KARNA'S FALL AND YUDHISHTIRA'S DISENCHANTMENT
Vaishampayana, a chronicler and disciple of Dvaipayana, narrated to Janamejaya, the new Kuru ruler, the events that led to the crucial battle of Kurukshetra in which the sons of Pandu killed the sons of their paternal uncle, Dhrtarashtra and their own brother, Karna, who supported the latter. Only after his fall they realized that he was their brother. Yudhishtira, Bhimasena and Arjuna were born to Kunti, a Bhoja princess who had married Pandu, a Kuru prince. Nakula and Sahadeva were born to Madri, a Madra princess, who became Pandus second wife. Pandu was impotent and his sons were sired by his officials of the state who had the designations, Dharma, Vayu, Indra, Dasra and Nasatya. The last two who represented the lower classes were also known as Asvins. Karna was born to Kunti by her pre-marital affair with a general who had the designation, Surya.
Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas, felt sad that he was a party to the fratricide in which Arjuna killed Karna. Narada, Devala, Kanva, Vyasa and Devasthana were some of the prominent sages who hailed the victory of the Pandavas and consoled them on their having lost their sons and brother in that battle. Yudhishtira was sore that his mother, Kunti, had concealed from him the fact that Karna too was her son. He wanted to know what led to the fall of that great warrior. (Shanti Ch.1)
Narada, who was a statesman and chronicler and had easy access to the members of the nobility (devas), offered to tell him what the nobles had kept as a secret. The nobles of the past wanted to enhance their power and influence by admitting to their fold persons from the ranks of warriors (Kshatriyas) who had been freed from all blemishes by the way in which they used their weapons. Kshatriyas could be admitted to the social world of nobles (devaloka, svarga) even when they were alive.
In later days only those warriors who fought valiantly and fell in the battle were honoured with the status of nobles (devas). After deliberations among themselves, the nobility allowed its members to copulate with women born in the Kshatriya cadres of the commonalty. One of the nobles impregnated Kunti who was a virgin and the child born to them was brought up as the son of a charioteer (suta). Narada did not uphold the claim that Kunti had engaged in wanton pre-marital sex.
The scheme of mixed classes (samkaravarnas) which was later incorporated in the socio-cultural code (dharmasastra) used the term, suta to denote one born to a Kshatriya warrior or administrator and to a virgin (kanya) whose father was a Vipra, a scholar constantly on the move spreading knowledge and teaching others. As the Vipra ranked higher than a Kshatriya, this alliance was called pratiloma, and censured. Karnas progenitor was a general (Surya) and had the status of a noble (deva). His mother, Kunti, was a Bhoja princess. Bhojas were essentially landlords and natives of the lands that they ruled. They were not professional soldiers. They belonged to the commonalty (prthvi, bhu) and not to the nobility (divam, sva). Even the status of Kshatriyas was grudged to them.
Kunti must have been overwhelmed by the status and influence of the general and yielded to his advances. Surya who rode on a chariot was not a warrior. He was an administrator having authority over the agro-pastoral plains (bhumi). But his son, Karna, became a fighter trained in archery and other martial arts. He was taught by Drona who taught also the Pandavas and their rivals, the Kauravas. He was jealous of the Pandavas, especially of Arjuna who had become friendly with Krshna.
According to Narada, Karnas nature (svabhava) and the decision the nobles took about his career led to his friendship with Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas. In other words, the nobles wanted him to lead the vast Kaurava army. Narada said that Drona belonged to the school of Angiras. Karna wanted to learn from him the use of the weapon known as Brahma missile and how to withdraw it. This knowledge and skill would make him an equal to Arjuna in battle. But Drona would not oblige him.
Only a Brahman who had gone through the prescribed procedure including self-restraint and utter selflessness was eligible to learn the use of the Brahma missile, that is, secure the right to use the provisions of the socio-political constitution, Brahma, incorporated in the Vedic anthology compiled by Atharvacharya and Angiras. A Kshatriya who had performed severe endeavour (tapas) to find new ways and means, too was eligible to know the use of this constitutional weapon, Brahmastra. Others were not eligible to learn this. Karna, Drona held, was neither a trained jurist (Brahman) nor an administrator (Kshatriya).
Atharvaveda (Brahma) required that all sections of troops whether they owed allegiance to nobles of the agro-pastoral core society or were members of its commonalty or were drafted from the work-force of the industrial frontier society of forests and mountains should during times of war against the recalcitrant feudal warlords (asuras) function under the direction given by Aditya (Surya) and be under his training. The knowledge of the Brahma missile, that is, of the provisions of the socio-political constitution, would extend Karnas authority to all troops and subordinate the Pandavas to him.
Karna who was refused instruction by Drona, the head of the Kuru state academy and an ideologue (Brahmavadi) of the school of Atharva and Angiras, then approached Parasurama who had his academy in the Mahendra mountains (in Kalinga, i.e., Orissa) and introduced himself as a Brahman born in a Bhrgu clan (kula). Bhrgu who was the chief editor of Manava Dharmasastra, too was a major contributor to Atharvan anthology. Parasurama, a zealous Bhrgu was taken in by this claim.
While he was in the Mahendra hills, Karna came in contact with Gandharvas, Rakshasas, Yakshas and Devas. Kalinga was then not a part of Aryavarta (the land between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas) and the new scheme of four classes (varnas), Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras had not yet been extended to it. It was out of bounds for the Brahmans. Devas were liberal aristocrats who governed the agro-pastoral commonalty (manushyas) of the plains. Yakshas were rich plutocrats who controlled the industrial economy of the forests and mountains.
