Karna – The unsung hero of the Mahabharata

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-Umesh Kotru and Ashutosh Zutshi
Leadstart Publishing

When Daniel Braganza of Leadstart gave me a list of book to choose, I scanned the titles and immediately took ‘Karna – The unsung hero of the Mahabharata’. Mahabharata have always been my favorite. Its such a great story told in very many ways. I myself have half a dozen Mahabharata books – Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik, Ajaya – The role of the dice by Anand Nilakantan (awaiting Ajaya – Rise of Kali), Uba Pandavam (Tamil) by S Ramakrishnan and a couple more classic versions in Tamil. Still you can always read Mahabharata with same enthusiasm and interest. Mahabharata is not just a single story but is filled with lots of stories and sub-stories. Somehow it gives the feel of reading the story of our own land.

Karna - Front page

As the name suggests, this book is about the story of one of the great characters of Mahabharata. Whenever I hear the name of this first Pandava, I immediately recall two characters – friendship and generosity. In fact, on the other way round, anyone who talk about these two characters would immediately recall Karna.

Mahabharatha is by itself about the fight between two set of brothers – Pandavas and Kauravas – of which I see that it is more of a fight between two blood brothers – Karna and Arjuna. How did this happen? Because of the friendship between the first Pandava (Karna) and the first Kaurava (Duryodhana). Since Duryodhana helped Karna in the nick of the time, he felt indebted to Duryodhana that he maintained his loyalty and friendship till his death. Duryodhana kept his faith on the skills of Karna, than on anyone else. Even the Pandavas knew that they have to cross him before reaching Duryodhana. Pandava’s best Arjuna was totally focused in killing Karna, who was hence to be identified as Kaurava’s best. Thus the friendship of Karna with Duryodhana plays an important role in Mahabharata. The second character of Karna, his generosity, actually helped in Pandavas winning over Kauravas. Had he not donated his impregnable chest plates, vow to use Naga Asthra only once, and much more such, he would not have been standing stripped of all his strengths in the final battle of Kurukshetra. And the total outcome of Mahabharata would have been different. Needless to say, Karna have always been my favorite character. No wonder I enjoyed the book.

Karna - Back pageReading through the book I realise the extensive research done in writing the book. Through various movies and TV serials, we are generally a little misguided on the story of Karna. Some incidents are just added in other mediums to exaggerate the characters of Karna. But in this book, facts are facts. I sincerely appreciate the homework in making this book. I hope that the authors have put up their efforts in ensuring the correctness of the names and incidents. Second thing I liked about the book are various incidents that are very emotional and that they are very well captured in this book. Karna’s first meeting with his mother Kunti, discussion between Karna and Krishna before the war, the dilemma in the mind of Karna with regards to his support to the actions of Duryodhana, his late night discussions with his wife are a few worth mentioning. You get yourself absolved with the character and the incidents. It is also worth mentioning that there are no grammar mistakes or spelling mistakes that came to my notice. Kudos to the editing team.

However, I found one thing uneasy with this book. Named Karna, I expected the book would be from the perspective of Karna. I expected justification of his acts and no praise of the Pandavas. But this book, while praising Karna, also praises Krishna and Pandavas. It also criticizes the acts of Durhodhana, Shakuni and Kauravas. This would have been okay if the book is named something else but Karna. Yes, I agree that Karna supported the wrong deeds of Kauravas, primarily the disrobing of Draupathi. But, from the views of Karna it should have been shown in some other way but as a wrong. Many of the incidents were justified from the view point of Pandavas and Krishna. Ideally this book should have projected Karna and Kauravas as good. This was my only uneasiness with the book.

Verdict: Read it once.

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Karthik Nilagiri

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1 Comment

  1. Umesh Kotru & Ashutosh Zutshi says:

    Response to the review of ‘Karna the unsung hero of Mahabharata’ by Sh. Nilagiri

    First of all let us thank you for sparing time out of your busy schedule and giving your most valuable comments on our maiden work which, obviously, is very reassuring for the authors. It is very good that you have contacted the authors and giving them the freedom to give their side of the picture. We sincerely thank you for that. We would like to contact other reviewers like Shirin etc. and present a response to their comments.

