Yudhishthira and Krishna: Indra & Vishnu on One Chariot 2 by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay SignUp


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Yudhishthira and Krishna: Indra & Vishnu on One Chariot 2
by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay Bookmark and Share
At first Yudhishthira could see the bird only, but when Drona wanted to test his firmness in concentration further, he set a ‘trap question’, and tagged the previous question with multiple choices. It should be noted that Drona’s question has the word ‘vaa’ i.e. ‘or’, implying he wanted to divert Yudhishthira’s mind towards any other ‘single’ thing, and wanted to see his preferential sequence; whereas Yudhishthira’s reply has the word ‘ca’ i.e. ‘and’, implying his vision would not exclude anything, nor make a preference at the exclusion of another even if his Guru suggests so; he would, however, not go beyond his Guru’s suggestion and include all as suggested by his Guru, making a preferential sequence within that broad vision. In other words, he would not ‘tick’ a particular answer from a multiple choice question, nor arrange them in a preferential sequence, nor scratch any other answer from outside, but tick all the answers and then number them as answer 1,2,3,4…

The order in which Yudhishthira sets the ‘items’ are also to be noted; first tree, then Guru, then his brothers and finally the target-bird. It is this arrangement that reveals Yudhishthira’s character about what he would become.

Drona put himself after the bird, but to Yudhishthira, Tree or Nature comes first, then Guru, then his brothers – humanity, and finally the target, which being a personal target is less important to him than the previous three.

He ‘sees’ his Guru second to Nature because his Guru is ‘shruuti’ to him, and placing his Guru second to Nature, he actually places ‘shruuti’ as the centre of his being, as a timeless aspect that defines his very being. He thus pays the highest regard to his Guru, by acknowledging him as his being, and through that acknowledgment he pays the highest regard to ‘shruuti’, the universal and timeless aspect of wisdom.

Yudhishthira’s answer, however, shows, he is not a blind adherer to ‘shruuti’, but within the framework of ‘shruuti’ he would define his vision with his svadharma – his originality.

Drona does not have the talent and potential to understand Yudhishthira, so he removes him displeased with him - apasarpa.iti.droNo.apriita.manaa.

When Drona next asked his other disciples, they replied in exact way as Drona said –



Yudhishthira thus stands out as an exception against the background of all his brothers, with the exception of Arjuna, who, being focused on the bird’s eye and nothing else, is an exception, from another perspective, against the backdrop of all his brothers including Yudhishthira.

Yudhishthira and Arjuna – both are ‘winners’ from two different perspectives – though Drona, too eager to have his personal agenda of chastising Drupada fulfilled through his disciples, places the laurels on Arjuna’s crown. Herein lies the meanness of Drona as a teacher, and herein lies the greatness of Vyasa’s vision of relativity.

The main force of Yudhishthira’s dharma is, thus, to define ‘shruuti’ according to his svadharma within the broad framework of ‘shruuti’.

As Vyasa shows us, Yudhishthira’s ‘attempt to define dharma and live by it’ would not be so easy, because Life follows a dharma of contradiction that often poses man as its opposition.

This episode is sufficient to give us a glimpse of what Yudhishthira would be in future, but perhaps, the later poets rightly thought that such a subtle clue to Yudhsihthira’s character has been lost in the chaos of war, and so they introduced two elaborate narratives – Yudhishthira-Yaksha dialogue and Yudhishthira’s Svargarohana – to do ‘justice’ to Ydhishthira’s brand of Dharma - so that Vyasa’s message is not lost, so that Yudhishthira’s Dharma is not eclipsed out by Krishna’s!

Drona rejected Yudhishthira’s answer, but Yaksha-dharma appreciated them, though the single question of Drona and the multiple questions of Yaksha have the same spirit. The Drona-Yaksha opposition is thus an adharma-dharma opposition, confirmed in Drona’s taking up arms in favour of adharma.

Yudhishthira would not focus on a particular target meant for personal advancement, and will have a place for that target within a broad canvass of everything. Arjuna on the other hand, will focus on a particular target when occasion calls so, at the exclusion of everything else.

Yudhishthira will locate the target in everything and Arjuna will locate everything in the target.

