There is a popular story in which Sri Krishna shows Arjuna why Karna is the greatest giver. To show the greatness of Karna, Sri Krishna takes the form of an arrogant Brahmin and begs before Karna in the battlefield when Karna is about to die.
The seventeenth day of the Mahabharata War had ended. The great warrior Karna was also slain on the battleground.
Great celebrations were underway in the Pandava camp rejoicing the defeat and end of Karna.
At this joyous hour, Sri Krishna, who was instrumental in Pandava’s victory, was sitting with great worry and was muttering to himself: ‘Today, this world has lost a great giver.’
Yudhisthira never felt jealous no matter how much anyone or anyone’s good qualities were praised.
However, Arjuna was greatly saddened to hear Sri Krishna praising his arch-enemy, Karna, and hence Arjuna sat with a crestfallen face.
Seeing Arjuna’s plight, Sri Krishna said to him: ‘Arjuna! It seems that you consider that I am unnecessarily praising Karna. Do a thing: come with me now. Just stand at a distance and watch what goes on. The great giver Karna has not yet died. His life is hanging by a thread. However, one can see his great quality of giving in charity even in this condition.’
Night fell. The battleground was hounded by jackals feeding on the dead warriors. Some people were sobbing here and some were wailing there. Broken pieces of weapons, pieces of arrows, mounds of corpses, ground muddied by blood – all these turned the battleground into a terrible place.
Sri Krishna asked Arjuna to stand at a distance, disguised himself as a brahmana, approached Karna and said to him in a loud voice: ‘Karna! The great benefactor Karna! Are you here?’ Sri Krishna was walking saying these words loudly. Karna, who was lying on the ground unconscious, lifted his head and asked: ‘Who is that? Who is calling me? Who are you, brother? Where are you?’
The brahmana came near Karna and said: ‘I have come to you with great hopes. I want some gold. It would be enough if you could give even a little.’ Karna said: ‘Sir, please go to my house. My wife will give you sufficient gold and wealth.’
Were it an ordinary brahmana, he would have gone to Karna’s house as instructed by Karna. However, this was no ordinary brahmana.
Hence, he feigned anger and said to Karna: ‘If you do not want to give, you could say so! Why are you making me go hither and thither? I will not go anywhere. It would be enough even if I get two mustard-sized pieces of gold. I will not go anywhere for this.’
Karna thought for a while and then said to the brahmana: ‘Sir, some gold has been put on my teeth. Kindly take it.’ Hearing these words, the brahmin’s face shrank in aversion, and he angrily said: ‘Are you not ashamed to ask a brahmana to pull the teeth of a person?’
Karna was in a fix. What could he do? He looked here and there and found a small rock nearby. With great difficulty he crawled to that rock and struck his teeth against the rock. The teeth broke. He took them in his hands and offering them to the brahmana, said: ‘Sir, please accept these now.’
Seeing the teeth, the brahmana said: ‘Good lord! These are unholy bones soaked in blood!’ Saying so, the brahmana stepped back a couple of steps in revulsion. With great pain, Karna scraped off the gold from the teeth with a knife. Still, the brahmana refused to accept the gold.
Karna asked him to hand over Karna’s bow, which the brahmana refused to do. Karna crawled to his bow. With great difficulty, he set an arrow on the bow with this head, and shot it invoking Varuna, the deity of water, the weapon being called varuna-astra. That arrow caused rainfall, which cleaned the teeth in Karna’s hands and blood was completely washed off the gold. Then, Karna offered the gold to the brahmana with a humble request to accept the gift.
The very next moment, Sri Krishna, who had come in the guise of a brahmana, revealed his true form and said: ‘Karna! Ask what you wish!’ Arjuna was greatly ashamed. He stood still at his place. This was what Karna said: ‘When the ruler of the three worlds, you, have come before me at the hour of my death, what should I ask and why?’ Karna left his mortal coil, laying his head at the feet of Sri Krishna. It was clear that the great benefactor Karna was no less in devotion.
Originally Published: www.hindu-blog.com