Yudhishthira and Krishna: Indra & Vishnu on One Chariot 3

What ‘shreshhTha’ does, is followed by ‘itaro janaH’, in other words, we may tentatively translate it as ‘what extra-ordinary minds do’, ‘ordinary mentality follows.’

Yudhishthira’s Dharma being Manava-Dharma, the Dharma of humbleness, he wants to follow, not lead; he is content being ‘itaro janaH’, and shows no aspiration to be ‘shreshhTha’!

The problem that an ordinary mind faces in comprehending Krishna’s Dharma is that, the boundary between ‘shreshhTha’ and ‘itaro janaH’ is never clear, nor the distinction absolute. And what we see in today’s world, ‘itaro janaH’ often assumes the garb of ‘shreshhTha’ with immunity!

To use a phrase of Mr. T. S. Eliot - the ‘overwhelming question’ is how to discriminate?

The problem with Yudhishthira’s Dharma is, similarly, that the identification of ‘mahaajano’ can never be absolute or universal, and is always relative. In both cases thus, one’s individual judgment and conscience (‘Viveka-Buddhi’ in Sri Ramakrishna’s words), i.e. Yudhishthira’s ‘yathaa.prajnam’ becomes all important.

Apparently, Krishna’s ‘Svadharma’ is more liberal, having faith in one’s own self, and not dependant on what others - even Yudhishthira’s great men (mahaajana) - say. It is the responsibility of the Self to liberate the Self. In Gita he says –

‘uddharedaatmanaatmaanaM naatmaanamavasaadayet.h .
aatmaiva hyaatmano bandhuraatmaiva ripuraatmanaH -

One must elevate, not degrade, oneself by one's own "mind". The mind alone is one's friend as well as one's enemy. (Gita-6.05)

It is comparable to what Buddha says later in Dhammapada –

‘attaa hi attano naatho ko naatho paro siyaa
attanaa hi sudantena naathaM labhati dullabhaM –

One is one's own guardian. What other guardian could one have? With oneself well disciplined one obtains a rare guardian indeed. (160)’

Is Yudhishthira’s Dharma based entirely on imitation? Is it just a theory he follows?

Vashishtha Dharmashashtra defines ‘ziSTa’ as –

‘te ziSTaas^braahmaNaas^jJeyaas^zruti.pratyakSa.hetavas-

Those Brâhmanas……who are able to adduce proofs perceptible by the senses from the revealed texts, must be known to be Sishtas. (Va.6.43 )'

So, Yudhishthira follows those, who could translate their Dharma into ‘pratyakSa.hetavas’. But how could he really differentiate a true ‘ziSTa’ from a sham one?

When Yaksha asked, 'By what doth one become learned? - kena.svit.zrotriyo.bhavati’ Yudhishthira answered, 'It is by the (study of the) Shrutis that a person becometh learned - zrutena.zrotriyo.bhavati’; and when Yaksha asks, 'What constituteth the divinity of the Brahmanas?- kim.braahmaNaanaam.devatvam’ Yudhishthira answered, ' svaadhyaaya;eSaam.devatvam’.

Now, Nilkantha notes ‘svaadhyaaya’ as study of the Vedas’. Most translators translate the sloka as ‘The study of the Vedas’ constitutes their divinity.’

Are ‘svaadhyaaya’ and ‘study of the Vedas’ the same thing?

Sva means “self” and adhyaya means “investigation, inquiry, or education.” ‘The study of sacred texts’ can only be a part of that self-enquiry.

Yudhishthira makes distinction between ‘learned’ and ‘Brahmana’. One studying Shruti can be ‘learned’ not a ‘Brahmana’. Again, all Brahmanas cannot be ‘devataa’, for that self-enquiry is necessary.

The Taittriya Upanishad (Chapter 1; Sikshaavalli Section 9), the meaning of ‘svaadhyaaya’ becomes clear, when with the refrain – ‘svaadhyaayapravachane cha’ is applied with wider and as diverse contexts as ‘Rta’, ‘Satya’, ‘Tapah’ and ‘prajaa’ (begetting children), ‘prajanashcha’ (procreation) and ‘Prajaatishcha’(raising grandchildren). The Rishis have an integrated vision that one can learn from everything and every activity of life.

Kautilya defines ‘vidyaan’ as an ‘aatmavattaa’ - ‘For from hearing (sutra) ensues knowledge; from knowledge steady application (yoga) is possible; and from application self-possession (atmavatta) is possible. This is what is meant by efficiency of learning (vidhyasamarthyam)-

- zrutaadd hi prajJaa^upajaayate prajJaayaa yogo yogaad aatmavattaa^iti vidyaanaaM saamarthyam (Arthashashtra-1.5.16)’

Yudhishthira admits, ‘Dharma depends upon delicate considerations, that is indicated by the conduct of those that are called good, that it is fraught with restraints (from numerous acts), and that its indications are also contained in the Vedas.’ He thinks, – ‘It seems to me, however, that I have a certain inward light in consequence of which I can discriminate between right and wrong by inferences (CE-12.252.1)’

The importance Yudhishthira ascribes to ‘anumaanatah’ brings Yudhishthira’s Dharma close to Krishna’s.

Yudhishthira is yet to learn that such absolute statement about oneself is the nourishment to life’s ironic drama, only aids the irony of life flourish!

It is clear, Yudhishthira has been searching with his ‘svaadhyaaya’; he is ever on the path – ‘maargayiSyaami.kevalam’ like Mudgala - all his life the meaning of Dharma.

The only ‘danger’ of Yudhishthira’s Dharma is that, unknowingly it creates a ‘mindset’ or ‘preconceived notion’; unawares, ‘tamah’ might creep in and look like ‘sattva’. Yudhishthira’s wrath on seeing Duryodhana in Svarga is the exposition of that mindset.

