The Mahabharata War and Sri Aurobindo, An Inner Conversation

I’d like to share with you a very interesting and illuminating “conversation” I had with Sri Aurobindo on the subject of the film, Veer Bhimsen, that we saw the other day. Since you were there in defiance of the heavy rain drenching you through and through, I was very happy to see that you still took great interest in our Puranic stories; you’d not become so modernised as to lose the taste of the glory that was India once and still is, though covered up with all that poverty and squalor.

At the beginning, as I was entering the playground, there was a little bit of drizzling. I met Pranab at the gate and said, “Look!” He replied, “This drizzling doesn’t matter. If it rains today, I’ll put up the film tomorrow.” His tone meant that if it rained tomorrow, he’d put it up the next day. You must have it. I don’t know what exactly he liked most there. (Laughter) But probably, knowing him as I do, and being the great hero that he is, he must have taken an extraordinary delight in the audacious exploits of Gadadhar Bhim. You also have enjoyed the picture, I am sure, though what you liked most I can’t tell, whether Bhim’s ‘gada’ (mace), or Krishna’s ‘chakra’ (discus) at the back of his head, or Draupadi’s sad plight or else the dancing of the dwarf. May be if you ask me I’d tell you what I liked most. I liked all that you did, and the glimpse, as I first said, which I got of our former glory. Different people like different things for different reasons.

That reminds me of a story told by nobody else than Sri Ramakrishna. You know he was a very witty Avatar — all Avatars are witty — I being a disciple of a great Avatar must be expected to be at least half-witty (Laughter). Now the story goes thus. There was once in some holy place a samkirtan path, kirtan, bhajan, devotional songs woven around Sri Krishna and Radha and the gopis, etc. So the passers-by were attracted by the kirtans. One of these passers-by, a very ordinary man of the village, came and sat there. He began to listen with rapt attention to the music. You know the various devotional attitudes and actions, tears particularly, and so this ordinary man began to shed tears profusely. Well, at the end of it all when he was asked what made him weep so much, replied: “Babu, I liked it very much. You’ve seen by the shedding of my tears, it was wonderful!” “But what made you like it?” “When the singer was crying ‘Bandhu he, bandhu he!’ it reminded me of my beloved, so I began to shed tears out of joy.”

So, ladies and gentlemen, the film must have gone home to people for various episodes. I for one divided my delight between Bhim’s ‘gada’ and Krishna’s ‘chakra’. But somehow Sri Krishna was uppermost in my mind. I don’t know if it has ever occurred to you — to some it must have — that Sri Krishna whom you saw was no other than Sri Aurobindo. But that was what touched me most and I was constantly thinking: “Ah, so Sri Aurobindo came as Sri Krishna and did all this!” It gave me an immense pleasure to think, to see Him in the film so vividly. Although the film was somewhat crude, somewhat ludicrous, it came as a sort of a revelation. And I felt somehow, when I saw the battle of Kurukshetra, that all of us here must have taken part in that battle in which Krishna was Arjuna’s charioteer. We must have fought, we must have killed, we must have died, we must have lived… That was the impression I had of that great holocaust as it passed before me on the screen.

My association with Sri Aurobindo (and prolonged service of Him) somehow corroborates and confirms this belief, this faith of mine that perhaps as a rat or a cat or at best a common soldier I might have been there, taking some part in it. So also all of you: either fighters or wives of fighters or sons or daughters of fighters. Some such connection must have been there either at Kurukshetra or somewhere else, which has brought all of us here. I think the Mother said once that we had all met before. Otherwise we would not have met today, in this field of yoga for transformation. That is my personal view.

Anyway, when I saw the film there were some questions that troubled me. Since I identified Sri Krishna with Sri Aurobindo, seeing Sri Krishna’s personality at that time and Sri Aurobindo’s personality as I knew it, I couldn’t reconcile the two. I had seen Sri Aurobindo as very gentle, nay tender, almost child-like, sometimes a ‘bholanath’, and here was a different person: a charioteer, a shrewd statesman, a man of action, an encourager of violence. As I was pondering all these points, turning them over in my mind, Sri Aurobindo appeared before me and I had a long conversation with Him, while I was seeing the film. The talk is somewhat long, so I’ll tell parts of it here and there because you don’t expect me to remember everything that I heard and talked about. Even as I was seeing the film I was asking questions. He was answering me, just as he uttered the Gita in the field of battle; so it was now, in a less exciting, less dangerous context.

