The Conversation Between Kunti and Karna |Mahabharata | By Rabindranath Tagore

The following Poem "the conversation Between Kunti and Karna" is the one of the best work of  Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, which was later translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson in English.This translation was done in the spring of 2000 at the request of Bithika Raha of London, who choreographed a dance performance to accompany the words of Rabindranath Tagore.

If you are familiar with the outline of the original story of Mahabharata, then go ahead with their conversation, if not then take few minutes to read about it and head towards their conversation

The Translator's Note:
This dramatic poem based on an episode in the Mahabharata is from Tagore’s collection Kahini (1900). Reworking old stories from the Mahabharata or from Buddhist lore, reinterpreting them so that they resonate in modern times so that the new interpretations act as bridges between tradition and modernity: these were artistic tasks that Tagore took very seriously in his poetry and drama.

      Read: The Lesser Known Facts of Mahabharata

A Brief Glimpse of the story, Mahabharata:

In the Mahabharata, Kunti meets her first-born son when he is finishing his late morning prayers by the Ganges. She waits in the scorching sun till he finishes his prayers at noon. Tagore transfers the meeting to the glow of twilight deepening into a starlit night. The softer setting is more appropriate for Tagore’s purpose of highlighting the human emotions. Also in the epic, Karna does not really learn about his birth for the first time from Kunti. Krishna has already told him the details before Kunti has had a chance to do so, and in any case, Karna seems to know the essential facts already, what Krishna says being merely a confirmation. Tagore, interested in making a different kind of audience impact, makes Karna hear about who his natural mother is from her own mouth, thus making the encounter much more meaningfully dramatic. At the same time, Tagore’s Kunti, more of a Victorian aristocratic matron, is too embarrassed to reveal the actual details of how she had conceived him out of wedlock, whereas in the Mahabharata, both Krishna and Kunti relate them to Karna in a matter-of-fact manner in keeping with the mores of the old epics. In the original poem, Karna is much sterner with his mother, more outspoken, acerbic, and unambiguous in his condemnation of her actions, past and present, more sharply Hindu in his understanding of right action and caste ethics. He actually offers Kunti the consolation that he will not kill all her sons: he will either kill Arjuna or be killed by him so that she will still remain the mother of five sons! He is, of course, eventually killed by Arjuna. Tagore’s treatment is more psychological: Karna is humanized to suit the tastes of Tagore’s own times. Tagore’s Karna berates his mother indirectly, rhetorically, through questions, with a mixture of sentiment and irony. He wavers, is flooded with nostalgia and filial affection, then retreats to a noble resolve.

Jahnavi and Bhagirathi are named for the Ganges. Kripa is a martial instructor. In the transliterations of proper names I have given a slight tilt towards the original Bengali sound-values by making them end-stopped when they are so in Bengali pronunciation, i.e. Adhirath, not Adhiratha; Bhim, not Bhima; Arjun, not Arjuna.  I have also written Durjodhan and Judhisthir instead of Duryodhan and Yudhisthir. These are just a few gentle hints to remind potential readers/performers that this is after all a Bengali text that has been translated, and it is right that the names should be heard as they would be in Bengali. Those who intend to perform the text should find out from native Bengali speakers how all the names need to be pronounced. It is impossible to indicate all the sounds without an elaborate academic apparatus

Conversation/Dialogues Between Kunti and Karan: |The night before Mahabharata War

