Thursday 29 May 2014

Why Krishna Sided With The Pandavas - A Practical Answer

Why Krishna Sided With The Pandavas – A Practical Answer

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 29 May, 2014

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

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Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.


I was asked to answer a question on quora on the Mahabharata, an epic I love for its complexity, for its nuanced expositions of right and wrong, and the way it can make you think about ethics.

One of the most amazing things in the Mahabharata is that nothing is black-and-white – everything has shades of grey, whether that pertains to the character of individual heroes or even the behaviour of Gods.

In this regard, I was recently asked to answer a question on the social media website quora, of which I am an active member, and where I have answered many questions related to the Mahabharata. I posted the link to my answer on facebook, but then realized that there are some who may not wish to join quora but may want to read my post. Since this particular response was quite detailed, I decided to make a blog post of it.

First, you can read the answer in its context in quora here.

Below I reproduce this answer for the benefit of my readers who do not wish to join quora just to read my response.

The Question, asked by Akshaye Badiger (Copied Verbatim)

What was the sole motive of Krishna behind the Kurukshetra war?

Obviously he cannot be a reason of death of lakhs of people just for the sake of the death of 100 kauravas, were they so evil?
I mean to say what were the actual sins of Duryodhan and his 99 brothers?
Lets keeping their sins w.r.t. to the pandavas and Drauapdi aside.
Lord Krishna can never give such horrible deaths to people like Drona, Karna, Abhimanyu, Bheeshma etc just for the sake of these 100 evil souls.
What was the real motive of his plot of Kurukshetra war? Were kauravas so evil?
What exactly did he accomplish from this war that without any worries he left this earth 36 years from then?
What was his real motive?
What happened after the kurukshetra war for which the Lord himself had Incarnated?

My Answer (Again Quoted Verbatim from Quora)

Thanks for asking me to answer this question; however, I am not sure if you will like the answer I am going to give you. 

Unlike the other answers you have received from those whom you have asked to answer, I am giving you a practical answer, based on what is there in the epic, not a religious answer.

If you study the Mahabharata carefully, you will realize that it is not as black and white as it is often represented to us as children.

We are taught that the Pandavas were good and the Kauravas were bad; Krishna was on the side of the good; and so the Kauravas were defeated.

The fact of the matter is that the “evil” of the Kauravas is certainly not a definite conclusion you can come to if you read the epic in detail.

Let me explain.

The “Evil” Duryodhana?

First of all, any “evil” that Duryodhana and his brothers did was only confined to the Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi. For example, when the Pandavas were in exile in the forest, Duryodhana ruled as effective king, even though his father was nominally the king. There is no mention in the Mahabharata that Duryodhana was a bad king – that, as another person suggested, there was a rise in crime, murders and rapes, etc. Duryodhana’s quarrel was not with the people of his land. Duryodhana was apparently a king who cared for his subjects. He was generous, performed sacrifices and gave gifts to his subjects, and so on. His quarrel was only with the Pandavas, and that is because there was a genuine disagreement about who should inherit the kingdom. Yes, Duryodhana did a lot of bad things – TO THE PANDAVAS – but his justification (which he once presents to Dhritarashtra) is that all is fair in war, and that whatever is effective in the destruction of a powerful enemy is acceptable – in the words even of the guru of the Devas, Brihaspati.

The answer to that question – who had the legal right to inherit the kingdom of Hastinapura - is by no means obvious.

Who Should Have Inherited Hastinapura?

First of all, realize that the actual Kuru dynasty ends with Bhishma on blood lines. Vichitravirya and Chitrangada, Santanu’s sons by Satyavati, both die childless, and so Vichitravirya’s widows are impregnated by Vyasa, Satyavati’s son by her premarital sexual union with the sage Parasara. The Mahabharata is therefore essentially the story of Vyasa’s biological children and their offspring. Both Dhritarashtra and Pandu are Vyasa’s sons, speaking biologically; from the prevalent custom, they are legally Vichitravirya’s sons. Next, Pandu, the younger brother, due to a curse, cannot father children; but he begets children from the Devas on his wife because of a boon Kunti had received. Dhritarashtra’s sons, on the other hand, ARE his own biological sons.

