Kurukṣetra – The Heart

It is true that Gītā was instructed to Arjuna, 5000 years ago, by Kṛṣṇa. This however should not be construed to be a mere 5000 years old historic incident. It does not just relate to the 5000 years old war between the Kauravās and Pāndavās. It reflects our own history too.

Kurukṣetra is not a distant land somewhere in Northern India. The region of our own hearts, is Kurukṣetra. Our life, mapping the fields of our actions, is Kurukṣetra.

The battle of Mahābhārata is fought relentlessly within us. Kauravās are within us; so too are the Pāndavās! Then there are also the eighteen akṣōhiṇi warriors, within us!

The Duryōdhana in us, prompts us to grab others’ property. The Duḥśāsana in us, eagerly awaits an opportunity to lay hands on other females. The Vikarṇa in us, makes us wear a mask of goodness to conceal the rot within. Enabling all this, are thousands of wicked individuals, holding weapons, arrayed inside us.

Amidst such ones, there is also a Dharmarāja in us cautioning, ‘Alas! Do refrain from these acts!’ The duo of Bhīma-Arjuna exhort us, ‘Fight against these!’ Nakula tells us, ‘Do not lead a bad life by losing your character!’ Sahadēva taps our back reminding, ‘Do not lose your way by turning arrogant!’ A small army of goodness, from their side, also waits in readiness, within us.

In this constant strife in our living, between righteous – unrighteous, courteous – arrogant, good – evil, moral – immoral, humanistic – inhuman; in most circumstances, it is the Kauravās that prevail. Our actions are guided by Kauravās. Pāndavās lose out, from our errant ways, and are banished to the woods.

It is in this context that Gītā cautions us, ‘By allowing Kauravās to prevail in the battle within you, do not fritter away your life. The victory of Kauravās means your own loss. Triumph of Pāndavās means your victory. Which means, you should ensure that in all circumstances Pāndavās prevail. Do not become a Kauravā; become Arjuna. May you enjoy Bhīma’s support; may you have the patronage of righteousness. Hand over the reins of your life to Śrī Kṛṣṇa.’

The answer to the psychological issues faced by man, across all epochs, is in the Bhagavadgītā or a specific section of people. Again, it is not a religious text, open only to the followers of a particular religion. Transcending time and space, it towers over all, as a great composition. . .

Gītā is not merely a spiritual text. It is also the world’s first work on psychology. There is no psychological problem that is not addressed by the Gītā. To fools, however, medicines are futile; to one bent upon committing suicide, any medicine is noxious. Such a person would blame the medicine itself; there is revulsion within, towards his own life.

That such a composition emanates from our country, should be a matter of immense pride for all of us. ‘One who hails from the land of the Gītā,’ is the incredible way that foreigners respectfully address us, as is my experience.  Our people however, despite possessing such great wealth, live an impoverished life of ignorance. There is no medicine for imprudence. Can anyone save those who know not, that they know naught?

The composition of such a Gītā is itself under a peculiar backdrop. Kurukṣetra is surrounded, by an army of eleven akṣōhiṇis[11] on the other side; on this side is an army of seven akṣōhiṇis, arrayed face to face, in readiness to fight each other in the ensuing battle. The bugle charge has just been sounded. At this very juncture, Arjuna is in quandary, ‘How far is it right to engage in this battle?’ In response to this psychological problem streamed forth the 700 ślōkas – the dialogue between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna.

For some it is still confounds: how did the18 akṣōhiṇi armies fit into the limited space of Kurukṣetra? What does it mean when it is said that Arjuna suddenly developed doubts just as the battle was to commence? Even as the battle raged on, did Kṛṣṇa spend hours counselling?  Did the rival soldiers stand still, watching them, arms crossed, during that time?

We do not have to search for answers to such questions from the psychological explanations given earlier. When mentally agitated as such, there is a need for resolution. Is there a need for psychotherapy for one who lives in contentment?

However, there is also a historic dimension to it. Our ancients did not classify Bhārata as mythology. They have called it as history only. It is also necessary to see this in the backdrop of history.

The camps that held the 18 akṣōhiṇi armies, are detailed in the Mahābhārata. Prior to this, let us try to know how large was an akṣōhiṇi unit.

