Krishna and Arjuna on One Chariot

- Rotating Night and Day

An analysis of Vyasa’s commentary on Power based
on two Rg Vedic hymns in the light of Shatapatha Brahmana

Two mystic Rks in Rg Veda mention the words ‘Krishna’ and ‘Arjuna’ together, and the oldest Rk goes as follows:

“One half of day is dark, and bright the other: both atmospheres move on by sage devices. Agni Vaisvanara, when born as Sovran, hath with his lustre overcome the darkness. (RV-6.9.1)”
ahashca kRSNamahararjunaM ca vi vartete rajasI vedyAbhiH |
vaishvAnaro jAyamAno na rAjAvAtirajjyotiSAgnistamAMsi ||\

            In this Rk (6.9.1), the word for Day is ‘Arjuna,’ and for Night is ‘Krishna,’ that is, Krishna = Night, and Arjuna = Day, and together the names suggest rotation of Kala-Time. Literally, Arjuna means White, and in Rig Veda, Indra's Vajra is called 'Arjuna.'

Mahabharata as Vedan Pancaman is Vyasa’s interpretation of Vedas in narrative form – the narrative in this case is of the Itihasa that Vyasa witnessed and participated in; and in the unfolding events of that Itihasa, Rshi-Kavi Vyasa saw the same eternal drama that the Rg Vedic Rshis saw as Existential Reality of Life, and wanted to convey that vision through coded messages in the form of Suktas consisting of Rks.

Rshi-Kavi Vyasa saw in his contemporary Itihasa the opportunity of interpreting Vedas – and Kavi-Vyasa represents the events as well as transforms them into metaphors and allegories as elaborations of Vedic coded messages for the benefit of common people.

If the Vedic wisdom became ‘elitist’ in the hand of ‘rulers’ – both in the field of Rashtriya administration and Discourses (as happened in the DharmaShastrik age once again)– both in fact existing in symbiosis – then Vyasa’s Mahabharata is a revolutionary Discourse-Kavya to destroy that elitist hegemony, and bring Dharma back to everyday life as everyday life-breath.

Let us now come back to the mentioned Rks.

The first Rk is in the sixth Mandala of Rg Veda, and the sixth Mandala is arguably the oldest Mandala. Some scholars consider the second Mandala to be the oldest. Without going into the debate here, it can be safely assumed that the sixth Mandala is ages older than Mahabharata, and going by Common Sense Logic, Vyasa, the ‘compiler’ and ‘editor’ of Vedas Should have known the Mandala and therefore the Rk mentioned.

If Krishna–Arjuna is the foremost of the heroes (and one might even consider them ‘central’) in Mahabharata, the questions that naturally arise are:

a) “What coded message may we find in the Rk?”
b) “Does the Rk have any relation to Vyasa’s poetic portrayal of Krishna–Arjuna in Mahabharata?”
c) “If so, what light does it throw on Krishna–Arjuna’s character and their role in Mahabharata?”

In this essay, I will not go into detailed discussion on Krishna–Arjuna’s character and role in Mahabharata, I will focus on the interpretation on the Rks and make passing references on episodes in Mahabharata to Show how the Rks help us better understand Krishna–Arjuna of Mahabharata.

For this, instead of ramming our brain with speculations, I go for concrete help to the great Yajnavalka’s Shatapatha Brahmana.

Yajnavalka was Vyasa’s favourite “grand-disciple” (Vyasa --> Vaishampayana --> Yajnavalka = Grand-Disciple; like grandson) - perhaps his disciple too – and perhaps more favourite than Vaishampayana was to him. Even after Vyasa finished compiling and editing Vedas, and entrusted his disciples to teach them on ‘earth,’ some other Vedas were revealed to Yajnavalka by Surya and Sarasvati’s grace.

In ‘modern’ interpretation that means, Vyasa, despite his extraordinary effort, could not collect all Vedas of his time, and Yajnavalka completed and complemented his task.

Shatapatha Brahmana gives us a very valuable information that Arjuna and Phalguni are two names of Indra (2:1:2:11). The passage reads:

“He (sacrificer) may also set up his fires under the Phalgunis. They, the Phalgunis, are Indra's asterism, and even correspond to him in name; for indeed Indra is also called Arjuna, this being his mystic name; and they (the Phalgunis) are also called Arjunis. Hence he overtly calls them Phalgunis, for who dares to use his (the god's) mystic name?”

Quoting this, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in his “Krishnacharitra” suspected more than hundred years back that Arjuna is Indra because of this, and he rationally rejected the Supernatural and Mythical Narrative of Arjuna’s or Pandavas’ birth by Gods.

