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1. Introduction:

The Bhagavad Gita is the greatest spiritual and metaphysical scripture of the Hindus. It contains valuable teachings applicable to all stages of human development. Such a universal and all-pervasive teaching with practical solution for every day problems of life fell from the divine lips of the Lord Himself. Sri Krishna had once revealed to his mother the whole universe of infinite dimensions in his tiny mouth; so also, in his short discourse uttered with a limited number of words in a limited span of time Sri Krishna has given the very quintessence of the universal science of life. This indeed is a testimony to the divine glory of Lord Sri Krishna.

Once, after the Kurukshetra war, when the Pandavas were ruling their kingdom, Arjuna besought Sri Krishna: “Oh Lord, I was fortunate to receive from you the teachings of the Gita but that was in the din and bustle of the battlefield; I would very much like to hear it once again at leisure in the calm and peaceful atmosphere now reigning.” To this, the omniscient Lord replied: “Oh Arjuna I do not have the same inspiration today. I cannot recapture that same teaching again.” Although nothing would have been impossible to Him, this episode serves to highlight the extraordinary greatness of the Gita.

The time, the Place and the dramatic context selected by the Lord to give His supreme teaching to humanity are unique. Both the Kaurava and the Pandava armies are lined up face to face and the war is about to begin. The minds of all the soldiers taking part in the war are agitated because they are under the tension of an explosive war. At this time who else but God Himself could have the poise and power to expound such a simple and yet profound philosophic teaching? In our daily lives, very often grave problems confront us. Confused, we lose our heart. Only at such moments of crisis do we experience the dire need of the Gita. The mind is a battlefield where the good and evil forces fight for supremacy. Unable to face life and its problems, we are prone to run away from our duties and responsibilities out of sheer cowardice. To such cowards, the Gita offers hope and encouragement. It prompts them into rightful action. The Gita which was preached to Arjuna in the context of the Kurukshetra war has wider application to the war that is going on constantly within our mind between the good and the evil forces. Sri Madhvacharya says that the Mahabharata has not only a historical but also a metaphysical interpretation. One may wonder whether this teaching given in the bygone days of the Dwapara Yuga will ever be applicable to the modern atomic age! But, in fact, the teachings of the Gita are perennial and contain elements of truth applicable to all ages.
svaeRpin;dae gavae daeGxa gaepal nNdn>,
pawaeRvTs> suxI-aeRKtaÊGx< gItam&t< mht!.
sarvopaniÿado g˜vo dogdh˜ gop˜la nandana×

p˜rthovatsa× sudhŸrbhokt˜dugdhaÕ gŸt˜m®taÕ mahat
In this verse, the Upanishads are called a cow, Sri Krishna is the milkman, Arjuna is the calf which induces the cow to yield milk and the Gita is the milk. Just as the milk is not for the calf alone, so also the Gita which contains the quintessence of all the UpaniShadic thought is not for Arjuna alone but for the whole of mankind.

While giving this discourse, Sri Krishna is described to have held his fingers in the form of ‘Jnana Mudra’ which is also symbolic of milking and what has flown out in the form of the Gita is the divine nectar itself.
}anmuÔay k«:[ay gItam&tÊhe nm>,

jñ˜namudr˜ya k®ÿõ˜ya gŸt˜m®taduhe nama×

2. On the sacred field of Kurukshetra:

The Gita commences with a dialogue between Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya. Sri Vedavyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, makes Sanjaya give the blind Dhritarashtra a running commentary of the whole battle. Sanjaya is giving him a vivid description in minutest detail. Dhritarashtra asks: “Tell me, Sanjaya, what did the sons of Pandu and mine do, when they gathered on the sacred field of Kurukshetra.” Spiritually blind also as he is, Dhritarashtra betrays his attachment to and fondness for his own sons, as against the sons of Pandu. He did not ask Sanjaya how the war progressed. Instead, he enquired what the Pandavas did. He fondly expected that when the noble Pandavas assembled on the battlefield ready for war, their piety would be roused and out of the goodness of their heart, they would voluntarily give up all claims to the kingdom. Earlier this wily and selfish old king had sent words to the Pandavas through Sanjaya thus: “Oh sons of Pandu, my sons are after all wicked and quarrelsome. But at least you are good and noble! Therefore give up your claim to the kingdom, retire to the forest and spend the rest of your days in peace.” He had hoped that this advice would have some effect on at least one of the Pandavas, if not all and it is as though to see whether any of them had been demoralised that he asks Sanjaya the above question. In fact Dhritarashtra’s advice did not really go in vain! The valiant Arjuna himself becomes thoroughly demoralised and loses the determination to fight. He becomes a nervous wreck and repeats the very arguments put forward by Dhritarashtra and withdraws from war.

Sanjaya replies: “0 Dhritarashtra! Your son Duryodhana had expected that the Pandavas, having spent thirteen years in the forest, would not be able to raise a respectable army in such a short time. He had hoped that the Pandavas would be disheartened on seeing your majestic army. But on the contrary, it is Duryodhana who has got unnerved on seeing the mighty Pandava army.”