And here, the two Indras are in opposition – the Old Indra and the New Indra of Rig Veda. Through the two brothers Vyasa shows two different possibilities of approaching Life, and going through it with karma and dharma.

Focused target in everything, and everything in a focused target - Particular in Universal, and Universal in Particular – Vyasa and Krishna resolve this apparent opposition by the philosophy of svadharma based yoga that endows one with ‘samadarshhana’-

Sarvabhuutasthha maatmaanam sarvabhuutaani chaatmani
Ikshate yogayuktaatmaa sarvatra samadarshana

And who is the best practitioner of this Dharma, if not Yudhishthira?

Yudhishthira and Krishna on the Same Dharma Chariot

Yudhishthira’s Dharma is apparently different from Krishna’s pragmatic Dharma. Just after the Pandavas leave for forest exile, hearing that, the Bhojas, the Vrishnis, and the Andhakas goes to meet them one day.

Krishna suggests avenging the wrong by acting immediately and says in a fiery speech, 'The earth shall drink the blood of Duryodhana and Karna, of Dussasana and the wicked Sakuni! Slaying these in battle and defeating their followers along with their royal allies, will we all install Yudhishthira the just on the throne! The wicked deserve to be slain! Verily, this is eternal morality – nikR^ityopacharanvadhya eva dharmaH sanAtanaH (CE-3.13.6)

Though Krishna calls such action - dharmaH sanAtanaH, Yudhishthira does not approve it. He disagrees with Krishna on Dharma, and decides to stay in forest and incognito for 13 years in strict adherence to his promise. Krishna has to bow before Yudhishthira’s Dharma and leave for Dwarka. Why I use the word ‘apparently’ is owing to this.

Though Bhima and Draupadi are fuming, Krishna recognizes Yudhishthira’s Dharma, and it becomes clear that Krishna only proposes immediate war to show his solidarity with Draupadi, Bhima and others preferring war in violation of the promise of exile, but more willing to make it a point before them that Yudhishthira’s dharma should be the prime guiding force in the next course of action. In other words, Krishna bows before Yudhishthira’s dharma to raise the flag of Yudhishthira’s dharma.

It would not be wrong to say, Krishna understands Yudhsihthira more than anyone else, even more than Arjuna, who seems to understand Yudhishthira only after Yudhishthira has taken a decision or stand.

On being advised by all to perform Raajasuuya, Yudhishthira decides to take Krishna’s counsel. When Krishna comes, he tells him, 'I have wished to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice. That sacrifice, however, cannot be performed by one's wishing alone to perform it. Thou knowest, O Krishna, even thing about the means by which it may be accomplished. He alone can achieve this sacrifice in whom everything is possible, who is worshipped everywhere and who is the king of kings. My friends and counsellors approaching me have said that I should perform that sacrifice. But, O Krishna, in respect of that matter, thy words shall be my guide. Of counsellers some from friendship do not notice the difficulties; others from motives of self-interest say only what is agreeable. Some again regard that which is beneficial to themselves as worthy of adoption. Men are seen to counsel thus on matters awaiting decision. But thou, O Krishna, art above such motives. Thou hast conquered both desire and anger. It behoveth thee to tell me what is most beneficial to the world."(KMG-Adi.13)

And why Krishna wants Yudhishthira to be the ‘Centre’ is understandable from what he thinks about Yudhishthira. Advising Yudhishthira to perform Raajasuuya only after killing Jarasandha, Krishna tells him, ‘It hath been heard by us that in the krita age, having brought every one under their subjection, Yauvanaswin by the abolition of all taxes, Bhagiratha by his kind treatment to his subjects, Kartavirya by the energy of his asceticism, the lord Bharata by his strength and valor, and Maruta by his prosperity, all these five became emperors. But, O Yudhishthira, thou who covetest the imperial dignity deserves it, not by one but by all these qualities, viz., victory, protection afforded to thy people, virtue, prosperity, and policy.(KMG-Sabha.15)’

