Karna’s Naga Ashwasena story is one of the few fascinating story in Mahabharata about Karna’s principles. This incident took place on the seventeenth day of the war of Kurukshetra.
Arjuna had killed Karna’s son, Vrishasena, in order to make Karna experience the pain that he himself had borne when Abhimanyu was brutally executed. But Karna refused to grieve his son’s death and continued to fight Arjuna in order to keep his word and fulfill Duryodhana’s destiny.
Finally when Karna and Arjuna came face to face, a serpent called Naga Ashwasena secretly entered Karna’s quiver. This serpent was the one whose mother was relentlessly burnt when Arjuna had set Khandava-prastha ablaze. Ashwasena, being in his mother’s womb at that time, was able to save himself from getting charred. Destined to avenge his mother’s death by killing Arjuna, he transformed himself into an arrow and waited his turn. Karna unknowingly released Naga Ashwasena at Arjuna. Realizing that this was no ordinary arrow, Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer, in his bid to save Arjuna’s life, sunk the wheel of his chariot in the ground by pressing his feet against its floor. This made the Naga, who was speedily advancing like a thunderbolt, miss his target and hit Arjuna’s crown instead, causing it to fall on the ground.
Disheartened, Naga Ashwasena returned to Karna and asked him to fire him towards Arjuna once again, this time making a promise that he would definitely not miss his target. After hearing Ashwasena’s words, this is what the mighty AngaRaj said to him:
“It is beneath my stature as a warrior to shoot the same arrow twice. Find some other way to avenge your family’s death.”
Saddened by Karna’s words, Ashwasena tried to kill Arjuna on his own but failed miserably. Arjuna was able to finish him off in a single stroke.
Who knows what would have happened had Karna released Ashwasena for the second time. He even might have killed Arjuna or at least would have injured him. But he upheld his principles and did not use the presented opportunity. Such was the character of AngaRaj. He was the man of his words and the epitome of morality. He was the ultimate warrior.
Karna attaches an arrow to his bow, pulls back and releases – the arrow is aimed at Arjun’s heart. Krishna, Arjun’s Charioteer, drives by sheer force the chariot into the ground several feet. The arrow hits Arjun’s headgear and knocks it off. Missing its target – Arjuna’s heart.
Krishna yells, “Wow! Nice shot, Karna.”
Arjuna asks Krishna, ‘Why are you praising Karna?’
Krishna tells Arjun, ‘Look at you! You have Lord Hanuman on the flag of this chariot. You have me as your charioteer. You received the blessings of Ma Durga and your Guru, Dronacharya before the battle, have a loving Mother and an aristocratic heritage. This Karna has nobody, his own charioteer, Salya belittles him, his own Guru (Parusurama) cursed him, his Mother abandoned him when he was born and he has no known heritage. Yet, look at the battle he’s giving you. Without me and Lord Hanuman on this chariot, where would you be?’
Comparison between Krishna and Karna on various occasions. Some of them are Myths while some are pure facts.
1. Immediately after Krishna’s birth, he was transported across the river by his father, Vasudeva to be brought up by his step-parents – Nanda & Yasoda
Immediately after Karna’s birth, his Mother – Kunti placed him in a basket on the river. He was transported to his step-parents – Adhiratha & Radha – by the watchful eye of his father, Surya Dev
2. Karna’s given name was – Vasusena
– Krishna was also called – Vasudeva
3. Krishna’s mother was Devaki, his Step-Mother – Yasoda, His Chief Wife – Rukmini, yet he is remembered mostly for his lila with Radha. ‘Radha-Krishna’
– Karna’s birth mother was Kunti, and even after finding out she was his mother – He told Krishna that he will not be called – Kaunteya – son of Kunti, but will be remembered as Radheya – Son of Radha. Till date, the Mahabharata refers to Karna as ‘Radheya’
4. Krishna was asked by his people – Yadavas- to become, King. Krishna refused and Ugrasena was King of the Yadavas.
– Krishna asked Karna to become Emperor of India (BharataVarsha- Extending to Pakistan, Bangladesh & Afghanistan at the time), thereby preventing the MahaBharat War. Krishna argued that Karna being elder to both Yudhisthira & Duryodhana – he would be the rightful heir to the throne. Karna refused the Kingdom on account of principle
5. Krishna broke his vow of not picking up a weapon during the War, when he impulsively rushed at Bhishma Dev with his Chakra.
Krishna rushing towards Bhishma with his Chakra
6. Krishna vowed to Kunti that all 5 Pandavas were under his protection
– Karna vowed to Kunti that he would spare the lives of 4 Pandavas and battle Arjuna (In the War, Karna had a chance to kill – Yudhisthira, Bhima, Nakula & Sahadeva at different intervals. Yet, he spared their lives)
7. Krishna was born in the Kshatriya caste, yet he played the role of Arjuna’s charioteer in the War
– Karna was raised in the Suta (Charioteer) caste, yet he played the role of a Kshatriya in the War
8. Karna was cursed to his Death by his Guru – Rishi Parusharam for deceiving him for being a Brahmin (In actuality, Parusharam knew about Karna’s true heritage – however, he also knew the big picture that was to be played out later. Aside from that – along w/ Bhishma Dev, Karna was his favorite disciple)
– Krishna was cursed to his Death by Gandhari as she felt he allowed the War to unfold and could have done more to prevent it.
