Why Krishna Killed Karna?
Most all casual readers or even a few astute followers of Mahabharata are easily fooled into thinking that Karna was killed by Arjuna. Even though throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna constantly indicates that Arjuna is nothing but an instrument in his hands. My previous blog about these two protagonists, Krishna and Karna, raised a lot of discussion regarding the two sides at war, with a lot of people getting lost in choosing between the righteous Pandavas versus the self-righteous Karna.
Rarely, if not no where, during the course of Mahabharata does Krishna speak spiteful of Krana. In fact there are several instances when he has sung the praise of Karna and also admonished Arjuna a few times, when he boasted about his skills or spoke ill of Karna. Krishna even reasoned with Karna, to support the just cause of the Pandavas, and not to blindly support his friend Dhuryodhana. Sadly, but well to his credit, Karna does not yield to Krishna’s advice or guidance. It is this stance that has helped Karna accrue his league of supporters, ‘steadfastness’. Unfortunately, loyalty to the wrong cause, can only be sympathized, and cannot be admired as a quality of a well read person.
So, then to the question, of the blog. Why did Krishna kill Karna? Many a commentator of Mahabharata, including me, believe that Krishna’s role in this epic was clearly not portrayed as a person who always followed the rules. He, more than once, broke the rules to achieve his goals. A clear characterization, showing that the end is equally, and sometimes more important than the means. To some extent, it shows the evolution of the dharma professed by the hindu thinkers and gurus, that the power of evil was increasing, and a straight forward fight between good and evil, did not guarantee success. Even god, had to adopt to some trickery to fool and defeat the people on the wrong side of the law. The whole life of Krishna as depicted in the different stories, revolve in a very political world, where the forces of evil and good were even more difficult to determine clearly. Unlike Ramayana, in times of Krishna the big war was not fought with asuras or demons, instead it was fought between members of a family.
Karna stood by loyalty, over the choice of righteousness. It was this same steadfastness of Karna, that resulted in his death. Even upon learning that his brothers were the ones that were being discriminated, he did not try to reason with his friend, Dhuryodhana. He instead, clouded his mind with all the atrocities he suffered at the hands of the Pandavas, Draupadi, his own mother and even his own guru. His reasoning was flawed, for all his loyalty and by his own dharma of karuna. It appears that he himself was in a state of turmoil, and reasoned that his loyalty and support to Dhuryodhana, surmounted any and all other considerations. His skills and prowess now needed to be neutralized, and when all reasoning by Krishna and negotiations failed, death was the only option left. At the end it was war, and someone had to lose, because it was a kill or be killed battle. So, the helplessness of the opponent was an appropriate state, given the circumstances, and was fully utilized by Krishna.
With Karna trying to retrieve his chariot wheel, stuck in the mud, armed with no weapons, Krishna commanded Arjuna to kill him now, because there may not be another oppurtunity. He dismissed all pleas for mercy by Karna, saying he lost all his oppurtunity to ask for mercy earlier, and that there was no need to discuss about virtues at this stage, since he too was just as bereft when it make to virtuousness. He also dismissed any more discussions from Arjuna, saying the choice was not his, and he was just doing his duty, and as commanded by Krishna.
Dilip said…This whole post seems to be predicated on the mistaken assumption that Krishna killed Karna. I know of no one well versed in Mahabharata who claims that. You say:
“It is this stance that has helped Karna accrue his league of supporters, ‘steadfastness’. Unfortunately, loyalty to the wrong cause, can only be sympathized, and cannot be admired as a quality of a well read person.”
Let me ask you this. When Karna was being ridiculed during the archery contest held at Hastinapura as being a suta and hence not eligible to compete with Arjuna, why didn’t Kunti Devi come to his rescue and mention his royal lineage? Why did it have to be Duryodhana who offered to make him the king of Anga? Granted, Duryodhana has his own evil reasons but the fact remains Kunti never stood up for him. Whose fault is that? Speaking of Kunti Devi, remember Karna would never have been born if she had not had that urge to “test” the boon granted by Durvasha and call up on the Sun God to divine her with a baby.
