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In modern parlance, Lord Krishna can be best described as ‘the greatest crisis manager’ and ‘strategist’ the world has ever seen. In the entire Mahabharata, which has epochal impact, there are several important characters impressing us with their responses amidst great challenges. However, Lord Krishna as a central character, time and again, comes across as a master strategist and tactful leader adopting different strategies according to situations and people he had to deal with.
In a thorough and careful reading of the major turn of events in the entire narrative of the Mahabharata, Krishna emerged as an eminent and ultimate strategist. He kept Draupadi’s frustration under check. He knew that Kauravas would never agree to let Pandavas have their share of the kingdom in a peaceful manner. Yet, he himself went to plead their cause so that peace was given a final opportunity. In the battle that ensued, he virtually led the 7 divisions of the Pandavas’ army to a decisive win against the 11 divisions of the Kauravas’ army.
Strategy & Vision
All the mighty warriors on the Kauravas’ side were defeated with specific inputs from Krishna. Krishna had great foresight, long-term planning and vision, which helped the Pandavas easily defeat the Kauravas, although the Pandavas were much weaker than the Kauravas in strength and number. In case of Bhishma, Krishna asked Arjuna to attack him standing behind Shikandi. Krishna made Dronacharya believe that his son, Ashwattama, was dead and thus misled him that led to his killing. Krishna asked Arjuna to shoot arrow at Karna when Karna was lifting the wheel of his chariot that had slumped below the earth. Krishna brought Ghatotkacha in the war to ensure Karna used his ‘Shakti astra’ exclusively reserved by him to kill Arjuna.
From the above instances, managers and leaders can learn how to deal with each person according to his/her individual merits, qualities, strengths, weaknesses and overall personality. This can happen only when the manager/leader has complete knowledge about a person, his abilities, potential, and strengths.
The following points further testify Lord Krishna as the greatest ever ‘strategist’:
—— Strategy#1: Enticing Vidura to Break the Most Powerful ‘Vishnu Dhanush’, Gifted to him by Lord Vishnu
Vidura was gifted by Lord Vishnu with a ‘Vishnu Dhanush’ (Vishnu's bow), which was 100 times more powerful than Arjuna's bow. Just one arrow from Vishnu dhanush had the ability to destroy the entire world. When Lord Krishna asked Vidura whom he would support if a war broke out between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Vidura said he would fight for the Kauravas. When Yudhishtra sent Lord Krishna as a peace messenger to resolve the war, Duryodhana insulted Lord Krishna. When Vidura too supported the Pandavas, Duryodhana insulted him, too, in the king's assembly, calling him a maid's son. Vidura got extremely angry on Duryodhana and, exactly at that time, Lord Krishna reminded him of the Vishnu Dhanush. Vidura thanked Lord Krishna for reminding him about the Vishnu Dhanush and broke it immediately so that it would not be useful to anyone in the war. Vidura also vowed not to partake in the war and declared that he would fight neither for the Pandavas nor for the Kauravas, but would remain a mute spectator. Thus, a major battle was won by Lord Krishna.
A HR leader should know what to say and when to say it, and say it in a manner that the other person doesn’t take offense at it, but thank the person for saying it. Here, Lord Krishna reminded Vidura of the Vishnu dhanush exactly when Vidura was angry on Duryodhana and, thus, took psychological advantage of Vidura’s anger to achieve his objective, which was to destroy the Vishnu dhanush, whose potential usage could have tilted the balance heavily in favor of the Kauravas during the war. Similarly, a strategist should know when to play which card and how to play his cards safely, without displeasing anyone and at the same time, benefitting his organization, or the greater cause for which he is fighting.
—— Strategy#2: Deciding Who Among the Pandavas Would Fight Powerful Shalya
After the death of Karna, the next target of the Pandavas was Shalya, the maternal uncle of the Pandavas, who fought for the Kauravas as a result of a conspiracy by Shakuni and Duryodhana, who pulled Shalya into their camp through deceit by hosting him a very delicious, lavish and sumptuous dinner, and extracted a promise from him to fight for the Kauravas.
