Literature of Violence

As we have already noted, in most of the Hindu homes, they will never keep a copy of Mbh. or read it as part of their ritual of reading (like Sundarakanda of Ramayana or Hanuman Chalisa or any other sectarian) of scripture.  The main reason for this is the War that is always attached with Mbh.  In common people’s mind, the word Mbh. always brings the picture of the Great War that took place between the cousins.  So in one way, Mbh. could be described a literature of war and violence.  Though so many other teachings are found in Mbh., it is always assumed that all those teachings and events centered on the one event of war.  So few words about the war in Mbh. will help us to understand the overall teaching of Mbh.

One fact that we should keep in mind when we discuss about the war in Mbh. is that it is a war between the kings and not a war of invasion or oppression as we found in modern times.  In fact in ancient India war is considered as a necessary part of the kings—part of their dharma and maintenance and expansion of their kingdom.  So our modern perception about war and all ethics related with it cannot be applied to the War in Mbh.  As violence is (danda) is part of the methods of a king to rule, any or all violence related with War, particularly in Mbh. should be taken in that context.  This does not mean that all the wars in ancient India could be morally justified.  Because we found so many rules are recommended, at least in theory, though we cannot claim that they are strictly implement during the war, as we found enough evidence in Mbh. itself.

In this context we have to consider the teaching of Gita also as it is the integral part of Mbh.  People like Mahatma Gandhiji read a message of peace and non-violence in Gita (and he rejected the Krishna of Mbh. but accept that of Gita).  Whatever might be the message that one would like to read in Gita, no one can deny the fact that Krishna encouraged and even challenged Arjuna to give up his delusion and get ready for the war, which finally he accepted.  Whatever one could find and quote all the teaching of Mbh. (and also that of Gita) for peace and ahimsa, the reality is that a big war took place and it brought its natural consequence with it both pre and post war situation in Mbh.  But can this force us to conclude  that Mbh. as the literature of War?

Though every war is justified by one side, yet there were wars held in the human history which no one can justify for any reason.  Several wars happened because of ego of one individual (ruler?) or the lust for power and authority over other kingdoms and people.  Well, we need not dwell here long to discuss about the pro and against about any war.  But when it comes to the war in Mbh., I consider it not just another war but a JUST WAR.

Here I would like to share Prof. Arvind Sarma’s article.  As Prof. Sarma present the fact in a scholarly way, let me quote him completely:

Does the Bhagavadgita advocate war and violence?

It is easy to see how the Bhagavadgita may give rise to such an impression.  First of all, its setting points in that direction.  It is revealed while the opposing forces are poised ready for battle.  Second, Arjuna does not want to engage in combat but is ultimately persuaded to do so.  The  Bhagavadgita starts with Arujna too dejected to fight and ends as soon as Arjuna’s spirits have been revived.  Third, one of the arguments which Krsna uses to urge Arjuna to fight appeals to the fact that Arjuna is a ksatriya and it is his duty to fight.  And finally, when Krsna displays his cosmic form, not only a violent apocalypse is disclosed, but Krsna therein also tells Arujna that he has himself made short work of Arjuna’s enemies, who have in effect already been killed by Krsna (XI.33).  That is, he should formally finish the job.  Obviously then the Bhagavadgita seems to advocate war and violence.

If one examines the context closely, one realizes that war has almost commenced.  So the real issue is not whether war is good or bad but what is the duty of the warrior when war has as good as commenced.  It is this question which the Bhagavadgita answers.  It does not sit in judgement on whether war is right or wrong.  That question does not fit its case.  And its answer is that once the battle has commenced it is the duty of a soldier to fight.  One cannot become a conscientious objector after one has been mobilized.  So to ask whether the Gita advocates war or not is to ask the wrong question about it.

It is well known that Krsna himself went on a peace mission to the Kauravas, in one last-ditch effort to avoid the war.  He went as an ambassador whose person was held inviolable, otherwise it is impossible to negotiate.  And what did Duryodhana do?  Duryodhana tried to apprehend Krsna; Krishna assumed his cosmic form and broke loose.  Many are aware of Krsna’s theophany in the Bhagavadgita, fewer are aware of Krsna’s theophany in the Kuru court.  Let it be remembered that the first theophany of Krsna is in the context of a peace mission; when that mission fails and war breaks out, then the occasion for the better-known but second theophany presents itself.

