IT was the day before the commencement of the great battle. The grandsire, now the Kaurava Generalissimo, was with Duryodhana seeking to inspire him with his own heroic spirit and cheerfulness.
Bhishma spoke of the strength, skill and prowess of the warriors ranged on the Kauravas' side. Duryodhana was cheered up. Presently, Karna became the subject of their talk.
"Karna has earned your affection," said Bhishma, "but I do not think much of him. I do not like his great hatred of the Pandavas, and he is too boastful. There is no limit to his arrogance and he is much given to disparaging others. I would not place him in the highest rank among the warriors of the land. Besides, he has given away the divine armor with which he was born. He is not therefore likely to be of great help to me in this battle. The curse of Parasurama is on him too. His command of supernatural weapons will fail him in his hour of need, for he will not be able to remember the mantras. And the battle that will ensue between him and Arjuna will prove fatal for Karna."
Thus spoke Bhishma without mincing matters, and this was exceedingly unpalatable to Duryodhana and Karna. To make matters worse, Drona agreed with the grandsire and said:
"Karna is full of pride and overconfidence, which will cause him to be neglectful of the finer points of strategy, and through carelessness, he will suffer defeat."
Enraged by these harsh words, Karna turned to the grandsire with flaming eyes. "You sir," said he, "have always slighted me through mere dislike and envy and have never neglected an opportunity of humiliating me, though I gave you no reason. I bore all your taunts and thrusts for the sake of Duryodhana. You have said that I would not be of much help in the impending war. Let me tell you my settled conviction, it is you, not I, who will fail the Kauravas. Why hide your real feelings? The fact of the matter is that you have no genuine affection for Duryodhana, but he does not know it. Hating me you seek to come between me and Duryodhana and poison his mind against me. And in furtherance of your wicked design, you have been belittling my strength and running me down. You have stooped to behavior unworthy of a kshatriya. Age alone does not confer a title to honor and respect among warriors, but prowess does. Desist from poisoning our relations."
Turning then to Duryodhana, Karna said:
"Illustrious warrior, think well and look to your own good. Do not place too great a reliance on the grandsire. He is trying to sow dissension in our ranks. His appraisement of me will injure your cause. By running me down, he seeks to dampen my enthusiasm. He has become senile and his time is up. His arrogance does not let him have regard for anyone else. Age must be respected and experience is useful but, as the sastras warn us, there is a point when age becomes senility and ripeness falls into rottenness and decay. You have made Bhishma your Generalissimo who will, I have no doubt, earn some fame from the heroic deeds of others. But I will not bear arms while he is in command. Only after he has fallen will I do so."
The arrogant man is never conscious of his own arrogance. When accused of it, he charges the accuser with that very fault. His judgment is warped and he considers it a crime on the part of anyone to point out his defect. This is well illustrated in this episode.
Controlling his anger, Bhishma replied: "Son of Surya, we are in a crisis and that is why you have not ceased to live this moment. You have been the evil genius of the Kauravas." Duryodhana was in distress.
"Son of Ganga, I need the help of you both," he said. "You will both do deeds of great heroism, I have no doubt. At the break of dawn, the battle joins. Let there be no fighting among friends, with the foe in full force before us!"
But Karna was adamant in that he would not take up arms so long as Bhishma was in supreme command. Duryodhana eventually yielded to Karna and suffered him to carry out his threat.
Karna kept out during the first ten days of the battle, though all his men participated in it. At the end of the tenth day, when the great Bhishma lay on the battlefield covered all over with arrows, Karna went to him and bowed reverently and asked for forgiveness and blessings, which he received.
Thereafter, Karna cooperated and himself proposed Drona for the command of the Kaurava forces in succession to Bhishma. When Drona also fell, Karna took over the command and led the Kaurava forces.