Scant respect has been paid by commentators like Sankara and
others to this chapter. Translators and others interested in
the Gita teaching have tended to consider this chapter even
as superfluous. As a matter of fact this chapter deserves to
be treated at least on a par with the rest of the chapters
dealing with the Science of the Absolute.

Before anything subtle or profound can be taught, the
purvapaksha or the anterior position of the sceptic in regard
to such a teaching has to be determined with clarity. Vyasa
accomplishes this task with great attention to detail in this
chapter. This chapter may be said to contain the key to the
proper understanding of the teaching in the rest of the book.
Arjuna is not a mere coward on the battlefield. His confusion
is of a representative character. As described in its
three stages of Verse 21, Verses 29 and 30, and Verse 47 in
this chapter, and read together with its last stage in Chapter
ii, 9, no room is left to doubt its fully contemplative
character. Such a term alone would justify the term "Yoga"
(unitive way) as applied to this chapter.

When Arjuna tells Krishna again at the very end of the
Gita (xviii, 73) that he is willing to act on Krishna's advice
and, when he is described in the very last verse of the Gita
as holding his bow and arrow normally again, the secret
indications belonging to this chapter, serving to demarcate
the various stages of the discussion of Yoga (as it is meant
to be understood in the Gita) may be said to have reached
their natural culmination.

Arjuna's confusion starts with his words: "0 Achyuta, stop
my chariot right in the middle between the two armies", (i,
21). We know how impossible it is to enter the no-man's-
land between two armies as the arrows fly (as stated in i,
20). The Gita itself, by admitting such a possibility, gains,
from this point onwards, a revised status as being primarily


with contemplation rather than with the actual events of the
battlefield. Arjuna's condition worsens in i, 29-30 when he
sees friends not only on his side but on the side that faces
him. He is a thoroughly confused man there, unable even
to hold up his bow, Gandiva. He recovers some sort of
firmness or certitude of outlook by the end of the chapter,
when he sits down, throwing away his bow and arrow. By
ii, 9, he has finished philosophizing on the situation as ably
perhaps as Krishna himself is able to do. The latter is only
able, for the time being, to smile at Arjuna and mock him
in the name of honour, etc. To be stated in its
completeness, Krishna's answer needs all the remaining
chapters. Even then, it is not easy to say clearly where
Arjuna was wrong in his reasons, so elaborately stated in
this chapter and more philosophically in the next. He
prefers renunciation to fighting and does not care for the
benefits that fighting might bring him. Detachment,
relinquishment or renunciation are ways of life praised and
even directly and indirectly recommended in the last
chapter of the Gita.

Such being the case, to say in what exactly Arjuna's
inconsistency (as referred to by Krishna when he says,
"You speak words of wisdom too" - ii, 11) lies, is not so
easy a matter to locate or fix, as some persons imagine it to
be. Arjuna is more than a mere fighter. He has the makings
of a philosopher or even a dialectician, as the words
attributed to him in ii, 5-8 amply reveal. These verses are
in the special metre of the sacred scriptures which is a
further indication to the reader that they have to be taken
seriously as part of the contribution to contemplative
thought, as intended by the author.

Further, Arjuna can be considered as a representative
sceptic of his age, when India was filled with warring
tribes, clans or even "castes", as understood in those days,
in a sense somewhat different from the present. A close
examination of Arjuna's objections to war in general
reveals that they belong more to the world of ancestors
than to the world of the Devas or Shining Gods of the
Vedic context. His brother, Bhima, is a typical
representative of the prehistoric stalwart, one rough and
uncouth and having a great appetite. This natural man is
innocent of the refinements of the Vedic ritualistic way of
life which may be imagined to have been introduced into
India by that time. Vedism represented the other, the
Devayana (way of the Shining Gods). The prehistoric
Vrishnis and other clans of India were possibly the last


of the ancestor-worshipping Pitriyanis (those following the
way of the Fathers), of pre-Aryan or prehistoric India,
possibly of the stratum of the Mohenjo-Daro Indus Valley
civilization. Although these matters are still highly
speculative, all we want to stress here for the
understanding of the Gita properly is that at least two
distinct sets of values were involved in the revaluation of
spirituality in India that took place at the time of the
Mahabharata war. Bhishma, the respected patriarch of the
Mahabharata war, and Drona, the teacher of archery and
possibly of the Vedas too, may be said to represent the two
types in question. This is not an original suggestion, but
one that has received sufficient recognition in India itself
as we see from the composition called the Gita Dhyana to
which we have referred in the general introduction.
Also in our introduction, we have made reference to the
literary devices employed by Vyasa in order to fit the
actualities of the war as described in the epic of the
Mahabharata into the purer requirements of a
contemplative work.

Three curtains were mentioned before the stage becomes
properly set for the contemplative dialogue (samvada) to
begin. The scene in which Samjaya reports to Dhritarashtra
is the first drop curtain with which this chapter begins.
This is raised once preliminarily between the first and
second half of Verse 21, to be dropped soon at the end of
Verse 23 and to be raised more properly in Verse 28. The
second curtain is seen with Krishna as a mere charioteer to
Arjuna before being recognized as a Guru by Arjuna,
which event takes place only after the proper request of
Arjuna for instruction in ii, 7 and actually only with xi, 11.
There we can see the third curtain or device of Vyasa,
where Krishna plays the role of the Guru and Arjuna
listens to Krishna and sometimes questions him as a
disciple. Again, within the dialogue itself we have to
separate the purva-paksha (anterior opinion) from the
siddhanta (final doctrine) of the Guru. Thus, three different
literary devices have to be kept in mind and also the
separation of the disciple's mistaken prior notions from the
finalized teaching of the Guru, before the reader can arrive
at the proper teaching or message of the Gita. Over and
above all these, each of the eighteen chapters must be
treated as a separate discussion with its own central idea of
unity, its own frame of reference and exact terminology.
The unity of this particular chapter devolves round the
need for stating clearly the position of the anterior sceptic
for the teaching of the Gita.



dharmakshetre kurukshetre
sarnaveta yuyutsavah
mamakah pandavash chai'va
kim akurvata samjaya

Dhritarashtra said:
In the righteousness-field, the field of Kurus, gathered
together, intent on battle, what did my people and also the
sons of Pandu do, 0 Samjaya?


Note that the literary device of employing Dhritarashtra
speaking to Samjaya belongs to the front curtain. He is the
"holder of the kingdom "who is to decide whether he is to
maintain the status quo or let things happen or shape
themselves according to truth or justice. In this case he is a
conservative who sticks obstinately to fixed custom. He
refuses to allow any revaluation or readjustment to take
place. To that extent he is a blind statesman. His party, led
by Duryodhana (see Verse 2), are also to be considered
diehards who will not let the old order change to give place
to the new. The latter is therefore aptly compared to a
whirlpool in the Gita-Dhyana (see Appendix).
Krishna's way of thinking or his spirituality has its
greatest obstruction in Duryodhana, just as Rama, in the
Ramayana, has his in Ravana. Duryodhana goes to heaven
in the end, but heaven is not the ideal of the absolutist
spirituality of Krishna. Going to heaven is not a credit as far
as the Gita is concerned. The Gita stands for pure
Absolutism - i.e. for no benefits or fruits of action, whether
here or hereafter, thus conforming to the requirements
tacitly understood within the discipline of the Vedanta (as
for example, found in Sankara's "Vivekachudamani", v. 19:
"non-attachment to benefits of this world or the world to
come ").

