Readers Write In #276: The many shades of Krishna

Posted on September 28, 2020


(by G Waugh)

“It has been fourteen years. They are your brothers. They did what you wanted them to do. It is only right that you gave them their due”

“If you cannot give them half your kingdom, can you consider giving them five towns at least?”

“Or if you think five towns is too much, what about five houses for each of them? One of the reasons why I came here on a mission is to ensure that there is no war in the future and I am ready to accept any compromise”

If you think the person who negotiates here is some sort of a pacifist trained in the ashrams of saints like Gandhi, it is not your fault. Because that’s how Krishna dealt when he went to meet the Kauravas at the end of the fourteen-year exile of the Pandavas.


According to the conventions of war-making, it is not right to fight a woman in the battlefield. If your enemy has lowered his guard it is not the right time to attack him then. But Krishna sent a half-woman Shikhandi to the battlefield to make sure the greatest warrior on the side of the Pandavas, Bhishma lowers his guard at her sight. Then he goads Shikhandi to attack him instantly and brings about his downfall. Bhishma died because he was committed to the principles of war. Krishna succeeded because he broke them.

When Dronacharya was going on a rampage against the Pandavas, Dharma tells him that Ashwattama has died. Drona on hearing about the news of his son’s death gives up the will to fight and gets killed by the Pandavas. The news about Ashwattama’s death turns out to be a lie and it was the idea of Krishna to employ it to demoralize an inexorable opponent.

Similarly, Karna is killed when he is trying to lift his chariot out of the earth even after he sends a message for Arjuna to wait. Had Karna not been incapacitated that way, he would have gone on to destroy Arjuna and tilted the balance of the war very much in the favour of the Kauravas. Krishna knew this very well and made sure Arjuna broke the rule of the war to kill Karna.

There are some more instances where Krishna goes on to tear every page of the rule-book of war-making and single-handedly puts the Pandavas on the driving seat. When you read every instance of it, you see shades ofa ruthless strategist who is committed to nothing but only a craving desire to win at any cost. So what happened to the Krishna we saw a few weeks before the war began? Wasn’t he only the one in the camp of the Pandavas who had so much aversion to bloodshed and war? Wasn’t he the only one who wanted the Pandavas to show their enemies ‘the other cheek’? Krishna on the day of his mission to the Kauravas was ready to lose on behalf of the Pandavas, not only property but also honour to make sure that no one lost their lives in what was without doubt, nothing more than a petty, internecine struggle. But once it was ordained that it was only going to be war and just nothing else, how did a full-blooded pacifist suddenly morph into a blood-thirsty war-monger taking everyone by surprise?

This is one of the important questions that Osho goes on to investigate in his book “Krishna – The Man and his philosophy”. Even though I am not a fan of corporate gurus and self-styled swamijis, I was drawn to this book because of only one reason – my obsession with the Mahabharata. The book is pretty much a collection of his lectures on Krishna and the Mahabharata and Osho gives great insights into how a character like Krishna could have been conceived and inserted into a story like this.

Osho’s ideas on Krishna is in some ways,purely from a ‘motivator’s standpoint – he tries to paint Krishna as the greatest manifestation of divergent abilities inherent inside each and every man. Osho, in some areas suggests that Krishna, for all his achievements and glory, might not have been a real person at all and the only reason Vyasa painted him in such shades could have been to create a role-model for all human beings to follow. The reason why Krishna’s character in the epic becomes great and inspiring to everyone is solely because of his versatility. Krishna the inveterate ‘playboy’ who made every woman in the village fall for him and stole their clothes when they bathed, a person who apparently derived so much selfish pleasure by playing with the ‘modesty’ of women was the one who came to the rescue of Draupadi when she was being disrobed at the court of Hastinapura.

Throughout the epic, Krishna is shown to be the only person who keeps his cool regardless of what is happening and this uncanny ability to remain undisturbed during even the most trying situations becomes one crucial weapon for him to master and overcome all of them. Osho says that every human being has a lot of abilities hidden within him and only by remaining immune to the external pulls and pressures through developing a thick skin, can man try to uncover himself and emerge in all his glory. Krishna’s only apparent aim in life is to enjoy the brief time ofhis stay on the planet and he develops no strong attachment to anyone around him. Though he is fond of Draupadi, Arjuna and Yudhishtra he never once takes these relationships too seriously. Throughout the epic, Krishna handles every difficult situation like how a professional actor would take up a role, do what is needed in every scene, exit and forget the playimmediately. This attitude is what Osho wants every follower of him to develop so that he not only sails through life with poise and equanimity, but also masters and wins it finally.

