Krishna swore not to raise a weapon in the Battle of Kurukshetra against the Kauravas. He was Arjuna’s charioteer and that’s all he intended to be. Krishna’s vow came as a relief to his enemies as they knew he could have ended the battle with a swing of his sword if he wanted to. Instead, he used wisdom and deception as his weapons, which were enough to send the invincible enemies to their creators.
First, Krishna helped Arjuna avenge his son Abhimanyu’s death by deceiving Jayadratha into believing he had escaped Arjuna’s wrath; then, just as he let his guards down, Arjuna killed him. Next, Arjuna’s half-brother and only competition in the battle, the mighty Karna, also fell prey to Krishna’s deception. The battle of Kurukshetra continued to spill the blood of sons, brothers, friends, and families, underpinned by ‘adharma’ while Krishna came up with strategies to help his dear friend Arjuna fight the battle of ‘dharma’.
It was only in the final chapter of the Mahabharata that the tables turned and Krishna was forced to take on the role of an executioner, over and above his role of a strategist and advisor to Arjuna. In the penultimate stages of the battle, when the Pandavas were reigning over their cousins, to defend the Kauravas, and his honour, Bhishma Pitamah, took an oath to either kill Arjuna or make Krishna break his promise, which was etched in stone. Arjuna was no match for Bhishma and despite putting up a good fight, he was soon overpowered by his opponent. When Krishna saw Bhishma aiming his final arrow at Arjuna and knew his friend’s life was at risk, he decided to break his promise—he jumped down from the chariot, lifted a wheel and stormed towards Bhishma. Knowing he couldn’t fight Krishna, Bhishma dropped his weapons, folded his hands, and bowed his head in reverence to Krishna. If it wasn’t for Arjuna’s intervention, Krishna would have killed Bhishma, and perhaps, his image of being a righteous one as well.
The story reveals an important aspect of family and relationships, which holds true even today: some bonds are above one’s ethics and virtues. The Mahabharata is an anthology of numerous such stories, each unfolding the vulnerable nature of humans, the true meaning of family, and the dilemma of morality. Even today, the epic is as relevant as it was centuries ago when it was written because the values of family and the importance of morality are still the same. In this feature, Soulveda takes a journey back in time to draw wisdom from the stories of Mahabharata that separate right from wrong, courage from fear, greed from wisdom, and peace from chaos.