Even though Karna lived a life as a king, having been anointed as one by Duryodhana, he never forgot his roots. He always recognised the fact that his father was a charioteer and that some days were tougher than the others. As a result he was always warm and kind towards people below him and he ruled over his subjects justly.
No matter how many times everyone ridiculed him for being the son of a charioteer and called him a low-born, Karna always behaved in a manner that was above reproach. But the one quality that he was best known for was his generosity. It was said that no one would ever go from his home without having received what they’d asked for.
Karna’s humanitarianism was so famed that even Krishna looked up to him and made no bones about it even before his best friend Arjuna. The ace archer would often be confused as to why a god would think it fit to praise a lowly charioteer’s son. So once he finally confronts Krishna and asks him to explain himself.
Instead of telling him, Krishna decides to show. He asks Arjuna to disguise as an impoverished brahmin and dresses up as one himself. Together, they go to Yudhishthira’s palace on a rainy day and Krishna, dressed up as a brahmin, asks him if he could please spare some dry sandalwood for a fire sacrifice they were planning. Yudhishthira dispatches his guards to find some but, predictably, they return empty handed since it had been raining cats and dogs. Yudhishthira apologises to them and asks them if he could provide them anything else. Krishna says no, thanks him for his time and the two walk out of the palace.
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Arjuna is confused and asks Krishna how did he expect Yudhishthira to source dry sandalwood on a wet day. Krishna only smiles in response and takes him to Karna’s palace where too it is pouring heavily. He makes a similar request to Karna who disappears from the room for a long time. Eventually he returns with large piles of dry sandalwood and places them at the feet of the two men he thinks are brahmins.
Krishna asks Karna how he managed to get sandalwood on a day as wet as that one to which Karna replies that the wood wasn’t gathered from the forest but rather from his own home. It turns out, Karna took the axe to every piece of sandalwood furniture he owned and even broke down the main door to his palace that was made of sandalwood just so two unknown brahmins would be able to perform a yagya.
Arjuna walks out of Karna’s palace with a sense of respect he’d never felt for the man before and realises just why Krishna thought so highly of him.
There are several stories of Karna’s generosity – and you will read about them as you continue following our stories from the Mahabharata – but this is perhaps one of the lesser-known ones and one that deserves to be told multiple times.
Don’t you agree?