Was Mahabharat War Justified?

All of us, educated Indians find ourselves often visiting and dwelling on the epic story of Mahabharata. At different points in our lives, different parts of the story appeal us. One discovers different interpretations at different times of our lives. There is one thing though that I could never get around, and that is the purpose of Mahabharat War. It is projected as the fight between dharma vs adharma. But really , Vyaasa has not spent much time in painting Kauravas as in general bad kings to their people ( like atrocities, looting, coercing of people etc) The highlight is mostly on their animosity towards their cousins, Pandavas. The good and bad contrast is not as crisp as it is in Ramayana.

So in short the bone of contention was a property dispute that could not be resolved in court room, because there was no legal precedence in favor of Pandavas. (so it is like when you lose a case in supreme court, the loser party says..बाहर आजा. तुमको देख लूंगा.) and so it was dragged to the battle field. Then, like every chronic property dispute, the fuel is added with personal vendetta between the brothers and Draupadi. Was killing millions of people indeed justified?

Arjuna was right in every aspect in doubting this whole purpose of war and violence against his own people. I have great respect for that warrior, who knew he will win for sure, and still was willing to walk away to save millions of lives. If we calculate the loss of lives according to the description- it is like 2 million people and equivalent animals killed in 18 days! (the causality more than two atom bombs!)- over a property dispute of one dynasty!

Krishna, was indeed the shrewdest and most charming guy in the whole story. It is difficult to believe that, he tried his best to avoid war. If he wanted, he would have stopped the war. He was highly influential on both sides. He would have made Pandava’s accept any compromise, such was his hold on them. But he wanted war, which becomes quite obvious from Gita. But what was the point? With due respect to great philosophy of Gita, ( which is indeed most profound), it does not explain the direct question that Arjuna asks- why kill Kauravas? Krishna never mentions name of any of Kauravas in his discourse. I am not surprised it required 18 chapters of persuation, and philosophization to make Arjuna ready to fight again.

There is interesting story, which some of you might have read. A Rishi started his तपश्चर्या just when the pre-war negotiations were going on. He came out of his तपश्चर्या unaware of the war , and he saw Krishna passing by. He said to Krishna – ` I am so glad that you were the negotiator, because I knew that only you could stop the war. It would have been a colossal loss of lives. I am sure you must have settled this’. When Krishna informed him about the war, he was extremely disappointed and angry, and cursed Krishna, about the lonely slow death he would have to face in the forest, which indeed he did. I don’t know what was Krishna’s response. It was something like- ` What did I do? i just handed over the Karma that they themselves have accumulated.’, He accepted the responsibility graciously and said that it was indeed the death he had planned for himself.’

Interestingly, though GOD himself was on Pandava’s side, they did not fare well either. Almost all the sons of Pandavas were killed. Even Arjuna was defeated by common looters soon afterwards. Krishna’s kins fought among themselves to death. I still do not see what good outcome that this war achieved which Lord Krishna encouraged Arjuna to wage!

Aside

G.A Kulkarni and Salvador Dali

I have always liked G.A. Kulkarni’s work, since the time I read his stories in high school. They had an aura of mysticism and rich visual imagery. I hope the late author wont mind, as I write and discuss his work in English here. For one thing, his stories were timeless and used the language( Marathi) merely as a tool of expression without any cultural baggage. Of all Marathi literature, his work is the most translatable work, that will in fact may come out more vividly if translated.

I realized this when I read `Pangira’ recently, a realistic novel by Vishwas Patil, that chronicles the progression of a small village in western Maharashtra. Now this incredible book is the most untranslatable book. It will be completely disseminated in translation, and will probably will not attract many readers after 30 years, just like how Batatyachi Chal ( also untranslatable), after 25 years will fail to delight children born today. I think these books are so beautiful because they are truly time-sculptures.They capture and immortalize that time, that age, those people and that culture.

But Kulkarni’s work is timeless. For most of the stories, the backdrop could be any place and any time. The characters could be of any race, any nationality. In fact some time it feels as if it is happening in some twilight zone in author’s mind, where he alone is present as the lead character or observer, and everything else, including other characters are the props.

Recently I opened Sanjshakun- a collection of G.A.Kulkarni’s short stories. I think these are one of his earlier works. The first story was written before I was born. It is hardly a story, it is narration of a scene from a vantage point. It is poignant. An uninhabited stretch of sea-shore under scorching sun, a carcass of large animal baking on the shore and stripped off its flesh. The large skull provides a brief respite and shelter for an ancient man. The heat cracks the skull, takes the old man. His skull has the same fate as that of the large animal and serves the same purpose for a smaller animal and so on..

As as I read the story, I felt like staring at Salvador Dali’s painting. The whole story can be really one picture. Just as (some of Dali’s paintings) tell the past of that scene and are pregnant with future. So I could almost visualize Dali’sk painting of Kulkarni’s story. I wonder if any one of my friends who are a fan of both the masters, will take up challenge of painting the story or storying the picture!
On the other hand, both are equally incomprehensible. So some of my worldly-wise friends can turn to me after reading/seeing the work of either men and will say ` So.. whats the point?’ I would be lying if i have not asked this to myself sometimes. But i think art is more like a secret code between the artist and the beholder. If you `get it’, the feeling is like getting the glimpse of the artists mind- his private chamber. If you don’t get it, probably it was not for you!
Amen!