“Well, Sir,” I asked Him, “all this carnage, all this massacre that I see perpetrated here, you are the author of all this. I will, however, come to it later on. Please tell me first why do you make the Pandavas suffer so much? — these Pandavas who were your devotees, who were your bhaktas, who were your friends, who have taken shelter for their life and death at your feet, for what capricious reason have you made them suffer so much?” Then, well, as I provoked Him, He also in provoking tones answered: “You should have known by now that those who love me, and those whom I love, suffer most.” I muttered, “Strange idea of love!” (Laughter) Then He said: “Otherwise what is the use of love? What is love for? Is it only for a pot of honey? Only to tread on the rosy path? Love has to be tested in the burning fire in order to see how far it is genuine. Remember the line in Savitri: ‘And must fire always test the great of soul?’ So here you are. These Pandavas were great of soul… and love is a thing which is divine. If it is genuine it has got to pass through fire.” So that was the answer He gave me. Further He said: “These are my chosen instruments. They have come here for a special purpose of mine. I’ve got to do some work through them. So they have to be prepared through all trials and difficulties and hardships. Pain is necessary, knocks and shocks are good for the soul. See on the other hand the Kauravas. They have enjoyed a happy life, a life of ease, a life of comfort. To what end? It is all because of their mama (uncle) who brought ruin to them, their multifarious hardships.” As soon as He uttered the word mama, my thoughts went to my own nieces whose presence in the Ashram has mama-fied me for many people! (Laughter) To continue with Sri Aurobindo’s reply: “Also don’t forget that though I am inflicting punishment as you call it, or suffering, I am always with the Pandavas. I have never deserted them, wherever they are, I am with them, I guard them, I protect them, I guide them. My love is always with them. Is that not enough? You see only the dark side of things because the Man of Sorrows in you pleases to show you that. Please see a little widely, a little deeply, a little more intuitively and perceptively.”

“All right, Sir, I accept. Still, a greater puzzle haunts me: How could you have allowed Draupadi to be dragged, to be insulted publicly before so many — such a vast audience? Why did you allow that? For what reason? Can you explain that?” I said with burning indignation. He answered: “Peace! You are evidently moved too much by ladies. (Laughter) So am I. But first of all kindly remember that I was not there when she was being dragged. Secondly, what were her five fine husbands doing when this poor woman was being insulted before all that noble audience? They didn’t dare lift a small finger. They were all kshatriyas, they were all heroes, they were all nobles. Why didn’t they protest?” I said, “That is another question. My question is why didn’t you? You certainly knew what was going to happen. Why did you allow it to happen; and this ignominy for a woman is unbearable. You know that very well, and you came when at the extremity of her pain and suffering she cried out, “Trahi mam, trahi mam!” He said, “Yes, I did come.” “But you came rather late!” “Yes, I came rather late, but why? Because she called me rather late. She was waiting and looking to her husbands to come and protect her. They didn’t oblige. Then she looked around at the audience, they didn’t care a rap. Utterly helpless, she began to cry for me, and I came at once. That heart-piercing cry, that cry of lamentation and agony! When you have found that everything is lost, it is at this moment when you call the Divine that He comes to rescue you. But there is a deeper mystery behind it. Shocking indeed! With your rational pate you do not see, do not understand.”

I was all agog. Let’s see, let’s hear what deeper mystery He is going to reveal. Then He said: “It was or it is such atrocious behaviour that strikes against the Divine Seat and tilts the balance of the God of Justice. The atrocious manner in which the Kauravas acted towards a helpless God-loving woman sealed their doom and the Pandavas woke to the idea of grave revenge then. Mahakali’s wrath fell upon them because they insulted Her own Shaktis, Her powers. Beware!”

I said: “I fear Pranab’s wrath more than Mahakali’s!” (Laughter) “Then…. have you finished your questions? I’ve elsewhere to go, so many are calling me.” I said: “One other question. Now I accept poor Draupadi’s humiliation, but what about Abhimanyu, that poor boy? Why was he sacrificed at the altar? Was this not a very terrible sacrifice?” He replied: “Yes, and it is for the same reason. It was necessary to awake fully the wrath of the slothful and sentimental Pandavas. Even the revelation of my ‘vishwarupa’ could not utterly convince Arjuna to take up arms and fight the Kauravas. He was still hesitating. So when Abhimanyu died at the hands of so many heroes in an unfair manner, that did the trick. You have read Homer, I suppose. You know the story of Achilles. He was sulking in his tent because of a wrangle between himself and Agamemnon for nothing more than — a woman. But when he heard that his great friend Patroclus was killed by Hector, then all his wrath flared up and he went out in a mad fury to fight. So his friend had to be sacrificed. Here too Abhimanyu had to be sacrificed in order that the others might join the fight; and you saw Bhim’s ‘gada’ break the proud thighs and his hands open the hard bosom.”

