When the 18 day war of Mahabharata is about to commence, Arjuna is struck with an uncharacteristic despondency. His mighty Gandiva discarded, Arjuna questions his Sarathi i.e. his ‘Guide’ Krishna about the merits and demerits of this great carnage and his role in it. A discourse begins which is known around the world as ‘The Gita’. Amongst many other pearls of wisdom, Krishna implores Arjuna to give up this self defeating attitude, concentrate his focus on his karma and surrender himself to the supreme being (i.e. Krishna in this case). Krishna convincingly argues that it is to him that all beings return and it is from him that all beings come forth. Krishna is the Adi and the Ananta i.e. the beginning of all and the end of all: the supreme Brahman. It is therefore Arjuna’s hubris if he believes that he is striking the enemy down, cause they all are already dead for Krishna. Arjuna is just a means of accomplishing the lord’s vision.
As is known, Arjuna follows Krishna’s advice and fights in the 18 day war. He is crucial to the eventual victory and Yudhisthira ascends the Kuru throne.
Now here is the interesting part. 36 years after the war, due to certain strange circumstances Krishna and Balaram are forced to destroy the entire Yadava clan (this is a separate story). Balaram tired by this endless bloodshed, gives up his earthly existence. Krishna on the contrary is killed like a wild animal by a hunter who shoot him with an arrow through his heel.
Yudhisthira sends Arjuna, to securely escort the 16000 wives of Krishna and the scores of women of Dwarka who were vulnerable, now that the men were dead. Arjuna reaches Dwarka. He takes the responsibility of ensuring safe passage to the women and begins the return journey with them traveling under his protection.
En route to Hastinapur, bandits attack the Kuru camp. They kidnap the women. Ironically, the mighty Arjuna who could vanquish entire armies on his own, could not string his Gandiva, let alone draw an arrow. It is said that when Krishna died, the pandavas lost their near mythical martial prowess and spiritual strength.
For some this thought process, may raise a question about whether there is any meaning to all the actions that we take in our day to day lives, if everything is preordained from the start. Why should I reskill myself;why should I work hard; why should I put in effort for anything, if in the end the outcome is never in my control.
For someone like me who has always enjoyed reading our mighty epics as stories, analysing and trying to join dots between disparate events was always a subconscious process; The Mahabharata is a fertile ground of multitude of stories masterfully tied to each other to form the longest poem in the world.
To everyone the epics speak differently and that is the epic’s beauty. For some the Mahabharata will signify how the lord steered his child towards the right path and may instill in them a faith for a supreme being who will guide them too. For some it could be a study in political science, as they keenly observe the cunning manoeuvres between Krishna and Shakuni.
For me this story is a call to action. It signifies through out to me that it is ALWAYS our choices and responses to the events around us in the present that define our future; Not a supreme being or a metaphysical being who has pre ordained my destiny. The answer for this too lies in the Mahabharata and it is shown beautifully.
Even before the war begins, both Arjuna and Duryodhan visit Dwarka to beseech Krishna to join their camp and fight against the enemy. Readers would know, it was Arjuna who CHOSE Krishna and not vice versa. It was a conscious decision of Arjun to choose the unarmed Krishna and not his invincible Narayani Sena, and for the good or the bad of it he was more than happy to face the consequences of his choice. That is what I CHOOSE to take away from this immortal story.