Karna and Kunti dialogue in the battle of Mahabharata









A new translation of the poem ”˜Karna Kunti Samvad’, recreating a meeting between them.

By Rabindranath Tagore  

On the banks of the pristine Jahnavi
I am rapt in prayer and songs
to the evening sun. I am he who is
born of the womb of Radha,
the son of a charioteer
tell me, who are you, o mother?

Child, on the first morning of your life
I who have introduced you to the world ”“
I am she. I have abandoned all shame
to give you today my identity

Lady, the radiance of your
downcast eyes,
has moved my heart, as snow on mountain
is stroked by the sun. Your voice
has alighted on Karna
from another birth, awakening
an exquisite agony. Tell me
with what mysterious thread is the enigma
of my birth tied
to you, o unknown one?

my child, for a moment. Let the sun sink into the
horizon. Let the evening darkness grow deep
let me tell you, o warrior,
I am Kunti

You are Kunti! Mother of Arjuna!

Indeed, Arjuna’s mother. Thus in your mind do not decide
to hate me. Even today, I remember, on the day of the test
of archery, in Hastinapur, you entered slowly ”“ a young man ”“ the tournament,
as the new sun rises in the east at
the edge of a sky carved with stars.
Among all those women
hidden behind curtains,
who was the unfortunate woman ”“
she, without speech? In whose battered breast
were a thousand serpents, hungry for tenderness, awakened?
Whose eyes kissed you all over with blessings?
She was Arjuna’s mother.
When Kripa arrived,
asking for your father’s name with a smirk,
and said, “He who is not born of royal lineage,
Has no right to fight Arjuna,”
your blood drained, your head drooped,
your mouth had no speech
you stood there: whose breast did that glaze of humiliation
burn with a heat equal to that of the sun,
who was that unfortunate woman?
She was Arjuna’s mother.
Son Duryodhana is fortunate: it is then that he anointed you King of Anga. Praise be to him!
From my eyes, a stream of tears ”“
meant for your head ”“ had come flowing
with your anointment. Meanwhile,
making his way
into the arena, the old charioteer arrived,
bewildered with joy. And at once you,
amidst the royal decorations, and the curious
crowds surrounding you,
lowered the freshly anointed brow,
at the feet of the old charioteer,
and addressed him as father. In rude
laughter, the friends of the Pandavas
hooted: at that moment, with the greatest pride,
she who called you a hero, o jewel of warriors,
she who blessed you: I am she, Arjuna’s mother.

I touch your feet, o Aryan. You are the mother of kings
why are you here, alone? This is the battlefield,
and I am a general of the Kauravas.

Son, I am here for alms
Do not let me return without success.

Alms, from me!
Other than my strength, and my dharma,
whatever you ask of me, I will
lay at your feet.

I have come here to take you.

Where will you take me?

Into my parched breast: into your mother’s lap.

You are blessed with five sons: you are fortunate,
I am without dynasty or forefathers, a meagre king ”“
where will you place me?

Above all.
I will seat you above all my sons.
You are the eldest.

With what right shall I enter
thus? With empire and wealth?
Those who have been deprived of the treasure that is
a mother’s tenderness ”“
how will you achieve
absolution of their completeness, tell me this.
A mother’s heart
is not sold in a game of dice
it is not defeated by the might of weapons
it is a gift from god.

My child, it is with the right given by god
that you came to this lap
one day; with that right
come back, with your due glory
and without amore reflection
amongst all your brothers, and in
your mother’s lap
take your place.

I listen, as if in a dream, o lady,
to your words. Look, darkness
overwhelms us in every direction, our surroundings
are now vanished
and the Bhagirathi is
To what world veiled by illusions,
to what
unremembered dwelling,
to what dawn of consciousness
have you taken me? Like some ancient truth
your words have touched
my enchanted heart.
It is as if my unrealised childhood,
the darkness of my mother’s womb,
surrounds me today. O Mother of Kings,
whether it be true
whether it be a dream
come, o embodiment of tenderness
place your right hand
on my forehead
on my face
for a while. I have heard
it said by people that I
was abandoned by my mother.
How often have I searched for
my mother in my nocturnal dreams.
She would come slowly”¦ slowly”¦
to see me.
I have cried out and told her in deepest agony
“Mother, lift your veil, let me see your face!”
But then the figure dissolves, tearing asunder
the thirsty eager dream. Has that dream returned
today in the garb of
the mother of the Pandavas
this very evening, on the battlefield,
on the banks of the Bhagirathi?
Look, lady. On the other side, in the Pandavas’ tent,
burns the lamplight,
and on this side not very far away
in the stables of the Kauravas, the roars of a
hundred thousand horses erupt fiercely.
Tomorrow night will begin that great war. Why
then did I have to hear tonight
in Arjuna’s mother’s throat
my own mother’s voice of love?
Why did my name ring out on her lips
in such sweet music? My heart suddenly
runs out calling “brother” to the Pandavas.

