The gathered monarchs leered shamelessly as the princess entered the hall. Her beauty was indeed unparalleled and indescribable. Decked up in fine silk and precious jewellery, she sinuously walked down the aisle, her obsidian, lustrous eyes quickly scanning and taking stock of the gathered men. Dressed in finery, kings and princes from the remotest corners of the country had come to try their luck at her swayamvar.
His heart fluttered in his chest when her gaze met his for a fleeting moment. He was instantly bewitched by her enchanting beauty. Her long, thick tresses swayed sensuously in tandem with her hourglass waist as she moved ahead, occasionally revealing her flawless ebony skin.
She settled on a throne flanked by her father and brother.
A trumpet was blown to indicate the commencement of the contest to win the princess.
One by one, aspirants went up to the dais, announced their names, attempted the test and returned to their seats unsuccessful. Afterall, it was an insurmountable task to string a bow and then shoot an arrow with it to pierce the eye of a fish that was rotating on a disc, that too by looking at its reflection in water!
After watching the spectacle for a while, he decided to throw down the gauntlet. He stood up and strode confidently towards the stage.
“I am Karna, the ruler of Anga…” He began his introduction when Draupadi interrupted him.
“How dare you imagine that I, Draupadi of royal lineage will marry you, a suta-putra?”
Stunned, he could not believe his ears. The woman whom he had lost her heart to a few moments ago, seared his soul with her caustic words. The audience roared with laughter. He hung his head in shame.
“Kingdom acquired through charity doesn’t make you equal to us.” A voice from the audience triggered a fresh wave of hooting.
“You are not even suta-putra, you are an illegitimate child of dubious ancestry. Your foster parents adopted you out of pity when they found you abandoned.” Emanated yet another jibe from the royal assembly.
Humiliation scorched every cell of his body as barb after barb from the gathered emperors pierced his soul. Flushed with anger and frustration, he stood rooted to the spot. Memories of insults and discrimination that he experienced right from his childhood flooded his mind.
“Learn to drive a chariot. Archery is for kshatriyas.” His ambition was mocked and his request turned down when he approached gurukuls to learn martial skills.
Against all the odds, he went on to become a skilled archer and a capable warrior through his sheer grit and determination, but the stigma of low caste clung to him like his shadow.
Karna, the son of sun-god Surya, was destined to burn.
Swayamvar – a ceremony in Hindu mythology where a princess chose her husband from a group of suitors
Suta-putra – son of a charioteer
Kshatriya – ruler/ warrior class in Hinduism
Gurukul – Education system in ancient India where students lived with their teacher to receive knowledge and skills.
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