Finally, the Mahabharata was not just a war, it was a just war.  It was when Duryodhana ‘needled’ the Pandavas, challenged the Pandavas that he would not let them have even as much land as the point of a needle without a fight, that the Pandavas had to join issue with the Kauravas, to assert their legitimate right to the throne.  The choice one was left with was that of letting injustice triumph over justice. If the Bhagavadgita, one
insists, advocates war despite the evidence adduced above, then let it be remembered that a just war is involved.  The Bhagavadgita does advocate that we fight for our right, and even then fighting alone is our right!

Chips From An Indic Workshop, Prof. Arvind Sarma, McGill University, MLBD Newsletter December 2002, p.16.

A Response (by me):
Added to this, if Arjuna refuses to fight for a just case, then he would set a bad example for people not to do their legitimate duty.  Above all, his refusal to fight that just war would justify the wrong done by Duryodhana. If Arjuna had allowed the ruler (King) not to uphold dharma, naturally it will lead people also to follow the ruler’s way (arasan yevazhi kudigal avazhi-citizens follow the path of the ruler– as the Tamil proverb says.  ‘yata raja tata praja’ is its Hindi equivalent) thereby he would incur the sin of misleading common people not to uphold dharma in their life.

However I do not agree Prof. Sarma’s view that ‘The Bhagavadgita does advocate that we fight for our right, and even then fighting alone is our right!’  Because sometimes in life we have to give up our right, not fighting our enemy and resign to the will of God or to the law of the land. Tirukkural, the famous Tamil poem says ‘The best way of punishing the evil-doers is to forget their harmful deeds and do good to them.’ (32:4). [Thirukkural, Translated by M. Rajaram, New Delhi, Rupa & Co. 2009, p. 64),  Muktiveda (Bible) also endorses this view by saying; ‘don’t do evil to evil but overcome evil by doing good’ (Romans 12:21).  In the life of Muktinath (Jesus) we see an example for this.  When He was arrested and falsely accused He refuse to fight for His right and resigned to the will of God (1 Pet. 2:23).  That’s why He could even forgive His offenders
while hanging on the Cross (Lk. 23:34).

We see the same example in the life of Arujna also.  King (Dridarashtara father of Duriyodana) refused to do justice and keep silence when his son refuse to return back to the Pandava’s their kingdom as per the condition; then the Pandavas first tried to settle the issue through peaceful negotiation.  And Krsna himself become the mediator.  But when the King because of his love for his son closed his eyes (already he was blind by birth) and his son refused to listen the counsel of his elders, then alone the Pandavas
resolved to fight for the just cause.  When the ruler (law) of the land refuses to do justice, then it is the duty of the mass to rise against such tyrannical rule (of law).  Because here it is not any ‘personal right’ of the Pandavas that is at stake, but dharma itself, which everyone should adhere for the smooth functioning of society.  Again we see the same in the life of Muktinath. While He refused to fight for His ‘right’, He was not hesitant to take the whip and chase the money lenders and illegal merchants from the courtyard of the Jerusalem temple, as they were corrupting the worship of God.

The reason for these comments is that ‘we fight for our right, and even then fighting alone is our right!’ might be misinterpreted and may promote personal ‘violence’ to fight for one’s own right. This kind of interpretation of ‘fighting for one’s own right’ is the main cause of fundamentalism and terrorism in this world. And I think that neither Gita nor Mahabharata or any other Scripture would support for such violence.  So the Pandavas fought not for their right but to uphold the dharma of doing justice and promoting the rule of law even at the cost of fighting against their own kith and kin and even the King.

It is better to give up one’s right for the sake of peace and common good. But if such passive ahimsa gives hope for the promotion of adharma and injustice, then one has to fight for her right.  Otherwise it will set a wrong example for people to follow the dictum of miscreants who will uphold their law of ‘might is right’.  So, fighting all the time for one’s own right will only promote disharmony and disunity among people.  And even our right should come under the scrutiny of dharma, law and justice.  Otherwise even a wrong cause might be promoted as right, instigating ‘fighting alone is our right’.

