In times of adversity alone can we judge the true worth of a man. Adversities may be man’s stepping-stones to success. But to face a situation unswerving despite when one’s very life is at stake but for one’s principles requires a heart made of rock. For principles are the founding pillars leaning upon which man builds his life.
As the Pandavas were in the final phase of their exile, sage Lomasa came to Yudhishtira and said: I know you fear that Radheya, being a better archer, might kill Arjuna. You need not, for I have this message for you from Indra.
Once, as Radheya was asleep, he had a vision. A Brahmana came to him and said: My dear son, I have something very important to tell you. Tomorrow will come Indra in the guise of a beggar and ask of you the Kavacha and Kundalas that you were born with. Do not give them to him, as then your life would be at stake.
Radheya said: That is not possible for I have vowed never to refuse anything asked of me by anyone.
The Brahmana said: I am Surya and I have come to tell you of Indra’s intention because I love you. Indra is concerned that you may cause the death of his son, Arjuna. Please listen to me and live long.
Radheya said: My Lord! You are my Lord and I pray only to you. When treated an outcast, I vowed that I would prove my worth by giving anything that anyone should ask of me. If Indra should for the Kavacha and Kundalas, I shall give them to him. If that should mean to have me killed, so be it. I would rather be well known as a great giver than live long with the infamy of having refused to give something to someone simply to save my skin!
Surya said: There is no way I can persuade you to go back on the vow you have undertaken, dear son. But, there is one other thing I want you to do. Indra would offer you a boon. Ask him to give you his deadly weapon, Shakti. It would, to a certain extent, make up for the loss you suffer. You always have my blessings!
Surya then disappeared.
The following morning, Indra came to Radheya in the guise of a beggar. He asked: Oh, Radheya, please give me alms! Please give me your Kavacha and Kundalas!
Radheya said: Oh, Lord! I know who you are! They say of you, ‘Like Parjanya in giving’. I feel embarrassed that the great giver should come in the guise of a beggar and ask something of me. I feel honoured indeed and I shall please myself by giving what you ask.
He then cut off his Kavacha and Kundalas and gave them to Indra.
Indra, touched, said: I feel small in front of you, my dear Radheya! Since you have cut off your Kavacha, you shall be called ‘Vaikartana’ or the one who cut off (his shield); and because you gave away your Kundalas, you shall be called, ‘Karna’ or the one with his ears (chopped off).
Henceforth, the world shall say, ‘Like Karna in giving’. I am pleased with you. You may ask for anything you want.
Radheya said: It is not right to get a boon in exchange for something given as an offering. Yet, I do not want the world to assess you in poor light and so I ask you. Please give me the Shakti.
Indra said: Here it is. But you may use it only once. Having accomplished its purpose, it shall return to me. I bless you!
Indra then disappeared, leaving Karna lonely once again.