It was only yesterday, that we discussed a plea to ban Gita in Siberia. As many of you would have read it, the Siberian Court has dismissed the plea. I don’t want to take any credit for the dismissal of the plea (!) just as I don’t want to give the Government the credit, as it is an International law, which does not allow any court in the world to ban any religious book.
However, the point in discussion today stems from the same thought-process and similar accusations that have been levelled against the epic, Mahabharata.
In reference to the Trinity test of Atomic Bomb in New Mexico, the father of atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, famously recalled the Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendour of the mighty one. . . . Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” In the war of Kurukshetra, there is reference to weapons which can be seen as todays Nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If such weapons were used during the war of Kurukshetra, does it mean that the epic or the ‘champion of the war’, Lord Krishna gave a sanction to such usage? In view of the latest controversy of banning the Gita in Siberia, could it be seen that such usage had a sanction in what is now being termed as ‘extremist literature’?
|Atomic Bomb Explosion|
It is said that Oppenheimer made the statement when he saw the huge cloud of the blast reaching out to the skies. Oppenheimer was a scholar who in his 20s had learnt Sanskrit, besides many languages and considered Bhagavad Gita to be the foundation of his philosophical views. He had kept a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on his bookshelf and is supposed to have been giving copies of Gita to his friends as gifts.
The importance of Gita stems from its prescribed value of human life and fighting for its maintenance and resurrection. Human beings of those times, perhaps, not only knew how to destroy but also realised the peaceful use of WMDs.
The rules contained in the war of Kurukshetra governed issues ranging from the general prohibition of the use of weapons that caused unnecessary pain, to overcoming the enemy, to the treatment of the enemy’s property and persons in the conquered territory. If the modern laws of war were to require that when war breaks out fighting must be conducted on the basis of ‘like with like’ or by using like weapons, it would not only minimise the impact of war but would also deter aggression and make war more humane. I think our world would be a better place to live in, if the modern laws of war based on the Geneva Conventions were to incorporate some of the rules followed in Kurukshetra!
The concept of a just war was against the evil characters of that day, whether national or alien. In simple terms, the concept of a just war is based on right and wrong, on justice and injustice in the everyday life of all mortals. Unlawful and unjust actions, for example, the denial of the rights to which one was entitled, give rise to just wars.
This brings us to the point of the use of WMDs (called divyastra e.g. Brahmastra and Pashupatiastra) in the battle of Kurukshetra. Before Arjuna acquired the divyastras from the respective gods, he was strictly advised by them to use it as a “threat weapon” rather than a weapon to be actually used in the war. There are extensive dialogues between various characters in the war of Kurukshetra on not using the divyastras which were the ultimate weapons that any warrior could then possess.
At the end of the epic war, when Aswathama, son of Drona, frustrated by defeat in war used such weapon he was cursed by Lord Krishna, and the same was diffused by him to result in minimal devastation.
Besides the numerous references of such weapons, using them was never an alternative then and nor does Gita advocate such weapons, rather it has chastised the single use of such weapon.
The problem lies in interpretation out of context. One of the most important things to keep in mind is the times and the rationale of such writings. When was it written and in what context? If we look back at the times of the Mahabharata, then many things might look normal, but the same things in the modern context would seem out of place and at times quite sacrilegious. Again, when something is being said and some event is taking place, if seen in the chronology of events, it might seem justified. But the same scene out of context would seem as a misfit.
What was right then need not be right now, when we have a different thinking which is tempered with a lot of modern concepts like – human rights, feminism, equal rights, etc. Take the essence of it, draw lessons from it and look for the symbolism in it. Don’t take it literally and above all, don’t debase such esteemed thought process with ignorance and an ulterior motive.