Dayanand Bharati, January 14, 2003. (revised on 03-03-2012)

Having shared this, I think it won’t be out of place for us to see what Mbh. says about War and rules related to it.  Here we can divide the subject on War in Mbh. as follows:

Merit of war, particularly for a Kshatriya

The study of Brahma, great fame, ascetic penances and death in battle are acts that lead men to heaven.  The attainment of heaven by the three other acts may be uncertain, but death in battle has heaven for its certain result. [Krishna to Jarasandha] (22:18)— M.N.[Manmatha Nath]  Dutt, Mahabharata, Delhi, Parimala Publications, 7 vols. Vol. I. 1988, SABHA PARVA p.353

43b. …  He that is prosperous should make war…. [Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra] —ibid. Vol. V. Shalya Parva. Ch. IV. P. 8

11. O king, you should not grieve for those who have been killed in battle. If the scriptures are authoritative all of them must have obtained the highest end. [Vidura to Dhritarashtra] —ibid. Vol. V. Stree Parva. Ch. II. p. 165

14. If killed, one acquires heaven. By killing, fame is acquired. Both of these, produce great merit. Battle, therefore, is not unproductive of good. [Vidura to Dhritarashtra] —ibid. Vol. V. Stree Parva. Ch. II. p. 165

16. By celebrating sacrifices with profuse gifts, by ascetic penances and by learning, men cannot, go so quickly to heaven as heroes killed in battle. [Vidura to Dhritarashtra] —ibid. Vol. V. Stree Parva. Ch. II. p. 165

43. One should never lament for a hero killed in battle. A killed hero, if nobody grieves for him, goes to heaven and acquires the respect of its residents. [Indra to Amvarisha]— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva. Ch. XCVIII. P. 145

4..…Look, these are the effulgent regions, reserved for those who fight fearlessly! Abounding with Gandharva girls, those regions are eternal and capable of granting every desire. [Bhishma to Yudhisthira].— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva. Ch. XCIX. P. 146

War as a Yajna

18. By celebrating sacrifices with enough presents, by practicing ascetic austerities, and by knowledge, people cannot so easily go to heaven as heroes by displaying courage in battle….20. They poured their libations of arrows upon the bodies of their brave enemies as upon a fire. Great as they were, they bore in return the libations of arrows poured upon themselves.—Vidura to Dhritarashtra] —ibid. Vol. V. Stree Parva Ch. IX. P. 172

15. Elephants are the Ritwijas of that sacrifice [war], and horses are its Addhyaryus.  The flesh of foes are its libations, and blood is its liquid offering….17. Masses of blazing, sharp, and well-tempered lances and spears, of swords and darts and axes form the ladles of the sacrifices….19. Sheathed in scabbard made of tiger skin and equipt with in ivory handle, and capable of cutting off the elephant’s trunk, the sword forms the wooden-sticks of this sacrifice….21. The blood that runs over the field for the fury of the  attack, forms the final libation…. 22. ‘Cut, Pierce,’ and such other sounds, that are heard in the front ranks of the army, are the Samans sung by its Vedic chaunters in the abode of Yama. 23. The front ranks of the enemy’s army form the vessel for keeping libations.  The number of elephant and horses and men equipt with shields form the Shyenachit fire of that sacrifice. 24. The headless trunks that rise up after thousands have been killed form the octagonal stake, made of Khadira (p.144) wood, for the hero who celebrates that sacrifice. 25. The cries of the elephant when urged on with hooks, form its Ida Mantras. The kettle-drums, with the striking of palms forming the Vashats…are its Trisaman Udgatri…26-37. The sages have said that that warrior, who considers the van of the hostile army as the quarters of his wives, who regards the van of his own army as the vessel for the preservation of sacrificial offerings, who takes the warriors standing to his south for his courtiers and those to his north as his holders of fire, and who regards the hostile army as his married wife, succeeds in acquiring all regions of felicity. 38. The open space, lying between two armies drawn up for fight, forms the altar of such a sacrificer, and the three Vedas are his three sacrificial fires.  Upon that altar, helped by the recitation of the Vedas, he celebrates his sacrifice. [Indra to Amvarisha]— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva. Ch. XCVIII. Pp. 144-45

War as the dharma for a Kshatriya

22….he that is engaged on behalf of another, should surely be protected by that other.  When such men are (p.236) themselves protected they can look after the protection of the king (on whose behalf they fight). [Bhurisravas to Arjuna]— —ibid. Drona Parva, Vol. 4 Ch. CXLIII, p. 236-37

Against war:

1..The king should acquire victories without battles. Victories won by battles are not spoken of highly….[Vamadeva to Vasumanas].— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva. Ch. XCIV. P. 140

Rules in combat

30. Always being led by consideration of fitness, willingness, bravery and strength, one should strike another after having challenged him.  None should strike another who is confiding or who is panic-stricken. 31. One fighting with another, one seeking refuge, one retreating, one whose weapon is broken and one who is not clad in armour should never be struck. 32. Charioteers, animals, men engaged in carrying weapons, those who play on drums and those who blow conchs should never be smitten. [Vaishampayana to Janamejaya]—ibid. BHISHMA PARVA. Vol. III. Ch. I. p. 274.