Dhritarashtra cannot inherit the kingdom because he is blind; Pandu abdicates because of his curse; and so then, Dhritarashtra DOES become the king, not simply a regent. He is actually the king at this point. 

Pandu’s “legal” son Yudhisthira, the biological offspring of Yama and Kunti, is born before Dhritarashtra’s biological son Duryodhana. Duryodhana is thus the biological son of the actual king at the time. One could make a fair argument (and Duryodhana and his supporters do argue this) that, being the son of the king, Duryodhana should inherit the kingdom. 

Yudhisthira is born earlier than Duryodhana, but he is the son of the younger brother Pandu who, in addition, is no longer king at this time.

So who should be king? Bhishma and Vidura convince Dhritarashtra that it is Yudhisthira who ought to be king, but Duryodhana feels his birthright is being taken away from him. 

Finally, a compromise solution is arrived at, whereby the Pandavas are given the Khandava forest to rule over after splitting the kingdom. One could ask reasonably why this was unsatisfactory to Duryodhana, but if you see things from his viewpoint, there is no need to be happy about giving up half of what you think was yours. From Duryodhana’s viewpoint, the Pandavas had no business getting ANY share of the kingdom, and that stands as a pretty good argument on its own.

So I will argue that history is written by the victors, and that “evil” lies in the eyes of the beholder. Of course, Duryodhana was guilty of personally hurting the Pandavas on many occasions – poisoning Bhima, trying to burn them alive in the lac palace, and so on. Not to forget insulting their wife in the game of dice. But these he felt justified in doing in keeping with Brihaspati’s principle that all is fair in war.

Keep in mind also that Duryodhana’s cheating with Sakuni’s help in the game of dice is never proved. In fact, the Pandavas never once accuse Sakuni of cheating. When Draupadi is dragged by the hair by Dussasana and asks for justice from the assembly, including Bhishma, it is Bhishma who says that it is hard for him to judge, especially because Yudhisthira has not contended that Sakuni has cheated, and that Draupadi seems to have been fairly won. He even leaves the question of whether Draupadi was fairly won by the Kauravas for Yudhisthira to decide, given that Yudhisthira is Dharmaraja – the Just King – and Yudhisthira is silent, indicating that indeed, Draupadi was won fairly.

Now I will come to Krishna.

Krishna’s Motivations

Why does Krishna take sides with the Pandavas?

Because Krishna had an existential problem with Jarasandha, the powerful king of Magadha, who could be defeated by no one but Bhima. Jarasandha was responsible for Krishna and his people having to flee Mathura (which is why Krishna has the appellation Rann-chhod – one who fled the battlefield) and run away to Dwaraka.

When convincing Yudhishthira to send Bhima to kill Jarasandha, Krishna mentions that this is the only way to kill him, because killing him in battle, with weapons, would be impossible for the Devas and Asuras put together, and the only person in the world who is strong enough to kill him is Bhima.

Krishna is, of course, related to the Pandavas through Kunti, who is his aunt, but in politics relationships are never very important. He recognizes that partnership with the Pandavas would strengthen his position and eventually rid him of his enemy Jarasandha – and in return he supports the Pandavas’ claim to the kingdom of Hastinapura.

His gamble succeeds, of course, when he goads a rather unwilling Yudhisthira, after they have built Khandavaprastha and renamed it Indraprastha, to conduct the Rajasuya Yagna, to perform which Yudhisthira must be acknowledged as supreme emperor by everyone, including Jarasandha – which will necessitate the killing of Jarasandha, for he would not acknowledge anyone as an overlord.

And that is precisely what happens. Bhima kills Jarasandha in an epic wrestling match lasting for weeks. Yudhisthira becomes emperor, and Krishna’s future is secure.

So, was it necessary to kill Duryodhana and his brothers? No. And Krishna certainly did not intend to accomplish that in the beginning. The person who did accomplish that, and on whose shoulders we must place squarely the blame of the entire carnage of the great war, is Yudhisthira.

Who was Responsible for the Great War?

