Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita (September 2000, Super School Auroville) - Session 2 (26 September 2000)

Krishna was personally related to all the Pandavas in a relationship of family. So that Krishna and Arjuna were cousins. Krishna was as you know, the story of Krishna is very famous, but I'll tell you only three things about him. First of all, he was exiled right at the time of his birth from Mathura to Brindaban. There were two towns very near each other. He was born in a jail because his father and mother were jailed by the king of Mathura.

And the King was going to kill him at the birth. There is a long story about it and I won't go into that story just now, but in order to escape from this terrible fate the father of Krishna took him away from the jail stealthily and put him in the hands of a very close relative and friend in Brindavan. Both these towns exist even today − Mathura and Vrindavan. The childhood of Krishna was spent in Brindavan. And this childhood was something very special in the history of the world. The stories of his childhood have created a religion in India called a devotional religion of Vaishnavism, which is largely centered upon the childhood of Krishna. This religion considers Krishna to be the incarnation of God. Now, all incarnations of God do not manifest the special qualities of an Avatar, of an incarnation in childhood, but in the case of Krishna, it was different. Right from his childhood there was something sublime, sweet, supreme, majestic, glorious. The foster mother of Krishna, her name was Yashoda and the foster father was Vasudeva. That is why his son Krishna was called Vasudeva.

Vasudeva being the father's name, the son was Vasudeva. So there is another name of Sri Krishna − Vasudeva. The relationship between Krishna and Yashoda and the pranks of childhood of Krishna have been immortalized in the history of India and the world. In one particular instance when Krishna was supposed to have eaten butter by stealing it and when Yashoda was scolding him and when he said he had not eaten the butter the mother asked him to open his mouth and saw the whole universe in his mouth. This is one of the very important incidents in the life of Krishna in his childhood. The second aspect of his life was his relationship with a number of gopis. The word gopi means the woman who looks after cows. Since Brindavan was a small village, a village of farmers basically and since farming was dependent upon bulls and cows, there was a huge population of cows in the village and many men and practically every woman in the village looked after the cows. So one who protects the cows is called gopa, the woman who looks after the cows, protects the cows, is called gopi. Now this young boy Krishna was, so charming, so wonderful, and such a great expert in music, particularly playing of the flute, that he was constantly surrounded by these women and although there was a great quarrel between the gopis and Krishna, the gopis could not live without him and there was a constant interchange between them. And the stories of these interchanges are again an unforgettable chapter in the life of Krishna and of India. Among them was one whose name was Radha. She was an elderly woman and Krishna was a younger boy, but the relationship and the love between the two was so great that Radha had recognized that Krishna was not a mere boy, but the Divine himself and her whole life was surrender to him; in fact, it is said that the greatest surrender in the history of the world is the surrender of Radha to Krishna. So that if you want to learn what surrender means one must study Radha and follow Radha's example. You must have seen in Auroville a flower called Radha's Consciousness. I don't know if you've seen some blue little flower, (Pardon?) dark blue. It's a beautiful flower. If you smell it, you will enter into the state of surrender of Radha. You make an experiment. So this is the second aspect of Krishna's childhood. First was the relationship of Krishna with his mother Yashoda; second is his relationship with gopis and Radha; and third was his relationship with his comrades and people of Brindavan. And there are many great stories as to how Krishna even as a young boy came to the rescue of the people of Brindavan in very trying times and circumstances. When there was an outpouring of rain, and there was a flood and men and women and cows and bulls and creatures found no place, it is said that he himself lifted a mountain so as to give protection to all the people. When there was a poisonous snake in the river or in the pool of water, which was emitting poison in the water so that if people drank the water they would die, he plunged into the river and ensured that the snake would leave the entire pool. And many such other events which occurred in which Krishna was seen by the people of Brindavan as not only special but as Divine.

