Kunti, the princess of Kunti Kingdom attended to the sage Durvasa, who was staying in her palace. Pleased with her service, Durvasa granted Kunti a boon. She can call any God of her choice and have a child.
Exited, she called upon the Sun God, Surya, and got a child already wearing armour and earrings. Thus Karna was born. However, frightened, as she was not married, Kunti put the child in a basket and float it on a river.
King Dhritarashtra’s charioteer, Adhiratha, a Sudra, rescued the child. Along with his wife Radha, they adopted and raised him. He was named Vasusena because of the armour and earrings. He was also called Radheya.
As an adult, to become a warrior, Vasusena approached Dronacharya but was refused since he was not Kshatriya. Realising caste will be an issue; he approached Parashurama as a Brahmin and was accepted as his student. He was a great learner and at the end, Parashurama himself declared that in the art of war, Vasusena is far better than him.
Curses: That Changed the Course of the Battle
Parashurama: One afternoon, Parashurama was asleep on the lap of Vasusena, when an insect came and bit Vasusena. It was very painful but he didn’t move as it could have disturbed his Guru.
When Parashurama woke, he immediately realised that Vasusena was no Brahmin. Only Kshatriya can suppress so much pain. Getting angry he cursed Vasusena that he will forget how to use weapons.
However, on Vasusenaspleading,Parashurama relented and altered his curse.Since it cannot be taken back,he told Vasusena,he will forget how to recall and use weapons,only when required by him the most.
He also gifted Vasusena his personal bow, Vijaya and blessed Vasusena with greatness.
Brahmin: After leaving Parashurama’s ashram, Vasusena practiced archery on his own. During one practice, by mistake, he killed a Brahmins cow. Angered, the Brahmin cursed him that he would also die helpless, the same way the cow had died.
Bhoomidevi (Mother Earth): Once while riding Karna noticed a boy crying because he had spilled the oil he was carrying on the soil. Karna told the boy that he would give the same amount of oil to him so stop crying.
But the boy was adamant and told he would take the same oil and nothing else. So Karna picked up the soil on which the oil was spilled. He then crushed it inside his palm and succeeded in returning the same oil.
However, during the process, he heard a painful cry. When he opened his palm he saw Bhoomidevi writhing in pain. In anger, she cursed Karna that she will also hold back his chariot in the soil the way Karan held her in his palm.
Unfortunately, all the three curses came into effect at the same time in the crucial period of the battle
Rise of Karna
Vasusena once went to a tournament in Hastinapur where Arjuna was also present. After surpassing Arjunas achievements’, Vasusena challenged himto a duel. He was refused since only a price can challenge a prince.
Seeing the bravery of Vasusena, Duryodhana, the oldest brother of Kauravas, took the opportunity and offered him the throne of Anga. Now Vasusena also became the king.
This event started two things, one intense rivalry between him and Arjuna, and a friendship between him and Duryodhana. Later on, Vasusena became part of Hastinapur.
Vasusena was as brave as any other and was instrumental in defeating many great kings single-handed. Looking at his bravery, Jarasandha offered him a part of Magadha kingdom.
The Generous Karan
Vasusena was a very generous person. Anyone who approached him with some request was fulfilled by him. No one was returned empty-handedby him.
However, this good habit of his also made him very vulnerable.And Indra tricked him out of his Armour and Earrings away from him. With the armour he was invincible.
When the Pandavas were in exile, everyone knew that battle was imminent. Indra, Arjuna’s father knew the power of Karna and decided to weaken him. Disguised as Brahmin he went to Karna and asked for his armour and earring.
Karna’s father Sun God knew and informed Karna about Indra’s plan. Despite knowing that it was his protection, Karna kept his word and gave away the armour and earrings with which he was born.
Since he peeled off his own skin he became famous with the name Karna.
Kunti also visited Karna, to persuade him to join Pandavas. She knew the battle will happen and was fearful about her children. Be it the Pandavas or Karna. She revealed to Karna that she is her mother and Pandavas were his brothers.
Karna refused to go with her stating that now it is too late and he owes Duryodhana his life as he has done so much for him. But he promised, in battle, he will kill only Arjuna.
Karna also requested his mother not to disclose this relationship. This is praiseworthy otherwise he would have become the elder brother and the rightful King.
On the eleventh day of the battle, Karna enters the Kurukshetra when Bhishma got defeated. During the course of battle, Karna defeated many great warriors and was instrumental in disarming Abhimanyu.
When Karna gave away his armor and earrings to Indra, Indra felt guilty and in return gifted Karna his most powerful weapon the Indrastra or Shakti Astra, which Arjuna can use only once. Karna kept it to use against Arjuna.
On the fourteenth day, battle got extended and continued till the night. Ghatotkacha, the half-Asura son of Bhima began destroying the Kaurava forces, as Asura’s became extremely powerful in the night.
After a long fight and all options used up by the Kauravas, Ghatotkacha could not be killed. So, Duryodhana requests, Karna to do something. Karan had no other options left and uses Indrastra to kill Ghatotkacha. And thus utilizes the most powerful weapon he had.
When Drona got killed by unfair means, Karna became the chief of the Kaurava army. During the battle, except Arjun, Karna defeated all the Pandavas but he let them go. Thus he kept his promise to his mother.
On seventeenth day, Karna and Arjuna faced each other in the battlefield. The battle was of the equal match. Without Indrastra, killing Arjuna was very difficult and on the other hand, because of sheer battle skills which Karna had, he couldn’t be defeated.
However, during the battle one wheel of Karna’s chariot got stuck in the mud. That was because of the curse which he got from a Brahmin whose cow he killed by accident. His charioteer, king Shalya refused to get down.
So Karna himself got down from the chariot and started removing the wheel from the mud. Arjun knew he could not kill an unarmed warrior so he waited. Seeing a great opportunity going to waste, Krishna reminded Arjuna of all the misdeeds done by Karna, including the killing of Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son.
By this time Karna knew that he would be attacked but because of Parashurama’s curse couldn’t recall any powerful weapon.
In the meantime, Arjuna became very emotional with pain,and angered, killed unarmed and helpless Karna.
As A Person
In general, Karna was not a bad person, he refused many injustices which happened during the dice game, was against Shakuni and the dirty tricks and bad politics which took place in Mahabharata.
He was humiliated by Pandava’s supporters in the beginning but was made king by Duryodhana, a Kaurava, so he always supported Kaurava side.
He was a true friend and despite getting the opportunity didn’t change his side until the very end.