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: Was Karna involved in Draupadi vastraharan?
Karna is one of the main characters involved in Draupadi vastraharan. He argues with Vikarna – one of the hundred Kauravas – that Draupadi has been won fairly by Duryodhana, and that now she is his slave. He also calls Draupadi a prostitute for having taken five husbands, and commands Duhsasana to unclothe her in public.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Karna was involved in Draupadi vastraharan.
(For answers to all Karna-related questions, see Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
The first time Karna makes himself heard during the dice game is after Draupadi has been pledged and lost, and after Draupadi raises a point of logic in the hall. Namely: Since Yudhishthir lost himself first, did he have the right over Draupadi to pledge and lose her?
In other words, is Draupadi ‘won’ or ‘not won’?
Vikarna, one of the sons of Dhritarashtra and brothers of Duryodhana, argues in Draupadi’s favour. He makes four separate points:
- Yudhishthir staked Draupadi while being under the influence of dice, which is a vice. And people do not consider decisions taken while under the influence of a vice to be of authority.
(Related Article: What Happened during Draupadi’s Disrobing?)
- Draupadi is not the sole property of Yudhishthir. She is the common wife of all five Pandavas. So Yudhishthir did not have the right to pledge her in the way he did.
- Yudhishthir placed Draupadi as stake not of his own free will but in response to the cajoling of Shakuni. This act, therefore, does not carry the same authority as one performed by the king on his own.
- As Draupadi herself has pointed out, the king lost himself first and became a slave with no possessions of his own. At that very moment, he lost every right he ever held over Draupadi.
Taking these four points together into consideration, Vikarna proposes that Draupadi has been ‘not won’ – i.e.: she continues to be the empress of Indraprastha. She is not Duryodhana’s slave.
If it is surprising that Vikarna – one of Duryodhana’s brothers – is speaking up on Draupadi’s behalf, it is even more surprising that Karna gets up without invitation and argues against Vikarna.
(As readers, we must note the irony here: Vikarna and Karna are both going against their brothers here and standing up for what they believe is ‘right’.)
Karna makes the following rebuttals of each of Vikarna’s propositions:
- The king was under the influence of dice. But he was not placed there by force. He entered the game of his own free will.
- It is true that Draupadi is not the sole property of Yudhishthir. But she is the queen, and in that position, Yudhishthir has more of a right to her than anyone else. Why otherwise, during the Rajasuya, did she sit next to him and perform all the necessary rites?
- Yudhishthir entered the game knowing that it had to be played either (a) to the end, or (b) until an elder calls it off, or (c) by mutual agreement of the players. Since these rules were known beforehand, there is no question of cajoling.
- Yudhishthir lost himself before pledging Draupadi. This does not mean, however, that he has lost her. Even slaves have wives and children, and possessions of their own. Why can such a slave, then, not gamble with his wife as stake?
Karna might have stopped with having shut Vikarna down, and allowed the Kuru leaders to ruminate over the two sides of the debate. But from here he makes a leap to land a personal insult on Draupadi.
He says: ‘Draupadi is no better than a prostitute because she has publicly taken five husbands. She has also had a son with each of her five husbands. Such a woman does not deserve to be treated with respect in this assembly.’
And then he barks out an instruction to Duhsasana to proceed to unclothe Draupadi right here in everyone’s presence.
(Related Article: Was Karna in love with Draupadi?)
Now, some may argue that Karna had no business entangling with Vikarna in this debate, because what right has he got to speak up in this matter? But technically speaking, Draupadi does put the question ‘to the court’, so Karna is within his rights to make his thoughts heard.
But taking that final step and insulting Draupadi is beyond the pale. It is probably driven by his own long-held grudge for what happened at Draupadi’s swayamvara. Equally, he may have been working under Duryodhana’s instructions to be as hostile as possible toward the Pandavas.
Silence in the Court
The most interesting aspect of the whole scene is that no one rises against Karna and puts a stop to Draupadi’s ordeal. The reasons for this are varied:
- The Pandavas cannot rescue their wife because they are now slaves under Duryodhana. Draupadi, technically, is not their wife anymore, and they cannot do anything without first taking the permission of their new master.
- The likes of Bhishma and Kripa are perhaps still puzzling over the relative merits of Vikarna and Karna’s respective arguments. They are still too caught up in the logical and legal framework to notice that a woman is being disrobed in the hall.
- Dhritarashtra chooses to let the whole rigmarole play out because he is too much in love with Duryodhana. A part of him is ecstatic that all of Yudhishthir’s wealth has now been looted.
The only sane voice in the hall belongs to Vidura. He repeatedly reminds Dhritarashtra of the atrocity that is about to take place. He warns him that if Draupadi is disrobed, the Kuru race will suffer all sorts of calamities.
But Dhritarashtra still does not make a decision. Only when frightening natural omens appear all around him does he relent. He begs Draupadi’s forgiveness and reinstates Yudhishthir back as emperor.
Admiration for Draupadi
Karna is moved to grudgingly admit that Draupadi has rescued the Pandavas. Though he was just a few minutes ago advising her that she should marry Duryodhana, now he praises her. ‘The Pandavas have been saved by the acts of Krishnaa. She became the boat that guided them to shore on a stormy sea.’
This does not change the fact that Karna was the primary antagonistic force driving the entire scene. But for his intervention, Draupadi’s suffering – and therefore her resultant thirst for vengeance – would have been much less intense.
Karna is also responsible for finally breaking the Pandava-Kaurava relationship beyond repair. Because after this scene, all four Pandavas take oaths to kill various men responsible for their plight.
- Arjuna takes a vow to kill Karna.
- Bhima takes two vows: one to break Duryodhana’s thigh for having the temerity to invite Draupadi to sit on it, and to break open Duhsasana’s chest and drink his raw blood.
- Sahadeva promises to kill Shakuni.
- Nakula takes an oath to avenge the dishonour of Draupadi at all costs.
During the scene of Draupadi’s disrobing, therefore, the seeds of the Kurukshetra war are sown. And the man most responsible for it is Karna.
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- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered