Bhagvad-Gita: Treatise of self-help

By BS Murthy

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Chapter – 1: Arjuna’s Dilemma 

 In this opening chapter, the grand stage for the discourse nonpareil is set on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Gathered with their armies are the estranged cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, all set to join the battle. After reviewing the relative strengths of the opposing formations, Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince, fancies his chances. On the other hand, Arjuna, alias Paartha, the spearhead of the Pandava forces, is beset with moral indignation. He begins to see the futility of a fratricidal war that would result in the death of kith and kin in numbers. To Lord Krishna, who dons the role of his charioteer, a distressed Arjuna enumerates the ills that visit society in the wake of wars. Exasperated in the end, he expresses his intent to rescind from the impending war regardless.

The contrasting attitudes of the principal combatants of the Battle of Mahabharata are illustrative of the dualities inherent in human nature, exemplified by man’s proclivities.  Duryodhana as well as Arjuna meticulously prepared for the battle ahead, and both were bent upon fighting to the finish. But when the chips are down, while Duryodhana dreamt of victory, Arjuna suffered from qualms. It is this inherent duality of human nature that so prominently figures in Lord Krishna’s discourse in the coming chapters.

In popular parlance, this chapter, comprising 47 slokas (verses), is known as arjuna vishaada yoga, Arjuna’s Grief. However, it is worth noting that though Arjuna’s demeanour in the battlefield personifies grief, it’s  the dilemma of his persona that gives cause to it. Thus, there is merit in this chapter being rechristened as Arjuna’s Dilemma. On the other hand, it is the supreme irony, or in the fitness of things, depending on how one views it, that this Treatise of Self-help should begin with Dhrutarashtra's query, whose blind love towards his son Duryodhana brought things to this pass.

One might notice the inconsistency in Duryodhana’s assessment of Pandava forces in that while in s3-s6 he considers them formidable, in s10 he dismisses them as pygmean. Maybe it has something to do with his state of mind on the eve of war.


Thus spoke Dhrutarashtra: 

Appraise Sanjay as my sons

Gathered at the battleground

Face the sons of my sibling

Eager for the war on hand..  


Thus spoke Sanjaya: 

Eyeing Pandavs there lined up 

So to assess relative strengths

Reached Duryodhan, Dron in time.


Find acharya, said the Prince,

Pandav force thus there arrayed

None other than by Drushtadyumn

Whom thou taught all tricks of war.


Virat ’n Drupad, so Yuyudhaana

With Bhim ’n Arjun they stand out.


Dhrushtaket, the one to dread

King of Kashi and Purujit  

Kuntibhoj ’n Saibya too

Chekitan, their force augment.


Uttamouj ’n Yudhamanyu

Abhimanyu so Vikranta 

Draupadi’s offspring not to speak

Five-star generals all no less.


For thy feel of our own strength

Roll-call heroes of ours O, revered.


Thou with Bhishm, Karn ’n Kripa

Make all four our Field Marshals,

Bhurisrav, Aswatham ’n Vikarn 

Our Marshals, near Field Marshals.


With their lives on line for me

Adept at weaponry varied all

Abound valorous in our ranks

Past masters of group warfare.


Nurses Bhishma force our vast    

Lot it’s Bhima’s tend their small.


Let’s close ranks in well laid files  

Cover we flanks for Bhishma’s guard.


Words by these moved

Grandsire Bhishm,

Warrior verily unrivalled

War cry he gave with his conch.


Egged by Bhishma, geared Kauravs 

War cries their rent, those high skies.  


Krishn ’n Arjun, in their turn

From chariot of white stallions

Gave in kind they with kindred.


With Panchajanya, Lord Krishna    

Broke sound barriers with Arjun

Who blew to hilt Devadatta 

As blared Bhima, his Paundra. 


Blew conch Yudhisthir full throated

Anantavijaya in tandem

With his siblings, Nakul ’n Sahadev,  

Blew who Sughosh ’n Manipushpak.


King of Kashi, master archer

Sikhandi Marshal, their formidable

Saathyaki, Drushtadyumn ’n Virat

Warriors they all never vanquished,   


Drupada as well Draupadi’s progeny

With their hero Abhimanyu

Blew, O monarch, at one go

Conchs of theirs to deafening sound.


Tumult that ensued shook the ground

Bewildered Kauravs, as skies roared.


When came time to join lines

So it happened O my Lord

With his Gandiv in harness

Hanumaan’s ensign in flutter

Arjun stared at Kauravs hard 

And thus spoke to Lord Krishna.


Thus spoke Arjuna:

Pray posit chariot ours upfront

So that I can have a look

At those itching for this war. 


Time I discern those backing

Duryodhan the evil minded. 


Thus spoke Sanjaya: 

Upfront Krishna took Arjun

In their chariot drawn by four.


Beseeched Krishna then Arjun 

That he behold Bhishm ’n Dron

As well all those there gathered.


Espied Arjun his clansmen 

Grandads, uncles, brothers and all

Teachers as well friends of note.


At the site of

His kinsmen,   

He in distress   

Spoke worried. 


Thus spoke Arjuna:

Disturb kinsfolk here gathered

Feel I parched, it nauseates too.


Horrify no end prospects war

Un-grips Gandiv, looks I’m sick.


Looks like it’s an illusion

Lord I envision bad omens all.


Crave I not for power or pelf

What’s it worth to kill Kauravs?


Know not avails what empire

What sort pleasures it entails!


Whom all we wish well in life

Here they face us risking same.


Us they oppose

Dads, grandads

Sons, grandsons, so uncles 

Brothers-in-law ’n teachers too!


Were the stakes be sky high like

Ruling earth ’n heaven as well

Let those Kauravs itch for fight 

I won’t have this war on hand.


Go as they on sinful path

Why earn sin by killing them.


See I no gain by their end

Why then kill our kith ’n kin?


Blinded by greed, bent on deceit 

Fail they foresee, war ruins the race.


Wiser for the woes of wars

Why not Lord we rescind now.


Die aged en masse dharma’s votaries

Won't that let go youth ours haywire? 


Sex ratio adverse that war ensues

Turns women soft on caste barriers.


Fallen women all go to hell 

What is more their bastards rob

Posthumous rites of forebearers.


Liaisons low of women wanton

Set our race on ruinous course.


Is it not said, O My Lord

Fail who dharma are hell bound.


What urge killing kith and kin,

Why should we sin lusting crown?


Disarm I now on my own

Let them harm me if they deem.


Thus spoke Sanjaya: 

Thus O Raja

Despaired Arjun

Arms he threw

And sat distressed.


Ends thus

Arjuna’s Dilemma,

The First Chapter

Of Bhagvad-Gita

Treatise of self-help.


<<Back to introduction

Introduction  Chapter 1   Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4   

Chapter 5    Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8    Chapter 9  

Chapter 10 Chapter 11   Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 

Chapter 15  Chapter 16  Chapter 17  Chapter 18

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