    We would like to give you a sequential presentation on our book with particular reference to your comments.

    You are right in commenting that Mahabharata is not a single story but is filled with lots of stories and sub-stories. We have also recorded in the Authors note that whatever is not contained in Mahabharata does not exist. In fact Mahabharata is recited in the court of King Janmejaya much after the end of the war and goes back in time to the beginning of evolution.

    Regarding the third Para of your mail we have no comments to offer because of the fact that we have, more or less, taken the same facts. In fact while conceiving this project we were overwhelmed by the string of sacrifices made by Karna throughout his life culminating in the last sacrifice on the battlefield for the sake of friendship and his principles. We thank you once again for enjoying our book.

    As regards the fourth Para you have again hit the nail on its head with the observation that in our book facts are facts. Please revert for a moment to the Authors note where we have clearly mentioned that despite being a work of fiction we have stuck close to the text of the original Mahabharata. We resisted the temptation of digressing from the text to include such incidents which different authors from time to time have included to make the product sell.

    We have tried our best to use correct names of various characters with the help of internet and our Editor.

    We are eternally grateful to you for appreciating the emotional quotient in the book. Even after six months we get emotional when we recall the emotions we infused in the book.

    We appreciate your comments regarding the editing team because they are well deserved. However we also worked hard on grammar etc. which was acknowledged by the Editor in his very first mail when he called the manuscript edit-friendly.

    Now to the most important part of your review, we are sorry that we did not come upto your expectations. May be our being first time authors has something to do with it. But still we would like to explain.

    Regarding justification of the acts of Karna we have referred to his most talked about action of calling Draupadi a prostitute and the Varnavat incident when he seeks apology from both Kunti and Bheeshma. He also seeks apology from Krishna for being part of the plot to imprison him. The best thing about Karna is that there are very few bad acts in his life as compared to everything else. That is why eyes of both Krishna as well as Shalya turn moist when he passes away into eternity.

    We don’t recall having praised Pandavas directly anywhere in the book. In fact Yudhishtara was scared of Karna eversince he saw his prowess in the arena and this fear did not leave him even after Arjuna’s return from Heaven with divine weapons. We also know that Arjuna stood no chance against rampaging Karna but for the presence of Krishna by his side.

    We admit praising Krishna because of his being producer, script writer, director and actor of the whole drama which we call as the epic of Mahabharata. Everything which happened during his sojourn on this planet was scripted more or less on the shores of Khirsagar (Srimad Bhagvat).

    Ninety eight out of 100 Kauravas find mention in the Mahabharata only when they are killed by Bhima during the war. The remaining two viz Duryodhana and Dushasana along with Shakuni cannot be ignored because of their close association with Karna. After his association with this caucus he was unwillingly part of every plot which they engineered including Varnavat and the game of Dice etc. After Varnavat, Karna felt sad not because of his love for Arjuna but because he would have liked to kill him himself.

    We have obliquely pointed out that Duryodhana was not as bad as Dushasana or Shakuni. His wish to commit suicide after humiliating defeat at the hands of King of Ghandharvas was genuine. In another episode his human traits were revealed when a Brahmin visiting the Kaurava court related in detail the hardships being faced by the Pandavas particularly Draupadi in the forest. In a way he was also a victim of circumstances just like his father. On the other hand his friends including Karna were elated by this news and finally succeeded in cheering him up.

    The background of Karna’s action in Kaurava sabha by calling Draupadi as prostitute lies in her Swayamvara some years back where he had been publicly humiliated in addition to his unqualified loyalty to Duryodhana. As far as Yudhishtara is concerned he was a compulsive gambler not only in the game of dice but on many occasions later.

    To conclude that we have brought out the good points of Duyodhana but did not find anything to condone the misdeeds of Shakuni and Dushasana.

    We have tried our best to address all your queries and hope you find some merit in them. We are open to further discussion if you wish. In fact we have liked the idea of this type of discussion which will help us working better on more projects in the near future.

    Umesh Kotru
    Ashutosh Zutshi

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