Four divisions constituted the army: elephants, chariots, horses and foot soldiers; that is how it was called ‘caturaṅga sena[12].’ The divisions have been grouped by our ancients as under –

Division Number of
Elephants Chariots Horses Foot Soldiers
पत्ति (patti) 1 1 3 5
सेनामुख(sēnāmukha) 3 3 9 15
गुल्म(gulma) 9 9 27 45
गण(gaṇa) 27 27 81 135
वाहिनी(vāhinī) 81 81 243 405
पृतना(prutanā) 243 243 729 1215
चमू(camū) 729 729 2187 3645
अनीकिनी(anīkinī) 2187 2187 6561 10935
अक्षोहिणी (akṣōhiṇī) 21870 21870 65610 109350

Going by the above the scale of the army in 18 akṣōhiṇis would be as under –

Elephants       (21,870 x 18)       =   3,92,660

Chariots          (21,870 x 18)       =   3,92,660

Horses           (65,610) x 18)       = 11,80,680

Foot soldiers (109,350 x 18)       = 19,68,300

Reckoning the personnel that manned the elephants, horses and chariots too, a total of about 60 lakh men fought for 18 days as they took part in the Mahabharata war. If one also adds up the families that took care of the welfare of these soldiers, the cooks, servants, doctors etc., the assemblage of humans in this war was stupendous. In addition, there were 12 lakh horses separately together with 4 lakh horses yoked to the chariots, another 4 lakh chariots and a similar number of elephants too.

Imagine how vast would the army camp have been! Mahabharata describes this in great detail. The camps had spread over a large expanse, for miles on end. No just in Kurukṣetra. This is clearly brought out in Bhārata. Kurukṣetra was the epicenter of the war. It’s the location where the two armies faced each other. As the ranks in front got annihilated, the rear ones filled in. In this way, over the 18 days, all the forces were destroyed. The description of the scene is so realistically vivid in Mahabharata that one feels like a live witnesses of the event. Those who are curious may review this part to experience it.

The next question on whether it was possible to spend so much time counselling during the war! This is a question that can only plague one who knows nothing about Gita.

The dialogue between Kṛṣṇa – Arjuna did not last hours. Arjuna’s doubts were responded to by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna’s satisfaction. Even before others could make out the what, why and how of this exchange between the two, the war had commenced.

Whether the dialogue between the duo lasted a few minutes or not, what Krishna had told Arjuna was very concise. The words exchanged were however brought out in detail by Vēdavyāsa Maharshi, for the benefit of future generations.

For the intelligent Arjuna, just a few words of Kṛṣṇa sufficed. Vēdavyāsa however brought this out in detail so that commoners would benefit from it. This is how Gītā grew into a 700 ślōkas composition.

Despite this, people have not comprehended it. It is thus that our great masters (Ācāryas) wrote thousands of pages about it, expanding it for us.

At this juncture, it is our aim to compile the opinions of these great Ācāryas from their commentaries.

Amongst the various commentaries on Gītā, it is those of the मतत्रयाचार्य (Matatrayācārya – masters of the three sects viz., Ādi Śankarācārya, Ramānujācārya and Ācārya Madhva) that are acclaimed as valuable. The remaining scores of critiques or commentaries are largely modelled on one of these three only.

On timelines, it is Ācārya Śankarā’s commentary that is the earliest, followed by the commentary of Ācārya Ramānuja and then that of Ācārya Madhva. We shall see what message is implicit in these three commentaries, as we proceed. First we shall take up Ācārya Śankarā’s commentary.

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[11] Those who follow Pāṇini regard this as अक्षौहिणी (akṣōuhiṇi). Even if Pāṇini has not said anything, it is for the reason that the commentator Katyayana has said this – अक्षादोहिन्यां वृद्धिर्वक्तव्या(akṣādōhin’yāṁ vr̥d’dhirvaktavyā) (अ.सू.6-1-89). However, in ancient texts as well as Purāṇas, the form that is used everywhere, is अक्षोहिणी (akṣōhiṇī).

[12] caturaṅga sena = catur(four) + aṅga(division) sena (army)

About Dr. Bannanje Govindacharya