23 Karna's kavach Kundal exchange


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Karna’s giving away of his kavach kundal is commonly viewed as an act of charity, a donation of the highest order. This is not so. This is actually an exchange offer as very clearly mentioned in Vyasa’s MB.

Well before Indra approaches Karna, Surya comes to him in a dream and tells him of his visit and warns him not to give the kavach kundal. #Surya makes it very clear that the #kavach prevents him from being SLAIN, not from defeat. He tells #Karna that if Karna wishes to SURVIVE the battle (not emerge victorious) he should not part with the kavach.

The Mahabharata, Book 3: Vana Parva: Pativrata-mahatmya Parva: Section CCLXLVIII
If thou, O Karna, givest away thy beautiful ear-rings born with thee, thy life being shortened, thou wilt meet with death! Arrayed in thy mail and ear-rings, thou wilt, O bestower of honours, be incapable of being slain by foes in battle! Do thou lay to heart these words of mine! Both these jewelled ornaments have sprung from Amrita. Therefore, they should be preserved by thee, if thy life is at all dear to thee.”

Keep in mind, WITH the kavach kundal, Karna has lost several battles until then. The kavach kundal do not give him victory but they do protect him from being killed. THIS is what Surya is afraid of now- that his son will be KILLED.

Karna has been DEFEATED many times before this- at Gurudakshina war, at swayamvar, by Gandharvas, at Matsya war. Why did Surya never appear before to save him from defeat?? Why appear NOW, a year before Kurukshetra war?? Surya knows that THIS war will end only when either side is completely destroyed, the warriors KILLED. He knows that the kavach kundal do not keep Karna from defeat but they keep him alive. He comes now to ensure Karna stays alive after the war even after the Kauravas are defeated.

However, Karna listens to him but says that he will get fame if he gives away alms to the king of gods so he will not refuse.

“If, O best of all rangers of the sky, Sakra cometh to me, disguised as a Brahmana, to beg for the benefit of the sons of Pandu, I will, O chief of the celestials, give him the ear-rings and the excellent mail, so that my fame which hath spread over the three worlds may not suffer any diminution!

Karna goes on to say that for fame, he will do anything. There is no intent to give up the kavach kundal with no expectation in return. Karna very clearly states that he will give it so that he gets fame.

If the slayer himself of Vala and Vritra cometh to ask for the ear-rings for the benefit of the sons of Pandu, that will conduce to my fame, leading at the same time to his infamy! O thou possessed of splendour, I wish for fame in this world, even if it is to be purchased with life itself, for they that have fame enjoy the celestial regions, while they that are destitute of it are lost. Fame keepeth people alive in this world even like a mother, while infamy killeth men even though they may move about with bodies undestroyed. O lord of the worlds, O thou possessed of the wealth of effulgence, that fame is the life of men is evidenced by an ancient sloka sung by the Creator himself,--In the next world it is fame that is the chief support of a person, while in this world pure fame lengthens life.”

Karna tells Surya that for FAME he will even sacrifice his own life.

“My fame is to be protected with the sacrifice of even my life. Even this, know thou, is my vow! By giving away such a valuable gift to Maghavan disguised as a Brahmana, I will, O god, acquire in this world the most exalted state.'"

Surya gives up the attempt to dissuade Karna from giving away Kavach Kundal for fame and tells him a better strategy to opt for. Note that Surya repeatedly uses the word ‘slain’ not ‘defeated’. He tells Karna to place a condition before Indra for giving away the kavach kundal.

Excerpt from: Vana Parva: pativrata Mahatmya parva: The Mahabharata, Book 3: Vana Parva: Pativrata-mahatmya Parva: Section CCC

"Surya said, 'If O son, thou givest away thy ear-rings to the wielder of the thunder-bolt, O thou of mighty strength, thou shouldst also, for the purpose of securing victory, speak unto him, saying,--O thou of a hundred sacrifices, I shall give thee ear-rings under a condition.--Furnished with the ear-rings, thou art certainly incapable of being slain by any being. Therefore, it is, O son, that desirous of beholding thee slain in battle by Arjuna, the destroyer of the Danavas desireth to deprive thee of thy ear-rings.

