Living Gita: 04: Bhishma Takes Over

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Then Bhishma, the aged Kuru grandfather, roared like a lion and blew a powerful blast on his conch making Duryodhana’s heart leap with joy. BG 1.12

Bhishma thoroughly understands Duryodhana’s psychology and that is why without allowing him to continue, in a brilliant move, he roars like a lion and blows his conch powerfully making the whole war field boom with its sound.

In the Richard Attenborough movie Gandhi there is an amazing satyagraha scene which we cannot watch without holding our breath because of the intensity of the feelings it arouses in our heart. In May 1930, soon after the highly successful Dandi March against the salt tax imposed on India by the British, following a call given by Gandhiji, a large group of freedom fighters assemble to peacefully raid the British managed Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat because, as Mahatmaji said, India’s salt belongs to India. We see a multitude of Indians waiting not far from the gate of the Salt Works ready to move towards the factory. There are several women volunteers waiting a little distance away to nurse those men who would be brutally beaten up by the policemen guarding the factory gate. And there are journalists present, covering the event.  The British want the event to turn violent, thus defeating Gandhiji’s determination to make the event non-violent. They arrest Gandhiji hoping it will provoke the people and turn them violent. But people are determined come what may they will not raise a hand: they will not fight back and they will not turn away and run.

As the first row of freedom fighters led by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad approach the gate, police batons come down brutally on their heads and shoulders. We hear the sound of bones cracking and people collapsing on the ground, blood flowing freely bathing their faces. As the women volunteers come forward and carry them away for first aid, the second line of freedom fighters move forward. Steel tipped police lathis come down heavily on their heads and shoulders too, crushing the skull and breaking bones. The scene is repeated again and again and we see the reporters turning their faces away, unable to stand the viciousness of the police and the silent, wordless superhuman endurance of the satyagrahis.

Here is how American journalist Webb Miller who was an eye-witness to the scene reports it:

“Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows... From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow.

“Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down. When every one of the first column was knocked down stretcher bearers rushed up unmolested by the police and carried off the injured to a thatched hut which had been arranged as a temporary hospital...

“Bodies toppled over in threes and fours, bleeding from great gashes on their scalps. Group after group walked forward, sat down, and submitted to being beaten into insensibility without raising an arm to fend off the blows. Finally the police became enraged by the non-resistance....They commenced savagely kicking the seated men in the abdomen and testicles. The injured men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police....The police then began dragging the sitting men by the arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards, and throwing them into ditches.”

According to Wikipedia from which this quote is taken, “Miller later wrote that he went to the hospital where the wounded were being treated, and "counted 320 injured, many still insensible with fractured skulls, others writhing in agony from kicks in the testicles and stomach....Scores of the injured had received no treatment for hours and two had died."

There are several forms of courage, what we see here is without a doubt courage of the highest kind.   

What gives such extraordinary courage to ordinary people? What awakens in ordinary peddlers and street vendors, school teachers and office clerks, farmers and fishermen, carpenters and blacksmiths the courage to stand up against the mightiest empire the world has seen? It is one thing to be struck by the police lathi unawares. It is an altogether different thing to know that when you take the next step the lathi is going to come down heavily on you and break your skull causing unspeakable pain, to see this happening to the person right in front of you and yet take that step. While there are other reasons involved, the satyagrahis were able to rise to such superhuman levels of courage through they were afire with the cause for which they were fighting.  

In the Hindi movie Lagaan, we see ordinary village people who have never played cricket forming a team and beating the English who have played cricket all their life. The strength of the villagers: inspiration born of their cause.

The Hindi movie Chak De India shows us how, following the final speech by their coach, the members of the Indian hockey team forget their rivalries and personal goals and fight as a single team, again inspired by their cause of making India win.

What we find lacking in the Kaurava team under Duryodhana is this inspiring cause. And because of that, none of the leading men of his army is able to give himself entirely to his war, none of them is able to forget their personal rivalries or their personal goals.

And Duryodhana himself is weighed down by guilt. He knows full well his cause is not just, that his heart is full of bitterness and jealousy, that the ways he has been practicing all his life, right from mixing deadly poison in th food of a completely unsuspecting Bhima at Pramanakoti while they were both children, were  treacherous.

In the Udyoga Parva, sometime before the war becomes inevitable, Dhritarashtra gives a long speech in a Kuru meeting about who the rightful heir to the Hastinapura throne is and concludes it by telling Duryodhana: “I was not fortunate to have the right over the kingdom; how can you then desire to be king? You are not the son of a king and therefore the kingdom does not belong to you. You are coveting what does not belong to you and trying to snatch it away from its rightful owner. The noble Yudhishthira is the son of the king, and this kingdom has rightfully been inherited by him. He is now the lord of all of us Kauravas, and that generous one is the [rightful] ruler of this land.”

It is this inner ethical conflict that creates confusion in Duryodhana’s heart and undermines his confidence as he looks at the Pandava army assembled, to cover up which he starts talking, saying exactly what he should not be saying, like praising the opposition army and insulting his guru Drona who is one of his greatest warriors.

Unless your cause is right, you will have no inspiration. And unless your cause is right and you yourself are inspired, you will not be able to inspire others. This is a universal truth.

Bhishma understands what is going on in Duryodhana’s mind and does precisely what needs to be done to cheer him up and bring back some semblance of confidence in him.


This ability to understand other people’s emotions is part of what is called emotional intelligence, which is intelligence in the true sense of the term because eighty to ninety percent of our success in life depends on emotional intelligence. The supreme example for emotional intelligence in the Mahabharata is, of course, Krishna. Each of his actions emerges from the brilliance of his emotional intelligence. And perhaps the worst case of emotional intelligence in the entire epic is Duryodhana who does exactly what should not be done most of the time in the epic, as he does at this moment, eventually leading not only his family and the Bharata clan into tragedy but all of India, sending this glorious land into a long age of darkness much longer than what Europe went into from around the fifth century of the Common Era.

Duryodhana was the most powerful man in Bharatavarsha when the war begins and he was the de facto emperor of the land, though officially he was not. Tragedy is what naturally results when the person at the helm of affairs in any organization lacks emotional intelligence – be it a war, a business, an industry or a nation.

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More by :  Satya Chaitanya

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