Sri Krishna’s Political Objectives
The clan and the nation become differentiated in course of the gradual development of human society. That differentiation did not become so well-marked in ancient times in India or in other countries. A nation would grow out of the conglomeration of a few large clans. Each of these different clans either claimed descent from a common ancestor, or even though growing out of different families was accepted as born of a single ancestry through the establishment of friendly relations. The whole of India did not become a single big nation, but among the large nations that spread themselves all over the land there prevailed a common civilisation, a common religion, a single language, Sanskrit, and relationships like those of marriage. From ancient times however there had been attempts at unification. Now it was the Kurus, now the Pancalas, sometimes the Kosalan, sometimes the Magadhan nation who held empire over the land as its chief or overlord. But the ancient tradition of the clans and their love of independence would create such powerful obstacles to unity that these attempts could never last for long. In India, this attempt towards unity, the effort at undisputed empire was counted among the acts of piety and the duties of a king. This movement towards unity had become so strong that even a powerful and turbulent Kshatriya like Sishupala the king of the Chedis agreed to take part in the founding of Yudhishthira’s empire.
To establish such a unity, empire or rule of law was Sri Krishna’s political objective. The Magadhan king Jarasandha had already made this attempt, but his power was founded on tyranny and unrighteousness, would therefore be short-lived. Hence Sri Krishna baffled that attempt by getting him killed at the hands of Bhima. The main obstacle to Sri Krishna’s work was the proud and powerful family of the Kurus. The Kuru people had for a long time been among the leading peoples of India. To what is called “hegemony”, that is, a position of pre-eminence and leadership among a number of independent peoples of equal status — to that the Kurus had an ancestral right. As long as the pride and power of this people remained intact, unity would never be established in India. Sri Krishna came to realise this. Therefore he was determined to destroy the Kuru people. But the Kuru people had a hereditary right to the empire of India; Sri Krishna did not forget this fact. To deprive one of his rightful due would be an act of unrighteousness, so he chose for appointment to the future position of emperor Yudhisthira who was legally the king and chief of the Kuru people. Sri Krishna was supremely righteous; he did not out of affection attempt to set up his beloved clan of the Yadavas in place of the Kuru people even though capable of doing it; he did not nominate for that position his dearest friend Arjuna by ignoring the eldest born of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira. But there is possibility of harm in considering only the age or previous title. If Yudhishthira had been unrighteous, tyrannical or incapable, Sri Krishna would have been obliged to look for another candidate. Yudhishthira was as well fitted to be emperor by birth, rightful title, and the old established tradition of the land, as he was the proper claimant to that title by virtue of his qualities. There were many great and heroic kings more powerful and talented than him, but strength and talent alone do not give one a title to kingship. The king was to safeguard the rule of law, keep the subjects contented, protect the land. In the first two of these qualities, Yudhishthira had no peer; he was the son of the Lord of Righteousness, he was kind and just, he spoke the truth, he kept his truth, his acts were based on the truth, he was extremely dear to his subjects. The deficiency he had in the last of the requisite qualities mentioned, his heroic brothers Bhima and Arjuna were capable of making good. Contemporary India did not possess kings as powerful or men as heroic as the five Pandavas. Therefore, once the obstacle was removed by the killing of Jarasandha, King Yudhishthira on the advice of Sri Krishna performed the Rajasuya sacrifice in accordance with the ancient tradition of the land, and became its emperor.
Sri Krishna was a follower of the right law and a master of the science of politics. If there was a possibility of carrying to fruition his great objective by working within the framework of the law of the land, its tradition, the rules of its society, then why should he deviate from that law, go against that tradition, break those rules? To bring about such revolutions in politics and society is harmful to the country. For this reason, he at first directed his attempts to gain his objective by maintaining the ancient tradition. But there was this defect in the ancient tradition of the land that even if the attempts made in accordance with it were successful, there was very little chance of the success being permanent. One who had the advantage in military strength could no doubt become emperor by performing the Rajasuya sacrifice, but as soon as his descendant became weak the imperial crown slipped automatically from his head. Why should the powerful and heroic peoples who had come under the control of his father or grandfather accept the vassalage of the conqueror’s son or grandson? Not hereditary right but the Rajasuya sacrifice itself, that is, an extraordinary military strength was at the root of that empire, he alone who had the greatest strength would be emperor by performing the sacrifice. Hence there was no hope for the permanence of the empire, there could only be a temporary hegemony. Another defect of this system was that the sudden augmentation of strength and the hegemony of the new emperor kindled the fire of jealousy in the hearts of the intolerant powerful Kshatriyas of the land so proud of their strength. “Why should he become the chief? why not ourselves?” — such thoughts could easily rise in their minds. This kind of jealousy on the part of Kshatriyas belonging to Yudhishthira’s own clan made them oppose him. The sons of his uncle taking advantage of this jealousy deprived him of his position and sent him to exile. The defect in the tradition of the land became manifest within a short while.
