After spending the last year disguised in King Virata's kingdom, the Pandavas came back and asked Duryodhana for the kingdom. King Drupada, the king of Panchala and the father of Draupadi sent a learned man to the court of Hastinapur to ask the Kauravas to return the kingdom of the Pandavas.
Unsurprisingly, Duryodhana refused.
Krishna, the Dark Lord, himself came and argued brilliantly in the Court of Hastinapur. Realizing that Duryodhana was too drunk in his own power Krishna prayed for just five villages, one for each Pandava, to avert the war.
However Duryodhana haughtily explained that he was not going to hand over even the land to keep a needle to the Pandavas. On top of it Duryodhana even tried to imprison Krishna, who was there as a messenger of the Pandavas.
Krishna showed everyone in the court his Vishwaroopa and that effectively stopped any further foolish actions from Duryodhana.
His mission having failed, Krishna took out his chariot and traveled to Panchala to the Pandavas. However on the way, he saw Karna walking on the road. He called out to his charioteer. 'Daruka! Pull the horses! I wish to speak to Karna!'
Daruka looked surprised but then he knew that the Dark Lord always had a reason for doing anything.
Krishna came towards a surprised Karna. 'Karna! You are noble and wise....You always speak the truth and you give any person anything, that they come and ask you....' Krishna shook his head sadly. 'You....You should not fight on the side of Duryodhana!.'
Karna looked at Krishna disbelievingly. 'Why is it that you are praising me suddenly, Kesava?'
Krishna smiled. 'That was not praise! That was the truth!' Karna looked surprised as Krishna smiled. 'You have just aligned yourself with the wrong people! If only you knew who you were.....' Krishna closed his eyes as he smiled his beautiful smile. Karna felt a sudden thump in his heart. The question which had been burning him for his entire life....the most important question in his life and Krishna knew who he was....Karna looked at Krishna looking totally incapable of speech. 'I wish to talk with you, Karna! Why don't you accompany me?' Even without realizing it, Karna got on the chariot with Krishna. Soon they had driven to the outskirts of the kingdom near the river.
'You are a warrior, Karna!' Krishna said without any preamble. Karna looked stunned and happy beyond measure. So he was not the son of a charioteer....He was the son of a warrior.Eagerly he looked at Krishna waiting that he would continue.
Krishna smiled mirthlessly. 'You are the son of the princess and you have five younger brothers!' Karna's face suddenly lost a little colour. Five brothers.... His heart thumped painfully in his chest. If Krishna realized the effect he was having on Karna, Krishna definitely did not stop narrating the story. 'The five brothers are powerful warriors! Exceptionally powerful warriors!' Karna tried opening his mouth to ask Krishna to stop talking. But he found it difficult to even think, let alone talk....The information which he had always wanted to know...now did not even seem remotely appealing. He regretted even coming out with the Dark Lord. But Karna stood there completely incapable of speech or movement.
'The five brothers have a common wife because they all share her for one year each. And Karna....' Krishna continued as if he did not realize that Karna was feeling like someone was pounding his head and his heart repeatedly with a very sharp instrument. '….if they ever come to know about you, they will make you the king....their king!' Krishna said softly.
'Why was I abandoned at birth?' Karna demanded his voice suddenly hoarse.
'You were born before your mother had married! As a maiden, she could not keep you...so...' Krishna saw Karna angrily open his mouth when Krishna continued. 'However, according to custom, the child born to a maiden can be considered as born to the man whom the girl marries....If that is considered....' Krishna said his eyes smiling slightly
Karna closed his eyes wishing that he never had even known any of this. 'Imagine Karna! Yudhishatara and his brothers will always be obedient to you, Karna! All the sons of Pandu have Krishna as their common wife. So the beautiful Krishna....she will be your wife too! And you will rule the kingdom....'
'STOP!' Karna almost yelled, trembling. 'I AM RADHEYA!' Karna said attempting to control his shaking voice. 'I am the son of Radha and Adhiratha! They are my parents. They nursed me! I am the son of charioteer!' Karna said angrily. 'And the only person who does not see me as the son of a charioteer is my friend....' Karna looked very close to losing control over himself. But then he pulled himself together. 'Duryodhana is the only person who loved me and accepted me when...the world rejected me as the son of charioteer!' Karna vehemently shook his head. 'No Krishna! I see what you are trying to do! But the answer is NO! My loyalties lay with Duryodhana! Even if the whole world goes against us, I will still be with him!'
