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Karna’s Wife – The Outcast’s Queen

Posted: October 8, 2013

In Karna’s Wife – The Outcast’s Queen, by Kavita Kane, we meet a strong woman, his wife – Uruvi, and see this complex character through her eyes.

Review by Arunima Shekhar

Karna’s wife – The Outcast’s Queen, is a retelling of the epic from the perspective of  Karna’s second wife  – Uruvi, the Princess of Pukeya, a kshatriya princess married to a sutaputra. The narrative starts at Uruvi’s swayamvar; Karna is already a part of the dushta chathushtayam (the four examples of evil men),  the others being Shakuni, Duryodhana and Dushasana. He has already faced public ridicule twice – once at the archery tournament in Hastinapur and then again at Draupadi’s swayamvar, for being a charioteer’s son and born in a low caste.

The Pandavas have faced exile once and have now returned to claim their half of the kingdom. From here onwards, the story unfolds through the eyes of Uruvi, who chooses Karna over Arjuna, her childhood friend, at a scandalous swayamvar.

The tale explores, through Uruvi, the multiple facets of Karna, the father, the son, the husband, the friend, the king; the epitome of moral righteousness, who made all the wrong decisions, owing to his loyalty to Duryodhana, to whom he is indebted for life. Duryodhana accepts him and gives him his due recognition, when the entire world chides him. The passage where Karna explains to Uruvi, why Duryodhana is what he is, leaves you wondering whether a person can really be classified as good or bad; “Duryodhana was doomed before he was even born…he was born a child of hatred and lives to hate...” The love-hate relationship between Karna and Draupadi, his devotion and respect for Krishna, his hatred for Shakuni, his loyalty to Duryodhana are explained as never before.

Uruvi, passionately in love with Karna, and with a wit and intelligence to match the stalwarts of the Kuru kingdom, has to reconcile herself to being the “outcast’s queen”. But after the Rajasuya yagna, she is faced with a new challenge – torn between her love for Karna and her own sense of morality, she is unable to forgive Karna for his transgression after the game of dice in ordering  the disrobing of Draupadi and calling her a whore, even when everyone else, including Draupadi,  has forgiven him. Filled with a sense of foreboding, she makes a last attempt to change Karna’s loyalties before resigning herself to face the worst.

Karna’s Wife is a must-read for anyone who likes mythology, and Uruvi’s outspoken and ’ahead of her times’ character is one with which most Indian women today will easily identify.

Publisher: Rupa Publications

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  1. I’ve always been intrigued by the character of Karna, While the Mahabharata is all about the ‘human flaws’ of its characters – Gurcharan Das has discussed this very well in his ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’ – Karna is ostentiously in that twilight zone between light and dark, neither really good nor really evil. A perfect example of how circumstances play out one’s character and destiny, and how much control free will can have over them.

    This seems to be a book I would love to get my hands on. For anyone interested in reading more books on KarnaI would also recommend this one, if you can get your hands on it. I have read it in the original Marathi, and it is breathtakingly presented.

    • I always found Karna the only character in Mahabharata who has a single shade to his character, all others have multiple shades to them, including Yudhishthira – a difference in perspective 🙂 But yes, his life is a perfect example of how circumstances define one’s destiny.

  2. I have read this book and it was very interesting to note the many aspects of the great epic that are not very popular like for instance Draupadi’s love for Karna and many such deviations from the common standard story. Well written, though at times melodramatic, butdefinitely worth a read for those interested in mythology and mythological characters.

    • Then you must read “The Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Divakaruni as well. It is Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective.

    • Gita K Vaidayanathan -

      Additions and perceptions has been every author’s prerogative. Given that there are questions about Mahabharata’s very existence in history or myth…it is like – could have been, should have been or may have been; these additions of glorifying a character depending upon how one related has been a formula in revisiting stories. There is nothing called a love story between Karna / Draupadi or Krishna / Draupadi – so on. Infact the perceived insult of Duryodhana at Indraprastha is an addition from the original (again according to mythological experts). It were the Pandavas who laughed at Duryodhana when he slips into water while escorting him inside Indraprastha. The age old saying “don’t laugh at a person when he falls”. There are stories of glorifying Karna; during the archery talent fight, Arjuna was 16 (straight out of gurukul) and Karna was 10 years older than him – how can duel happen as equals? How can he claim that he is a great warrior when he came blessed with kavach and kundal. Under the cover of boons and curses Karna’s character is developed to glorify. But yes it is important to lift thoughts of women then and make a book out of it. And Vrushali as Karna’s wife did challenge him for being wrong and doing wrong.

  3. I am quite motivated to read this book. I read Adi Parva based on its review on Women’s Web itself. 🙂
    Loved that.
    There suddenly a spate of mythology-based books written from the point of view of the women. We now have a totally different perspective of stories we have heard since our childhood.

  4. Hi Arunima,

    The gist of the book has sparked my interest. Would definitely like to grab a copy of this.

  5. Longish… and spoilers ahead…

    A part of me is in the battlefield of Kurukshetra where Karna met his glorious end. I am writing this review hoping that it would get rid of the lump in the throat that has not disappeared since I finished the book.

