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January 06, 2012

Comments

Hi Namit,

Just one point to note. I don't think Krishna asked the "Narayani Senas" to fight on the Kaurava side. If you remember the story- both Duryodhana and Arjuna went to recruit Krishna for their side of the army on the same day. At that time Krishna was sleeping soundly- and both the princes were asked to wait. Duryodhana as befits a King took his seat at the head of Krishna while Arjuna seated himself at the foot of the bed. Opening his eyes Krishna saw Arjuna first and then Duryodhana, so Arjuna was offered the privilege to make the fisrt choice between Krishna and his almost invincible "Narayani Sena" (i.e the special branch of the military in the Yadava forces). Arjuna ofcourse chose Krishna so Duryodhana had no other option but to choose the "one akshouhini" i.e 10 lakhs (I think but not totally sure) of Narayani Sena.
I am sure this was also a Divine plight but not a direct one. Krishna was ofcourse a big "manipulator so he cleverly led Arjuna to make the first choice.
Incase Duryodhana got Krishna at his side I wonder what kind of mindgames he would have played at that point :-)

Hi Shreyasi,

You're right about how the two cousins chose between Krishna vs. his army. But it was Krishna who set up the choice of "me" vs. "my army". It was his way of showing that because he loves them equally he can join either side and so is neutral, which he is clearly not—not in the Gita, nor during the war—he believes the Kauravas are the bad guys. What's bizarre is that he is comfortable with the idea of conspiring against his own army, just so he can maintain a fake front of neutrality? This is the part that didn't make any sense to me. It sounds twisted, in fact. Why is it not his dharma, or his soldiers' dharma, to fight for what he thinks is the right cause? He lets the cousins decide who the "10 lakh" people will fight and die for—and against their own king? Strange, no?

Hi Namit,

Krishna was a manipulator and the Pandavas won the war unfairly. Krishna and Yudhishthira worked on Bhishma to reveal the secret of his death and succeeded in putting Shikhandi before him so that Bhishma wouldn't fight. At Krishna's counsel Yudhisthira lied to Dronacharya about his son Aswathama getting killed in the battle and Drona dropped his weapons, this was followed by the Karna and Jayadratha killing incidents- and finally by Duryodhana losing to Bheema in another unfair mace-battle prompted by Krishna. So whether it is in Gita or the Mahabharata I think Krishna has been shown in a really bad light. He was never neutral as he proclaimed himself to be. However the good part of Mahabharata is that even Krishna didn't go unpunished. He died the humblest death ever and his clan of Yadavas were completely destroyed. So maybe there is a kind of message in Mahabharata that is altogether different from the Gita. Yes, there could be a justifiable "bigger" cause for which "smaller" causes could be sacrificed but at the same time the "masterminds" or "policy makers" have got to pay the price for that kind of decision ! And not even God is above justice. Perhaps we should choose Mahabharata as our "Holy Book" in lieu of Gita :-)

I like your telling of the story, Shreyasi! (except for the "holy book" part ;^)

Thanks Usha. Didn't mean to say "holy book" in a "holy" way- if you understand what I mean :-)

Yes, well said! For most Indians, I think Krishna's intervention during Draupadi vastraharan is his most admirable deed in the epic. However, what comes through loud and clear—unless one's imagination is ruled by religious sensibilities—is that even the creator is flawed, much like his creation. It is really an open-ended text that has lent itself to various interpretations, even among religious folks. There is no reason why a new range of "heterodox" (nastika) interpretations should not flower today—they too are part of the Indian tradition—in which we would view the gods as characters in a man-made story, a story that serves our purposes in this world, which itself keep changing over time.

Namit, the root assumption in the Mahabharata and the Gita is supremacy of the act that upholds "Dharma". These acts may not necessarily be kind or compassionate, but they are considered supreme. In fact they are axiomatically prescribed to supreme once they come with the sanction of God.

This is a weakness, not only of the Mahabharata and the Gita, but in the logical foundations of Hinduism. It is also the cause for the caste system. It appears to me that your criticism of the Gita can be distilled to your disagreement with the notion of Dharma. Am I right?

Hello Ankur,
If you recall, the notion of dharma also pervades Buddhism. So a lot depends on what meaning of the term we have in mind: how it is constituted and justified, how rigid it is, and so on. There can be more or less progressive ideas of dharma: for instance, is it constituted divinely or through reflection? So I am not negatively disposed to the notion of dharma per se, only to particular conceptions of it. The one articulated in the Gita seems to me more reactionary, as I have argued. In the Mahabharata itself, I find the notion of dharma to be more diffuse and flexible.

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