Shalya was no easy warrior to win against. He had the strength of 16,000 elephants and a special quality, to boot. Any opponent who confronted Shalya would lose half of his strength and Shalya would gain half of the opponent's power. So, it was a challenge and a billion-dollar question as to who among the Pandavas should fight Shalya. When Bhima told Krishna that there wasn’t much to discuss or think about this and that he would fight Shalya and kill him easily, Krishna cautioned Bhima from making hasty decisions and informed him that killing Shalya would not be a cakewalk for him. Said Krishna to Bhima, “Don't you know that Shalya has the strength of 16,000 elephants and that half of his opponent's strength would get transferred to Shalya when Shalya's opponent confronts him in the battle? So, if you lose your strength, then who will kill Duryodhana and how can you fulfill your promise given to Draupadi and win the war? Your strength is still needed to win this war. So, bear that in mind." When Nakula told Krishna that he would fight Shalya, Krishna said that he too was not the right person. Arjuna then asked Krishna the way to kill Shalya and who would be the right person to fight Shalya, and enquired if he would be so. Krishna said that Yudhishtra would be the right person to fight Shalya because Yudhishtra had all the saatvik qualities (virtues/ qualities of patience, forgiveness, mercy, righteousness, etc.), and when Shalya confronted Yudhishtra, Shalya would gain half of Yudhishtra's saatvik qualities and it would then become very easy for Yudhishtra to kill Shalya. He announced that only Yudhishtra should fight Shalya in the war. Thus, the plan to kill Shalya was hatched successfully with the help of Lord Krishna.
A HR leader should know the strengths and weaknesses of his men, while a strategist should know the strengths and weaknesses of both his men and also that of his competitors/opponents to decide the right strategy for his organization’s benefit. The above instance demonstrates how Lord Krishna did a SWOT/SCOT analysis of his resources, as well as that of his opponents, and mapped them successfully against each other to devise an infallible strategy.
—— Strategy#3 : Devising a Strategy to Kill the Invincible Bhishma
After the ninth day of the great epic war, upon Lord Krishna’s advice to Yudhishtra to meet Bhishma and ask him the secret of his defeat, they both approached Bhishma. Bhishma was the Commander-in-Chief of the Kaurava army and had caused extensive damage to the Pandava army for the first nine days of the war. He had a towering personality befitting the kings – a true soldier and an extraordinary warrior, as strong as steel in character, symbolic of truth and duty, and extremely human. He was invincible and could choose the time of his death. Yudhishtra told Bhishma that they would not be able to win the war since he was standing between the Pandavas' defeat and victory. He told Bhishma that if he thought that 'Dharma' (justice) should win, then he should give way to them, because as long as he was standing on the battleground, it was impossible for the Pandavas to win the war, even though justice was on their side. Bhishma said that he always respected and upheld Dharma, and never wanted to be a bottleneck in the achievement of Dharma. He also knew that the Pandavas truly deserved the victory as ‘dharma’ was on their side. He asked Yudhishtra to get Shikandi on the battlefield and promised him that he would put down his weapons upon seeing Shikandi and fall in the war. Yudhishtra and Krishna thanked his magnanimous gesture and left.
