part 4, Karna, the Saddest and Best Character

  1. The flawed heroes and fateful turn of events reminds me so much of Greek mythology (and causes me the same frustration in my search for true good guys and true bad guys).


  2. I purchased a ‘bluray’ cd of re-mastered version of old Tamil movie Karna

    good story but the effects are like a parody of Baahubali
    especially the scene where contestants shoot arrow to win the prize was ridiculously funny
    total contrast to how Baahubali characters pose with the bow
    imagine Baahubali firing at the effigy of the demon from the top of the elephant
    or Bhalla firing at Rajamata from the balcony of the palace

    I primarily purchased it because of this one song and it is a true classic

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have read the book version of MahaB written by Rajagopalachari.
        It is comprehensive but I don’t think I remember everything now

        I must also have encountered extracts of these stories in monthly magazines of Vivekanada started Ramakrishna mission (subscribed by my Grandmother) and maybe in other Children’s magazines such as Amar Chitra Katha

        We encounter Multiple versions of Ramayana & Mahabharata in India

        Serials/Dramas based on these characters/stories are very common

        and then Maniratnam’s retellings too 🙂

        occasionally I come across some links in Twitter etc with extra details and even Wikipedia has separate entries for each character too !


        • Thank you! It seems so complex, I was wondering where you would even start with telling them to children. Not to mention the multiple perspectives, it must take years to get a sense of all the different sides.


          • I wasn’t a child when I tried to understand the stories, but for me it was the Amar Chitra Katha comic series that really helped. Each little comic book tells a different story, that was the easiest way for me, to read each individual small story instead of trying to grasp it as one whole thing.

            On Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 9:08 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • 100% agree with Margaret
            I must have gorged on tons of Amar Chithra Katha (& Enid Blyton & Reader’s Digest) growing up 🙂

            a few months back I looked at a few websites, when I heard of Bhima’s version for the first time

            I had bookmarked a few links in my browser. Here is one


            the post author recommends, three amazing books on the Mahabharata
            1 — Irawati Karve’s Yuganta (originally in Marathi)
            2 — M T Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham (originally in Malayalam)
            3 — Parva (originally in Kannada)

            also as mentioned above, I have read Rajaji’s Tamil version. I highly recommend that as a comprehensive translation/reference

            and I am sure the Tamil & Telugu version of Karna movies are available in youtube
            if possible try to catch them also…


  3. To see the story of Mahabharata through the eyes of Karna & Duryodhana, the best movie is NTR’s Dana Veera Sura Karna (DVSK). Call me favoring my mother tongue, Telugu films are the best when it comes to mythological and historical movies with NTR, the best Krishna and Rama.


    • Oh, in Telugu NTR played 3 roles: Karna, Krishna & Duryodhana
      In Tamil he only plays Krishna; Shivaji played Karna, Asokan plays Duryodhana

      now I understand, why the Duryodhana character was so strongly delineated

      also in Tamil Bhanumati plays Duryodhana’s wife in a strong cameo


    • Amazingly, the Tamil version seemed to have been released a dozen years before the Telugu version

      it ended up having a dozen songs and all of them turned out to be classics too 🙂

      I highly recommend everyone to watch all the songs ( if possible) and read the plot from wikipedia

      that should give effect of watching the full movie?


      • That Tamil Karna was dubbed into Telugu – I watched it. Somehow, I feel Sivaji G acts in a dramatic fashion – not his problem, it was the act of those times, but I could not bear it.


  4. The first time I saw K3G I was struck by the decision to make Shah Rukh’s character adopted and the extra emotional layers that added. I felt like I was missing some resonance. Do you think adoption as a character device comes down from these stories, or am I reading too much into it?


