[Advaita-l] Arjuna vs. Karna

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 5 12:15:21 CST 2009

I'm presently (re)reading the Mahabharata, and it seems to me that the fighting prowess of Arjuna is exaggerated compared to some of his opponents, especially Karna. I'm just wondering why Arjuna is often praised as a great warrior, but fares rather poorly when he is pitted against others who are also strong considered great warriors in their own right.

During the final Mahabharata war, there are good reasons to believe that Arjuna was not as good a warrior as Karna or other greats on the Kaurava side:

1. Karna actually comes close to beheading Arjuna by aiming an arrow at the latter's neck, and the arrow would have found its mark had it not been for Krishna's pressing down the chariot with his toe. Now, if Arjuna had really been such a great warrior, why would he need Krishna to come to his rescue?

2. There is not a single instance among their mutual conflicts in the Mahabharata war where Arjuna actually comes close to overcoming Karna. In the end, Arjuna observes Karna being disarmed and takes advantage of the opportunity to kill the enemy. Karna may have "deserved" to die in this manner (Krishna points out that Karna sneaked up on Abhimanyu from behind, which is against the laws of war, and there is also the case of the Brahmin's curse), but this also doesn't speak highly of Arjuna's prowess.

3. In spite of having acquired the Pashupata-astra from Shiva Himself, Arjuna never really defeats the strong warriors on the Kaurava side - such as Bhishma, Drona, and Karna - by obviously virtuous means in the final war. In fact, Arjuna had to approach Bhishma to enquire as to how Bhishma can be killed.

Why then is Arjuna lauded as a "great" warrior when there are these other equally if not superior warriors around? He was of course a great Bhakta and a highly virtuous person for Krishna choosing him as a student to preach the Gita, but that is not the same as being a great warrior.



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