This should be noted together with fact that Duryodhana,
the chief of the army of Dhritarashtra, approached Drona,
who is a Guru of an indifferent sort, a priest for both the
Pandas and the Kauravas, and not only a teacher of
archery, but an inculcator of relativist notions including
Vedic ritualism. Arjuna himself has evidently been
influenced by the teaching, either of Drona, or at least of
Bhishma, the other Guru here, as can be seen from his
arguments in this chapter, where, in Verse 42, he speaks of
naraka (hell). Arjuna thus speaks of


relativist forms of spirituality, though not equally
consciously of Vedic heavenly values.

The reader has to be clear in his own mind about the
nature of the contending parties so that, both historically,
and in the context of righteousness, he can determine
which side here deserves his support - otherwise, even as a
purana or legend, the Gita loses its point, and it will fail to
make him any wiser than he was before he read it. Hence
these indications, though seemingly elaborate, become

Dharmakshetre kurukshetre: righteousness-field of
Kurus. Why these apparently redundant epithets? This is
characteristic of the style of the Gita throughout. Being
part of a purana, an epic-legend or saga, it has to be correct
in historical details and, at the same time, it has to fulfill the
need for guiding people in the appreciation of ethical and
spiritual values.

Kurukshetra is the historical field of battle of the
Kauravas, and is also to be understood simultaneously as a
place where the revaluation of ethical and spiritual values
is going to take place.

The word dharma in dharmakshetra comes from the
word "to bear "or "to support ". Each man, besides being
a man pure and simple, comes with his own notions of
natural conduct, by which he chooses between right and
wrong courses of action. This second moral person is
superimposed on the basic animal man. Or, in other words,
the man is the wielder of his notion of right action when
such notions of right action are revalued. That is the
dharmakshetra referred to here. We have to be prepared
for other double epithets or instructions throughout the
Gita textbook. It is one of the peculiarities of the style of
the work, referred to in the introduction (page 59). We
have for example, "think of Me, also fight "(viii, 7) and
"thinking of Me and repeating (Aum) "(viii, 13).

Mamakah: my people. This underlines the relative-
mindedness of King Dhritarashtra himself, who could have
been impartial or neutral as the custodian of all the people,
and his taking of sides here is the beginning of the trouble.
It divides the people in two, producing a duality which is
responsible for the battle itself.


samjaya uvacha:
drishtva tu pandavanikam
vyudham duryodhanas tada
acharyam upasamgamyaraja
vachanam abravit

Samjaya said:
On seeing the army of the Pandavas in (battle) array, Prince Duryodhana, having approached his teacher, then gave utterance to the following speech:


The fact that Duryodhana's name itself signifies "difficult
to fight,"indicates the conservative diehard. He is therefore
the active agent of Dhritarashtra who is himself not very
active, or debarred by blindness from activity. Dhritarashtra
is also blind to truth, and in his talk to Samjaya is
theoretically interested in what is happening. The first
degree of activity is, therefore, attained in Duryodhana, who is
in charge of operations. We see how the epic qualities thus
begin to be unravelled in the Gita.

Acharyam upasamgamya: "having approached his teacher".
There are three who enjoy the rank of spiritual
teachers or acharyas on the side of the Kauravas, namely
Drona, Bhishma, and Kripa. The last is related to Drona
himself as brother-in-law, and both probably belong to the
Vedic context. On the other hand, Bhima is a brahmachari
or strict bachelor who is a patriarch (pitamaha) rather than a
priest. His virtues are many, including continence, wisdom,
bravery, fidelity to his word, etc. He is a model of
spirituality equally important beside Drona and given equal
status in the Gita Dhyana where these two are considered as
constituting the two banks of the "battle-river" (rananadi),
which is the river of dialectical revaluation of spirituality in
terms of the absolutism of Krishna-paramatma, who is there
mentioned as the ferry-man (kaivartaka) who is capable of
ferrying the devotees across the stream of rapids and
whirlpools, rocks, crocodiles and billows representing the
various impediments in the relativist world (samsara). The
absolutist standpoint represents the boat wherein the Guru is
the Ferryman.

On the Pandava's side, therefore, there is one Guru and one
only, who teaches Brahmavidya, the Science of the
Absolute, as against many partial gurus and numerous
followers of different kinds on the side of the Kauravas, all
of whom could be classified under two major heads - those
who stand for Vedic Devayana values, and those who stand
for ancestral Pitriyana values, which may be supposed to
have been known in India before the advent of the Aryans;
Bhishma representing the latter and Drona being typical of
the former.


pasyai 'tam panduputranam
acharya mahatim chamum
vyudham drupadaputrena
tava sishyena dhimata

0 Teacher, look at this grand army of the sons of Pandu,
marshaled by your talented pupil, the son of Drupada.


The son of Drupada is Dhrishtadyumna. He is considered
as the arch-enemy of the Kauravas, which is fairly clear
from the fact that he was killed at the hands of
Ashvatthaman the son of Drona, although Drona was his
teacher. Note how pointed reference is made to
Dhrishtadyumna, son of Drupada as a disciple of Drona,
although all the Pandavas have been tutored in archery by
Drona, including more important disciples like Arjuna and
Dharmaputra who are omitted. The reason for omission is
probably that the latter represent righteousness in keeping
with the absolutist teaching of Krishna, and so they are less
capable of actual rancour which is a desirable quality on the

Dhimata - talented: Should be construed more as sagacious
organizing intelligence rather than as wisdom in the
philosophical sense.

atra sura maheshvasa
bhimarjunasama yudhi
yuyudhano viratas cha
drupadas cha maharathah

Here are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima
and Arjuna, Yuyodhana, Virata and Drupada of the great


dhrishtaketus chekitanah
kasirajas cha viryavan
purujit kuntibhojas cha
saibyas cha narapumgavah

Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana the valiant King of Kasi, Purujit
and Kuntibhoja, and that bull among men, Saibya.


yudhamanyus cha virkranta
uttamaujas cha viryavan
saubhadro draupadeyas cha
sarva eva maharathah

The heroic Yudhamanyu and the brave Uttamaujas; the son
of Subhadra and the sons of Draupadi, all of great chariots.


Bhima: Yudhishthira's Commander-in-Chief, elder brother
of Arjuna.
Arjuna: Pandava hero, central figure in the Gita and
representative sceptic or purva pakshin.
Yuyodhana (also called Satyaki): Krishna's charioteer
when the latter is playing the usual part of historical warrior
in the epic.
Virata: a prince who sheltered the Pandavas.
Drupada: father of Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas.
Dhrishtaketu. King of the Chedis.
Chekitana: warrior in the Pandava army.
Kasi-Raja: King of Benares.
Purujit: A king and brother of Kuntibhoja.
Kuntibhoja: brother of Purujit.
Saibya: King of the Shibis.
Yudhamanyu: a warrior.
Uttamaujas: One of great valour.
Saubhadrah: son of Arjuna and his wife Subhadra.
Draupadeya: of the line of Drupada.

