Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.
He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why does Arjuna hate Karna?
Arjuna hates Karna because of Karna’s active involvement in the abuse and humiliation of Draupadi during the dice game. Karna argues that Draupadi’s enslavement is valid, and that she is a prostitute for having married five men. He recommends that Draupadi should be publicly disrobed. For this, Arjuna vows to kill Karna.
Read on to discover more about why Arjuna hates Karna in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Arjuna’s first interaction with Karna is at the Kuru graduation ceremony. Karna appears out of nowhere and completes all of Arjuna’s prior archery feats without any fuss. In doing this, he turns the attention of onlookers toward himself and away from the Pandavas.
Karna’s motivation in doing this is to gain some traction with powerful members of the Kuru family – whoever they may be – who could potentially help him move up the social ranks, from a Sutaputra to something more respectable.
He figures that the easiest way to make people notice him is by proving himself as skilled as the supposedly most skilful of the Kuru cousins – Arjuna.
On the other hand, Arjuna has been raised all these years to believe that he will be the best archer in the world bar none. Drona has promised him this. So when Karna appears and publicly shows off his own talents, Arjuna takes it as a personal slight.
Envy and insecurity feed off each other. Arjuna begins to see Karna as his rival.
We must remember that this reaction is only natural: Arjuna is only a boy of fourteen at this point. And he has not been challenged in public like this ever before in his life.
(Suggested: Why does Karna hate Arjuna?)
Rivalry for Draupadi
Both Karna and Arjuna attend Draupadi’s swayamvara with the intention of winning her hand. At this point in the story, the Pandavas are in hiding after having escaped the inflammable house in Varanavata. They are refugees, with no friends to speak of.
Karna’s star, on the other hand, is ascending. He has established himself as friend to Duryodhana and king to Anga. He has successfully clawed himself out of the societal trap of being a Sutaputra. He is now – at least by practice – a Kshatriya.
Drupada, Draupadi’s father, wants his daughter to be won by Arjuna, so he creates an archery task so complex that only Arjuna can crack it. However, whatever Arjuna can do with bow and arrow, Karna can too.
Therefore, when Karna rises to compete, Draupadi shoots him down and calls him a Sutaputra. Later, when all suitors have tried and failed, Arjuna – in the guise of a poor Brahmin – successfully completes the job.
This causes quite furore on all the assembled suitors: they cannot believe that a mere Brahmin has become the son-in-law of Drupada. Karna challenges Arjuna to a duel, in which the two warriors remain locked for a long time.
They are more or less on equal footing, until Karna withdraws his challenge, citing a reluctance to fight against a Brahmin.
This is the second reason for Arjuna disliking Karna: both men have at one point competed for the affection of Draupadi.
(Suggested: Was Karna in love with Draupadi?)
The Dice Game
Where Arjuna’s dislike for Karna blossoms into hate is at the dice game, when Karna takes on the mantle (perhaps under Duryodhana’s orders?) of chief antagonist against the Pandavas.
When a debate arises in the hall about whether Draupadi was legally won by Duryodhana or whether she was a free woman, Karna argues in favour of the first position.
He argues against Vikarna (one of Duryodhana’s brothers) that:
- Yudhishthir was not forced to play the dice game; he agreed to the invitation on his own.
- He was not forced to accept the rules of the game, which he also agreed to freely.
- Draupadi may be wife to all five Pandavas, but she is queen to Yudhishthir.
- Even after Yudhishthir lost himself and became a slave, he still retained rights – like any other slave – over his wife.
- Draupadi, by virtue of having married fie men, is equivalent to a prostitute, so she does not have the rights that may be applicable to a more traditional wife.
(Suggested: What happens during Draupadi’s Disrobing?)
Karna then proceeds to say that Draupadi should be treated like the characterless woman she is, and undressed publicly in the hall.
None of the Kuru elders speak up against this, and it is left to Vidura to save Draupadi’s honour by begging Dhritarashtra to protect the family’s future.
At the end of it all, relations between the Pandavas and Kauravas deteriorate to a point of no repair. Bhima makes a promise that he will kill all of Dhritarashtra’s sons, and that he will personally break Duryodhana’s thighs and drink Duhsasana’s blood.
Sahadeva takes an oath to kill Shakuni, while Arjuna vows to kill Karna.
During the Kurukshetra war, Karna happens to be the only person on the Kuru side that is capable of killing Arjuna – because he with him the Vasava weapon, to which Arjuna has no counter.
Krishna then creates a situation in which Karna is forced to use the weapon on Ghatotkacha. After thus being rendered powerless, Karna meets his death at the hands of Arjuna.
Despite all the hate that the Pandavas in general – and Arjuna in particular – have for Karna throughout the story, they are destined to regret their actions at the end when Kunti reveals to them that Karna is none other than their older brother.
Arjuna and Bhima recall their past enmity with Karna and become consumed by shame and guilt. Yudhishthir even speaks harshly to Kunti for having hidden the secret from them for so long.
The Pandavas eventually meet Karna in heaven after their deaths. Though there is no explicit mention of details concerning their reunion, it is hinted that they reconcile with one another and live together harmoniously in Amaravati.
Karna is Arjuna’s arch enemy, so there are several valid reasons for the Pandava to hate the king of Anga. Of these, the most important are:
- Professional rivalry because of Karna’s obvious skill with bow and arrow, which threatens Arjuna’s status.
- Rivalry regarding Draupadi because both warriors competed with each other at her swayamvara.
- Enmity because of the salient role that Karna plays in the disrobing of Draupadi, which Arjuna vows to avenge by killing him.
However, this lifetime of hatred turns into regret at the end when the Pandavas come to know of Karna’s true identity.
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