What weighs heavier, Dharma or Devotion?

September 24, 2015, Chennai

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MahabarataTo war or to peace, was the question that was raging high on that day of discussion when Krishna was nominated to be sent as an ambassador on behalf of Pandavas.


  Yudhishthira, as we had mentioned earlier, was ready to accept just five villages.  “We are desirous of peace; give us even a single province of the empire.  Give us even Kusasthala, Vrikasthala, Makandi, Varanavata, and for the fifth any other that thou likest. Even this will end the quarrel. O Suyodhana, give unto thy five brothers at least five villages” is what Yudhishthira tells Sanjaya when the latter comes as the envoy of Duryodhana.

There is a beautiful explanation on the villages that Dharmaputra asks for.  Poet Bhatta Narayana puts it through the words of Sahadeva, in his drama Veni Samhara.  “By him, thus asking for four villages by their specific names, and not mentioning the fifth, I think an emphatic reference has been made to the places of our calamities, viz., the poisoned food, lac-house-fire, the gambling bout, and others.”  But the names of villages that Bhatta Narayana gives are somewhat different.  Indraprastha, Vrikaprastha, Jayanta, and Varanavata are the four places that he asked for, leaving the fifth for Duryodhana’s choice.  Of these, Indraprastha is the City that the Pandavas established; Varanavata is the place where the house-of-lac was constructed and burnt; Jayanta is the place where the game of dice took place.  I am not able to spot the other two names from the main body of the text of Mahabharata.  The name of the place where Bhima was poisoned is given as Pramanakoti in the banks of Ganges, in Vyasa Bharata.  

Anyway, the names of cities—or villages for that matter—differ from version to version.  All that we can deduce is that these five villages (four to be exact) were known by other names too.  It is for some other researcher to identify the real names.  What I wanted to say here was, as Bhatta Narayana points out, each ‘village’ that Dharmaputra asked for from Duryodhana was associated with their life’s tragedies.  The fifth village, of course, was left to the choice of Duryodhana.  Duryodhana turned down the request.  ‘Not the size of land of a needle’s point’ was his atrocious reply.  

The point to note here is that the peace negotiations of Krishna start not before they received this message from Duryodhana, but AFTER they were told of his stout refusal of what the minimum they solicited for in order to avoid a war, through Sanjaya, the first messenger from Dhritarashtra.  Dharmaputra was trying all that he could to avoid the war and hence Krishna got himself ready to go for the next round of talks.  And that’s when we heard Draupadi’s wrath to assuage for the humiliation she suffered, expressed to Krishna and to the assembly of Kings in general.  

Not that Yudhishthira was pacified, consoled and the effects of his sufferings right from the day of the poisoning of Bhima, the sufferings due to the house of lac and the humble life that he had to lead at Ekachakrapura, the injustice done to him in giving his ‘half the share of the land’ in the form of nothing more than a jungle, the Kandava Vana, and the jealousy of Duryodhana that devised a plan to divest him of his share, a jungle that he had developed into a city par excellence, where population abounded, by covetous means, the sufferings that he had to undergo while on exile, the humiliations that he had to take while on incognito and the humiliations that Draupadi was subjected to while in exile, by Jayadratha and once again in the kingdom of Virata, by Kichaka…. Their miseries were endless and they had just completed an exile and incognito of thirteen years.  The only drop of nectar that fell on their lips during this long ordeal was the marriage of Abhimanyu, less than a month ago.  

At such a time, when he could have had nothing but raw wounds and painful scars, Yudhishthira was ready for a compromise.  But Duryodhana shut that door firmly on his face.  His attempts at reconciliation and peace are supported by Krishna.  

That reminds me of an incident in the Ramayana.  After landing in Lanka and surrounding the fortress of Ravana, Rama thinks of giving a final chance to him and sends Angada as his ambassador, giving Ravana two options: ‘dEviyai viduga andrEl serukkaLatthu edhirndhu thankaN aaviyai viduga’ is what he sends as his message through Angada.  ‘Either give back Sita or face me in battle and give up your life.’  

But Lakshmana turned impatient.  It did not seem logical to him.  ‘What is the purpose of an attempt at peace O brother!  The siege is laid already and the war is about to commence.  Do you really think that that idiot is going to listen to you and give Sita back?  Or, on the other hand, assuming that he gives back Sita and the war stops at this stage, what happens to the promise of Kingship that you had avowed for Vibishana?  How can he become the King without Ravana being killed?  War is the only option open to us now.  There is no meaning in sending an ambassador at this stage.’

Rama pacified Lakshmana.  ‘sEvagan muruval seydhaan,’ says the Poet.  Rama simply smiled.  ‘ayarthilen.’  I am not muddled.  ‘mudivum ahdhE.’  I know what is going to happen in the end.  The words may also be interpreted to mean, ‘there is no change in my decision.’  ‘Lakshmana, I know that Ravana is not going to listen.  I know that he is not going to hand Sita back.  Even then.  Even at such a situation, the Books demand us to give peace a chance.  We should try all that is within our power to avoid war.  Even when war is imminent, we should not give up an attempt for making peace. That’s what the Scriptures tell us; demand from us.  We may be better in might and we may be one hundred per cent certain that victory would be ours.  But, we should give peace a chance. That is what Dharma demands and that is the ONLY way to make the victory enduring.”  Compare these words of Rama with what Krishna is going to utter in a while.  