Now, let us see what is Day and Night in Yajnavalka’s vision:

“Now Prajapati is the year, since the sacrifice is Prajapati; and the year is day and night, since these two revolving produce it.”

Day and Night in Wheel = Year

Further - 

“The sun, indeed, relates to Agni, and the moon to Soma; the day relates to Agni, and the night to Soma; the waxing half-moon relates to Agni, and the waning one to Soma.”

Day = Agni
Night = Soma
Agni and Soma rotating = Year


Sun = Agni
Moon = Soma
Sun and Moon rotating = Year


Surya = Agni = Day = Light = Power
Candra = Soma = Night = Darkness = Anti-Power
Moon has two phases – Waxing Moon and Waning Moon. 

I use the word ‘Power’ and ‘Anti-Power’ for Light and Dark respectively, because of the obvious reason that in Spiritualism, Light is Preferred and Privileged over Dark.

Indra’s name as ‘Phalguna’ and ‘Arjuna’ becomes very significant in the light of Panchavimsha Brahmana because at 5.9.8, it is stated:

“The Phalguna (full-moon -day) is the head (i.e. the beginning) of the year ; at the head (the beginning of the year) having thereby taken hold of the year they are consecrated.”
Thus, Arjuna or Phalguna is also the Full-Moon Day, and the beginning of the Year in the rotation of Day and Night.

Moon has two phases – Waxing Moon and Waning Moon. Now,

Waxing Moon = Agni = Power
Waning Moon = Soma = Anti-Power 


Moon = Anti-Power = Power + Anti-Power
Waning Moon = Anti-Power within Anti-Power = (Power + Anti-Power) within (Power + Anti-Power)
Waxing Moon = Power within Anti-Power = Power within (Power + Anti-Power) 


Sun = Agni 


Sun = Waxing Moon = Power within Anti-Power = Power within (Power + Anti-Power)

That means -

Sun = Waxing Moon = Sun within Anti-Power = Sun within (Sun + Anti-Power)


Moon = Waxing Moon + Waning Moon = Power + Anti-Power = (Power + Anti-Power) + (Power + Anti-Power)

Yajnavalka also resolves the Sun-Moon dichotomy:

“The full moon, doubtless, is the same as that burning (sun), for he, indeed, is full day by day; and the new moon (darsa) is the same as the moon, for he appears (dars), as it were. But they also say inversely, 'The full moon is the same as the moon, for after the filling up of the latter there is the night of full moon;' and the new moon (darsa) is the same as that burning (sun), for the latter appears, as it were.”

Full Moon = Sun = Arjuna

New Moon = Moon = Krishna


Full Moon = Moon = Krishna

New Moon = Sun = Arjuna

Thus, Arjuna = Krishna; or, we may say, Arjuna is one aspect of Krishna, and Krishna is one aspect of Arjuna. That Arjuna is Krishna is clear because Arjuna's one name is Krishna.
How is Krishna, Arjuna-White then?
Of course in his motive of Dharmasamsthapana. In Mahabharata, though Dharma is in the garb of Black (as in Shudra-Vidura, 'Krishna'-Dvaipayana, and Krishna), Dharma is equated with Truth (in Bhisma's discourses to Yudhishthira), and Dharma being Brahmana (in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad), Dharma is White.
In short, Dharma is White-Black Paradox, just as the four Krishnas of Mahabharata are - a point I will come back latter.

The equation becomes endlessly complex like mirror reflecting mirror, because Power and Anti-Power containing each other within, we can go on endlessly substituting Power and Anti-Power with equations.

Day being Light is Power, and Night being Darkness is Anti-Power. Together they make the Yuga – the Year of Brahma.

Power has two sub-powers – Power and Anti-Power. Arjuna is both White and Black. 

Anti-Power has two sub-powers – Power and Anti-Power. Krishna being Black is Anti-Power’s Anti-Power – the Subversive-Power.

The conflict between the Power and Anti-Power is thus complex, more so because each depends on the other. The existence of each is based on Mutual Dependency; one cannot be without the other – a peculiar entanglement of the Self and Other. 

The Moon waxes, and in the Waxing it proceeds to Full Moon – Power reaching Climax, but that will also mark the Death of Waxing. Death must have been then inherent to that Birth and Growth – the Anti-Power within Power – Vrtra as Soma in Indra’s stomach. Indra can never completely destroy Vrtra, because his Hunger remains – and Vrtra is that Hunger.

