Long long ago there lived an asura(demon) named Dambhodbhava. He wanted to become immortal and so prayed to the Sun god, Surya. Pleased with his penance, Surya appeared before him. Dambhodbhava asked Surya to make him immortal. But Surya couldnt grant this boon since anything, anyone who was born on this planet will have to die. Surya offered him to ask for something else instead of immortality. Dambhodbhava thought of tricking the sun god and came up with a cunning request.
He said that he has to be protected by a thousand armors and laid the following conditions:
1. The thousand armors can be broken only by someone who performs penance for a thousand years!
2. Whoever breaks the armor should die immediately!
Surya was horribly worried. He knew that Dambhodbhava had performed a very powerful penance and that he could get the entire boon he had asked for. And Surya had a feeling that Dambhodbhava was not going to use his powers for good. However having no choice in the matter, Surya granted Dambhodbhava the boon. But deep down Surya was worried and seeked Lord Vishnu’s help, Vishnu asked him not to worry and he would save earth by eliminating adharma.
Immediately after getting the boon from Surya, Dambhodbhava started wrecking havoc on people. People were scared of fighting with him. There was no way of defeating him. Anybody who stood in his way was crushed by him. People started calling him Sahasrakavacha [meaning one who has a thousand armours]. It was around this time that King Daksha [the father of Sati, the first wife of Shiva] got one of his daughters, Murti married to Dharma – one of the ‘Manas putras’ of Lord Brahma, the God of Creation
Murti had also heard of Sahasrakavacha and wanted to put an end to his menace. So she prayed to Lord Vishnu to come and help the people. Lord Vishnu pleased with her appeared before her and said
‘I am pleased with your devotion! I will come and slay Sahasrakavacha! Because you have prayed to me, you would be the reason for slaying Sahasrakavacha!’.
Murti gave birth to not one child, but twins- Narayana and Nara. Narayana and Nara grew up in the ashrama surrounded by the forests. They were great devotees of Lord Shiva. The two brothers learnt the art of warfare.The two brothers were inseparable. What one thought the other was always able to finish. Both of them trusted each other implicitly and never questioned the other.
As time went on, Sahasrakavacha started attacking the forest areas surrounding Badrinath, where both Narayana and Nara were staying. As Nara was meditating, Narayana went and challenged Sahasrakavacha for a fight. Sahasrakavacha looked at the calm eyes of Narayana and for the first time since he got his boon, felt fear building inside him.
Sahasrakavacha faced the attack of Narayana and was astounded. He found that Narayana was powerful and had indeed got a lot of power from the penance of his brother. As the fight went on, Sahasrakavacha realized that the penance of Nara was giving Narayana strength. As Sahasrakavacha’s first armour broke he realized that Nara and Narayana were for all purposes one. They were just two persons having the same soul. But Sahasrakavacha was not too worried. He had lost one of his armours. He watched in glee as Narayana dropped dead, the minute one of his armours broke!
As Narayana fell down dead, Nara came running towards him. By his years of penance and pleasing Lord Shiva, he had gained the Maha Mritunjaya mantra – a mantra which brought back dead to life. Now Nara took the fighting with Sahasrakavacha while Narayana meditated! After thousand years, Nara broke another armor and dropped dead while Narayana came back and revived him. This went on until 999 armors were down. Sahasrakavacha realized that he could never beat the two brothers and ran away seeking refuge with Surya. When Nara approached Surya to give him up, Surya did not since he was protecting his devotee. Nara cursed Surya to be born as a human for this act and Surya accepted the curse for this devotee.
All this happened at the end of Treta yuga. Immediately after Surya refused to part with Sahasrakavacha, the Treta Yuga ended and the Dwapar Yuga started. To fulfil the promise to destroying Sahasrakavacha, Narayana and Nara were reborn – this time as Krishna and Arjuna.
Due to the curse, Dambhodbhava with Surya’s ansh within him was born as Karna, the eldest son of Kunti! Karna was born with one of armours as a natural protection, the last one left of Sahasrakavacha.
As Arjuna would have died if Karna had had the armour, on Krishna’s advise, Indra [Arjuna’s father] went in disguise and got the last armor of Karna, much before the war began.
As Karna was actually the monster Dambodbhava in his previous life, he led a very difficult life to pay for all the sins committed by him in his past life. But Karna also had Surya, the Sun God inside him, so Karna was a hero as well! It was Karna’s karma from his previous life that he had to be with Duryodhana and take part of the all the evil things he did. But the Surya in him made him brave, strong, fearless and charitable. It brought him long lasting fame.
Thus after learning the truth about Karna’s previous birth, Pandavas apologised to Kunti and Krishna for lamenting them…
Post Credits Bimal Chandra Sinha
Image Credits: To the owners, and Gogle Images