    • There are many adoption stories in the Mahabharat, Krishna was a child of adoption as well. But an “open” adoption, he learned fairly early who his biological family was and why they had to give him up. What strikes me particularly about all of the stories is the unquestioning way the “adoptive” family is considered as the “real” family. Even Kunti, always referred to as a mother of 5 sons, wasn’t biologically the mother of them all. The two youngest were born to her co-wife, she had no biological claim on them. That’s what was shocking in K3G, to reject that connection and declare it null after having confirmed it for so many years. And even there, only Amitabh rejects it, the rest of the family still-always considers Shahrukh as their brother, their son, their grandson.

      On Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 8:47 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  5. In the versions I read, just as Karna was about to take up the challenge, Draupadi stops him siting his low caste. But she doesn’t stop Arjuna dressed as a brahmin. Then again Karna is old where as Arjuna is fair and handsome 🙂

    I do not think there is any kind of love between Karna and Draupadi. For him, she represents something he was not even allowed to fight for. For her, a bitter realization that Karna would never have wagered his wife or let her get humiliated!!

    Maniratnam in Dalapati avoided completely by making them fall in love at first but I can never imagine them having feelings for each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually Karna was the one who was handsome and Arjuna was looking hideous with that large beard of sage disguised as a brahmin but since brahmin is upper caste than kshatriya draupadi had no objection marrying arjuna but as shudra isi lower caste to kshatriya she stopped him.


    • I think she knew as soon as she saw him (if I am remembering correctly) because he had his Sun God armor that he was born with. But she was so ashamed and conflicted, she never spoke to him until the very end. Another reason for him to resent her, once he knew the truth, she let him suffer all those years being called low-born and worthless and always knew what he truly was. At the very least, she could have sought him out and explained why she had to abandon him.

      On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 9:40 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • Thanks.
        Other question: Draupadi didn’t want to marry Karna because he was from low caste. But why Arjun had to disguise as a Brahmin? Wasn’t he from royal family?


        • This was during the time after the Pandavas had faked their own deaths. They were in hiding pretending to be Brahmins. There’s a lot of interesting moments of identity being taken on and off in the Mahabharat. The Pandavas are Brahmins here, later they will pretend to be servants, and even dress as women, during that 13th year when they have to be in disguise. This moment is interesting, the Pandavas are truly Kshastriya pretending to be Brahmins. Karna is a Kshastriya by birth but is believed to be lower caste. And yet their “true caste” shines through in both cases. Opening up the possibility that “caste” is really just a construct identifying character types and traits and not meant to be something rigid.

          On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 9:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



        • Today I learnt that Draupadi rejecting Karna was a later addition…

          (From Draupadi’s wikipedia page):

          The Critical Edition of Mahabharat[10] compiled by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute[11] has officially identified the Draupadi’s rejection as a later insertion into the text. It is ambiguous, however, whether Karna failed or didn’t participate at all.

