The Personal Pathology of Karna

Karna's early training under Rishi Parashurama should have ideally helped him shape his destiny for the better. Yet his personal pathology made him choose to support Duryodhana, the personification of evil.
The Personal Pathology of Karna

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The Personal Pathology of Karna

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THERE IS A SLIGHT TINGE OF similarity in the Duryodhana-Karna relationship and the Gandhi-Nehru relationship. Selfishness and messianic delusions characterised Duryodhana and Gandhi. Karna and Nehru, respectively, supplied the required fodder that kept these delusions at their optimal level of obesity. Thereby, both of them secured the prized place in their master’s inner circle and acquired free rein to run riot.

In a great measure, Karna is viler than Duryodhana, who is evil personified and has no redeeming qualities. Bhagavan Veda Vyasa leaves no room for ambiguity when he declares: 

duryodhano manyumayo mahādrumaḥ skandhaḥ karṇaḥ śakunistasya śākhāḥ |

duḥśāsanaḥ puṣpaphale samṛddhe mūlaṃ rājā dhṛtarāṣṭro'manīṣī  || 

Duryodhana is the great tree of jealousy and anger. Karna is its trunk. Śakuni is its branch(es). Duśyāsana is its plentiful flowers and fruits. Dhṛtarāṣṭra is its root.    

Having learned at the feet of a Rishi like Paraśurāma, Karna should have sculpted his own destiny for the better. In fact, a profound insight is available in the Paraśurāma - Karna episode — if this great Acharya’s lessons and his towering stature could not cure Karna’s hardened immunity against Dharma, it is unsurprising that he ended up a loser for life, supporting Adharma at every step.   

Thus, Karna consciously chooses to become the inexhaustible ghee that incessantly fuels the raging fire of Duryodhana’s jealousy. He also debases himself on a more fundamental plane: Karna is not only elder than Duryodhana, he is much elder to Yudhishtira himself.  Yet, he opts for a life of subservience to evil. 

It is also a superb tribute to Bhagavan Veda Vyasa’s prowess at characterisation that he identifies Duryodhana, Śakuni, Duśyāsana, Karna and Dhṛtarāṣṭra as the Evil Core. Other notables in the Kaurava camp who fought on Duryodhana’s side against the Pandavas such as Bhishma, Drona, Ashwatthama et al., did so solely out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to the throne of Hastinapura. The edifice of this loyalty rested on their confusion between Dharma and Adharma, between duty and fealty. None of these characters were innately evil and Bhishma, especially, repeatedly counselled Duryodhana to mend his ways. 

Duryodhana had a Duṣṭa-traya — a Diabolical Triad comprising Śakuni, Duśyāsana, and Karna, which aided his self-scripted drama of evil that ultimately ruined him at great cost to the nation. This is akin to the sinister cabal surrounding Indira Gandhi whose depraved counsel wrecked India and culminated in her assassination, a horror of her own making. The parallel doesn’t end here. Karna’s loyalty was a personal loyalty exclusively reserved for Duryodhana. For him, Duryodhana = Hastinapura, just like how the vile D.K. Barooah had declared that India = Indira. 

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IN HIS UNDERSTATED FASHION, D.V.G. fleshes out Karna’s intrinsic character and the nature of his relationship with Duryodhana: 

When Karna was mocked and humiliated for being the son of a Sūta (charioteer in this case; in general, low birth), he was unable to find a convincing counter to it and had to swallow the indignity.

Indignity bred inferiority within Karna, which in turn bred lifelong resentment against the whole world, in a manner of speaking. Duryodhana was the perfect vehicle to channelise this resentment. Abject servility to Duryodhana was an agreeable price to pay for his unceasing war against the world.  

Karna’s repulsive conduct on countless occasions is the earliest and the perfect case study in the theory and practice of Communism.  You are not a True Communist if you don’t first loathe yourself, and loathe yourself for life. And a self-loather is also a perpetual blame-hunter. Thus, if I am poor, neglected, disrespected and despised, it is always someone else’s fault — that someone is the invisible but the real entity called society. Every notable Communist ideologue from Karl Marx onwards has invariably projected their personal pathologies as injuries done to them by society.  

We can recall Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s memorable response when he was asked why he did not become a Communist, given his excruciating childhood and student life: “The same society that treated me unkindly in those early days also gave me opportunities to study and become something. The same society continues to respect me as a writer. I should be grateful and not wage war against it.”

This is an everyday truth that anyone can realise if they set aside their ego and look inward. 

Thus, Karna’s ego operated as a self-induced shame for being labelled as a Sūta. It blinded him to the existence of another stalwart, Vidura — one of the most exalted characters in the Mahabharata — who hailed from a lower social strata and lived in such close proximity.

Two early episodes reveal how Karna, like Karl Marx, projects his personal pathology as a war against the world. 

In the Vidurāgamana-Parva in the Adi-Parva, this is what Karna says about women in general but his real target is Draupadi: “women think that it is desirable to possess more than one husband. Draupadi has attained that.”   

In the same Parva, we notice Karna admitting that the Pandavas are intrinsically Dharmic and that Duryodhana cannot defeat them on the plane of Dharma. He gives a line by line rebuttal to Duryodhana’s strategies to break the Pandava unity. In the whole section, while Duryodhana operates from pure jealousy, Karna operates at a fouler level: he knows that the Pandavas are innately virtuous, yet he wants to injure them. For two basic reasons: (1) to please Duryodhana (2) to extract his personal vengeance against Draupadi. His sick advice to Duryodhana is breathtaking: “Duryodhana! O Lord of the Earth! It is impossible to win against the Pandavas through Sāma, dāna, and bhēda. It is possible only through valour (Vikrama).”   

Here, Karna gives the honourable quality of Vikrama to justify the launch of an unprovoked, Adharmic war to fulfil his itch for spite. We invoke D.V.G. once again: 

… Karna was bereft of of the ability to distinguish between Dharma and Adharma in his loyalty towards his benefactor. Karna never felt the need to tell Duryodhana: “this is good for you, this isn’t.”

Indeed, more than anybody, Karna unerringly knew that wicked counsel would delight his master. 

To be continued     

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