Some of their guards, Rakshas, who had revolted against them were pushed into areas between the plains and the forests and were known as Rakshasas. Gandharvas were adventurous scholars and warriors and ranked between the commoners (manushyas) and the nobles (devas). Most of them were absorbed in the classes of Brahmans and Kshatriyas while the classes of Vaisyas and Shudras emerged from the commonalty (manushyas). Most of the aristocrats (devas) were absorbed in the class of Kshatriyas and the plutocrats (yakshas) in the class of Vaisyas.
Karna once drove his chariot over a cow. Parasurama pronounced that he would get killed when his chariot-wheel would get stuck in the earth. He also declared that the judiciary (Brahmaloka) should not treat his pronouncement as not pronounced, that is, as a pronouncement by an unauthorized person and hence not required to be acted upon. Narada implied that though Parasurama had been exiled from Aryavarta for his excesses, he continued to wield Brahmadanda, authority to pronounce the final judicial verdicts as required by the Atharvan constitution.
Parasurama said that a verdict pronounced by a Brahman (a judge who presided over a four-member constitution bench) who was an expert in Atharvaveda that incorporated the socio-political constitution of the Vedic times, could not be overruled by any other jurist, not even by a large assembly of competent officers of the judiciary, Brahmaloka. Though he had been exiled from Aryavarta by Kashyapa who headed the council of seven sages during the tenure of Manu Vaivasvata, he continued to be a jurist entitled to exercise Brahmadanda and pronounce verdicts that should be enforced by the executive, kings and ministers. His verdict could not be annulled or ignored, (Shantiparva Ch.2)
It did not take long for Parasurama to realize that his student, Karna, was not a Brahman by birth and did not belong to the Bhrgu clan. Karna conceded that he was born in a Suta community which was neither Brahman nor Kshatriya. Besides charioteers, chroniclers and envoys were known as Sutas. They claimed immunity like Brahmans from being killed in battle or while performing their duties. The natives (jana) of the plains (bhumi) treated Karna as the son of Radha, a charioteer. He did not know who his parents were. Parasurama then declared that the Brahma missile would not be available to Karna when needed for defence. However Karna would be superior to all the Kshatriyas of the plains (bhumi), he said.
Karna who was born to a Bhoja princess and a general who had the status of a noble was intended to secure a rank above the Kshatriyas (most of whom had been agriculturists) earlier and next only to the nobles (devas). Brahma jurists occupied a position between the Kshatriyas who were warriors and administrators and the Devas who as members of the ruling elite determined the policy of the state. Karna had aspired for a status equal to these jurists. But when he fell he was equal to only a foot-soldier. The pronouncement by Parasurama precluded Karnas elevation to the status of a noble (deva). (Shantiparva Ch.3)
Karna used the training he received in martial arts while in Kalinga to help his friend, Duryodhana, to take away by force a maiden for whose marriage by svayamvara (bride choosing her groom by herself), her guardian, Chitrangadha, a Gandharva chieftain had arranged. Among the Gandharvas, a maiden could not be coerced by her parents or brothers or by others to marry a groom of their choice. But they had to protect her till she chose her groom. Many prominent princes from northern and eastern regions of India had gathered for this programme. Many of them were natives of Aryavarta (north India) while some were aliens (mlecchas) to Aryavarta. Kalinga was not a part of Aryavarta. Some of the princes were Bhojas (landlords) and some others were Yadavas (owners of pastoral lands and cattle). One of the princes belonged to an eastern province whose polity was dominated by married women. Gandharvas and Apsarases were two sections of the free middle class.
This event proved to be an occasion for Jarasamdha, the powerful general and ruler of Magadha, to challenge Karna for a friendly duel. He endowed Malini, one of his towns on Karna. Narada told Yudhishtira that Karna had been given protective shields and ear-rings by Indra, chief of the nobles (devas). But Karna fell at the hands of Arjuna in the presence of Vasudeva Krshna whose battle tactics aided Arjuna. Arjuna had been sired by Vasava, a Vasu (landlord) and prominent Indra. Karnas patron must have been the chief among those who held the post of Indra during those times. Of course, Karna had by then parted with his shields and ear-rings to Kunti and been weakened by Salya, a friend of Krshna. He had been under illusion induced by Indra and also condemned by Parasurama and other jurists for deception and perjury. It may be noted that Krshna had indicted and condemned to death Drona, Bhishma, Jayadratha and Karna as he told Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Karna who was sired by Surya, a general and aristocrat, was killed by Arjuna who had at his disposal powers received from the Vedic officials designated as Rudra, Indra, Yama, Varuna and Kubera. (These were not gods.) Arjuna had with him weapons gifted by his teachers, Drona and Krpa who however supported the Kauravas in the war. Narada advised Yudhishtira not to grieve for the death of Karna, who had been deceived and condemned by many persons. (Shanti Ch.5)
Kunti tried to explain that Karnas father had earlier requested him to abide by his duty (dharma) to protect his parents and brothers, but Karna was influenced by his friends and acted against his brothers. Hence she neglected him. Yudhishtira was however annoyed with women who tended to hide vital facts. He pronounced that women to whichever social world (loka) they belonged would thenceforth not have the right to keep secret to themselves any matter. This pronouncement debarred women from occupying any position in bodies connected with administration and confidential deliberations and counsel.
Till Yudhishtiras times women enjoyed the same rights as men did in affairs pertaining to social polity. They were thereafter debarred from counsel not because they leaked state secrets but because they concealed what they knew. Yudhishtira proposed the incorporation of this rule in the Dharmasastra. The new open society required that the rights of women to privacy and secrecy be curtailed. When Karna was born, pre-marital affairs and extra-marital affairs by women were not looked down upon and women did not have to resort to secret relations. Yudhishtira gave the new directive in his capacity as successor to an official, who in the later Vedic social polity held the position of protector and executor of social laws, dharma. According to Dvaipayana, it was not a wise decision to debar women from secret counsel.
