62. Krishna Teaches
ALL was ready for the battle. The
warriors on both sides gathered together and solemnly bound themselves to honor
the traditional rules of war.
The code of conduct in war and
methods of warfare vary from time to time. It is only if what was in vogue at
the time of the Mahabharata war is kept in mind that we can understand the
epic. Otherwise, the story would be puzzling in places.
From what follows, the reader may
have some idea of the rules of warfare followed in the Kurukshetra battle. Each
day, the battle was over at sunset, and the hostiles mixed freely like friends.
Single combats might only be
between equals and one could not use methods not in accordance with dharma.
Thus those who left the field or retired would not be attacked. A horseman
could attack only a horseman, not one on foot.
Likewise, charioteers, elephant
troops and infantrymen could engage themselves in battle only with their
opposite numbers in the enemy ranks.
Those who sought quarter or
surrendered were safe from slaughter. Nor might one, for the moment disengaged,
direct his weapons against another who was engaged in combat.
It was wrong to slay one who had
been disarmed or whose attention was directed elsewhere or who was retreating
or who had lost his armor. And no shafts were to be directed against
non-combatant attendants or those engaged in blowing conchs or beating drums.
These were the rules that the
Kauravas and the Pandavas solemnly declared they would follow.
The passage of time has witnessed
many changes in men's ideas of right and wrong. Nothing is exempt from attack
in modern warfare.
Not only are munitions made the
target of attack, but dumb animals such as horses, camels, mules and medical
stores, nay, non-combatants of all ages, are destroyed without compunction.
Sometimes the established
conventions went overboard even in the Mahabharata war.
We see clearly in the story that
occasional transgressions took place for one reason or another. But, on the
whole, the accepted rules of honorable and humane war were observed by both
sides in the Kurukshetra battle. And the occasional violations were looked upon
as wrong and shameful.
Addressing the princes under his
command, Bhishma said: "Heroes, yours is a glorious opportunity. Before
you, are the gates of heaven wide open. The joy of living with Indra and Brahma
awaits you. Pursue the path of your ancestors and follow the kshatriya dharma.
Fight with joy and attain fame and greatness. A kshatriya does not wish to die
of disease or old age in his bed but prefers to die on the battlefield,"
and the princes responded by ordering their trumpets to be sounded and shouted
victory to the Kauravas.
On Bhishma's flag shone brightly
the palm tree and five stars. On Aswatthama's the lion tail fluttered in the
In Drona's golden-hued standard,
the ascetic's bowl and the bow glistened, and the cobra of Duryodhana's famed
banner danced proudly with outspread hood.
On Kripa's flag was depicted a
bull, while Jayadratha's carried a wild boar. Likewise others and the
battlefield thus presented a pageant of flags.
Seeing the Kaurava forces ranged
in battle array, Yudhishthira gave orders to Arjuna:
"The enemy force is very
large. Our army being smaller, our tactics should be concentration rather than
deployment that will only weaken us. Array our forces, therefore, in needle formation."
Now, when Arjuna saw men arrayed
on both sides for mutual slaughter, he was deeply agitated and Krishna spoke to
him in order to quell his agitation and remove his doubts.
Krishna's exhortation to Arjuna
at this juncture is the Bhagavad Gita, which is enshrined in millions of hearts
as the Word of God. The Bhagavad Gita is acknowledged by all as one of the
supreme treasures of human literature.
Its gospel of devotion to duty,
without attachment or desire of reward, has shown the way of life for all men,
rich or poor, learned or ignorant, who have sought for light in the dark
problems of life.