Draupadi understood this possibility, i.e. ‘tamah’ appearing as ‘sattva’. That is why, whenever, Yudhishthira inclined more to Brahmana-Guna during exile, Draupadi lashed at him with the strongest of speech extolling ‘krodha’. In a fiery speech he asks her rhetorically, why his wrath does not blaze up at the sight of their plight in the forest –

kasmaan manyur na vardhate!-


‘Truly, O thou best of the Bharatas, thou hast no anger, else why is it that thy mind is not moved at sight of thy brothers and myself (in such distress)? It is said that there is no Kshatriya in the world who is bereft of anger. I now behold in thee, however, a refutation of the proverb! Unto those Kurus the covetous sons of Dhritarashtra who injure us always, the present is not the time for forgiveness! It behoveth thee to put forth thy might. The humble and forgiving person is disregarded; while those that are fierce persecute others. He, indeed, is a king who hath recourse to both, each according to its time!'

She then goes on to sermonize him on the necessity of ‘karma’-

‘Thou also shouldest act, and not incur censure by abandoning action. Cover thyself up, as with armour, with action……And this moment misery hath overtaken us. If, however, thou be takest to action, that misery will certainly be removed.’

To her, Yudhishthira’s Dharma tends to become ‘idleness’ i.e. the ‘sattva’ of his Dharma is actually ‘tamah’, because he is becoming a believer in Destiny -

‘Those persons in the world who believe in destiny, and those again who believe in chance, are both the worst among men. Those only that believe in the efficacy of acts are laudable.’

Draupadi’s ‘karma’ philosophy is akin to Krishna’s with the diference that at this phase of her age she believes in ‘sakaama karma’. To her, seeking ‘phala’ in ‘karma’ is the mark of ‘pauruS – Manliness’-


‘The fruit, however, that a person obtaineth by acting himself, and which is the direct result of those acts of his, is regarded as proof of personal ability – pauruSam – manliness.’

The remedy to failure despite action is further action - ‘The man of action in this world generally meeteth with success. The idle, however, never achieveth success. If success becometh impossible, then one should seek to remove the difficulties that bar his way to success. And, O king, if a person worketh (hard), his debt (to the gods) is cancelled (whether he achieveth success or not).’

The ‘kaama’ in ‘karma’ is for the ‘phala’ of victory, and if victory is unattainable, then one should be stoic of the loss and settle on honor-


‘If you meet with failure, then also such manliness would be a matter of honor for Vrikodara and Vivatsu and the twins (Retranslated by author from Bengali Translation of Haridas Siddhantavagish).

Yudhishthira rejects Draupadi’s sermon as a speech ‘delightful, smooth and full of excellent phrases – valgu citra padam zlakSNam yaajnaseni tvayaa vacah (3.32.1)

In Shanti-Parva again, when Yudhishthira wants to renounce the world, Draupadi suggests to him the proper balance of opposites in a King –


‘He is said to be conversant with duties in whom are forgiveness and wrath, giving and taking, terrors and fearlessness, and chastisement and reward.’

She sees the excess of Brahmana-Guna in him –


‘Friendship for all creatures, charity, study of the Vedas, penances,--these constitute the duties of a Brahmana and not of a king, O best of kings!’

If Draupadi sees the absence of ‘krodha’ and the motivation of ‘sakaama karma’ in Yudhishthira’s Dharma, and therefore lacking in ‘balance’, Bhima sees the ‘problem’ of ‘kaama’ and dis-balance of ‘Dharma-Artha-Kama’ in Yudhishthira’s Dharma- ‘It is for these reasons that they that are wise are ever careful of both virtue and wealth, for a union of virtue and wealth is the essential requisite of pleasure, as fuel is the essential requisite of fire. The joy that ariseth from the five senses, the intellect and the heart, being directed to the objects proper to each, is called pleasure. That pleasure, O king, is, as I think, one of the best fruits of our actions. Thus, O monarch, one should regard virtue, wealth and pleasure one after another. One should not devote one self to virtue alone, nor regard wealth as the highest object of one's wishes, nor pleasure, but should ever pursue all three. (CE-3.34.28-38)’

Bhima too like Draupadi sees the excess of ‘Brahmana Guna’ in Yudhishthira - ‘But, O slayer of foes, no one applaudeth thee for thus suffering such pain in consequence of the kindliness of thy disposition. Thy intellect, O king, seeth not the truth, like that of a foolish and ignorant person of high birth who hath committed the words of the Vedas to memory without understanding their sense. Thou art kind like a Brahmana. How hast thou been born in the Kshatriya order? – ghRNii braahmaNa ruupo asi katham kSatre ajaayathaah (3.36.19).’

Yudhishthira rejects Bhima’s Dharma calling him ‘foremost of speakers –vaakya kovida’(3.37.3), may be with polite and subtle sarcasm. Draupadi’s and Bhima’s exhortations are nothing but ‘speech’ to Yudhishthira.

He admits it is for him that all are suffering – ‘I cannot reproach thee for thy torturing me thus by piercing me with thy arrowy words. From my folly alone hath this calamity come against you.’

However, he also makes it clear to them – ‘Having entered into such an agreement in the presence of all good men, who dareth break it for the sake of a kingdom on earth? For a respectable person, I think, even death itself is lighter than the acquisition of sovereignty by an act of transgression.’

At the end of the war and particularly on learning that Karna was his uterine brother, ‘dharma.aatmaa’ Yudhishthira is ‘samtaapa.piiDita (12.6.12)’, ‘zoka.vyaakula.cetanah’ and ‘duhkha.samtaptah’ (12.7.1).