Besides names of important persons, epithets will occur
throughout the Gita such as "lion of men" etc. They are
necessary to give the text the heroic setting and flavour
belonging to a saga. They should not be mixed up with the
clear spiritual message of the Gita. The clear teaching must
be filtered out free from all such incidental dross belonging
to the epic. An epithet like maharatha (one having a great
chariot) denotes some military rank, like that of a field-


asmakam tu visishta ye
tan nibodha dvijottama
nayaka nama sainyasya
samjnartham tan bravimi te

But know who are the most distinguished among us, 0 best
of the twice-born, the leaders of my army; these I tell you,
for you to recognize by name.


After enumerating some of the leaders of the opposite
army in which, it should be noted, there are glaring
omissions, especially of Yudhishthira (eldest of the
Pandavas, probably because of his reputation for virtue.
Duryodhana, who is here speaking to Drona, now turns his
attention to his own army and indicates the purpose of such
an enumeration. This enumeration, according to him, is not
without importance. Like Dhritarashtra in Verse 1, he is still
speaking from the relativist standpoint. He insists on talking
of "our side" (asmakam). The evils of war as they might
affect humanity as a whole are carefully excluded, till
Arjuna's confusion (vishada) opens the question from a
non-relativist point of view.

The word asmakam, meaning "among us, our side", is
therefore underlined by the author Vyasa as the first word
in this verse. That Vyasa intends explicitly to refer to the
two contending parties, is sufficiently evident from the
word samjnartham (recognition by name) put in the mouth
of Duryodhana here. The list of names is not meant to be
merely a catalogue of warriors to be treated indifferently.
The names are meant to be understood as belonging either
to the blast or counter-blast aspects of the situation, which
is to be examined as it unravels itself, both as a battle of
events and as a progressive revaluation of dharma (right
conduct) or spiritual values in the chapters that follow.

Samjna really means more than name or class. It has an
element of further recognition as coming under a distinct
category. What Vyasa wants to accomplish here is quite
evident. He wants the reader of the Gita to avoid confusing
the actual with the spiritual values implied. The literary
device in the mind of the author thus comes into evidence
quite deliberately in the end of the last line. This is most
vital for the reader to see.



bhavan bhishmas cha karnas cha
kripas cha samitimjayah
asvatthama vikarnas cha
saumadattis tathai 'va cha

You and Bhishma, and Karna, and also Kripa, the victor in
war, Ashvatthaman and Vikarna and also the son of


Bhavan: thyself, i.e. Drona, a teacher of the Vedic context
who also taught archery.
Bhishma: a patriarch reputed for his celibacy and high
purity of life; much respected by all.
Karna: Born of the Sun-god and Kunti, mother of the
Pandavas when she was still young. He was a great fighter
and archer, invincible because of an armour given by the
Sun-god himself
Kripa: brother of Kripi, the wife of Drona, but sympathetic
to the Pandavas.
Ashvatthaman: son of Drona by Kripi; subject of a false
alarm raised about him in order to distract Drona and
demoralize him by saying that Ashvatthaman was dead, when
it was only a toy elephant of that name which was
Vikarna: a ruthless fighter like Ashvatthaman.
Saumadatti: son of Somadatta, King of the Bahikas.

Note that Bhishma is named only after Drona, who is very
little connected by lineage with Bhishma, or indeed with
either of the contending parties. Drona is only the teacher of
archery, but he is given first place. This must be because
the battle-issue involving spiritual values is of interest to
Drona as a dvijottama (a twice-born invested with the
sacred thread). Again, in Verse 25, Krishna himself, as the
charioteer, makes pointed reference to Drona and Bhishma
as against all the rest of the army, not excluding even kings.

It is clear that the issue involves spiritual factors personified
by these two characters, and that the interests of clashing
kings are but incidental to the situation which is gradually
being developed. This development finally reaches a focal
point with the beginning of the dialogue (samvada) proper
(from ii, 10 onwards). The dialogue constitutes the core of
the Gita. In the Gita-Dhyana the teaching is referred to as a
"perfume" or gandha of the lotus flower, to be enjoyed by
the good men of the world who seek spiritual values. The
historical episodes contained in the Mahabharata are treated
as extraneous or gross, being described as the petals and
anthers of the lotus. The perfume or the song of wisdom or
song of dialectics is the supreme value for the good man.
That is the fragrance which comes as a rhapsody in this
song or Gita.


anye cha bahavah sura
madarthe tyaktajivita
nanasastra praharanah
sarve yuddhavisdradah

And many other heroes who are willing to die for me, who
have various missiles and weapons, and all skilled in


It should be understood that "willing to die for me"
shows the defence of precious values dear to human beings.
Fanatics will die for their faith in a holy war. Faith becomes
at least as precious as life. Duryodhana here represents a
life-value connected with kingship and power in this world.
This is held precious by his followers. But, of course,
however exalted such a value might be, it is still in the
relativist plane. It might bring them heaven as recompense
in the hereafter, as the warriors of Scandinavian mythology
were carried triumphantly to Valhalla by powerful female
deities called Valkyries. Duryodhana himself is supposed to
have won this reward. This epithet "willing to die for me"
is, therefore, to fix one generic character common to all the
Kauravas. All are affiliated to a central relativist value
personified in their king, Duryodhana.

Their other qualifications are those which are attributes
of the workaday world (vyavaharika). They carry diverse
weapons and are skilled in warfare. Their capability to lay
down their lives for the still relativist value of kingship is
therefore the only spiritual factor to their credit.


aparyaptam tad asmakam
balam bhishmabhirakshitam
paryaptam tv idam etesham
balam bhimabhirakshitam

This army of ours which is under the care of Bhishma is
insufficient but that army of theirs which is under the care
of Bhima is adequate.


Duryodhana himself has an inkling of the poverty of this
type of spirituality here represented in the Kaurava side,
when he feels diffident about the army led by Bhishma.
This is the first supreme example of the special style found
so often


in the Gita. In the first place there is a symmetry to be seen
in the construction of the verse. Bhima (the Strong) and
Bhishma (the Terrible) are evidently brought in to he
treated as counterparts of a situation in the world of
actuality from which the subtler dialectics of the later
theoretical arguments are to have their natural springboard.

Aparyaptam: has been differently construed by Sridhara
and Anandagiri; by Sridhara as meaning "insufficient" and
by Anandagiri as "unlimited". Perhaps an equilibrium of
qualitative and quantitative elements is purposely intended
by the author here. The usual or first meaning, "insufficient"
or "unequal to the task" suits the sense here definitely,
especially if we note that, as a relativist, as Duryodhana is
intended to be here, his diffidence is understandable in the
same way as the nimittani-cha-pashyami (I see omens) of
Arjuna is understandable (in Verse 31). Diffidence or
strange omens have to be set off one against the other in the
revaluation of relativism in absolutist terms which is going
to take place as the chapters proceed. Both are forms of
doubt - one here and now, and the other with an element of
the hereafter added on. Arjuna, being a purva-pakshin
(anterior critic) of the contemplative context, his doubt is
superior to that of Duryodhana, because it includes iha and
para, the "here" and the "hereafter"; while Duryodhana's
doubt is confined to the "here" only.

"That army of ours" and "this army of theirs" are
again put in a delicate dialectical relationship.

