Karna is the first son of Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata.
He is also a close friend of Duryodhana, the eldest of the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra who are together called the Kauravas. Duryodhana is the story’s prime antagonist, and Karna becomes his prime ally in his machinations against the Pandavas.
In this post, we will answer the question: How old was Karna when he died?
Assuming that Karna is eighteen at the time of the graduation ceremony, he is fifty years old when he dies on the eighteenth day of the Mahabharata war.
Read on to discover more about how old Karna was when he died.
(For answers to all Karna-related questions, see Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
A Possible Timeline
Here I am recording all the important events of Karna’s life along with his proposed age during the event. Please note that this makes a few assumptions with which you may disagree. I am using what I think are ‘reasonable’ numbers.
Year 0: Karna is born to Kunti in the kingdom of Kuntibhoja. Pritha rears her child for a few months, and after he begins sleeping for six or seven hours at a stretch, she puts him into a basket and lets him afloat in the river. Radha and Adiratha find the abandoned baby a day or two later.
Year 12: Indra visits Karna and takes the kavacha-kundalas off him. Karna is at this stage nothing more than a callow youth, so his naivety with respect to Indra’s intentions is understandable.
Year 15: Karna approaches Parashurama for the opportunity to become the sage’s student. Among privileged people, education began a little earlier. But since Karna is a poor charioteer’s son, either we assume that he begins later or that his education takes longer to finish because he is essentially studying part-time.
Year 18: Karna finishes his education under Parashurama. He earns a curse from the sage that he will forget all the most important pieces of knowledge that he has learned when he needs them most.
Year 18: Later that same year, Karna appears at the graduation ceremony of the Kurus. Here his timeline overlaps with that of the Mahabharata. Bhishma is already 70 years old at this point. The oldest Kuru prince, Yudhishthir, is sixteen. Karna is crowned king of Anga at this ceremony.
(Related Article: How old was Bhishma? A Mahabharata Timeline.)
Year 20: Karna tries to compete at Draupadi’s swayamvara and is publicly rejected. He has his first one-on-one battle with Arjuna, which ends without a result. But since Karna withdraws from the challenge, Arjuna secures a moral victory here.
Year 22: Yudhishthir performs his Rajasuya. (Assumption: After the Pandavas marry Draupadi, it takes two years to flatten the forest of Khandava, build the great hall of Maya, and conquer the world.) Karna attends the ceremony as guest.
Year 35: During the twelve years of Arjuna’s self-imposed exile, Karna rules over Anga and builds for himself a reputation as a wise and generous king. After Arjuna’s return, he has a son by Draupadi during the thirteenth year.
Year 49: At the time of the Pandavas’ agnyaatavaasa (the year of incognito), Karna is a wizened middle-aged man who has been king of Anga for about thirty one years now. He has a wife and children. He is a dutiful member of the Suta caste. At the time of his defeat to Arjuna in Matsya, therefore, Karna is pushing fifty.
Year 50: The Kurukshetra war begins in the year following the Pandavas’ return from exile. Bhishma is around a hundred years old at this point. Yudhishthir is forty eight, Arjuna forty six.
Karna’s age at the time of his death, therefore, can be reasonably pegged at 50 years oldat his death.
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- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered