For almost his entire life, Karna was belittled and humiliated for being the son of a low-born charioteer. Yet, he persevered to become better; a better human, a better king, a better friend, and a better archer. But the curse of his birth followed him everywhere he went.
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In the years when Arjuna was in exile, Karna used this time to learn to wield new weapons. Among those he approached was the dreaded Parshurama. Now, Parshurama had vowed to wipe out the Kshatriyas from the planet and had a particular disdain for them. So, as a matter of policy, he refused to train or teach them anything. He would impart all his wisdom to a deserving Brahmin but never to anyone from any other caste.
So when Karna arrived at his doorstep, he did so by pretending to be a brahmin. Being a demi-god, Karna could easily pass off as a high-born, even though those who knew him, were under the impression that he was a low-born charioteer’s son. In any case Parshurama is fooled and starts training him in the art of using the most dangerous weapon there is – the Bramhastra.
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Towards the end of his training, Parshurama is pleased and the two set out for a walk. Tired, Parshurama requests that he lay down to rest and Karna offers that his guru lay down on his lap. Just as Parshurama nods off, an insect stings Karna on his thigh. Because he doesn’t want to disturb his guru, Karna bears the pain and the insect, not seeing any resistance, continues to sting.
Ultimately, Parshurama wakes up and notices the blood on his student’s thigh. On learning the story, he deduces that Karna wasn’t who he was claiming to be for no brahmin could ever bear so much pain. Karna confesses and Parshurama loses his cool. He then curses Karna that he’d never be able to use the Bramhastra at a time he needs it the most.
On another occasion, Karna is practicing his archery in the forest when he accidentally kills a cow. A cow is sacred in Hinduism and this one belonged to a brahmin to whom it would also have been a source of milk. The Brahmin curses Karna that the one he was practicing to beat would kill him in just the same manner that he’d killed the cow: defenceless and unarmed.
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To make matters worse, he even hands over his divine armour and earrings, the two things that could have protected him against the arrows of Arjuna, to Indra. And it is thus that after a lifetime of ridicule, Karna enters the battle with the scales tipped against him, just as they were in life.
When time comes, Karna is unable to remember the chant that could have invoked the Bramhastra. His chariot’s wheel gets stuck in the mud and his charioteer Shalya refuses to help him claiming he’s never done it, being a king. And Arjuna kills him when he’s trying to get the wheel out of the muck.