Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: How did Krishna know about Karna?
It is not mentioned in the Mahabharata just how Krishna knows the truth about Karna. But the most likely explanation is that Kunti tells him her secret when he comes to Hastinapur. Krishna then tries to use this information – in vain – to lure Karna away from Duryodhana onto the Pandava side.
Read on to discover more about how Krishna knew the truth about Karna.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
During her maidenhood, Kunti gets an opportunity to serve Sage Durvasa at the palace of her foster father, Kuntibhoja. She does such a good job of it that Durvasa gives her a boon. From then on, Kunti has the ability to summon any god of her choice and compel him to have a son with her.
Kunti is besotted by curiosity after Durvasa leaves, and in a weak moment summons the sun god Surya to her side. With him she has a son who grows up to become Karna.
This incident, however, is shrouded in secrecy. Since the notion of an unmarried woman bearing a son is taboo, the whole matter brushed under the carpet by those in the know.
This raises the question: who actually was in the know? In the next section, we will speculate about it.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 4: Kunti, Madri and Gandhari.)
Who knew about this?
What is beyond doubt regarding Kunti’s secret is that the following people certainly knew about it:
- Kunti herself
- The sun god, Surya
- King Kuntibhoja and a few of his female attendants who nurtured Kunti through her pregnancy.
Of the above, Kuntibhoja is a contentious entry because it is often depicted that Kunti carries the burden of her illegitimate child alone. However, how reasonable is it to suppose that a princess of a kingdom – who is always surrounded by her playmates and servants – can keep her pregnancy secret from everyone else?
It is my opinion, therefore, that Kuntibhoja was among those people in the know.
At different points in the story, three other characters come to know about Kunti’s secret. They are:
- Sage Vyasa – who presumably is told about this by Kuntibhoja. Or he learns of it from Surya. Or he is given this knowledge by means of his divine powers.
- Bhishma – who mentions to Karna that Vyasa has told him.
- Krishna – who does not explain how he came by the information.
First Glimpse of Krishna’s Knowledge
The first glimpse that the reader gets of Krishna’s knowledge of Karna’s birth occurs toward the end of his peacekeeping journey to Hastinapur.
After having paid Dhritarashtra a visit, and after having tried in vain to prevent the war, Krishna spends a couple of days in Vidura’s place, conversing with Kunti.
Immediately afterward, just before he leaves Hastinapur, he seeks an audience with Karna and reveals to the king of Anga the secret of his birth. ‘You are not a Sutaputra!’ he says. ‘You are the son of Kunti.’
This is suggestive of the hypothesis that Kunti revealed her secret to Krishna during the latter’s stay at Vidura’s house, with the intention of potentially turning Karna over to the Pandava side.
The fact that Kunti visits Karna on her own immediately after Krishna’s departure lends further support to this view.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 35: Karna Rejects a Bribe.)
There is always the possibility with Krishna, of course, that in his avatar as god he knows everything there is to know. He has seen the entire sequence of events, right from the creation of the universe to its destruction.
If we subscribe to this notion, then Krishna has always known – all his life – that Karna was the son of Kunti.
If, on the other hand, we imagine a more human Krishna with no superhuman information-gathering powers, we will have to assume that he was told by one of Kunti, Surya, Kuntibhoja, Vyasa or Bhishma about it.
Of these, we can rule out Kuntibhoja, Surya and Bhishma because Krishna hardly ever has any conversation of note with any of the three characters. Also, indications are that Bhishma himself does not know until right before the war begins.
Krishna and Vyasa have some meaningful interactions during the story – with Vyasa always singing Krishna’s praises – so it is not inconceivable that Vyasa told Krishna about this at some point during the Pandavas’ exile.
Why does Krishna not speak up?
This raises the question: if Krishna did know all along that Karna was Kunti’s son, why did he not use the information to better protect Arjuna? Why did he wait until the eve of the war to make his play at enticing Karna?
Krishna does not give Karna any benefit of his consideration before his stay at Vidura’s house and before his conversation with Kunti. Until then he thinks of Karna as yet another force of evil that has to be eliminated. He shows no interest in meeting him in private or in getting to know him.
Yet, after his meeting with Kunti, despite the official failure of his mission and despite his departure looming, he takes time out to meet with Karna – with the intention of making him betray Duryodhana.
This behaviour from Krishna is consistent with someone who had just learnt the secret and is now hastily trying to use it before it is too late.
While it is impossible to say for sure just how Krishna comes to know about Karna’s secret, it is very likely that he is told by Kunti during his visit to Hastinapur, just after he has failed at his peacekeeping mission.
It is also possible that he has always known but has chosen not to disclose it. But the earnestness with which he pursues Karna during their private meeting indicates that he would have pounced on the opportunity earlier had he known of the secret for longer.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story