30.) The Bhagavadgītā and War According to Madhva?

It is best to begin by shooting the question straight – does the Bhagavadgītā preach war and violence?

The Bhagavadgītā is part and parcel of the Mahābhārata, so how the Bhagavadgītā is interpreted should not be divorced from the interpretation of the Mahābhārata as a whole, the epic within it is more or less centrally lodged.

How then is the Mahābhārata to be interpreted? Here is one answer. One begins by noting that

The present edition of the Mahābhārata itself speaks of three beginnings: manvādi, beginning from Manu, corresponding to the first twelve sub-parvans (sections) of the present work; āstikādi, beginning with Āstika, compromising sub-paravans thirteen to fifty-three, uparicarādi, from sub-paravan fifty-four onward.

One then proceeds by noting that according to the famous scholiast Madhva:

The reading of the Bhārata, in so far as it is a relation of the facts and events with which Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the Pāṇḍavas are connected, is āstikādi, or historical. That interpretation by which we find lessons on virtue, divine love, and the other ten qualities, on sacred duty and righteous practices, on character and training, on Brahmā and the other gods, is called manvādi, or religious and moral. Thirdly, the interpretation by which every sentence, word or syllable is shown to be the significant name, or to be the declaration of the glories, of the Almighty Ruler of the universe, is called auparicara or transcendental.[1]

It is clear, then, that the Mahābharata may be interpreted at (1) a literal level, (2) a moral level and (3) a spiritual level. It could then plausibly be argued that, at the story-line level, Arjuna is literally urged to engage in combat. That, at the moral level, the martial context of the tā epitomizes the struggle between good and evil which goes on in the human heart, the way Mahatma Ghandhi interpreted it when he said

The fight is there, but the fight as it is going on within. The Pandavas and the Kauravas are the forces of good and evil within. The war is the war between Jekyll and Hyde, God and Satan, going on in the human breast. The internal evidence in support of this interpretation is there in the work itself and in the Mahabharata of which the Gita is a minute part. It is not a history of war between two families, but the history of man – the history of the spiritual struggle of man. I have sound reasons for my interpretation.[2]

At the spiritual level the tā may be decoded as follows.

Arjuna, the superman under the guidance of Kṛṣṇa, the Super-self, emerges successful in this conflict, after he has destroyed with the sword of knowledge the ignorance embodied in his illegitimate desires and passions symbolized by his relatives, teachers, elders and friends ranged on the other side. In this interpretation Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Paramātman, and Arjuna the Jīvātman. Dhṛtarāṣṭra is a symbol of the vacillating ego-centric self, while his sons symbolize in their aggregate the brood of ego-centric desires and passions. Vidura stands for Buddhi, the one-pointed reason, and Bhīṣma is tradition, the time-bound element in human life and society.[3]

[1] Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Second Edition) (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1994) pp. 84-85.

[2] M.K. Gandhi, Hindu Dharma (edited by Bharatan Kumarappa. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1958) p. 159-160.

[3] V.S. Sukthankar, as cited by Klaus K. Klostermaier, op. cit.., p. 85.


One Response to “30.) The Bhagavadgītā and War According to Madhva?”

  1. smbawa Says:


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