Karna stood in the water at noon to perform the obligatory sandhyāvandanam to Bhagawan Diwakara. Many Brahmans seeking wealth had assembled there. Indra also arrived there as a Brahman asking for bhikshā.
Karna greeted him with honour but failed to see through his disguise and read his mind. Karna bowed respectfully and said, “O venerable one! What can I give you? Beautiful youthful women adorned in gold or villages filled with healthy cows?”
Brahman replied, “O brave one! I do not want to take either the young women dressed in gold or the other gift you are offering. Offer these to those who desire them. If you are the epitome of Truth, then cut these two kavach and kundal that you are born with and hand them over to me. I consider this to be the best offering and wish to take it quickly.”
Karna replied, “Brahman! If you wish to accept land to build a house or virtuous women to lead a householder’s life or many cows or agricultural land that will bestow bountiful gifts for you to lead a comfortable life for years, then I can give you these. But I cannot give you my kavach and kundal.”
The conversation between them went on for a long time with Karna offering valuable gifts in exchange for the kavach and kundal while Indra stood firm on his demand for the kavach and kundal.
Karna tried to convince him to accept his generous offerings and spoke to him with humility. However, Indra refused to budge.
Finally, Karna laughingly said, “O revered one! I have been born with this kavach and kundal that have manifested from the divine amrut. This is the reason I am invincible and therefore, I cannot part with these two. I beg you to accept this kingdom that is splendorous. I will be easily killed by my enemies if I am bereft of these two.”
Indra did not agree and continued to ask for the kavach and kundal. Karna smilingly said, “O Lord of the Devas! I have already been informed that You will come to me. But I cannot send You away defeated and dejected as it is not fair. O effulgent one! You must give me a boon as You are the Lord of the five elements and also their creator.
Indradeva! If I were to part with my kavach and kundal, then I will be killed and everyone will laugh at You. Therefore, You must give me something in return that is equal to my kavach and kundal, else I cannot give these two.”
Indra said, “Karna! Bhagawan Surya has told you everything even before I have come here. There is no doubt that He has revealed everything to you. Let it happen as per your wish. Apart from My vajra, you may ask any other weapon from me in exchange for the kavach and kundal.”
Karna was pleased on hearing the words of Indra and said, “In exchange for my kavach and kundal, please bestow Your amogh shakti on me that will destroy the full front army formation of my enemies.”
Indra thoughtfully said, “Karna! Give me your dazzling kavach and kundal and accept My shakti. This is the condition on which our exchange can happen. At the time of killing the daityas, this amogh shakti left My hand and killed countless enemies and then returned to My hand.
This same shakti will enter your hand and kill that one brave and radiant enemy who is outstanding in battle and return to Me.”
Karna thanked Indra profusely, “I only desire to kill one brilliant and gallant warrior who is highly skilled and whom I fear.”
“Karna! You can kill one powerful enemy with this shakti in the battlefield. But the one whom you are thinking about while seeking this shakti is under the protection of Paramātmā who the wise say is Purushottama, one who can never be defeated, who is Hari and the inconceivable Narayana. Know Him to be Shri Krishna who is protecting this gallant warrior.”
“Let it be as it is. Please give me Your amogh shakti to kill one brave enemy. I will cut this kavach and kundal from my body and give it to You. I pray that my body will not become hideous because of this.”
Indra reassured him, “Karna! Your body will not be hideous in any way. Your body will not even be wounded as you do not have the desire to be untruthful. You will again be radiant like your father.
If you unleash this amogh shakti on an enemy when you have many weapons at your disposal and are not in a life-threatening position, then this will not kill your enemy but will kill you instead.”
“O Lord of the Devas! It shall be as You have said. I will use this shakti that You have bestowed on me only when my life is in danger. I speak the truth.”
After accepting Indra’s amogh shakti, Karna took a sword and cut out his kavach while cutting through his body. All the heavenly beings came to witness this event and praised him for standing firm on dharma, vrat and satya. They showered flowers on him and played celestial musical instruments.
Karna handed over his kavach that was dripping in blood and then proceeded to cut off his kundals. As a part of his ears were cut, he came to be called Karna. After parting with his prized kavach and kundal, Karna’s fame spread across the three worlds.
Indra laughed as he made his way back to his abode, pleased that he had succeeded in his mission. Dhrutharashtra’s sons were shocked on hearing the news and became dejected. Their arrogance however only increased after this incident.
Meanwhile, the Pancha Pandavas who were residing in the forest were secretly thrilled that Karna had parted with his divine kavach and kundal.
[Excerpt: Kundalāharanaparva, Vanaparva, Mahabharat]
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