Continued from “Karna – Masculine-Mask Vulnerable Gender Identity”
In the previous article, I theorized on the basis of Karna’s Arjuna-obsession that beneath Karna’s masculine-mask vibrates his vulnerable Self and identity-crisis with his gender.
Arjuna is also Male-masculine, but his Inner-Self is poised in Balance – that I regard the Ardhanarishvara-dimension representing Masculine-Feminine Balance. This is manifest through the artistic, protective, compassionate (Anrshamsyam) and nourishing side of his nature, as also in his understanding the Evolutionary Nature of Woman, that explains his popularity and lovableness with women. To be precise, Arjuna’s “success” with women is owing to his being in touch with and realization of the Feminine side of his Self. To women, Arjuna could provide the attraction of the opposite pole (male-masculine) and identification of the same pole (female-feminine).
I have discussed elsewhere (see- Mahabharata and Evolutionary Psychology; Lessons in Male-Female Psyche) that one message of Mbh. is that, “completeness” in Self cannot be achieved without understanding Gender and Gender Relation. This message, for example, is well pronounced in the Janaka (Dharmadhvaja) and Sulabhaa Narrative (12.308).
And this exactly is Karna’s shortfall vis-à-vis Arjuna.
The Rgvedic Indra, the Ideal Ruler is hailed as both Father and Mother
(tvam hi nahpitaavasotvammaataashatakratobabhuuvitha, RV 8.98.11a). Further, Indra is compared with Mother (RV-8.1.6; 8.87.11), with loving Woman (8.62.9). More prominently, he is called Devii (deviirindram, 7.85.3). This suggests that in the Rshi’s vision, the one who attains Gender Balance in Inner-Self is the Ideal Human Being and/or Ideal Ruler. That One is Indra. [We should not confuse the Ideal Vedic Indra, the Other Vedic Indra and the much later Puranik Indra]
One reason why Vyaasa hails Arjuna as Indra, Indra’s son or Indra’s Amsha, and why Janamejaya wants to be known as bearer of Indra’s blood, is owing to this. Among all characters of Mahabharata (Mbh.), Vyaasa finds this Balance in Arjuna (and Krshna; I would not be discussing Krshna in this article).
Karna’s obsession with Arjuna is the expression of Karna’s Inner-Self striving to attain this Balance, but with the Masculine-mask he wears - expressed through vain boastings and/or misuse of Vaak (Speech, Words, and Language) - thwarts his spiritual evolution, and he fails to overcome the Deficit in Feminine in his Self – a Self further confused by an incurable envy and jealousy for Arjuna.
What immense potential Karna holds, we can only imagine, but for his spiritual deficit, the deficit of self-quest, he fails to overcome the Deficit in Feminine in his Self.
Karna’s tragedy is NOT his defeat at Arjuna’s hand; in a battle one side wins and one side loses, so victory and defeat are not the criteria. Karna’s tragedy is his failure to delve deep into his own Self. And this same deficit finds him falling short of Arjuna’s Male-masculine prowess too. Karna’s Karna (ear) is not tuned to spiritual rhythm, his heart does not realize the presence of soul in it; and the Mythical Narrative of self-dismemberment of his innate Kavaca-Kundala is actually the allegory of self-dismemberment of his spiritual-Karna (ear) and spiritual-Heart.
Arjuna represents the Ardhanarishvara-dimension, and in Virata Parvan we understand its import as also Vyaasa’s Coded Message in representing Arjuna thus.
Hiltebeitel finds Brhannalaa Arjuna’s identity with Shiva-Ardhanarishvara –
‘It is his name Brhannalaa/ Brhannadaa, reinforced by numerous puns and comic allusions, that holds the greatest implications. For if Brhannalaa/Brhannadaa conceals the etymology brhad-nara (“great man”), and if nara is an allusion to Arjuna’s identity not only as Nara but also as the purus?a or “soul,” then Brhad-nara as the “Great Nara” would identify Arjuna as the “Great Purusa” or Mahaapurusa, or more exactly—given the feminine ending and the “eunuch” disguise—“the Great Purusa who is also a woman.” In other words, though the title Mahaapurusa or its equivalents could apply either to Visn?u or Shiva, the “name and form” Arjuna assumes can only evoke Shiva as Ardhanarishvara, “the Lord who is half woman.”’
