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A major figure in the Mahābhārata, and perhaps the character most obviously resembling a Western ‘tragic hero’. An ally of Duryodhana, he is actually the Pāṇḍavas' older half-brother, although this in unknown to himself and everyone else, with the exceptions of his mother, Kuntī, and his father, the sun god Sūrya. Born in full armour, and with the earrings from which he takes his name, Karṇa was secretly abandoned as a baby, and adopted by Dhṛtarāṣṭra's charioteer, in whose employer's court he was brought up. After being excluded from Draupadī's svayaṃvara because of his apparently low-caste origins, he joined the Kaurava cause and was rewarded with the kingship of Aṅga by Duryodhana. As a warrior, he became Arjuna's great rival, but towards the end of the war he was killed by the latter, in a contravention of kṣatriya dharma, when his chariot became stuck in the earth. His energy left his body and he entered his father, the sun. At the end of the battle, Kuntī discloses Karṇa's true parentage to her surviving Pāṇḍava sons, who then grieve for their elder brother. They are eventually reconciled in heaven.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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