His act was like that of the Vedic civil judge, Agni, whose verdict was bound to be hurtful. Before the generous laws based on dharma came into force, the rigid puritanical laws based on truth (satya) were in force. They were enforced by this official. It was severe punishment meted out of the glare of public eye, fire covered by smoke. Women were ordered not to keep secret any information known to them and this deprived them of the franchise to occupy positions of power and authority.
ARJUNA OPPOSES YUDHISHTIRA'S PROPOSAL TO RETIRE
Sorrow-stricken, Yudhishtira wanted to retire from all activities and become an ascetic. If the Pandavas had continued to live on alms in the towns of the Vrshnis and Antakas (which belonged to Krshna and his brother, Balarama) they would not have caused through war loss of man-power and leadership (purushas) to the kinsmen of their wives (jnatis). He felt that the amitras, those who were not their friends had succeeded in their objective of not allowing the Kurus to flourish by letting them kill one another. He could not see any objective of dharma being fulfilled (by such fratricidal war). (Shanti Ch.7-3,4)
Yudhishtira held that kshatra dharma needed correction
Yudhishtira felt that the way of life (acara) prescribed for Kshatras and their functioning as impatient (amarsha) strong (bala) men (paurusha) needed to be censured as these orientations had led them to their then plight. He held that Kshatra dharma needed correction (7-5). He noted that those who followed the ways of life of persons moving about in the forest (vana) were always pious (sadhu), forbearing (kshama), self-controlled (dama), pure (soucha), stoic (vairagya), non-malicious (amatsara), non-violent (ahimsa) and committed to speaking the truth (satyavacana) (7-6).
He felt that greed and attraction had led them to their then plight though they gained the state (rajya). They who had desired to conquer the (entire) agro-pastoral commonalty of the plains (prthvi) could not hence delight even if they had brought all the three social worlds (lokas) (nobility, commonalty and the frontier society) under their state (rajya). (7-7, 8) Observing their plight and the absence of their kinsmen who had been killed in the battle none would praise them as conquerors. They were only surviving (jiva) in the plains (prthvi). It was a pyrrhic victory. The war had left the Pandavas poor and also guilty of fratricide.
The Pandavas who had sought enjoyment of affluence had lost all the means of affluence. The commoners and natives who lived on and cultivated the lands and built the economy were not to be lost for gaining hoards of wealth and for all the elephants and horses that were needed for parading power and grandeur. In other words, the men who operated the basic agrarian economy were the real wealth that they should have sought. But the war had caused the death of most of these commoners. Land alone does not constitute wealth (artha). Land (bhumi) inhabited by and cultivated by men (manushyas) is what constitutes wealth, according to Kautilya.
Condemned the institution of army.
Yudhishtira who was required to place the code of dharma on a sound footing, free from doubts on objectives and methods and free from dilemmas caused by internal contradictions, felt that the very institution of army (sena) which upheld the above orientation for its members needed to be condemned and abandoned. The constitution proposed by Mahadeva for small nation-states had for the first time instituted four permanent bodies, house of nobles (sabha), council of scholars (samiti), army (sena) and treasury (sura) to represent the nobles (devas), scholars (Brahmans), warriors (Kshatriyas) and the commonalty (manushyas, prthvi). Parasurama too had been disenchanted with that constitution and called for dissolution of the Kshatriya armies and demilitarization of the polity. Pursuit of politico-economic power had landed the Pandavas in great danger, the danger of the entire Kuru lineage being wiped out.
Concept of paurusham, dynamism, needed amendment
Yudhishtira felt that the concept of paurusham which extolled manliness, dynamism and aggressiveness needed to be amended if it led to challenges, egotism, false pride and arrogance. Parasurama had banned war and battles but permitted duels to settle scores. An alternative was to resort to dice. Yudhishtira had resorted to dice and lost. Yudhishtira also called for a rethinking on the objective of acquiring wealth and power that the value (purushartha) of artha promoted. Yudhishtira lamented that they had in order to gain control over the agro-pastoral lands (prthvi) killed the benevolent charismatic chiefs (isvaras) of these lands who were not to be killed and by killing their brethren (bandhus) they were then leading a despicable materialistic life. Their ambition should be not to enjoy worldly life but to renounce it, he said. For their guilt in killing them the Pandavas should renounce the lands (prthvi) and gold and cattle they had acquired, he said. Those who were under the influence of lust and rage and elation, were in fact going towards decadence (kshaya) and anomie (as pointed out in the Vaivasvata code) by the path of insentience (mrtyu), Yudhishtira said.