Hiltebeitel misses that in RgVeda, Sarasvati is also Ardhanarishvara, rather Ardhanareshvarii, in fact, preceding Shiva.
Arjuna’s Brhannalaa aspect does not just mean hermaphrodite or a eunuch in female attire. It has other significance. Brhannalaa is literally “a large tall, slender-leaved plant of the grass family, which grows in water or on marshy ground” [“a species of reed, Amphidonax Karka (8-12 feet high)”; Monier-Williams]. The reed implies stoutness and flexibility – pointing to Arjuna’s gender ambiguity, like his ambidexterousness – Savyasaachi (adept in using both left and right hand).
Further in Bauddhaayana Dharmasuutra (220.127.116.11), sacrificial implements are made of this particular plaited Nala-reeds, bamboo, or Sara-reeds; therefore, the name Brhannalaa connects with Sacrifice or Yajna.
In RgVeda, one epithet of Soma (Rasa) is “brhato brhannadhi” (Mighty and Far-seeing One) who rides Suurya’s chariot which goes everywhere (RV- 9.75.1). At RV- 10.1.3, we have the word brhannabhi (literally “large or lofty Wheel”) in connection with Vishnu. With these connotations and Sacrifice, and agreeing with Hiltebeitel, I would still suggest that Brhannalaa has more implications of Vaac-Sarasvati, particularly with the feminine ending (nalaa) and connection with Yajna-sacrifice, and owing to the fact that Brhat is one epithet of and also identity of Vaac-Sarasvati.
Again, Nala is Amphidonax Karka which is also Sara-reeds, and etymologically, Sarasvati stems from Sara connoting Lake or waterbody, and also carries the connotation of “going, moving, motion, wandering” etc. Draupadi carries the same etymological significance of Foot in Motion (see - Draupadi, the Brhati Shyaamaa, the Lost Sarasvati), and is therefore, most appropriately Tuned with Arjuna who is by nature a wanderer, traveller and explorer. The Arjuna-Draupadi affinity is Dynamic. But here, I would not discuss on that.
Coming back to Brhannalaa-Arjuna, since Brhat is synonym of Vaac-Sarasvati, Brhannalaa would then suggest “the reed of Sarasvati”, or “stout-flexible plant that grows nourished by Saras-Lake-Water.” In RgVeda, plant or Oshadhi is identified with both Agni and Purusha, which brings us back to the original significance of Purusha as non-gendered entity.
In the Janaka (Dharmadhvaja) and Sulabhaa Narrative (12.308), Sulabhaa teaches Janaka the importance of understanding Vaak to become an Ideal King or Ideal Kshatriya.
Karna’s Deficit in Feminine is same as his failure with Vaak, and this unrealized deficit manifests as his inner urge (unrealized again!) to imitate Arjuna, the one with Ardhanarishvara-dimension. Karna, lacking spiritual self-quest, never understands his inner urge, and consequently never understands his obsession with Arjuna.
In this part, I will focus on the Karna-Arjuna encounter in Virata Parvan to show –
1. How Vaak-deficit operates in Karna’s Self
2. How propelled by that deficit Karna strives in Denial of Reality with his own Self and Arjuna
3. How Karna transmutes that strife into Defense Mechanism
4. How the Defense Mechanism ultimately blocks Karna’s Spiritual Evolution
The narrative of Virata Parvan is too well known, so I would skip the details. I would also skip the details of the circumstances under which Arjuna-Brhannalaa appoints Uttara as his charioteer to stand face to face with the Kauravas and their army studded with all the gems of Hastinaapura – Bhishma, Drona, Krpa, Ashvatthama, Duryodhana, Duhshasana, and Karna.
In this part, I will narrow the focus to Karna-Arjuna encounter only.
I have already discussed in the previous part how Karna’s speech at Virata Parvan Sec-48 (KMG) or CE 4.43 is a wonderful exposure of his psyche, when seeing Arjuna entering the battlefield, Karna becomes poetic and his fantasy takes flight. One easily notices, how Karna’s thought works in the future tense, and his ‘I’-ness or fascination with his own self is a constant refrain. I have also discussed that Karna’s poetic fantasy is only an Escape-Route though it serves as a strong Defense-Mechanism for him.