25-26. O Bharata, the slaying of a man who is not engaged in a fight, or is unwilling to fight, or takes to flight, or seeks your shelter, or joins his hands, or gives himself up to you, or is insane, be he even a foe, is never upheld by the righteous. And your superior is even all this. [Krishna to Arjuna]. —ibid. Karna Parva. Vol. 4 Ch. XLIX. P. 511

108-09. Brave and pious heroes never shoot their arrows at persons with disheveled hairs, at those who fly away from the battle-field, at a Brahmana, at him who clasps his hands, at him who surrenders, at him who prays for quarter, at one who throws off his weapon, at one whose arrows are all gone, or at one whose weapon has fallen off or been broken. [Karna to Arjuna]. —ibid. Karna Parva. Vol. 4 XC. P. 561

20.. One should not use weapons against kine, Brahmans, kings, women, friends, one’s own mother, one’s own preceptor, a weak man, an idiot, a blind man, a sleeping man, a terrified man, one just got up from sleep, an intoxicated person, a lunatic, and one that is careless.  The ancient preceptors always preached this truth to men. [Ashwatthaman to himself] —ibid. Vol. V. Sauptika Parva. Ch. VI. P. 137

9. If the enemy fights deceitfully, he should be paid in his own coin. If, however, he fights fairly, he should be resisted with fair means. 10. One should not on horse-back run against a car-warrior.  A car-warrior should fight with a car-warrior. When an antagonist is in a bad plight, he should not be struck; nor should one who has been frightened, nor one who has been defeated. 11. Poisoned or barbed arrows should not be used…One should fight fairly, without giving way to anger or desiring to kill. 12. A weak or wounded man should not be killed, nor one who is sonless; nor one whose weapon has been broken; nor one who has falled into distress; nor one whose bowstring has been cut; nor one who has lost his car.  A wounded opponent should either be sent to his own home, or, if brought to the victor’s house, should have his wounds dressed by skilful surgeons. 13. When for a fair fight between two kings, a righteous warrior is reduced to straits, he should, when cured, be liberated.  This is the eternal duty. [Bhishma to Yudhisthira].— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva.Ch. XCV. P. 141.

47. The aged and the children should not be killed; nor woman nor one who is flying away; nor one that holds a straw in his lips (sing of unconditional surrender); nor one who says—I am yours. [Indra to Amvarisha]— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva. Ch. XCVIII. P. 145

Punishment for the violation of rule of combat

23-24. ‘Hearing this fallacious argument from Keshava, O king, Rama failed to remove his anger and become cheerful. He then said in that assembly, ‘having unfairly killed the righteous king Suyodhana, the son of Pandu shall be known in the world as a wily warrior. 25. The righteous Duryodhana, on the other hand, shall acquire eternal blessedness!  Dhritarashtra’s royal son who has been struck down, is a fair warrior! [Sanjay to Dhritarashtra]. —ibid. Vol. V. Shalya Parva.  Ch. LX. P. 114

53. With all my well-wishers, and my younger brothers, I am going to heaven!  As regards yourselves, with your baffled purposes and racked with grief, live ye in this unhappy world. [Duryodhana to Krishna]. 54-56. ‘After the intelligent king of the Kurus, have said these words, a thick sky.  The Gandharvas beat many many charming musical instruments. The Apsaras in a chours sang the glory of king Duryodhana. The Siddhas cried,–Praise to king Duryodhana!  Sweet and delicious breezes mildly blew on all sides. All the quarters became clear and the firmament looked blue as the lapis lazuli. 57. Beholding these good signs, and this worship offered to Duryodhana, the Pandavas, with Vasudeva at their head, were put to shame. [Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra] —ibid. Vol. V. Shalya Parva.  Ch. LXI. p. 117

Some of the misconduct in war in Mbh.