He said that the parents (pitaras) sought to have as their godsons (suta) persons who had many noble and beneficent (kalyana) traits like strenuous endeavour (tapas) to know the unknown, discipline expected of a student (of Vedas, Brahma), adherence to laws based on truth (satya) and forbearance (titiksha). (Manu Vaivasvata, who outlined the new social laws, dharma, was patronized by Prajapati Vivasvan as his godson, suta. Hence the chronicler uses the term, suta instead of praja.) Yudhishtira was sad that the Pandavas had by killing in the battle many young persons destroyed the expectations that their mothers had from them (7-9 to 16)
Young men denied the right to become Parthivas
These young men who were denied the right to enjoy the benefits of their status as parthivas, governors of the rural areas, had passed away without discharging their debts (rna) to their elders (pitrs) and the nobles (devatas). This failure to discharge ones duties was a sign of decadence (kshaya) according to the Vaivasvata code. This code required that the residents of the plains should undertake to meet the needs of the three non-economic cadres, elders (pitrs), sages (rshis) and nobles (devas) and those of the forests to meet those of their elders (pitaras), sages (rshis) and the chiefs who had the status of devatas and were mainly yakshas (plutocrats) and nagas (technocrats). The editors of this epic were not eager that the sages should be dependent on the commoners. They however did not envisage the Brahmans taking over the role of the sages and being maintained by other sections of the society. (7-17,18)
Live by ones earnings: Inheritance of property opposed
Yudhishtira explained that when the parents of the chieftains of the free men (nrpas) (who lived away from the former) developed the desire to enjoy the wealth and jewels of the latter they may be presumed to have been brought down. Every generation of men should enjoy only what it had earned and not live by what its ancestors had earned or what its descendants acquired afresh by its own effort. Those who were attached to lust and rage and were elated with the life that they led did not deserve to enjoy the fruits of victory, he said. (7-19,20)
There was no meaning in doting over those of Panchala and Kuru lands who had been killed. They had to note how all the social world of commonalty viewed the deeds of the Pandavas. Though the Pandavas were held to be responsible for the destruction of the social world (loka) of commonalty the blame should fall on the sons of Dhrtarashtra, Yudhishtira argued. He also accused Dhrtarashtra of hating them without cause and putting on the appearance of being sincere. Neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas could be deemed to have won the war. The Kauravas had not enjoyed this world (avani, non-forest areas) or the company of women and musicians. They did not heed the views of their officials (amatyas) and well-wishers (suhrtas) and the Vedic scholars. They did not have the time to enjoy their wealth. (7-21 to 25)
Duryodhana's hatred of and envy for the Pandavas had left him weak, afflicted by jaundice. Saubala (Sakuni) brought this to the notice of Dhrtarashtra who as nrpati was in charge of civil administration but he ignored it because of his excessive filial love and encouraged his desires and ignored the counsel of Bhishma and Vidura. In Yudhishtiras view, this undoubtedly led to the weakness (kshaya) of the king (Dhrtarashtra). Yudhishtira too was then facing a similar agony. Unable to keep under check, his son who was guilty oh indiscipline (aniyama) and impure nature, greed and lust, Dhrtarashtra became responsible for the fall of Suyodhana and his brothers. Suyodhana who had always evil thoughts and hatred for the Pandavas had gone leaving his elderly parents in grief. (7-26 to 30)
Yudhishtira recalled how Suyodhana spoke intolerable harsh words to Yuyutsu and Krshna who had gone as envoy for treaty of peace. He felt that the Pandavas too were responsible for the permanent loss caused by the fire of war to all the provinces (disa) that were shining. But he agreed that it was Duryodhana, a spiteful leader (vairapurusha) who had to be blamed for all that had happened. Yet the Pandavas by killing those who ought not to be killed had gained the censure of the community (loka). He charged that Dhrtarashtra in his capacity as king (raja) had appointed as Isvara, the benevolent charismatic chief of the predominantly rural areas (rashtra) (other than the city), a leader who was a sinner (papapurusha) and was ruing his act. (7-31 to 34) As Isvara, Duryodhana became entitled to extend liberal grants to his admirers and others and win their support.
Sin committed by killing others can be offset by welfare activities and repentance etc.
Yudhishtira conceded that he and other Pandavas had killed warriors but they had committed sin as they had destroyed the nobles (sva) too. By killing them they had been freed from mental harassment (manyu) but he felt encircled by lasting grief. He told Arjuna that the sin committed could be offset by welfare (kalyana) activities,repentance, pity for the sufferer, charitable aid (dana) and by strenuous endeavour (tapas), by retirement from all economic activities (nivrtti), visiting centres for orientation (tirthas), repeating passages from the Vedas (srutis) and the later recollections (smrtis). According to the Vedas, one who had renounced (tyaga) everything would not commit a sin again and was not bound by the laws pertaining to birth and death. The silent sage (muni) who is also a knower (jnani) and is free from the dualities (birth and death, joy and sorrow) obtains a status equal to that of the highest intellectual and jurist (Brahma) (who cannot be indicted for any lapse). (7-35 to 39)
Decadence of life (janma kshaya)
Yudhishtira told Arjuna that he intended to take leave of them and go to the forest giving up the life of a householder, as the Vedas held that one surrounded by attachments would not be able to obtain the benefits assured by the laws (dharma) that prescribed constructive activities. Yudhishtira said that he was directly experiencing this fact. Far from performing constructive work he had only been dispersing sins around him. This would lead one to secure only decadence of his life (janma kshaya) according to the Vedas, he said.
He would disentangle the attachments to the constructive works that encircled him and the state (rajyam) and freed from grief and egotism go away to the forest. He asked Arjuna to rule that land without hardship and according to rules of social welfare and security, kshema. Yudhishtira would not have any wealth and any claim in the enjoyment that (authority over) the state gave. As the Kuru king (raja), Yudhishtira said so, his younger brother, Partha (Arjuna) rejected this offer and arrangement. (7-40 to 44) Arjuna, the valiant and glorious son of Indra, pointed out that Yudhishtira (as the head of the Pandavas) had acquired (through war) huge and valid wealth (sri) after performing a feat that commoners (manushyas) could not perform.
Yudhishtira had gained control over the agrarian lands (mahi) in accordance with his rights and duties (svadharma) and was according to the rules the administrator of all these lands. It was poor intellect (buddhi) to propose to renounce (tyaja) them. Arjuna (who was himself accused of being eunuch) could not envisage a eunuch or a procrastinator obtaining control over the state (rajyam). If renouncing the world was his plan why did Yudhishtira out of anger cause the death of the governors of many agrarian tracts (mahipalas), Arjuna asked.
Arjuna argued that one who had lost his means of livelihood might take up the vocation (karma) of begging. So too one who has lost his fame among all social cadres (lokas) or has lost his sons and cattle or does not have the capacity to retain in his hands what he has gained in war and hence does not desire to go to war may plan to retire and live on alms. Arjuna asked him to note that the commoners would speak low of him if he gave up a rich and flourishing state (rajyam) and desired to commit a sin by seeking to live by resorting to the vocation of begging.
