The tragedy of Karna
The tale of Karna in the Mahabharata is really tragic. Karna is the illegitimate son of Kunti who disowns him at birth. Despite being born a Kshatriya or a warrior he is raised by a charioteer. During Draupadi’s Swayamvara though Karna wants to participate and prove his skills in archery, Draupadi he is barred from entering the competition since it is assumed that he is a charioteer’s son To add insult to injury Draupadi scorns his lowly birth.
Karna is also truly selfless. In fact his largesse and magnanimity becomes his undoing. Karna being the son of Surya is born with an armor and earrings which make him invincible. But Indra comes in the guise of a brahmin and asks Karna to part with his armor and earrings.
Similarly Kunti asks Karna to vow that he will not harm the Pandavas who are in the enemy ranks. Karna immediately obliges. Though he could have slain the Pandavas he upholds his vow to his mother.
Finally Karna is slain by an arrow by Arjuna when Karna is trying to lift the wheel of his chariot which is stuck in the mud.
So the question that arises as to what extent can one be selfless in one’s deeds. In fact the tragic story of Karna brings back the ethical question of the Greeks “Is it better to be strong or is it better to be good ?”.
Karna was both good and strong but his excessive selfless goodness proved to be his undoing. As somebody said ‘Don’t compromise on yourself, you are all you got.”