Yudhishthira wants to leave for forest life – ‘Abandoning the whole of my kingdom, therefore, and the things of this earth, I shall go to the woods, escaping from the ties of the world, freed from grief, and without affection for anything.’

He is burdened with sense of sin (paapam). Yudhishthira’s ‘vairaagya’ is like his father Pandu’s, who too went to the forest shortly after returning from a bloody Digvijaya.

Arjuna questions Yudhishthira’s sagacity and calls his ‘vairaagya’ ‘fickleness of intelligence - buddhi.laaghavaat (12.8.4)’, and even calls him ‘a eunuch or a person of procrastination - kliibasya . hi . kuto . raajyam . diirgha . suutrasya . vaa . punah (12.8.4)’.

Arjuna has the sagacity to understand that Yudhishthira has not gone beyond ‘SaDa ripu’, and that his ‘vairaagya’ is not founded on the strong ground of ‘sannyasa’. He tells Yudhishthira a narrative of Janaka and his wife, in which she says to Janaka – ‘One is not to be called a mendicant for his having only renounced his possessions, or for his having only adopted a life of dependence on eleemosynary charity. He who renounces the possessions and pleasures of the world in a sincere frame of mind is to be regarded a true mendicant. Unattached at heart, though attached in outward show, standing aloof from the world, having broken all his bonds, and regarding friend and foe equally, such a man, O king, is regarded to be emancipated! Having shaved their heads clean and adopted the brown robe, men may be seen to betake themselves to a life of wandering mendicancy, though bound by various ties and though ever on the lookout for bootless wealth. They who, casting off the three Vedas, their usual occupations, and children, adopt a life or mendicancy by taking up the triple-headed crutch and the brown robe, are really persons of little understanding. Without having cast off anger and other faults, the adoption of only the brown robe, know, O king, is due to the desire of earning the means of sustenance. Those persons of clean-shaven heads that have set up the banner of virtue, have this only (viz., the acquisition of sustenance) for their object in life. (CE-12.18.29-33)’

What Arjuna says is akin to what Krishna told him –

na karmaNaamanaarambhaannaishhkarmyaM purushho.ashnute .
na cha sa.nnyasanaadeva siddhi.n samadhigach{}chhati -

One does not attain freedom from the bondage of Karma by merely abstaining from work. No one attains perfection by merely giving up work. (Gita-3.04)

In reply, Yudhishthira displays rare pride and impatience saying –

veda.aham.taata.zaastraaNi;aparaaNi.paraaNi.ca./ (CE-12.190.1)

'I am conversant with both the Vedas and the scriptures that lead to the attainment of Brahma.’

He tells Arjuna that he is incapable of understanding Dharma because he knows only Yuddhashahstra - tvam . tu . kevalam . astra . jno; – performs only the rituals of a valiant warrior - viira . vratam . anuSThitah, and conversant only with Arthashashtra, so unable to understand truly the sense of the scriptures - zaastra . artham . tattvato . gantum . na . samarthah . kathamcana (CE-12.19.3). Yudhishthira even goes on to saying that Arjuna’s knowledge even in those subjects is not complete because he is not ‘zaastraartha suukSma darzii’ and is not a ‘dharma . nizcaya . kovidah’.

Yudhishthira does not mind as usual, and he goes on with his futuristic plans of a forest life. In the intensity of ‘vairaagya’, the world seems to him an illusion –


‘He, however, who abandons the worldly course of life, which is really a fleeting illusion although it looks eternal, and which is afflicted by birth, death, decrepitude, disease, and pain, is sure to obtain happiness.’

He considers he has finally attained ‘prajnaa.amRtam’ intelligence, i.e. intelligence that leads to Moksha. It is this over-faith in his ‘sattvik’ attitude that comes occasionally following deep crisis, which is the main defect in his Dharma. ‘Attitude’ is not the real self, and Yudhishthira learns that in Svarga reacting to Duryodhana’s presence.

Vyasa shows deep insight into human character by depicting the irony of life. Yudhishthira on earth thinks Reality an Illusion, and Yudhishthira in Svarga will think Illusion a Reality.

What is more, Kunti reserves the same judgment for Yudhishthira. She tells Krishna to convey Yudhishthira her opinion – ‘Do not act vainly. O king, like a reader of the Vedas incapable of catching their real meaning, and, therefore, truly unlearned. Thy understanding, affected by only the words of the Vedas, vieweth virtue alone. Cast thy eyes on the duties of thy own order, as ordained by the Self-create. For all ruthless deeds and for the protection of the people, from his (Brahmana's) arms was created the Kshatriya, who is to depend upon the prowess of his own arms. (CE-5.13.5-7)’

Vyasa too pointed out to him of his inclination towards Brahmana-Guna –

‘'O thou of eyes like lotus petals, the protection of subjects is the duty of kings. Those men that are always observant of duty regard duty to be all powerful. Do thou, therefore, O king, walk in the steps of thy ancestors. With. Brahmanas, penances are a duty. This is the eternal ordinance of the Vedas. Penances, therefore, O bull of Bharata's race, constitute the eternal duty of Brahmanas. A Kshatriya is the protector of all persons in respect of their duties.[104] That man who, addicted to earthly possessions, transgresses wholesome restraints, that offender against social harmony, should be chastised with a strong hand. That insensate person who seeks to transgress authority, be he an attendant, a son, or even a saint, indeed,--all men of such sinful nature, should by every means be chastised or even killed. That king who conducts himself otherwise incurs sin. He who does not protect morality when it is being disregarded is himself a trespasser against morality. The Kauravas were trespassers against morality. They have, with their followers, been slain by thee. Thou hast been observant of the duties of thy own order. Why then, O son of Pandu, dost thou indulge in such grief? The king should slay those that deserve death, make gifts to persons deserving of charity, and protect his subjects according to the ordinance.' (KMG-Shaanti Parva – 32).’