"That…ours" and "this…theirs" - to the extent that
reciprocity is suggested, to that extent Duryodhana is to be
credited a good man. The interchange of "that" for "this"
again introduces the special style of the Gita upon which
we lay emphasis because it is in keeping with the full
subtle interplay of dialectical values for which this is only
a preparation. This is by no means a matter of grammatical
quibbling. Note that, except for small suffixes or words
like a and tu and idam, there is no difference at all between
the two limbs of this verse, and this perfect symmetry can
be no accident and must have been consciously, intentionally
brought in by the author for the reasons we have stated.


ayaneshu cha sarveshu
yathabhagam avasthitah
bhishmam eva 'bhirakshantu
bhavantah sarva eva hi

And let all of you, standing in your respective positions
at the entrance to every formation, keep guard even on


On the side of the Kauravas this verse makes it clear that the protection of the spirituality personified in Bhishma is their dearest collective value as far as they could understand.
That is why he is asked to be protected, although all others (Drona for example) might deserve equal protection. It should be further noticed that this verse shows many plurals employed, numerous ranks and files, numerous divisions, numerous generals. The word sarva (all, implying many) occurs twice. This is evidently to emphasize the fact that unitive command is lacking, as contrasted with the other army, as we shall notice presently. Quantitative and numerical factors prevail here. Of course there is Bhishma as a central figure, but he is too old to take any initiative of a unitive pattern. It is he who needs personal protection, rather than himself leading others. As contrasted with the "vertical" or orderly unitive organization of the Pandava army, we find here among the Kauravas a "horizontal" amorphous or mass
situation prevailing.

The difference suggested here will become evident as we proceed.


tasya samjanayan harsham
kuruvriddlhah pitamahah
simhanadam vinadyo 'chchaih
sankham dadhmau pratapavan

So as to cheer him, the mighty old Kuru patriarch roared
loudly like a lion and blew a conch.


Sanyanayan harsham: to generate joy (in him). What is
the nature of the joy referred to here? The diffidence
mentioned in Verse 10 becomes here explicit.

Duryodhana's premonitions of defeat there are meant to be
banished by the blowing of the conch-shell by Bhishma
who, though very old, understands why Duryodhana is
diffident. He blows his conch as if to say "I represent a
spiritual value which is the highest as understood by all of
us till now". It contains elements of absolutism in the
comparatively relativist field in which he is a patriarch and
chief among men, but still limited to the human context at
its best. His conch-sound is of the nature


of a battle-cry. Note by contrast that an epithet suggesting
divinity (divyau) is applied to the conches of Krishna and
Arjuna in Verse 14. Bhishma's dominant position among his
own people could be compared to that of Moses with his
chosen people, beside Jesus who was the Light of the World.


tatah-sankhas cha bheryas cha
panavanaka gomukah
sahasai 'va 'bhyahanyanta
sa sabdas tumulo 'bhavai

Then conches and drums and gongs, (other) drums, horns,
were played together suddenly, and that sound made a confused


Note here the variety of instruments which are sounded
together, and the gentle disparagement implied when it
says that the sound was tumula, which means "excited,
confused sound", a chaotic condition, something like the
confusion of tongues of the Tower of Babel seeming to be
suggested. This is a natural prerequisite for the orderly
unitive teaching of Brahmavidya (Science of the Absolute)
which is to follow.


tatah sevetair hayair yukte
mahati syandane sthitau
madhavah pandavas chai 'va
divyau sankhau pradadhmatuh

Then (both) standing in their great chariot, to which white
horses were yoked, Madhava (Krishna) and the son of Pindu
(Arjuna) blew (the two together) their divine conches.


Here we must notice the magic circle round the two personalities of Krishna and Arjuna, as if they were bracketed together, and having equal status in the context of something superior to merely human values. Both their conches have the coupling epithet divyau sankhau (a pair of divine conches). Further, they are in the same chariot - the charioteer, as we know, turns out to be the teacher of Brahmavidya (the Science of the Absolute) and Arjuna accepts discipleship (II, 7). The epithet mahati (great) is allied to brihat from which the word Brahma is derived.
The white horses are also symbolic of the


neutrality of Brahmavidya in the same way as the white raiment (shubravastra) and white lotus (sveta-padma) are symbolic of the same neutrality in descriptions of the goddess Saraswati.

The names Madhavah and Pandavah suggest the intimate familial relationship of Krishna and Arjuna, though not the Guru-Sishya relationship of a later stage.

Subhadra, the sister of Krishna, was espoused by Arjuna. Madhava suggests a descendant of Madhu of the Yadava clan of whom Arjuna is a kinsman. The kinship is relevant here against the sishya­-hood to come later.

We must be on the lookout for similar appellations of Krishna and Arjuna throughout as indicative of the kind of context in which the text is to be understood, chapter after chapter, until full-fledged absolutism is finally reached.Patterns of spirituality of different contexts are revealed by such epithets.


panchajanyam hrishikeso
devadattam dhanamjayah
paundram dadhmau mahiisankham
bhimakarmii vrikodarah

Hrishikesa (Krishna) blew Panchajanya, and Arjuna blew
Devadatta. He of wolf-like appetite and deeds of enormity
(Bhima) blew his great conch, Paundra.


Panchajanya, the conch-shell of Krishna, may be said to belong to the context of the Panchajanas, who can be taken to be either the heterodox group near or about the Yadava country, perhaps outside the pale of Vedism or, as represent­ing more symbolically the five component parts of the soul according to the Samkhyas (Rationalists).

Arjuna's conch­shell, called Devadatta (given by God) seems to suggest his appreciation of Vedic values - being a disciple of Drona till his final disillusionment on the subject later on. Arjuna is not merely a pitriyani or worshipper of forefathers. Hence the reference to the gods or devas.

The conch-shell Panchajanya also bears reference in legend to being sea-formed out of the bones of a sea-giant.

Paundra , the conch-shell of Bhima, on the other hand, is suggestive of a prehistoric Siva-pattern of spirituality (tri­pundara being the mark on Siva's forehead). Epithets applied to Bhima also suggest the common man of that prehistoric time who just believed in plain human values based on common


appetites, as the epithet vrikodarah meaning "wolf-stomach" would imply. He is the tough-guy or Hercules who takes a matter-of-fact attitude to life without flourishes or trimmings. Such a description is not repugnant to the character of Bhima as portrayed in the rest of the


anantavijayam raja
kuntiputro yudhishthirah
nakulah sahadevas cha
sughosha manipushpakau

Prince Yudhishthira, son of Kunti, blew Anantavijaya and
Nakula and Sahadeva blew (together) the Sughosha and


Yudhishthira: firm in battle: eldest of the five sons of Pandu.
Nakula and Sahadeva: fourth and fifth (youngest) of the Pandu princes.

