‘Karnabhara’ is a play written in Sanskrit by Bhasa. This play is based on the incidents of Mahabharata. The protagonist of the play is Karna. Bhasa is one of the earliest and most celebrated Indian playwrights in Sanskrit. However, very little is known about him. Kalidasa in the introduction of his first play ‘Malavikagnimitram’ praises Bhasa as a great Sanskrit playwright. Although Bhasa has written many plays based on the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha, his two plays have been very popular on account of their appeal to modern tastes. They are: ‘Uru Bhanga’ and ‘Karna-bhara’. Both plays are the tragic Sankrit plays in ancient
The hero of ‘Uru Bhanga’ is Duryodhana of Mahabharata and Karanan is the hero
of ‘Karnabhara’. India
Bhasa is dated around 5th century BC. Bhasa does not follow the rules of the Natya Shastra. Bhasa allows scenes that contain signs of physical violence to be shown on stage in plays like ‘Uru bhanga’ The plays of Bhasa are short compared to later playwrights like Kalidasa. Most plays of Bhasa draw the theme from the Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He always supports the heroes of the epic, Bhasa treats their opponents with great sympathy. Bhasa takes a lot of freedom and make many changes in his plays to achieve this sympathy. For example in his play ‘Karna-bhara’ Bhasa takes a lot of liberties and make many deviations from the original story in ‘Mahabharatha’.
Deviations from the original story in Mahabharatha: In his play ‘Karna-bhara’, Bhasa wants to focus the personality of Karna to the core. So he highlights Karnan’s boundless and self-effacing generocity which ultimately leads to his own tragic end. The most significant deviation is the time and the manner in which Indra begs for the armour (Kavacha) and ear-rings (Kundala) and the manner in which Karna gives them away. In the original story of Mahabharatha, Indra comes to Karna and receives the gift of the armour (Kavacha) and ear-rings (Kundala) much earlier, when Pandavas were in the jungle in exile and Karna was offering daily prayer to the Sun (Surya) to attain more powers. But in the play ‘Karna-bhara’ the incident occurs very late, on the 17th day of the Kurkshethara War, when Karna was on his way to meet Arjuana in a decisive battle with the determination to kill Arjuana or to be killed by him. This change of time is the artistic workmanship of the great classic playwright Bhasa! This change of time makes the gift of Karna more significant and enhances his reputation as a generous giver of gift! It further contributes to heighten the sublime tragedy of Karna. Another important deviation is that in the original story ofMahabhara, Karna demands the Sakti from Indra in return for the gift of armour (Kavacha) and ear-rings (Kundala), but in the play of Bhasa, Karna refuses every offer of Indra in return for the gift of the armour and ear-rings. This change made by Bhasa shows the skill of a great dramatist as it enhances the glory and greatness of Karna. Similarly, Bhasa avoids the original scene of the Sun (Surya) the father of Karna appears to him in a dream and warns him against Indra’s treachery. Therefore the arrival of Indra in the play Karnabharam has an element of surprise and the offer of various objects by the unsuspecting Karna has a thrilling dramatic effect. When Indra feels sorry for his treachery, he sends an angel to Karna with a Sakti is a welcome change as it shows the sterling character and personality of Karna and makes it a sublime tragedy.
Another important deviation is in the character of Salya, the charioteer of Karna. In the original story of Mahabharatha, the Salya always criticises Karna, discourages him, and use harsh words and even quarrel with him. But we see a very different Salya in the play ‘Karnabharam’. Here Salya is a true friend and wellwisher of the protagonist. Salya warns Karna not to give away his Kavacha and Kundala to the Brahmin and feels sympathy for Karna when he has narrated his bitter experiences with Parasurama and his curse on Karna. This change in the character of Salya also enhances the beauty of the tragedy. Another significant innovation is in the frame of Karna’s mind. There is a black misery clouded the mind of the tragic hero. Karna tries to get rid of this black misery by many attempts like the test of the weapons and the arrival of Indra. All these innovations are made by Bhasa, the great classic dramatist in order to draw the cathartic element and thereby develop the tragic element more sublime and glorius. While going to Arjuna in the Kurukshethra war, Karna recalls the request of Kunthi not to kill any more of his brothers. It appears as if the request of Kunbthi is still fresh and green in the restless mind of Karna and his heart is moved by the factthatthe Pandavas are his own brothers. In spite of his great valour and generosity, Karna is taken towards his own tragic end, as he is like all human beings, a poor victim of fate on which has no control. But in the original story of Mahabharatha, Karna is not seen as disturbed by such black miseries.
The Character of Karna
Karna-bhara is the play in which the burden (bhara) is the central theme. Bhasa has shown great dramatic skill and psychological insight in portraying the character of Karna who is the king of Anga and took over the command of the Kaurava army on the sixteenth day of the Kurukshethra war, soon after the death of Dronacharya. Karna is the son of Surya (the sun) on Kunthi and as such the Pandavas are his younger brothers. But Karna does not know the secret of his birth and always associated with the Kauravas. The brightest warrior on the side of Yudhishthira was Arjuna and therefore Duryodhana wanted Arjuna to be killed first. Karna leaves his tent and marches towards the battlefield even before the messenger of Duryodhana goes to him. Karna is the bravest warrior on the Kaurava side just as Arjuna of the Pandava army. Karna asks Salya, his charioteer to take him to Arjuna and remarks that he will bring joy to Kauravas if only he meets Arjuna in the battle as no one whom he has met in the battle has gone alive. So going to battlefield is a matter of great joy and thrill to Karna.
