Krishna As Saviour: Part – I
When the great war was about to begin, Arjun, the most accomplished of the Pandavas, refused to fight. The two armies were arraigned in all their military splendour opposite each other. Conches and symbols, kettledrums and trumpets sounded in the air. There was the glint of armour, as impatient warriors, legendary for their skill and valour, stood ready for battle on horse-drawn chariots and magnificently caparisoned elephants. Arjun, standing on his great chariot yoked to milk-white stallions, asked Krishna, his sarathi (charioteer), to halt mid-way between the armies. On both sides he saw kinsmen—fathers, uncles, brothers, teachers, elders, companions. And his will faltered. He did not want to kill them. ‘I desire not victory, nor kingdom, nor pleasures, he told Krishna, ‘if these are to be won at the cost of so much bloodshed.’ His lips were parched, his body shook and his hair stood on end. ‘It is against honour to kill one’s own cousins,’ he said. There is a special place in hell for those who destroy their family, for once the family is destroyed, unredeemable chaos is the only consequence.’ And so, on the great battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjun, the great warrior, slumped in dejection and put his bow and arrow down, overcome by sorrow and anguish.
It is with this dramatic portrayal that the Bhagvad Gita, a text of pivotal importance in the Hindu view of the ‘Song Divine’. It is, however, much more than a lyric. Its 700 shlokas in eighteen chapters, placed in the sixth book of the Mahabharata, essay a philosophical outlook of the most profound impact and significance. The text unfolds in the nature of a dialogue between Arjun, caught in the throes of doubt and confusion, and Krishna, who counsels him in his moment of crisis. In the end, Arjun, his mental equilibrium restored and his sense of futility removed, picks up his bow and arrow and boldly enters the fight.
The eclectic ideological framework of the Gita allows for each of its commentators to interpret it from a subjective perspective, although, inevitably, many such commentators assert that their interpretation is the only valid one. The Gita, by its very nature, indulges such interpretative individualism. Perhaps, therefore, it is better to comment on the Krishna-Arjun discourse from a personal frame of reference, from a viewpoint that derives authenticity because it stems from an intimacy of experience. To do so does not require one to have a specialized knowledge of all the philosophical intricacies that have been tagged on to the Gita. An amalgamation of all the interpretations of the Gita would be an exercise in prolix meaninglessness. This is not to suggest that there is nothing to be learnt from some of these interpretations. But, ultimately, in the arena of the human predicament, there has to be contemplative solitude. And it is how the Gita impacts on the silences that constitute the discrete experience of each person’s existential dilemma that gives it enduring meaning and value.
On the battlefield, Arjun, representing ‘generic man’, suffered a motivational void. In a flash, all the carefully imbibed ‘oughts’ of his life crumbled. He was gripped by the sudden realization of the futility of effort, in a world bereft of any ontological meaning. Endeavour and strife have intrinsic value if they are earthed in an explicable context. But to a man who does not know why he is born, and why he will die, the din and fury of the intervening period becomes, at the first moment of corrosive questioning, a pointless pantomime. There is no collective panacea for a man who, in one valid but unguarded instance, comes face to face with his own irrelevance. In a universe, be numbingly vast, with galaxy upon galaxy existing in causeless, mechanical monotony, the individual is dwarfed by his own meaningless finitude. In one blindingly perceptive realization, the conditioned moorings of his life are swept away by the sheer barrenness of the cosmic drift, informing him and everything else in his life. One is born, one lives and one dies. There is no enlightening redemption from the starkness of this sterile charade. And all of a sudden the purport of ambition and achievement, of causes and goals, becomes opaque. And a weariness ensues.
The greatness of the Gita was that it began by portraying this alienation. It recognized the thinking individual’s rebellion against the unquestioning acceptance of the validity of effort. Arjun was not Bheema, whose actions were characterized by temperamental fluctuations; he was also unlike Yudhishthira, whose choice of volition had congenitallv subordinated itself to the call of conventional duty. Arjun’s despair had authenticity because it afflicted him. The entire burden of his conditioning was to accept battle as his very raison d* etre. And yet, being Arjun, at a crucial moment of his life, he was consumed by doubt about the value, in any ultimate sense, of his assumed role.