Then come away, my dear child, come away.

I will go, mother. I will go, and I will ask nothing
Without hesitation, without thought.
Lady, you are my mother! Your call
has awakened my innermost soul ”“ in my ears
ring no battle cries, nor victory conches
and false appears
the malice of war, the glory of heroes, victory or defeat.
Where will I go? Take me.

To that other side.
Where the lamps glow in those motionless camps
on Pandu’s sandy shores.

There, the motherless will find
his mother forever! There, the star of truth will stay awake
all night, beautiful and vast,
in your eyes! Lady, tell me once more that
I am your son.

My son!

Then why
did you discard me, to humiliation,
without family, class, and honour,
and without a mother’s eye over me
into this blind and unknown universe?
Why did you set me adrift forever
on this tide of disregard?
Why did you exile me from my brothers?
You kept me separated from Arjuna
That is why, from childhood, he and I are drawn
by an invisible bond, taking the form of malice
it is an irresistible attraction. Mother, no
reply? Your shame has penetrated these
layers of darkness and, in silence, touched
my whole being, and is forcing my eyes shut. Let
it be!
Let it be then!
Do not say why you abandoned me.
The first gift of fate in all this world and universe
is a mother’s tenderness ”“ why, from that divine gift,
did you steal your own child?
Do not answer that question. Just tell me this:
why have you come to return me to a mother’s lap?

O child, may your rebukes like a hundred bursts of thunder
cleave my heart into a hundred fragments. I forsook you
and that curse, even with five sons at my breast,
has left my heart sonless. Yet, oh!
Even in this world, my arms stretch out for you
and look for you. For the son who is deprived,
my heart is ablaze, lighting a lamp
scorching itself, it pays homage to the gods of
this world. Today I am fortunate that I have
met you. When your mouth had not yet learned
to speak, I had committed a great crime ”“ my child,
with that mouth, forgive this bad mother.
May that forgiveness light a fire in this breast
stronger than reproach, and may it
consume my sin and make me pure.

Mother, give me dust off your feet, give me the dust off your feet”” and take my tears.

That I will lift you to my breast
It is not only with the hope of such delight, o son,
that I am at this door. I have come to return to
what is your right. You are not the son of a charioteer
you are a king’s son ”“ my child, banish all these
insults. Come back to where your brothers are.

Mother, I am the son of a charioteer, and Radha is my mother. There is no greater glory for me than this.
Let the Pandava remain Pandava, and the Kaurava, Kaurava,
I am jealous of neither.

Your own kingdom,
By the strength of your arms, o child,
you must retrieve!
Yudhistira will wave the fan, Bhima will carry the royal umbrella,
Dhananjaya will be the heroic charioteer of your chariot,
And the priest Dhaumya will sing Vedic hymns ”“ you,
victorious over enemies, in sovereign power will remain
among friends, with no rivals, in your kingdom
a jewel on the throne.

The throne! He who evaded the snare of a mother’s love ”“
You give to him, mother, the reassurance of a kingdom.
The wealth that you had deprived me of once
is beyond your means to return to me now ”“
My mother, my brothers, my royal lineage,
in one instant, mother, you had made me rootless
at the time of my birth. If I deceive my charioteer mother,
and call the mother of kings mine own,
If I sever the ties that bind me to the
lord of the Kurus and
run towards the sovereign throne
then shame on me!

You are a hero, my son, you are blessed.
O Dharma, what is this beautifully harsh
punishment of yours? Who knew that day,
that the infant I had abandoned, tiny and helpless,
would come to gain such valour and might
only to return to the paths of darkness:
And that children in his own mother’s arms
would be harmed by the weapons of his own
merciless hands.
What curse is this?

Mother, have no fear.
I speak now
that it is the Pandavas who will be victorious.
on the blade of this sharpest night
I perceive with my senses
and read by the light of the stars,
the outcome of this dreadful battle.
At this peaceful, still moment,
from the eternal skies is wafting
the music of a seeking that is beyond triumph,
of readiness for work that is beyond expectation
I can see the end.
It is tranquil and empty.
The side which is of defeat ”“ do not call upon me to abandon
that side. May the children of Pandavas be victors,
may they be kings ”“
I will be amongst those who are
bereft of expectation and hope.
On the night of my birth you left me on the earth
with no name, no dwelling ”“ today too
with a hard heart you must abandon me,
O mother,
With no light, with no glory, lying upon defeat.
Just give me this one blessing as you go
in the greed for
great fame
may I not lapse from the path of a hero’s beatitude.

Translated from Bengali by Ahona Panda


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