Krishna As Warrior: Part – II
As the rift between the Pandavas and Kauravas widened, the destruction of the Pandavas became Duryodhana’s sole obsession. In his uncle, Shakuni, he found an ideal tactician to achieve this goal. Together, they devised a strategy to entice Yudhishthira to a game of dice. Yudhishthira, being no match for Shakuni’s mastery over the dice, predictably lost the game, on which he had staked all his material possessions, even his four brothers and wife Draupadi. Duryodhana invited all Pandavas to another game of dice. Incredibly Yudhishthira, unable to overcome the gambler’s instinct, accepted. This time there was only one stake: whichever side lost would have to go into exile in the forest for thirteen years. Yudhishthira’s folly reduced the Pandavas to homeless wanderers.
Once the exile was over, the Pandavas sought their kingdom back but Duryodhana refused. Krishna, who tried to make peace on behalf of the Pandavas, failed in efforts. War thus became imminent. His personal investment in trying to achieve a peaceful solution notwithstanding, Krishna was the quintessential warrior. The political setting of northern India at the time of the ‘hi terical’ Krishna, certainly provided an appropriate stage for his war-like exploits. The Aryans were in the process of colonizing the region.
Small and competing kingdoms had come up along the Gangetic Valley. These were often in conflict with each other. New territory had to be won and secured. Forests had to be cleared for human settlement. Weapons of copper and bronze were being discarded by the revolutionary discovery of iron. One account, in Krishnavatara by K.M. Munshi, which does not claim to be a historical rendering but is nevertheless based on a thorough study of traditional texts, has. these extremely interesting passages describing the discovery of iron ore by Krishna
Burning and crackling on the altar, when he saw, as usual, a fiery stream of copper being released by the (fire) god. As he diverted it into a narrow gully which young Garuda kept filled with water, he felt highly dissatisfied. For long he continued to invoke the gods to send him super human arms, offering fresh fuel and coconut oil at the altar. Suddenly, his eye caught sight of something miraculous. One of the rocks, which had not melted with the others, began to glow like the sun, fiery as at mid day, golden red as at dawn. It was a strange sight. It was a sign from the gods, thought Krishna. The other rocks had already melted freely, but not this glowing, fiery ball of light and heat. He continued to invoke the gods and to pour his offerings into the fire. The flames leapt up from the altar. A stream trickled out of the glowing ball. When diverted into the gully, it sizzled frantically, a fiery steam issuing from it.
When the molten liquid became cool, Krishna picked it up and was delighted that the gods had answered his invocation. He flung it at the copper blade of the sword; the blade broke into two. He shot copper arrow-tips against it; their edges were blunted. At last Indra had sent him a piece of his thunderbolt, heavy and unbreakable.
Krishna then discovered that the little red rocks . . . were the favoured offerings of the Fire God, for when they were offered, the fiery liquid which came from the altar became pieces of thunderbolt.
Krishna and Garuda made a search for such reddish rocks all over the hill. When they were found in sufficient quantities, they were offered to the sacrificial fire. Though the Fire God was difficult to please, Krishna satisfied him with copious offerings of coconut oil and sandal wood. Then the fire blazed high. The flames leapt up. The red rocks glowed red. A stream of molten liquid flowed out. Cooled and tempered, hammered and sharpened, the thunderbolt emerged as a shining weapon—a weapon which could easily break copper and flint weapons. It was the gift of the gods.
The above is obviously an attempt to reconstruct what might have been but is not entirely implausible. In general terms there can be little doubt that the period of the historical Krishna coincided with a phase in which military adventurismand acts of personal valour and bravery were the stuff from which cult figures could easily emerge. A.L. Basham, one of the most eminent historians of ancient Indian culture and history has, therefore, rightly surmised that ‘. . . it seems certain that there is some historical basis for the legend of the hero god; but evidently tales of many heroes from many ages and many parts of India have been fused together in the Krishna myth..