views updated

Karṇa. In the Mahābhārata, the half-brother of the Pāṇḍavas, who serves as the third general on the side of the Kauravas in the Kurukṣetra war.

More than any other Mahābhārata character, Karṇa brings out the ambiguities of dharma pivotal to the epic. On the one hand, a mean and dreadful enemy, who must be defeated by the righteous Pāṇḍavas, Karṇa is, on the other hand, outstandingly loyal in his commitment to Duryodhana. Again and again, throughout the Mahābhārata, Karṇa is shown to be caught up in a web of curses, oaths, and promises, which, in fact, make his cause hopeless.