According to Vyasa, in his Mahabharata, Krishna was a Yogeshwar – The grandmaster of Yoga. But Krishna’s Yoga wasn’t limited to physical and breathing exercises. He presented Yoga as a path of wisdom, a path where every journey was a joy. He even expanded the principles of Yoga to management, leadership, politics, and warfare. Two of his little know contributions are towards Kootayuddha (Covert Warfare) and Kootaneeti. This article explores the little-known contribution of Krishna Vasudeva while re-exploring his extraordinary legacy.
Krishna Vasudeva, popularly known as Krishna, is an important personality in the Vyasa’s Mahabharata. Most people know him for his teachings in “Bhagavad Gita,” which is actually a very small part of the Mahabharata called “Bhisma Parva.”
Vyasa describes Krishna as “Yogeshwar.” Krishna is clearly the great grandmaster of Yoga. And his teachings on Yoga, are something beyond and above the conventional teachings of “Yoga” as we know it today, i.e. of Asans & Pranayama.
According to Krishna, Yoga is the pursuit of excellence, a path of wisdom, where success is not a destination but a journey pursued with absolute detachment and with equanimity of mind.
Krishna was a sage being, whose colossal knowledge of Vedic wisdom is remarkable. His knowledge was neither esoteric nor mystical nor bookish, but one that helped individuals leading a “normal” life, achieve their objectives within the precepts of Dharma and Karma.
Vyasa’s Krishna had only one wife, Rukmini, and one son Pradyumna. Against the common misnomer, he was never the “king” of Dwarika or Dwaraka, but the administrator. He ended the monarchy in Dwarika after slaying the erstwhile king Kansa, who also happened to be his maternal uncle. In many ways, he ushered an era of Democracy with the concept of Ganarajya – Rule of the People. This becomes clear when we read that while Kansa was called the Dwarika-Naresh, Krishna and his elder brother Balarama were often addressed as Dwarika-Adheesh. While Naresha means the king, Adheesh implied administrator.
Krishna had an unusual platonic relationship with Draupadi – the daughter of the ruler of Drupada – whose birth name was Krishna. Both were called Krishna because, against the common belief, they both were of darker complexion. Krishna called Draupadi “Sakhi” i.e. friend. The reason why Krishna is painted blue in most artworks is because of a major mistranslation of the word “Neelameghashyama” which actually means “Dark clouds of rain” and not “Blue clouds of the rain.”
It was owing to disrespect of Draupadi in the court of Hastinapur during the great game of dice between the Kauravas and Pandavas that he decided to side with Pandavas in the Great War at Kurukshetra. It is true he never raised a weapon on the battlefield. Instead, he chose to be a charioteer. While mythology has a different story, Vyasa offers a better answer.
Suyodhana, later on, corrupted as Duryodhana, the key perpetrator of the great insult upon Draupadi, was a student and friend of Krishna’s elder brother Balarama. Since Balarama chose to side with the Kauravas along with the army of Dwarika, Krishna while supporting Pandavas did not want to kill his own people. Hence he chose to remain unarmed throughout the battle.
In the battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas were outnumbered significantly. Most considered the defeat of the Pandava as a given. But it was owing to the astuteness of the “Kutila” or “Astutely/Covertly Smart” Krishna that Pandavas could change the tides of their destiny.
Even though the battle of Kurukshetra was to be a war on the principles of Dharma or “Dharma Yuddha,” when Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu was killed unjustly on the battlefield by the Kauravas. It was clearly against the precepts of Dharma Yuddha. Once Kauravas transgressed, Krishna asked Pandavas to resort to KootaYuddha based on the principles of Kootaneeti.
KootaYuddha is based on the principle of Kootaneeti, where you outsmart your opponent by turning his strengths into weaknesses.
