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Krishna: Can you be a divine avatar and yet be guilty of orchestrating a genocide?

Updated: Feb 27, 2022


Blog #18:

  • Do you find yourself questioning if someone you know is a good guy or a bad guy?

  • Would you rather be an innocent bystander and let folks be slaughtered or do something about it? What culpability do you have if you do nothing and stand by?

  • What is the punishment for not having done enough to stop a crime?

  • What if that crime is a murder? a genocide? a war?

  • Shouldn't we try to avert a war at any costs?

  • What if we are not doing our share to stop a crime happening in front of our eyes?

  • What are the consequences of getting ahead of the process and interfering with due process?

Mahabharata Context

Lord Krishna is the primordial character in this story and is the greatest avatar of Lord Vishnu. Born to a warring royal Yadava dynasty, this divine child grows up as an ordinary cowherd in Mathura. As a youth, he is a prankster but soon matures into a powerful, brave and wise warrior with the ultimate weapon to eradicate all his enemies, his unstoppable discus. His relationship to the Mahabharata story is his aunt, Queen Kunti who he reveres as a matriarch. He plays a powerful role during the story, protecting the dignity of Queen Draupadi, training Prince Abhimanyu to be a warrior etc. but is basically a benevolent character until the clouds of war move in when he becomes Prince Arjuna's charioteer and chief strategist plotting the defeat of the powerful Kaurava army.

As the Pandavas and the Kauravas draw up battle lines, he tries his hand ardently at diplomacy to try make peace between the feuding groups including demonstrating his supreme discus to both sides to secure a potential peace treaty. His diplomatic efforts are refuted with disdain by Prince Duryodhana. He even decides to not participate as a warrior so the scales are not tipped unfairly in favor of the side he advises. However, his strategic counsel and tactics are critical to the Pandava victory and the complete genocide of the Kaurava dynasty in battle. Both the Pandavas and the Kauravas paid huge prices for this course of action and he indeed was the last victim of this cycle of war.

The distraught, heartbroken Queen Gandhari laments the loss of her hundred sons and then turns her wrath to Lord Krishna holding his role as singularly responsible for the war and the genocide of her family. Her curse is a death sentence for Lord Krishna and in turn the eradication of his beloved Yadava dynasty. Krishna eventually died all alone in the forest after helplessly watching his Yadava dynasty self-destruct due to Queen Gandhari's terrible curse.

Our null hypothesis for the Lord Krishna persona

Lord Krishna is the most celebrated avatar of Lord Vishnu sent amongst us humans to ensure the victory of Dharma over the forces of evil. As the Bhagavat Gita says, whenever there is a clear and unstoppable ascendency of evil over good and of the powerful over the weak, he will return again and again to restore the balance and the ascendency of Dharma. As one should expect for a divine avatar, Krishna's positives are manifold- brave, learned, wise, loving, caring, generous, powerful, friendly, humble, benevolent, compassionate, forgiving, etc. He is after all the greatest worshipped deity in India today.

The Mahabharata however presents the fascinating other side of Lord Krishna in that while he did bend and flout many rules of war to favor and tip the scales in favor of the Pandavas. Queen Gandhari was willing to overlook all that as the fog of war. However Gandhari singularly blamed him for the fact that he could have stopped the Mahabharata war if he really wanted and yet he chose not do so. Could he have given a bigger demonstration of his supreme divine powers to the raging Kaurava army chiefs than miraculously saving Princess Draupadi from public disrobing or the public slaying of King Sisupala in open court? Perhaps, he could have given diplomacy one more chance after failing to secure just five villages?

Lessons Learned

We must do all we can to protect those around us. This is the simple lesson from Lord Krishna. We don't live in isolation or in a vacuum. Inaction can be deadly and has real consequences. And in terms of co-existing with each other, let us lean in with humility and mutual respect knowing no one of us is flawless. God knows, even Lord Krishna had his flaws. What % of Lord Krishna do you have in you?

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