Vyasa’s dialogue, leaving aside all other motives, conclusively shows how earnest he is to see Yudhishthira as King.

Draupadi is prophetic to the extent that Yudhishthira discovers ‘tamaH’ and ‘rajaH’ in his much cherished ‘sattva’, and he gives way to ‘krodha’; and Bhima is prophetic that Yudhishthira’s ‘kaama’ is responsible for whatever he goes through. Perhaps for this reason, they reached Svarga before Yudhishthira!

Without coming to terms with the ‘kaama-krodha-lobha’ of his subconscious, without seeing the play of ‘dharma-artha-kaama’ in his Dharma, without seeing the presence of one of the ‘trivarga’ in the other two, Yudhishthira cannot be free from the bondage of ‘maanava dharma’, therefore he cannot be firmly established in his Dharma which leads to Moksha!

Balance in ‘trivarga’ is the most important thing. Each Shashtra makes it clear that ‘trivarga’ must be practiced with equal balance.

Kautilya says in Arthashahstra – ‘Not violating righteousness and economy, he shall enjoy his desires. He shall never be devoid of happiness. He may enjoy in an equal degree the three pursuits of life, charity, wealth, and desire, which are inter-dependent upon each other. Any one of these three, when enjoyed to an excess, hurts not only the other two, but also itself (1.7.3-5).

Vatsayana states in Kamashashtra – ‘Any action which conduces to the practice of Dharma, Artha and Kama together, or of any two, or even one of them, should be performed, but an action which conduces to the practice of one of them at the expense of the remaining two should not be performed (1.2.41)’.

Vatsayana states how ‘kaama’ is conducive to Dharma –`He who is acquainted with the true principles of this science pays regard to Dharma, Artha, Kama, and to his own experiences, as well as to the teachings of others, and does not act simply on the dictates of his own desire (7.2.53)’.

Krishna, on his peace mission, says the same thing in Kuru Sabha to Duryodhana – ‘O bull of Bharata's race, the exertions of the wise are always associated with virtue, profit, and desire. If, indeed, all these three cannot be attained, men follow at least virtue and profit. If, again, these three are pursued separately, it is seen that they that have their hearts under control, choose virtue; they that are neither good nor bad but occupy a middle station, choose profit, which is always the subject of dispute; while they that are fools choose the gratification of desire. The fool that from temptation giveth up virtue and pursueth profit and desire by unrighteous means, is soon destroyed by his senses. He that speaketh profit and desire, should yet practice virtue at the outset, for neither profit nor desire is (really) dissociated from virtue. O king, it hath been said that virtue alone is the cause of the three, for he that seeketh the three, may, by the aid of virtue alone, grow like fire when brought into contact with a heap of dry grass (CE-5.122.32-36)’.

Vyasa proposes Moksha Dharma, which lays emphasis on ‘karma’ and ‘aachara’ – action and conduct – with the aim of emancipation though knowledge; the tilt is slightly towards Wisdom. His is a balance between traditional knowledge and self-earned Wisdom. He thinks traditional knowledge must be interpreted time to time depending on the age.

Krishna proposes synthesis of all ‘maarga’ through ‘nishkaama karma’; the tilt is towards ‘karma’, for through ‘karma’ alone one earns wisdom and learns to be ‘nishkaama’. He lays greater emphasis on the self. He respects tradition, but considers much is to be learnt by the self. To him possibilities do not end.

Yudhishthira proposes a third model, holding on to the Dharma that one thinks right, being true to one’s faith, yet not rigid, yet with an open mind to accept debate, and modify or change, but certain fundamental principles and values cherished by tradition remaining the fixed axel. His faith in self is to dig out the knowledge already in tradition. He will not give up Dharma even for Moksha. His vision is ‘if Moksha is the fourth step, then it too is part of a universal order or Dharma.’

In Yudhishthira’s Dharma, attachment remains, and the ‘karma’ is to learn to sublimate that attachment. Only if the object of attachment is forced out of existence, Yudhishthira will accept that whole-heartedly and become detached only then.

Vyasa said to Suka –‘By purifying his heart, the Yogin transcends both righteousness and its reverse. By purifying his heart and by living in his own true nature, he attains to the highest happiness.’ (KMG-Shaanti Parva-246)‘

Yudhishthira’s Dharma is the Dharma of the heart. The possibility of the opposite i.e. heartlessness remains. He has to purge himself of that through trial and error. The Svargarohana Parva shows that when he refuses to accept Duryodhana in Svarga.

Yudhishthira perhaps saw the irony of Vyasa and Krishna’s advices to him. On one hand they were speaking of svadharma, on the other they were telling him to abide by a Kshatra-Varna dharma, though that is not entirely his cup of tea (errrrr…….cup of Soma!). He cannot be sure of his true svadharma. Despite his inclinations towards braahmanic mode of life and a life of renunciation, he ultimately abides by what Vyasa, Krishna, his brothers and Draupadi have told him time and again. He takes up raajadharma again and rules humbly with humanistic ideals. As a final solution he rejects all thoughts, does not concentrate on even Moksha, and sticks to his ‘maanava dharma’, and make Indra’s Svarga crumble before him.

The triumph of his dharma is his ‘jaya’ – victory. Perhaps, that is one reason, why Mahabharata is also titled ‘jaya’ – the ultimate victory of maanava dharma.

Our rational mind would not believe he went to Svarga. Perhaps, after his brothers’ death, he had hallucinations of Svarga and Naraka; perhaps, in delirium he saw images of Svarga and Naraka – no one can say for sure.

