The war at Kurkshetra in the Mahabharata has been termed as Dharmayuddha, which means the battle fought in order to uphold the principles of Dharma. Before the combat, both the sides agreed to the terms and conditions regarding the rules of engagement. However, by the end of the battle, people from both sides showed disregard to these rules at one point in time or another, thereby resulting in the deaths of some mighty warriors. I will try to describe these digressions from the rules in the coming posts.
After being defeated by Bhima, as Duryodhana lies awaiting his death, he accuses Krishna of having won the war by unjust means. He claims that the deaths of Bhishma, Bhurisravas, Jayadrata, Drona, Karna, and his defeat at the hands of Bhima to have occurred because of the Pandavas cheating on the advice of Krishna. Krishna rebuts saying that the one who tried to Kill Bhima in his childhood, who tried to burn the pandavas in their palace, who through his weak father lured Yudhishtira to the unfair dice game and defeated him by unjust means, who insulted Draupadi in the filled assembly, who refused to hand over Yudishtira’s part of the Kingdom, who killed the unarmed Abhimanyu in the Chakravyuha, such a person has no right to speak of justice and fairness. It was because of his follies, his treading on the non-dharma path repeatedly that was responsible for the downfall of him and his kinsmen.
However, Krishna also adds that Duryodhana’s words had a speck of truth in it. The Pandavas, with all their might couldn’t have won against greats like Bhishma, Drona and Karna. There was no way the mighty Bhima could have defeated Duryodhana who is considered to be the next best in Gadayuddha after Balarama. Krishna admits that if he had not deviced those strategies, it would not have been possible for the Pandavas to claim victory since the Kaurava army was also a lot bigger in size.
One might want to question the validity of terming Kurukshetra war as the “Dharmayuddha“, since both the parties resorted to deviate from the accepted rules, which in itself is a kind of violation of Dharma. But, one can find answer to this question if one looks at these acts of digression by keeping the context of the whole Mahabharata in mind, rather than limiting ones frame of judgement to Kurukshetra war alone. One must also observe that when entering the battle, it was clear to even the elders like Bhishma and Drona that there was no Dharma on Duryodhana’s side. Thus, if the outcome of Kurukshetra was to be the victory of Dharma, then the Pandavas had to win. From this point of view, Kurukshetra is indeed a Dharmayudha, since it evens out the two sides on the scale of dharma.
However, one should also remember that the poet Vyasa does not attempt to justify acts of adharma by any person. Instead we see that the perpetrators’ bad karma does catch up with them eventually and it is only the one who followed dharma all his life who is ultimately rewarded. Like Yudishtira told Yaksha, Dharma is indeed the only shield men have. Like the dog which accompanies Yudishtira on his last journey, Dharma is the only true companion of man.