Kunti and Karna conversation| Mahabharata Online

On sacred Jahnavi’s shore I say my prayers
to the evening sun.  Karna is my name,
son of Adhirath the charioteer, and Radha is my mother.
That’s who I am.  Lady, who are you?
Child, in the first dawn of your life
it was I who introduced you to this wide world.
That’s me, and today I’ve cast aside
all embarrassment, to tell you who I am.
Respected lady, the light of your lowered eyes
melts my heart, as the sun’s rays melt
mountain snows.  Your voice
pierces my ears as a voice from a previous birth
and stirs strange pain.  Tell me then,
by what mystery’s chain is my birth linked
to you, unknown woman?
                                                Oh, be patient,
child, for a moment!  Let the sun-god first
slide to his rest, and let evening’s darkness
thicken round us.  – Now let me tell you, warrior,
I am Kunti.
                        You are Kunti!  The mother of Arjun!
Arjun’s mother indeed!  But son,
don’t hate me for that.  How I still recall
the day of the tournament when you, a young bachelor,
slowly entered the arena in Hastina-city
as the newly rising sun enters the margin
of the eastern sky, still pricked out with stars!
Of all the women watching from behind a screen
who was she, bereft of speech, of luck,
who felt within her tortured breast the pangs
of hungering love, a thousand she-snake fangs?
Whose eyes covered your limbs with blessing’s kisses?
It was Arjun’s mother!  When Kripa advanced
and smiling, asked you to announce your father’s name,
saying, ‘He who is not of a royal family born
has no right to challenge Arjun at all,’ –
then you, speechless, red with shame, face lowered,
just stood there, and she whose bosom your gleam
of embarrassment burnt like fire: who was that
an unlucky woman?  Arjun’s mother it was!
Blessed is that lad Durjodhan, who thereupon
at once crowned you prince of Anga. Yes, I praise him!
And as you were crowned, the tears streamed from my eyes
to rush towards you, to overflow your head,
when making his way into the arena,
in entered Adhirath the charioteer, beside himself
with joy, and you, too, in your royal gear
in the midst of the curious crowds milling around
bowed your only-just-anointed head, and saluted
the feet of the old charioteer, calling him Father.
Cruelly, contemptuously they smiled –
the friends of the Pandavas; and right at that instant
she who blessed you as a hero, O you jewel amongst heroes,
I am that woman, the mother of Arjun.
I salute you, noble lady.  A royal mother you are:
so why are you here alone?  This is a field of battle,
and I am the commander of the Kaurav army.
                        Son, I’ve come to beg a favour of you –
Don’t turn me away empty-handed.
                                         A favour?  From me!
Barring my manhood, and what dharma requires,
the rest will be at your feet if you so desire.
    I have come to take you away.
                        And where will you take me?

To my thirsty bosom – to my maternal lap.

A lucky woman you are, blessed with five sons,
and I am just a petty princeling, without pedigree –
where would you find room for me?
                                                   Right at the top!
I would place you above all my other sons,
for you are the eldest.
                                    By what right
would I enter that sanctum?  Tell me how
from those already cheated of empire
I could possibly take a portion of that wealth,
a mother’s love, which is fully theirs.
A mother’s heart cannot be gambled away
nor be defeated by force.  It’s a divine gift
                                                O my son,
with a divine right indeed you had one day
come to this lap – and by that same right
return again, with glory; don’t worry at all –
take your own place amongst all your brothers,
on my maternal lap.

