On this Janamashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday, I would like to clear some dark clouds shrouding the name of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna’s role in Mahabharata has been seen by many as that of a conspiring opportunist who takes advantage of situations and even goes against the rules, especially during the final war of Kurukshetra. In short, many have compared him to the modern-day politician. I will discuss one such act of his which has been criticised by many an intellectual.
Before the war of Kurukshetra began, Arjuna did not want to fight citing some quite obvious reasons of killing so many innocent people for a mere piece of land, of which some had nothing to do with it. He wanted to avoid the mass-killing. The Nobel laureate Mr. Amartya Sen in his Theory of Consequentialism propounds that one must weigh the consequences of every action that one takes and he goes on to say that by coaxing Arjuna to fight, Lord Krishna instilled in him what Mr. Sen refers as ‘consequence-independent judgments’. He goes on to ask if this was this fair on the part of Lord Krishna.
At the onset I am not sure Arjun’s reluctance to fight had anything to do with the Theory of Consequentialism. His reluctance to fight was due to state of dejection, coexisting with a predominance of tamas (meaning lethargy and darkness), and this is considered to be detrimental to ones spiritual and psychological well-being. Instead of considering this as a reaction in the field of morality, one needs to consider this refusal to fight as a psychological reaction on Arjuna's part, which Lord Krishna had to cure through the process of counselling.
In order to be able to make the right moral decision, one must have the right psychological balance first. All this, needless to say, was consequential calculation on the part of Lord Krishna. While Arjuna was confusing compassion with cowardice, the dialogue between the two (better known as Bhagvada Gita) was to make him recognise the same. Lord Krishna was against weakness and cowardice and not love for ones fellowmen. Apart from Arjuna's need to go back to the required state of his mind, from where he could grow psychologically, ethically and spiritually, it seems that once he had come to the battlefield with his responsibility to give leadership to a vast army as a General, it may be quite questionable whether he could relinquish his commitment all of a sudden, at the very last moment. Lord Krishna wanted him to fight for the establishment of justice. When maintenance of justice was the principle involved, it was imperative on a kshatriya (the warrior) to resort to appropriate means, including taking up of arms. To borrow Mr. Sen’s term again, was this (i.e. establishment of justice) consequence any less?
Let me provoke with a question which one might relate to better. Would taking up arms by our Government against a huge (or rather ever-increasing) group of terrorists be seen as spilling of blood, even when we know that some of them have been our brothers till some time back? Would we have said the same thing about General Sam Maneckshaw if he had declined to fight the Pakistanis just before the battle stating he did not want to spill the blood of his own brothers? Then why this double standards when it comes to judging mythical heroes?
Kurukshetra was no ordinary war for a mere piece of land. It was a war for the establishment of justice. All norms of civilised behaviour had been broken, all diplomatic efforts had been explored and every possible effort to avoid the war had been resorted to. The war itself was a consequence of immense greed and selfishness and a series of misdeeds towards mankind in general. The war was the last option and there was no going back to the discussion table (as per our corporate jargon). The only choice one had was to have a just war then or an evil war later. With so much at stake, was it not right on Lord Krishna’s part to instil in Arjuna a sense of duty that dictated that there must not be any slackness in the actions performed in anticipation of the results?
You tell me!