And Sri Aurobindo himself has said that Sri Krishna was indeed the Incarnation of the Divine. So his whole life had a mission and that mission was to lead mankind from subjection to the rule of evil, injustice, cruelty and oppression to a new level of existence where people would be ruled by kindness, by justice, by truthfulness − a new order of existence. In other words the time in which Krishna was living was a time in which the battle between the good and the evil had come to a very acute point of struggle. We have seen about Duryodhana. He was one of the principal agents of the forces of oppression and Injustice. Yudhishthira was the other one on the side of the right and justice. And therefore the followers of one and the followers of the other, they were in a tremendous struggle; each one trying to have victory over the other. Now, one of the peculiarities of Krishna's life was that right from his early boyhood he made a deep study of the condition of the country. If you read the whole story of Mahabharata the one thing that comes out is that Krishna had the acutest knowledge of all the important people of India. He knew the strength of each one, the weakness of each one. He knew who were friends with whom. He knew the geography of India so well; he could act as a charioteer. To be a charioteer as you know requires a great knowledge of geography. In fact, in Mahabharata in the war he was selected as a charioteer. One of the greatest in every field, he was still also a very great charioteer and he accepted the task of a charioteer very gladly and we shall see later on how important it was that he was a charioteer at the time of the war. In his knowledge, he had marked out a few individuals who would be central to the development of India and he knew that Arjuna was one of the greatest of his times and he had established a very close association with Arjuna. It was not only because of the personal familial relationship but also because Krishna knew the mission that was to be fulfilled and the role that Arjuna would play. It was on that basis the relationship had grown between the two. You might say he was a chosen instrument of the Divine and that is the greatness of Arjuna, to be chosen by the Divine for a great divine work.

At one stage of his life on a certain occasion, because of a certain thing that he did for which the punishment was exile. And for 12 years he went out in exile, personal exile, alone; wandering about and spent several years only in tapasya in a great experience of austerity, particularly to please the great Lord Shiva and he received a boon from Shiva as a result of this tapasya, a boon which helped him tremendously in later times; particularly the time of Mahabharata war. He also wandered in India at that time and spent some time also with Krishna who was by that time in Dwarka. I don't know if you heard the word Dwarka, even now this small town exists. If you have seen the map of India, I'm sure all of you have seen the map of India, no? The most important part − this is now Pakistan. Yes, Dwarka is here in the map of India, on the western coast. So Krishna who was born in Mathura near Delhi, who was taken to Vrindavan very near Mathura, had migrated over here. And it was here, there was a big Kingdom and he was worshipped as a ruler of Dwarka. Therefore Krishna is also known as Dwarkadhisha. Dwarkadhisha means the Lord of Dwarka. So Arjuna during his time of exile went to Dwarka also and spent a good deal of time in Dwarka with Krishna. Arjuna also married the sister of Krishna called Subhadra. This name is important because later on she herself played a great role in the Mahabharata war. So you can see again the closer relationship between Krishna and Arjuna. So not only was Arjuna great in the art of warfare, not only was he possessed of sattvic nature − pursuit of knowledge, pursuit of Dharma, pursuit of Harmony, pursuit of the right, these were his special qualities but also the achievement of a relationship with the incarnate God.

One of the closest friends of Krishna was Arjuna and that was his position that he acquired in the relationships. Arjuna was therefore called by Sri Krishna as Vibhuti. What is Vibhuti? Vibhuti is an individual who manifests a great power of the Divine, an aspect of the Divine, and uses that divine power either to obstruct divine work or to promote divine work, but ultimately always to promote divine work, even by obstructing. A great manifestation, a very special manifestation, a personality which is superhuman, that is Vibhuti. All incarnations of God are Vibhutis but not vice versa. All Vibhutis are not incarnations of God, one maybe a vehicle of divine power, but not himself a divine. Incarnation is God himself in the human body so Arjuna was not an incarnation of God like Krishna. Krishna was the incarnation of God, but Arjuna was a great manifestation of the power of God. He had reached in his evolution up to a point where he was ready for a very great achievement. So the veil of ignorance could be torn off from his eyes and he could see the Divine face-to-face. He was on the brink of that achievement. I am telling you about this because this knowledge about Arjuna is very important before we read the question that he raises in this episode, which we are going to discuss at length.

But before we come to that still something more needs to be told in the background of the story of the war. As I told you last time Yudhishthira was proclaimed by Dhritarashtra as the prince who would become the king, the declaration of him as yuvaraj and this was not tolerated by Duryodhana. He went to his father and vehemently opposed this move of his father. Father had a great sympathy for this opposition that came from his son. He could understand why Duryodhana was so angry and so dissatisfied. But his hands were tied because all the wise men, particularly Bhishma, had advised that only Yudhishthira should be given this title of yuvaraj. But the force of the opposition of Duryodhana was so great that ultimately Dhritarashtra asked Bhishma, "Is it possible to solve this problem so that Duryodhana is satisfied." Duryodhana in fact threatened that he would commit suicide and for a father to hear that his son would commit suicide, it was a great blow to him and he wanted to find a remedy. So ultimately, it was decided that Hastinapura should be divided − Hastinapura proper and Indraprastha on the other. It was divided into two parts.