Sri Krishna was as much a master of political science as he was righteous. He would never draw back from altering a traditional method or rule if it was defective, harmful or unsuitable to the needs of the time. He was the principal revolutionist of the age. King Bhurisravas gave voice to the angry feeling of many contemporary Indians of the old school when he said while taking Sri Krishna to task, “Krishna or the Yadava clan which acts under his guidance never shrinks from acting against the right law or distorting it. Whoever acts on Krishna’s advice will surely fall into sin before long.” For, in the view of a conservative with his attachment to the old ways a novel venture is in itself a sin. Sri Krishna realised on Yudhishthira’s downfall — not realised but knew from the beginning, for he was God — that a custom suited to the Dwapara epoch should never be preserved in the Kali age. Therefore, he made no further attempts on those lines; he followed the line of statecraft proper to Kali, with its emphasis on war and strife and directed his efforts towards making the future of empire free of obstacles by destroying the power of the insolent and proud Kshatriya race. He incited the Panchala people, ancient and equally powerful rivals of the Kurus, to destroy the latter; all the other peoples who could be attracted out of hatred towards the Kurus, for the love of Yudhishthira or out of desire for unity and the rule of law were attracted to that side, and he got the preliminaries of war made ready. In the attempts that were made towards peace Sri Krishna had no faith. He knew that peace was not possible, even if it were made it could not last. Still, out of regard for the right law and from considerations of policy, he devoted himself to attempts at peace. There is no doubt that the Kurukshetra war was the result of Sri Krishna’s policy, and that to destroy the Kurus, to destroy the power of the Kshatriyas, to establish an undisputed imperial authority and the unity of India were his objectives. The war that was fought in order to establish the rule of law was a righteous war. The God-appointed victor in that righteous war was the mighty warrior Arjuna driven by a divine Power. If Arjuna were to give up his arms, Sri Krishna’s labours would have come to nought, the unity of India could not be achieved, a great evil would soon have overtaken the future of the land.
Fratricide and the Ruin of Clans
All the arguments of Arjuna were set forth with a view to the interests of the clan, thoughts about the good of the nation had been effaced from his mind by the force of personal affection. He had forgotten about the good of India in considering the good of the Kuru family, he was preparing to throw away the right law for fear of unrighteousness. We all know that to kill one’s brothers out of self-interest is a heinous sin. But it is a greater sin to be a party to bringing about a national calamity, to desist from doing good to one’s nation out of love for one’s brothers. If Arjuna gave up his arms, it would be a victory for unrighteousness, Duryodhana would become the paramount king of India and the leading man in the whole country, he would by his bad example put a stain on the national character and the code of behaviour of Kshatriya families, the strong and mighty Indian clans would turn to each other’s destruction under the impulse of jealousy, self-interest and love of antagonism, there would be no undisputed state power guided by the rule of law to unify, govern and keep the country well defended by a concentration of power. Under such conditions, that foreign invasion, which even at that time was preparing like a sea held by the dykes to come upon India and inundate it, would, arriving before its time, have destroyed the Aryan civilisation and rooted out all hopes of the future good of the world. The political upheaval that began in India two thousand years later on the fall of the empire set up by Sri Krishna and Arjuna would have commenced right then.
They say that the ills for fear of which Arjuna had raised those objections did actually come as a result of the Kurukshetra war. Fratricide, the ruin of clans, even the ruin of the peoples were the fruits of the Kurukshetra war. This war was the occasion for the onset of Kali. It is true, this war led to a terrible fratricide. The question arises: by what other means could the great objectives of Sri Krishna be met? Precisely for this reason did Sri Krishna, knowing well the futility of seeking the peace, make considerable attempts to find a way to peace. Yudhishthira would have desisted from war had he got back even the five villages, if he could secure even that much space as a foothold, Sri Krishna could have established the rule of law. But Duryodhana was firmly determined not to give an iota of land without war. Where the future of the whole country depended on the results of war, it had been unrighteous to desist from the war because it would lead to fratricide. The good of the family had to be submerged in the good of the nation, the good of the world. Brotherly affection and attachment to family ties could not justify the ruin of millions of people, a sacrifice of the future happiness or the amelioration of suffering of millions of people; that too would lead to perdition of the individual and the clan.