The Moon wanes, and in waning it proceeds to New Moon – the Death of Death (Waning) – that will enable the Birth of the Waxing Phase. Birth must then have been inherent in it to Subvert Death – that is Krishna.

Power waxes only to reach its culmination (Full Moon) that will mark its decay to Powerlessness. 

Utahthya’s Deconstruction of Power thus becomes relevant. Utathya says that Powerlessness is more Powerful than Power, because Power is Powerful because of Powerlessness.

 This is the Mother of Deconstruction in Hindu Philosophy. Derrida should have read Mahabharata.

Hegel’s philosophy of Thesis and Anti-Thesis and Marx’s subsequent transforming that into Dialectical Materialism appear simplistic before this level of understanding of Power. Even Focault seems to be – to use Svami Vivekananda’s phrase – Distant Echo.

The four Krishnas of Mahabharata represent this complexity of Power. And then there is Karna too.

Let us now apply this Day and Night rotation to Mahabharatan characters.

Arjuna’s another name is Krishna; besides, there are two other Krishnas in Mahabharata – Krishnadvaipayana-Vyasa himself and Draupadi-Krshna. Again, Karna is Surya’s son, and Draupadi is Agni-born. Again, going by Rg Veda, Indra is opposed to Surya. 

To include these – 

a) Surya = Agni = Day = Waxing Candra = Arjuna = White = Indra = Karna = Draupadi 
b) Candra = Soma = Night = Waning Candra = Black = Krishna = Vyasa = Arjuna = Draupadi = Surya = Vrtra 

Black is considered the worst colour in Mahabharata. It is colour of Tamah (of Sattva-Rajah-Tamah), Hell, Kali Yuga, and beastly beings like Rakshasa, PiShaca etc. and as well as Vaishya and SHudra and Varnasamkara in Orthodox Varna System, and SHudra Guna in Liberal Varna System. 

In other words, all characters are White and Black, White-in-Black, and Black-in-White – all characters are Arjuna (white) and Krishna (black). 

Yajnavalka deconstructs the problem of White and Black –

“Those two (qualities), truly, are related to the natures of Agni and Soma: that which is white is related to Agni, and that which is black is related to Soma. If, however (it were asserted), on the contrary, that what is black is related to Agni, and what is white is related to Soma,--[the answer would be:--] what sees is of the nature of Agni, for dry, as it were, are the eyes of one who looks, and that which is dry relates to Agni;--and what sleeps is of the nature of Soma, for moist, as it were, are the eyes of one who is asleep, and moist also is Soma. And, verily, he who thus knows those two butter-portions to be eyes, remains endowed with eye-sight till old age in this world, and starts in yonder world possessed of eye-sight.”

Agni = White = Dry (Fire) = Wakeful Eye

Soma = Black = Moist (Water) = Sleeping Eye
Alternatively, Agni = Black, and Soma = White.
Though Yajnavalka 'seems' to prefer the first, yet he is open to the latter.
In Mahabharata, Krishna says that his name is Hrishikesh because of Agni and Soma aspect in him. Thus, Krishna is both White and Black, and as well as the White-Black Paradox.

Yajnavalka adds complexity to the ‘equations’:

a) “Now the one that burns there (viz. the sun) is, assuredly, no other than Indra, and that moon is no other than Vritra. But the former is of a nature hostile to the latter, and for this reason, though this one (the moon, Vritra) had previously (to the night of new moon) risen at a great distance from him (the sun, Indra), he now swims towards him and enters into his open mouth. 

Indra = Sun

Sun > Moon

b) “Now, king Soma, the food of the gods, is no other than the moon.”

c) “Then as to why they strengthen (Soma). Soma is a god, since Soma (the moon) is in the sky. 'Soma, forsooth, was Vritra; his body is the same as the mountains and rocks”, “Soma was Vrtra.”
Since, Soma is God, Soma = White.
Since, Soma was Vrtra, Soma 'was' Black.

d) “Now the gods and the Asuras, both of them sprung from Prajapati, entered upon their father Prajapati's inheritance, to wit, these two half-moons. The gods entered upon the one which waxes, and the Asuras on the one which wanes.”
We have seen that Yajnavalka has already deconstructed this equation, implying, there is Asura-aspect in God, and God-aspect in Asura. That should be so because in ?gVeda all Gods have been hailed as Asuras.
In Mahabharata, Vashishtha says Asuras are ‘Old Gods’ (like the Titans of Greek Mythology), and Devas are ‘New Gods’ (like the Olympians of Greek Mythology). That means, Every ‘New’ contains the ‘Old’ within – the same Anti-Power within Power matter.