The name Anantavijaya (endless victory) is an apt name for the conch of Yudhishthira, in view of what the prince's name itself means, "Firm in battle". Both steadiness and endless victory may be said to go together. Notice here that in a proper order of precedence King Yudhishthira should have blown his conch before Arjuna and the charioteer Krishna. He is given a secondary place with the other two princes, Nakula and Sahadeva, whose conches Sughosha (good sounding) and Manipushpaka (floral-gemmed) suggest aesthetic values. Virtue and aesthetics do not count so much as the divine absolutism represented by Krishna and Arjuna. Even the common human value represented by Bhima, is given precedence over mere moral firmness and aesthetics in the poetical justice of the author Vyasa, common humanity being a more universal value than items of mere virtue or luxury.


kasyas cha parameshvasah
sikhandi cha maharathah
dhrishtadyumno viratas cha
satyakis cha'parajitah

And the King of Kasi, excellent bowman; Sikhandin, great
charioteer Dhrishtadyumna and Virata and the unconquered


The names of particular conch shells are not referred to
any more. The reference is now rather to bowmen and
charioteers. On the Kaurava side it should be remarked that
only one man, Bhishma, blew a conch-shell of any unique
nature. The rest was a hullabaloo of clanging instruments.
On the Pandava side, on the other hand, the clarion calls of
the conches come in clear graded succession, in which a
scale of values can be discerned, until this is also lost in the
common general uproar of the ranks.


drupado draupadeyas cha
sarvasah prithivi pate
saubhadras cha mahabahuh
sankhan dadhmuh prithak-prithak

Drupada and the sons of Draupadi, 0 Lord of the Earth, and
the son of Subhadra, of mighty arms, from all sides each
blew his conch separately.


The words sarvasah (on all sides) and prithak-prithak
distinct, separate) show that individual conch-blowings
were not completely lost in the general din, which came
from all sides. This suggests the meeting of the one and the
many without contradiction, itself a secret of dialectics.


sa ghosho dhartarashtranam
hridayani vyadarayat
nabhas cha prithivim chai'va
tumulo vyanunadayan

That loud blast, filling earth and sky with sound, pierced the
hearts of Dhritarashtra's sons.


This blast from the Pandava side "pierced the hearts of
the Kauravas". It touched "earth and sky", i.e. included all
possible hierophantic values as against the mere earthy
confusion of the conch-blasts of the Kauravas. Bhishma's
leonine roar only touches the earth. In what sense were the
hearts of the Kauravas bitten-through to the extent that they
lost confidence in all the mundane things they held dear?
New values, involving both heaven as well as earth, seemed
to be implicit in the message of the blast of the Pandavas.


atha vyavasthitan drishtva
dhartarashtran kapidhvajah
pravritte sastrasampate
dhanur udyamya pandavah

Then, beholding the sons of Dhritarashtra standing
marshalled in order; while the flight of arrows (was)
beginning, the son of Pandu (Arjuna) of monkey-ensign,
took up his bow;


hrishikesam tada vakyam
idam aha mahipate
senayor ubhayor madhye
ratham sthapaya me 'chyuta

And 0 King, (said Sanjaya) he (Arjuna) spoke thus to
Hrishikesa (Krishna): Arjuna said: 0 Achyuta! Stop my
chariot right in the middle between the two armies.


It is most important to note the content of the last line
of Verse 20, which says that the shower of arrows was
starting and Arjuna had already taken up his bow. Up to this
point it is clear that as a warrior he is not suffering from any
weak-heartedness or doubt. It is usual for the generality of
commentators from raw undergraduates to much-labelled
academicians who claim to expound the Gita, to miss this
point and to describe Arjuna as if he was an ordinary coward
afraid of battle. He is to be distinguished from Uttara,
another well-known character in the Mahabharata who
conforms to the pattern of a mere coward. Arjuna is a
seasoned warrior. He has seen many a battle before. To
mistake him for a coward would be to miss the true
character of his confusion which is of a philosophical order
as we shall see.

The literary device of the first drop curtain (see
Introduction) is abandoned or lifted here with the word
mahipati (King) at the end of the first line of Verse 21.
Henceforth, we enter the Krishna-Arjuna samvada or

Actual circumstances belonging to this first part should
not be mixed up with considerations pertaining to the part
that follows. This latter takes a more abstract or
philosophical turn, though only of a first degree for the


The second line of Verse 21; "Stop my chariot, 0 Achyuta,
between the two armies" does not suggest anything of
cowardice either. Arjuna is prepared to risk going into the
no-man's land between the two armies, of which everyone
who knows warfare, ancient or modern, can understand the

To know the nature of Arjuna's peculiar confusion we
have to be exact about all these details, and determine
precisely the circumstances which favoured this
characteristic confusion from which, as a typical sceptic or
purva-pakshin, Arjuna is to suffer, according to the author,
Vyasa. Let us watch out for that moment. The words me
achyuta shows familiarity and Achyuta (the immovable)
already signifies something spiritual.


yavad etan nirikshe 'ham
yoddhukaman avasthitan
kair maya saha yoddhavyam
asmin ranasamudyame

So that I may behold these standing eager to fight by my
side in the present battle-undertaking;


yotsamanan avekshe 'ham ya
ete 'tra samagatah
dhartarashtrasya durbuddher
yuddhe priyachikirshavah

And might observe these here gathered together who desire
to please in war the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra.


These verses are meant to be taken together. This is
significant. For the first time the two sides of the army tend
to be thought of together - not in the usual way of looking
only at the enemy. To an ordinary fighter his enemies have
prime importance. Arjuna, being already spiritually inclined,
says here definitely that he wants to go to the middle of the
two armies, equidistant from either of them, so that he
could see not only the army that he is to fight with, but also
the army he is to fight against. He wants to see both in one
unitive view from a central, neutral position.

The second line of Verse 23 seems laboured. It might
seem to contain too many words in naming the enemy, but
he uses the long description to demarcate clearly the


of the dialectical situation we have referred to already.
Arjuna is still conscious of the distinction between right and
wrong - he is not at all confused here, because of the epithet
durbuddhi (bad-minded) he uses against Duryodhana and
the whole army treated unitively as a single counterpart.
Common to both parties is the thirst for battle. This
indicates that the situation is already surcharged with war-
mindedness. Arjuna is caught in this longing for battle.
Such indications take the edge out of the argument, usually
advanced, that Krishna was himself war-minded or that he
ordered or even encouraged Arjuna to fight. He only
enabled Arjuna to recognize with clarity the imperative
nature of the situation in which he was already involved by

The two verses together, which read so redundantly, have
only one purpose, which is to stress the difference between
Duryodhana's one-sided attitude of diffidence in Verse 10
as against Arjuna's own in which both parties are equally
involved. This altogether changes the complexion of
Arjuna's state of confusion, because he begins to view the
problem from a more unitive or humanistic standpoint.
This is not far removed from the sentiment of ahimsa
(compassion or non-killing). However, this ahimsa, for the
present, does not encompass the whole of life nor the whole
of humanity, which would be true contemplative
compassion, but, as we shall see, is limited to his own tribe
or at best includes his friends (i, 38). Arjuna's hatred for
Duryodhana still persists.


samjaya uvacha:
evam ukto hrishikeso
gudakesena bharata
senayor ubhayor madhye
sthapayatitva rathottamam

Samjaya said:
Thus addressed by Gudakesa (Arjuna), Hrishikesa (Krishna),
0 Bharata (Dhritarashtra), having stationed that excellent
chariot right in the middle between the two armies,


The discussion now enters the field of spiritual values.
"Between the two armies" is again underlined here to
remind us of the requirements of the dialectical situation.


bhishmadrona pramukhatah
sarvesham cha mahikshitam
uvacha partha pasyai 'tan
samavetan kurun iti

Facing Bhishma and Drona and all the rulers of the earth,
(Krishna) said: 0 Partha (Arjuna)! behold these Kurus
gathered (here).