Meanwhile Krishna knew that it was difficult to kill Bhishma in spite of his personal assurances since Bhishma had the boon of dying at will. Krishna told the Pandavas that they had to give sacrifice of a great warrior to Goddess Kali if they had to kill Bhishma and overcome him, because only then Bhishma would have the desire to not live and accept death. Sealing Bhishma's fate was almost clinching the epic war in favor of the Pandavas. But the Pandavas were in a quandary as to whom to choose for the sacrifice. Sahadeva, one of the Pandavas, who was highly knowledgeable about the Vedas informed that it was mentioned in the Atharvana Veda that a person with 32 lakh qualities had to be given in sacrifice to Goddess Kali to fulfill their desire of killing Bhishma. The person had to be the best among 14 lokas (worlds), apart from being handsome, strong, and magnificent. Also, the person had to voluntarily consent to be offered as a sacrifice and his last wish had to be fulfilled. When the Pandavas wondered if they could find such a person in such a short span of time, Krishna revealed that there were three such warriors among the Pandavas themselves, who possessed those 32 lakh qualities. The first one was Arjuna, but Arjuna's wife Subhadra refused to offer her husband as a sacrifice, although Arjuna was ready to offer himself as a sacrifice. Moreover, Arjuna was a very critical character in the entire war. The second one was Lord Krishna himself. Krishna, too, instantly consented to offer himself as a sacrifice, saying that the war of dharma could not be stopped midway and justified that he was just a charioteer and his death would not make much difference. But Yudhishtra and Arjuna strongly objected to this, and said Krishna’s guidance was quintessential for them to win the epic war and they would not sacrifice him. The third warrior was Aravaan (also called Iravaan), Arjuna's son from Ulupi, the Naga princess. Aravaan consented to offer himself as a sacrifice as his mother had told him to ensure that the Pandavas won the war, even if it meant he had to sacrifice his own life. Arjuna, Krishna, the Pandavas, and other warriors accepted Aravaan's sacrifice. Meanwhile, he was asked what his last wish was. Aravaan said that he wanted to marry before dying. When Krishna asked him why he had such a strange wish when he was going to die in a few hours, Aravaan said he wanted someone who could cry over his dead body beating their chests, which only a wife could. But, since no woman was willing to marry Aravaan as she would become widow immediately after marriage, Lord Krishna transformed himself into a woman and married Aravaan to fulfill his last wish, as otherwise the sacrifice would have gone futile. Immediately after marriage, Aravaan’s head was severed from his body in front of Goddess Kali. Lord Krishna in the form of a woman and Aravaan's wife cried at the body of Aravaan beating his chest to fulfill Aravaan's last wish. Goddess Kali spoke to the severed head of Aravaan and told him that she accepted his sacrifice, as he had made the sacrifice to uphold dharma (justice). She asked him for a boon. Aravaan revealed that it was his deep wish to participate in the Mahabharata war until the last day of the war, but it had been abruptly terminated because of his sacrifice. He said he wanted to watch the war till the last day. Goddess Kali gave a boon to Aravaan that his severed head would have life till the war ended and that he would be able to witness the proceedings of the war till the last day of the war.
Thus, we can see that Krishna identified the weakness of Bhishma, who always wanted to be on the side of ‘dharma’ but was caught between ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’ (duty). Krishna also had plan ‘B’, which he implemented, if plan ‘A’ (Bhishma’s assurance that he would put down his weapons after seeing Shikandi at the battlefield) had failed. The plan ‘B’ was a complementary plan that would ensure that Bhishma would lose interest in living, after he fell on the battlefield. The execution of plan ‘B’ was necessary for the Pandavas’ success in war after plan ‘A’ was implemented. Krishna was always ready to sacrifice even himself to uphold dharma for a greater cause for the society/humanity. Similarly, a HR leader should always be ready to sacrifice even himself for the greater cause of his organization, protecting his employees/subordinates and putting the interests of the organization before his self-interests.
—— Strategy#4 : Devising a Stratagem to Kill the Invincible Dronacharya
Dronacharya was unconquerable and was devastating the army of the Pandavas. Lord Krishna realized that the only way to kill Dronacharya was by exploiting his weakness for his son, Ashwattama. In the midst of the battlefield, where all the think-tank of the Pandavas assembled, Lord Krishna said that the only way to kill Dronacharya was to convey to him that his son Ashwattama was dead.
Yudhishtra, the eldest of the Pandavas, was an embodiment of Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteousness). Krishna understood that Dronacharya would believe about Ashwattama’s death only if Yudhishtra uttered it and not when it was uttered by Bhima or even him. When Kauravas’ guru and Commander-in-Chief Dronacharya was leading the battle, tactful Krishna used Yudhishtra cleverly. He told Yudhishtra to authenticate the death of Ashwattama if Dronacharya came and asked him. But Yudhishtra did not want to utter a lie. So, Krishna made Bhima to kill an elephant named Ashwattama and asked Bhima to proclaim loudly to Dronacharya on the battlefield that he had killed Ashwattama. So, Bhima uttered loudly that he killed Ashwattama. When Dronacharya heard this from Bhima, he refused to believe him and went to Yudhishtra to confirm Ashwattama’s death. When Dronacharya asked Yudhishtra whether it was true that his son Ashwattama had died, Yudhishtra said, “Ashwattama died, the elephant but not the human”. However, Dronacharya heard only the first two words and the word ‘elephant’ got lost and went unheard in the din of the battle. Krishna also blew his conch at the exact time after Yudhishtra uttered the words ‘Ashwattama died’, so that Dronacharya could not hear the remaining words properly. A disheartened Dronacharya gave up his weapons, sat down and started meditating on the battlefield, when Dhristadhyumna came and slayed him by severing his head. Lord Krishna, thus, achieved the objective of eliminating the invincible Dronacharya by cleverly manipulating Yudhishtra’s integrity, honesty and righteousness for the achievement of dharma.