Once, during their forest exile, the wandering Pandavas reach Prabhasa. The Yadu leaders come to visit them there. Satyaki proposes war, but Krishna politely cuts his enthusiasm short saying, ‘this bull of the Kuru race (Yudhishthira) would never accept the sovereignty of the earth, unless it were won by the prowess of his own arms. Neither for the sake of pleasure, nor from fear, nor from covetousness, would Yudhishthira ever renounce the rules of the caste- na.hy.eSa.kaamaan.na.bhayaan.na.lobhaad;yudhiSThiro.jaatu.jahyaat.sva.dharmam; nor would these two heroes, who are mighty, when mounted on a car—Bhima and Arjuna; nor the twin brothers, nor Krishna, the daughter of Drupada.(CE-3.120.22-23)’

Krishna’s respect for Yudhishthira’s svadharma is evident. Krishna also understands the ‘unique glue’ of the Pandavas and Draupadi, even more than they understand!

In reply to Krishna Yudhishthira says, 'It is not strange that thou shouldst speak thus, O scion of Madhu's race! but to me truth seems to be the first consideration, above that of my sovereign power itself. But it is Krishna alone who precisely knoweth what I am; and it is I alone who precisely know what Krishna (really) is- kRSNas . tu . maam . veda . yathaa . vad . ekah; kRSNam.ca.veda.aham.atho.yathaa.vat. O thou endued with valour! O scion of Madhu's race! as soon as he will perceive that the time is come for feats of bravery, then, O most valiant of Sini's race, he also of beautiful hair (Krishna) will defeat Suyodhana. Let the brave men of the Dasarha race go back today. They are my patrons; and the foremost of human beings, they have visited me here. O ye of immeasurable strength! Never fall off from the path of virtue- dharme.apramaadam.kuruta.aprameyaa. I shall see you again, when ye will be happily gathered together.'(KMG-Vana.120/CE-3.120.26-28)

Yudhsihthira’s saying – ‘Krishna alone who precisely knoweth what I am; and it is I alone who precisely know what Krishna (really) is’- makes it all the more evident that he and Krishna are the true Indra-Vishnu pair in Mahabharata.

Once, Krishna and Satyabhama visited the Pandavas in forest, and then Krishna told Yudhishthira – ‘'O king, Virtue is preferable to the winning of kingdoms; it is, in fact, practice of austerities! By you who have obeyed with truth and candour what your duty prescribed, have been won both this world and that to come! First you have studied, while performing religious duties; having acquired in a suitable way the whole science of arms, having won wealth by pursuing the methods prescribed for the military caste, you have celebrated all the time-honoured sacrificial rites. You take no delight in sensual pleasures; you do not act, O lord of men, from motives of enjoyment, nor do you swerve from virtue from greed of riches; it is for this, you have been named the Virtuous King, O son of Pritha! Having won kingdoms and riches and means of enjoyment, your best delight has been charity and truth and practice of austerities, O King, and faith and meditation and forbearance and patience! (KMG- Vana.182)

Krishna respects Yudhishthira’s Dharma, because his Dharma is in accordance to ‘svadharma’.

The man who advises Arjuna –

shreyAnsvadharmo viguNaH paradharmAtsvanuShThitAt .
svadharme nidhana.n shreyaH paradharmo bhayAvahaH -

One's inferior natural work is better than superior unnatural work. Death in carrying out one's natural work is useful. Unnatural work produces too much stress. (Gita-3.35)

- certainly does not want to ‘change’ any one’s svadharma, or impose his svadharma on others.

Yudhishthira’s Gurus: The Four Krishnas

Interestingly, at different phases of Yudhisthira’s life, the four Krishnas – Vyasa, Krishna, Arjuna and Draupadi – appear as his Guru. Yudhishthira learns as much through trial and error of firsthand experience as much through debates and discourses.

Gautama Dharmashashtra places great importance on dialogic discourse as a means for arriving at the truth - nyaayaadhigame tarko.abhyupaayaH {Gaut.2.2.23 (11.23)}. Instead of blind adherence to any injunction of authority, one shall come to a conclusion through that, and shall decide properly - tenaabhyuuhya yathaasthaanaM gamayet {Gaut.2.2.24 (11.24)}

The Pandavas and Draupadi had differences in opinion on ‘Dharma’, and often had debates on the topic, and Vyasa’s mimesis is impeccable in showing us the inevitable relativity of perception. There is no absolute Truth, and every human truth is relative.

