Karna and Arjuna, the battle between two half brothers is a focal point in the Kurukshtra war. Both were master archers. Karna was the son of Surya (Sun God) and Arjuna was the son of Indra (Rain God). There were many instances when they both faced similar circumstances. Both competed for Draupadi’s hand. Both also had to fight their own brothers in the war. Both had a deep connection to the Kauravas. The only difference was that Arjuna hated them and Karna loved them.
Though half-brothers, both showed diametrically opposite personalities. While Karna was an extremely gifted, kind-hearted, brave, giving, generous to a fault and righteous, all of which had been taken advantage of, during the entire episode of the Mahabharata, especially during the Kurukshetra war.
No doubt Arjuna was the best example of a diligent student, an embodiment of concentration and was blessed by divine grace. In fact, he was always victorious only due to Krishna. Many times, Krishna had resorted to adharma to win against both Karna and the Kauravas.
Karna had played by the rules during the Kurukshetra war. He never once attacked Arjuna at a weak moment. Once, when Arjuna fainted due to the impact of Karna’s arrow, Karna had refused to send more Nagastras in his direction, as it would be a treacherous act toward humanity itself. In contrast, Arjuna took advantage of Karna’s weak moment and killed him, knowing well that he would be rendered incompetent if he let him live any longer.
Krishna himself praised Karna’s skill in the battlefield and had told Arjuna that he only survived Karna’s attacks because of his own grace and the grace of Hanuman, who was protecting him from sure death. This itself proves that Arjuna was nowhere near being the greatest archer of all time. In spite of Karna knowing about his actual lineage, he never once abused Kunti for having left him to fend for himself. On the contrary, he showered her too with the love and respect any mother deserved. Also, Karna had kept up his promise to Kunti that he would not harm his four brothers. He only wanted to duel with Arjuna, no one else. Hence, he only defeated them all, but never killed them.
Karna had known that Arjuna’s father, Indra, was tricking him into giving away his Kavacha and Kundala. He was well aware that his own defeat would be imminent if he gave them away. Yet, he did not deny Indra his demands. In spite of treading the path of dharma, Karna had to face death at the hands of Arjuna, that too, by unethical means.
Many Hindus still revere Karna for his bravery and generosity. Throughout his life, he suffered immense hardships, but he never gave up hope. Instead, he continued unflinchingly with his duty and finally achieved martyrdom. Even stalwarts such as Bheesma and Krishna considered him to a noble spirit. Karna truly deserves sympathy. Though born as a divine prince, he was treated as an outcaste all his life. Kunti should have acknowledged and celebrated the radiant Karna as her oldest son, but she abandoned him.
In spite of being the mightiest of warriors, he was never given that recognition. He had to live with all these frustrations haunting him for an entire lifetime. Added to that, he had also been unfairly cursed several times, which led to his ultimate defeat and death during the war. Nevertheless, Karna is worthy of the greatest respect and admiration for his amazing personality and indomitable will to fight against all odds.
Excerpts from: Speaking Tree