—— Strategy#5 : Masterminding the Death of Karna, the Great
When Karna and Arjuna were fighting, Krishna, in the midst of their war, suddenly took away Arjuna’s chariot to a different place on the battlefield, forcing Karna to follow them. At a decisive point in the war, when Karna was fighting Arjuna, his chariot’s wheel sank in the sludge of the battlefield. When Karna told Arjuna to stop the war for a moment until he lifted the sunk wheel of the chariot, Krishna ordered Arjuna to kill Karna. When Karna reminded Arjuna that it was not dharma to take advantage of the situation, Lord Krishna taunted Karna and asked him where his dharma was when Draupadi was dragged into an open court and humiliated, or when Yudhishtra was deceived in a cunning and foul play of dices, or when the Pandavas weren’t handed over their kingdom even after the exile was duly completed. He, thus, influenced the mind of Arjuna and then ordered him not to waste time, take out his arrow and kill Karna, the evil enemy.
Krishna deliberately took the chariot to a different place in the battlefield, where the soil was loose, thus ensuring that the wheel of his chariot sunk below the earth. Also, he ordered Arjuna to kill Karna when he was lifting the chariot wheel, because Krishna knew that it was impossible to kill Karna as long as he held the bow in his hand, as Karna was almost invincible.
A strategist should have infinite patience, deep insight, and foresight to ensure unfailing victory against the competitor. He should know when to attack, when to defend, and wait for the right moment to attack, when all things go against an opponent/competitor. In the case of Karna, he forgot all the mantras to summon the Brahma astra, his chariot wheel was stuck in the mud, and he was standing weaponless. It was at that exact moment that Krishna ordered Arjuna to kill him, thus striking Karna at the most appropriate moment, when triumph was guaranteed.
—— Strategy#6 : Revealing to Karna His Real Identity Before the War
Just before the start of the epic war, Lord Krishna met Karna personally and revealed him his true identity and who his real mother was. He also advised Kunthi, the mother of the Pandavas, to reveal to Karna that she was her real mother and to ask two promises from him – one that he would not kill the other four Pandavas, except Arjuna; and two, that he would not use the Naga astra (snake weapon) on Arjuna more than once. So, Kunthi went to Karna and revealed him that she was his real mother, who gave birth to him. As instructed by Lord Krishna, she also asked Karna for the two promises, which he granted.
By revealing his true identity that Karna was the eldest of the Pandavas, Krishna weakened the psychological morale and mental resolve of Karna and earned his sympathy for the Pandavas, whom Karna had all along despised and considered as his greatest enemy, since Duryodhana was his bosom friend and he hated the Pandavas. Thus, through his tactful strategy, even before the start of the war, Krishna had already ensured that at least four of the Pandavas were safe from Karna. Also, Krishna didn’t reveal to the Pandavas that Karna was their eldest brother to ensure that it wouldn’t evoke any sympathy for Karna among the Pandavas, thus playing a masterstroke. Also, if Krishna had revealed to the Pandavas that Karna was their elder brother, then all the Pandavas would have submitted themselves to the will of Karna, who would have ordered them to hand over the kingdom to Duryodhana, as he was his bosom friend, which Krishna had not wanted, as Duryodhana was an epitome of ‘adharma’ (unscrupulosity). This incident shows how tactful and astute a strategist Lord Krishna was.
