Karna , found by and brought up as the son of Adhiratha, the charioteer, might have led a happier and longer life, long enough to see his grandchildren grow up, had he chosen to toe the line of his foster- father. To be simply trained in the art of becoming an expert charioteer would have made things easy. However, the innate fire of ambition that had burned within with a timeless splendour, did not allow him to remain ordinary.
This illustrious son born of the union of the Sun God and the Princess Kunti had not an inkling of his true parentage or his original identity, but never did that tame him. He felt special; he sensed his uniqueness. For ambition does not rise out of identities, but is inborn and indestructible.
He trains in on the martial arts under the legendary Parashurama himself and confronts none less than Arjuna, on the day of the grand tournament that marked the graduation ceremony of the princes of the Kuru clan. However, being unfairly slighted in public, on account of being a charioteer’s son, he is deemed unworthy to challenge the princely Arjuna. At this point, Duryodhana intervenes.
The Kaurava Prince senses the extraordinary valour of the humiliated young man with an aura like the radiance of a thousand rising suns, understands that he is one of a kind. Clearly, to Duryodhana, Karna's abilities meant more than the Varna imposed on him. In acknowledgement and consummation of this recognition, he gets Dhritirashtra, his father and king of Hastinapura, declare Karna a warlord and the king of Anga Desa.
The wheel of time turns. Years later, just days before the final, epic Kurukshetra war, Krishna Himself confronts Karna with his real identity, urging the latter to embrace the side of his half-brothers. So does Kunti, though much later. Both times, Karna refuses. He would never go back on his word. Nothing would undermine his friendship and loyalty to Duryodhana.
He magnanimously chooses to give away his impenetrable and inborn celestial armour and the divine pair of earrings as ‘dhaan’ to Indra, knowing well that the things given away were the divine talismans that shielded his very life. Even in the face of impending death, he cannot give up on his charity.
To Krishna, he requests that his true identity not be revealed to the Pandavas, should Yudhishthira the Just, realize that he had been up against his own brother all the time and cede his kingdom to Karna, only to be consequently taken up by Duryodhana. He says to Krishna, “...let Yudhishthira the conscientious, be anointed the king, provided victory is theirs (the Pandavas)...”
This is why, despite his many faults and association with Duryodhana, this hero of Mahabharatha, Kunti's first born and Son of Radha, stands tall and unblemished. This is to the spirit of undying friendship and magnanimity, of ambition and the burning drive to prove oneself. Salutations to you, Karna.