 Now, Krishna gets ready to go for negotiations on peace.  Yudhishthira was not so comfortable with Krishna going to Duryodhana for his purpose.  Apart from anything else, he had heard through spies that Duryodhana was planning to harm Krishna.  He tells Krishna, "Yudhishthira said, It is not my wish, O Krishna, that thou wilt go to the Kurus, for Suyodhana will never act according to thy words, even if thou advisest him well.  All the Kshatriyas of the world, obedient to Duryodhana's command, are assembled there. I do not like that thou, O Krishna, shouldst proceed into their midst, If any mischief be done to thee, O Madhava, let alone happiness; nothing, not even divinity, nor even the sovereignty over all the gods will delight us.” (Mahabharata, Book 5, Chapter 72 in English)

"The holy one said, 'I know, O monarch, the sinfulness of Dhritarashtra's son, but by going there we will escape the blame of all the kings of the earth. Like other animals before the lion, all the kings of the earth united together are not competent to stand still before me in battle when I am enraged. If, after all, they do me any injury, then I will consume all the Kurus. Even this is my intention. My going thither, O Partha, will not be fruitless, for if our object be not fulfilled, we shall at least escape all blame”  (Book 5, Chapter 72 in English).

Rama gave peace a chance earlier, with Hanuman carrying his message.  He gave a second and last chance for peace, when the battle was about to commence.  And that’s what Krishna is also saying and doing now.  ‘I know Duryodhana would not listen.  But we should do all that is within our power to avoid a war. If Duryodhana makes it impossible for us to remain at peace, which I know is going to happen, we HAVE rise up in war. But at such time, my present effort would not go waste.  At least, it would be for the world to see that we had been fair, we acted according to what is demanded by Dharma.  If Duryodhana wants to perish, then it becomes his decision; not ours,’ is how the words of Krishna are to be interpreted.  That is the obvious undercurrent of his words.  ‘Do not be afraid of my safety O Ajatasatru! All the kings assembled there put together, are like a heap of straw before my energy.  I will burn all of them down like forest fire, if I am harmed or angered’ is what Krishna tells Dharmaputra before starting on his mission.  (Ajatasatru is the other name of Dharmaputra.)

And we see by now that there was absolutely no difference in the ways of approach of either Rama or Krishna.  They acted in an exactly similar manner, in major matters of policy.  But then, why should Krishna take up the side of Yudhishthira, if Duryodhana was the rightful heir (as most of us seem to believe).  Was is because of the fact that Kunti was Krishna’s paternal aunt or was it because Arjuna was dearer to him more than his wives, sons, kith and kin or was it due to any other reason?  Why should injustice be done to Duryodhana—as most of us seem to imagine.

I have read and heard many scholars giving ‘devotion’ as the reason behind the Lord’s particular attachment to Arjuna and his brothers.  Pseudo argument, pseudo sense of justice, I would say.  In fact no true devotion can exist in the absence of rectitude, or Dharma!  Obviously, Duryodhana was not right and Dharma was.  Else there is no reason why Krishna should stand by the side of Yudhishthira and his brothers, and emphasised a hundred times that he would do this or this or that ‘at the behest of Dharmaputra’. Now that should be a bit puzzling.  A short answer is found in the Text.  

When Pandavas were in Upaplavya, Veda Vyasa came to meet them in person.  He spoke to Dharmaputra, consoled him and remarked thus:

upaplavye maharṣir me kṛṣṇadvaipāyano 'bravīt
yato dharmas tataḥ kṛṣṇo yatha kṛṣṇas tato jayaḥ
(Mahabharata, Book 9, Salya Parva, Chapter 61 in Sanskrit, Sloka 30 and 62 in English)

In the Salya Parva, the very last moment of War, Dharmaputra quotes these words of Vyasa to Arjuna.  yato dharmas tataḥ kṛṣṇo yatha kṛṣṇas tato jayaḥ.  Krishna is there where Dharma is and Victory is there where Krishna is.  That puts things in a nutshell.  Krishna was there by Yudhishthira, because the latter stood by Dharma.  And victory belonged to Yudhishthira, because it was Krishna who stood by their side.

Now you will ask me a question.  When Dhritarashtra was the eldest son, and Pandu was only running a care-taker government, because of the physical handicap of his elder brother, how is that Yudhishthira inherit the kingdom?  

That is one area which most of us misunderstood the whole concept of Kingship and the way it passes down the line of a King.  Let’s now examine what actually does this ‘right of inheritance’ mean.  Does it mean that the eldest son inherits the kingdom in all circumstances?  In cases where the eldest son is not able to inherit the kingdom, and it is handed over to the younger brother, whose lineage stays in power?  Whose children inherit?  Who really was running the care-taker Government, Pandu or Dhritarashtra?

(To be contd.)
                                                                                                                                  
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                                                                                                                                Hari Krishnan