The town or the kingdom of Hastinapura had also a part which was called Indraprastha. So Indraprastha, which was undeveloped, was given to Yudhishthira and the other one was allotted to Dhritarashtra himself and to Duryodhana. This is how the division took place. Once again, it was Indraprastha, which was a barren place, It was developed so greatly by Arjuna and Krishna and Yudhishthira within a short time, it became even more glorious than Hastinapura and when Duryodhana visited the palace of Yudhishthira, he felt a great envy in his heart and particularly there was one place which looked so smooth, but actually it was a pool of water. So he fell into the water; he could not avoid that pool of water. And Draupadi who was looking at the movement of Duryodhana could not stop derisive laughter and even spoke a word or a phrase which was terrible to hear, "Blind man's son is blind." He was a son of a blind man and these words went into the heart of Duryodhana and he decided to see that Draupadi is humiliated. I am only emphasizing some of the important events which took place. They may look small, but how great would be the ramifications in due course.

Now Duryodhana began a game. There was a rule at that time that if one king invited another king to play the game of dice, the invitation cannot be refused. This was a custom, right or wrong. If I invite you to play the game you cannot refuse it. So Duryodhana asked his father to invite Yudhishthira to play the game of dice with Duryodhana and his colleagues, his friends. Now Yudhishthira was very famous in the art of playing dice. It will be impossible to defeat him. And Yudhishthira, although he was a very virtuous man, had this little weakness to play the game and to play the game very nicely and not to refuse or not to give way because he knew that he would always be victorious. But this time Duryodhana had planned a cunning game. He had his uncle, his mother's brother, whose name was Shakuni. (Too many names. No? it is difficult to remember all these names. Doesn't matter. When you hear the story again and again, they will be remembered automatically.) He was a master of cunning, Shakuni. How to deceive, that was his expertise and he was to represent Duryodhana in the game. And the game started and every time Shakuni won and every time Yudhishthira failed because of his cunning. Now, there was in this game of dice a system of putting something at stake, like gambling. No? In every game of gamble you put a stake of a hundred rupees, five hundred rupees, but he was, Yudhishthira was a king; he cannot put a small amount as stake. So little by little he began to put everything at stake, even his whole kingdom was put at stake and Shakuni won. But Yudhishthira was so sure that he would win ultimately and regain everything he began to put even his brother at stake. When he failed in everything, he still had four brothers with him and he was still invited to play the game. So one by one he began to put all his brothers at stake and Yudhishthira failed. Now what was left? He put himself at stake. Putting himself as stake means he would also become a slave of Duryodhana if he failed. So four brothers had already become slaves, he himself became a slave. He failed again and became a slave. And now he had nothing else. Then somebody said, "why? You still have Draupadi." So he puts Draupadi at stake and Yudhishthira failed. Now he had nothing. The game came to an end because he had nothing now. So how could he play the game further? So now Duryodhana demanded Draupadi and said Draupadi is my slave now and asked his brother Dushasana to bring her in the courtroom.

This is one of the most terrible chapters of Indian history where a princess, the queen, was dragged into the court against her will and then Duryodhana in the courtroom, open courtroom, demanded Draupadi should sit on his lap. That was his great pride. You remember the humiliation that he had suffered from her and for that she was being dragged. And then they went further, Duryodhana went further, and said she should be disrobed, her robe should be taken away completely in the open court room. And the five husbands, Draupadi had all five brothers as her husbands; they could not stir because they were slaves of Duryodhana by that time. They were not free men. So they could not resist. They could not come to the rescue of Draupadi and even Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, all were sitting in the courtroom. And this great woman was dragged, an attempt was made to disrobe and Draupadi had nothing with her except a prayer. The power of prayer was the only power that she had and she prayed to Sri Krishna to save her from infamy, from indignity, and it is said that miraculously as one robe was removed, the other robe came into being, and robe after robe, robe after robe. And a strong man like Dushasana, the brother of Duryodhana, he went on disrobing and he himself became so tired that he fell down, he couldn't do anymore. It was at this stage that Dhritarashtra ordered that the whole thing should stop, − too late. And then Draupadi asked many questions and Dhritarashtra in recompense asked Draupadi for a boon. He said "anything that you ask for, I will give." So she said, "I don't want anything. My kingdom has gone, my husbands have gone, everything is gone in my life. You just rescue my husbands that would be enough." They were free, but Dhritarashtra said ask more and himself offered to give the whole kingdom back. So the kingdom also was given back and now all of them were returning to Indraprastha from Hastinapura, but Duryodhana felt that he was defeated because after all what happened? Nothing. He gained nothing so asked again all of them to return for another game of dice. And as I said, the rule was if you are asked, a king is asked, according to the custom, he had to agree. Once again, Yudhishthira lost. This is called the tragedy of life. Once again Yudhishthira lost. And this time what was the stake? What was the condition? That if Yudhishthira lost, for 12 years they have to go into exile and in the 13th year they should remain incognito without being recognized, in one place. For one year they should remain in one place without being recognized and if they would be recognized then they had to go again for 12 years into exile. This was the condition. Terrible condition which was accepted and the five brothers and Draupadi left for exile.