That there was a ruin of the clans in the Kurukshetra war is also a fact. As a result of this war, the family of the Kurus of great might practically disappeared. But if by the disappearance of the Kuru people the whole of India came to be saved, then the destruction of the Kurus meant not a loss but a gain. Just as there is the blind attachment to family ties, so is there a blind attachment to the clan. Not to say anything to our fellow-countrymen, not to oppose them, even though they may cause harm or be intent to kill, even though they cause the country’s ruination, they are brothers, objects of affection, they should be borne in silence: this kind of unrighteousness born of the Divine Maya that posing as the right law makes us fall from a true understanding is produced by the delusion of attachment to the clan. It is unrighteous to oppose or quarrel with a fellow-countryman without cause, from self-interest or in the absence of dire need or utility. But to bear in silence the mischiefs of a fellow-countryman who is determined to take the life of the common mother or to do her harm, — to tolerate this matricide or that harmful act would be a still greater sin. When Sivaji set out to murder his countrymen who were partisans of the Mughals, if someone had said, “Lo! what is this you are doing? They are your own countrymen, bear up with them in silence. If the Mughals occupy the Maharashtra country, let them do it. If Maratha loves Maratha, that will be enough” — would not these words appear entirely ridiculous? When the Americans in order to abolish slavery created dissensions in the land and by starting a civil war took the lives of thousands of fellow-citizens, were they doing wrong? It may so happen that civil strife and the slaughter of fellow-citizens in battle are the only way to the good of the country and the good of the world. If it involves a danger of the ruination of clans, even then we cannot desist from effecting the good of the nation and the good of the world. Of course the problem becomes complicated if the good of the nation demands the preservation of the clan. In the age of the Mahabharata, the nation-unit had not been established in India, everybody regarded the clan itself as the pivot of the human race. It was precisely because of this that men like Bhishma and Drona who were steeped in the old tradition fought against the Pandavas. They were aware that right was on the side of the Pandavas, they realised that to bind the whole of India round a single centre through the establishment of an empire was a necessity. But they also knew that the clan alone was the pivotal point of the nation and in it lay the foundation of the right law; to maintain the law and found a nation by destroying the clan was an impossibility. Arjuna too fell into that error. In this age, the nation is the foundation of the law, the pivot of human society. To preserve the nation is the primary duty of this age, to cause the ruin of the nation the great unforgivable sin. But there can possibly be the advent of an age when a great society of the nations can be established. At that time perhaps the world’s eminent men of knowledge and action would take up arms in defence of the nation, and on the other side Sri Krishna as a maker of revolutions would start a new Kurukshetra war and effect the good of the world.
The Political Results of Sri Krishana’s Work
Under the first impulse of pity, Arjuna had laid most emphasis on the ruin of clans, for on looking at that huge massing of troops thoughts of the clans and peoples automatically came to mind. We have said that concern about the good of the clan was natural to the Indian of that age, even as for the modern race of men thoughts about the good of the nation come naturally. But was it a baseless fear to suppose that the foundations of the nation would be destroyed on the ruin of the clans? There are many who say that what Arjuna had feared actually came to pass, that the Kurukshetra war was the root cause of the downfall of India and her long period of subjection, that great harm has been done to India by the disappearance of the powerful race of Kshatriyas and the weakening of the war-like spirit. A well-known lady of foreign extraction at whose sacred feet many Hindus are at the moment bowing their heads as disciples, has not hesitated to say that to make the path easy for the British to found their empire was the real object of God Himself incarnating on earth. We feel that those who speak in such irrelevant terms are finding fault with Sri Krishna’s policy without going deep into the matter and under the influence of wholly inconsequent political theories. These political theories are the contributions of foreigners and are the results of an un-Aryan way of thinking. The un-Aryan owes his strength to a titanic power, he knows of that power as the only foundation of freedom and national greatness.
National greatness cannot be founded solely on the strength of the Kshatriya, all the fourfold power of the four orders of society is the basis of that greatness. The sattwic power of the Brahmin keeps alive the rajasic Kshatriya power with its sweet elixir of knowledge, humility and thought for the good of others; the Kshatriya power gives protection to the power of the Brahmin. Brahmin power bereft of the strength of the Kshatriya is affected by tamasic attitudes and gives umbrage to the ignoble qualities of the Shudra; hence it is forbidden for a Brahmin to live in a country where there is no Kshatriya. If the race of Kshatriyas comes to an end, to create the Kshatriya anew is the first duty of the Brahmin. Kshatriya power bereft of the Brahmin’s strength turns into a violent uncontrollable titanism, turns at first to the destruction of others’ good, finally destroys itself. The Roman poet was right when he said that the titans fall from the excess of their own strength and are utterly destroyed. Sattwa should create Rajas, Rajas should protect Sattwa, should engage itself in sattwic works; that makes possible the good of the individual and the nation. If Sattwa engulfs Rajas or if Rajas engulfs Sattwa, the quality thus victorious is itself vanquished by the emergence of Tamas, there is a reign of the Tamasic mode. The Brahmin can never be king; if the Kshatriya is destroyed, the Shudra becomes king; the Brahmin becoming tamasic will distort knowledge out of greed for money and take to the service of the Shudra; spirituality will encourage inaction, will itself fade away and be the occasion for a fall from the right law. The subjection of a nation without Kshatriyas and run by the Shudra is inevitable. This is what has come to pass in India. While on the other hand it is possible that there is an influx of power and greatness from a temporary excitement under the influence of titanic power, yet the country soon begins to languish from weakness, inertia and the draining of strength, from rajasic indulgence, pride and the increase of selfishness the nation becomes unfit and cannot keep up its greatness, or else as a result of civil strife, immorality and tyranny the country breaks to pieces and becomes an easy prey to the enemy. The history of India and of Europe affords ample illustration of all these eventual results.