One thing is certain, however. He died alone in the Himalayas, a purely maanava consciousness gradually overcome by the snowy and rough Himalayas. He completed a circle thus – he died where he was born- in the lap of the Himalayas!

Yudhishthira: The Indra on Battlefield

Many would not agree Yudhishthira was a great warrior, so how can he be Indra? But is that so?

Yudhsihthira’s warrior-dharma is different from others. Like Lao Tsu he believes-

‘There is a saying among soldiers:
I dare not make the first move but
would rather play the guest;
I dare not advance and inch but would
rather withdraw a foot. (1.69)’

Dhritarashtra fears Yudhishthira’s wrath and tells Vidura, ‘King Yudhishthira who is like a flame of fire, has been deceived by me. He will surely exterminate in battle all my wicked sons. Everything, therefore, seems to me to be fraught with danger, and my mind is full of anxiety (Udyoga.36)’

That Yudhishthira could be fierce in battle like embodiment of death, we may take some illustrations from Bhisma Parva

‘Beholding his standard overthrown, king Srutayush then, O monarch, pierced the son of Pandu with seven sharp shafts. Thereupon Yudhishthira, the son of Dharma, blazed up with wrath- tatah . krodhaat . prajajvaala, like the fire that blazeth forth at the end of the Yuga for consuming creatures- yathaa  yuga . ante . bhuutaani . dhakSyann . iva . huta . azanah. Beholding the son of Pandu excited with rage, the gods, the Gandharvas, and the Rakshasas, trembled, O king, and the universe became agitated. And even this was the thought that arose in the minds of all creatures, viz., that that king, excited with rage, would that day consume the three worlds- triiml . lokaan . adya . samkruddho . nRpo . ayam . dhakSyati . iti . vai. Indeed, when the son of Pandu was thus excited with wrath, the Rishis and the celestials prayed for the peace of the world. Filled with wrath and frequently licking the corners of his mouth- krodha . samaaviSTah . sRkkiNii . parilelihan, Yudhishthira assumed a terrible expression - dadhaara . aatma . vapur . ghoram.-looking like the sun that riseth at the end of the Yuga - yuga . anta . aaditya . samnibham. Then all thy warriors, O king, became hopeless of their lives, O Bharata. Checking, however, that wrath with patience, that great bowman endued with high renown then cut off Srutayush's bow at the grasp. And then, in the very sight of all the troops, the king in that battle pierced Srutayush whose bow had been cut off, with a long arrow in the centre of the chest. And the mighty Yudhishthira then, O king, speedily slew with his arrows the steeds of Srutayush and then, without losing a moment, his charioteer. Beholding the prowess of the king, Srutayush leaving that car whose steeds had been slain, quickly fled away from battle. After that great bowman had been vanquished in combat by the son of Dharma, all the troops of Duryodhana, O king, turned their faces. Having, O monarch, achieved this feat, Yudhishthira, the son of Dharma, began to slay thy troops like Death himself with wide-open mouth –


Like any other warrior, Yudhishthira feared to die. Once, when Bhishma, cut off Yudhishthira’s bow and the variegated standard, he was overwhelmed with fear - bhaya  . abhibhuutam (Bhisma.86/CE-6.81.29).

For the practicality of war, Yudhishthira could order joint attack against one – ‘Then Yudhishthira, O king, urged his friends and the rulers (on his side), saying,--'Slay Bhishma the son of Santanu, uniting together.' Then all those rulers, ‘hearing these words of Pritha's son, surrounded the grandsire with a large number of cars (Bhisma.87)’, foreshadowing Abhimayu’s fall by same means and Yudhishthira’s consequent sense of guilt.

Yudhishthira was no weak warrior. He could penetrate Bhisma’s defence – ‘And Yudhishthira pierced the grandsire in return with twelve shafts. (Bhima.107)

Drona refers to Yudhishthira’s wrath as – ‘The wrath of Yudhishthira, an encounter between Bhishma and Arjuna in battle, and an endeavor like this (of the shooting of weapons) by myself,--these (three) are certainly fraught with great harm to creatures. (KMG-Bhisma Parva.113)

Yudhishthira Dharma is the Dharma of peace and non-violence, but once war is inevitable, he accepts it, though trying till the exhaustion of the last possibility to avoid it, and once he is in war, he can fight. Thus the man who was hesitant to fight Bhisma, can shout – ‘And Yudhishthira said, 'Advance! Fight! Vanquish Bhishma in battle. (Bhisma.116)

Bhisma advised Duryodhana to make peace following his fall, and he refers to Yudhishthira’s wrath – ‘As long as Yudhishthira with eyes burning in wrath doth not consume thy troops in battle, let peace, O sire, be made!’ (Bhisma.123)

The climactic moment of Yudhishthira-Shalya battle shows Yudhishthira’s skill in warfare (9.16.42-51) and also his identification with Gods, and through such identification, his integration with his brothers - ‘(Yudhsihthira) the just, took up a dart whose handle was adorned with gold and gems and whose effulgence was as bright as that of gold. Rolling his eyes that were wide open, he cast his glances on the ruler of the Madras, his heart filled with rage -krodhena . diipta . jvalana . prakaazam. The illustrious chief of the Kurus then hurled with great force at the king of the Madras that blazing dart of beautiful and fierce handle and effulgent with gems and corals-maNi . hema . daNDaam ; jagraaha . zaktim . kanaka . prakaazaam. All the Kauravas beheld that blazing dart emitting sparks of fire -zaktim . rucira . ugra . daNDaam -as it coursed through the welkin after having been hurled with great force, even like a large meteor falling from the skies at the end of the Yuga- yathaa . yuga . ante . mahatiim . iva . ulkaam.  King Yudhishthira the just, in that battle, carefully hurled that dart which resembled kala-ratri (the Death Night) - kaala . raatriim . iva . paaza . hastaam -armed with the fatal noose or the foster-mother of fearful aspect of Yama himself - yamasya . dhatriim . iva . ca . ugra . ruupaam, and which like the Brahmana's curse, was incapable of being baffled.’