For example, Krishna got Shikhandhi, a transgender, to fight Bhisma. Bhisma had taken an oath that he will never fight in front of a woman and since Shikhandhi was born a girl, he chose not to fight. As a result, he was defeated by the transgender. Here, if you see there was no possible way to defeat some like Bhishma. But by bringing in Shikhandhi, Krishna broke no law nor any precepts of Dharma. The oath was completely Bhishma’s problem, not of anyone else. So this was a classic case of Kootaneeti – where you sustain dharma without going against it by using your astute intellect.
After Bhisma is wounded, Drona takes the charge of Kaurava army. He was a colossal general. Even better, he was the teacher of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Drona was beyond unstoppable. To neutralize him he played a charade, he asks Bhima to slay an elephant by the name Ashwatthama and asked Yudhishthira to declare “Ashwatthama – the elephant – is dead.” But every time he said the word “the Elephant” – Krishna would blow his conch shell Panchajanya to suppress the word. So, when Drona heard the words it sounded as if Ashwatthama, also the name of his only son, was dead. As a result, he dropped his weapons in grief. This was also because Yudhishthira never uttered false words. Yudhishthira was known as a person who always spoke of truth. When Drona was overwhelmed by grief he was killed.
With Drona gone, the command of the Kaurava army was given to Karna. The half-brother of the Pandavas. Karna was protected by his battle armour. There was no weapon at the time in the world that would pierce it. Karna had great pride in his philanthropic works. He asked a Brahman to visit Karna and seek his armour as a donation. With weakened armour and with tactical manoeuvring of Arjuna’s Chariot he asked Arjuna to fire the arrow in rapid succession resulting in Karan’s death.
The death of Karna was the final nail in the coffin of Kaurava’s defeat. Even though with a massive army larger than Pandavas, Krishna knew that there was no way they would win without an able general. After Karna, the Kauravas army was diminished in no time and Pandeva’s victory was thus confirmed.
What is also important to note here is that, unlike most people Krishna, after the war, never sought any reparations for his dead people nor anything for himself. After the war, by which Krishna was well past 60, Krishna chose to retire without anything for himself. Imagine absolute selflessness. No awards, rewards, medals or wealth for all his trouble.
People often think that “Bhagavad Gita” is all that Krishna taught. Nothing can be further than the truth. Actually, we cannot learn anything about the historical Krishna from the “Bhagavad Gita” alone. In “Bhagavad Gita” Krishna speaks about the importance of the war. But what is not explained there is the effort which he put to make sure that the war could be averted.
He was willing to let go of the war if only Kauravas could apologize to Draupadi and give just five villages to Pandavas. Suyodhana was unwilling to give even that. And there is a good reason for this.
Even before the great game of dice which led to the insult of Draupadi. To ensure that there was no conflict between the cousins, Bhishma persuaded Dhritarashtra to divide the kingdom into two. But Dhritarashtra decided to give the most densely forested area to Pandavas and the massive commercialized part to his own son Suyodhana.
Not sure what to do, Pandavas sought the advice of Krishna. Krishna asked Pandavas to get what they receive with grace. The erstwhile Khandavprastha was turned into a magnificent city of Indraprastha, believed to the modern Delhi, into an economically as well a socially successful city. So successful was the inauguration of the city that Suyodhana was overwhelmed by the success of his cousin that he was burning with rage. Suyodhana knew that Pandavas will succeed at anything unless they had the “Kutila” Krishna with them. He wanted them to be gone – once and for all. Suyodhana is said to have declared that he’d not even spare enough land for the Pandavas to even dig a nail to the ground.
Krishna was not just a military genius, Vyasa explains his economical prowess as well. Krishna was also called Kutila because of his astuteness. He would achieve anything without demeaning the precepts of Dharma and Karma. He was not just a Yogeshwar but also a sage Kootaneetijna.
It is very much unfortunate that Krishna is worshipped while his greater teachings are as good as forgotten. When we worship someone as a god, we’ve nothing to learn from and only to pray for. But when we accept and cherish someone as a great person, we have a lot to learn from them. This is why I suggest, Krishna the Yogeshwar and Krishna the Kootaneetijna have a lot of help us deliver from the kind of social, financial, political and economic mess we are going through.