“He, more than once, broke the rules to achieve his goals”
That is like arguing a traffic cop is breaking the rules by speeding while at the same trying to do his job by catching hold of another speeder. You see there are certain occupational liberties that come with being a traffic cop. He has to do his job by violating the rules — there is no way around it. So is the case with Krishna. You keep talking about lots of instances of Krishna being deceitful and things like that. I’d like you to specifically point out one or two instances and not talk in generalities. That will help in discussing this a bit further.
“Even god, had to adopt to some trickery to fool and defeat the people on the wrong side of the law.”
You are reinventing the definition of “trickery”. An explicit intention to hoodwink someone in order to take advantage of him/her to effect some evil deed is called trickery. Is it your contention Krishna does this?
“Unlike Ramayana, in times of Krishna the big war was not fought with asuras or demons, instead it was fought between members of a family.”
Who do you think Ghatotkacha is? Incidentally here is another tidbit for you. Ghatotkacha is an asura and the son of Bheema. He supposedly wreaked havoc on the Kauravas in the battle. Karna had to use the Shakti astra to kill him and you know what happens to that weapon once he uses it? That’s right it goes straight back to Indra. In other words, he can use it only once. And what did Karna do get that weapn? He gave up his Kavacha and Kundala to Indra who appeared disguised as an old man at a time when Karna would never refuse anyone of anything (that is during mid-day when he worships the Sun God). Who is fooling who here? Here is one another tidbit for you. Karna is well versed in using a weapon called Naga Astra. That weapon can be fired again & again at your opponent until it hits its mark. Poor Kunti made Karna promise that he won’t use the weapon on Arjuna more than once. Guess what happened when he did use it? Krishna put his foot on the chariot’s floor and made it dig into the ground — this caused the arrow to hit Arjuna’s crown rather than his forehead. The snake that lives in the Naga weapon actually flew back to Karna and begged him to fire it again so that it can kill Arjuna. Our man steadfastly refused. Some righteousness, huh?
” Even upon learning that his brothers were the ones that were being discriminated, he did not try to reason with his friend, Dhuryodhana.”
In fact Karna repeatedly exhorted Duryodhana to not listen to Shakuni and instead take up his weapons and win what he wants in combat. That is the dharma of a kshatriya. They settle stuff in the battlefield. Do you have any idea how many kingdoms Karna conquered for the sake of Duryodhana?
“It appears that he himself was in a state of turmoil, and reasoned that his loyalty and support to Dhuryodhana, surmounted any and all other considerations.”
This is one place I agree with you. I don’t know why he placed his loyalty to Duryodhana as paramount. Perhaps a case can be made that he was trying to stay within the system and change it. Maybe he wanted to convince Duryodhana to give up his constant ways of skullduggery. We will never know what motivated him to stay on.
“He dismissed all pleas for mercy by Karna, saying he lost all his oppurtunity to ask for mercy earlier”
Karna never asked for mercy. Will you stop reinventing history? All he asked Arjuna was to wait until he can get his wheels out. It was Krishna who counseled Arjuna to not wait (look up my comments on a previous post by you on the same topic) and use this opportunity to finish off Karna.
Through out your post you seem to assume Krishna is just another human being who is rolling the dice and seeing which way the wind blows. Krishna is God! He knows and always knew what would happen. Why in the God’s name do you think he sent Indra and Kunti Devi to trick Karna into parting with his gifts? He knew eventually Karna will die and for your information even Karna knew this. Karna was always aware his association with Duryodhana will be his downfall. But you see that is where you need to understand him. Karna never thought of himself (you need to read your commenter’s insights in the previous post). He did what he had to do. Krishna caused whatever had to happen. There are no villains here despite your heroic attempt to create something out of nothing.