Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita is called the “Arjuna Vishada Yoga” meaning Arjuna’s despondency which is interestingly called a “Yoga”. It is paradoxical to call an expression of sorrow or despondency as a “Yoga”.
Yoga means “union” but the question arises as to union with what? Why should Arjuna become despondent having come to the battle field to wage a war and why is this even a Yoga?
As Arjuna requested Krishna to take the chariot to the center of the battlefield to survey the ranks of his enemies—he saw his own kith and kin including his grand-father Bhishma and his Gurus Dronacharya, Krupacharya and many other elders. He was overcome by grief and shuddered at the thought of killing his relatives and his preceptors for the throne.
Arjuna not wanting to fight, expresses words of wisdom by saying – “Ahimsa paramo Dharmaha” – Non-violence is the best policy or prime duty. It is important to note that Arjuna was not a coward to run away from the battlefield.
His despondency arose from a sudden realisation which made him introspect and question what will be the use of a Kingdom that is gained by killing one’s cousins, elders and Gurus. What is the value of such success? This pain and sorrow, when it arises not for personal well-being but for the larger good, is transformed into what we may call as “VISHADA YOGA”.
The ‘VISHADA’ or sorrow leads to a state of Sanyasa Yoga, which is the bedrock of detachment. We have read this in the lives of the great Nayanmars and Azhwars where this type of sorrow and suffering for the larger good is described. Similarly, Arjuna’s grief is slowly turning into that of a grief for larger good and he is on the verge of doing a total Surrender or “Saranagati” to Lord Shri Krishna. Thus VISHADA, true and sincere, is a first step for union with GOD!
Swami Krishnananda explains this scenario with an analogy of a person taking a vaccine to protect against a severe disease. While the vaccine is to prevent a severe ailment, the after-effects of a vaccine typically causes a temporary period of illness. He compares Arjuna’s despondency as this temporary state of illness before Arjuna makes himself ready to receive the wisdom and knowledge from Lord Shri Krishna. In this sense, the state of Arjuna’s despondency is seen as Vishada Yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita begins with the verse, “Dharmakshetra, Kurushetra”, indicating a conflict between one’s righteous duties and one’s heart’s desire….there is constant battle between wisdom and ignorance that is present in the mind of each being. This battle to overcome ignorance to gain wisdom, and become detached from what is impermanent and perishable leads to eternal bliss.
Having set the context, let’s begin with Chapter 1 which mainly is a description of the battlefield and the state of Arjuna’s mind and his despondency.
1.1 SHLOKA 1.1
धृतराष्ट्र उवाच |
धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे समवेता युयुत्सवः |
मामकाः पाण्डवाश्चैव किमकुर्वत सञ्जय ||1.1||
Dharma-kṣhetre kuru-kṣhetre samaveta yuyutsavaḥ |
Mamakaḥ Paṇḍavashchaiva kimakurvata Sanjaya ||1.1||
Meaning: Dhritarashtra said: O’ Sanjaya, What are my sons and Pandava’s sons doing after assembling for the battle on the virtuous land of Kurukshetra?
King Dhritarashtra, apart from being blind from birth, was also bereft of spiritual wisdom. His attachment to his own sons made him deviate from the path of virtue and usurp the rightful kingdom of the Pandavas. He was conscious of the injustice he meted out to his nephews, the sons of Pandu. His guilt worried him about the outcome of the battle, and he inquires Sanjaya about the events on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where the war was about to commence.
Dhritarashtra’s question was superfluous as it was obvious that they had assembled in the Kurukshetra battlefield with the sole purpose of waging a war. His doubt can be discerned from the words he used—dharma kṣhetre, the land of dharma (virtuous conduct). Kurukshetra was a sacred land. Dhritarashtra apprehended that the influence of the holy land of Kurukshetra may have an impact on the result which could lead to victory of the Pandavas, though he had great faith in the army of the Kauravas led by Bhishma. At the same time, he was uncertain of the consequences of the war, and wished to ascertain the fate of his sons. As a result, he asked Sanjaya about the goings-on at the battleground of Kurukshetra, where the two armies had assembled.
1.2 SHLOKA 1.2
सञ्जय उवाच ।
दृष्ट्वा तु पाण्डवानीकं व्यूढं दुर्योधनस्तदा ।
आचार्यमुपसङ्गम्य राजा वचनमब्रवीत् ॥ १–२॥
Drstva tu Pandavanikam vyudham Duryodhanas tada |
Acaryam upasangamya Raja vacanam abravit ||1.2||
Meaning: Sanjaya said: O King, after looking over the army gathered by the sons of Pandu, King Duryodhana went to his teacher and began to speak the following words (next Shloka).