Now, Surya tells Karna WHAT the condition should be, what he should ask for in exchange for his kavach kundal.

“Repeatedly adoring with truthful words that lord of the celestials, viz., Purandara armed with weapons incapable of being frustrated, do thou also beseech him, saying, 'Give me an infallible dart capable of slaying all foes, and I will, O thousand-eyed deity, give the ear-rings with the excellent coat of mail!' On this condition shouldst thou give the ear-rings unto Sakra.”

Now THIS idea Karna finds ideal. He is happy to follow it and eager to get the weapon from Indra he WAITS for Indra to appear.

“Then Radha's son, that slayer of hostile heroes, knowing all about the matter, and desirous of obtaining the dart, remained in expectation of Vasava."

Indra appears and at first, Karna refuses to give the kavach kundal and repeatedly offers other things. But Indra refuses and asks for the Kavach kundal. Karna agaisn refuses and says:

“And when that foremost of Brahmanas (Indra) did not ask for any other boon, Radha's son again spake unto him with a smile, 'My mail, O regenerate one, hath been born with my body, and this pair of ear-rings hath arisen from Amrita. It is for these that I am unslayable in the worlds. Therefore, I cannot part with them. Do thou, O bull among Brahmanas, accept from me the entire kingdom of the earth, rid of enemies and full of prosperity! O foremost of regenerate ones, if I am deprived of my ear-rings, and the mail born with my body, I shall be liable to be vanquished by the foes!'”

Finally, when Indra is adamant, Karna springs the trump card very clearly stating that he WILL NOT GIVE the kavach kundal unless he gets something in exchange.

“If, O god, I give thee this coat of mail and ear-rings, then I am sure to meet with destruction, and thou shalt also undergo ridicule! Therefore, O Sakra, take my earrings and excellent mail in exchange for something conferred by thee on me! Otherwise, I will not bestow them on thee!'”

Indra agrees and Karna is happy because HIS PURPOSE is about to be FULFILLED- purpose being the acquisition of the vasavi shakti. So Karna’s purpose is not charity, but the vasavi shakti here.

"Hearing these words of Indra, Karna was filled with delight and seeing that his purpose was about to be accomplished he approached Vasava, and intent upon obtaining a dart incapable of being baffled, he addressed Indra, saying, 'Do thou, O Vasava, in exchange for my coat of mail and ear-rings, give me a dart incapable of being baffled, and competent to destroy hosts of enemies when arrayed in order of battle!'

Karna gets his vasavi shakti and he asks Indra to cure his body of the wounds left behind when he peels off his armour. Indra agrees and cures all the wounds and leaves his body unscarred before he disappears with the kavach kundal.

The point is that Karna’s giving away his armour is glorified as the greatest act of charity in the world. However, it isn’t charity but a straight forward exchange. What should be appreciated here is Karna’s smart thinking and negotiation skills, not his generosity, which is non-existent in THIS particular incident.

The Bhagavad Geetha chapter 17 describes this beautifully stating clearly that charity given with expectation of something in return is not fit to be called charity but is an act of passion.

सत्कारमानपूजार्थं तपो दम्भेन चैव यत् |
क्रियते तदिह प्रोक्तं राजसं चलमध्रुवम् || 18||
Austerity that is performed with ostentation for the sake of gaining honor, respect, and adoration is in the mode of passion. Its benefits are unstable and transitory.

यत्तु प्रत्युपकारार्थं फलमुद्दिश्य वा पुन: |
दीयते च परिक्लिष्टं तद्दानं राजसं स्मृतम् || 21||
But charity given with reluctance, with the hope of a return or in expectation of a reward, is said to be in the mode of passion.

दातव्यमिति यद्दानं दीयतेऽनुपकारिणे |
देशे काले च पात्रे च तद्दानं सात्त्विकं स्मृतम् || 20||
Charity given to a worthy person simply because it is right to give, without consideration of anything in return, at the proper time and in the proper place, is stated to be in the mode of goodness.

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