At different phases of earthly life, Yudhishthira’s brothers doubted his Dharma in different degrees. Only one man never said a word against him. Krishna!

Krishna, perhaps, was helpless before this man, and felt, perhaps, he was ‘trapped’ in his own philosophy in respect to this man. And yet Krishna knew his Dharma could not be translated into political action without this man. It was not for nothing that he shifted the power centre of Bharata Rashtra from Jarasandha’s East to Indraprashtha-Hastinapura. There was no Yudhishthira among the Vrishnis. Is it not natural, then, the Vrishnis would kill each other in drunken debauchery?

Krishna preached ‘Svadharma’ – Dharma according to one’s own Nature. If Yudhishthira stood by his own Dharma despite all obstacles and objections, and despite all practical limitations of his Dharma, it was his ‘Svadharma’ then.

In the Yaksha-Yudhishthira dialogue, God Dharma admitted –

I am greatly pleased, O thou of great wisdom, with thee, O son, by thy devotion to me, by thy truthfulness of speech, and forgiveness, and self-restraint. This, indeed, is the third test, O king, to which I put thee. Thou art incapable, O son of Pritha, of being swerved from thy nature or reason.’

Dharma uses the word ‘svabhaavaat’, acknowledging that Yudhishthira’s Dharma is his Svadharma. Is there any doubt then that, Yudhishthira was the most sincere and genuine follower of Krishna’s Dharma?

And Yudhishthira himself said – ‘I do not practice Dharma to obtain Karmaphala

dharmam.caraami.suzroNi.na.dharma.phala.kaaraNaat. (CE-3.32.4)

- and this is his ‘svabhaavaa

If Krishna exemplifies Nishkaama-Karma, Yudhishthira exemplifies Nishkaama-Dharma, and both are same because both have their base in Karma and Jnyana – two sides of the same coin, for Krishna himself has said that all Karma has its base in Dharma, and more importantly in ‘svabhaava’- svadharma. If Krishna’s Dharma is the practice of ‘Detached Attachment’, Yudhishthira’s is ‘Attached Detachment’!

And the courage with which Yudhishthira defended his own Dharma, like one protecting a lamp amidst storm, would not have been possible, unless Yudhishthira had Viirasukha in this Karma of living in his own Dharma.

Viirsukha is the spirit of living, nay, the art of living, in an ever hostile world, a Kurukshetra forever. Viirsukha is also the art of survival. Deciding to stay in Naraka with his brothers, sons and wife, what was his motivation, if not ‘viirsukha’?

Yudhishthira’s ‘nishkaama Dharma’ is similar to Krishna’s ‘nishkaama karma’ in that, though he practices Dharma not for any ‘phala’, the ‘phala’ nevertheless is there.

He tells Draupadi – ‘O thou faultless one, if the virtues that are practiced by the virtuous had no fruits, this universe then would be enveloped in infamous darkness. No one then would pursue salvation, no one would seek to acquire knowledge not even wealth, but men would live like beasts. …. Knowing it for certain that God is the giver of fruits in respect of virtue, they practice virtue in this world. This, O Krishna, is the eternal (source of) prosperity. When the fruits of both knowledge and asceticism are seen, virtue and vice cannot be fruitless. (CE-3.32.23-29)’

Yudhishthira thinks his Dharma has no personal attachment to ‘phala’, but his belief in a ‘universal moral value and order’ – ‘virtue and vice cannot be fruitless – sa.ca.ayam.saphalo.dharmo.na.dharmo.aphala’ is the cause of his personal attachment to ‘phala’ of which he is not aware of. His reaction to Duryodhana’s presence in heavenly glory is born of an error – ‘moha’, and he learns about the unconscious side of his mind and self through that error.

Yudhishthira’s ‘theory’ has its base in ‘dRzyante phalaani’, i.e. in perceived reality, which is also similar to Krishna’s ‘dRSTa.phalam’ (5.290.6)

Yudhishthira’s Dharma places more importance on ‘pramaanaH’ offered by Rishis than on ‘own reasoning - aatma.pramaaNa’.