Karna acknowledges Arjuna as “mighty bowman” and “best of Kurus” (4.43.8) betraying deep rooted sense of inferiority with simultaneous impulse to deny it! What strikes us further is Karna’s fascination for Arjuna’s Body hinting at sado-masochistic dimensions.
Now let us straight to the encounter.
In the first encounter with Karna, Arjuna, drawing his bow to his ear (vivyaadha baanair, 21c), with Gandiva-shot arrows like impetuosity of thunderbolt (ashaniprakaashaih, 22c), and mangled and afflicted by Arjuna’s arrows Karna quits the van of battle, and quickly takes to flight, like one elephant vanquished by another
sa paarthamuktair vishikhaih pranunno;
gajo gajeneva jitas tarasvii /
vihaaya samgraamashirah prayaato;
vaikartanah paandavabaanataptah // (4.49.23)
Karna’s fleeing from battlefield is reaffirmed at the beginning of the next section (apayaate tu raadheye, 4.50.1a). Karna presumably returns, but Arjuna again pierces him in the ear (sa karnam karninaavidhyat, 93) and destroys his horses, chariot, chariot driver (4,50.2b@45_97-98).
Once again we find Arjuna seeking single combat with Karna (kaamayan dvairathe yuddham, 20c) and suddenly rushing to him (abhidudraava sahasaa karnam, 4.54.19c).
Next follows a prelude of verbal exchange in which Arjuna charges Karna for his habit of uttering harsh words abandoning Dharma (avocah parushaa vaaco dharmam utsrjya kevalam, 2a), and also reminds him how he remained witness (drshtavaan, 4c) to Draupadi’s harassment by evil persons (paancaaliim klishyamaanaam duraatmabhih, 4.55.4a) in the Kuru Sabhaa.
Let us take note that Arjuna criticizes Karna’s misuse of Vaak (Speech, Words, and Language) as also his Visual-Centricity at the sight of a harassed woman in dishevelled and almost-disrobed state. Draupadi at that time was ekavastraa adhoniivii rodamaanaa rajasvalaa (in single garment with its knot below navel, a typical wear in menstruating state, and she was crying).
Karna’s ear (literally, Karna connotes ear), tongue (Vaak) and eye are important aspects in understanding his character.
And then Arjuna challenges Karna
“Fettered by the bonds of morality before, I desisted from vengeance then. Behold now, O son of Radha, the fruit of that wrath in conflict at hand. Come, O Karna, cope with me in battle. Let these thy Kaurava warriors witness the conflict. “
dharmapaashanibaddhena yan mayaa marshitam puraa /
tasya raadheya kopasya vijayam pashya me mrdhe // (5)
ehi karna mayaa saardham pratipadyasva samgaram /
prekshakaah kuravah sarve bhavantu sahasainikaah // (4.55.6)
A recension has it that Arjuna also says
“O wicked wight, we have suffered much misery in that forest for full twelve years (vane dvaadasha varshaani yaani sodhaani durmate, 1). Reap thou today the fruits of our concentrated vengeance (tasyaadya pratikopasya phalam praapnuhi samprati, 4,55.5d*970_2).”
Arjuna speaking of misery in Forest-Life is unlikely; these lines are no doubt the works of an inferior poet. The interesting thing in the whole speech is how Arjuna wants to make the Kauravas witness to Karna’s defeat (prekshakaah kuravah). Later in Karna Parvan too we find, how Draupadi's affliction remains subtly fresh in Arjuna’s memory every time he encounters Karna. Arjuna’s deep love for Draupadi manifests subtly through such events.
Karna retaliates by saying that Arjuna should accomplish in deeds what he says in words (braviishi vaacaa yat paartha karmanaa tat samaacara, 7a), and that “The world knows that thy words verily exceed thy deed (atishete hi vai vaacam karmeti prathitam bhuvi, 7c).” “The world” that Karna knows is of course his parochial world, one created by him to fan his ego.
