Ashwattaman returned to Hastinapur. But his father could see a change in him. There were times when Ashwattaman used to sit quietly in the corner and sulk…glazing into nothingness. His son was a changed man.
But Dronacharya was a busy man and could not devote too much time to his son. As the royal teacher of the princes, Drona had other responsibilities.
The princes were now ready to exhibit their talents before all the people of Hastinapur.
And so on the appointed day, the other princes started with their talents first.
Bheema and Duryodhana fought with their maces. The two of them fought so angrily and brilliantly, that for a second an uneasy feeling entered the minds of the people watching the battle…All the people realized that the princes were not merely to exhibit their powers…They were actually fighting to the end…Drona sensed this immediately and with his son Ashwattaman, pulled the two warriors apart and called in the other warriors to display their skills.
Realizing that the only way to make the people forget about the mace fighting was to distract them, Drona called in Arjuna. Arjuna dazzled the crowd with his Agneya astra (the weapon to create fire), Varuna astra (water), Vayavya astra (air), Parjanya astra (clouds), Bhauma astra (the weapon to create land) and Parvatya astra (mountains) and the crowd all but forgot about the bout between Bheema and Duryodhana. Finally Arjuna pulled out the Antardhana astra and he made all the things that he had created disappear from there. Before the crowd could realize what was happening, Arjuna fired an astra and…Arjuna suddenly disappeared from the spot he had been standing…only to appear on the top of the chariot nearby. Before a gasp went up from the crowd, Arjuna was back to the spot he had originally been.
Arjuna continued to marvel the crowd by showing his dexterity with the bow (Arjuna could fire arrows from both left and right hand) and his capacity to shoot the target no matter where it was. The audience was now watching spell bound the entire spectacle unfolding before them.
It almost looked like no one would remember anything from the exhibition except Arjuna….when someone entered the arena. The man entered the arena with a cool confidence looking handsome and shining like Surya Deva himself. Indifferently he bowed to Drona and Kripacharya and then turned to Arjuna. ‘What you have done is nothing special! I can do that and more…Watch!’
And the man did it. He did everything that Arjuna had done and he did it effortlessly.
After finishing he stood quietly before the speechless arena.
Duryodhana was elated. He knew that the warrior before him was sent by the heavens as an answer to Arjuna. With this man near him, Duryodhana knew that nothing…nothing could stand in his way. Joyously he ran towards the man. ‘My friend! You are my friend! Come and join us! Come….’
The man smiled. ‘Thank you prince! I am Karna and there are only two things I have ever wanted – your friendship and…’ the man turned looking at Arjuna almost burning hatred. ‘…a fight to the finish with Arjuna!’
The words were music to Duryodhana’s ears. He smiled nodding his head and turned to Arjuna. ‘You shall have both, my friend!’
Arjuna realized that the man before him was out to insult him hastily embraced his brothers and obtained the blessings of his teachers so that he could give the man what he wanted. Arjuna and the man turned to each other, their weapons drawn….The sun reflected off the armour of the man as the royalty saw the stranger’s features clearly for the first time.
Vidura was sitting in the arena with his blind brother – King Dhirdarashtra and his blindfolded sister-in-law – Gandhari. Beside them sat Kunti who had been watching Arjuna with great joy in her heart.
The sudden turn of events troubled her.
But then she was a warrior queen and she accepted the fact that the exhibition was turning into a battle. But there was something else which was bothering Kunti…a lot.
The stranger….there was something familiar about him. The manner he walked, he spoke, was something that Kunti had seen before. As the sunlight reflected off the stranger’s armour, which seemed strangely attached to him. Kunti had a sudden vision…The man’s features…Kunti gasped as she saw the earrings and the armour as she realized that she was seeing her first born son – Karna, the son born to her and the Sun God before she married Pandu, the King of Hastinapur. The son who looked radiantly beautiful when he was born, the son who was born with a natural coat of armour and earrings even at the time of his birth, the son whom she had abandoned soon after birth because she thought he would bring her shame….
That was when, the sudden implication of what she was seeing hit Kunti…Her son – Karna was fighting with her son – Arjuna.
The strong-willed Kunti could take it no more as the two brothers looked angrily at each other and she fainted. Vidura saw this and was shocked. Kunti was a very strong woman, both physically and mentally. Her fainting was not something that was normal under any circumstances.
Vidura saw the two men in the arena and wondered what was wrong. He caught the eyes of Kripacharya and shook his head. Kripa understood and nodded his head. Vidura then turned back to Kunti and tried to revive her….
Kripacharya looked at the two contestants. ‘This Arjuna is the son of Pandu from the Kuru line! Stranger! Before he fights you, we demand to know who you are!’
Duryodhana was shocked when he saw Karna’s face almost wilt at Kripacharya’s words. The confidence that Karna had displayed a few seconds back suddenly withered away as the man looked downcast unable to talk. Duryodhana however did not want to let this beautiful opportunity go. He wanted to make sure that this fight happened. Without even knowing who Karna was, he turned to the priests and whispered something in their ears. He then looked at Kripacharya. ‘I think Arjuna can definitely fight someone who is a king!’ he said sneeringly, as all the people in the arena looked shocked at Duryodhana.
Duryodhana nodded his head and clasped Karna and embraced him. ‘This friend of mine…Karna, from now will be the King of Anga! All the preparations are being made by the priests for this!’
Karna was spellbound. Because he just could not believe what Duryodhana was doing. Right there in front of all the people, Duryodhana conducted the coronation ceremony. Karna was now King Karna, the ruler of Anga…..
‘There is nothing I can do for you, for what you have done for me!’ Karna said looking at Duryodhana, numb with a strange emotion, he could barely identify.
Duryodhana smiled. ‘You can my friend! Just give me your friendship! That is all I….’
‘You will have it! Always!’ Karna said fiercely nodding his head.
However Duryodhana’s wish of a battle between Arjuna and Karna was not granted that day.
Adhiratha (Karna’s adopted father, who was a fisherman from a charioteer caste) was as shocked, as his son at the turn of events. He came forward to embrace his son. As Karna bowed to his father, Bheema, the second Pandava cruelly belittled Karna. ‘You do not deserve to die in Arjuna’s hands! You are a charioteer’s son…Just take a whip…that will suit you!’
Before Karna could open his mouth, Duryodhana came to Karna’s rescue. ‘Look at the man, Bheema!’ Duryodhana thundered. ‘Does it look to you that this man is not capable of being a warrior! There is nothing else he can be, except a warrior!’ Realizing that the elders would not let the fight be today, Duryodhana took the hand of his friend and angrily led him away from there.
Confused the Pandavas went back to their home.
Excited the people went back from the arena….