This discussion happened during the Himalayan Yatra 2016.
It is not uncommon for people to shed tears when Karna dies in the war. Reading the passages pains the heart as one of the greatest warriors in the Mahabharatha leaves his body. During our Mahabharata sessions too there are several questions on the life of Karna. If we look at the life story of Karna, he was born under unfavorable circumstances when his mother Kunti tested the mantra given by Sage Durvasa. Not comfortable with the idea of giving birth to a child as a maiden, she set Karna afloat in a basket. Growing up in the house of a charioteer, Karna had conflicting emotions within. He felt like a Kshatriya but was treated much lower than that. Wherever he went, he was called “Charioteer’s Son” and was denied education or participation in royal events. Feeling extremely inferior within, he found great solace in the friendship of Duryodhana who was sincere in recognizing the great prowess of Karna. Much against the wishes of senior members of the Kuru family, Duryodhana showed great respect, love and affection for Karna. The readers of the Mahabharata look at Karna as an ill treated person who was denied his rights. They blame his fate and destiny for his attitude. They call his death a work of deceit.
People go to the extent of thinking that Karna is the most insulted and underrated person in the Mahabharat. The Mahabharata acknowledges that Karna was a person of great might, magnanimity and energy. What many forget that Sri Krishna was one of the most insulted persons in the Mahabharata. Born in extremely difficult and challenging circumstances, he was separated from his parents the moment he was born. There was some demon waiting to kill him on every possible occasion. Wherever he went, he was called a cowherd and low-born person. In the Rajasuya yajna of Yudhisthira, King Sishupala openly insults Krishna in front of the entire assembly of kings, calling him a cowherd, a murderer, a thief, greedy and ungrateful fellow who killed his own uncle! Sishupala questioned the respect given to Krishna in the yagna. But Krishna was an awesome being. Even when people cursed and abused him, he was always intent on their welfare. Even when people stood against him, he was intent on establishing Dharma and ensuring that righteousness prevailed. It is very important to note this difference between Sri Krishna and Karna, in the way they responded to their life problems. One must draw inspiration from Sri Krishna’s personality and learn from his life, and not wallow in self-pity and bitterness like Karna. How we experience circumstances makes a big different to our lives. The difference between joyful people and low-spirited people lies in the way they handle life situations.