Karna goes on to say that Arjuna’s sufferings were not owing to his being bound by Dharma (dharmapaashanibaddhena) but his inability to act (yat tvayaa marshitam puurvam tad ashaktena marshitam, 8a) and challenges Arjuna to show his prowess now (drshtvaaparaakramam, 8c). This perspective has a certain subjective validity depending on how we view the Dice-Game episode; however, his next words are surprising and revealing
“Having as thou sayst, passed thy exile in the woods in strict accordance with thy pledge and being therefore weakened by practising an ascetic course of life, how canst thou desire a combat with me now!”
yadi taavad vane vaaso yathoktash caritas tvayaa /
tat tvam dharmaarthavit klishtah samayam bhettum icchasi // (4.55.10)
This is a strange charge against Arjuna that betrays Karna’s fascinated wonder at Arjuna.
Obviously, Karna has been expecting a weakened Arjuna. This expectation is evidence that Karna has been constantly fantasizing Arjuna even when he was out of sight.
Earlier we have been informed that Dhrtaraashtra and Duryodhana already knew that Arjuna had been to the Himalayas and procured weapons from Gods, that is, Arjuna had not spent the Forest Exile in typical ascetic mode. Notwithstanding the possibility that Karna’s words might be a subtle a dig that Arjuna had not been going exactly by the laws of Forest Exile (- which would again suggest Karna’s ritualistic mind or “text-bookish” mind), Karna surprises us in his pathetic and absurd insistence that “Arjuna ought to have been weak, but he is not!”
No doubt pathetic, but to the extent of comic and even farcical. This element disallows the tragic grandeur in Karna.
We find Karna’s mind operating more in the realm of “what should have been” and “what would have been” rather than in the realistic domain of “simple present tense.” This ‘sense of tense’, I would say, betrays Karna’s suppressed Feminine-Self, and is a definite mark of his Deficit in Feminine. This needs some explanation, how Feminine is connected with ‘sense of tense.’
It is one expression of the Feminine-Self (NOT to be confused with Female, for God’s sake, and NOT to be taken as the ONLY expression of the Feminine-Self, for God’s sake!) to extend and expand the imagination’s horizon beyond “present” to “past-future” and further to the realm of non-existent possibilities and probabilities of “ought to have been”, “should have been”, “would have been” and “could have been”!
We have no concrete proof of Physics’ Multiverse Theory; however, “ought” “should” “would” and “could” are multiverses in domain of imagination. While such imagination is imagination’s glory, the Escapism (from the real NOW) is unmistakable. This Escapism is again Karna’s deficit vis-à-vis Arjuna whose mind never functions in fantasy.
Next follows Karna’s usual boastings (a self-strategy born of Defense Mechanism to hide the deficit, or as a Reaction Formation to the deficit) and he challenges Arjuna to fight him -
“O Pritha's son, if Sakra himself fight on thy side, still I would feel no anxiety in putting forth my prowess. Thy wish, O son of Kunti, is about to be gratified. Do thou fight with me now, and behold my strength (adya drakshyasi me balam).” (4.55.12)
“If Sakra himself fight on thy side” – yet another of Karna’s “ifs”; and though he supposedly returns to the “now” (“Do thou fight with me now”), the present is already shadowed by the imaginary, that weakens Karma in the present, the Now.
Arjuna’s next words are the words of the readers or listeners of Mahabharata too. Just sometime back, Karna took a good beating from Arjuna and fled, yet he has returned with his usual habit of boasting -
“Even now, O Radha's son, thou hadst fled from battle (apayaato ranaan mama) with me, and it is for this that thou livest although thy younger brother hath been slain (tena jiivasi raadheya nihatas tv anujas tava). What other person, save thee, having beheld his younger brother slain in battle would himself fly from the field (tyaktvaa ranashirash ca kah), and boast as thou dost, amid good and true men?” (4.55.13-14)
This is indeed one aspect of Karna’s character, which I have mentioned above. He simply deletes from memory or carpet-wraps the unpalatable memory of his previous defeat and fleeing from battle, or rather he drowns such unpalatable memory in wave after wave of verbal boasting – another instance of Karna’s misuse of Vaak (Speech, Words, and Language).