Arjuna against a life without personal property
Arjuna would compare the ascetic going with a bowl to a wizard (tantrik) moving about with a skull. He treated the kapalis as sinners. Did Arjuna hold that poverty was sin? Why did Yudhishtira intend to give up all the means that could lead to all developmental activities and be engaged in activities characteristic of pre-civilization (prakrta)? Arjuna noted that while the Pandavas were born in a royal clan had conquered and created a rich environment (vasundhara), Yudhishtira was bent on giving up all the socio-cultural (dharma) and politico-economic (artha) gains and going to the forest. If the pious (sadhu) got into difficulty and the arrogant destroyed the sacred fires and the scholars (vipras) faced decline, Yudhishtira would become liable to censure, he warned. Of course it was the duty (dharma) of an ascetic (muni) to live without property. But Arjuna would not approve leading a life without personal property.
Cites Nahusha's views
In this connection, he cited the views of Nahusha, a technocrat (naga), who rose to the position of Indra, head of the ruling nobility which controlled both the army and the treasury during the Vedic times. That much-criticized chieftain who headed the industrial society said that poverty and living without wealth (dhana) were to be deplored. Only the sages were permitted not to save for the morrow. Arjuna said that what was considered to be a life based on dharma could be gone through only with the aid of wealth (dhana). (8-1 to 12)
Dharma (generosity) is feasible only if wealth (artha) is gained
According to the advocates of pursuit of wealth (artha), an activity that is said to be dharma, that is, extending generous and selfless aid to the deserving poor takes place only because wealth is available. One who deprives another of his wealth (dhana) does deprive him of his spiritual merit (dharma) and ability to perform his duties. If the Pandavas were to lose their wealth in the absence of their guardian who was to be blamed and pardoned for their inability to perform their duties, Arjuna wondered.
The people (loka) felt that the poor in their neighbourhood were guilty persons. Arjuna did not want poverty to be extolled in his presence. We feel sorry for the sinner who is cast out of the society for moral turpitude and for a poor person who is not admitted to the community. Both have to live in the ghettoes outside the village or town. Of course, Arjuna would not despise them though he found no difference in plight between the two. The ghettoes have some who are poor because they had been sinners and some who had become sinners because they were poor. (8-13 to 15)
Principles of acquiring wealth lead to developmental activities
Arjuna held that the principles of acquiring wealth (artha) led to developmental activities in all fields. Addressing Yudhishtira as chief of free men (naradhipa), Arjuna said that it was through these principles of acquiring wealth (artha), one could perform the duties prescribed by the socio-cultural (dharma) code and experience sensual pleasures (kama) and get the objective of attaining the status of nobles (svarga) met. The progress (yatra) of the unorganized sections of the social world (loka) who are at the bare subsistence level, that is, the pranis, was not feasible without economic resources (artha), Arjuna argued. (8-16,17)
Attainment of status of nobles, highest objective and not moksha
Dharma, artha, kama and moksha (crudely translated as religion, wealth, sex and salvation) are considered to the four values, purusharthas, that every dynamic person is required to pursue. The arthasastras, codes that outlined ways and means to acquire politico-economic power, held that only through acquisition of this power (artha) the objectives of the other two values, dharma and kama, could be fulfilled (siddhi). This code did not deal with moksha, freedom from life. Arjuna presents attainment of svarga as the highest objective and does not refer to moksha.
Just as everything dries up in summer, all the activities of an unintelligent (alpamedha) leader (purusha) who has lost his economic resources (artha) get shattered, Arjuna points out. One who had wealth (artha) could have friends (mitras) and kinsmen (bandhus). One who had wealth was said to be a respectable person (puma) in the social world (loka) and as a cultured and well-versed person (pandita). One who does not have wealth (dhana) but desires to have politico-economic (artha) influence cannot have that artha power according to the rules, Arjuna points out. Only those who have politico-economic power (artha) and use the methods recommended by the science of political economy (arthasastra) can keep under their control those who have (huge) economic resources (artha), even as numerous elephants are required to capture the stronger elephant. (The Pandavas became rulers of Hastinapura, the city of the elephants, the technocrats.) (8-18 to 20)
Beneficial social activity (dharma) flows from wealth
Addressing Yudhishtira as chief of free men (naradhipa) Arjuna said that by means of economic resources (artha) beneficial socio-cultural activities (dharma) could be performed and ones (sexual) desires (kama) fulfilled and win a place in the nobility (svarga) and be elated and rage checked and gain knowledge that is in the Vedas (Srutis) and gain control (dama) over all. (8-21) Wealth (dhana) made the clan (kula) influential and increased social welfare (dharma) activities. Without wealth (dhana) one cannot live happily in this social world (loka) of commoners or in the other (para) social world of nobles, Arjuna told Yudhishtira addressing him as a great (uttama) social leader (purusha). One who has no wealth (dhana) cannot perform as prescribed the dharma activities. Beneficial socio-cultural activity (dharma) flows from wealth (dhana) even as the rivers flow from the mountains, he said. (21 to 23)
Expounds the then theorems of Arthasastras: Favoured emergence of a vast middle clas with everyone having property
Expounding the theorems of the Arthasastras of his times, Arjuna asserted that wealth and power could be gained only through wealth. He was however not for control of the social polity by the very rich. He was also not for the masses living in penury. He was for every one having adequate personal property and for the small landlords coming together to keep under their control the rich bourgeoisie. The politico-economic code of Hastinapura deemed one who had no wealth to be weak. Arjuna seems to favour the emergence of a vast middle class every one of whose members would have property. He said that one who was deprived of economic resources (artha) lacked cattle and had no servants and could not entertain guests. Only such a economically and socially deprived person and not a physically emaciated person should be called krsa. (8-24)