Soma is Black, yet it has both the waxing and waning part in it. The waning part is Vrtra-within-Vrtra, or the subversive part of Soma. Krishna represents that Vrtra-within-Vrtra subversive Power.

Now, Day and Night have ‘Joints’ – the Dawn and Evening – the Twilight.

Yajnavalka says: 

“After Prajapati had created the living beings, his joints (parvan) were relaxed. Now Prajapati, doubtless, is the year, and his joints are the two junctions of day and night (i.e. the, twilights), the full moon and new moon, and the beginnings of the seasons.”

The Joints represent Vishnu:

“For the thunderbolt is the year the day is Agni, the night Soma, and what is between the two, that is ViShnu. Thus he makes the revolving year.”

Vishnu represents White and Black, White-in-Black, and Black-in-White 

The four Krishnas have prominent Vishnu aspects. Thus, they rotate as White and Black and are Beyond White and Black. 

I began the essay mentioning two Rks. I will conclude this essay with the other one – latter one of the tenth Mandala – that may be taken as interpretative of RV-6.9.1 – is as follows:

“The holy statutes rest by thee, as 'twere with ladles that o'erflow. Black and white-gleaming colours,-at your glad carouse-all glories thou assurnest. Thou art waxing great.” (Griffith)

“Dharma is establiShed in you as fiery Sarasvati has poured into you the creative seed; or, like the flaming tongue has impregnated you (that is, you are gifted with Vidya-speech), like a sacrificial ladle pours Ghrta into you; and you – White and Black, White-in-Black, and Black-in-White - are inspired with joy, like one enjoying Kama; and your creative flame in all glory and beauty, now resolves to utter and pronounce Dharma to everyone in all-pervading way.” (tr. Author) (RV-10.21.3)” 
kRSNArUpANyarjunA vi vo made vishvA adhi shriyo dhiSevivakSase ||\
yamagne manyase rayiM sahasAvannamartya |\

Here, the word for Black-Colour is Krishna (= Black Colour), and the word for White-Colour is Arjuna (= White Colour), and together the words suggest the two colour aspects of Agni.

Now, the meaning of the second part of the RV-6.9.1 becomes clear:

“Agni Vaisvanara, when born as Sovran, hath with his lustre overcome the darkness (RV-6.9.1)” 

How the rotation of Day and Night is related to Agni’s sovereignty and his overcoming darkness is understandable from Shatapatha Brahmana -

“Now day and night, revolving, destroy (the fruit of) man's righteousness in yonder world. But day and night are on this side (of the sun) from him (after he has gone up to heaven); and so day and night do not destroy (the fruit of) his righteousness.”

 “And as, while standing inside a chariot, one would look down from above on the revolving chariot-wheels, even so does he look down from on high upon day and night: and, verily, day and night destroy not the reward of him who thus knows that release from day and night.”

The one who rotates in Day and Night, his Dharma is bound to diminish; however, one is Objective to the rotation is firmly established in Dharma. Krishna–Arjuna are the rotating Day and Night, however, Krishna-Arjuna on One Chariot is also free from the rotation. 

The two armies clashing at Kurukshetra are apparently the Deva-Asuras – and like Power and Anti-Power endless game, there are Devas within Asuras (like Bhishma), and Asuras within Devas (like Ssikhandi – a Rakshasa incarnate).

So, the two armies are Day and Night.

By placing the Chariot between the two armies, Krishna–Arjuna are at the Joint. 

Does it need any further explanation why Krishna advises Gita on the Chariot that is placed between the two armies? 

We already have the equation –

Prajapati = Year = Yuga 

Thus, Krishna-Arjuna on One Chariot represents Yuga – whether beginning of Yuga or end of a Yuga – we cannot determine.

That is not all.

Aitareya Aranyaka states: 

“There are 360 syllables (vowels), 360 sibilants (consonants), 360 groups. What we called syllables are the days, what we called sibilants are the nights, what we called groups are the junctions of days and nights. So far with regard to the gods (the days). Now with regard to the body. The syllables which we explained mythologically, are physiologically the bones; the sibilants which we explained mythologically, are physiologically the marrow. Marrow is the real breath (life), for marrow is seed, and without breath (life) seed is not sown. Or when it is sown without breath (life), it will decay, it will not grow. The groups which we explained mythologically, are physiologically the joints.”

Vyasa’s Kuta Shlokas or granthagranthims are the twilights – the joints of Mahabharata-Body.  

Krishna–Arjuna as night and day is the syllables, sibilants and ‘groups’ of Mahabharata, and as Vishnu they are themselves Vyasa’s Kuta Shlokas – the Joints – after composing which Vyasa like Prajapati relaxes as Ganesha ponders on.

