The story is a familiar one; many know it without ever having read it in a book or having been told it in its entirety. Yet, no matter how many times it is retold, the story never fails to sweep up the listener into its swell. A young girl, an imperious sage, a strikingly handsome god and the birth of a tragic hero; it has all the ingredients needed for a gripping story.
Kunti, the adopted daughter of Kuntibhoja, was still a young girl when Durvasa,a hot headed sage came visiting. Kunti had been given away by her father because his cousin, Kuntibhoja was childless and that is how, it is said, she also got her name. Kunti is also known as Pritha, the name she was given by her birth parents. When Kuntibhoja heard that Durvasa was visiting, he grew pensive and worried. The sage’s mercurial temper was legendary. Kings shuddered at the thought of having to entertain him and his army of aides and assistants. He made demands that were impossible to meet and when they were not met, cursed the king and his kingdom to a lifetime of despair. In his wisdom, Kuntibhoja thought that Kunti was best suited to serve the sage. And so she was assigned to look after his every desire. Now, Kunti managed to keep the sage happy, so happy in fact that he gave her a boon. He blessed her with the power to call a god of her choosing at will and beget a son from him. All gods, no matter how big or small, would have to do her bidding.
Kunti, a young girl barely out of her teens was curious and also disbelieving of the true power of her boon. It seemed to be too good to be true she thought and to test it out, she summoned the one god she had admired all her life, Surya, the sun god. Surya flew down at her call and as promised by Durvasa, fathered her son.
The boy was born with golden earrings and impenetrable armour, both gifts from his divine father. He was named Karna (and later would be given the epithet Danvir or the generous one). His gifts would make him invincible in battle and mark him out as a hero among the mortals.
Meanwhile the young Kunti was petrified; if word got out about her dalliance with the god, she would bring shame upon her father and her entire kingdom. So she placed her new born in a basket and set him down the river Ashva. The basket with the baby, (a motif found in many myths all over the world), floated down the river and settled in a bed of weeds where it was found by Adiratha (charioteer and stable hand) and Radha. The couple lived in a small hut, a far cry from the palace that Karna was born into. But they adopted Karna and brought him up as their own.
With a god for a father and a princess for a mother who abandoned him at birth, the boy grew up to become one of the epic’s greatest heroes.
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