    While this is a story of Uruvi, Karna’s wife, I thought the main character was Karna, through the eyes of Uruvi.

    The word that comes to my mind is “Sthitapragnya”, which according to Krishna was the ultimate human being that the Gita was purported to create.

    According to Lord Krishna :
    “When a person gives up all desires in his mind, when he is satisfied in the self, by the self, then he is called a person of steady intellect. 56One who is without agitation in sorrows or happiness, free from longing, free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a quiet person of steady consciousness. 57He who is without affection towards both auspicious and inauspicious, neither thrilling nor despairing, his consciousness is established. 58When such a man withdraws his senses from their objects as a tortoise withdraws its limbs, his consciousness is established. 59The sense objects turn away by not feeding on them by the embodied, although the taste may not be given up. Even the taste goes on seeing the supreme.
    Courtesy: http://akwri.webs.com/G117Sthp.htm

    This story, brings to the foreground, Karna’s evolution as a Sthitapragnya. It is easy to say how a person should be a Sthitapragnya, but very difficult to become one. May might argue that Yudhistra was one, but in my head, Karna surpasses Yudhistra in this field. He goes through rejections his whole life – first by his mother, then by his gurus and then by the society. Yudhistra was beloved of all. He had the support – of his mother, his brothers and wife, Krishna and the society. At no point was he rejected. Yet I believe that he did not take on the responsibility for his actions in the game of dice. He bleated his righteous arguments of how his wife was his to wager. He (and the other brothers) found no clause in their so called Dharma that would help them protest against what was happening to Draupadi. I was happy to read in this story that Draupadi forgave Karna more readily than her husbands. She equated the disrobing act to the insult she offered him during her swayamvara and understood the shame that he must have felt.
    Karna knows that Durdhoyana was wrong and was on the path of self destruction, yet his loyalty is unwavering because of the acceptance and dignity the latter gave him. Some might see it as the behavior of an insecure person, and may be it is. But what human being doesn’t go through the insecurity of not being accepted by others. How many of us feel bad about being rejected for our virtues because of some other external factor (color, caste, race, or gender) overshadows it? Karna went through all this and more. Yet he accepted his mistakes. “I have no justifications to offer” is a statement that can be made only by a person who is convinced of what is right and what is wrong and that he was siding the wrong. His longing for acceptance, his love for his adopted family, wife and sons, his passion for Uruvi whom he calls his conscience, are beautifully captured. On the eve of the battle, Krishna and Kunti, separately, try to dissuade Karna from fighting for Duryodhana and reveal the secret of his birth. He goes through hell because of this revelation and yet does not swerve from his path of loyalty. After his death Krishna says that Karna could be killed only if he gave up righteousness and Kunti and he attempted to do just that by revealing the story of his birth. His evolution from a person who is angry with Draupadi for the insult during her Swayamvara to a person who says “I know I will be killed tomorrow, but I am willing to meet my fate” and goes smiling to the battlefield and fights hard even though he knows that he is doomed, is to me what a Sthitapragnya is all about.

    Thank you Kavita Kane for this beautiful book.

  6. Swami Vivekananda had paid tribute to karna doing an 18 day meditation at karnaprayag.

  7. I have written a play “MAHARATHI KARNA” which is another version of MAHABHARATA” without the war. In this irreverent version, Shri Krishna fails to convince Arjuna that Dharma is on the side of Pandavas or that Krishna is an “avtar” and has chosen Arjuna as his instrument to re-establish rule of Dharma on earth. Arjuna advises Yudhisthira to leave the question of succession to Bhishma. Bhishma, who knows that Karna is the eldest in Kuru dynasty and a great warrior trained under his Guru Parshuram chooses Karna to succed Dhrutrastra. Karna marries Dussala daughter of Gandhari who always had a crush on Karna. Karna accepts to be the ruler after warning Bhishma that he will always be a “sutputra” and do justice to Asuras and nishads who were driven to forests by invasion of Aryas. Thus ends the KURU dynasty and Hastinapur passe to son of Kunti and daughter of Gandhari.

    Anyone who wants to read the play which is admittedly an amateurish work (about 8,000 words) can get a soft copy by sending a request to sharad_23shah@hotmail.com.

  8. Pingback: Draupadi, who cries for Indian women

  9. All the versions of the Mahabharata that I have read till date are from the viewpoint of the Pandavas in which they have been given a Demi god status. This book is brilliantly written from Uruvi’s point of view and shows the struggle between the Pamdavas and the Kauravas as cousins, as contenders for the throne as well as enemies. It throws such an important light on the status of women those days where rape and violence of women was seen as perfectly acceptable. Written very beautifully, the author uses simple language and has narrated the Mahabharata to the reader in its most lucid and human form.

  10. I just finished reading Karna’s wife by Kavita Kane. Very beautifully written with simple words ! An interesting angle to Karna’s character. Also, the way she has retained the individuality of the females in such a strong male dominated tale . Keep it up Kavita

  11. Wonder full writing.. the different angles to each of the character was etched perfectly.. Mahabharat itself is a great epic of human nature .. but is uruvi just a fictional character cos she was so perfect without any shades.. ??

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