Sanjaya informed King Dhritarashtra that his son, Duryodhana, after seeing the military forces of the Pandavas, at once went to the commander-in-chief, Dronacharya, to take stock of the situation on the ground. Duryodhana’s egoistic veneer could not disguise the fear he felt when he saw the military arrangement of the Pandavas.
1.3 SHLOKA 1.3
पश्यैतां पाण्डुपुत्राणामाचार्य महतीं चमूम् ।
व्यूढां द्रुपदपुत्रेण तव शिष्येण धीमता ॥ १–३॥
Pasyaitam Pandu-putranam acarya mahatim camum |
Vyudham Drupada-putrena tava sisyena dhimata ||1.3||
Meaning: O my teacher, behold the great army of the sons of Pandu, so expertly arranged by your intelligent disciple, the son of Drupada.
Duryodhana, wanted to point out the flaws of Dronacharya and very subtly brings up the rivalry of Dronacarya with King Drupada by referring to the son of Drupada.
As a result of a clash with Dronacharya, in which Drupada was humbled, Drupada performed a great sacrifice, by which he received the benediction of having a son who would be able to kill Dronacharya. Even though Dhristadyumna, son of Drupada, was the prophesied killer of Drona, he was accepted as a student by the benevolent Drona, and he learned advanced military arts. Now, on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, Dhrstadyumna took the side of the Pandavas, and he has arranged their military phalanx, after having learned the art from his Guru Dronacharya.
Duryodhana pointed out this blunder of Dronacharya’s so that he might be alert and uncompromising in the battle. By mentioning this he also wanted to point out that he should not be similarly lenient in the battle against the Pandavas, who were also Dronacharya’s affectionate students. Arjuna, especially, was his most affectionate and hence, Duryodhana warned Dronacharya that any leniency in the battle could lead to defeat.
1.4 SHLOKA 1.4
अत्र शूरा महेष्वासा भीमार्जुनसमा युधि ।
युयुधानो विराटश्च द्रुपदश्च महारथः ॥ १–४॥
Atra sura Mahesv-asa BhimArjuna-sama yudhi |
Yuyudhano viratas ca Drupadas ca Maha-rathah ||1.4||
Meaning: Here in this army there are many heroic bowmen equal to the might of Bhima and Arjuna, such as Satyaki, King Virata, Drupada and other great fighters.
Duryodhana’s use of the words ‘atra surah’ in addressing Drona is an insinuation and he says to Dronacharya that If you are thinking that because the Pandavas army commanded by Dhristadyumna are less than ours and they can be easily defeated, and there is nothing to worry about, then you are mistaken. These warriors are all mighty bowmen just like Bhima and Arjuna, and the arrows from whose bows are as vicious as they come. The warriors such as Yuyudhana (who is also known as Satyaki), Virata and Drupada are distinguished as ‘maha-rathi’ meaning ‘the mightiest of chariot warriors’.
1.5 SHLOKA 1.5
धृष्टकेतुश्चेकितानः काशिराजश्च वीर्यवान् ।
पुरुजित्कुन्तिभोजश्च शैब्यश्च नरपुङ्गवः ॥ १–५॥
Dhrstaketus cekitanah kasirajas ca viryavan |
Purujit Kuntibhojas ca saibyas ca nara-pungavah ||1.5||
Meaning: There are also great, heroic, powerful fighters like Dhrstaketu, Cekitana, Kasiraja, Purujit, Kuntibhoja and Saibya.
Duryodhana continues to enlist the warriors in the enemy camp to ensure that Dronacharya does not get complacent and that he prepares for the battle in the right earnest.
1.6 SHLOKA 1.6
युधामन्युश्च विक्रान्त उत्तमौजाश्च वीर्यवान् ।
सौभद्रो द्रौपदेयाश्च सर्व एव महारथाः ॥ १–६॥
Yudhamanyus ca vikranta uttamaujas ca viryavan |
Saubhadro draupadeyas ca sarva eva maha-rathah ||1.6||
Meaning: There are the mighty Yudhamanyu, the very powerful Uttamauja, the son of Subhadra and the sons of Draupadi. All these warriors are great chariot fighters.
Duryodhana goes on further with his list of other warriors so that Dronacharya feels offended enough to prove him wrong by showing his full might in the battlefield.