Arjuna addressing Yudhishtira as rajan asked him to note and deliberate from the point of view of law and justice (nyaya) on the conduct of the nobles (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras). He held that the newer cadres of nobles (devatas) did not seek anything except destroying those who belonged to their own community (jati). Devas, devatas and asuras were all human beings. It is wrong to describe them as gods, demigods and demons. The chronicler meant that while there was an intrinsic difference in orientation between the traditional nobles (devas) and the feudal warlords (asuras), the plutocrats (yakshas) and technocrats (nagas) who were (danavas) and later granted the status of devatas were not different from the feudal lords (asuras or daityas). The war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas was to be likened to a civil war between danavas and daityas and not to a war between devas and asuras. (25)
Arjuna does not defend even nobles
The king was required to uphold dharma and embark on social welfare (dharma) activities, according to the Vedas, the poet-legislators called Kavis (who belonged to the school of Bhrgu and Usanas) had said. The Vedic scholars too had prescribed this duty to be constantly carried out. For this purpose one had to acquire the necessary wealth (dhana) of all (sarva) types. (8-26, 27) Arjuna would not defend the nobles (devas) either. He accused them too of having occupied all positions in the ruling elite (divi) by betraying others even as the new nobles (devatas) betrayed their colleagues and kinsmen (jati) for acquiring power and wealth. (28)
He said that the system established by the nobles (devas) for ever (sasvata) as stated by the Vedic ideologues (vedavada) accepted that the duties of studying and teaching (Vedas) and performing sacrifices (yajna) and officiating at sacrifices were dependent on availability of wealth. He argued that such wealth had been obtained from others invariably by doing harm to them (8-29,30).
Arjuna does not deem personal property as sacred
Arjuna however did not accept the claim that personal property was sacred and could not be confiscated under any circumstance. Wealth was necessary to perform the duties and rites prescribed by the code of dharma. Arjuna did not visualize acquisition of wealth as an end in itself. It was a means to lead a good life. The duties prescribed by the code of dharma cannot be fulfilled without wealth that has been acquired by questionable means.
If one could not earn new wealth (especially lands) as all owners of wealth had been granted protection against their property being stolen or attached by others and as no wealth could be transferred to others, new persons with wealth would not emerge. It would appear that at the end of the war, status quo with respect to lands and other wealth had been ordered. Arjuna is seen to dwell on the shortcomings in this order which was meant to assure the commoners that the victors would not victimize the supporters of the vanquished Kauravas.
The landless would not be able to perform their socio-cultural dutiee
As one who had no lands could not come into possession of wealth, the landless would not be able to perform their socio-cultural duties (dharma). The promise of establishing dharmarajya would not be met, he feared.
Bourgeoisie could be deprived of wealth to permit new small landlords
Arjuna supported the move to deprive the bourgeoisie of their wealth and to permit the rise of new small landlords. He expected the latter to promote the values upheld by dharma. Defending his stand, Arjuna claimed on the basis of the Vedas that those who had observed deeply and minutely had said that one should always study the Vedas and also ever be one who knew the reality. One should adopt all methods to earn wealth and should exert himself in performance of sacrifices. It meant that every one had wealth needed for sacrifice.
Acquisition by conquests or by inheritance does not grant legitimacy
Kings (rajas) too conquer the (entire agro-pastoral) country (prthvi) in this way and claim that it belongs to them. So too the son claims the wealth of his forefathers. Strictly speaking victory in war is not adequate to claim the right to rule the lands that belong to the commoners engaged in agriculture and pasture. Even the right of inheritance should not grant legitimacy to ownership. Arjuna, that is, the editor of this epic does not grant legitimacy for acquisition by conquests or by inheritance even as acquiring anothers wealth by betrayal is illegitimate. Both devas and devatas, the two wings of the new elite were guilty of betraying their colleagues and compatriots and so too conquerors and all owners of property came into wealth by improper means. (8-31)
Nobles accused of betraying their colleagues
Arjuna argued that positions in the nobility had all been obtained by their then incumbents by betraying their kinsmen. The reasons for which the nobles desired the fulfillment of their personal desires (ishta) indicated this. They had amassed wealth at the cost of other members of their extended families and become ishtadevas. Every family had its ishtadeva, a noble who promised to protect it and meet its needs. Arjuna was not happy with this system. Like many others he was disillusioned with the nobles who accepted whatever their followers offered but failed to meet their expectations. This aspect is as enduring as the Vedas are, according to the editors. Most of the nobles were in fact greedy plutocrats.
Property not had without harming others
Arjuna argued that all the wealth that the individuals in the world of commoners possessed had been received from others. He disputed the claim that no one should be deprived of his wealth as he has earned it by his hard labour. The rich had not worked to earn their wealth. As they had received it only from others, they could become blessed by treating it as being held in trust. Arjuna did not see anywhere any type of property that was not had without having harmed others. He implied that lands and other wealth had been acquired through deception and extortion and not by just means like gift and savings from what was earned by hard work. Property was theft if not held in trust by its owner. Kings held the states inherited by them as trustees. They were not built by them. On their death or retirement their sons inherited them.
Rajarshis temporary trustees
The Rajarshis, the ideal rulers who were also sages, held their property only as temporary trustees. They did not annex the lands of others. They were eligible for a place in the nobility (svarga). Their meritorious deeds (dharma) were extolled, Arjuna pointed out. He pointed out that even as the excess of the water in the sea evaporated to form clouds and then come down on all lands as rain, the excess of the wealth (vitta) held by royal clans flowed into the hands of the commoners of the plains (prthvi). (8-32) He was sore that his brother, a Dharmaraja, had not deprived the vanquished rulers of all their ill-gotten wealth and permitted it to be used as allowance for the maintenance of their families and dependents.
