On Ranjit Desai’s Karna – The Great Warrior
Though the Great War was fought for eighteen days, but it impacted the mankind for eternity.
Penned by VedVyasa, the epic, Mahabharata, had a simple story, with complex characters of
varied undertones. One of them is Karna, the enigmatic hero who has been a popular subject of
analysis by various authors. Though we know the story, the characters, the influencers and the
influenced yet everytime we read it, a new dimension is added to our perspective.
It is hard to miss the glorious red cover of the book with an impressive face and piercing eyes.
Many thoughts cross the mind, when you read the title ‘Karna”.
Karna – the Great Warrior is an English translation of a Marathi book “Radheya” written by Ranjit
Desai in 1973.
Ranjit Desai (1928-1992) was a popular Marathi writer. He won Sahitya Academy Award for his
magnum opus “Swami” in 1964. Later in 1973, he was awarded the PadmaShree. Famous for
his historical novels, his other prominent creations include, Shreeman Yogi and Raja Ravi
The book Radheya is translated in english by Vikrant Pande. He wants to share the treasure of
Marathi classics with non-Marathi readers. A strong believer of, ‘translation is not transliteration’
Vikrant Pande’s other works include Shivaji-The Great Maratha, Rau, Shahenshah.
This book is Ranjit Desai’s version of Maharathi Karna, who personified the teachings of
Shrimad Bhagwat. Karna had a balanced mind to treat sorrow and joy, success and defeat,
reward and failure with the same equitable detachment.
Retelling mythology is never easy, along with accuracy, one needs a vision to share, Ranjit
Desai, has made a very profound presentation of values, longings and dreams in this book.
Kunti’s naivety made her invoke a mantra and coerce the Sun God, Suryadev who in return
gave her a son, with golden earrings and armour. Karna expected to live a life of comfort, riches
and respect but destined to be given away by the mother, raised as an adopted son of a
charioteer, cursed for having a desire to learn, befriended by a haughty Kuru prince, became a
king after defeating a king and throughout his life longed for unconditional love and respect from
Born as Kaunteya, but raised as Radheya, Karna’s journey of life was overshadowed by the
question on his lineage. With his imperturbable intelligence, he gave up everything for his
affection to his friend.
Author has treated the protagonist with utmost sensitivity and the luminous character shines in
all its aspects. Author’s Karna is a man, a husband, a king, a warrior and above all a famed
I enjoyed the treatment “Radheya” received from the translator, Vikrant Pande. The soul of the
book survived. Though this was one of the stories which I grew up with, yet while reading I felt,
that it touched my heart, all over again. The descriptions were brilliant, and visualisation of the
scene and emotions, came easy.
In today’s world, it is hard to accept a personality, like Karna, who placed friendship way above
everything. To kindle rectitude in society, may have been the thought behind translating
“Radheya” into “Karna- The Greatest Warrior”.
Though there are many grammatical mistakes, which puts one off at times, but overall, an
interesting and well written book, powerful enough to transform one’s thinking at the same time
absorbing enough to be finished in one sitting and impassioned enough to fill heart with warmth.
Rating – 4/5
Excerpts of conversation between Kunti and Karna, just before the war, reflecting Karna’s
desire, humility, benevolence and pride.
“It was not your fault, Karna. The fault is mine. You have a right to say how you feel, but you must know one thing: you are a man and your logic suits you. I am but a woman and my limitations are different. I have to follow social mores which you can afford to ignore.”
Karna said, trying to smile, ‘Mother, I surrender! Your son has experienced all kinds of taunts, insults and sorrows but has never allowed himself the luxury of tears to express his emotions. Your embrace gives me the power to face a hundred enemies in the battle now without fear of death.’
Kunti put her fingers on Karna’s lips saying,”Don’t say such things, Karna! A mother’s duty is to give life, not encourage death.”
“ What life are you talking about?”
“The life that you deserve—one which is yours for taking, ………on other side of the river—where the Pandavas are camped. Where the bonds of blood tie you with your brothers.”
“Mother, they have enjoyed your motherhood but the only one who was denied that joy was me. Come with me, spend the rest of your days with me and let me enjoy your love”
“With me, to my camp, where I stay.”
Kunti had never expected Karna to make such a proposal, and she fell silent as she tried to search for an
Karna was crestfallen at seeing Kunti hesitate. He said,” Mother, you don’t want me but you want your sonsthe ones who grew under your care and love- to be safe.”
“I don’t blame you and nor do I doubt your intentions. I am told the river meets the wide expanse of the ocean one day and I, floating in currents of time, also hope to merge with it. Bless me, mother, that my journey moves ahead till I flow into the ocean.”
Kunti’s voice was tired when she spoke.”Karna, I had come with a lot of hope….”
Karna smiled and he was his confident self now. He said,”Mother, I would not disappoint you. Would I, who had never sent even an enemy back empty- handed, let my mother go back dejected? Your wish would be fulfilled, Mother. I am indebted to my mother, but at same time I cannot ignore the gratitude I have for my friendship. Was inevitable and I will certainly fight your sons and except for Arjuna, none are invincible. I will fight him alone, but one of us will survive-five of your sons will live to see the end of this war. I can make no other promises.”
Kunti’s voice choked with emotions. She said,” You have given me whatever you had but I have not given you anything.”
“Your blessings are invaluable, Mother! Bless me that I may not falter from my duty and be distracted by the need for fame.”………………………………………..
“Mother, know that I would not do anything to hurt you. I know my promise does not give you much happiness. I have one wish though: when you find out I am about to meet my creator, shed a few tears….of satisfaction….of bration. Because….” Karna faltered, and with great effort he continued,”Because….there are very few to shed tears for me. Vrushali and Duryodhan may have tears in their eyes but they would be tinged with self-pity and selfishness, but your tears will be selfless and they would support me on my final journey.”