          Mahabharata has multiple versions, recensions, retelling spread all over the Indian subcontinent. As a result, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute published what they intend as a clean critical edition in 1919, to aid in having uniformity among scholars.[12] The result was the Mahabharata Project.[11] Various manuscripts(1259 in number) were collected from all across the nation, and collated using critical apparatus. Complicated logical and linguistic formulae were applied to identify the oldest shlokas and pull out later contamination as far as possible. After 60 years of extensive and exhaustive research, BORI published the first Critical Edition in 1966.[10] While comparing and collating these thousands of manuscripts, it was discovered with much surprise that Draupadi’s rejection sequence – which by the time had become a very popular story – appears only in the newer manuscripts of the epic, those which were mainly composed after 16th to 17th Century AD. Vishnu Sitaram Sukthankar, General Editor of BORI published a comprehensive “Prolegomena to the Adi Parva”,[13] in which he lay bare the reasons for the removal of various later created, spurious incidents in the Critical Edition, based on documented evidence and instrinsic probability. In Prolegomena(Page 65), he disclosed that Draupadi’s rejection was found only in six out of 1259 Sanskrit manuscripts. The ones which contained the rejection were relatively newer, and the insertion was evidently the work of a later Vyaisaid. It appears that the rejection scene became a mainstream incident only after Neelakantha Chaturdhara published his famous commentary Bharatabhavadipa [14] in the later half of 17th Century AD. Furthermore, M.A. Mehendale published an article in the book “Annals of Bhardarkar Oriental Research Institute”,[15] named “Interpolations in the Mahabharata”, found in public domain,[16] where she shed more light into the matter. She explained, Draupadi’s rejection is not only later addition, but also an unrealistic situation, given the patriarchal era, when women had little choice in political alliances, especially in those Swayamvars or ‘self-choice ceremony’, where she was nothing more than “Viryasulka” or a prize to be offered to the winner of the contest. The older prominent retelling and translations of Mahabharata, namely Mahabharata by Kashiram Das in Bengali(15th-16th Century), Mahabharata in Oriya by Sarala Das (15th Century AD), Villi Bharatham in Tamil by Villiputturaar Alvaar (14th Century AD),[17] Razmnama, Persian translation of Mahabharata(16th Century AD) have no mention of Draupadi’s rejection either. Even the Southern manuscripts in Sanskrit, as pointed out by Sukthankar, have no instance of rejection by Draupadi. Thus, the Critical Edition has omitted the incident as later insertion to the text. Despite the documented evidence provided by BORI, as Mehendale puts it in her essay, some of these incidents are so “deeply impressed on the popular mind” that they “still continue to haunt public mind”.[16] Most fictional novels and TV series, such as the 1988 series Mahabharat, continue to depict the rejection scene for maximum dramatic effect and sensationalism. However, the Critical Edition (also known as Poona Edition) is now considered an authoritative source on Mahabharat.[18


          • Yeah, I saw that on wikipedia too. The challenge with the Mahabharat (and all oral traditions) is that there is no way to say “this is correct” or “this is incorrect”. You can possibly confirm what is a later addition, but does that necessarily make it less important? The whole thing is a combination of stories from all over time and space. I decided (for myself) that rather than looking for the definitive version, I would look for the popularly accepted and discussed version as it is today.

            On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 12:02 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  6. Hi there,
    I have only recently discovered your blog and loving it, especially the classics posts and the 101 posts.

    Karna is definitely one of my favorite characters from the Mahabharat. Have you seen the 1981 movie Kalyug? It is a modern retelling of the Mahabharat set in a business family with two sets of cousins fighting for control of the business. It is directed by Shyam Benegal with Shahsi Kapoor as Karna and Rekha as Draupadi. Definitely worth watching.


    • Hi! Welcome and thanks for commenting! I love new readers.

      I haven’t seen Kalyug, but now I am curious. Shashi as Karna is enough to get my attention right away.


      • I definitely think that Shashi in this movie is one of the first on screen portrayals of Karna I remember watching. Might explain why I like Karna so much 🙂 Growing up in India, I had definitely been exposed to the story a lot but I watched this movie before the TV show. You absolutely have to watch this movie. The cast is amazing – Amrish Puri as Krishna, AK Hangal as Bhishma, Sushma Seth as Kunti. It is not a retelling of Mahabharat and deviates a lot from it, but the resemblance is obvious to anyone who knows Mahabharat.


  7. Karna’s death had a very huge reason. The way he was his skills and all, they had a past life connection which includes Krishna too.

    Karna in his previous life was a dangerous demon who, in a bid to gain near-immortality, seemed a boon from Surya the sun god that he be given a thousand armours to shield him. The one who does a penance of thousand years is capable of breaking an armour. However, by doing so that man would die at the spot and 999 shall remain. Surya agreed.

    Everyone was angry at Surya but Vishnu wasn’t. He and Shiva discussed a possibility and came to a conclusion. Vishnu sent a part of his energy into two souls Nara and Narayana (not to be confused with Lord Srimannarayana, the widely worshipped form of Vishnu) who became ascetics. They became the disciples of Shiva who taught them a mantra which could revive them from death. Both Nara and Narayana were at Badrinath meditating.

