Five Roles Krishna Assumed For The Benefit Of The Pandavas

[Krishna and Arjuna]“This dhira-prashanta trait of Krishna was exhibited in His dealings with the Pandavas. On account of the Pandavas’ faithful devotion to the Lord, He agreed to become their charioteer, their advisor, their friend, their messenger and sometimes their bodyguard. Such is an example of the result of devotional service towards Vishnu.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 23)

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The Sanskrit word Bhagavan refers to someone who is fortunate in an unlimited way. Nothing is lacking, either. In sports we see that certain players are better suited for certain roles. One is fast and agile, while another is intelligent and strong. Rare it is to find someone who can do everything.

That is limited to the realm of sports competition, but imagine someone who is not lacking any feature. They can give a dissertation on the highest philosophy at one moment and build a motorcycle from parts the next. Not surprisingly, the word Bhagavan really only applies to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When the same word is used for others, it is because they are His devotees and have received some of the same ability from the original source.

It is still a difficult task to try to understand Bhagavan. Leaders in the chain of disciplic succession have attempted to explain Bhagavan to others, and one such resulting work is the Bhakti-Rasamritasindhu by Shrila Rupa Gosvami. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has translated and commented on this work in English, with the resulting title The Nectar of Devotion.

That book lists many qualities of Bhagavan, who is known as Krishna due to His all-attractive nature. Bhagavan is beyond a concept; He is a real person, with feelings, thoughts, deeds and names. This makes the task of explaining Him a little easier, as there are identifiable qualities.

One of those qualities is described as dhira-prashanta in Sanskrit. Krishna is forbearing, peaceful and obliging. The best example given for proof of this quality is Krishna’s dealing with the Pandavas, the five sons of King Pandu who were the central characters to the great history known as the Mahabharata. As He is so obliging to His devotees, Krishna assumed different roles for the benefit of those brothers.

1. Charioteer

This was for the final war, to settle the dispute once and for all. The kingdom centralized in the city of Hastinapura rightfully belonged to Pandu’s sons. The sons of Dhritarashtra, Pandu’s brother, took it over illegally. The Pandavas didn’t want to go to war; it was a last resort.

There were a good number of people on both sides, and so Krishna stayed mostly out of the conflict. He agreed to be the charioteer for Arjuna, which on the surface seemed like a trivial role. Arjuna would be leading the fight for the Pandavas. His arrows would determine success or failure.

[Krishna and Arjuna]This was a very kind act on the part of Krishna because it would serve as the basis for the subsequent Bhagavad-gita discussion. The highest wisdom known in the world, safely passed on to worthy disciples since the beginning of time, was discussed on a battlefield of all places, right before the greatest war in history. The charioteer did more in that discussion to influence the outcome than the millions of fighters would afterwards combined.

2. Advisor

Statecraft is not a simple business. There are many nuances. Sometimes you have to lie. You say one thing in order to gauge a reaction. Maybe there is another plan you are implementing, so you want to keep the public distracted. Never let your enemy know what your next move is. And enemies there surely are, otherwise there would be no reason to have government in the first place.

Who better to advise the Pandavas than the Supreme Lord Himself? One of His many opulences is intelligence. That benevolent advisor would sometimes show up uninvited, like the time the Pandavas were at risk of the wrath of Durvasa Muni. They were living in the forest at the time, and the leader of the opposition party intentionally sent Durvasa Muni to visit them.

The Pandavas could properly host guests using this amazing bowl known as the Akshaya Patra. There was a rule, though. Once the wife Draupadi had finished eating, the bowl would stop producing food; the meal was complete. This was the predicament when Durvasa Muni, known for his anger, paid a visit, bringing along many of his friends.

[Krishna eating from Akshaya Patra]In His advisory role, Krishna happened to appear on the spot. He asked Draupadi to see the bowl. There was one grain of food left in it, and so Krishna ate it. He was satisfied since the offering came from devotees, and through His satisfaction Durvasa and the accompanying sages suddenly felt too full to eat. Instead of returning from bathing, they simply left the scene, as it is considered offensive to refuse the hospitality of a host.

3. Friend

Arjuna references this relationship in the Bhagavad-gita. The two were related as cousins, but they were great friends, also. Friends are made amongst equals, so for such a relationship to exist with Krishna, God must agree to hide some of His opulences. Otherwise, who can be equal to Him?

When Arjuna learned in truth on the battlefield that Krishna is the Supreme Lord, He apologized for previously having behaved in a friendly manner. There was no reason to do so, but the awe-inspiring vision of the virata-rupa, the universal form, has this effect.

4. Messenger

Right before the war, Krishna made one last attempt at peace. He went to visit Duryodhana, the leader of the Kurus, to see if conflict could be avoided. The Pandavas did not accompany Krishna. Dhritarashtra’s son was so foolish that he tried to bind Krishna. This went against protocol and was also impossible. In response, Krishna showed a version of the universal form, mockingly asking Duryodhana to try to bind it.

5. Bodyguard

Since the Pandavas were favored by Krishna, they won the war. Not many people remained in the aftermath. There was tremendous bloodshed. One of the people on the Kuru side who survived was Ashvatthama. He was the son of the guru of the Pandavas. A bad character, the fiend tried to kill the Pandavas while they were sleeping one night, but ended up decapitating the five sons of Draupadi instead. This called for the death sentence as proper punishment, but Draupadi was too forgiving. She spared Ashvatthama.

Keeping true to his nature, Ashvatthama later released an amazing weapon known as the Brahmashtra. It was headed straight for the womb of Uttara, who carried the future of the Pandava family. In this instance Krishna acted as bodyguard by entering Uttara’s womb and counteracting the weapon. That child was none other than Parikshit, who would go on to become a lifelong devotee, receiving the great fortune of seeing and being protected by God while within the womb.

In Closing:

Fiery weapon ready for damage soon,

Parikshit protected by Krishna in the womb.

Another time role of messenger to find,

Who foolish Duryodhana tried to bind.

Potential disaster when Durvasa came,

Averted when taking from bowl a single grain.

Pandava family favoring in this way,

Lord on side of bhaktas to stay.



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