Similarly, a strategist should know the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents and of his own team/organization and maneuver them deftly for the greater good of the organization. He should know when to say what and to whom to ensure the objective is successfully accomplished.
—— Strategy#7 : Advising Yudhishtra to Ask for the Five Golden Arrows from Duryodhana & Asking Draupadi to Seek the Blessings of Bhishma Five Times
During the war, after Duryodhana's 16 brothers were killed by Bhima, Duryodhana became extremely enraged and scoffed at Bhishma, provoked him and insulted him. Bhishma, in a fit of rage, promised Duryodhana that he would kill the Pandavas in the war on the ninth day. Duryodhana didn’t believe Bhishma's words. So, Bhishma created five golden arrows – produced through the power of observance of his strict chastity over the years – to kill the Pandavas and showed it to Duryodhana, who was convinced. When Krishna and the Pandavas came to know that Bhishma had vowed to kill the Pandavas, they were terrified. Krishna asked Draupadi to disguise herself and take the blessings of Bhishma five times. Draupadi disguised herself as a commoner and took the blessings of Bhishma when he was offering his prayers to the Sun god early morning. Bhishma blessed Draupadi thus: "May you live long as a 'suhaagan' with your husband". Draupadi took the blessings of Bhishma five times for her five husbands. Bhishma questioned Draupadi why she sought his blessings five times and whether it was not enough if he blessed her only once. Draupadi replied that she had five husbands and hence she sought his blessings five times. Later, she revealed that she was Draupadi. Bhishma was in a dilemma because, on the one hand, he had vowed and promised Duryodhana to kill the Pandavas, while on the other hand, he had blessed Draupadi wishing her a long 'suhaagan' life with her five husbands.
Duryodhana was scared that the five golden arrows would not be safe with Bhishma and that he would change his mind about killing the Pandavas. So, he went to Bhishma and obtained the five golden arrows from him to safely keep them in his own custody. When Shakuni saw Duryodhana with the five golden arrows, he reprimanded Duryodhana and advised him to return them to Bhishma, emphasizing that the arrows were safer with Bhishma than with him, and that Bhishma was a ‘man of his word’ and would fulfill his promise, and asked Duryodhana not to suspect him or his intentions. So, Duryodhana went to return the five golden arrows to Bhishma again for safe custody. Krishna asked Arjuna to go to Duryodhana and ask those five golden arrows from him as a ‘donation’ for Yudhishtra. Arjuna told Krishna that Duryodhana would never give away those five golden arrows. But, Krishna advised and insisted Arjuna to try once and ask Duryodhana. So Arjuna went to meet Duryodhana. As Duryodhana was about to go to Bhishma to return the five golden arrows to him, just then Arjuna entered Duryodhana's camp and said that Yudhishtra had sent him to ask the five golden arrows as a ‘donation’ for having saved his life earlier from the Gandharvas, at which time Duryodhana had promised Yudhishtra to give whatever he wanted and Yudhishtra had said that he would ask him later at an ‘appropriate’ time, and that the time had come then. Shakuni and Duhshasan shooed away Arjuna stating that they would not give away the five golden arrows to him. But Arjuna didn't relent and said he would leave only if Duryodhana himself said so. Arjuna was about to leave Duryodhana's camp, when Duryodhana stopped him and gave him the five golden arrows as a ‘donation’ to keep up the promise he had given to Yudhishtra earlier. Arjuna got the five golden arrows and showed them to Krishna and Yudhishtra. Krishna told Arjuna to destroy the five golden arrows in fire, as with it the desire of Bhishma to live would also get destroyed since the arrows were made from Bhishma's eons of observance of strict chastity. Arjuna destroyed those five golden arrows in fire.
The above incident shows how astute a strategist Lord Krishna was. On the one hand, he asked Arjuna to ask Duryodhana the five golden arrows, which had the ability to kill the Pandavas, while on the other hand, he asked Draupadi to seek the blessings of Bhishma five times, which would ensure that she led a long and happy married life with all her husbands. Thus, even if Duryodhana had not returned the five golden arrows, Bhishma would have been in a great dilemma as to whether to kill the Pandavas and keep up his promise given to Duryodhana, or to keep up his word given to Draupadi.
To be Continued