The Mahabharata is a historic, cultural and religious epic of great significance. A thorough study of this great epic teaches us invaluable lessons from the perspective of Leadership, Strategy, Human Behavior, and Human Resources (HR) Management. Lord Krishna is a re-incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is an extremely popular and revered Hindu deity synonymous with great wisdom, communication skills, and love and affection, capable of resolving any crisis that his devotees confront. Viewed from a management perspective, Lord Krishna is a leader, teacher, guru, HR evangelist, and strategist par excellence. He manages all events and people, including their emotions, in such a manner that the ultimate result is eventually positive and leads to the greater good of the humanity, at large. Lord Krishna’s life offers great insights and invaluable lessons for today’s corporate world to emulate.
Historical Background & Significance of The Mahabharata
Mahabharata is the world’s most voluminous epic of Hindu mythology and philosophy. It is one of the most valuable works that has been enlightening people since eons. It is said that Lord Ganesha, the most significant and revered Hindu God, had written the epic, as narrated by the great sage, Veda Vyasa. The story was told as if it was being narrated by Vyasa’s disciple, Vaisampayana, to King Janamejaya, the great-grandson of Arjuna, one of the most significant characters in the epic.
The Mahabharata has been woven with several significant facts. It teaches a person to learn and uphold the human and ethical values required for a prosperous living. Mahabharata is a ‘fountainhead of infinite knowledge’ and a ‘way of living’. It centered around the relentless hatred and vengeance among the cousins – Pandavas and Kauravas – that finally led to the greatest battle of the Kurukshetra, which formed a part of the Mahabharata.
Shantanu, the king of Hasthinapur, was married to the beautiful river goddess Ganga, who gave birth to her eighth son, Devavrata (later hailed and re-christened as ‘Bhishma’ by the Gods because of his terrible vow of lifelong celibacy as a sacrifice for his father’s happiness), a wise and a strong prince. Ganga abandoned Shantanu as Shantanu had violated her condition of not asking her any questions about her actions. Later, Shantanu married Satyavati , mother of Sage Veda Vyasa , promising her that her future son would be the king, which was a pre-condition stipulated by Satyavati to marry Shantanu. Shantanu had two sons from Satyavati – Chitrangada and Vichitravirya  – but both lived only ephemerally. Chitrangada was killed after a prolonged fight with a Gandharva of the same name, who had challenged him to a duel, while Vichitravirya died of phthisis or pulmonary tuberculosis. Both Chitrangada and Vichitravirya died without having any children.
As there was no heir to the throne after the death of her both sons, Satyavati requested her elder son, Sage Vyasa, to father children with Ambika and Ambalika, the two widows of her dead son, Vichitravirya. Ambika gave birth to a blind child, named Dhritarashtra, and her sister, Ambalika, to a pale-skinned child, named Pandu. Vidura  was born to Sage Veda Vyasa and the maid Parishrami, who served as a common maid to the queens, Ambika and Ambalika. Vidura was treated as the half-brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra. He was known for his vast, insightful, and incisive intellect, and served as a minister in Pandu's and Dhritarashtra's council.
Dhritarashtra became ineligible to be the king because of his blindness, while his step-brother Pandu became the king of Hasthinapur. Pandu had a curse on him from Sage Kindhama  that he would die when he had a sexual relationship.
Pandu’s first wife, Kunthi, held a particular boon to bear children, which was granted to her by Sage Durvasa , who was extremely pleased with her service, when she took care of him at his aashram (domicile). However, before getting married to Pandu, Kunthi was curious to know if the boon granted to her by Sage Durvasa would really work. She decided to test her boon and, as a result, gave birth to Karna, the son of Sun God. Later, she abandoned Karna for fear of ignominy, as she had begotten him before her marriage. After Kunthi’s marriage to Pandu, she gave birth to the virtuous Yudhishthira (son of Dharmaraja or Yama), the enormously strong Bhima (son of Vaayu), and the great warrior and archer, Arjuna (son of Indra) through the special boon granted to her by Sage Durvasa, as Pandu could not have a sexual relationship with Kunthi or Madri (Pandu’s second wife) because of the curse from Sage Kindhama.
Kunthi revealed the secret boon of begetting child to Madri, who then used the same and gave birth to the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva (sons of twin-headed horse deity of sunrise and sunset). These five brothers, together, were called the ‘Pandavas’ and were the heroes of the epic story. They shared a common wife, Draupadi or Panchaali, daughter of Drupada, the king of Panchaal.
One day, King Pandu died after mating with Madri, and his brother Dhritarashtra became the king. Dhritarashtra and his wife Gandhari had 100 children, called the ‘Kauravas’, with Duryodhana being the eldest of them.
Both the Pandavas and the Kauravas grew up with hatred for each other. The Pandavas, with their physical strength, positive attitude and virtuous deeds, became popular among the subjects of the country. On the other hand, the Kauravas were seen as jealous and wicked. The eldest of the Kauravas, Duryodhana, teamed up with his younger brother Duhshasana, close friend (and the Pandavas’ step-brother) Karna, and maternal uncle, Shakuni, to shun and deprive the Pandavas of their kingdom. They challenged Pandavas to a game of dice, and defeated them through treachery and deceit. The Pandavas lost everything, including their kingdom and wife Draupadi – whom they had staked in the game – to the Kauravas.