I shuddered and said: “That, I think, is too much. Particularly Draupadi soaking her hair in Dushasan’s blood!” “Ah, since when have you become so humane? Three cheers for St. Nirod! Is it your Buddhist blood, or Gandhi’s non-violence at work? You must remember, my friend, that it was the heroic age when men and women were heroes and heroines. I suppose you won’t approve of Kurukshetra either, and advocate the gospel of love and compassion. Gandhi said that all that battle was symbolic. Well, that is what India has come to today. See the condition of the world: Russia, America, Israel, Nasser and Mao Tse-tung. Well, really, our Indira Gandhi is hard put to it to manage her house. She looks with one eye at Russia, with another eye at America and perhaps with both eyes at China, (Laughter) And this is our position today. So where is our gospel of non-violence leading? No, you can’t have non-violence till…” He did not complete the sentence. He went on: “Have you read my Essays on the Gita?” “Yes, I have read it.” “Read it again and look with a fresh eye at the passage where I have dealt with this question.” Then He left me.

I came home and read the passage. Let me read it out to you:

“No real peace can be till the heart of man deserves peace; the law of Vishnu cannot prevail till the debt to Rudra is paid. To turn aside then and preach to a still unevolved mankind the law of love and oneness? Teachers of the law of love and oneness there must be, for by that way must come the ultimate salvation. But not till the Time-Spirit in man is ready can the inner and ultimate prevail over the outer and immediate reality. Christ and Buddha have come and gone but it is Rudra who still holds the world in the hollow of his hand. And meanwhile the fierce forward labour of mankind tormented and oppressed by the Powers that are profiteers of egoistic force and their servants cries out for the sword of the hero of the struggle and the word of its prophet.”

So this is the message interpreted by Sri Aurobindo. Perhaps you know that Sri Aurobindo said that when He was in jail the Gita was put into His hand. Not literally, mind you, but in a subtle manner as things are given to you in your dreams, in your visions. So He told us that this Gita was given to Him by Sri Krishna; and if you read Essays on the Gita, which I recommend very strongly to all of you, those particularly who are grown up, you will have no doubt that it was Sri Aurobindo Himself who was Sri Krishna. Who else could be the author of the luminous and revealing interpretation that He gives, the intimate and understanding tone in which He expresses Himself, and the deeper secret undiscovered by anybody yet that He lays bare? There have been so many interpretations of the Gita, partial all of them, but none has that “uttamam rasam”, the supreme taste, which is His alone — because He is dealing with His own ancient message. For that matter, you will see that any other book He has written is all out of personal experience. Take the narrative poem, Baji Prabhou. In the description of the battle, the see-saw of fortune, the flight of the soldiers, the forward movement of them, the description is given in the minutest detail. It would have been impossible for any imaginative writer to provide such intricate movements of the battle. So also about all other books. In His past lives He has played so many roles and He has now relived them, brought them out. Essays on the Gita particularly is one of the most fascinating books that I’ve ever read. We have no doubt that Sri Krishna was born as Sri Aurobindo and carried on the same struggle even in our day, inwardly and outwardly — from the higher inner chamber in which He lived for so many years, all along not as a fighter, not as a charioteer, but as a commander of a great spiritual power which knows no time and space, and by the marshalling of that power He has moved, He has guided the world-chariot. When Hitler was in the ascendant, all of you know that it was the Mother and Sri Aurobindo who championed the cause of the Allies, and the Mother declared it was Her war. She even said in one of Her most firm notices: “Those who speak against the Allies are traitors.” At that time Churchill and De Gaulle stood as champions — the Pandavas — against the Hitlerite Kauravas. And after so many ignominious defeats ultimately you know what happened: the Allies were triumphant, the Fascists were crushed, the Japanese were routed.

Perhaps you do not know that during the visit of the Cripps’ Mission Sri Aurobindo sent His emissary from here to Delhi to persuade the Congress to accept the British proposals. Such a thing Sri Aurobindo had never done before. But he saw that Cripps had come on the wave of a great inspiration. Had Sri Aurobindo’s suggestion been accepted, as all clear thinkers say today, India’s state would have been different. There is such a thing as fate. When this Mission failed we told Him, “You see, your mission has failed,” He said “I knew it would!” And we pounced on this pronouncement: “If you knew, why did you send your emissary?” He smiled in his usual enigmatic way, and looking up said: “Well, I have done a bit of ‘kartavya karma’.”

Again that reminds me of Sri Krishna. You know he went on a peace mission. He knew very well that it would not be accepted, but he wanted to give a chance to Duryodhana. “Do accept peace. Let’s live amicably,” he said. The result — you know: Duryodhana tried to arrest him. Here, fortunately, Sri Aurobindo was far away, safe and, after all, the Congress are our own people…

You see then that there are so many parallelisms between Sri Aurobindo’s life and Sri Krishna’s and you know very well what happened on 24th November 1926 the great descent. He said to us that on that day, ‘siddhi day’, Sri Krishna’s consciousness descended into Him.

Now, I have finished my tale.

(Mother India, December 5)

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