The Setting of the Bhagavad Gita
October 03, 2020, 08:14 PM IST
Though the Truth is one and eternal, in different ages it expresses itself in varied locales that impart their unique flavor to its presentation. The teaching of the Bhagavad Gita must therefore not be regarded merely in the light of a generalized philosophy or ethical doctrine. It is the practical application of ethics to human life in a specific situation of crisis that serves as its setting. Since its teachings are exceedingly profound, the Bhagavad Gita required an equally problematic and insurmountable crisis as its setting. Thus, in order to fully appreciate the value of its ideas, the historical flow of events that led to the speaking of the divine message to Arjun by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra must also be known. The setting in which the Bhagavad Gita was spoken was the onset of the Mahabharat, a colossal war that was about to begin between two sets of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The Pandavas—Yudhishthir, Bheem, Arjun, Nakul, and Sahadev—were five noble brothers. Their father, King Pandu, had suffered an unfortunate death while his five sons were still very young. Pandu’s throne had been usurped by his step brother, Dhritarashtra, who was blind from birth. Dhritarashtra had a hundred sons, called the Kauravas, the eldest of whom was Duryodhan. For years, the Kauravas, led by Duryodhan, had victimized their cousins, the Pandavas, and governed over the kingdom of Hastinapur, which did not rightfully belong to them. The Kauravas embodied cruelty, injustice, vice, oppression, and irreligion. On the other hand, the Pandavas were saintly and virtuous—the epitomes of morality, sacrifice, devotion, and compassion. Most importantly, they were great devotees of the Supreme Lord Shree Krishna. Due to the oppression meted out to them by the Kauravas, the miseries of the Pandavas had become so unbearable that a war between the two sides had become imminent. Realizing the unavoidability of the war, both sides had canvassed for support from the scores of kingdoms that littered the landscape of Bharat (India) at that time. The two groups of cousins were so powerful that the war would impact the whole of Bharat. Thus, all the kings in the land were obliged to align themselves with one side or the other. As a part of the vigorous mobilization attempts, both Arjun and Duryodhan had reached Dwaraka to request the help of Lord Krishna. Being omniscient, Shree Krishna knew that they were coming to entreat His help. He created a situation that set the didactical tone for the approaching battle. He posed to be sleeping in His chamber. Arjun entered the chamber and, in a mood of humbleness, sat by the side of Shree Krishna’s feet, waiting for Him to wake up. In the meantime, Duryodhan also arrived, and in his characteristic arrogance, sat on a chair behind Shree Krishna’s head. When Shree Krishna awoke, His eyes naturally fell first upon Arjun, and later, He was made aware of the presence of Duryodhan as well. Both parties sought His assistance in the war. Since Arjun and Duryodhan were both Shree Krishna’s cousins, He did not wish to be blamed of partiality. So He offered that to one side He would give His huge army of the kingdom of Dwaraka, while to the other side He would Himself remain but without any weapons. Since Shree Krishna had seen Arjun first upon waking up, He gave the first choice to Him. Arjun elected to have Shree Krishna on His side, though without weapons. He decided that if God was with Him, He could never lose. Duryodhan was pleased by Arjun’s choice, for he believed solely in material strength based upon military might. The Supreme Lord Shree Krishna thus became the charioteer of Arjun in the war. On the verge of the battle, huge armies had gathered on either side upon the battlefield of Kurukshetra. This was the impending war of Mahabharat (the great battle of India). The situation was extremely grave, as an era was about to self-destruct itself in internecine warfare. Just before the combat was about to begin, Arjun requested Lord Krishna to pull his chariot between the two armies. On seeing the warriors who had arrayed themselves for combat, Arjun lost heart. In a fit of despondency, he threw down his bow and refused to fight. Arjun was a victim of a moral paradox. On the one hand, he was facing persons who deserved his respect and veneration such as his grandfather, Bheeshma, his teacher, Dronacharya, etc. On the other hand, his duty as a warrior was to fight the war of righteousness. Yet, no fruits of victory seemed to justify such a heinous act. It seemed like a dilemma without solution. Bewildered, demoralized, disappointed with life, and dejected with the events, Arjun surrendered to the Supreme Lord and supplicated for guidance on what the proper course of action for him was. In this state of Arjun’s moral confusion, Shree Krishna set out to enlighten him.