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Rise of a new sun
Rise of a new sun
I remember, clearly, of those Gurukul days. Days of playful abandon –of running about the lush green forest meadows, of climbing the trees in Guru’s orchard, of swimming in the cool waters of the brook, of fighting and learning. Mostly of striving to excel in studies so that Guru would pat on our back affectionately murmuring, “Good work my boy, good work!”
Guru Drona was smitten by Arjuna, by his skills with bow and arrows. Arjuna’s fingers were magical, they could coax any arrow to find it’s mark and his sense of timing was unparalleled. Grudgingly, I accept, I was in awe and secretly disappointed by the absence of one like him on our side.Arjuna, for all his faults, is a spectacle to watch when he stands poised with his strung bow, ready to pluck the arrow – exuding raw power yet with the grace of a dancer. He shone like a diamond, like a star, above all of us!
When Guru Drona arranged for a graduation ceremony it was more of a martial exhibition rather than a competition between the princes. Needless to say Arjuna turned out to be the star pupil. I can still remember Kunti Ma, covered in the white of widowhood, her eyes sparkling with unspoken pride.Oh well, the rest of us mortals had to be satisfied with obligatory claps and cheers from the crowd. As for me, I was over joyed. I had defeated Bhima in the mace duel. It might have been an a friendly match, but for me it was far from friendly. I am sure, for once, Bhima and I felt the same about something. I had vanquished Vrikodhara – the wolf bellied one. Period. Between, I gave that name, Vrikodhara, to Bhima in loving memory of his insatiable hunger. No, I have no qualms about it – Vrikodhara that he is!
Arjuna had finished dazzling the crowds with his unmatched skills at archery. A mesmerized crowd was still murmuring adulations when through the western gates of the Royal Arena a chariot entered. In the chariot stood a handsome young man adorned in simple white cotton and bright golden armor. For a moment passing clouds overcast the sky but the arena was lit by a glow – bright rays emanated from the young man’s radiant earrings. There he was, a radiant sun, right in the middle of the ground, burning in all his glory!
The young man stepped out of his chariot and bowed deeply, palms folded in a Namaste, to the King, teachers, nobles, elders and the crowd. He straightened, face tilted at an angle, defiant eyes scanning the crowd, a small smile playing on his lips. In a resonant voice he presented himself,
“I am Karna, pupil of Saint Parashurama. Here, in front of this esteemed audience I challenge myself to display skills at archery better than Savyasachi Arjuna!”
The crowd went silent, the tension in the air palpable. People looked each other in disbelief and at this young nobody of a warrior who claims he can do better than their Prince Arjuna!
“Prove it!” Dronacharya thundered, eyes blazing in rage at this vagrant boy’s untimely appearance !
Well, prove Karna did and he was not just better than Arjuna, in fact he was the best Hastinapura had ever seen! Karna’s each move, each arrow, each pluck, each minute detail – better and more precise than Arjuna’s. This guy was not an amateur – he was a class apart. Arjuna’s skills simple paled in front of Karna’s. The Pandavas looked crestfallen - Arjuna devastated and Bhima brimming with indignation.
The crowd applauded, cheered and praised. Everyone wanted to know who this extraordinary warrior was.
“That boy is simply too good! What did he say his name was?”
“Better than Prince Arjuna”
“Better than all our Princes.”
“Did you notice his featured? Such noble features! He does look like an elder brother to Arjuna!”
“Who is he? Who are his parents?”
“What? He is a prince from a minor state of Kalinga?”
“I bet he is of royal blood!”
Karna bowed again accepting with much humility all the appreciations coming his way. Before anyone could ask anything came rushing Athiratha, chief of royal stables and slapped Karna.
“How dare you? You, you worthless ungrateful wretch! Whom do you think you are to match skills with our beloved Princes!”
An anguished Athiratha apologized to my blind father, the king “Forgive me and my son Karna, Your Highness. Forgive us. I will see it that even his shadow does not fall on the palace walls. Spare him Oh benevolent King for he is all I have!”
“Soothaputra – son of a Sootha – son of a charioteer!”
“Wasn’t it Athiratha the one who rescued an infant who had come floating in the river in a wooden box ?”
Kripacharya stood up silencing the crowd instantaneously. “Hey Sootha, Take your son away from here. Ask him to learn about horses and stables, the trade of his forefathers.” Throwing a smoldering look at Karna, Kripacharya continued, “ Boy, don’t bother picking up weapons anymore. That is what Kshatriya’s are here for. Remember who you are and act accordingly!”
Those words struck like a lighting bolt. Voices barely registered. Everything just seemed to be happening in a blur.
Athiratha pulling Karna away.
Karna standing rooted to his spot, head hanging in shame.
Bhima screaming at the top of his voice, emboldened by Kripacharya’s
Accusations. “Now a soothaputra wants to match skills with my brother. He should be whipped!”
All I saw was a fine warrior. I saw only Karna. I felt pity not for Karna but for the so-called wise men who couldn’t see merit over social hierarchies. Here was a warrior who just proved his worth. People claim he cannot be an archer because he was the son of a charioteer. Which era are we living in?
“Silence!” I commanded, “Karna is a gifted warrior. His bow and arrows have vouched for the fact.”
|Courtesy : Devdutt Pattnaik|
I continued, never breaking eye contact with Bhima, “ Father, grant Karna the right to rule Anga so that no dog can ever again question Karna’s right to be a warrior!”
In the comfortable knowledge that my father would never disagree to my wishes I walked up to Karna and straightened his slumped shoulders. Smiling at Karna, I announced “ I, Suyodhana, Son of King Dhritharastra declare you, Karna, Son of Athiratha the ruler of State of Anga so that you may rule Anga, her subjects and all that there is as you deem fit!”
The day ended prematurely with Kunti Ma fainting in the gallery because of the heat. In a way that was good as I was about to beat up Bhima. I had done one act of impudence with the coronation of Karna and beating up my cousins would have made my day!
That day I had talked for Karna and my voice was heard. Karna had looked at me, his eyes filled with gratitude and I knew I was the first one to ever have respected him for who he is. Make no mistakes, I did not feel like some omnipotent God who had showered blessings on a devotee. I simply felt happy. For the first time I had done something good for someone and I had not done that to spite Pandavas.
And as a token of his unpredictability, Karna hugged me. I knew I had found a true friend – a kindred spirit!
Swinging back to present day from the trip down the memory lane, Suyodhana stated, “No, I did not expect anything from you Karna. I simply loved you more than I loved my family or my own brothers of blood”
“Bhanu, did you know that Karna is an eternal romantic? Behind this tough veneer is a tender loving heart. I know you wouldn’t believe me. But that, my love, is the truth. Look at him blush like a girl!” Suyodhana guffawed.
“Bhanumathi, do you know who caught the fancy of this wild horse? Who else? The untamed spirit of Panchal! Drupada putri Panchali! I was confidant Karna would come home from the swayamavar with Panchali by his side. I was prepared to welcome her as my own little sister, the wife of my dear friend!
“Karna, I can read your mind as though it were a book! You loved Panchali. You’ve always loved her. Pure untainted unrequited love that transcends all barriers."
(to be continued...)