Dharma or Adharma?

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On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, ready to fight, the Pandava and the Kaurava armies were standing face to face, waiting for orders from their respective Commanders to attack the enemy. In that tense situation, Yudhisthira unarmed himself and walked on to the Kaurava side. His brothers pleaded with him not to go. Bhima said that Duryodhana might kill him. But Yudhisthira was firm in his resolve. In the Kaurava side, everyone was surprised. Bhishma, Drona and other warriors unarmed themselves and waited anxiously to see what the eldest Pandava was going to do.

Sakuni told Duryodhana that Yudhisthira was coming to the Kaurava side to surrender to him. Duryodhana was deeply disappointed that there would be no war. He told Sakuni that if Yudhisthira surrendered to him and begged him piteously for a piece of land, he would give him the entire kingdom and go to live in the forest along with his brothers. This was his solemn promise, he told Sakuni.

But Yudhisthira was heading towards Bhishma. His gait was steady and there was no sign of fear or worry or anxiety on his face. He looked composed. In all humility he paid respects to his venerable grandsire. Bhishma blessed him for a long life and for victory in the war. He blessed him to be the lord of the Kuru land.

But how would that be possible, asked Yudhisthira, when he had chosen to fight for the Kauravas? Everyone knew that he was an invincible warrior and furthermore, that death would not come to him unless he wished for it. Bhishma assured him that his blessing would not go in vain. On the tenth day of the war, the Pandavas should bring Shikhandi to his presence and once he met her, he would give up weapons, Bhishma told him. If the Pandavas survived till the tenth day, then they would remain unconquerable, said Bhishma. His words made Yudhisthira happy.

He then went to the Kuru elder Bhurishrava, who was King Shantanu’s cousin, and sought his blessings. He too wished him long life and victory in the war. “But how can that happen and how will you make me the king, if you are fighting for the Kauravas?”, he asked his great grandfather. With his divine bow, Adravali, he was unconquerable, he told him.

Bhurishrava said that he must not worry about him. He told him that Satyaki would kill him on the eleventh day of the war. Yudhisthira was profoundly distressed and tears rolled down his face. Bhurishravagot off from his chariot and comforted him. One would die one day or the other, he told him, but dying on the Kurukshetra battlefield would be the ultimate bliss. With the Avatara on Arjuna’s chariot on the battlefield, the entire battlefield had become a sacred land, he told his great grandson. As the warriors die on that holy land, they would attain moksa: moksaheba dekhi srijagannathanka srimukhadarasane (Looking at Sri Jagannath’s – Krishna is called Jagannath here – Face, we will attain moksa), in the words of the poet Sarala Das.

Yudhisthirathen went to Salya, the maternal uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva and on that account, of the Pandava brothers. He paid him due respects and appealed to him to join his army. There must not be a fight between the maternal uncle and his nephews, he told him. Salya, who blessed him for victory over his enemies, said that it would be adharma for him to desert Duryodhana at that stage. He said that there was no need for the eldest Pandava to worry on his account since he would be killed by Yudhisthira himself on the eighteenth day of the war. And by dying that way, he would be free from the gravest of the grave sins of having killed a sage, whom of course he had killed by mistake. Being killed by Yudhisthira would redeem him – that was what the sage had told him as he lay dying.

The eldest Pandava then went to guru Drona. In utmost humility he offered him his deep respects and the guru blessed him for long life and victory over his enemies. Yudhisthira then asked him the same question as he had to the others. “How can we ever win the war when you, who are on the side of the Kauravas, are invincible?”, he asked Drona. The guru said that as long as there were weapons in his hand, he could not be defeated by neither humans nor gods, even Brahma or Shiva. And he was without weapons while having a bath, having food and engaged in sex act. But no one would kill him in these situations because that would be grievously sinful. He said he was extremely fond of his son, Ashwasthama, and would give up his weapons if he heard that he was no more. But since Ashwasthama was immortal, he was never going to be defeated, he told the eldest Pandava.Yudhisthira was happy to know the secret of Drona’s death.

He then went to Karna and paid his respects to him. Like the others before him, Karna blessed him for long life and victory in the war. Now, Yudhisthira did not ask him for his mrutyubheda (secret of his death). He most humbly pleaded with him to join them, his own brothers. Mother Kunti’s first born, he was their eldest brother and he should fight for his own brothers, he told him, and become the king after the war. Being on Duryodhana’s side was not safe for him, he said.Karna told him that he could not abandon Duryodhana who had implicit trust on him. Abandoning him would be an act of betrayal and that would be a grossly adharmic act. Utterly disappointed and deeply anguished, Yudhisthira raised his hands skyward and told the divines that there were his witnesses to the fact that Karna had abandoned his brothers in the war and had chosen to fight for their enemy and had thereby committedadharma.

Much that is of great interest follows but those are of no relevance to our present purpose.

Bhishma and Drona in different ways told Yudhisthira how they could fall and the eldest Pandavadid not fail to take the hint, when the message wasn’t direct and clear. That was why he returned happy after meeting them. Bhurishrava and Salya told Yudhisthira when and how they would fall, which information must have been a great moral booster for Yudhisthira. Now, Bhishma and Drona were not ordinary warriors in the Kaurava side; they were the mainstay of the Kaurava army. When such a person tells the enemy how he would fall, one could think that he betrays his own army. And to think, Bhishma was the Commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army when the above-mentioned happened. Blessing Yudhisthira was certainly unexceptionable, but the same can hardly be said of their engaging in a discussion with the adversary as to how they would fall. This was surely avoidable. But the great Kaurava warriors, all of them virtuous people, thought and acted differently.

As for the very embodiment of dharma on earth, as Yudhisthira is conceptualized in “Sarala Mahabharata” (as in the versions of the Mahabharata narrative in other languages, in all probability), seeking blessings of the elders and the preceptors was absolutely right but could one say the same about his asking them, his adversaries on the battlefield – and that too so directly and rather so crudely, trapping them in their own words – about how they could be vanquished in the war?

Now, these doings of Bhishma, Drona, Bhurishrava, Salya and then, Yudhisthira – are these acts of dharma or adharma?

You tell me!

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Prof. B.N.Patnaik

Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur

Email: [email protected]

(Images from the net)

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