Nov 15, 2011

Unfair Deaths in Mahabharata

While watching Troy over the weekend, based on the Greek Epic 'Iliad', I was thinking about some commanalities between the story of Troy and Mahabharata. One aspect was regarding the unfair and conniving plots to cause the death of the enemy. Though it was clearly mentioned about the rules of war in Mahabhaarata, there were several unfair deaths in the Kurukshetra war. The rules were violated by both Pandavas and Kauravas, more so by Pandavas during the war, reflecting that there is nothing fair in the gory battlefields.

The way Bhishma was killed is unfair due to the following reasons:
i) Yudhishtra asked Bhishma himself how he could be killed. When Bhishma reveals that he wouldn’t attack Sikhandi, a hermaphrodite, Yudhishthira conveys the message to Arjuna and Sikhandi begins to injure Bhishma.
ii) He was attacked by Sikhandi, Arjuna, Yudhishthira, Abhimanyu, Virata, Drupada, Nakula, Sahadeva and several others simultaneously.
iii) Arjuna attacked him from the back of Sikhandi, using him as a cover.
One warrior should not be attacked by many at once.

Abhimanyu breaks the ‘chakra vyooga’ of the Kauravas and enters its core, where he meets all the bigwigs of Kaurava army – Jayadratha, Drona, Duryodhana, Kripacharya, and Asvatthama. Unfazed, he attacks them one by one and is attacked by all at once. Still he could not be brought under control, which irritates the Kaurava warriors. They deprive him of all his war weapons and his chariot and ultimately the son of Duhsasana hits Abhimanyu’s head with a club, resulting in his fall.

i) Considered by most as the most cruel violation of the epic code of fighting, a chariot-warrior should not attack one standing on ground.
ii) One should not be attacked by many at once.

When Bhurisrava attacks and drags a completely exhausted Satyaki, Arjuna intervenes and cuts one arm of Bhurisrava. Later, Satyaki decapitates the one-handed Bhurisrava, who had decided to fast unto death and had devoted himself to yoga.

i) One should not attack a warrior engaged with someone else.
ii) One should not attack someone who is hurt, non-combatant or not intended to fight. Bhurisrava was all three of them when Satyaki cut his head.

To avenge the death of Abhimanyu, Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha by the next day, failing which he would enter into fire. The kaurava army shields Jayadratha very well, and when the sun is just about to set, Krishna creates darkness by shrouding the sun. When the Kaurava army, Jayadratha included, eagerly await Arjuna’s suicide, Arjuna suddenly chops off the head of Jayadratha. Krishna then removes the darkness and makes it appear as if Jayadratha was killed during the daytime.

i) A warrior should not use ‘Maya’ (trickery) against his enemy.
ii) A warrior should not attack a spectator. Though Jayadratha was a Kshatriya, he was merely a spectator to a non-war incident when he was killed.

Like in the case of Bhishma, Yudhishtra asks Drona how he could be killed, to which the latter answers that, only if he gives up his arms after hearing some shocking news. Krishna asks Bhima to kill an elephant named after ‘Ashwathama’ and rejoices that ‘Ashwathama’ is killed. When Drona asks Yudhishtra for the validity of the news, the latter says that ‘Ashwathama has been killed’ and dubiously ‘the elephant of this name has been slaughtered’. Believing Yudhishtra, Drona gets shocked, drops his weapons and devotes himself to yoga. Dhristadyumna attacks Drona and cuts his head off.

A warrior should not attack someone who is distracted, non-combatant or not intended to fight.
Bhima had taken the vow of drinking the blood of Duhsasana. During the fight between them, Bhima attacks him with a club and Duhsasana falls on the ground. Bhima then abuses and kills him. He chops of an arm, tears open his chest and drinks the blood.

A warrior should not attack the fallen/exhausted/hurt foe.

Being severely injured by Arjuna, Karna fell unconscious. Arjuna, upon insistence of Krishna, continues to attack Karna. When Karna is engaged in lifting up the sinking wheel of his chariot, Arjuna constantly attacks him and ultimately chops his head off.

i) Similar to the case of Abhimanyu, a chariot-warrior should not attack one standing on ground.
ii) A warrior should not attack the fallen/exhausted/hurt/emaciated foe.

On the 18th day of the war, Duryodhana finds himself all alone against a vast Pandava army. He flees away from the battlefield and hides in Dvaipayana lake. Pandavas find his location and challenge Duryodhana for a fight. Duryodhana and Bhima start club-fighting, in which Duryodhana appears to be getting the better of Bhima. Seeing this, Krishna tells Arjuna to signal his thighs to Bhima. Bhima hits Duryodhana under his belt, fractures his thigh, and fells the latter, before killing him.

According to the rules of club-fighting, hitting below one’s belt is considered to be strictly illegal.

Drushtadyumna and the sons of Draupadi:
Annoyed by the way Bhima unjustly killed Duryodhana, Ashvatthama is highly angry and wants to take revenge. He, accompanied by Kritavarma and Kripacharya, enters the Pandavas’ camp at night and slaughters the thousands of sleeping occupants of the camp, including Drushtadyumna and the sons of Draupadi.

Arguably the most heinous violation of all, which prohibits killing a sleeping enemy, that too at night.

What is baffling is that, in most of the violations performed by Pandavas, the ideas originated from Krishna, who is considered to be the reincarnation of Vishnu. Probably that was his best way of telling that the means justified the end.


Me too said...

I am reminded of Nayagan dialogue "naalu perukku nallathuna ethuvume thappila"!

Raju said...

Aparna, :-) Its more apt to say "Aaru perukku (Paandaavs + Draupati) nallathuna ethuvume thappilla" ;)

Anonymous said...

Dude, i have previously not seen such a one sided war in terms of war-time crimes. If UN existed then, do you think, the pandaves would be imprisoned after they won the war?

Raju said...

SKS, LOL.. might be.. I strongly believe that most Mahabharata was a creation, so it sits alongside Ramayana as the two mythologies of India. Comparing it with Greek mythologies, well, Trojan invasion was bloody nasty too.