Arjuna wanted his brothers to note that the lands (prthvi) that they had secured at the end of the battle were not those that their rivals, the Kauravas had obtained by their exertion. They once belonged to Dilipa, their ancestor, or to Nrga, a free man and chieftain who preferred to be always on the move piping away musical notes without any effort to work and earn his wealth. Some of the lands that came to the lot of the Pandavas were moors and bushes once held by Nahusha. Some other lands were on the social periphery and were under the aegis of Ambarisha. They had been placed at his disposal by Atharvan priests who were not eager to cultivate them. He held them as a trustee. Some other lands stood in the name of the famous emperor, Mamdhata. After ridding north India (Aryavarta) of all alien intruders, he withdrew without staying back to restore those lands to their original owners. (8-33, 34)
Arjuna expected Yudhishtira to give away all these inherited lands and wealth in asvamedha sacrifice as fees to the priests and others attending it to grant legitimacy for his victory in war. If he did not do so, he would incur the blemish of acquiring a state (rajya) by unlawful means. By attending that sacrifice and contributing their shares and performing the purificatory rites all would become pure. (8-35) Arjuna recalled how Mahadeva who represented the entire larger society as Visvarupa performed the famous and great (mahamakha) sarvamedha sacrifice in which he personally and also all the discrete individuals (sarvabhuta) of the social periphery who were his followers sacrificed themselves (atmana). This was the way prescribed for those who had acquired landed estates (bhuti) following the Vedic system and is permanent (sasvata) and endless. Arjuna claimed that the great son of Dasaratha followed this path of sacrificing his body along with his lands and wealth and exhorted Yudhishtira not to go by any crooked and evil path. (8-36,37)
Bhima's stand: No compassion for anyone
But Yudhishtira reiterated his decision to give up all desires and attachments and go to the forest to lead the life of an ascetic. (Shantiparva Ch.9) Bhimasena who had no patience for the dull traditional priests wondered why Yudhishtira who was an intellectual failed to notice the import of the philosophy (of renunciation) that he advocated. He had despised Rajadharma and resolved to lead a life of indolence and there was hence no use in destroying the sons of Dhrtarashtra. The path (marga) of those who followed the practices (acara) prescribed for Kshatras required that one should not entertain even for his brothers (bandhus) the feelings of forbearance (kshama), sympathy (anukampa), compassion (karuna), non-inhumanity (anrusamsya), Bhima said. If they had known earlier that he would renounce the kingdom, the Pandavas would not have taken up arms to kill their enemies, he argued. They too would have opted to live by seeking alms and that war between the rulers of agrarian tracts (mahikshitas) would not have taken place. (10-1 to 5)
Stand of the school of Usanas
According to the Kavis (legislators and political thinkers belonging to the school of Bhargava Usanas) every thing in the world was meant to feed the people at the bare subsistence level (prana). Both the settled groups (sthavara) and the mobile groups (jangama) had to undertake the responsibility to feed all these weaker sections (pranas). The scholars who knew the provisions of Kshatradharma were aware and said that while capturing a state (rajyam) all those who tried to frustrate it should be killed.
Kshatradharma shows no mercy; Kshatradharma is humanitarian
Kshatradharma did not allow scope for mercy while kshatradharma of Yudhishtira was based on humanitarianism. Bhima told Yudhishtira that the Pandavas had killed the criminals who had encircled and controlled (paripanthina) the rural areas (rajyam). He asked Yudhishtira to enjoy that agrarian terrain (mahi) acquired justly in accordance with dharma (that is, kshatradharma) by killing the criminals. Bhima implied that what they had done was not unauthorized conquest of a new territory but liberation of an agrarian state from marauders who had encircled it. (6 to 8)
Bhima complained that all their efforts had been rendered useless by the decision taken by their elder brother, Yudhishtira to renounce his rulership and retire to the forest as an ascetic and making them liable to be censured for being under the control of a coward and become equal to powerless persons though they were trained in all sciences and were powerful men as well as thinkers. (10-9 to 15)
Bhima lamented that they who were protectors of the unprotected were losing their economic means (artha). How would the natives (jana) of their country who looked to them for fulfillment of their economic objectives view them, he asked his brothers to consider. They had been taught that only in emergency (apatkala) or when physically emaciated or when deprived of ones means by the enemy one should resort to asceticism (sanyasa), he said. Resorting to renunciation (tyaga) when such situations had not risen was not recommended by the trained thinkers (krta-prajna) of this world.
Those who were deep observers considered Yudhishtira's proposal as dysfunctional to dharma, Bhima claimed. Bhima said that those who were recruited to and trained for the purpose of protecting the weak sections of the population and to kill their enemies followed that orientation. It was not proper for a person assigned to that kshatriya class to criticize the benevolent overlord (dhata) who had made this arrangement. He included both the warriors and the administrators in this class. (16 to 19)
Those who had lost their wealth (sri), those who do not have wealth (dhana) and are heretics (nastikas) took positions along the lines of the new knowledge (vijnana) advocated by the Vedic ideologues. Bhima was criticizing the Vratyas who claimed to be Atharvan ideologues and disclaimed any role for the dhata and the nobles in creating the class of kshatriyas and defining its orientations.
