Discerning self-centered motives from a community- focused goals.
One of the longest epic poems in the world- Mahabharata, originated around 400 and 200 BCE in ancient India. The length of this Sanskrit epic is overwhelming, consisting about 100,000 shloka and over 200,000 individual verse lines which makes it about 10 times longer than Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey combined.
It talks about the rise and fall of kingdoms, spinning around political agendas that shattered and re-constructed the complex society prevalent back then (and now), driven by discrimination and opportunistic ideologies, which were soon to be challenged and vanquished; all the while keeping the core message of restoring Dharma and peace in the world intact.
From talking about the importance of performing one’s duty, to avenging the violation of a women’s honor, this epic covers it all.
This article would most obviously be ineffectual if I’d start listing out every episode aired on television. Rather, I wish to draw attention to one of the parts that is quite special to me.
The setting is a battlefield, with innumerable warriors lying dead, their dried blood now almost indistinguishable from the dark soil of Kurukshetra. The Pandavas, though having started with less Akshouhini military troops, now finally had an upper hand. It was the 17th day since the battle had begun and now it had almost ended. The only mighty Kauravas’ pawn that was yet to be eliminated was Karna.
For those unfamiliar with the epic, Karna was the most skilled archer in the entire Aryavart, even stronger than all the Pandavas; a follower of Dharma, yet a loyal friend to the sinful Duryodhan, the first of the Kauravas.
Having had to face discrimination all his life for being “born” into a lower caste and fighting for his rights to learn warfare, he was taken aback by the kind gesture of Duryodhan, who gave him a chance to challenge Arjun in a combat, whilst others had mocked him based on his birth.
Duryodhan’s gesture however, was most certainly a facade to get an unconquerable warrior on his side against his cousins, the Pandavas. But to Karna, it was an unresolvable debt.
But this mindset of his, is strongly confronted when he finally faces Arjun in the war on the fateful 17th day. And even before he has shot his first arrow, the wheels of his chariot falls into a ditch in the muddy ground.
That’s when Krishna- Arjun’s charioteer, mentor and friend, orders Arjun to fire his Anjalika Astra at the unarmed Karna, despite the fact that it was a clear violation of the rules of war.
In order to save himself, Karna tries to defend the attack, only to realize that he’s lost all his knowledge and skills. He stood there, his death in front of him, no weapons in his hand, retaining absolutely no knowledge of his training, which he had struggled day in and out to receive.
That’s when Krishna freezes the battlefield and has the most enthralling conversation with Karna.
He questions the motive behind Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhan, to which Karna reminds him about Duryodhan’s grateful help.
Krishna however, is not impressed by that answer. He asks if Duryodhan improved the lives of all the lower castes after that. Did he bring the discrimination to an end and make it possible for all of Karna’s community to avail education? Did he work selflessly in the upbringing of his subjects, just like how he had altruistically helped Karna?
The answer was a clear no.
When the tearful Karna asks him as to why he’s forgotten everything he had learnt all these years, Krishna then raises questions about the motive behind him gaining his education. Did Karna work hard to help the lower rungs of the society or to avenge his own insults?
“When man associates knowledge to success and his hard work is driven only by an ulterior motive to be the best among everyone, his knowledge serves no purpose to the society. And yes, all your insults and struggles are justified, but you should have made it an opportunity to better the society. If someone as strong as you, would have dedicated your life to improve the oppressed sections of the society, countless lives could have been ameliorated.”
Krishna reminds him that he had the strength, the skill and even the experience of all the suppression. And he ended up giving all of that to Duryodhan’s aid instead, whose side had only Adharm and nothing else.
“You claim that the world has devoided you of all opportunities, but the ones you did recieve, you failed to use it to better the society. You still have time Karna, forget your sorrows and embrace your death to fulfill your greater purpose.”
More often than we like to admit, our actions are mostly driven by the craving for success, recognition and affluence. But it is very essential to remember that a man who lives for the society, tries to better it and does all that is in his hands to improve the lives of others, also benefits from his deeds. But if he only lives for himself, he often ends up becoming the harmful aspect that needs to be obliterated.
The world is said to recieve more anguish from capable men failing to act on issues that needs to be addressed rather than the ones who try to voluntarily cause harm.
A strong community can only be built if one thinks not just about himself but also the society around him, choosing to be an ally of good rather than evil and instead of taking cover by self pitying, work on developing one’s strengths to give back to the society.
Karna’s mistakes teach us to release ourselves from the pursuit of self seeking goals, let go of our personal worries and step out of our homes to better the world outside and embrace the common challenges that needs our backing. A strong community is only possible when the people living in it show their concern towards the needs and wishes of others over their own.