But now an unknown black misery haunts him and his mind is overburdened with heavy thoughts. This is the central point of the play Karna-bhara written by Bhasa. Karna exclaims sadly “How is it that in this very hour of battle, despair creeps into my heart?” His mind is filled with sad thoughts – the request of his mother Kunthi and the curse of his master Parasurama. He tries to unburden his mind by narrating the story of his learning about various weapons and missiles from the great sage Parasurama. Salya, his charioteer listens to the narration with great interest. Karna tells how some years ago he went to the teacher Parasurama and the teacher said that he would teach only Brahmins and not Kshatriyas, Karna said that he was a Brahmin and started learning the martial art. The Guru was pleased with the progress of the student and taught him all about weapons. One day Parasurama was tired and took a nap placing his head on Karna’s lap. As ill-luck would have it, an insect called vajramukha crept through Karna’s thighs, but Karna bore the pain with fortitude lest his master’s sleep would be disturbed, but alas! the warm blood gushed from the thighs and the sleep was disturbed. Parasuram at once learned the truth that Karna was a Kshatriya and in his temper, Parasuram cursed Karna that the weapons would be useless in times of need! Salya feels sympathy for Karna and remarks that it was indeed very dreadful for the sage to utter such a curse. Karna now says that his weapons have lost their power and his horses and elephants appear helpless. Now Karna tells Salya not to be disappointed. Karna says,” If killed in battle, one reaches heaven and if one wins the battle, he gets fame and earthly glory. Both are good. So fighting is never fruitless”. Thus Karna tries to muster up courage and he further praises the excellent qualities of his horses that had never failed him in battle. Invoking the blessings of cows and Brahmins, he hopes to win the battle. Now Karna has regained his lost enthusiasm and vigour and asks Salya to drive him to Arjuna. Just then a Brahmin stops him and begs a big boon. This is
disguise come with the only purpose to deprive Karna of his Kavacha and
Kundala, by exploiting the generosity of Karna and thereby ensure the victory
of Arjuna. Although Karna suspects that it might be a trick played by India Krishna, Karna whole-heartedly gives away his Kavacha and
Kundala to the Brahmin. Here Bhasa skilfully shows the glory of the greatest
warrior of Kurukshethra that giving alms to the poor Brahmin is far greater
than death in the battlefield. The character of Karna reaches sublime heights.
Karna refuses to accept anything in return for his gifts. Karna accepts the
Sakti only because of his respect for a poor Brahmin.
Now Indra is in an awkward situation. He cannot bless Karna saying “May you live long”. But he must say something as a blessing from a Brahmin. So Indra says, ”May your fame be eternal as the Sun, the Moon, the
and the Ocean”. Karna is shocked to hear such a strange blessing and asks the
Brahmin why he would not say “May you live long” which is the usual manner of
blessing. Now the Brahmin explains that one should strive only for virtues
because they are eternal in the form of fame, when the body is killed and
perished in the soil. At last Karna offers his unbreakable armour (Kavacha) and
Kundala (ear-rings) which are born with him. With great joy, the Bahmin
greedily asks, ‘give, give.” Now Karna suspects the foul play of Krishna. Salya warns Karna not to give the Kavacha and
Kundala, but Karna says that alms (offerings) and sacrifices will last forever,
while other things such as learning, wealth etc. are lost by lapse of time.
When Indra goes away he mutters to himself, ”I’ve done what the Gods decreed as
essential for the victory of Arjuna”. Salya does not tell Karna that he has
been cheated by Indra, but Karna says that he has cheated Indra, because the
Brahmin is a great scholar even propitiated by learned Brahmins in sacrifices
has come to a Kshatriya like Karna and begged alms from him. So a giver of alms
is always superior to a supplicant. Now an angel comes and offers an unfailing
spear named ‘Vimala’ to Karna saying that Indra is sorry for taking away the
armour(Kavacha) and ear-rings (Kundala) and he has sent this unfailing weapon
to kill one of the Pandavas. Karna refuses to take anything return for his
gifts to the Brahmin, but when told that it may be taken at a Brahmin’s
biddings, Karna accepts it saying that he has never rejected a Brahmin’s
bidding. When the angel is disappeared, Karna hears the sound of Arjuna’s conch
and commands Salya to rush his chariot to the spot where Arjuna is standing.
When Salya drives on, the play ends. Tragedy broods over Karna and we know that
he is going to his death, but Karana is not afraid of death and he is
optimistic and he continues to be the tragic hero of Kurukshethra. With great
psychological insight, Bhasa has portrayed Karna’s mental worries (Bhara). He
is worried about his mother Kunthi’s request that he should not kill her sons
which means Karna’s younger brothers. But as the leader of the Kaurava army it
is duty to kill Arjuna. His second worry is about Parasuram’s curse upon him.
These worries (bhara) have actually robbed Karna of his courage and valour and
his hold on life and that is perhaps the real tragedy of the greatest warrior