Tuesday, August 2, 2016

26. Karna throws a challenge

After Drona was satisfied that the Kaurava and the Pandava princes had become accomplished in the use of arms, he went to Dritharashtra and told him that the princes had completed their education and that it was time for them to show their proficiency. Bhishma, Vidura, Vyasa , Kripa and others were present at that time.  Dritharashtra felt very happy on hearing this and praised Drona for accomplishing a great deed by educating the princes. He felt sorry that he could not witness the feats that would be performed by his sons and others. He then asked Vidura to arrange for the function in consultation with Drona.

Drona chose a piece of land devoid of trees for holding the demonstration. He also chose an auspicious day and offered a sacrifice to God in the presence of a vast crowd. After this, skilled artisans built a large stage as per the specifications prescribed by the scriptures. They also built a large hall for the lady spectators.

"When the day fixed for the Tournament came, the king accompanied by his ministers, Bhishma and Kripa arrived at the arena. Gandhari, Kunti, and the other royal ladies were also present. The public also attended the function in large numbers. The presence of  a vast gathering and  the reverberating sounds of trumpets and drums made the  vast concourse appear like an agitated ocean.

At the appointed time, Drona dressed in white arrived at the place along with his son Aswathama.  It appeared as if the Moon himself accompanied by the planet Mars appeared on a clear sky. Drona performed a formal worship of God. This was followed by the Brahmins reciting the Vedic hymns and performing the rites. After this, several  musical instruments were played. After these formalities were over, the princes headed by Yudhishtira entered in the order of age and began to show their spectacular skills in the use of their weapons. Some of the spectators lowered their heads, apprehending fall of arrows while others fearlessly gazed on with wonder.

After demonstrating their skills  in the use of bows and arrows and in hitting the targets by sitting on horsebacks and  chariots, the mighty warriors began to show their prowess in the use of  swords and bucklers.The spectators were amazed by  their agility, the symmetry of their bodies, their grace, their calmness, the firmness of their grasp and their deftness in the use of the weapons.

Then Bhima  and Duryodhana entered the arena, mace in hand, like two mountains.  These two mighty warriors, summoning all their energy, roared like two furious elephants. The spectators  began to take sides, some supporting Bhima and others supporting Duryodhana and shouted hailing their heroes.

Sensing the polarized atmosphere and the tension that was building up, Drona asked Awathama to restrain both the warriors lest the spectators should become emotionally surcharged. After Awathama restrained the two heroes, Drona himself entered the arena. He asked the musicians to stop playing their instruments and told the crowd “Behold Arjuna who is dearer to me than my own son. Arjuna, who is the son of Indra  and who is  like a younger brother of Vishnu, is  the master of all arms.“ Thus introduced, Arjuna entered  the arena  with gloves in his hands, his quiver full of arrows and his bow.

On seeing Arjuna, the crowd erupted with cries and slogans hailing him.  Conches were blown even as the play of musical instruments was resumed. Slogans like 'This is the graceful son of Kunti!' 'This is the son of the mighty Indra!' 'This is the protector of the Kurus' 'This is the foremost of those versed in arms!''This is the foremost of all cherishers of virtue!' 'This is the foremost of the persons of correct behaviour, the great repository of the knowledge of manners!'  etc.  On hearing these, tears of joy rolled down  from Kunti's eyes. Dhritarashtra, hearing the uproar, asked Vidura “What is  the reason for the great uproar  resembling the sound of  the troubled ocean rising up to the heavens?”
Vidura replied “O mighty King, Arjuna has just entered the arena. Hence the uproar.”
 Dhritarashtra said, “I feel blessed, favoured and protected!"

Arjuna displayed his prowess by creating water using the Varuna weapon, creating air using the Vayavya weapon, creating clouds by using the  Parjanya weapon, creating  land using the Bhauma weapon and creating mountains using the Parvatya weapon, He then made all these disappear by the use of the Antardhana weapon. He was so agile that he appeared tall one moment and short the next moment. He was on the yoke of his chariot and was instantly seen on the chariot itself. And in no time he was on the ground. He displayed his skill with the bow, the sword and the mace  by performing various feats.