No, even that is not all.

Vyasa as Vishnu-incarnate is himself the Kuta-slokas of Mahabharata, and just as one cannot identify the Kuta-slokas or be sure when they come in the Text, Vyasa comes and goes mysteriously in his own narrative, and one cannot identify which is which Vyasa - that is, whether one arrival is that of poet Vyasa, or Rsi-Vyasa or 'political' Vyasa!

And Draupadi?

As Krishnaa and Agni (being Agni-born, and like Agni having both White and Dark aspects), and as Vishnu (like Vishnu's Mohini-avatara, Draupadi uses her sexuality to destroy enemies), Draupadi is also the Kuta-Slokas - complex and mysterious.

No wonder, Duryodhana, Karna et al cannot disrobe her and 'solve' her mystery.

Let me now point out how the Four Krishnas represent this White-Black Paradox.


Arjuna = White (by etymology, meaning);

Arjuna = White (by Act – Dharma -Anrishamsham);

Arjuna = Krishna (by name);

Arjuna = Black (by complexion);

Arjuna = Bibhatsu = Black (Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra) = Capable of becoming Black while dealing with B?bhatsa-enmies or heartless enemies



Krishna = Black (by etymology and name);

Krishna = Black (by complexion);

Krishna = Black as Truth, or that contains and gives birth to both White and Black (Chhandogya Upanishad);

Krishna = Black aspect of Agni, therefore Black aspect of White, because Agni = White; Krishna = White (in his mission to establish Dharma).

Krishna = White (by etymology that suggests ‘Joy,’ and ‘Joy’ is White)



Vyasa = Black (Krishna, by name)

Vyasa = White (by complexion – in Devibhagavata Purana)

Vyasa = White (in mission to establish Dharma)

Vyasa = White (being Brahmana)

Vyasa = Black (being Nishada)



Draupadi = Black (by name Krishnaa)

Draupadi = Black (by complexion)

Draupadi = White (being Agni-born, because Agni is Brahmana, therefore White)

Draupadi = White (being ‘buddhisattvagunanvita’ – as said by Yudhishthira, as Colour of Sattvaguna is White) 

What we get from above is Yajnavalka's message (in extension of Vyasa's similar message through White-Black Paradox and Fish-Fisherman Paradox) that no Power is Absolute, and every Power contains Anti-Power within that ultimately causes decay and degeneration of Power.
The Four Krishnas in Mahabharata represent this Truth. Thus, none of the Krishna is perfect.
Krishna advises in Gita to Arjuna that one should not give way to Anger (Duryodhana is Manyu-maya Tree, or Anger personified), but at the end Krishna himself gives way to anger and destroys his own dynasty.
Arjuna and Draupadi 'suffer' from Ahamkara throughout, and Vyasa himself cannot conquer Kama.

It is the rotation of this White and Black - Day and Night - that makes Brahma's Year - the Yuga.

It is the realization of this 'Year' (that is, Life is White, Black, White-in-Black, and Black-in-White) that liberates one. Yajnavalka says:
"The Year, doubtless, is the same as Death; for he it is who, by means of day and night, destroys the life of mortal beings, and then they die: therefore the Year is the same as Death; and whosoever knows this Year (to be) Death, his life that (year) does not destroy, by day and night, before old age, and he attains his full (extent of) life.



More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

Top | Hinduism

Views: 3728      Comments: 2

Comment Hello Mr. Bandhopadhyay,

I really like reading your well researched blogs on Indian culture and mystical tradition. W.r.t. to the dichotomy of Black and White (Krishna and Arjuna) in the Mahabharat, I had a question. We notice that even our "Heroes" at times end up doing Anti Hero actions. Case in point -

1. Yudhishthir, being Dharma Raj, allowing Bhima to burn alive the mother and 5 sons (Bhils) in Lakshagraha and run to save themselves

2. Many might not agree, but in my understanding even the Rajsuya as well as Ashwamedha sacrifices are not purely Dharmic actions, since it essentially is a means to attack and forcefully conquer the neighbours, even at the expense of killing them. Krishna allowing and Pandavas doing it is not Dharmic (Its a purely individual opinion).

Should we still give a benefit of doubt to our Heroic personalities for commiting such actions ?


11-Dec-2015 05:03 AM

Comment Nice Text, i like to read those phylosofic point of view of mahabharata and gita.
Are you Indrajit into any religion? Or are you just a filosofer?

01-Aug-2012 21:23 PM

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