26-28. Forgetting his poignant and unbearable pains, Duryodhana began to assail Vasudeva with keen and bitter words.—‘O son of Kansa’s slave, it seems you have no shame, for you have forgotten that I have been struck down most unfairly, according to the rules of mace-fighting?  It was you who unfairly caused this act by reminding Bhima about the breaking of my thighs. Do you think I did not mark it when Arjuna (under your advice) hinted to it to Bhima?….30. Having daily bought about a great carnage of heroic warriors, you at last caused the Grandshire to be slain by placing Shikhandin to the front. 31. Having again caused an elephant of the same name of Ashwathama to be killed, O ye of vicious principle, you made the preceptor lay aside his weapons. Do you think that this is not known to me?….33. The dart that had been begged (of Shakra as a boon) by Karna for the destruction of Arjuna, was baffled by you through Ghatokach!  Who is there that is more sinful than you…..36. When again the wheel of Karna’s car sank in mire and Karna was assisted with calamity and almost defeated on that account, and—when, he became anxious to free his wheel,–you caused that Karna to be then slain! 37. If he had fought me and Karna and Bhisma and Drona by fair means, victory then, forsooth, would never had been yours. 38. By adopting the most wily and unfair means you have caused the death of many kings observant of the duties of their order and of ourselves as well.  [Duryodhana to Krishna]. —ibid. Vol. V. Shalya Parva.  Ch. LXI. p. 116

58. Hearing the invisible voice that Bhishma and Drona and Karna and Bhurishravas were killed unfairly, they were afflicted with remorse and wept in grief. 59-60. Seeing the Pandavas stricken with anxiety and grief, Krishna addressed them in a voice deep as that of the clouds of the drum, saying,–“All of them were great car-warriors and quick hands in weapons!  If ye had displayed all your prowess, even then ye could never have killed them in battle by a fair fight. 61. King Duryodhana also could never be killed in a fair fight!  The same is the case with all those powerful car-warriors led by Bhishma. 62. For doing you good, I repeatedly applied my illusory powers and caused them to be killed by various means in battle. 63. If I had not adopted such deceitful ways in battle, you would never have been victorious, nor could have gained kingdom or wealth. 64. These four were very great warriors and regarded as Atirathas in the world, The very Regents of the Earth could not kill them in fair fight. 65. Likewise, the son of Dhritarashtra, when armed with the mace, could not be killed in fair fight by Yama himself, armed with his bludgeon. 66. Ye should not mind that this enemy of yours has been killed deceitfully. When the number of one’s enemies become great, then destruction should be brought about by wily ways. 67. The gods themselves, in killing the Asuras, have followed same path. The way, that was followed by the celestials, may be followed by all. [Krishna to Pandavas]. —ibid. Vol. V. Shalya Parva.  Ch. LXI. P. 117

Facts and figures of War in Mbh.

9. One billion six hundred and sixty millions and twenty thousand men have been killed in this battle. 10. The number is twenty-four thousand one hundred and sixty five heroes that have escaped’. [Yudhishthira to Dhritarashtra]. —ibid. Vol. V. Stree Parva Ch. XXVI. P. 190

Justification of war

28. The gods, through civil war, have secured footing in the celestial region. When the very gods have won their prosperity through civil war, what fault can there be in such quarrels? [Arujna to Yudhishthira].— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva Ch. VIII. P. 9

Circumstance of a war

154. The circumstances under which peace is to be made or war declared changes as speedily as the clouds changes their form. This very day you were my enemy.  This very day again, you became my friend. This very day you have again become my enemy.  Mark the considerations that move living creatures! 155. There was friendship between us as long as there was necessity for the same (p.203) That reason, the outcome of time, is gone. Without it, that friendship also has passed away. 156. You are by nature my enemy.  From circumstances you became my friend. That state of things has gone away. The old but natural state of enmity has returned…. 158…Each of us has served the other.  There is no need for us for becoming friends again. 159. O amiable one, your object has been accomplished.  The object I had, has also been accomplished.  You do not require me except to make me your food. [the mouse Palia to Cat Lomasha after helping him to escape from the net at the same time saving himself from the Owl Chandraka with the help of the Cat by hiding under him till the hunter comes]— ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva. Ch. CXXXVIII, pp. 203-204

Gurukulam, June 18, 2011