In the age of the Mahabharata the earth was groaning under the load of titanic power. Neither before nor after, was there in India such an outbreak of strong and powerful and violent Kshatriya power, but there was little chance of that terrible power being turned to good purpose. Those who were the vehicles of this power were all of them of an asuric nature, vanity and pride, selfishness and self-will were in their very bones. If Sri Krishna had not established the rule of law by destroying this power, then one or the other of the three types of results described above would certainly have happened. India would have fallen prematurely into the hands of the barbarian. It should be remembered, that the Kurukshetra war took place five thousand years ago, it was after two thousand five hundred years had elapsed that the first successful invasion of barbarians could reach up to the other side of the Indus. The rule of law founded by Arjuna was therefore able to protect the country under the influence of a Kshatriya power inspired by that of the Brahmin. Even at that time there was in the country such an accumulation of Kshatriya power that a fraction of itself has kept the country alive for two thousand years. On the strength of that Kshatriya power great men like Chandragupta, Pushyamitra, Samudragupta, Vikrama, Sangramasingha, Pratap, Rajasingha, Pratapaditya and Sivaji fought against the country’s misfortunes. Only the other day in the battle of Gujarat and on the funeral pyre of Lakshmibai was the last spark of that power extinguished; with that ended the good fruit and the virtue of Sri Krishna’s political work, there came necessity of another full Incarnation for the saving of India and the world. That Incarnation has rekindled the vanished power of the Brahmin, that power will create the Kshatriya power. Sri Krishna did not extinguish the Kshatriya power of India in the blood-bath of Kurukshetra; on the contrary by destroying the titanic power he saved both the power of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya. It is true that by the slaughter of Kshatriya families drunk with the strength of the titan, he reduced to tatters the violence of rajasic strength. Such mighty revolutions, putting this kind of check on internecine strife by effacing it through acute suffering, the slaughter of violent Kshatriya clans is not always harmful. Civil strife saved the Roman aristocracy from the clutches of destruction, as the establishment of monarchy saved the huge empire of Rome from the clutches of premature death. In England, through the ruin of the aristocratic families in the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth were able to lay the foundations of modern England, so well defended and powerful conqueror of the world. India too was saved in that manner by the war of Kurukshetra.
That India has undergone a downfall in the Kali age no one can deny. But God never descended on earth to bring about a downfall. The Incarnation is for saving the Law, the world and men. Particularly in the Kali age does God incarnate Himself in full. The reason is that in Kali there is the greatest danger of man’s downfall, there is a natural increase of unrighteousness. Therefore, in order to save mankind, destroy unrighteousness and establish the Right by barring the way of Kali, there are incarnations again and again in this age. When Sri Krishna incarnated, it was already time for the beginning of Kali’s reign. It was through fear of His advent that Kali could not set his feet on his own kingdom. It was through His grace that Parikshit could hold up the exercise of Kali’s sovereignty in his own age, by granting him five villages. From the beginning to the end of this Kali age, a fierce battle has been raging and will continue to rage between man and Kali. As helpers or leaders in that battle, the emanations and incarnations of God come down frequently during this period. God took on a human form at the opening of Kali in order to maintain the power of the Brahmin, the knowledge, devotion and desireless works, and teach these things that they might be of use in that battle. On the safety of India rest the hope and foundation of man’s well-being. God saved India in Kurukshetra. In that ocean of blood, the Great Being in the form of Time the Destroyer began to take his delight in the sporting Lotus of a new world.
(Dharma, Nos. 11-18, 1909-1910)
- Translator’s Note: The reference here is probably to the late Mrs. Annie Besant and her Theosophical Society at Adyar. Madras.
- Translator’s Note: This was the view traditionally held in India before it was disputed by recent scholarship.