Recommended Read: Conversation Between Arjun and Karna
                                                As if in a dream
I hear your voice, honoured lady.  Look, darkness has
engulfed the entire horizon, swallowed the four quarters,
and the river has fallen silent.  You have whisked me off
to some enchanted world, some forgotten home,
to the very dawn of awareness.  Your words
like age-old truths touch my fascinated heart.
It’s as if my own inchoate infancy,
the very obscurity of my mother’s womb
was encircling me today.  O royal mother,
loving woman, – be this real or a dream, –
come place your right hand on my brow, my chin
for just a moment.  Indeed I had heard
that I had been abandoned by my natural mother.
How often in the depth of night I’ve had this dream:
that slowly, softly my mother had come to see me,
and I’ve felt so bleak, and beseeched her in tears,
‘Mother, remove your veil, let me see your face,’ –
and at once the figure has vanished, tearing apart
my greedy thirsty dream.  That very dream –
has it come today in the guise of the Pandav mother
this evening, on the battlefield, by the Bhagirathi?
Behold, lady, on the other bank, in the Pandav camp
the lights come on, and on this bank, not far,
in the Kaurav stables, a hundred thousand horses
stamp their hooves.  Tomorrow morning
the great battle begins.  Why tonight
did I have to hear from Arjun’s mother’s throat
my own mother’s voice?  Why did my name
ring in her mouth with such exquisite music –
so much so that suddenly my heart
rushes towards the five Pandavas, calling them ‘brothers’?
Then come on, son, come along with me.
Yes, Mother, I’ll go with you.  I won’t ask questions –
without a doubt, without a worry, I’ll go.
Lady, you are my mother!  And your call
has awakened my soul – no longer can I hear
the drums of battle, victory’s conch-shells.
The violence of war, a hero’s fame, triumph and defeat –
all seem false.  Take me.  Where should I go?
                                    There, on the other bank,
where the lamps burn in the still tents
on the pale sands.
                                                And there a motherless son
shall find his mother forever!  There the pole star
shall wake all night in your lovely generous
eyes. Lady, one more time
say I am your son.
                                    My son!
                                                Then why
did you discard me so ingloriously –
no family honour, no mother’s eyes to watch me –
at the mercy of this blind, unknown world?  Why did you
let me float away on the current of contempt
so irreversibly, banishing me from my brothers?
You put a distance between Arjun and me,
whence from childhood a subtle invisible bond
of bitter enmity pulls us to each other
in an irresistible attraction. –
                                                Mother, you have no answer?
I sense your embarrassment piercing these dark layers
and touching all my limbs without any words,
closing my eyes.  Let it be then –
you don’t have to explain why you cast me aside.
A mother’s love is God’s first gift on this earth;
why that sacred jewel you had to snatch
from your own child is a question you may choose
not to answer!  But tell me then:
why have you come to take me back again?
Child, let your reprimands
like a hundred thunderclaps rend this heart of mine
into a hundred pieces.  That I’d cast you aside
is a curse that hounds me, which is why
my heart is childless even with five dear sons,
why it is you that my arms go seeking in this world,
flapping and flailing.  It is for that deprived child
that my heart lights a lamp, and by burning itself
pays its homage to the Maker of this universe.
Today I count myself fortunate
that I have managed to see you.  When your mouth
hadn’t yet uttered a word, I did commit
a horrendous crime. Son, with that same mouth,
forgive your bad mother.  Let that forgiveness burn
fiercer than any rebukes within my breast,
reduce my sins to ashes and make me pure!
O Mother, give – give me the dust of your feet,
and take my tears!
                                    Son, I did not come
simply in the happy hope of clutching you to my breast,
but to take you back where you by right belong.
You are not a charioteer’s son but of royal birth –
so cast aside the insults that have been your lot
and come here they all are – your five brothers.
But Mother, I am a charioteer’s son,
and Radha’s my mother – glory greater than that
I have none.  Let the Pandavas be Pandavs, the Kauravas
Kauravas – I envy nobody.
                                    With the puissance of your arms
recover the kingdom that’s your own, my son.
Judhisthir will cool you, moving a white fan;
Bhim will hold up your umbrella; Arjun the hero
will drive your chariot; Dhaumya the priest
will chant Vedic mantras; and you, vanquisher of foes,
will live with your kinsmen, sole ruler in your kingdom,
sitting on your jewelled throne, sharing power with none.
Throne, indeed!  To one who’s just refused the maternal bond
are you offering, Mother, assurances of a kingdom?
The riches from which you once disinherited me
cannot be returned – it’s beyond your powers.
When I was born, Mother, from me you tore
mother, brothers, royal family – all at one go.
If today I cheat my foster-mother, her of charioteer caste,
and boldly address as my own mother a royal materfamilias,
if I snap the ties that bind me to the lord
of the Kuru clan, and lust after a royal throne,
then fie on me!
                                    Blessed are you, my son, for you are
truly heroic.  Alas, Dharma, how stern your justice is!
Who knew, alas, that day
when I forsook a tiny, helpless child,
that from somewhere he would gain a hero’s powers,
return one day along a darkened path,
and with his own cruel hands hurl weapons at those
who are his brothers, born of the same mother!
What a curse this is!
                                    Mother, don’t be afraid.
Let me predict: it’s the Pandavas who will win.
On the panel of this night’s gloom, I can clearly read
before my eyes the dire results of war:
legible in starlight.  This quiet, unruffled hour
from the infinite sky a music drifts to my ears:
of effort without the victory, the sweat of work without hope –
I can see the end, full of peace and emptiness.
The side that is going to lose –
please don’t ask me to desert that side.
Let Pandu’s children win, and become kings,
let me stay with the losers, those whose hopes will be dashed.
The night of my birth you left me upon the earth:
nameless, homeless.  In the same way, today
be ruthless, Mother, and just abandon me:
leave me to my defeat, infamous, lustreless.
Only this blessing grant me before you leave:
may greed for victory, for fame, or for a kingdom
never deflect me from a hero’s path and salvation.

This is one of my favourite conversation between Kunti and Karna.If you liked it, share it with your friends and Comment your feedback below.

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