14- When does Karna know he is Kunti's son

The Pandavas go to war at Kurukshetra without knowing that they are fighting against not just their cousin Duryodhana, their gurus and grandfather but also their eldest brother Karna, who was born to Kunti in secret. However, Karna is aware that the Panadavas are his brothers, that Abhimanyu and the Upa Pandavas (Pandavas’ sons by Draupadi) are his nephews.

How do we know this?

As Vyasa’s epic goes, after Krishna fails to convince Duryodhana to give at least 5 villages to the Pandavas, he warns him that his death in near and then leaves Hastinapur. He calls Karna and asks him to come along with him until the city’s boundaries and Karna accompanies him. It is at this time that Krishna tells Karna that he is Kunti’s eldest son and not Adhiratha and Radha’s son. He tells Karna to join the Pandavas and not fight on the side of adharma, that is, with Duryodhana.

Book 5: Udyoga Parva:
The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Bhagwat Yana Parva: Section CXL
Krishna says to karna:
‘Thou art, therefore, morally the son of Pandu. Come, be a king, according to the injunction of the scriptures. On the side of thy father, thou hast the sons of Pritha, on the side of thy mother, thou hast the Vrishnis, (for thy kinsmen). O bull among men, know that thou hast these two for thy own. Proceeding this very day with me hence, O sire, let the Pandavas know thee as a son of Kunti born before Yudhishthira. The brothers, the five Pandavas, the son of Draupadi, and the invincible son of Subhadra, will all embrace thy feet.’

However, Karna already KNOWS this. Replying to Krishna he says:

Book 5: Udyoga Parva:
The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Bhagwat Yana Parva: Section CXLI
Karna said, 'Without doubt, O Kesava, thou hast said these words from thy love, affection, and friendship for me, as also in consequence of thy desire of doing me good, O thou of Vrishni's race. I know all that thou hast said unto me.......... Kunti, however, abandoned me without thinking of my welfare.’

After Karna says that he will not join the Pandavas, Krishna leaves. Because the peace talks failed, Kunti is very upset that a wra is going to happen. She decides to go to Karna and reveal that he is her son.

Book 5: Udyoga Parva:
The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Bhagwat Yana Parva: Section CXLIV
"Hearing these words uttered by Vidura, who always wished her sons the accomplishment of their objects, Kunti began to sigh heavily, afflicted with grief, and began to think within herself, 'Fie to wealth, for the sake of which this great slaughter of kinsmen is about to take place. Indeed, in this war, they that are friends will sustain defeat...... There is only this sinful Karna then, of deluded understanding and ever following the deluded lead of the wicked Duryodhana, that hateth the Pandavas. Obstinately pursuing that which injureth the Pandavas, this Karna is, again, very powerful. It is this which burneth me at present. Proceeding to gratify him, I will today disclose the truth and seek to draw his heart towards the Pandavas.’

She goes to Karna when he is doing his morning prayers to Surya and tells him the truth that he is HER son. Karna questions her and asks her why she left him as a new born baby. He says that when she did not think of his welfare then why is she telling him the truth now. He blames her for never thinking of his good before and says that even now she is telling him this for her own good.

And then he tells Kunti that he will not leave his friend. However, he promises that he will not kill any of her sons except Arjuna. He says that after the war ends she will still have 5 sons left, because either he or Arjuna will remain.

Book 5: Udyoga Parva:
The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Bhagwat Yana Parva: Section CXLVI
'Though, thus addressed by his mother, and by also his father Surya himself, Karna's heart did not yet waver, for he was firmly devoted to truth. And he said, 'O Kshatriya lady, I cannot admit what thou hast said, viz., that obedience to thy commands constituteth (in my case) the highest of my duties. O mother, I was abandoned by thee as soon as I was born. This great injury, involving risk to life itself, that thou didst me, hath been destructive of my achievements and fame. If, indeed, I am a Kshatriya, I have, for thee, been deprived of all the rites of a Kshatriya. What enemy would have done me a greater injury? Without showing me mercy, when thou shouldst have shown it, and having kept me divested of all the rites (that are obligatory in consequence of the order of my birth), thou wouldst however, lay thy command on me today! Thou hadst never before sought my good as a mother should. Thou addressest me today, however, desiring to do good to thyself.’
.......Except Arjuna, thy other sons, Yudhishthira, Bhima, and the twins, though capable of being withstood by me in tight and capable also of being slain, shall not yet be slain by me. It is with Arjuna alone, among all the combatants of Yudhishthira, that I will fight.’

Much later, we know that Bhishma also knew Karna was Kunti’s son quite some time ago. When Karna goes to see him after he has been defeated by Arjuna and is lying on the bed of arrows, Bhishma tells him this:

Book 6: Bhishma Parva
The Mahabharata, Book 6: Bhishma Parva: Bhagavat-Gita Parva: Section CXXIV
The son of Ganga (Bhishma), whose eyes were covered with film slowly raising his eyelids, and causing the guards to be removed, and seeing the place deserted by all, embraced Karna with one arm, like a sire embracing his son, and said these words with great affection:--‘Come, come! Thou art an opponent of mine who always challengest comparison with me! If thou hadst not come to me, without doubt, it would not have been well with thee! Thou art Kunti's son, not Radha's! Nor is Adhiratha thy father! O thou of mighty arms, I heard all this about thee from Narada as also from Krishna-Dwaipayana (Vyasa)!’



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