1.7 SHLOKA 1.7
अस्माकं तु विशिष्टा ये तान्निबोध द्विजोत्तम ।
नायका मम सैन्यस्य संज्ञार्थं तान्ब्रवीमि ते ॥ १–७॥
Asmakam tu visista ye tan nibodha dvijottama |
Nayaka mama sainyasya samjnartham tan bravimi te ||1.7||
Meaning: O’ the best of the dvijas (Brahmanas), for your information, let me tell you about the captains who are especially qualified to lead my military force.
Receiving not much of a response from Dronacharya to his long speech and to make amends for his censuring him, Duryodhana changes tack and begins to enumerate the names of the warriors on his side, also exaggerating their qualities, in order to look self-confident and hide his nervousness.
1.8 SHLOKA 1.8
भवान्भीष्मश्च कर्णश्च कृपश्च समितिञ्जयः ।
अश्वत्थामा विकर्णश्च सौमदत्तिस्तथैव च ॥ १–८॥
Bhavan Bhishmas ca Karnas ca Krpas ca samitim-jayah |
Asvatthama Vikarnas ca Saumadattis tathaiva ca ||1.8||
Meaning: There are personalities like yourself, Bhishma, Karna, Kripacharya, Asvatthama, Vikarna and the son of Somadatta called Bhurisrava, who are always victorious in battle.
Duryodhana mentioned the exceptional heroes all of whom were ever-victorious. He lists Bhishma, Karna, Kripacharya, Ashvatthama (son of Dronacharya), Vikarna (brother of Duryodhana), and Saumadatti, or Bhurisrava (son of the King of the Bahlikas).
1.9 SHLOKA 1.9
अन्ये च बहवः शूरा मदर्थे त्यक्तजीविताः ।
नानाशस्त्रप्रहरणाः सर्वे युद्धविशारदाः ॥ १–९॥
Anye ca bahavah sura mad-arthe tyakta-jivitah |
Nana-sastra-praharanah sarve yuddha-visaradah ||1.9||
Meaning: There are many other heroes who are prepared to lay down their lives for my cause. All of them are well equipped with different kinds of weapons, and all are experienced in military science.
Duryodharana goes on further to assert that there are many others – like Jayadratha, Krtavarma, Salya, etc.— who are all determined to lay down their lives in support of his cause.
1.10 SHLOKA 1.10
अपर्याप्तं तदस्माकं बलं भीष्माभिरक्षितम् ।
पर्याप्तं त्विदमेतेषां बलं भीमाभिरक्षितम् ॥ १–१०॥
Aparyaptam tad asmakam balam Bhishmabhiraksitam |
Paryaptam tv idam etesam balam Bhimabhiraksitam ||1.10||
Meaning: Our strength is immeasurable, and we are perfectly protected by Grandfather Bhishma, whereas the strength of the Pandavas, carefully protected by Bhima, is limited.
In his estimation of comparative strength Duryodhana thinks that the strength of his armed forces is immeasurable, being specifically protected by the most experienced general, Grandfather Bhishma. On the other hand, the forces of the Pandavas were limited being protected by a less experienced general Bhima when compared with that of Bhishma. Duryodhana was always envious of Bhima but at the same time, he was confident of his victory on account of the presence of Bhishma, who was a far superior general.
1.11 SHLOKA 1.11
अयनेषु च सर्वेषु यथाभागमवस्थिताः ।
भीष्ममेवाभिरक्षन्तु भवन्तः सर्व एव हि ॥ १–११॥
Ayanesu ca sarvesu yatha-bhagam avasthitah |
Bhishmam evabhiraksantu bhavantah sarva eva hi ||1.11||
Meaning: Now all of you must give full support to Grandfather Bhishma, standing at your respective strategic points in the phalanx of the army.
Duryodhana, after praising the prowess of Bhishma, went on to praise others so that they do not think that he considered them less important, and hence chose to add to the list of warriors on his side. He emphasized that Bhishma was undoubtedly the greatest hero, but he was old. So everyone must hold their positions and offer cover to him from all sides as he gets engaged in the fight. It was important that other warriors should not leave their strategic positions and not allow the enemy to break through the phalanx.
Duryodhana clearly felt that the victory of the Kurus depended on the presence of Bhishma. He was confident of the full support of Bhishma Pitamaha and Dronacharya in the battle because he knew well that they were bound by a sense of duty to the King, although they had some affinity for the Pandavas.