These ideologues advocated laws based on truth (satya) that gilded the laws of nature (rta). They retained the concept of inevitable struggle for survival and survival of the fittest while giving the appearance of following the strict puritanical laws. Bhima accused Yudhishtira of following this conduct of the Vratyas who were heretics. Such heretics were persons who had failed to become and remain rich. They were using the values advocated by the laws of dharma to earn a livelihood while giving the impression of being silent sages, he charged. (20 to 22)
He conceded that one who was unable to bring up his children and grandchildren and could not discharge his duties (as a householder) to the nobles (devas), sages (rshis), guests (atithis) and retired elders (pitrs) might go to the forest and live alone. The denizens of the forest like deer, pigs and birds cannot win a place in the ranks of the nobility (svarga). The meritorious (punya) deeds needed for winning such a place are of a different type, the natives (jana) of the agro-pastoral plains say, he pointed out. If a king was to become a siddha by going to the forest, then the trees and mountains too could become, he said satirically.
Only those who were always celibates (brahmacharis) could be deemed to have renounced worldly life for ever and become sanyasis for ever living without trouble and without attachment to those around them. As one is not fortunate to get his objectives fulfilled by the achievements of others, it was necessary that one should always do his duties. By not doing ones duties one cannot attain siddhi, the status of one who had fulfilled his objectives. (10-23 to 26)
While the fish that lived in water and the immobile beings which just exist (jantu) have no other function except to survive cannot hence hope to get siddhi, fulfillment of the higher objectives of life, those belonging to the unorganized social universe (jagat) of free intellectuals are seen to be engaged each in his respective duty. Bhima stressed that siddhi could be attained only by doing ones duty (kartavya) and not by not being in any work (akarma). (10-27,28)
Indra: Path of activity prescribed in the Vedas for social ascent
Arjuna endorsing Bhimas stand cited the discussion between an Indra and some young scholars who went to the forest under the impression that the code of duties (dharma) prescribed for the stage (asrama) of renunciation (sanyasa) was the best. These youths were skipping the stage of householders (grhasthas) and that of retired senior citizens (vanaprasthas). Indra made them realize their error. He asserted that it was the path of activity (karma) as prescribed in the Vedas which would lead one to the fold of the nobles (svarga). It is not sound to translate the term, svarga as heaven or equate it with the concepts, moksha and mukti, freedom from bondage. Indra was the head of the house of nobles (devas).
Indra pointed out that among the quadrupeds, the cow was the best and among the bipeds, the Brahman was the best while gold was the best among the metals and counsel (mantra) among utterances (sabda). For Brahmans authorized procedures in life had been prescribed for all stages from birth to death. Performance of the duties prescribed in the Vedas was the best way to attain svarga. All the acts which were in accordance with the counsel given in the formulae (mantra) would enable one to get his objective fulfilled (siddhi) (11-11 to 13) He told the young scholars that they should perform every one of the duties prescribed according to the period and stage of life for them. All the discrete individuals (sarva bhutas) on the social periphery took care to perform those duties and benefit. He warned that commoners who foolishly deviated from this path would lose their wealth and would also become sinners (11-14 to 16).
The house of nobles (devas) (of every region) had to approve the codes for every social class (varna) and every stage of life (asrama) and ensure that they were followed by every member of that class. One who deviated was liable to be deprived of his economic means and wealth and declared to be a sinner and required to stay outside the village or town and perform penance. [It may be noted that the authority to hand out such punishment was vested in the house of nobles and not in the Brahmans for the Brahmans (scholars) themselves often defaulted and had to be punished by the nobles (devas) who were superior to them.]
Directives of Indra school and authority of nobles
This direction was applicable not only to the commoners (manushyas) who opted to join one of the newly created four classes but also to a noble (deva) who similarly opted to join one of the four classes. Members of the new classes who functioned under the Manava Dharmasastra were called Manavas. These manavas could retain their statuses as a noble (deva) or a senior citizen (pitr) or an intellectual (brahma), especially a jurist. Many reformed and retired feudal lords (asuras) had been admitted to the cadre of elders (pitrs, pitaras). Arjuna noted that the jurist (Brahma) ranked higher than the chief of the people (prajapati). The latter was ordinarily a senior person from among the elders (pitrs). He was superior to the nobles (devas). (17)
Tapas and Dharma Indras defence of nobles
Indra said that only one who stuck to the path of duty (dharma) prescribed for every stage of life would be treated as performing tapas, engaging in concentrated endeavour to discover new means and new knowledge. Those who were not approved tapasvis could be forced to do physical labour like a commoner, he implied. To serve ones teacher (guru) by contributing the share due to the lineages of nobles (devas), the jurists (Brahmans) and the senior citizens (pitrs) was considered to be difficult. According to that Indra, the nobles obtained their wealth only through performance of deeds that were considered by many to be impossible.
Hence he appealed to the young scholars to accept the stage of life of householders (kutumbavidhi) and give birth to offspring (prajas). Brahmans (jurists) who had no doubts about the code said that performance of the duties of a householder was deemed to be tapas. The vipras, scholars who were constantly on the move spreading knowledge and the desirable orientations, considered absence of malice (vimatsara) and dualities like likes and dislikes as tapas. Meditation (tapas) performed in a forest was only next in importance to performance of duties as a house-holder he told the young scholars who wanted to become tapasvis. Observance of rigorous (religious) pledges (vratas) was considered by the social world (loka) of commoners as tapas. But it was of medium (madhya) quality compared to the above, Indra said.
Indra said that a house-holder who consumed only what remained after feeding those who ought to be looked after by him, that is, the guests (atithi), the nobles (devas), retired elders (pitrs) and members of his family including dependents (svajana) could attain the almost unattainable highest position. One who lived in accordance with this austere step (suvrata) undertaken by him as part of his svadharma, and upheld the laws based on truth (satya) would become a faultless teacher (guru) for the social world (loka). Addressing Yudhishtira as the best of (uttama) free men (nara), Arjuna asked him to follow the young scholars who returned to the life of house-holder after listening to Indras exhortation, and to boldly and without enemies rule the commoners of the agro-pastoral plains (prthvi) forever. (11-18 to 28)