‘The fool that doubteth Dharma and disregardeth virtue, proud of the proof derived from his own reasoning, regardeth not other proofs and holdeth the Rishis, who are capable of knowing the future as present as mad men. (CE-3.32.14-15)’

Here he is diametrically opposite to Krishna’s Dharma that places more importance on ‘aatma’ –

uddharedaatmanaatmaanaM naatmaanamavasaadayet.h .
aatmaiva hyaatmano bandhuraatmaiva ripuraatmanaH -

‘One must elevate, not degrade, oneself by one's own Self. The Self alone is one's friend as well as one's enemy.’ (Gita-6.05)

To Yudhishthira, a cynic in Scriptural proof goes to Naraka

‘A rejector of proofs, a slanderer of the interpretation of the Vedic scriptures, a transgressor urged by lust and covetousness, that fool goeth to hell. O amiable one, he on the other hand, who ever cherisheth Dharma with faith, obtaineth eternal bliss in the other world. The fool who cherisheth not Dharma, transgressing the proofs offered by the Rishis, never obtaineth prosperity in any life, for such transgression of the scriptures. (CE-3.32.18-19)’
Vashishtha Dharmashahstra defines ‘ziSTa’ as one whose ‘aatma’ is free from ‘kaama’ - ziSTas^punar akaama.aatmaa (Va.1.6)

Yushishthira is not yet ‘ziSTa’. He, however, learns with an open mind, because when Narada advises him to give up discrimination, he listens silently. In silence, is his recognition of the ‘kaama’ in his heart.

His faith is in ancient Dharma practiced by ‘shishta’. He argued with Draupadi – ‘Doubt not, O Krishna, the ancient Dharma that is practiced by the good and framed by Rishis of universal knowledge and capable of seeing all things! (CE-3.32.21)’

To the Yaksha he said the same thing. When the Yaksha asked Yudhishthira, ‘What is the path – kah panthah?’ he replied – ‘Argument leads to no certain conclusion, the Srutis are different from one another; there is not even one Rishi whose opinion can be accepted by all; the truth about Dharma and duty is hid in caves: therefore, that alone is the path along which the great have trod – mahaajano jeno gatah sa panthah.’

After the war, he has a discourse with Bhisma on Dharma. He explains why he has settled on ‘ziSTair .  aacaritam . dharmam’ as true Dharma.

It appears from his conversation with Bhisma, he is in search of a universal Dharma. It seems he is confused at the variegated form of Dharma and its application, at the relativity of Dharma that apparently defeats possibility of universality -‘Duty and its reverse, therefore, cannot be ascertained, O Bharata, by study of the scriptures alone……what is meant by conduct of the good remains unsettled…. No such conduct, therefore, is to be seen (as observed by any man), which is fraught with universal benevolence.’

The contradictions in Scriptural authorities confuse him; the subjection of Dharma to the conditional bound of Time-Space-‘paatraveda’ confuses him –

‘…the ordinances of the Vedas disappear gradually in every successive age. ….all the declarations in the Vedas do not apply equally to all the ages, the saying that the declarations of the Vedas are true is only a popular form of speech indulged in for popular satisfaction. … When, however, the Shrutis and the Smritis contradict each other, how can either be authoritative? (CE-12.252.7-9)’

If ‘present’ experience leaves him confused, the only option left to him is to hold on to a strong pole, which would be his ‘secure’ base. Like Sri Ramakrishna’s sea-bird perching on the mast of a ship surrounded on all sides by sea with land nowhere in sight, he would fly over the sea only to return safely to the mast of the ship- ‘It seems, therefore, that only that which the learned of ancient times called righteousness is righteousness to this day: and through that course of conduct (which the learned so settled) the distinctions and limitations (that govern the world) have become eternal. (CE-12.252.20)'

Thus Yudhishthira is a follower of conduct of great men.

In Gita, Krishna says –

yadyadaacharati shreshhThastattadevetaro janaH .
sa yatpramaaNaM kurute lokastadanuvartate -

‘Because, whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows. (Gita-3.21)’

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