Arjuna's Dilemma:

Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 1

Continued from Introduction to Bhagavad-Gita: Treaties of Self-help 

In this opening chapter, the grand stage for the discourse nonpareil is set on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Gathered with their armies are the estranged cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, all set to join the battle. After reviewing the relative strengths of the opposing formations, Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince, fancies his chances. On the other hand, Arjuna, alias Paartha, the spearhead of the Pandava forces, is beset with moral indignation. He begins to see the futility of a fratricidal war that would result in the death of kith and kin in numbers. To Lord Krishna, who dons the role of his charioteer, a distressed Arjuna enumerates the ills that visit society in the wake of wars. Exasperated in the end, he expresses his intent to rescind from the impending war regardless.  
The contrasting attitudes of the principal combatants of the Battle of Mahabharata are illustrative of the dualities inherent in human nature, exemplified by man’s proclivities.  Duryodhana as well as Arjuna meticulously prepared for the battle ahead, and both were bent upon fighting to the finish. But when the chips are down, while Duryodhana dreamt of victory, Arjuna suffered from qualms. It is this inherent duality of human nature that so prominently figures in Lord Krishna’s discourse in the coming chapters. 

In popular parlance, this chapter, comprising 47 slokas (verses), is known as Arjuna Vishaada Yoga, Arjuna’s Grief. However, it is worth noting that though Arjuna’s demeanor in the battlefield personifies grief, it’s the dilemma of his persona that gives cause to it. Thus, there is merit in this chapter being rechristened as Arjuna’s Dilemma. On the other hand, it is the supreme irony, or in the fitness of things, depending on how one views it, that this Treatise of Self-help should begin with Dhrutarashtra's query, whose blind love towards his son Duryodhana brought things to this pass.  

One might notice the inconsistency in Duryodhana’s assessment of Pandava forces in that while in s3-s6 he considers them formidable; in s10 he dismisses them as pygmies. Maybe it has something to do with his state of mind on the eve of war. 

Thus spoke Dhrutarashtra:  

Appraise Sanjay as my sons
Gathered at the battleground
Face the sons of my sibling
Eager for the war on hand..   

Thus spoke Sanjaya:  

Eyeing Pandavs there lined up 
So to assess relative strengths
Reached Duryodhan, Dron in time.

Find acharya, said the Prince,
Pandav force thus there arrayed
None other than by Drushtadyumn
Whom thou taught all tricks of war.

Virat ’n Drupad, so Yuyudhaana
With Bhim ’n Arjun they stand out.

Dhrushtaket, the one to dread
King of Kashi and Purujit  
Kuntibhoj ’n Saibya too
Chekitan, their force augment.

Uttamouj ’n Yudhamanyu
Abhimanyu so Vikranta 
Draupadi’s offspring not to speak
Five-star generals all no less.

For thy feel of our own strength
Roll-call heroes of ours O, revered.

Thou with Bhishm, Karn ’n Kripa
Make all four our Field Marshals,
Bhurisrav, Aswatham ’n Vikarn 
Our Marshals, near Field Marshals.

With their lives on line for me
Adept at weaponry varied all
Abound valorous in our ranks
Past masters of group warfare. 

Nurses Bhishma force our vast    
Lot it’s Bhima’s tend their small.

Let’s close ranks in well laid files 
Cover we flanks for Bhishma’s guard. 

Words by these moved
Grandsire Bhishm,
Warrior verily unrivalled
War cry he gave with his conch.

Egged by Bhishma, geared Kauravs 
War cries their rent, those high skies.   

Krishna ’n Arjun, in their turn
From chariot of white stallions
Gave in kind they with kindred.

With Panchajanya, Lord Krishna    
Broke sound barriers with Arjun
Who blew to hilt Devadatta 
As blared Bhima, his Paundra.  

Blew conch Yudhisthir full throated
Anantavijaya in tandem
With his siblings, Nakul ’n Sahadev,  
Blew who Sughosh ’n Manipushpak. 

King of Kashi, master archer
Sikhandi Marshal, their formidable
Saathyaki, Drushtadyumn ’n Virat
Warriors they all never vanquished,    

Drupada as well Draupadi’s progeny
With their hero Abhimanyu
Blew, O monarch, at one go
Conchs of theirs to deafening sound.

Tumult that ensued shook the ground
Bewildered Kauravs, as skies roared.

When came time to join lines
So it happened O my Lord
With his Gandiv in harness
Hanumaan’s ensign in flutter
Arjun stared at Kauravs hard 
And thus spoke to Lord Krishna. 

Thus spoke Arjuna:
Pray posit chariot ours upfront
So that I can have a look
At those itching for this war.  

Time I discern those backing
Duryodhan the evil minded.  

Thus spoke Sanjaya: 
Upfront Krishna took Arjun
In their chariot drawn by four.

Beseeched Krishna then Arjun 
That he behold Bhishm ’n Dron
As well all those there gathered.

Espied Arjun his clansmen 
Grandads, uncles, brothers and all
Teachers as well friends of note.

At the sight of
His kinsmen,   
He in distress   
Spoke worried.  

Thus spoke Arjuna:
Disturb kinsfolk here gathered
Feel I parched, it nauseates too.

Horrify no end prospects war
Un-grips Gandiv, looks I’m sick.

Looks like it’s an illusion
Lord I envision bad omens all.

Crave I not for power or pelf
What’s it worth to kill Kauravs? 

Know not avails what empire
What sort pleasures it entails!

Whom all we wish well in life
Here they face us risking same.

Us they oppose
Dads, grand-dads
Sons, grandsons, so uncles 
Brothers-in-law ’n teachers too!

Were the stakes be sky high like
Ruling earth ’n heaven as well
Let those Kauravs itch for fight 
I won’t have this war on hand.

Set as they on sinful path
Why earn sin by slaying them.

See I no gain by their end
Why then kill our kith ’n kin?

Blinded by greed, bent on deceit 
Fail they foresee, war ruins the race.

Wiser for the woes of wars
Why not Lord we rescind now.

Die aged en masse dharma’s votaries
Won't that let go youth ours haywire?  

Sex ratio adverse that war ensues
Turns women soft on caste barriers.

Fallen women all go to hell 
What is more their bastards rob
Posthumous rites of forebearers.

Liaisons low of women wanton
Set our race on ruinous course.

Is it not said, O My Lord
Fail who dharma are hell bound.

What urge killing kith and kin,
Why should we sin lusting crown?

Disarm I now on my own
Let them harm me if they deem.

Thus spoke Sanjaya: 
Thus O Raja
Despaired Arjun
Arms he threw
And sat distressed.

Ends thus
Arjuna’s Dilemma,
The First Chapter
Of Bhagavad-Gita
Treatise of self-help. 

Continued to "All About Life" : Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 2


More by :  BS Murthy

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