Yudhishthira’s ‘dart’ becomes symbolic because it is also ‘daNda’ – signifying both the King’s Sceptre and punishment and Yama’s daNda; and Yudhishthira is also explicitly compared to ‘kala-ratri’ signifying Time as well as Goddess of Death (that again connects him with Draupadi and Kunti), and Yama, confirming Yudhishthira’s incarnation of Yama-Dharma.

The Dart is said to have been created by Tvashtri reminding us of Indra’s vajra.

‘That weapon seemed to blaze like Samvartaka - fire - samvartaka . agni . pratimaam . jvalantiim -and was as fierce as a rite performed according to the Atharvan of Agnirasa.’ Now, ‘samvartakam’ is the name of the fire which devastates during the annihilation of the universe.

‘Having carefully inspired it with many fierce mantras, and endued it with terrible velocity by the exercise of great might and great care, king Yudhishthira hurled it along the best of tracks for the destruction of the ruler of the Madras. Saying in a loud voice the words, "Thou art slain, O wretch- hato . asy . asaav . ity . abhigarjamaano" the king hurled it, even as Rudra had, in days of yore, shot his shaft for the destruction of the asura Andhaka - rudro . antakaaya . anta . karam . yathaa . iiSum, stretching forth his strong (right) arm graced with a beautiful hand, and apparently dancing in wrath - krodhena . nRtyann . iva . dhaarma . raajah.’

Leaving aside the sentimental shock that Yudhishthira roars at his ‘maamaa’ (maternal uncle), we have the important information that roaring was not Bhima’s copyright (err…Soundright!). We have the more important link of Yudhishthira and Rudra, explicitly, and also through ‘Samvartaka-fire’, and the most important link of Yudhsihthira with Rudra, Indra, Vayu, Bhima and Arjuna thorugh the dancing aspect - krodhena . nRtyann.

In Vana Parva Yudhishthira prays to Sun thus – ‘When the time of universal dissolution cometh, the fire Samvartaka born of thy wrath consumeth the three worlds and existeth alone (Vana.3).’

Markandeya Muni exlains to Yudhishthira about universal dissolution at the end of four Yugas –

‘And then, O Bharata, the fire called Samvartaka impelled by the winds appeareth on the earth that hath already been dried to cinders by the seven Suns. And then that fire, penetrating through the Earth and making its appearance, in the nether regions also, begetteth great terror in the hearts of the gods, the Danavas and the Yakshas. And, O lord of the earth, consuming the nether regions as also everything upon this Earth that fire destroyeth all things in a moment. And that fire called Samvartaka aided by that inauspicious wind, consumeth this world extending for hundreds and thousands of yojanas (Vana.187)

‘Samvartaka fire’ connects Yudhishtira not only with Sun, but also with Time and Purusha. The connection is again with Mahadeva, Time and Clouds that foredoom universal dissolution (Shaanti.285).

In Anushashana Parva, the link is again very explicit –

‘The fire born of his energy resembled in effulgence the lightening that flashes amid clouds. Verily, it seemed as if a thousand suns rose there, filling every side with a dazzling splendor - sahasram . iva . suuryaaNaam . sarvam . aavRtya . tiSThati. The energy of the Supreme Lord looked like the Samvartaka fire which destroys all creatures at the end of the Yuga……. That Rudra, who sprang from thee destroyed the Creation with all its mobile and immobile beings, assuming the form of Kala of great energy, of the cloud Samvartaka (charged with water which myriads of oceans are not capacious enough to bear), and of the all consuming fire. Verily, when the period comes for the dissolution of the universe, that Rudra stands, ready to swallow up the universe. (Anushashana.14).’

The epithet ‘sahasram.iva.suuryaaNaam’ is a reminder of Krishna’s Visvaruupa in Gita thereby connecting Yudhishthira with Krishna’s Visvaruupa, a connection which eludes even Arjuna –

divi suuryasahasrasya bhavedyugapadutthitaa .
yadi bhaaH sadR^ishii saa syaadbhaasastasya mahaatmanaH .. 11.12..

If the splendor of thousands of suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, even that would not resemble the splendor of that exalted being. (11.12)

Any modern reader would be reminded that Physicist Robert Oppenheimer, supervising Scientist Manhattan Project, quoted these lines in the Jornada del Muerto desert near the Trinity site in the White Sands Missile Range on 16 July 1945 at 0529 HRS, witnessing first atomic detonation by mankind.

Samvartaka’ is also the name of a cloud (Karna.34), suggesting Yudhishthira’s connection with Parjanya.

Samvartaka’ fire is not a frequently used word or comparison in Mahabharata. The word occurs only 25 times in the whole of Mahabharata (Bhandarkar’s Critical Edition), mostly relating to Mahadeva and Purusha. Only thrice it is mentioned as the name of Naga, and four times as a cloud foredooming universal dissolution.

It is interesting to note that the only character other than Yudhishthira compared with ‘Samvartaka’ is Asvatthama -
‘Whilst consuming that Rakshasa force, Drona's son in that battle shone resplendent like the Samvartaka fire, while burning all creatures at the end of the Yuga (Drona.155).’

That should be so, because Asvatthama ‘was born on earth, of the united portions of Mahadeva, Yama, Kama, and Krodha (Adi.67) – another link with Yudhishthira through Yama in particular!

