How do we understand Krishna’s statement to Arjuna that Karna is a better archer than him?

by Chaitanya CharanMarch 13, 2014

From Sagar Choksi

Hare Krishna Prabhuji, pamho.

Thank you very much for these enlightening series of articles on ‘The Son of the Sun’. I understand that Karna was not equal to Arjuna in terms of virtue and righteousness but can we so confidently claim from the Mahabharata that Karna did not have the skills of an Archer as good as Arjuna? Because I find a verse in the Mahabharata where Krishna himself tells Arjuna that He considers Karna to be equal to Arjuna and perhaps superior. This verse comes in Karna Parva after the episode where Arjuna speaks harshly towards Yudhisthira on advice of Krishna. (Due to the vow of killing any person who says, ‘Give your Gandiva bow to another’).

The verse I am talking about is as follows:
Vasudeva said, “O wielder of Gandiva, save thee there exists no other man that could vanquish those whom thou hast vanquished with this bow of thine. We have seen many heroes, who, endued with prowess like that Sakra, have attained to the highest regions, encountering thy heroic self in battle! Who else, O puissant one, that is not equal to thee, would be safe and sound after encountering Drona and Bhishma and Bhagadatta, O sire, and Vinda and Anuvinda of Avanti and Sudakshina, the chief of the Kambojas and Srutayudha of mighty energy and Acyutayudha as well? Thou hast celestial weapons, and lightness of hand and might, and thou art never stupefied in battle! Thou hast also that humility which is due to knowledge! Thou canst strike with effect! Thou hast sureness of aim, and presence of mind as regards the selection of means, O Arjuna! Thou art competent to destroy all mobile and immobile creatures including the very gods with the Gandharvas! On earth, O Partha, there is no human warrior who is equal to thee in battle. Amongst all Kshatriyas, invincible in battle, that wield the bow, amongst the very gods, I have not seen or heard of even one that is equal to thee. The Creator of all beings, viz., Brahma himself created the great bow Gandiva with which thou fightest, O Partha! For this reason there is no one that is equal to thee. I must, however, O son of Pandu, say that which is beneficial to thee. Do not. O mighty-armed one, disregard Karna, that ornament of battle! Karna is possessed of might. He is proud and accomplished in weapons. He is a maharatha. He is accomplished (in the ways of battle) and conversant with all modes of warfare. He is also well-acquainted with all that suits place and time. What need is there of saying much? Hear in brief, O son of Pandu! I regard the mighty car-warrior Karna as thy equal, or perhaps, thy superior! With the greatest care and resolution shouldst thou slay him in great battle. In energy he is equal to Agni. As regards speed, he is equal to the impetuosity of the wind. In wrath, he resembles the Destroyer himself. Endued with might, he resembles a lion in the formation of his body. He is eight ratnis in stature. His arms are large. His chest is broad. He is invincible. He is sensitive. He is a hero. He is, again, the foremost of heroes. He is exceedingly handsome. Possessed of every accomplishment of a warrior, he is a dispeller of the fears of friends. Engaged in the good of Dhritarashtra’s son, he always hates the sons of Pandu. No one, not even the gods with Vasava at their head, can slay the son of Radha, save thee, as I think. Slay, therefore, the Suta’s son today. No one possessed of flesh and blood, not even the gods fighting with great care, not all the warriors (of the three worlds) fighting together can vanquish that car-warrior. Towards the Pandavas he is always of wicked soul and sinful behaviour, and cruel, and of wicked intelligence. In his quarrel with the sons of Pandu, he is actuated by no consideration affecting his own interests. Slaying that Karna, therefore, fulfill thy purpose today. Despatch today unto Yama’s presence that Suta’s son, that foremost of car-warriors, whose death is near. Indeed, slaying that Suta’s son, that first of car-warriors, show the love for Yudhishthira the just. I know thy prowess truly, O Partha, which is incapable of being resisted by the gods and Asuras. The Suta’s son of wicked soul, from exceeding pride, always disregards the sons of Pandu. O Dhananjaya, slay that man today for whose sake the wretched Duryodhana regardeth himself a hero, that root of all (those) sinful persons, that son of a Suta. Slay, O Dhananjaya, that tiger among men, that active and proud Karna, who hath a sword for his tongue, a bow for his mouth, and arrows for his teeth. I know thee well as regards the energy and the might that are in thee. Slay the brave Karna in battle, like a lion slaying an elephant. Slay in battle today, O Partha, that Karna, otherwise called Vaikartana, in consequence of whose energy Dhritarashtra’s son disregards thine.'”

I could not find a better translation or exact verses. Please clarify on this.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thank you.

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Chaitanya Charan