Even if Osho sounds like nothing less than a motivational speaker you find during an odd afternoon in your office campuses, his ‘sermons’ acquire more significance if you associate what he says with the primordial idea of ‘finding God’. For centuries together, the idea of God has always troubled man and only Indian intellectuals and philosophers as far as I know, have been able to explain it properly. The Hindu school of philosophy could be one of the rarest among many in the world to demystify the idea of God with a view towards making it available and understandable to the masses. I have seen a lot of religions which only say, ‘God is Supreme and Infallible, so better bend to Him’ but writers like Jeyamohan credit the Hindu school of thought as the only one that says, ‘God is not someone who is distant and outside, with a little effort you can even find Him inside you’.

And becoming God according to Osho, is not something like acquiring powers to destroy and create the Universe or punishing or forgiving mankind for all its sins. It is a process that takes time, practice, study, trials, experiments and most importantly, immense resolve to attain an ultimate state of calm serenity that allows you to handle and master any situation, regardless of its gravity. It is a state where all your inherent abilities have reached a state of fruition all of which you can use towards indulging in the grand celebration of what is called life.According to Osho, Krishna attains this state only by indulging in life and not by renouncing it. By introducing a character like Krishna into a popular story such as the Mahabharata, Vyasa a sage himself, might have tried to inspire all his readers towards the glorious mission of finding God within themselves.


“You want us to believe that all the rice and ghee that you pour into the fires reach the Gods directly who are living in the skies? Whom are you trying to fool? If you want money and power, there is a way to get it. Don’t try to fool the masses telling idiotic stories like these”

This was sage Charvaka exhorting masses to shun their superstitious beliefs in yagnas and rituals and challenge the hegemony of priests and Godmen.

Yudhishtra at the end of the war is seated alongside Krishna in his chariot, en route to his upcoming coronation at Hastinapur. More than a billion people have died in the great war at Kurukshetra and the city of Hastinapur has become one big hellhole of wailing wives and orphaned children. Yudhishtra too, the principled man he is, is troubled by his conscience and keeps expressing to Krishna, his aversion toward staking over the country’s reins.

By the time the chariot enters the city, a group of people have assembled around Charvaka who raises the question of how wrong it is to allow a murderer like Yudhishtra to take over the country. The people seem to have been convinced by Charvaka’s question and seeing Yudhishtra’s chariot nearing them, they proceed to stop it.

“Stop there, Yudhisthira. For a property dispute that ran between two half-brothers, you had the guts to sacrifice the lives of innocent people who had no relation to them. See all around you. The tears of widows and children have formed a river and wherever you go, all you hear are the echoes of wails and elegies. Every time you climb the steps up to sit on the throne of Hastinapur, bear in mind that those steps have been built over the mounds of corpses of millions of people who laid their lives for you”.

Yudhishtra is embarrassed at the question of Charvaka directed at him. His guilt gets rekindled and Yudhishtra declares to Krishna, his decision to renounce the throne once and for all.

This is one of the interesting episodes you see in S Ramakrishnan’s retelling of the epic, Ubapandavam which won numerous literary awards just a decade back. Ramakrishnan’s insertion of a leftist-rationalist character in Charvaka into the Mahabharata gives a totally unforeseen, yet powerful dimension to the epic. It gets even more interesting when one is introduced to the fact that there indeed was a sage called Charvaka in the Vedic times who went on to found an altogether new, completely radical school of philosophy (Lokayata) based on materialism and rationalism. It is this strand of Hindu philosophy that made its discourse of knowledge world-famous attracting even European intellectuals like Schopenhauer to it. Sadly as Hindus living in a country that is supposedly run by custodians of the religion, we are never allowed an opportunity to delve into the religion’s atheistic aspects and explore it deeply to gain a full-fledged understanding. But from the standpoint of politicians who are backed by people who consider Gods only as money-minting machines, such a behavior must not actually, come as a surprise. In fact, S Ramakrishnan’s Krishna in Ubapandavam too sounds like one from the Hindutva camp who goes on to resolve the dispute preventing Yudhishtra from assuming the throne, quite easily.

“The sage who stands here, Charvaka is no one but the relative of the defeated Kauravas. He is not happy with a principled man like Yudhishtra taking over the country and is inciting all of you to riot. Kill him now or there will be no peace in this country”

Krishna issues these words and directs all the anger of the mob towards Charvaka. The people mistakenly believe Krishna’s words and end up burning the sage alive.

As the chariot moves, Yudhishtra is shocked at the tragedy unleashed by Krishna. His conscience tears him apart and he confronts Krishna,

“What have you done, Krishna? Why did you tell such a blatant lie? After killing this innocent soul, how do you can I administer this country with a peaceful mind and conscience?”

Krishna replies calmly, “For a country to be administered well, it is enough that the people are peaceful. Whether the king’s mind is at peace or not does not matter at all”.