We should note how Krishna is careful not to influence
Arjuna's mind in any other way than what would be most
normal. He does not want Arjuna to look on both sides,
because he knows that might confuse him, and carefully
places Arjuna facing Bhishma and Drona of the opposing
armies only and, what is more explicit, he says "behold
these Kurus" and not "both these armies". Much trouble is
taken by the author Vyasa to make these matters


tatra 'pasyat sthitan parthah
pitrin atha pitamahan
acharyan matulan bhratrin
putran pautran sakhims tatha

Then Partha (Arjuna) saw standing, fathers as well as
grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons,
grandsons, and companions too.


Arjuna begins by seeing on the enemy's side many of his
own kith and kin, besides teachers. His confusion has thus
reason for beginning to be strengthened.


svasuran suhridas chai 'va
senayor ubhayor api
tan samikshya sa kaunteyah
sarvan bandhun avasthitan

And the son of Kunti (Arjuna), also seeing these relatives,
fathers in-law and friends, all standing, in both the armies.


The confusion worsens, because he finds kith and kin not
only in the opposite army, but on both sides. Confusion
thus becomes more confounded, thus starting the real
trouble with


which the rest of the Gita is concerned. The reference in
this verse to his friends or relations in both the armies is
important for the right appraisal of the delicate dialectics to
follow. This is the circumstance that finally succeeds in
overwhelming this battle-veteran and hero.


kripaya paraya 'vishto
vishidann idam abravit
drishtve 'mam svajanam krishna
yuyutsum samupasthitam

Filled by a supreme pity, in mental distress (Arjuna) said:
Beholding my own people, 0 Krishna, standing together,
wanting to fight,


The nature of Arjuna's state of mind is described by the first
words kripa paraya, usually translated as "great pity",
or "melted with pity". Such translations are inadequate to
bring out that special state of mind intended here. Paraya
definitely means of a transcendental or supreme order. What
kind of pity is this which is here qualified as supreme? It is
supreme to the extent that it envisages both the sides
involved in the conflict with at least the first degree of
dispassionate equality. But a residual conflict still seems to
persist in Arjuna's mind in the second line where there is
reference to svajanam (my own people). This shows he is
still a relativist and not a thorough-going absolutist in his
way of thinking. The duality of "my own people" versus
"strangers" remains. Hence the characteristic vishada or
"dejection" of this chapter.


sidanti mama gatrani
mukham cha parisushyati
vepathus cha sarire me
romaharshas cha jayate

My limbs fail and my mouth dries up, my body trembles and
my hair stands on end;


gandivam sramsate hastat
tvak cai 'va paridahyate
na cha saknomy avasthatum
bhramati 'va cha me manah

(the bow) Gandiva slips from my hand, and my skin
feels as if burning all over, and I am unable to stand
and my mind is whirling round as it were;


The list of symptoms enumerated here are not those
exactly known to normal psychology or pathology. Among
them is one very intriguingly described as romaharshas
(hair standing on end). It is an expression familiar in India.
It marks a state of exaltation or ecstasy when a sentiment
thrills the body-mind. It is not always due to fear as has
been held. The kinship of the other symptoms covered in
these verses to the state of mind of Sri Rama in the first
chapters of the "YogaVasishtha" might help us in forming a
correct idea about its true character. It really belongs to the
mystical rather than to the merely pathological or
psychological order. The bow slips from his hand and this,
taken with his giddiness, shows general lassitude, or a lack
of zest or interest in life in general rather than any fear. Lack
of zest leads to a second stage marked in i, 47 where he
makes up his mind to throw away his bow with its arrow. A
still further third stage of the conflict of Arjuna is marked
in xi, 8 and 9 where it is of a more philosophical or religious


nimittani cha pasyami
viparitani kesava
na cha sreyo 'nupasyami
hatva svajanam ahave

And I see conflicting portents, 0 Kesava (Krishna), nor do I
foresee good from killing one's own people in battle.


The enumeration of the symptoms continues here into a
more delicate domain. Premonitions are referred to. They
are described as viparitani, often translated as "adverse,"
but this should be more properly translated "contrary" or
"contradictory," i.e. at one moment good, at another bad; 
but not all the time bad.

The second line mentions spiritual factors proper, when
the conflict is conceived in the form of a doubt, thus
emerging from mere feelings into the domain of morals.
Arjuna sees no moral or spiritual merit in killing kinsmen.
Thus he is capable of formulating an opinion, although
confused. His is therefore no ordinary confusion, fear or


na kankshe vijayam krishna
na cha rajyam sukhani cha kim
no rajyena govinda
kim bhogair jivitena va

I do not wish for victory, 0 Krishna, nor kingdom nor pleasures;
what is kingdom to us, 0 Govinda (Krishna), what enjoyment, or
even life!


Arjuna's stand is further finalized here. He has what is known
as vairagya or detachment from the usual attractions or lures
of life. This vairagya is not different in essence from what
is required of a brahmachari as a seeker of wisdom who is to
have nitya-anitya-viveka (discrimination between eternal and
non-eternal). There is no confusion here. It conforms to what
is traditionally laid down as a prerequisite for spiritual
life even of a Vedantin.

Tyaga (relinquishment) and vairagya (detachment) have
always been considered essential for the wisdom-seeker.
Arjuna here is like a wise man or correct absolutist.
Arjuna's superiority here to a mere coward, as evident in
this verse, has to be kept in mind to avoid mistaking the
true nature of his conflict. By using the first personal plural
nah "us" here, he further takes it for granted that Krishna is
bound to agree with him.


yesham arthe kankshitam no
rajayam bhogah sukhani cha
ta ime 'vasthita yuddhe
pranama tyaktva dhanani cha

They for whose sake kingdoms, enjoyments and pleasures
are desired by us, are standing here in battle, having
renounced their interests in life and wealth.


Here Arjuna suddenly relapses into a partially relativist
standpoint such as we have noticed already. The inconsistency
mentioned by Krishna in ii, 11 becomes apt in the light of
this wavering alternation between an outright absolutism and
a confused form of relativism, even though the latter is not
without a touch of humanity implying contemplation.


We should note that Arjuna's confusion is treated in two
distinct instalments: within the limits of the first chapter
the confusion is of a vaguer, more emotional order (i, 47),
while its continuation in the earlier part of the next chapter
(ii, 8 and 9) is expressed in more properly formulated
terms. The character of the confusion which is legitimately
Vedantic in its nature, becomes fully evident only in ii, 8.
In the light of that definitive verse, all the preceding verses
must be understood. The transition from a puranic (i.e.
legend of a sacred character), to a Vedantic (i.e.
philosophical) context takes place between these two
chapters. The unformulated and elaborate remarks of
Arjuna, belonging to the pitriyana or ancestor-worship
pattern of spirituality which he normally represents
becomes marked in the verses that now follow.


acharyah pitarah putras
tathai 'va cha pitamahah
matulah svasurah pautrah
syalah sambandhinas tatha

Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers; maternal
uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law as well as
(other) kinsmen:


etan na hantum ichchhami
ghnato 'pi madhusudana
api trai lokyarajyasya
hetoh kim nu mahikrite

These I do not want to kill, though (they kill me), 0
Madhusudana (Krishna), not even for the sake of dominion
over the three worlds-how then for the sake of the earth?