As narrated in the ‘Sabha Parva’, when Bhima under provocation, vowed that he would kill Duryodhana and others, they got so frightened about their lives that they ran to Dronacharya and got from him an assurance of protection. Now the bewildered Duryodhana goes to Dronacharya and describes the heroes on either side and expresses his genuine doubt and fear whether his army under the command of Bhishma would ever be able to vanquish the army commanded by Bhima.

The Pandava army has a very high morale. They are determined to strike down the forces of evil. They are inspired by noble and revolutionary ideas and ideals. Besides possessing strength of character, they are led by no less a hero than the mighty Bhimasena himself who is the very embodiment of discipline and devotion. On the other hand the Kaurava army is full of mercenaries and timeservers. They are not fighting for any principle or just cause. Their heart is not in it and they are carrying on the war much against their will, They are in the war because they are under obligation to Duryodhana. No doubt Bhishma is a celebrated warrior. But he knows that he is backing a wrong horse. His heart is not in this unholy war. Apart from hatred and animosity there is no other ideal to inspire the Kaurava army. Comparing the leadership of Bhishma and Bhima from this point of view and realising the weakness of his army due to lack of determination and strength of character, Duryodhana becomes nervous and runs to Dronacharya and expresses his doubt about the final outcome of the war. Seeing that Duryodhana is nervous, Bhishma and his followers blow their conches as though to infuse fresh life and courage into him. To this the Pandavas reply by blowing their own conches.
tt> ñetEhRyEyuRKte mhit SyNdne iSwtaE,
maxv> pa{fvíEv idVyaE zŒaE àdXmtu>.

tata× þvetairhayairyukte mahati syandane sthitau
m˜dhava× p˜õýavaþcaiva divyau þaðkhau pradadhmatu×
-- I-14

Krishna and Arjuna, seated in a chariot drawn by white stallions also blow their divine conches, making a sound like the syllable ‘Aum’ of the Vedas. This sound is indeed a fitting invocation for the great teaching about to flow out from the divine lips of the Lord.

3. Between the two armies:

When the Kaurava and the Pandava armies are thus lined up and when the war is about to commence, Arjuna asks his charioteer Sri Krishna to position his chariot between the two armies so that he could have a view of his adversaries. When the chariot is thus positioned by Sri Krishna, Arjuna takes a good look at both the armies. He immediately gets a shock because in the opposite army he sees the familiar faces of his kinsmen, teachers and friends. He curses the fate that brings him to fight his dear and near ones. Arjuna gets perplexed, thoroughly confused and has a virtual nervous breakdown. He tells Krishna that he has resolved not to fight his own people and in support of this, he puts forth the following arguments:

“This terrible war which is about to begin will do good neither in this life nor in the next. If I win the war I may get the kingdom but I lose more than what I gain. What good is it, what happiness is it, if I have to build my empire on the graves of my revered teachers, beloved friends and my own kinsmen? If I win, I may acquire all the wealth of the world but it will not give me any happiness or peace of mind. Will any plant sprout from fried seeds? Similarly, what enjoyment can sprout in a heart burning with the sorrow from the death of one’s kinsmen. I covet not such a kingdom because it will only be soiled by the blood of my own relatives.”

“By this cruel act, how can I get any happiness in the next life either. No doubt my cousins, the sons of Dhritarashtra, are wicked and they had tried in many ways to kill us, by poison and fire and they deserve to be annihilated. But we are not fighting them alone. Along with them there are other relatives, friends and preceptors and we have perforce to kill them. In the name of killing wicked people like Duryodhana and others, we kill innocent people also and we ourselves become cruel and wicked and will be bereft of heaven We shall have to keep company with them in hell.”

Thus does Arjuna feel that the war would lead to happiness neither in this life nor in the afterlife. Further, he feels the war would lead to many social ills. Each and every house has sent its able-bodied men into this war. Most of them would be killed and hence the male population would diminish and women perforce might go astray. Castes and communities would get mixed up. The social structure would crumble and immorality and vice would play havoc, undermining the whole social structure. These are no doubt some of the evils of war and we have seen all these things happening after the recent world war.

Having thus narrated the evils of war for the individual both in this life and in the afterlife and for the society as a whole, Arjuna reiterates his earlier resolve not to fight. “It is better to beg and fill one’s belly, it is better to spend one’s life in a forest like a mendicant than kill one’s kinsmen for the sake of this earthly kingdom,” thus saying Arjuna lays down his weapons and sits dejected. At this, Sri Krishna chides Arjuna for his lack of will and faint-heartedness and inspires him to rise to the heroic occasion befitting his birth and stature. But Arjuna is adamant. Under a heavy delusion he spurns both the kingdom of the whole earth and heaven if they were to be secured only by the slaughter of his kinsmen. Arjuna is thus tossed between two opposing duties, duty as a kshatriya to kill the enemies and duty as an ordinary householder to show reverence to his elders and preceptors. He is confused and knows not the right path. He is also aware that his vision is clouded by his attachment to his kinsmen and that he is using high-sounding philosophic arguments only to cover his weakness. He thus surrenders himself completely to Sri Krishna and implores Him to take him as His disciple and show him the right path.

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This page prepared by  Ramadas
Created March 02, 2000; last modified March 08, 2000