Krishna looked at Karna without any expression. 'Karna! You are a mighty and great warrior! I do not wish you to be on the losing side!'
'LOSING SIDE? YOU THINK I DO NOT KNOW THAT?' Karna almost shrieked. 'Sage Parashurama has taught me how to read omens and I can clearly see that the Kauravas are all going to be killed. Every single one of them! And with you on the side of the Pandavas, I do not think, the Pandavas can ever lose! But I will still be on Duryodhana's side! That is my Dharma!' Karna did not even realize the tiny tear on the side of his eyes. He closed his eyes, as for one forbidden second he saw himself sitting with the Pandavas and Draupadi. He resolutely shook his head angrily trying to remove the thought from his head as he continued. 'Duryodhana relies on me for winning this war for him! I know that I will not succeed. but I will try! I will do everything in my power to fight for Duryodhana!'
Krishna nodded his head not saying anything when Karna continued sadly. 'I have never asked anyone, anything! But today I ask you something, Krishna!'
Krishna still did not say anything. Probably he already knew what Kunti's first born was going to say. 'The Pandavas...' Karna trembled slightly and then pulled himself together. 'They are good people!' Karna suddenly looked even more unhappy. 'I behaved very badly on the day of the dice game!' Karna closed his eyes wishing to forget the rage in Drauapadi's eyes, at the dice game... He took a deep breath. 'That was unforgivable! I do not wish to be a part of the Pandavas! Please Keshava...' He said looking at Krishna desperately. 'Please never tell the Pandavas about me! If you do....' Karna smiled sadly. 'The first thing Yudhishtara would do is to hand over all the rights of his kingdom to me and I.....' Karna took another deep breath. '....will give it to Duryodhana!' Karna shook his head. 'That must not happen!' Karna smiled at Krishna again. 'Please Krishna, give me your word! Please promise me that you will not tell the Pandavas about this!'
Krishna without saying a word nodded his head and looking at the forlorn Karna got up on his chariot and drove away from there without a backward glance....
It was early in the morning and as usual Karna was engaged in praying to his favourite Lord – Surya Deva.
Karna had not told anyone about his conversation with Krishna and he had no intention of ever doing it. All he wanted was to forget it! He was required to win the battle for Duryodhana and that was all he was going to do....For that he could not entertain the useless thoughts of the Pandavas which kept coming to him...They were the enemies...He told himself angrily.
Karna heard some movement behind him and surprised turned around. It was too early for someone else to be out at the same time. Karna turned and saw a lady almost hidden in the shadows. The early morning sunlight was not bright enough for Karna to see who it was. 'Who is it?' He asked. He saw that it was a lady and obviously the lady was brought up in good wealth but he could not see anything more than that. Unreasonably Karna felt his heart clench in a strange emotion he had never felt before. 'Who is it?' He asked again, his heart beating wildly and his throat suddenly becoming coarse.
The woman came forward. 'I am Kunti!' Kunti said coming out of the shadows.
Karna looked at Kunti's tear stricken eyes and knew that she knew.
Karna had pictured this scene so many times in his life. He always imagined that when he met his birth mother he was going to yell at her and keep yelling at her until he was hoarse and explain to her exactly how much he had to suffer because of her.....Or probably he could just explain a fraction of the hurt she had caused him by abandoning him....
'What does the mother of the Pandavas want with me?' Karna asked trying to make his voice appear haughty and failed.
'I....I have come here to see my son!' Kunti said quietly.
My son....my son...The words kept echoing in his mind as Karna felt his vision blur because of the tears. He saw Kunti stumble forward and tightly held her as he felt a powerful emotion surge through him. Karna recognized the emotion as love....strong, powerful and it totally washed through him wiping all thoughts of hate he had ever had for the woman before him...
Slowly Karna opened his eyes as he saw the wizened face of his mother who looked at him with love. 'I knew of a mantra....and I used it unwisely before I was married....' Kunti explained everything to Karna who listened and suddenly understood the unnatural love he felt for Surya Deva....The Sun God was his father...that was the reason, Surya had tried protecting him...' Karna smiled mirthlessly as he remembered the failed attempt of his father to protect him by warning him not to part with his armour and earrings. The sun was now blazing brightly almost as if announcing that the words of his mother were true...
Kunti finished the entire story and looked at Karna with love. 'Come away my son! Come away with me! Please....atleast from now on, let me enjoy the company of all my sons! I know Yudhishtara well. He would place the very world at your feet, if he ever came to know of this...!'