Now it is this period of exile during which there was a tremendous churning in the minds and hearts of Pandavas, in the minds and hearts of all the allies of Yudhishthira, all the friends, great Kings were also friends of Yudhishthira. Similar churning went also in the hearts and minds of Duryodhana and all the others, his friends. In fact, all the kings of all the parts of India, (at the time India was much larger than the present India) all of them at that time were concentrated upon what would happen to Pandavas when they would return after 12 years. Krishna was a constant friend of Pandavas, actually was a friend of all, even Kauravas were very friendly with him. In fact, he was recognized as one of the greatest politicians, diplomats of his times, a peacemaker, and a harmonizer. All used to take his advice.

But Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, these five brothers, and Draupadi, used to take advice of Krishna constantly. Bhima particularly was tremendously furious and his constant counsel was, − fight with Duryodhana, destroy all Kauravas, they are a great evil and gain a full Kingdom both of Hastinapura and Indraprastha. This was his advice. Such was the advice also of Draupadi, the kind of humiliation that she received at the hands of Kauravas. Yudhishthira, a man of great kindness, righteousness, dignity and glory, he was always hesitant and did not vote for war; so there was a great debate constantly going on among the Pandavas, whether we should go for war or not. What was the advice of Krishna? His advice was to have talks with Kauravas and to arrive at peace coupled with justice. Justice was that these five brothers should be given back Indraprastha and then the two kingdoms, side-by-side neighbouring kingdoms would live in peace and harmony forever and ever.

This was the demand. Why was Krishna giving this advice? Because he knew that on both the sides very powerful kings were involved on both the sides and if the war took place it will be one of the fiercest wars in the history of the world, unparalleled war − where hundreds, thousands, millions, would be put into the battlefield and there will be a mutual massacre, destruction, so many young people would die, so much of knowledge will be destroyed, the whole civilization would undergo a great upheaval. He wanted to prevent it. At the same time, he wanted to see that injustice is destroyed, how to save the civilization and yet to bring about justice this was the question before Krishna. So he advised the utmost sense of peace and justice. Therefore when after the exile was over, when Pandavas came back, (it's a long, long story of exile and many things happened during the exile, into which I am not going now. I'm just rapidly cutting short) but they came back and then Krishna was sent by Yudhishthira as a messenger of peace. Even there Duryodhana insulted Krishna, tried to imprison him, which is against the rules of diplomacy, a messenger cannot be put into imprisonment, a messenger cannot be hurt, injured in any way, but Duryodhana did not mind injustice or something wrong at all. Anything that suited his purpose was right for him. Ultimately Krishna proposed that Indraprastha should be given away back to Pandavas. And Duryodhana refused. Ultimately Krishna said "you give only five villages, don't give the whole kingdom, only five villages so that each prince has one village under his command." then Duryodhana said, "I will not give even that much of land on which you can put a needle, even that much of land I am not prepared to give." It was then that Krishna came back and said war is inevitable. Now that is the background of Arjuna's question. The war is inevitable. It must be fought. The destruction is the only way by which this injustice can be rooted out from the earth and all the Pandavas agreed and so many kings of India came to help Pandavas.

But so many other kings also came to help Duryodhana. Now this episode on which we are concentrating begins at this point. Both the armies are now to be found on this great battlefield of Kurukshetra, very near present Delhi, Kurukshetra where both the armies stood against each other. And Arjuna came in his chariot and Krishna was the charioteer of Arjuna's chariot. And on coming to the battlefield he asks Krishna, "Draw my chariot from where I can see my opponents." What does he see? What does he feel?