Do you think Karna was an evil character as mentioned in the latest critic’s version of Mahabharata?

According to BORI’S critical edition – karna was taught by drona, he conspired with duryodhan to kill bhima in childhood, he never attended Draupadi’s swayamvar. He never faced caste based discrimination. Most people on internet says that this is the most authenticated version of Mahabharata.


Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:

Thank you for the A2A.

To be honest this is the first time I am hearing about such an edition. But I have heard much more imaginative things about the epic and its characters. So this comes as no surprise. Yet another version to add to the melee.

About what I think about Karna…

I do agree that every character in the epic is grey. It’s like the work could alternatively named ‘A Thousand Shades of Grey’ (no pun intended!). But I have a personal dislike for Karna. It’s got nothing to do with what the TV versions and the books portray him to be. It’s my personal opinion. I don’t like his attitude. I wouldn’t call him ‘evil’ as such. Evil is a very heavy word. I’d associate characters like Keechaka and Jayadratha with the word ‘evil’. Most of the characters in the Mahabharata were victims of circumstances. But Karna’s very attitude towards life and his peers was not something I agree with. He always suffered from an identity crisis. But he employed all the wrong methods to prove himself to the world.

He mingled with the wrong company even though his mind told him that he was going against righteousness. He was getting recognition and an identity that he craved so much for.

Although he was crowned King of Anga, there is little or no mention of him staying there for long periods and managing the affairs of the kingdom. It was like a titular thing only. All the time he was hanging around Hastinapur in the shadow of his mentor and friend, Duryodhana, meddling in his family affairs. Imagine having a friend of yours practically living in your house and poking his nose into your family politics just because he doesn’t like one of your cousins! I won’t be comfortable and that is not a healthy friendship at all.

That friendship was probably the original and truest sense of ‘Friends with Benefits’. Duryodhana made use of Karna’s valor and brilliance with weapons in exchange for an elevated position in society. And personally I don’t really think any friendship ought to have ‘benefits’ as the foundation stone. Once the benefits stop, the friendship falls.

It is true that Karna did study under the tutelage of Dronacharya, which makes it evident that he was not really discriminated on the basis of his caste at the Ashram. As to why he went to Lord Parashurama for training, it’s because Dronacharya flatly refused Karna’s request to instruct him about the Brahmastra. Even while requesting his Guru to impart him that wisdom, Karna had to cheek to tell him that he wants to learn it so that he can fight Arjuna. Like I said earlier, attitude problems. It’s not because he wanted to learn about it. His intent was not good. And in my opinion, Dronacharya did a wise thing by not imparting that knowledge to an undeserving person whom he knew would eventually put it to ill use.

I don’t buy the theory of him having conspired with Duryodhana in the attempted murder of Bhima in their childhood. Karna was a fellow student at their gurukul. But he was never a part of their childhood games in their palace grounds. The poisoning and drowning attempt was done before the princes joined for training under Dronacharya. So there was no way that they would have mingled so much with Dhritarashtra’s charioteer’s son. And if Karna had been around at that time, he would have been at least a couple of years older than the princes and he would have had a better judgement of Bhima’s strength than Duryodhana to know that his stupid plan won’t work.

The Swayamvara story is also not true, as far as I believe. It is mentioned in the text that Karna had indeed accompanied the Kuru princes to the Swayamvara. It is unclear, however, if he want with an intent to participate or as a spectator, like Lord Krishna. I’d like to think that he did not intend to participate in the competition. He could not have taken the fair maiden for himself after even Duryodhana had failed. But after seeing the spectacular beauty of Draupadi and the shameful way the great kings were failing miserably at even stringing the bow, he was compelled to give it a shot too. But knowing his staunch allegiance to Duryodhana, he would have given away Draupadi to Duryodhana as a prize catch. He would never keep something/someone for himself that was initially coveted by his dearest Duryodhana.

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It’s all up to the reader which version they would like to read and accept. I am quite comfortable with the KMG version, despite the Victorian era English. In fact, that is what makes it so enjoyable. And so that is the ONLY version I use as a reference guide. None of us alive today were physically present when all these events unfolded. Then how would it be possible to say with authority that this new version is THE MOST AUTHENTIC version of the Mahabharata? That’s not right.

Do you think Karna was an evil character as mentioned in the latest critic’s version of Mahabharata?

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