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Invitation to World Literature

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The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War
Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller
(Bantam Classic, 2004)

The First Teaching

Arjuna's Dejection

Dhritarashtra
Sanjaya, tell me what my sons and the sons of Pandu did when they met, wanting to battle on the field of Kuru, on the field of sacred duty?

Frontispiece image from a 1903 edition of The Bhagavad Gita .

Sanjaya
Your son Duryodhana, the king, seeing the Pandava forces arrayed, approached his teacher Drona and spoke in command.

"My teacher, see the great Pandava army arrayed by Drupada's son, your pupil, intent on revenge.

Here are heroes, mighty archers equal to Bhima and Arjuna in warfare, Yuyudhana, Virata, and Drupada, your sworn foe on his great chariot.

Here too are Dhrishtaketu, Cekitana, and the brave king of Benares; Purujit, Kuntibhoja, and the manly king of the Shibis.

Yudhamanyu is bold, and Uttamaujas is brave; the sons of Subhadra and Draupadi all command great chariots.

Now, honored priest, mark the superb men on our side as I tell you the names of my leaders.

They are you and Bhishma, Karna and Kripa, a victor in battles, your own son Ashvatthama, Vikarna, and the son of Somadatta.

Many other heroes also risk their lives for my sake, bearing varied weapons and skilled in the ways of war.

Guarded by Bhishma, the strength of our army is without limit; but the strength of their army, guarded by Bhima, is limited.

In all the movements of battle, you and your men, stationed according to plan, must guard Bhishma well!"

Bhishma, fiery elder of the Kurus, roared his lion's roar and blew his conch horn, exciting Duryodhana's delight.

Conches and kettledrums, cymbals, tabors, and trumpets were sounded at once and the din of a tumult arose.

Standing on their great chariot yoked with white stallions, Krishna and Arjuna, Pandu's son, Sounded their divine conches.

Krishna blew Pancajanya, won from a demon; Arjuna blew Devadatta, a gift of the gods; fierce wolf-bellied Bhima blew Paundra, his great conch of the east.

Yudhishthira, Kunti's son, the king, blew Anantavijaya, conch of boundless victory; his twin brothers Nakula and Sahadeva blew conches resonant and jeweled-toned.

The king of Benares, a superb archer, and Shikhandin on his great chariot, Drishtadyumna, Virata, and indomitable Satyaki, all blew their conches.

Drupada, with his five grandsons, and Subhadra's strong-armed son, each in his turn blew their conches, O, King.

The noise tore the hearts of Dhritarashtra's sons, and tumult echoed through heaven and earth.

Arjuna, his war flag a rampant monkey, saw Dhritarashtra's sons assembled as weapons were ready to clash, and he lifted his bow.

He told his charioteer: "Krishna, halt my chariot between the armies!

Far enough for me to see these men who lust for war, ready to fight with me in the strain of battle.

© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Krishna in part-god form driving Arjuna's chariot.

 

I see men gathered here, eager to fight, bent on serving the folly of Dhritarashtra's son."

When Arjuna had spoken Krishna halted their splendid chariot between the armies.

Facing Bhishma and Drona and all the great kings, he said, "Arjuna, see the Kuru men assembled here!"

Arjuna saw them standing there: fathers, grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, and friends.

He surveyed his elders and companions in both armies, all his kinsmen assembled together.

Dejected, filled with strange pity, he said this: "Krishna, I see my kinsmen gathered here, wanting war.

My limbs sink, my mouth is parched, my body trembles, the hair bristles on my flesh.

The magic bow slips from my hand, my skin burns, I cannot stand still. my mind reels.

I see omens of chaos, Krishna; I see no good in killing my kinsmen in battle.

Krishna, I seek no victory, or kingship or pleasures. What use to us are kingship, delights, or life itself?

We sought kingship, delights and pleasures for the sake of those assembled to abandon their lives and fortunes in battle.

They are teachers, fathers, sons, and grandfathers, uncles, grandsons, fathers and brothers of wives, and other men of our family.

I do not want to kill them even if I am killed, Krishna; not for kingship of all three worlds, much less for the earth!

What joy is there for us, Krishna in killing Dhritarashtra's sons? Evil will haunt us if we kill them, though their bows are drawn to kill.

Honor forbids us to kill our cousins, Dhritarashtra's sons; how can we know happiness if we kill our own kinsmen?

The greed that distorts their reason blinds them to the sin they commit in ruining the family, blinds them to the crime of betraying friends.

How can we ignore the wisdom of turning from this evil when we see the sin of family destruction, Krishna?

When the family is ruined, the timeless laws of family duty perish; and when duty is lost, chaos overwhelms the family.

In overwhelming chaos, Krishna, women of the family are corrupted; and when women are corrupted, disorder is born in society.

This disorder drags the violators and the family itself into hell; for ancestors fall when rites of offering rice and water lapse.

The sins of men who violate the family create disorder in society that undermines the constant laws of caste and family duty.

Krishna, we have heard that a place in hell is reserved for men who undermine family duties.

I lament the great sin we commit when our greed for kinship and pleasures drives us to kill our kinsmen.

If Dhritarashtra's armed sons kill me in battle when I am unarmed and offer no resistance, it will be my reward."

Saying this in the time of war, Arjuna slumped into the chariot and laid down his bow and arrows, his mind tormented by grief.

Krishna, mighty and powerful, instructing Arjuna.

The Bhagavad-Gita:
Krishna's Counsel in Time of War

Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller
Bantam Classic, 2004