The Kauravas imposed a 12-year exile, followed by a year of anonymity on the Pandavas. During this period, the Kauravas made several attempts to kill their cousins, but the Pandavas escaped with the support of their maternal uncle, Lord Krishna, and Vidura. After completing their 13-year exile, the Pandavas sought back their part of the empire. But the Kauravas refused to give it, which led to the great war of Kurukshetra.
The war lasted for 18 days on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, so called because of the Kuru clan, to which the Pandavas and the Kauravas belonged. The holy Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, narrated by Lord Krishna to Arjuna, evolved during this episode. The Pandavas won the war with the support of Lord Krishna, but the triumph was a sort of Pyrrhic victory, which came at the cost of the lives of their sons, relatives and most loved ones.
This case revolves around Lord Krishna, the chief protagonist of Mahabharata, responsible for the cause of the Kurukshetra war and also its outcome, and who is also the upholder of ‘dharma’, justice and truth in the world. The numerous strategies employed by Lord Krishna to effectuate and carefully mastermind the incredible victory of a weak Pandava side against the supremely strong Kaurava side, forms the crux of this case study.
Effective Management of Limited Resources
Everyone knew that the Kauravas were much stronger than the Pandavas, both in physical strength, skills, and number. The Kaurava side had great warriors, some of whom were immortal, such as Ashwattama and Bhishma, apart from other supremely skilled and invincible warriors such as Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Kritavarma, Duryodhana, Shalya, Karna, Bhurishravas, etc. But still in the ensuing battle, Lord Krishna led the seven divisions of the Pandavas’ army to a decisive win against the 11 divisions of the Kauravas’ army. He ensured that even though the Kauravas won a few critical battles, the ultimate war was won only by the Pandavas. This proves Krishna’s effective management of the available limited resources to attain a desired and specific objective.
Lord Krishna was a great pragmatic and astute leader, using the resources of men and material most efficiently and proactively. A manager or leader in the corporate world attempts to do exactly the same, as businesses increasingly get more people oriented. Therefore, there is great potential and opportunity to gain wisdom by drawing examples from our great epics and use them as our guiding philosophy in the corporate world as well as in our everyday lives. While confronting short-term and long-term challenges, a leader continuously works towards influencing people, makes powerful allies and neutralizes competitors. A corporate leader is a visionary working towards the well-being of all stakeholders, while being on the righteous path (path of dharma).
Successful Planning & Execution of Numerous Strategies
A manager or a leader must have extraordinary skills to build, plan and execute strategies to achieve the set objectives. The strength of soldiers and warriors of Pandavas and Kauravas was in the ratio of 7:11 – Pandavas having 1.53 million soldiers and warriors, and Kauravas having 2.41 million soldiers and warriors. With this count, it was quite clear that the battle could be won not with actual strength, but only with effective strategies and mind games. The fact that the Pandavas successfully won the battle against the Kauravas proves that Krishna was effective not only in designing the strategies, but also in meticulously executing them to achieve great and unprecedented success.
Focus on ‘Long-Term’ Planning
When it came to Krishna’s knowledge that Karna had acquired the divine Shakti astra (Shakti weapon) from Indra  that had the potential to kill Arjuna, and that Karna would use that weapon exclusively to kill Arjuna in the final battle, he introduced Bhima’s son Ghatotkacha  in the war. Ghatotkacha was a demon and had the ability to fight at night. He was literally invincible and was causing large-scale destruction to the Kaurava army. Even great warriors like Duryodhana, Karna, Dronacharya, Ashwattama, Kripacharya, and Bhishma could not stop him. Karna did not want to use the Shakti astra on Ghatotkacha as he had preserved it to exclusively kill Arjuna. Upon seeing the humongous destruction wrecked by Ghatotkacha, Duryodhana requested Karna to use the Shakti astra to kill him. When Karna refused initially, Duryodhana questioned him if killing of Arjuna was more important to him than saving his dearest friend. Finally, Karna was compelled to use the Shakti astra to kill Ghatotkacha. Although Ghatotkacha died because of the Shakti astra, Krishna was very happy as he had saved Arjuna from the Shakti astra. This long-term planning of the war helped Krishna to successfully execute his strategies and achieve the desired objectives without an iota of difficulty.
Similarly, a manager and a leader should always think long-term and plan for it ahead, well in advance, to ward off any untoward incidents in future. He should always sacrifice the short-term benefits for trading it with the long-term benefits, just as Krishna sacrificed Ghatotkacha to save Arjuna from a disaster.