That this Self-Delusion succeeds not only with himself but also with Duryodhana, every time, without miss is a different story, indeed betraying the fact that despite the Surface Layer bond of friendship between Karna and Duryodhana, there is simmering tension within. To put it bluntly, the Karna and Duryodhana relation never qualifies the Sakhaa relation, it is only a mutual consensus to respect each other’s Self-Interest. What a grim and stark contrast to Krshna-Arjuna Sakhaa relation.
Next, in the duel that follows, Karna does not fight alone but with help of soldiers too. Initially he pierces Arjuna’s hand (vivyaadha paandavam haste, 19c) and Arjuna’s hold of the bow loosens (tasya mushtir ashiiryata, 19c). Karna’s superb skill in archery is evident from this. But Arjuna recovers immediately and cuts off Karna’s bow into fragments (dhanur acchinat, 20a). Karna now hurls a Shakti-weapon, but Arjuna holds it with arrows. At this time, the warriors who have been following Karna rush in crowds at Arjuna (tato 'bhipetur bahavo raadheyasya padaanugaah, 21a), but Arjuna send them to Yama’s abode with artistic ease.
What we see here is many warriors attacking Arjuna but unable to stand before him. We find here no special morality on Karna’s part to stop that, and we will see that again when Karna takes active part in killing Abhimanyu.
It is only being attacked by many that Arjuna kills Karna’s steeds, and taking another sharp (tiikshnenorasi, 23c) and blazing arrow endued with great energy (baanena jvalitena, 23a) Arjuna pierces Karna’s breast cleaving through his mail, penetrating into his body (tasya bhittvaa tanutraanam kaayam abhyapatac charah, 24a), and at this –
“Karna's vision was obscured and his senses left him. And regaining consciousness, he felt a great pain, and leaving the combat fled in a northernly direction”
tatah sa tamasaavishto na sma kim cit prajajnivaan // (24c)
sa gaadhavedano hitvaa ranam praayaad udanmukhah / (4.55.25a)
So much for the Mythical Narrative of Karna’s impenetrable Kavaca! As I have discussed elsewhere (see- Karna's Father Found), Karna’s biological father actually gifted the Kavaca-Kundala to the infant Karna as a sort of bribe to Kunti to compensate the harm perpetrated on her. Kunti had to abandon the child at the command of that man, and when infant Karna was abandoned, the Kavaca-Kundala was placed on his side. When Adhiratha adopted the child, he received the Kavaca-Kundala too, and thus was born the myth of Karna’s birth with innate Kavaca-Kundala. At a gross literal level, the myth appears true.
Coming back to the adult Karna, we find him flying away udanmukha.
Now, udanmukha has one connotation as “facing the North” (MW), but it also connotes “turned upwards.” If the latter is to be meant here, and I think that best suits the situation, then Karna’s fleeing hastily with face upwards has a comical dimension that cannot be missed. We are reminded how Karna has been boasting just sometimes back. Arjuna gets him in his most vulnerable state, but spares him – very Arjuna-like. If KMG’s translation “northernly direction” is taken, then Karna’s choice of direction is ironic too, because Arjuna (and Indra) is particularly associated with the North direction. More on this later.
After this experience, Karna does not show up again with his vain boastings. He does not have the courage to face Arjuna again, yet he stays on the battlefield as we get to know.
During the last phase of the battle, all the Kuru divisions advance towards Arjuna like the swelling surges of the ocean and Arjuna quickly rushes at them like a crane rushing at a descending cloud (hamso yathaa megham ivaapatantam; dhanamjayah pratyapatat tarasvii, 4.61.6c). This is not only a very beautiful poetic simile, but also carries Vedic significance.
Hamsa is metaphor for wise Agni in RgVeda (RV- 1.65.5); and at RV- 9.32.3(1), Soma is compared with Hamsa who can make all people (company or Rk singers here) sing each his hymn.Thus, Vyasa’s use of the simile Hamso here is to show Arjuna’s destructive yet wise and artistic aspects. This is one point to be remembered, and as I will discuss soon, Karna’s obsession with Arjuna has something to do with this.
