Editor’s Note: Tomorrow is India’s Independence Day. We see an India that is on its economic growth path but still mired in confusion about the various geopolitical challenges facing it from all directions. Above all, we see an India that is lacking in resolve, in cold determination and unable to decide how to respond to its challenges. So we thought we should bring a great story from India’ s history to our readers. Every single Indian knows the basic tale but the teachings of Dharma that make this story possible are not well-known. The words we bring you are straight from the Mahaa-Bhaarat and the advise is given by Shree Krishna to Arjun at the most critical moment of that great War.
It was the 17th day of the Mahaa-Bhaarat war. The massacre of men, elephants and horses had been horrendous. Of the 3 million plus warriors who joined the battle, a few remained. This was the day that Shree Krishna chose for the most decisive battle of the War, the battle between Arjun and Karna. This was not joined lightly. To get Arjun in the proper frame of mind for this battle, Shree Krishna reminded Arjun of his great exploits and his weapons. This praise by Shree Krishna fills 20 pages of the Book of Karna, Volume Two .
After Shree Krishna finished, Arjun became totally focused and his words tell us that he understood the scale of the battle:
उपस्थितं इदं घोरं युद्धम त्रैलोक्य मोहनं
upasthitam idam ghoram trailokya mohanaam
At hand is this terrible battle that will transfix the three worlds
यज जनाः कथीश्यंती यावद भूमिर धरिष्यति
yaj janaha kathishyanti yavad bhumir dharishyati
This (battle) people will describe (or recount) as long as the earth exists
Our objective is not to describe this great and unique battle. For that we refer readers to the article The Karna -Arjun Battle in the Maha-Bharat – Beyond Adjectives . Suffice it to say that the description of this battle in the Mahaa-Bhaarat is 85 pages long (of the CSL translation).
What we are focused on today is the final scene of this battle. A wheel of Karna’s chariot sank into the soft ground rendering it immobile. The chariot battles were based on mobility and misdirection much like today’s tank battles. Karna got down from his chariot, grasped the wheel with both hands and lifted it to the height of four fingers. At this time, Karna was defenseless. He said to Arjun:
- You know the Dharma of War, O Son of Pandu, Remember धर्म उपदेशम the Upadesh (teachings) of Dharma and मुहुर्तम क्षम = Muhurtam Kshama (wait for a moment).
What Shree Krishna said in response to Karna has become immortal. It is the clearest enunciation of Dharma Yudha that we know and it is given at this most critical stage of that epic war. It is fairly long and in the interests of space, we shall only provide the English translation except for the defining immortal phrase:
Upon hearing the words of Karna, Shree Krishna stood up in the chariot and said to Karna:
Now you recall this Dharma – the Vile immersed in their evil deeds blame fate and but never their own wicked deeds:
- When you, Suyodhana, Dushyasan and Shakuni dragged Draupadi into the Assembly wearing but a single garment, Did you forget the Dharma?,
- When Shakuni with his expertise defeated Yudhishtir who knew nothing of dice, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
- When you didn’t hand over the Kingdom after the 13th year of vanavas (forest living) had passed, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
- When on your advise, the King fed Bhima-sen with snakes and food laced with poison, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
- When you tried to set fire to Prithaa’s sons as they slept in the house of lac, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
- When you burst into laughter as Krishnaa (Draudpadi) was assaulted by Dushyasan in the Assembly while she was in her menses, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
- When you said to Krishnaa (Draudpadi) while those vile mean were molesting her, “Choose another husband, O Krishnaa, the Pandav are lost, gone to hell for eternity, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
- When in the war, many mighty warriors surrounded the boy Abhimanyu and killed him in combat, क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः = Kva Te Dharma Tada Gataha (Where had your Dharma gone then?)
If the Dharma was not applied in these cases, why do you engage in your palate-parching prattle? You will not escape alive today.
After hearing these words of Shree Krishna, Karna bowed his head in embarrassment and said nothing further. Then he picked up his bow and attacked Arjun with great force. Hearing the evil deeds of Karna recounted by Shree Krishna, Arjun became enraged. Lost was his indecision of attacking a stationary Karna standing on the ground in an unequal battle with him in a chariot, Arjun showered weapons at Karna. Finally, Arjun killed Karna with his Anjalika arrow, the description of which takes over half a page in the Mahaa-Bhaarat.
This lesson in धर्म युद्ध = Dharma Yudha or “Just or Moral War” is one for eternity. When Indian Society remembered and acted on this lesson, India prospered, grew its boundaries and became a global power whether in the days of Shree Krishna or the days of Chanakya & Chandra-Gupt Maurya, the days of the Samudra-Gupt -the golden age of the Gupt Dynasty, the days of Pulkeshin, the days of Rajaraj Chola, the days of Pandya Empire or the days of the Maratha Empire.
When India forgot this lesson and became forgiving of the evil deeds of its enemies, it lost its regions and finally its freedom, mainly in the past several hundred years of its history.
Today, when India’s enemies ask Indian society to be tolerant of their attacks, of their evil machinations, should India forgive their evil deeds or should India ask them क्व ते धर्मसतदा गतः before eliminating them?
That is a question for Indian society today.
Editor’s PS: Western philosophers discuss the concept of a Just War or a Morally Sanctioned War as one of Roman or Catholic origin. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The concept of Dharma Yudha or Just War was discussed in great detail and its doctrine was laid out by Eternal-Dharma sages at least 1,000 years before the Roman Empire. Every Indian festival is based on the success of a Dharma Yudha of that era. We had to state this obvious fact because few people of Indian origin can argue this point clearly and with conviction. The story above is but one vivid and immortal lesson in Dharma Yudha.
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