Saturday, 15 June 2013

The undying spirit of friendship

This is a topic very close to most of us. From the day we enter school as tiny tots, our eyes start searching for familiar faces. Something attracts us to certain people and we become friends. Then as we grow older and wiser we develop deeper bonds with our friends. Though I have heard many people say that beginning with father and mother, relatives are predestined, while we are able to choose our friends. But I feel that even friendship is predestined and we cannot become close to anybody that we come across.

Destiny brought Karna and Duryodhana together. But their friendship has stood the test of time. Duryodhana befriended Karna knowing well that he belonged to a lower caste (at the time of their friendship, it was not known that he was Kunti’s son).

One day, Karna and Duryodhana’s wife, Bhanumati, were playing a game of dice. Bhanumati was losing the game to Karna, when Duryodhana walked in. Seeing Duryodhana, Bhanumati stood up in respect. Karna, thought that she was fleeing from her loss and pulled her down. This caused her pearl chain to break. Karna looked up only to find Duryodhana staring down at him.

Fearing the worst, Karna stood up in silence. Duryodhana, sensing the embarrassment of his friend and wife eased the situation by asking them, if he had to only collect the pearls or string them too! In that one act of his, Duryodhana unmistakably proved that he was a loyal friend and a trusting husband. 

Duryodhana did not believe in the caste system, but believed in merit. Since he felt Karna was fit enough to be a ruler, without taking into account his father’s profession or status in society, Duryodhana made him King of Anga. True to the Kshatriya tradition he fought with valour to protect his kingdom. In all fairness to this often-mistaken character, Duryodhana was a protective brother, dutiful son, trusting husband, loyal friend and above all, a brave warrior and capable ruler. These traits, it is believed, took him straight to heaven when he died, while this honour was not granted even to Yudhisthira, the son of Dharma! When Duryodhana died, the heavens showered flowers over his body in appreciation of the life that he had led!

"Should I only collect the pearls or string them too?"

Karna, on his part, shunned even his mother’s love to be by the side of his friend in the war! In some ways, the gratitude shown by Karna was much greater than the one shown by Kumbhakarna towards Ravana. Karna was hailed as a selfless giver. Knowing this, Lord Indra once went to Karna and asked for the ‘Kavacha Kundalam’ that he was born with. Indra knew that with these on, Karna was invincible and could not be defeated in war. Despite knowing Lord Indra’s intentions through his father, Surya, Karna gave away the Kavacham or the Armour and the Kundalam or the earring that his father had given him at the time of his birth.

His penchant for learning princely disciplines like archery and the Vedas, made him assume the guise of a Brahmin so that he could become the disciple of Parasurama. One day, Parasurama was sleeping on the lap of Karna and just when the Guru was fast asleep, a beetle bit into Karna’s thigh. But Karna withstood moving from the spot. He was more worried about disturbing his Guru’s sleep than the blood oozing out of his thigh. When the hot blood touched the arms of Parasurama, he woke up, only to see Karna bleeding profusely. He at once knew that Karna had fooled him since only a Kshatriya could bear that much of pain, and was infuriated. He cursed Karna and said that the Brahmastra, which he had acquired through falsehood, would not help him when he most needed it! 

During the war, Karna’s chariot got stuck in the mud and Arjuna pierced him with his arrows. Yet, Karna did not die. His dharma of offering to people in need had earned him a lot of ‘punya’, and it was difficult to kill him. Lord Krishna, in the form of a Brahmin, approached Karna and asked him to give his ‘punya’ as alms and Karna obliged. The arrows of Arjuna then killed Karna.

Duryodhana and Karna, two great friends, and extraordinary warriors, were undone by their own wrong doings. Sakuni’s advice to challenge Yudhisthira brought about Duryodhana’s downfall, while it was the hatred towards the Pandavas, triggered by the constant remarks by others on his lowly birth, that made Karna lose his hard-earned weapons. So intense was his hatred that he lost his mind and instigated Duryodhana against Draupadi. What added fuel to the fire wasthe fact that she had earlier refused to marry Karna as he was from a low caste. 

Karna did not spare young Abhimanyu’s life either, and went against all known warring regulations of that period and killed a warrior who was weapon-less. In the end, he died in the same manner in which he killed Abhimanyu.

The one message that meets the eye is that we are bound by our own actions and all of us have some negative trait in us that we need to conquer. I am tempted to quote Edward Wallis Hoch : 

“There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it ill behoves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.”

We must learn to respect ourselves before we can respect others. When we understand this, we can begin with being our own best friend, and then we will find that we can understand others around us better!