After  the performances by the princes were completed and the musical instruments went into silence, the spectators heard, from the gate, the sound of the slapping of arms, conveying might and strength. Karna entered the arena through the gate, with the spectators making way for him.  His energy was like that of a lion, a bull or the head of a herd of elephants. In splendour, he resembled the Sun, in loveliness, the Moon, and in energy, the fire. He was tall in stature like a golden palm tree. He was handsome and had the vigor of the youth.  With his eyes surveying the arena, he bowed indifferently to Drona and Kripa.  The entire crowd stood motionless watching him with a steady gaze and wondering who he was

Karna spoke to Arjuna in a challenging tone “O Arjuna, I shall perform feats excelling the ones you have performed! Watching them, you will be amazed.”  

Hearing this, the spectators stood up all at once, as if pushed up from their seats by some device. Duryodhana was filled with delight, while Arjuna  became irritated, insulted by Karna’s words. With the permission of Drona, Karna performed all the feats performed by Arjuna.  

Duryodhana and  his brothers embraced Karna in joy and said, “'Welcome mighty warrior! I got you due to my good fortune. I and the kingdom of the Kurus are at your command.  

Kama replied, " I only long for your friendship. My wish is to have at least one combat with Arjuna."

Arjuna, enraged by Karna’s words told him “You will reach the destination, the unwelcome intruder and the uninvited talker reach. You will be slain by me.”

Karna replied, 'Arjuna, this arena is meant for all, not for you alone. What is the need for verbal exchanges which is an exercise of the weak? Speak through your arrows till I  strike off  your head today in front of the preceptor himself!”

Arjuna, after seeking  the permission of Drona, advanced for the combat. Karna took up his bow and arrows and stood ready for the fight. The sky became  enveloped in clouds emitting flashes of lightning, and the coloured bow of Indra (the rainbow) appeared shedding its effulgent rays. Seeing that  Indra  was viewing the arena out of affection for his son Arjuna, the Sun dispersed the clouds from the part of the sky above his own offspring Karna.  Arjuna  stood under cover of the clouds, while Karna stood  being surrounded by the rays of the Sun.

Duryodhana  stood by Karna while Drona,  Kripa and Bhishma stood beside Arjuna. The spectators were divided in their support. Kunti, realizing that her two sons are about to be engaged in a deadly combat, swooned. Vidura brought her to consciousness by asking her female attendants to sprinkle sandal paste and water on her face. Kunti looked at her two sons with apprehension but felt helpless.

Kripa, who knew the rules about duels, told Karna “This Pandava who is the youngest son of Kunti, belongs to the Kaurava race. He will engage in combat with you. But, you too must tell us your lineage, the names of your father and mother and the royal line to which you belong. Sons of kings never fight with men of inglorious lineage.”

Hearing Kripa’s words, Karna’s face became crestfallen. 

Immediately, Duryodhana said, "O preceptor, the  scriptures say that three classes of persons – persons of royal blood, heroes and those who lead armies - can lay claim to royalty. However, If Arjuna is unwilling to fight with one who is not a king, I will install Karna as the king of Anga."

Immediately, Duryodhana installed Karna as the king of Anga by seating him on a golden chair. Other formalities like the chanting of mantras by Brahmins were also complied with.  

Overwhelmed by  Duryodhana’s gesture, Karna said, “'O tiger among monarchs, what shall I give you in return for this precious gift you have given me? I will always act as per your bidding.”

Duryodhana told Karna, 'I eagerly wish for your friendship."

Karna replied,"So be it." And they embraced each other in joy.

After this,  Adhiratha, the charioteer and the foster father of Karna entered the arena, perspiring and trembling. Seeing him,  Karna left his bow and bowed down his head still wet with the water of inauguration. The charioteer embraced Karna. Witnessing this scene, Bhimas ridiculed Karna saying, “O son of a charioteer, you do  not deserve death in fight at the hands of Arjuna.  You should wield a whip befitting your race, not a bow.”

Thus addressed, Karna looked at the God of the day in the skies. 

Duryodhana, enraged by Bhima's words said, “'O Bhima, it does not befit you  to speak such words. Might is the cardinal virtue of a Kshatriya, and even a Kshatriya of inferior birth deserves to be fought with. People like Viswamitra  born in the Kashatriya racer have become Brahmins.  Our preceptor Drona was born in a water pot. Your own births are known to me. This prince among men deserves the sovereignty of the world, not of just Anga"

There arose a confused murmur among the spectators approving of Duryodhana's speech. 

Presently, the sun went down.  

Duryodhana took Karna's hand  and led him out of the arena. The Pandavas also, accompanied by Drona and Kripa and Bhishma, returned to their abodes.  The spectators also went away some supporting Arjuna, some Duryodhana and some Karna. 

Kunti felt relieved that the combat was averted. He was also pleased at Karna having been made the king of Anga.

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