1.12 SHLOKA 1.12
तस्य सञ्जनयन्हर्षं कुरुवृद्धः पितामहः ।
सिंहनादं विनद्योच्चैः शङ्खं दध्मौ प्रतापवान् ॥ १–१२॥
Tasya Sanjanayan harsam Kuru-vrddhah Pitamahah |
Simha-nadam vinadyoccaih sankham dadhmau pratapavan ||1.12||
Meaning: Then Bhishma, the great valiant grandsire of the Kuru dynasty, the grandfather of the fighters, blew his conchshell very loudly, like the roar of a lion, giving Duryodhana joy.
The legend of the Kuru dynasty, Bhishma, could understand the anxiety of his grandson Duryodhana, and out of his natural compassion for him, tried to cheer him up by blowing his conch-shell very loudly, befitting his position as their leader.
1.13 SHLOKA 1.13
ततः शङ्खाश्च भेर्यश्च पणवानकगोमुखाः ।
सहसैवाभ्यहन्यन्त स शब्दस्तुमुलोऽभवत् ॥ १–१३॥
Tatah sankhas ca bheryas ca panavanaka-gomukhah
Sahasaivabhyahanyanta sa sabdas tumulo ‘bhavat ||1.13||
Meaning: After that, the conch-shells, bugles, trumpets, drums and horns were all suddenly sounded, and the combined sound was tumultuous.
1.14 SHLOKA 1.14
ततः श्वेतैर्हयैर्युक्ते महति स्यन्दने स्थितौ ।
माधवः पाण्डवश्चैव दिव्यौ शङ्खौ प्रदध्मतुः ॥ १–१४॥
Tatah svetair hayair yukte mahati syandane sthitau |
Madhavah Pandavas caiva divyau sankhau pradadhmatuh ||1.14||
Meaning: On the other side, both Lord Shri Krishna and Arjuna, stationed on their divine chariot drawn by white horses, sounded their transcendental conch-shells.
In contrast with the conch shell blown by Bhishma, the conchshells in the hands of Shri Krishna (Panchajanyam) and Arjuna (Devadattam) are described as transcendental.
The impact of the sound of these transcendental conch shells indicated that there was no hope of victory for the other side – “Jayas tu pandu-putranam yesam pakse Janardanah” – Victory is always with persons like the sons of Pandu because Shri Krishna was on their side.
And whenever and wherever the Lord is present, the Goddess of fortune is also there because the She is inseparable from the Lord – I refer to Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (6.10.10) – “Agalagillen iraiyum en alarmel mangai urai marba” meaning “O Lord, you bear the inseparable Lotus-dame Lakshmi on your chest!”
Therefore, victory and fortune were awaiting Arjuna, as indicated by the transcendental sound produced by the conch-shell of Shri Krishna. Besides that, the chariot on which both of them were seated was donated by Agni (the fire-god) to Arjuna. This indicated that this chariot was capable of conquering all sides, wherever it was drawn over the three worlds.
1.15 SHLOKA 1.15
पाञ्चजन्यं हृषीकेशो देवदत्तं धनञ्जयः ।
पौण्ड्रं दध्मौ महाशङ्खं भीमकर्मा वृकोदरः ॥ १–१५॥
Pancajanyam Hrshikesho Devadattam Dhananjayah |
Paundram dadhmau maha-sankham Bhima-karma Vrkodarah ||1.15||
Meaning: Then, Shri Krishna blew His conch-shell, called Pancajanyam; Arjuna blew his conch, the Devadattam; and Bhima, the voracious eater and performer of Herculean tasks, blew his terrific conch shell called Paundram.
Shri Krishna is referred as Hrshikesha in this verse because He is the owner and controller of all senses. All the living entities are part and parcel of Him, and, therefore, the senses of these living entities are also part and parcel of His senses. The Lord, situated in the hearts of all living entities, directs their senses. But in the case of a pure devotee He directly controls the senses.
On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Lord directly controls the transcendental senses of Arjuna, and thus the use of His particular name of Hrshikesha. The use of Hrshikesha assumes significance as He gives directions to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Arjuna is referred to as ‘Dhananjaya’ in this verse because he helped King Yudhistra in fetching wealth by conqueiring kingdoms when it was required for the Rajasuya Yagna. Arjuna blew his conch called Devadattam.
Bhima is also known as Vrkodara because he could eat as voraciously as he could perform Herculean tasks such as killing the demon Hidimba. Vrkodara also means wolf waisted or wolf-bellied, referring to Bhima’s six pack abs. Bhima blew his conch called Paundram.
