ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A New Origin Myth

Karna, the Dark-fated One

Following anthropologist Iravati Karve’s grounding of the Mahabharata in realism, the author proposes a new origin myth for Karna, brother to the Pandavas.

In her monograph on the MahabharataYuganta (1969), anthropologist Irawati Karve proposes an exciting theory on the paternity of the Pandavas. The story device of different gods “granting” sons to Kunti with their essence (akin to the Virgin Mary myth) is implausible when we ground the epic in realism—treating it in a historical sense as Karve does. These subplots, including Karna being born with earrings and armour, must be seen as later additions. Through a close reading of the original text, she determines Vidura to be Yudhishthira’s real father. Pursuing this theory further, I explore the parentage of her first born, and how this affects his journey: Which character’s strengths are considerable enough for us to presume he could have fathered the mighty Karna?

Karve concludes that it is Durvasa, the famously angry sage, who grants Kunti the boon to invoke the gods for children. (If it was all metaphysical, why did Kunti not invoke any powerful goddess?) Kunti serves Durvasa for a year, supposedly providing any service he demanded, including sharing his bed. There are certainly instances of sages being called upon to extend dynasties, like Vyasa saving the Kurus by fathering Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura. But to imagine old sages hankering after young princesses—be it Kunti, Draupadi, or Amba—does not fit with the historical times or narrative layers that the Mahabharata deals with.

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Updated On : 24th Dec, 2020

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