Retold by Sal Murgiyanto, “The Story of Karno and Kunthi” was originally published as the featured article, “Karno-Kunthi” in IndoGo Magazine, November 2014. We are grateful to Sal and IndoGo for their permission to republish this story on our website.
To serve their darma as a ksatria, Karno and Arjuno will fight against each other at the battle eld till one of them dies. “Why should this happen to my sons?” Kunthi asks bewilderedly. She has been walking along Gajah Oya for twelve hours. Feet swollen, body bruised, and exhausted, Kunthi climbs a stone-platform to take a rest. Surprisingly, she finds a young man sitting there in meditation. She recognizes him as the person she has been looking for. Paying sembah, she addresses him respectfully,
“Prince Karno, have pity on me. I come a long way to meet you in the hope that you could grant me my one and only wish: as your mother, I neither want to lose you nor Arjuno. Kindly withdraw from the battle and join your five Pandhava brothers instead.”
“Auntie, what you have just said and done deeply upset me. First, you have made me come out of my meditation. Second, unreasonably you claim to be my mother and then arrogantly told me to withdraw from the battle. Dear the daughter of King Manduro, I was born twice into this world: first by an irresponsible mother who threw me as a newly born baby into the bed of Gajah Oya; secondly by a simple woman, who saved me from the great danger of Gajah Oya.
“Ooh Prince Karno, I was only twelve years old and was not ready to be a mother when I found out that I was pregnant as a result of my meeting with the God of Sun, your father. This made your grandfather, the King of Manduro, furious. To keep my purity, following the guidance of your father, I had to give birth through my ear and without my agreement the newly born baby was then put into a floating cradle and thrown into the Gajah Oya. My father didn’t give me any chance to raise you. I feel numb and useless not able to understand the will of my father. Nobody knows how I have suffered day and night for not being able to give life to my own son since then.” Kunthi stops abruptly unable to continue her story.
“Auntie, your story is moving. But the fact remains that I was an unwanted child. So I have no reason to return to you and the Pandhava. For long I have regarded my first existence passed; my second life began when Nyi Adirata, a simple woman wife of the charioteer of the King of Astina, saved and took care of me with deep love and sincere heart to give me a new life. Later, my adopted father, the charioteer of the king of Astina, brought me to work for the king. This land and my status as the regent of Awangga were given by him as a reward. People call me Karno and say that my biological mother was Kunthi the mother of the five Pandawa.”
“Oh Prince Karno, I more than understand if you want to erase my name from your life. Unable to pay my debt to you as a mother, then, you are welcome to end my life.”
“Auntie, let me continue my story. You must be joking to ask me to withdraw from the battle? It is true that my stepfather was a simple man. But he and his wife raised me well to be ksatria. As a ksatria it is my duty to pay back the rewards I have received from the king of Astina. The one thing I could promise you, as Nyi Adirata has taught me, is to help ease your pain. Let the world hear to what I promise, you will not lose Arjuno by the end of the battle. Excuse me Auntie, I have to leave, I promised to meet my wife before sun set!.”
When the sun rise the following day, Kaurava’s and Pandava’s troops have lined up facing each other ready to battle. Kunthi goes to meditate. Riding a battle chariot with Krishna as the charioteer, Arjuno leads the Pandava’s troops. Karno leads the Kaurava’s on his mighty chariot with the King Salya, as the charioteer. To end the battle before sun set, Karno takes his magical arrow Kuntowijaya to shoot Arjuno but missed. Arjuno retaliates with his magical arrow the Pasopati to shoot Karno successfully. A thunderous shriek ends the battle.
Coming down from the prayer house, Kunthi brings a kerosene lamp to go to the battle field. She walks among dead bodies along the path full of blood in search of her sons. From afar she sees two chariots surrounded by troops with hundreds of torches. Kunthi struggles to reach that place where she sees Arjuno stands still mightily with his bow and arrow on his hands. Across, Karno laying down on his chariot holding Arjuno’s arrow on his chest. Hurriedly, Kunthi approaches Karno to carefully put his head on her lap.
“Mother, I am most happy you come to meet me at the end of my life. Forgive me for my harsh words. I am doing it to cover my weaknesses. Step-mother Adirata has never tired telling me to be patient, to always respect and love you. You must have a reason to do what you did and I have to find the truth. Mother I have forgiven you long time ago. But I am only human: too arrogant to acknowledge my weaknesses; to acknowledge that I missed you. Beloved mother, you know better that life is such a mystery.
Kunthi turns to Arjuno asking him to come down, “Pay respect to your eldest brother. Ask forgiveness and blessings from him. You have been with me all my life but this is the only time I can be with your brother Karno.” Arjuno pays respect and asks forgiveness from Karno. Embracing him, Karno says, “Arjuno my dear brother, please forgive me. I fail to be a good brother. “
Karno smiles and dies peacefully laying on Kunthi’s lap embracing Arjuno.