Benefits Accrued by Following Lord Krishna’s Wisdom & Strategies
Lord Krishna’s wisdom and intellectual prowess in the great Mahabharata war was unquestionable and unmatched. He was a strategist par excellence, whom no one could understand easily, or whose strategies no one could anticipate, even remotely. The Pandavas reaped immense benefits by following Krishna’s strategies and advice, some of which were the following:
——Arjuna successfully defeated Bhishma, the great and mighty warrior of Hasthinapur, who had a boon of dying at will, and was almost invincible and immortal. To defeat Bhishma in the epic war and to make him lose interest in his life, Krishna offered the sacrifice of Aravaan (the son of Arjuna), a great warrior with 32 qualities and sealed Bhishma’s fate and thus the war in favor of the Pandavas. Krishna also brought Shikandi in front of Bhishma, as he knew that Bhishma would not fight against a transgender, and thus made Arjuna shoot arrows at Bhishma using Shikandi as a shield.
Learning : As a strategist, one should know the different ways of achieving the objective. Apart from offering Aravaan as a sacrifice to make Bhishma lose interest in life, Krishna also brought Shikandi before him so that Bhishma would put down his weapons. It is a great skill to know what strategy to be used against a specific opponent/competitor so that it invariably results in victory to the strategist.
——The Pandavas successfully overcame the resistance of the invincible Dronacharya and killed him, albeit by telling him a lie that made him lose interest in his life and give up his weapons in the battlefield during the epic war. Drishtadhyumna severed Dronacharya’s head when Dronacharya sat down in a meditative posture on the battlefield, putting down his weapons, after hearing the traumatic news of his son’s death.
Learning : Identifying the greatest weakness of a competitor/opponent and knowing what to tell him so that he is made helpless, incapacitated, and gives up his fight is a skill that a strategist can learn from Krishna.
——Arjuna successfully defeated and killed Karna, a supreme warrior with great archery skills, who was invincible. Arjuna followed Lord Krishna’s advice and killed him while Karna was lifting the wheel of his chariot stuck underneath the earth.
Learning : A strategist should not only know the manner of striking a competitor/opponent, but also when exactly to strike so that it would always yield the best results.
——Arjuna successfully fulfilled his vow of killing Jayadrath, who was responsible for his son Abhimanyu’s death. Jayadrath went hiding and wanted to come back only after sunset, as Arjuna had vowed that he would kill himself, if he could not kill Jayadrath that day before sunset. Krishna momentarily eclipsed the Sun through his Sudharshana Chakra, making everyone believe that the Sun had indeed set. Seeing this, Jayadrath came out to watch Arjuna’s self-immolation and exactly at that moment, Krishna again made the Sudharshana Chakra disappear, revealing the Sun. Within a fraction of a second of the disappearance of the Sudharshana Chakra, Arjuna killed Jayadrath and fulfilled his vow. While killing Jayadrath, Krishna also told Arjuna to ensure that Jayadrath’s head severed and fell on his father’s lap – who was meditating during the 18-day war – as Jayadrath had a boon that anyone who was responsible for making his head fall on the ground would have his own head burst into a thousand pieces. When the severed head fell on the laps of Jayadrath’s father, Vridhakshtra, who was meditating, he threw away the head and he too died as a result. Thus, Krishna ensured that Arjuna killed two people with one arrow.
Learning : A strategist should learn how to employ the great art of deceit and illusion to demolish the opponent/competitor who is hiding. Also, he should know how to achieve maximum result with minimum resources, i.e., killing two people with one arrow.
Continued to Next Page
 Satyavati was the daughter of a king named Uparichara. She was adopted by the chief of the fisherfolk and raised by him as his own daughter. She was also called Matsyagandha as she smelt dreadfully of fish.
 Veda Vyasa, originally called Krishna Dwaipayana, was born to Satyavati and Sage Parasara on a river island.
 Vichitravirya is derived from ‘vichitra’ meaning ‘odd’ and ‘virya’ meaning masculinity, implying that Vichitravirya was either a weakling or impotent or infertile, or perhaps asexual or homosexual, lacking manliness, unable or unwilling to get a bride for himself.
 Vidura was an incarnation of Yama, the God of death. He was living out a curse by Sage Mandavya, who cursed Yama that he would take birth as a human and suffer the fate of never being a king, despite possessing all the qualities of a perfect ruler. Thus, Vidura was born.
 Kindhama was a very bashful ascetic and his feelings of modesty prevented him from having sex in the company of other humans. To satisfy his sexual desires, he transformed himself into a deer with his powers, and mated with a female deer. One day, while he was mating in the forest, King Pandu, who came there for hunting, shot them, mistaking them for deer, and seriously injured them. Enraged by Pandu’s act, Sage Kindhama, before dying, cursed Pandu that he would die the moment he involved in an intercourse with any woman.
 Sage Durvasa, also known as Durvasas, was an ancient sage, the son of Atri and Anasuya. He was known for his short-temper and it was usually difficult to please him.
 Indra is the king of Heaven and the Devas. He is the god of lightning, thunder, storms, rains and river flows. He is the most referred to deity in the Rigveda.
 Ghatotkacha was the son of Bhima and the Rakshasi Hidimbi. His maternal parentage made him half-demon and bestowed upon him many magical powers such as the ability to fly, to increase or decrease his size and to become invisible.