Back to battlefield, the Kurus now completely surround Arjuna and rain on him from all sides a perfect shower of shafts, like clouds showering on the mountain breast a heavy downpour of rain – yet again, the scenario of many fighting against one, obviously reminding us anachronistically Abhimanyu’s fate -
te sarvatah samparivaarya paartham; astraani divyaani samaadadaanaah / vavarshur abhyetya sharaih samantaan; meghaa yathaa bhuudharam ambuvegaih // (4.61.7)
But Arjuna wards off the attack and weapons with his weapons (tato 'stram astrena nivaarya teshaam, 8a), and now uses another irresistible weapon obtained from Indra, called Sammohana (sammohanam shatrusaho 'nyad astram; praadushcakaaraindrir apaaraniiyam, 8c).
I would not believe in any supernatural weapon; however, rationally, the fact is, with Arjuna discharging a powerful weapon, the war effectively ends with that, though Bhiishma alone keeps up the fight for some more time and strikes Arjuna with arrows (bhiishmah sharair abhyahanat tarasvii, 17a). Arjuna slays Bhiishma’s steeds and pierces him with ten shafts (sa caapi bhiishmasya hayaan nihatya; vivyaadha paarshve dashabhih prshatkaih, 17c) and having thrown away and having left and excepted Bhiishma (tato 'rjuno bhiishmam apaasya yuddhe, 18a), Arjuna emerges from that multitude of cars, like the sun emerging from the eclipse of Raahu (tasthau vimukto rathavrndamadhyaad; raahum vidaaryeva sahasrarashmih, 4.61.18c).
That Karna has been present there yet not fighting is evident from Arjuna’s direction to Uttara to take away Karna’s garments too along with others (Karnasya piitam ruciram ca vastram, 4.61.13a). In the light of Karna rendered ineffective, Vyasa’s comparing Arjuna with the emerging sun speaks volumes. Karna, traditionally hailed as Suurya’s son should have been Suurya; however, his failure to keep up with boastings (that is, misuse of Vaak) and repeated defeat at Arjuna’s hand turns him into Raahu, while Arjuna assumes Suurya form.
Further, in turning Karna into a mere witness to his prowess and defeat of Kurus, Arjuna in fact fulfils his words earlier said to Karna. Earlier Arjuna blamed Karna of remaining witness (drshtavaan, 4.55.4c) to Draupadi’s harassment in the Kuru Sabhaa. Now, Arjuna makes Karna witness to the harassment of Draupadi's harassers. Earlier Arjuna said to Karna – “Let these thy Kaurava warriors witness the conflict (prekshakaah kuravah sarve bhavantu sahasainikaah, 4.55.6c)”; and Karna being a Kuru too, Arjuna now renders him into a passive witness.
Well, metaphorically, it is disrobing of Karna, a theme that recurs elsewhere too.
The Virata Parvan narrative raises several questions. As per Karna’s claim in Karna Parvan, he has the foremost of bows named Vijaya Bow (vijayam naama tad dhanuh 36a) which Vishvakarman, desirous of doing what was agreeable to Indra made for Indra (indraartham abhikaamena nirmitam vishvakarmanaa, 36c); later Indra gave to Bhaargava Parashuraama (37e), and Parashuraama has given it to him (38a). Karna claims Vijaya is superior to Gaandiiva (dhanur ghoram raamadattam gaandiivaat tad vishishyate, 8.22.39a).
So, by Karna’s own statement, he has already been possessing Vijaya at the time of Virata Parvan. Where is that bow? Why doesn’t he use Vijaya against Arjuna’s Gaandiiva?
In the previous part of this article, I have already discussed on Karna’s psyche betrayed by his fantasy of Vijaya bow – and his Arjuna-obsession further evident in such fantasy.
We get to know Karna’s aspiration and his obsession with Arjuna better, the more we understand Arjuna. Arjuna learns all art – Yuddha-Vidyaa and Gaandharva-Vidyaa. He thoroughly learns music, both vocal and instrumental, and dancing and proper recitation of the Saamaan (Veda) from Vishvaavasu’s son Citrasena (vishvaavasosh ca tanayaad giitam nrttam ca saama ca / vaaditram ca yathaanyaayam pratyavindad yathaavidhi, 3.89.13). He acquires all weapons like Vajra and Danda and other celestial weapons (vajram caanyaani caastraani dandaadiini) from Yama, Kuvera, Varuna and Indra (12), becomes master of weapons (krtaastrah) and masteres the Gandharva Veda (14a). Arjuna is adept in singing, dance, and music (gaayaami nrtyaamy atha vaadayaami, 4.10.8). He is lover of theatre – Naatya (along with Yudhishthira and Krshna) (1.211.4; 2.4.5; 2.30.47-48).