    The demon, now known as Sahasrakavacha, felt nobody could defeat him and challenged those two for a duel. They said okay, but one would fight and other would be left undisturbed. The demon said okay. Nara fights for a thousand years, breaks an armour and dies. Narayana comes, revived him and he started fighting as Nara meditated. Narayana died after breaking the second one, Nara cones survives him and this cycle continues.

    Now 999 armours are broken and it is Narayana’s turn. The demon was worried, he ran to Surya and seeked protection. Surya accepts him. Nara is in meditation and Narayana runs behind the demon. When he saw Surya accepting to shield that demon, Narayana felt very angry. Because Surya was shielding somebody who was tormenting all the worlds by terrorising them with the armours he has got.

    Narayana said, “Because this fellow ran away now, let him take a rebirth as your son, Surya. He should be demonic. But as he had the guts to surrender before you by accepting his mistakes, he shall be humane too. So, he as your son shall be half humane and half demonic. Because he has snatched away the peace of many, he shall lose his peace too in that life. Because I am asked to kill him, I’ll ensure he’ll lose that only armour he has and Nara would kill him. Beware Surya, you would beget the demon as your son, and I, Narayana, would take a rebirth as the Dark Lord against your fairness to eliminate him and deliver the justice.”

    The demon was born as Karna, Nara was born as Arjuna. Narayana was born as Sri Krishna. Krishna ensured Indra snatches away Karna’s only armour (the demon’s thousandth one) and Arjuna killed him. Because he has served his punishment, Krishna ensured that Karna’s soul shall rest in peace.

    One great thing about Krishna was, he used to go for a seemingly normal walk in the evenings post war and ensured that all the deceased souls would reach the heavens and not turn into ghosts. He used to predict casualties exactly in the morning and then roamed amid their dead bodies, doing his best to liberate their souls. They say this act gained him the name Mukunda, meaning the one who bestows Moksha (salvation). There are other accounts too, but this seemed more sensible and nearer to the image Krishna has, as the embodiment of love and acceptance.


    • Thank you for the background! I especially like the additional information about Krishna.

      On Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 2:55 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  8. First of all, I want to tell you how much I love this blog! I found you because of your review of “Kaminey,” which is one of my favorite films ever, and stayed for lots of other stuff.

    I grew up with Indian mythology and I find your analysis of the Mahabharata and Ramayana absolutely fascinating; I have to say that I have always loved the Mahabharata more BECAUSE its characters are so flawed and consequently so human (even Krishna, the incarnation of a god, is supremely human!). Rama is too perfect by half (and his treatment of Sita – the whole Caesar’s wife story where she has to “prove” her purity after her sojourn in Lanka – has always enraged me!) Whereas even upright Yudhishtira, who never lies (except for that one time about Ashwatthama!) is a compulsive gambler in the Mahabharata, and Krishna is always up to shady hijinks and hanging out with Gopis and whatnot. My favorite characters are Draupadi, born of fire, with a correspondingly fiery personality, and Karna, heartbreakingly tragic, proud, noble, and loyal. He’s always been my favorite character of Indian mythology, and obviously I’m not alone in that. I love what you have to say about him.

    FYI, though, in the versions of the Mahabharata that I’ve read, Indra is the father of *Arjuna* not of Yudhishtira, who is the son of Dharma. (My favorite thing about Yudhistira happens long after the battle of Kurukshetra, when the Pandavas climb the mountains to heaven, followed by a little dog, which Yudhistira will not abandon even though he’s told that if he does he too will enter heaven, but if he keeps the dog with him, he will go to hell. As a dog-lover … well, my heart, you know? And Yudhishtira’s response is that he cannot abandon something that has been so faithful.)

    Anyway, I’m off to explore more of your wonderful blog (and I’ve purchased your book and am looking forward to reading it.)


    • Welcome! I am so glad you found me!!! And that you are enjoying the Ramayan/Mahabharat posts, they don’t get many views but I really love writing them.

      Please, keep commenting! And after you mentioning that you love Draupadi and Karna most, I am very tempted to write a Draupadi-Karna fanfic, but I probably shouldn’t.


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