For years, he practiced archery incessantly. He was now an expert. In his mind there was no other like him. He could command any weapon at will. He could neutralize any weapon at will. He could make it rain on the enemy. He could set afire whole armies shooting a single arrow. His weapons could blow the wind like a hurricane. He was invincible.
For all his prowess, he was being up by one fear, a fear driven by his fervid desire to be the best, but a fear only a condemned man felt.
“Was there someone better? What if there is? What if he and I have a duel? And I lose? How can I face myself? How can I live in such ignominy?”
Fear does strange things to men. It drives men further and further. It pushes them hard.
To this man, it intensified his search for the ultimate weapon. The one weapon which he could use when death or disgrace was imminent.
He asked scholars, sought weapons experts, and toured kingdoms and provinces in search of such knowledge. He took the counsel of magicians and wizards. He went back to his guru.
Parasurama sensed that Karna’s fear was the driving force behind searching for that weapon. He urged Karna to reconsider, explaining that the ultimate weapon available to man was his mind. If he faced his fears and let them go, nobody could conquer him.
But Karna was adamant.
Parasurama, in his infinite wisdom, anticipated what would come decades later. He knew Karna’s fate was to be decided on a fateful day of battle, and that his demise would be at the hands of an archer supreme; a matchless artist aided and instructed by the supreme being.
He advised Karna to seek out Indra, the king of kings. Indra had at his disposal weapons that could obliterate mankind several times over. But importantly, Indra was astute. His job was to preserve the integrity of the royal order of kings. He would not refuse Karna. Indra was adept at limiting people’s penchant for misuse by extracting promises. By adding stipulations and putting conditions – conditions that were either impossible to satisfy – he could limit the damage done by the weapon.
When Karna finally reached Indra and asked for such weapon, Indra did not disappoint.
“Surely a man of your talent and skill does not need a weapon like this. You can defeat the entire world all by yourself. It would be an insult for me to even offer you such a weapon”, said Indra, wary about Karna’s ability to rightly use such a weapon. Indra was right. Karna was led by gratitude and obligation rather than dharma. Any powerful weapon in the hands of such a person would have catastrophic results.
“I was told you never refuse a deserving person”, said Karna without going into any details about his motive.
Without belaboring the matter, Indra proceeded.
“I will give you the Vasavi Shakti weapon. I will even train you on how to invoke it. Most potent weapons can only be used it once. Once you release it, there is no recall. But this special weapon comes with a additional restrictions. It is a live weapon. It can read your heartbeat and your pulse, and through them, it can sense your mental state. A warrior knows when there is an impending danger to his existence. This weapon will work only at that time. Conversely, unless you have an existential threat, even in fierce battles you cannot invoke this weapon. Since this weapon is meant to destroy your possible slayer, you have to say his or her name before releasing it, and it will target only that person. Once you mention the name and release it, the target cannot be changed. You cannot use this on an entire army. If you attempt to use this in any manner other than prescribed, this weapon will be a dud”
Karna was elated on hearing the conditions. This was his perfect weapon. If there indeed was someone better than him, he would certainly meet him in battle one day. And if his own life was in danger, he would use this weapon to crush the challenger and become the best. Karna miscalculated that an existential threat to him, if at all, would come only from another conventional warrior.
Little did he know that a crafty cowherd knew about this weapon, and its conditions. He would use that knowledge to deadly effect one slaughterous night, to decidedly tilt the war in dharma’s favor.