When Asvatthama, ‘let off that weapon (Brahmashira) for stupefying all the worlds,’ a fire then was born in that blade of grass, ‘which seemed capable of consuming the three worlds like the all-destroying Yama at the end of the yuga - pradhakSyann . iva . lokaams . triin . kaala . antaka . yama . upamah (10.13.20).’

Asvatthama is compared to Yama, furthering his connection with Yudhishthira.

Then Arjuna, at Krishna’s behest, let off his Brahmashira to neutralize it, and it ‘blazed up with fierce flames like the all-destroying fire that appears at the end of the yuga. Similarly, the weapon that had been shot by Drona's son of fierce energy blazed up with terrible flames within a huge sphere of fire -  prajajvaala . mahaa . arciSmad . yuga . anta . anala . samnibham. Numerous peals of thunder were heard; thousands of meteors fell; and all living creatures became inspired with great dread. The entire welkin seemed to be filled with noise and assumed a terrible aspect with those flames of fire. The whole earth with her mountains and waters and trees trembled (CE.10.14.7-10).’ Arjuna’s ‘yuga . anta . anala . samnibham’ Brahmashira refers to Samvartaka fire. However, Arjuna’s use of the weapon is for a benign purpose, that of neutralizing Asvatthama’s weapon - astram . astreNa . zaamyataam (CE.10.14.6).

The Rudra and Time aspect of Yudhishthira, a much overlooked matter, is thus more prominent than any of his brothers and other characters save Asvatthama in its destructive aspect.

In Srimad Bhagavatam, when Arjuna and Asvatthaamaa hurled Brahmashashtras towards each other, ‘All the population of the three worlds was scorched by the combined heat of the weapons. Everyone was reminded of the samvartaka fire which takes place at the time of annihilation (SB 1.7.31).’

The description of the Pandava palace in Indraprashtha in Adi Parva- ‘In a delightful and auspicious part of the city rose the palace of the Pandavas …and it looked like a mass of clouds charged with lightning -  megha . vindam . iva . aakaaze . vRddham . vidyut . samaavRtam (Adi.209/CE.1.199.35)’ – is provocative to make one think, how Vyasa hints the annihilation of the Kurus for the cause of Indraprashtha by the use of epithets – ‘like a mass of clouds charged with lightning’ – which reminds not only of Indra by Vajra connection, but also connection with ‘Samvartaka fire’.

‘Shalya, however, roared aloud and endeavored to catch that excellent dart of irresistible energy hurled by Yudhishthira with all his might, even as a fire leaps forth for catching a jet of clarified butter poured over it. Piercing through his very vitals and his fair and broad chest, that dart entered the Earth as easily as it would enter any water without the slightest resistance and bearing away (with it) the world-wide fame of the king (of the Madras). Covered with the blood that issued from his nostrils and eyes and ears and mouth, and that which flowed from his wound, he then looked like the Krauncha mountain of gigantic size when it was pierced by Skanda.’

Yudhishtira is again identified with Skanda.

‘His armour having been cut off by that descendant of Kuru's race, the illustrious Shalya, strong as Indra's elephant, stretching his arms, fell down on the Earth, like a mountain summit riven by thunder - vajra . aahatam . zRngam . iva . acalasya.’

Yudhishthira’s Indra-aspect is again emphasized.

To conclude this section, Yudhishthira’s Kshatra-Warrior Dharma brings out in particular his Rudra and Agni dimension.

As we have seen just now, Hiltebeitel’s contention that ‘Arjuna is inescapably the foremost representative of Siva’ (Siva, the Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pa??avas and Draupadi Author(s): Alf Hiltebeitel Source: History of Religions, Vol. 20, No. 1/2, Twentieth Anniversary Issue (Aug. - Nov., 1980), pp. 147-174 Published by: The University of Chicago Press) is not tenable.

Yudhishthira’s Rudra-Siva aspect is also understandable with respect to ‘vaac’-Draupadi. In Rig Veda 10.125.1, Goddess Vaak says, ‘I travel with the Rudras’, and so does Draupadi; and in 10.125.6, She declares, ‘I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion. I rouse and order battle for the people.’
Draupadi indeed bends the bows of her husbands – the Rudras, and in powerful speeches ‘rouse’ them to action.

It is my contention that much of Mahabharata dealing with Rudraic aspect of Yudhishthira has been edited out by post-Ashokan redactors in their spree of Dharma-Ashokaization of Yudhishthira!

In his Agni aspect, Yudhishthira is the Brahmana of the Pandava-Purusha, representing the power of ‘tapaH’ and asceticism. The consummation of Khandavaranya by Agni with the two Krishnas help, is actually Yudhsihthira’s consummation of Khandavaranya in his rule; so, he is Agni. In his Rudra aspect, Yudhishthira transcends this Agni aspect, and becomes the Pandava-Purusha himself, not only because Rudra-Siva is a greater ascetic than Agni (Agni is one aspect of Rudra), but also because Rudra-Siva is the ultimate Purusha in whom multiple Purushas dissolve, just like it happens during Svargarohana, where Yudhishthira ‘eats’ his brothers and Draupadi and thus absorbs them in himself. Draupadi and the Pandavas merge in him because they too are Agni and Rudra.

A point may be raised here. Why does not Yudhsihthira show much prowess in Kuru war? Why is his only feat the killing of Shalya?

The answer is however not to be searched far. What would we expect of a king? To get involved in the thick of war and get killed or to fight on fronts where his security is more ensured? Had Yudhsihthira died in the battle, the matter of succession would have been settled at that moment. It is to be kept in mind that in their next generation, Duryodhana’s son Lakshmana was the eldest.