1.16 SHLOKA 1.16
अनन्तविजयं राजा कुन्तीपुत्रो युधिष्ठिरः ।
नकुलः सहदेवश्च सुघोषमणिपुष्पकौ ॥ १–१६॥
Anantavijayam raja Kunti-putro Yudhisthirah |
Nakulah Sahadevas ca sughosa-manipuspakau ||1.16||
Meaning: King Yudhisthira, the son of Kunti, blew his conch shell, the Anantavijaya, and Nakula and Sahadeva blew the Sughosa and Manipuspaka.
1.17 SHLOKA 1.17
काश्यश्च परमेष्वासः शिखण्डी च महारथः ।
धृष्टद्युम्नो विराटश्च सात्यकिश्चापराजितः ॥ १–१७॥
Kasyas ca paramesv-asah sikhandi ca maha-rathah |
Dhrstadyumno viratas ca satyakis caparajitah ||1.17||
Meaning: That great archer the King of Kasi, the great fighter Sikhandi, Dhrstadyumna, Virata and the unconquerable Satyaki,
1.18 SHLOKA 1.18
द्रुपदो द्रौपदेयाश्च सर्वशः पृथिवीपते ।
सौभद्रश्च महाबाहुः शङ्खान्दध्मुः पृथक्पृथक् ॥ १–१८॥
Drupado Draupadeyas ca sarvasah prthivi-pate |
Saubhadras ca maha-bahuh sankhan dadhmuh prthak prthak ||1.18||
Meaning: Drupada, the sons of Draupadi, and the others, O King, such as the son of Subhadra, greatly armed, all blew their respective conch-shells.
So, the different types of conch-shells blown by the different personalities from the Pandavas camp, beginning with the Lord’s Panchajanyam, were all very encouraging to the fighting soldiers.
1.19 SHLOKA 1.19
स घोषो धार्तराष्ट्राणां हृदयानि व्यदारयत् ।
नभश्च पृथिवीं चैव तुमुलोऽभ्यनुनादयन् ॥ १–१९॥
Sa ghoso Dhartarastranam hrdayani vyadarayat |
Nabhas ca Prthivim caiva tumulo ‘bhyanunadayan ||1.19||
Meaning: The tumultuous sound of these different conch-shells vibrating both in the sky and on the earth, pierced the hearts of the sons of Dhritarashtra shattering their confidence.
When Bhishma and the others on Duryodhana’s camp blew their respective conch-shells, there was no heart-break on the part of Pandavas or their army. But in this particular verse, it is mentioned that the hearts of the sons of Dhrtarashtra were shattered by the sounds vibrating from the Pandava camps conch-shells.
Sanjaya informed King Dhrtarashtra very tactfully that his policy of deceiving the sons of Pandu to enthrone his own sons on the seat of the kingdom was neither wise nor righteous. These were ominous signs of destruction of the whole Kuru dynasty beginning with the grandsire, Bhishma, down to the grandsons and others—including Kings from many states—who were all present there, were doomed. The great catastrophe was about to unfold which was as a result of King Dhrtarashtra’s prejudice, envy, sense of entitlement and greed.
1.20 SHLOKA 1.20
अथ व्यवस्थितान्दृष्ट्वा धार्तराष्ट्रान् कपिध्वजः ।
प्रवृत्ते शस्त्रसम्पाते धनुरुद्यम्य पाण्डवः ॥ १–२०॥
atha vyavasthitan drstva dhartarastran kapi-dhvajah |
pravrtte sastra-sampate dhanur udyamya pandavah ||1.20||
Hrshikesham tada vakyam idam aha mahi-pate
Meaning: O King, at that time Arjuna, the son of Pandu, who was seated in his chariot, his flag marked with Hanuman, stood up raising his bow and spoke to Hrshikesha these words (to be covered in next part).
The stage has been set and the battle is just about to begin. The sons of Dhrtarashtra were more or less disheartened by the unassailable arrangement of the military force of the Pandavas, who were guided by Lord Shri Krishna on the battlefield.
As Arjuna stood up in his chariot and picked up his bow, he spoke to Shri Krishna the following words; which turned out to be the beginning of a long dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna (the Krishna-Arjuna Samvada), that gave us the great Srimad Bhagavad Gita.
जय श्री कृष्णा – Jai Shri Krishna!
Hari Om Tat Sat