The acharyah (teachers) mentioned here in Verse 34 evidently
refers to Drona, Kripa and others if any. The last word in
the first line pitamahah (grandfathers) must apply primarily
to Bhishma. Drona is only a guru to the extent that he is a
brahmin priest or a teacher of archery. He is not a guru in
the same sense that Krishna is a guru. Krishna is a guru

No confusion or vagueness is reflected in these decisive
words. They are based on a prime conviction on the part of



Arjuna which is right as far as it goes. Neither Krishna
himself nor any critic of Arjuna has met Arjuna's objection
fairly to the present day. If Arjuna was wrong why did not
his Guru Krishna correct him then and there? Those who
find fault with Arjuna too easily do not put their finger
precisely on any objectionable part of his stand here. The
inference should be that Arjuna's stand remains valid. At
least there is nothing weak in his position. Only someone
capable of advancing a better reason than Arjuna would be
justified in criticizing him, which is the privilege reserved
in the Gita only for Krishna, who is the teacher of
thoroughgoing absolutism, as we see him teaching later.
Politicians or patriots and partisans of closed religious
groups, even when they might be speaking in the name of
values understood in any relativist sense, should be
considered as being outside the privilege of laughing at
Arjuna here, which is that of Krishna as Guru alone, or else
of a teacher of outright absolutism.

The reference here to the three worlds prepares the way
for the attitude implicit in xi, 8, where it is stated more
finally but with only two worlds referred to. This might be
because the pitriyana (way of the forefathers) has
reference to Hades or Patala, while purer spirituality of
the Vedas thinks in terms of earth and heaven only, with
Bhuvarloka an intervening world of ether sometimes
mentioned, and frequented by celestial beings called


nihatya dhartarashtran nah
ka pritih syaj janardana papam
eva 'srayed asman
hatvai 'tan atatayinah

Having killed the sons of Dhritarashtra, what delight can
there be for us, 0 Janardana (Krishna)? Only sin would
come to us after killing this marauding rabble.


It is striking to notice that tyaga or relinquishment is
taken for granted in the spiritual pattern to which Arjuna
conforms. Benefits of success here or hereafter do not occur
to him. This might be because his spirituality has been
nurtured in the pre-Aryan pattern of forest-dwelling hermits
with whom the India of that day must have abounded, especially
towards the south. The Ramayana (The epic "History of Rama") makes


the difference quite clear between the Aryan north and the
non-Aryan matrix of the south of India. Rama and
Lakshmana grew matted hair and lived on roots and fruits,
renouncing all pleasures of a city life, and visited many
hermits wearing tree-bark clothes. This is the touching
aspect of Indian spirituality into which Arjuna here can be
imagined to fit.

The word atatayinah does not merely mean desperadoes.
It means greedy opportunists, persons infatuated with
wrong or exaggerated notions of worldly values who
readily resort to premature aggression. If the meaning of
the word is to be further clarified it can only be done by
taking Arjuna's attitude of not wanting pleasure at all as its
opposite or counterpart. Such an interpretation would be in
keeping with the style of the Gita as we have pointed out,
like the word rajasa tyaga (wilful relinquishment) of xviii, 8
- renunciation with a vengeance, as it were. This is to be
balanced against proneness to greed. Some people are
easily greedy. They grab and take advantage of a situation.
Others give in too much. Both of these miss the neutral
middle way, which is that of the complete absolutist to be
understood, as we shall see, from the Gita. At any rate the
author, by this word itatayinah wants to indicate that the
army of the Kauravas is not motivated by any higher
moral or spiritual considerations than just greed or
attachment, as fully explained in xvii, 7 to 19 inclusive.


tasman na 'rha vayam hantum
dhartarastran svabandhavan
svajanam hi katham hatva
sukhinah syama madhava

And so we ought not to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra our
relations; for how, indeed, can we be happy after killing our
own people, 0 Madhava (Krishna)?


The tendency to be too negative is brought out here. Once
again pointed reference is made to the fact that the
Kauravas are Arjuna's relations. Although kindness would
be legitimate, kindness to a selected group of relations
would fall outside the scope of the spirituality proper of the


yady apy ete na pasyanti
kulakshayakritam dosham
mitradrohe cha patakam

Even if they whose minds are overpowered by greed see no
wrong in the destruction of family (and) no crime in
treachery to friends.


katham na jneyam asmabhih
papad asman nivartitum
kulakshayakritam dosham
prapasyadbhir janardana

Yet why should we not learn to turn away from this sin, we
who do see wrong in the destruction of family, 0 Janardana


Here we come to considerations of wisdom or intelligence.
Arjuna says in effect, "Why should we not be wise as
against the foolishness of our relations?" Though Arjuna
bases his argument on wisdom, it still lacks the balanced
or neutral way of absolutism, leaving it still vitiated
by relativist considerations. At the end of Verse 39 we
find Arjuna still concerned about the destruction of the


kulakshaye pranasyanti
kuladharmah sanatanah
dharme nashte kulam kritsnam
adharmo 'bhibhavaty uta

In destruction of family, the immemorial clan traditions
perish, and on the loss of tradition the whole clan comes
under the sway of lawlessness.


Arjuna here develops his own version of the evils of war
- not in terms of humanity as a whole, but in terms of a
closed or chosen group of people whose future is dear to
him. It is easy to concede that the killing out of some
important men in a family would lead to disruption of their
normal life - not only in a biological sense but as
representing a particular cultural growth including certain
spiritual values belonging to that clan. No one can deny
here again that Arjuna is right in what he says. His only
fault could be that he does not conform to the highest
standards of the absolutist way of life.


adharmabhibhavat krishna
pradushyanti kulastriyah
strishu dushtasu varshneya
jayate varnasamkarah

When wrong (ways) prevail, 0 Krishna, the women of the
family become corrupt and when women become corrupt,
0 Varshneya (Krishna), mixing of clans arises.


Here the reference evidently is to racial mixing which
takes place generally in the wake of war between different
-coloured peoples. The fair Aryans and the darker
prehistoric peoples of India are the groups involved. The
complexion that is generally given to this argument is quite
the opposite of what it should be when we take note of the
fact that Arjuna and the women concerned here were non-
Aryans. They were of the darker-skinned peoples of India.
Therefore this reference to Arjuna's fears regarding tribal
or at best racial mixing should not he taken to lend any
support to varnashramadharma (the caste system) as
understood at the present day in India. Samkara (mixing) as
a philosophical concept occurs in iii, 24 and the theory of
caste is referred to in iv, 13 and discussed in ix, 33 and in
xviii, 41 and following verses from a totally different
perspective as we shall see.


samkaro narakayai 'va
kulaghnanam kulasya cha
patanti pitaro hy esham

This mixing (of clans) leads (both the) family and the
destroyers of the family to hell, for their ancestors fall when
deprived of their offerings of rice-balls and water rites.

Here we see that, according to the notions of Arjuna, the
consequences of racial or tribal admixture is degradation
into the nether-world, both for those who are responsible
for the killing as well as for the family after the killing is


Simultaneously, the ancestors also suffer corresponding
degradation because of the lack of ritualistic support which
will keep them in the pitriloka (world of the ancestors).
Note too, that the agnihotra, the ritual fire-sacrifice of the
Aryans, is prominent by its omission, as also any precise
reference to four castes. The disciple Arjuna's vague and
crude prejudices in such matters are corrected by Krishna
the Guru later on in xv, 33, ix, 33, and xviii, 41 ff.


doshair etaih kulaghnanam
utsadyante jatidharmah
kuladharmas cha sasvatah

By these misdeeds of the destroyers of families (causing
intermixture of clans), the immemorial traditions of clan and
family are destroyed.