Hiltebeitel’s contention that the disguises which the Pandava poets adopt in Virata Parva show the epic poets as true symbol-masters, ‘concealing and revealing the "deepest" identities of their heroes and much of the purpose-primarily theological-of the roles they play in the epic narrative as a whole’ (Siva, the Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pa??avas and Draupadi)’, does not hold ground, because such symbols ‘revealing the "deepest" identities of their heroes’ are to be found scattered throughout the Mahabharata, as in case of Yudhishthira.

Yudhishthira and Krishna: The Indra-Vishnu Pair of Rig Veda

In the Rig Veda, Indra and Vishnu are sometimes lauded together.

For example, in RV-4.55.4 the Rishi says, ‘Lauded in manly mode may Indra-Visnu grant us their powerful defense and shelter.’ ‘Defense and shelter’ is a poor translation of the word ‘sharma’ which connotes- "shelter, protection, refuge, safety; a house; Joy, bliss, comfort, delight, happiness; name of formulas; identified with zarva and with vAc; happy..."(Monier Williams). In the context of earth, what is implied is prosperity – both material and spiritual.

In RV-6.20.2 the Rishi credits Indra and Vishnu together for killing Vrtra – ‘Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted, When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters.’

Now, Vrtra does not merely mean an evil Asura; Vrtra is the symbol of stasis, in other words any hindrance to the prosperity of a Rashtra. Indra and Vishnu are the dynamic force who can destroy that stasis and enable the flow of Sarasvati i.e. wisdom. Interestingly, in Rig Veda, Sarasvati is also credited for destroying Vrtra.

In RV-6.69.5, the Rishi lauds the Dharma-Karma aspect of Indra and Vishnu – ‘This your deed, Indra-Visnu, must be lauded: widely ye strode in the wild joy of Soma-sómasya máde urú cakramaathe - Ye made the firmament of larger compass, and made the regions broad for our existence- ákRNutam antárikSaM váriiyó .aprathataM jiiváse no rájaaMsi.’

What is suggested here is Indra-Vishnu’s role in ‘Loka-hita’.

Indra in Rig Veda is the symbol of Ideal Ruler.

When Narada described the celestial Sabhas of the Gods, Yudhishthira asked him, ‘thou hast mentioned one and only one king, viz., the royal Rishi Harishchandra as living in the Sabha of the illustrious chief of the gods. What act was performed by that celebrated king, or what ascetic penances with steady vows, in consequence of which he hath been equal to Indra himself? (KMG-Sabha.12).’

Narada enumerated Harishchandra’s qualities – the qualities that are necessary to be Indra on earth, so that one attains Indra’s glory in Svarga, ‘(Harishchandra) was a powerful king, in fact, an emperor over all the kings of the earth. Indeed, all the kings of the earth obeyed his sway. O monarch, mounted alone upon a victorious car adorned with gold, that king by the prowess of his weapons brought the whole earth with her seven islands under his sway. And, O monarch, having subjugated the whole earth with her mountains, forests, and woods, he made preparations for the great sacrifice called the Rajasuya. And all the kings of the earth brought at his command wealth unto that sacrifice. All of them consented to become distributors of food and gifts unto the Brahmanas that were fed on the occasion. At that sacrifice king Harishchandra gave away unto all who asked, wealth that was five times what each had solicited. At the conclusion of the sacrifice, the king gratified the Brahmanas that came from various countries with large presents of various kinds of wealth. The Brahmanas gratified with various kinds of food and enjoyable articles, given away unto them to the extent of their desires, and with the heaps of jewels distributed amongst them, began to say,--King Harischandra is superior to all kings in energy and renown.--And know, O monarch, O bull of the Bharata race, it was for this reason that Harischandra shone more brightly than thousands of other kings. The powerful Harischandra having concluded his great sacrifice, became installed, O king, in the sovereignty of the earth and looked resplendent on his throne. O bull of the Bharata race, all those monarchs that perform the sacrifice of Rajasuya, (attaining to the region of Indra) pass their time in felicity in Indra's company.’

Yudhishthira accomplished all these – Digvijaya, Raajasuuya, and benevolence, and became Samraat. Needless to say, establishing a Dharmarajya he indeed was Indra.

If we think war is central to the epic, as many scholars do think, then Krishna-Arjuna is the Vishnu-Indra pair of Rig Veda, Arjuna, undoubtedly, being the Indra or even greater than Indra in battlefield. But, Vyasa surely did not write a mere war epic, his Itihasa-Mahakavya Mahabharata is the Fifth Veda – a new interpretation of Veda in narrative form.

Yudhishthira suits as Indra not only being a former Indra’s incarnate, not only being defeated like Indra again and again and depending on others for deliverance, particularly on Vishnu-Krishna, but most importantly because he is the Samraat – the Nave of a New Rashtra Wheel of a New Age as envisaged by Vyasa-Narada-Krishna.

And indeed, as we have already seen, he does not lack that quality, for perceiving the lack of which one may hesitate to call him Indra, i.e. prowess in real war. And for him, the war had been on two fronts – the external war on Kurukshetra and the internal war on the spiritual front in his Self.

Interestingly, Yudhishthira once pointed out - "the two Krsnas yoked together to a single task are invincible in battle" (ekakaryasamudyuktau krsnau yuddhe parajitau, 2.18.24), implying Krishna and Arjuna are the two Krishnas – the black one and the white one, not Indra-Vishnu.

Thus, in the broader space of dharma and also karma (including war), Yudhsihthira and Krishna are the true Indra-Vishnu pair of Rig Veda.

Indrajit Bandyopadhyay is Lecturer in English at Kalyani Mahavidyalaya, Kalyani, WB.  

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