9. Draupadi called Krishna her Sakha (Brother) & loved him openly. (Krishna cut his finger from the Sudarshan Chakra and Draupadi immediately tore a piece of cloth from her favorite sari that she was wearing, soaked it in water and rapidly wrapped it around his finger to stop the bleeding. When Krishna said, ‘That is your favorite Sari!’. Draupadi smiled and shrugged her shoulders as if it was no big deal. Krishna was touched by this – hence when she was being stripped by Dushashana in the Assembly Hall – Krishna by his maya supplied Draupadi with never ending Saris.)
– Draupadi loved Karna secretly. He was her hidden crush. When Dushashana strips Draupadi of her sari in the Assembly Hall. Which Krishna replenished one by one (Bhima had once told Yudhisthira, ‘Brother, do not give Krishna your sins. He multiplies everything.’)
10. Prior to the War, Krishna was looked upon with great respect and reverence. Even among the Yadavas, they knew Krishna was great, nay The Greatest…yet, they didn’t know his Divinity. Very few knew for sure who Krishna was. After the War, many Rishis and people were angry with Krishna as they felt he could have prevented the atrocity and millions of deaths.
– Prior to the War, Karna was looked upon as an instigator and right-hand man of Duryodhana – jealous of the Pandavas. After the war, Karna was looked upon with reverence by the Pandavas, Dhritarashtra & Gandhari. For his endless sacrifice & they were all sad that Karna had to face such ignonimity his whole life
11. Krishna/Karna had an enormous amount of respect for each other. Karna somehow knew about Krishna’s divinity and surrendered himself to his Lila. Whereas, Karna surrendered to Krishna & gained glory – Ashwattama could not accept the manner in which his father, Dronacharya was slayed and unleashed a vicious guerrilla warfare against the Panchalas – men, women & children. Ending up being a bigger villain than Duryodhana.
12. Krishna asked Karna how he knew the Pandavas would Win the MahaBharat War. To which Karna responded, ‘Kurukshethra is a sacrificial field. Arjuna is the Head Priest, You-Krishna are the presiding deity. Myself (Karna), Bhishma Dev, Dronacharya and Duryodhana are the sacrifice.’
Krishna ended their conversation by telling Karna, ‘You are the best of the Pandavas.’
13. KARNA is the creation of Krishna to show the world the true meaning of sacrifice and to accept your fate. And in spite of all the bad luck or bad times you come across maintain: Your Spirituality, Your Generosity, Your Nobility, Your Dignity and Your Self- Respect and Respect for others.
So here is another story about Karna and his DaanVeerta. He was one of the greatest Daanshur (the one who Donates) ever witnessed by humanbeings.
Karna was lying on the battlefield gasping for breath in his last moments. Krishna assumed the form of an indigent Brahmin and approached him wanting to test his generosity and proving it to Arjun. Krishna exclaimed: “Karna! Karna!” Karna asked him: “Who are you, Sir?” Krishna (as the poor Brahmin) replied: “For a long time I have been hearing about your reputation as a charitable person. Today I came to ask you for a gift. You must give me a donation.” “Certainly, I shall give you whatever you want”, replied Karna. “I have to perform the marriage of my son. I want a small quantity of gold”, said Krishna. “Oh what a pity! Please go to my wife, she will give you as much as gold as you need”, said Karna. The “Brahmin” broke into laughter. He said: “For the sake of a little gold have I to go all the way to Hastinapura? If you say, you are not in a position to give me what I ask I shall leave you.” Karna declared: “As long as breath remains in me, I will not say ‘no’ to anyone.” Karna opened his mouth, showed the gold fillings for his teeth and said: “I shall give this to you. You can take them”.
Assuming a tone of revulsion, Krishna said: “What is it you suggest? Do you expect me to break your teeth and take the gold from them? How can I do such a wicked deed? I am a Brahmin.” Immediately, Karna picked up a stone nearby, knocked out his teeth and offered them to the “Brahmin”.
Krishna in his guise as Brahmin wanted to test Karna further. “What? Are you giving me as gift teeth dripping with blood? I cannot accept this. I am leaving”, he said. Karna pleaded: “Swami, please wait for a moment.” Even while he was unable to move, Karna took out his arrow and aimed it at the sky. Immediately rain dropped from the clouds. Cleaning the teeth with the rainwater, Karna offered the teeth with both his hands.
Krishna then revealed his original form. Karna asked: “Who are you, Sir”? Krishna said: “I am Krishna. I admire your spirit of sacrifice. In any circumstance you have never given up your spirit of sacrifice. Ask me what you want.” Beholding Krishna’s beauteous form, Karna said with folded hands: “Krishna! To have the vision of the Lord before one’s passing is the goal of human existence. You came to me and blessed me with your form. This is enough for me. I offer my salutations to you.” In this way, Karna stayed DAANVEER till the very end.