Arjuna’s skill in war, Vaak (Speech, Words, and Language), music and dance are indeed his Indra-aspect because Arjuna’s mythical father Indra is Shilpii (‘skilled in song’, RV-1.4.4; ‘lover of the song’, 1.5.7, 10; ‘dancer’, 1.130.7; 2.22.4). Like Brhannalaa Arjuna, Indra is Dancer (RV- 2.22.4a; 8.24.9ab; 8.68.7d; 8.92.3d). Indra, the Immortal, dances forth his hero exploits (nrtamaano amartah, 5.33.6b). Robed in a garment fair as heaven to look on, Indra has displayed himself like an active dancer (vasaano atkam surabhim drshe kam svarna nrtavishiro babhuutha; RV- 6.29.3cd). Indra’s love for dance is evident in several other Rks. Indra makes his Vajra dance (RV- 1.51.3b), implying the artistic dimension in his Kshatriya prowess. Indra entered a Cow being afraid of Vrtra; then Tvashtaa’s daughters produced him by saamaan (Pancavimsha Braahmana-12.5.21), implying Indra’s special connection with song; indeed Indra delights in songs (Shatapatha Braahmana-18.104.22.168). Further Indra has special connection with Kaavya too; the poets in their thought have looked on Indra swiftly approaching when Anushtup calls him (Griffith), or “the wise have honoured with their praise Indra, who ceaselessly moves after the Anushtup” (Sayana-Wilson) (anushtubhamanu carcuuryamaanamindram nicikyuh kavayo maniishaa; RV- 10.124.9c). With such similarity of Indra and Arjuna, no doubt Arjuna is hailed as Indra’s son or Indra’s Amsha.
The Karna-Arjuna conflict as an image of the RgVedic Suurya-Indra conflict has been much discussed by scholars. Interestingly, the RgVedic Narrative of Indra’s tearing off Suurya’s wheel has Puuru-connection, ‘Krshna’-connection and Vaak-connection. Indra shatters ninety forts for Puuru; the Rshi regards Indra a dancer who has destroyed the forts with his Vajra (bhinat puro navatimindra puurave divodaasaaya mahi daashushe nrto vajrena daashushe nrto; 7). Indra protects his Arya Yajamaana in battle… He revealed the Blackness of Krshna and destroyed him (8). Waxing strong at dawn, IIshaana Indra tears off Suurya’s wheel and casts that Cakra; as Lord of Power, Indra assumes Aruna-colour and steals away Vaak from the Lawless, the Tyrannous and Suurya (suurashcakram pra vrhajjaata ojasaa prapitve vaacamaruno mushaayatiishaana aa mushaayati; RV- 1.130.9).
Indra’s stealing Vaak from Suurya, or his making Suurya speechless is the same that we find Arjuna doing to Karna in Virata Parvan. I have noted above how after being repeatedly defeated by Arjuna, Karna has been present on the battlefield as a Silent Witness as evident from Arjuna’s direction to Uttara to take away Karna’s garments too along with others (Karnasya piitam ruciram ca vastram, 4.61.13a).
I suggest, an allegorical reading of the whole episode particularly on Vaak-theme is possible. If Karna flees to the North, we cannot miss that Arjuna’s charioteer is Uttara, literally meaning North. But Uttara also means “answer.” If Karna runs away with face turned upwards, it is a gesture of askance too (Question), perhaps at his destiny or fate. And Arjuna Brhannalaa’s chariot is drawn by Uttara-“Answer”. It is to me an allegory that Gender Flexibility or Superior Ability with One’s Gender is the “Answer.” It is to be noted that Uttara-Answer steals garments of the Kurus; and in Mahabharata, Garment is metaphor for Body [e.g. vaasaamsi jiirnaani yathaa vihaaya; navaani grhnaati naro 'paraani – Giita 2.22]
To be continued …