Arjuna's elaboration here of a theory of varnasamkara
(mixing of differently-coloured peoples) and spiritual
degradation of ancestors, conforms clearly to a pattern in the
context of pitriyana (ancestor worship), which represents the
position of the purva-pakshin (anterior sceptic). There is
reference to two other factors, namely jatidharma (family or
tribal traditions) and kuladharma (clan traditions) also.

Arjuna's position, therefore, suffers from some glaring errors
which it would be advantageous to notice even now.
Thinking of his relations and the particular group in front of
him, Arjuna has a closed and static attitude. He is interested
in preserving certain spiritual traditions of family and tribe
which he wrongly imagines to be permanent. One has to contrast
this closed static attitude with the open dynamic attitude
implied in the words of Krishna, when he himself as an absolutist
speaks of establishing dharma (right conduct) in the famous verses
IV, 7 and 8. There it is universal and for all time (continuing "from age to age").


utasanna kuladharmanam
manushyanam janardana
narake niyatam vaso
bhavati 'ty anususruma

Men of families whose clan traditions are destroyed, 0
Janardana (Krishna) are destined to live in hell - thus we
have heard.


Arjuna's state of mind is continued here. The arguments
stated in the previous verse, it can be seen, do not cling
together so as to produce any clear conviction regarding
what he is aiming at. In the present verse the diffidence in
Arjuna becomes evident in the last words. His theories are
based on second-hand knowledge only: anususruma "thus
have we heard". He has no reference to any sastra (text).
Again there is nothing positive. His speech is regretful and
without the element of hope referring to heaven. The attitude
is negative as it refers only to naraka (hell). It must be
this negative quality which justifies the charge by Krishna
in II, 2 of anaryajushtam (unbecoming to an Aryan).
As conquerors the Aryans must have brought a more positive
form of spirituality, but one still condemned by Krishna in
ii, 42 to 46 - thus clearly indicating that the revaluation
of spirituality in the Gita is to be sought for as lying
between the relativist pitriyana (way of the forefathers)
and its counterpart, an equally relativist devayana (way
of the gods) represented, as we have said, by Bhishma and
Drona respectively.


aho bata mahat papam
kartum vyavasita vayam
yad rajyasukhalobena
hantum svajanam udyatah

Alas! a great sin are we engaged in committing in
endeavouring to kill our own people through greed for the
pleasures of kingdom!


Here Arjuna is obsessed by a sense of sin which is also
a negative factor. Although it must be said to his credit
that he is a renouncer and opposed to greedy grabbers like
Duryodhana, who must keep even illegitimate things, Arjuna's
only fault is that he is unable to find the middle way.


yadi mam apratikaram
asastram sastrapanayah
dhartarishtra rane hanyus
tan me kshemataram bhavet

It would be better for me, if the sons of Dhritarashtra, arms
in hand, should kill me, unarmed and unresisting, in the


Arjuna's one-sided attitude becomes yet more pronounced.
He even goes to the extent of saying "that would be better
"instead of remaining neutral, and thus avoiding the sense
of sin. He wants to be aggressively neutral - in other
words, he falls into the error of a rajasatyagi (wilful,
over-active relinquisher), as stated in xviii, 8.

Politically-minded commentators on the Gita, whether
they have thought in terms of passive resistance or as
fighting for the freedom of a closed group, have invariably
fallen into a variety of error that could be brought under
rajasik (wilful, over-active) or tamasik (negligent action
based on ignorance) forms of action as explained in the last
chapter of the Gita. We shall come to these in due course,
but we want to say here that satyagraha (passive
resistance) or ahimsa (non-violence), inasmuch as they are
political weapons, have nothing in common with the
teaching of the Gita, which never makes a virtue of
necessity, although giving it due recognition. The Gita has
often been directly or indirectly pressed into the service of
perverted politicians and other interested people who held
such doctrines of action; but to distort the pure teaching of
the Gita in this way would he unjust and goes against the
interests of India's spiritual heritage in whose name even
these patriots speak. Relativist forms of war between
closed or static groups, whether clans, tribes or races or
even nations or religions, are not "righteous" according to
the Gita teaching which takes humanity's welfare only into
the scope of the word dharma (righteousness).

Samjaya uvacha
evam uktva'rjunah samkhye
rathopastha upavisat
visrijya sasaram chapam

Samjaya said:
Thus having spoken in the midst of the battle, Arjuna sat
down in his chariot seat, casting aside his bow and arrow,
his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.


Arjuna's attitude as seen in this verse has deflected from
one of mere lassitude as in Verse 30, where the bow slips of
itself from his fingers, to one here where he himself
actively casts away both the bow and arrow.


If we remember that he took up his bow in Verse 20 and
began to be confused when he looked at his relations
among those facing him in Verse 27, we find him now in an
opposite volte-face attitude. The intermediate gradations of
this transition have been carefully indicated by the author
Vyasa. Now Arjuna is definitely overwhelmed by grief.
Regarding the structure of this chapter; this section is
called the Arjuna vishada yoga, the Dialectical Conflict of
Arjuna. The conflict itself is examined within the limits of
this chapter in a very systematic way. This characteristic
conflict starts when Arjuna sees his relations on both sides
of the impending battle. The state of despondency at the
end of the chapter leaves him still undecided about what he
should think finally, until he becomes immobilized. Lost
between the two horns of a dilemma, the sorrow is the same
as his doubt. His doubt has two reciprocal aspects: the sense
of bravery and the sense of sin. These neutralize each other
into a central state not outside the context of Yoga or

In this chapter Arjuna first appears on the scene as an
ordinary hero, but at the end he becomes a typical purva
or anterior sceptic, full of doubts belonging to the
Guru-Sishya context of wisdom or contemplation. Within
the four walls of this chapter, the arguments move in
conformity with the strict norms of a dialectical method
carefully thought out by the author. From the point where
Arjuna sees relations on both sides, to where he sinks in his
seat as a characteristic doubter of values, one sees that the
argument moves delicately between reciprocal factors or
alternative possibilities of sin or evil.

This justifies the chapter as a whole being considered a
point of view or darsana of a yoga sastra, as the so-called
colophon at the end of the chapter claims it to be.
In conclusion here we must say that it is remarkable how
commentators have invariably said almost nothing on this
first chapter, when there are so many precious indications
of great epistemological and methodological value to be
derived from it. In fact a proper understanding of the first
chapter provides us with a key to all the chapters. Without
this key, commentaries are bound to be partially or totally
vitiated. Most of the commentators, one regrets to have to
say, are entirely off the mark in their remarks about
Arjuna's trouble. Sankara, the best of them, is himself
strangely silent, with no comment at all on this first


itysrimad bhagavadgita supanishatsu brahmavidyayam
yogasastre srikrishnarjuna samvade
arjunavishadayogo nama prathamo 'dhyayah

Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God, in the
Science of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in the Dialogue
between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the First Chapter, entitled
The Unitive or Contemplative Despondency of Arjuna.