Karna looked and Kunti and smiled. It was a very peculiar smile. 'Where were you mother, when the entire world rejected me as the son of charioteer?' Kunti looked as if she had been slapped by Karna. However Karna continued. 'In the open arena, Bheema asked me to take the whip and ride a chariot because that was all I was supposed to do...' Kunti closed her eyes hoping she did not want to hear any of this. Karna however relentlessly continued. 'Draupadi, your daughter-in-law refused to even let me compete in her swayamvara, because I was the son of a charioteer!' Kunti opened her eyes and looked at Karna unable to answer. 'And during all these things....there was only one man who stood with me!'
Karna smiled again. 'And you wish me to abandon him....Why?'
Kunti looked on unable to reply. Karna took in a deep breath. 'No mother! I will not abandon Duryodhana! I will always be with him, no matter what!'
'I NEED ALL MY SONS WITH ME!' Kunti screamed finally finding her voice.
Karna smiled 'I am afraid, you can have only five sons....All your life!' Karna looked at the bright sun and spoke in a melancholy voice. 'I was planning on killing all the five Pandavas! But now I cannot...But I cannot be untrue to my Duryodhana!'
Kunti looked at Karna without speaking and not understanding a word.... 'I will not kill any of the other Pandavas! But I will definitely kill Arjuna or atleast try to...' Kunti fell back, her heart hammering violently. 'Or Arjuna will kill me! So either with me or without me, you will have five sons!'
Kunti pleaded with Karna some more but Karna remained completely unmoved. Spending some more time with her first born, Kunti came back home, broken hearted....
However Karna's trials were far from over.
Once it was declared that the war was going to start, the Pandavas chose Drishtadhyumna, Draupadi's brother as the general of their army.
Duryodhana realized that despite being old, Bhishma still commanded the loyalty of the soldiers in Hastinapur. So having no choice in the matter, Duryodhana appointed Bhishma was the general of the Kaurava army.
However Bhishma on being chosen immediately imposed a condition. 'Prince Duryodhana! Am I to be the general of your army?' He demanded sternly.
Frowning Duryodhana nodded his head. 'Then I get to decide who fights and who does not fight in the army, am I correct?'
Uncomprehendingly Duryodhana again nodded his head. 'Then as long as I am the army general, the King of Anga, does not participate in the war!' Bhishma said in a voice brokin no argument.
Duryodhana looked at Karna who was looking at Bhishma with angry eyes. All Karna wanted to do was to go out there in the battlefield and finally prove to everyone that his loyalty lay only with Duryodhana and not one else and the great old man was even refusing him an opportunity of fighting the war...
'I can bring down the Pandavas singlehandedly!' Karna claimed angrily.
'Karna,if you boasted less, I think you could have led your friend here, on a better path! Or have you forgotten how well you fought and lost with Chitrangada, the gandharva?' Bhishma retorted angrily. 'At every step all you do is question...question everything that I do...And you only wish to compete with me to prove that you are better! I cannot deal with people like you while I am leading an army to battle.' Bhishma said with a finality.
'Is this another of your attempts of favouritism towards the Pandavas?' Duryodhana demanded angrily. 'You do not wish to kill them. In fact you yourself have told me that countless number of times that you would destroy the Pandava army but not harm the five of them....And you also seem to be preventing anyone else who wishes to do it....Is that the reason....?' Duryodhana's voice was harsh.
'PRINCE DURYODHANA!' Bhishma thundered so angrily that Duryodhana fell silent. 'I am pledged to the throne of Hastinapur! I serve who sits on that throne! If it were not for that, I would actually walk away from this foolishness that you are calling a war....AND NEVER QUESTION MY INTENTIONS AGAIN!' Bhishma thundered again effectively silencing Duryodhana.
'Why am I alone not included?' Karna asked trying his best not to show the hatred in his voice and failing.
'Your Guru Parashurama fought a battle with me once! I am not going to let any man who was taught by that sage under my army!' Bhishma said scornfully.
Karna fell silent and walked away angrily from the tent. He realized that Duryodhana would have to listen to Bhishma because Bhishma commanded the loyalty of the soldiers. He felt movement behind him and saw Duryodhana looking shame-faced. 'I am sorry Karna! I...'
'He is the general of your army, my friend!' Karna said, willing not to let the bitterness to show in his voice. 'Please listen to him! If he feels that it would be better if I do not join the war...we must listen to him!'
The two friends embraced each other.