Yudhishthira had everything that one could want – four heroic brothers, a beautiful wife, a kingdom rich beyond imagination and made even wealthier by the tributes that they were able to extract from all the monarchs of the realm, powerful alliances with great kings, and a reputation for wisdom and fairness that was known the whole world.

And he ruined everything because of his addiction to gambling. 

Sakuni invited Yudhisthira to gamble, and the epic makes it clear that kshatriya dharma compelled Yudhisthira to accept the challenge and play. Yudhisthira assumes he will be playing Duryodhana and is surprised when he realizes that the much stronger Sakuni will be playing him. Still, he had the choice of playing 2-3 rounds, losing a lot of money and possessions, and then admitting defeat.

There was absolutely no reason for him to keep playing until he had lost all his possessions, then gamble away all his brothers and then himself and finally Draupadi. This is the behaviour of a gambling addict, which is what Yudhisthira is and for which Draupadi upbraids him repeatedly later.

It is because Yudhisthira makes Draupadi a slave of Duryodhana that he is able to insult her in unspeakable terms and it is this that makes a final confrontation with the Kauravas and the death of Duryodhana, Dussasana, and all their brothers inevitable for the Pandavas to salvage their honor.

So it is not Krishna who plots the destruction of the Kauravas. With his friends the Pandavas the overlords of Bharatavarsha, and his one implacable enemy Jarasandha dead, Krishna probably would not have bothered with the Kauravas had Yudhisthira not blundered so badly and unpredictably.

Of course, once war was inevitable, Krishna did everything he could to ensure that the Pandavas (and Krishna himself, by association) were victorious. This included deceit as in the case of Bhishma and Drona, and unfair play as in the case of Jayadratha, Karna, and Duryodhana. Krishna justifies these by saying that the ends justify the means – that Duryodhana had behaved dishonourably with the Pandavas, and was invincible in battle to boot, so cheating is the only way to defeat Duryodhana and, hence, adharma.

The war did not end happily for Krishna. He was cursed for his role in the war by Gandhari to die, and his whole race was cursed to destruction by Gandhari in 36 years time, which came to pass.

So, in practical terms, Krishna's sole motive was security - and he could achieve security with the help of the Pandavas. In return, he helped the Pandavas overcome their enemies the Kauravas.


  1. Sir, what a interpretation on duryodhana point of view. Impressive...
    Sir, on behalf of duryodhana, shankuni is scrolling dice. If yudistha tell to sabha on behalf of me, shreekrishna is playing( if he true planner becoz its 2nd time). No body win against krishna. Then All Kaurava gone for vanavasa & agnatavasa. How's that sir...

  2. I hate the fact that you solely blame Yudhishtira for thee Mahabharata war , Duryodhana was in fact the person responsible for the war . First of all he intentionally invited Yudhishtira for the game of dice knowing fully well that Yudhishtira despite his obsession for the game was unskilled and thus will easily be defeated by the more talented and deceitful Shakuni . Secondly Duryodhana blatantly refused to give Pandavas their share of the Kingdom . You , who seems to be an ardent fan of Duryodhana may argue that Duryodhana deserved to rule the whole emire . But among Pandu and Dhritarahtra , it was Pandu who firstly ruled the kingdom ( despite being younger ) .Dhritarahtra became king only after Pandu went to the forest after getting cursed . Yudhishtira was also born earlier than Duryodhana . Yudhishtira was also a better ruler than Duryodhana and obviously a better person . Indraprastha ruled by Yudhishtira was more prosperous than Hastinapura ruled by Duryodhana and this points towards better administration . The populace also sided with Pandavas rather than Kauravas which made Duryodhana afraid , angry and jealous . You should also take into account the fact that Bhishma and Vidura who were highly knowledgeable in ethics and politics of the time wanted Yudhishtira to become the king . THERE IS TOO MUCH UPSIDE DOWN READINGS OF THE CLASSICS NOW A DAYS AND I PERSONALLY HATES THAT TENDENCY .Sorry ,if iam being rude but you must know that while cheering for Duryodhana you are cheering for a person who was famed for his valour but not for righteousness or nobility of character .

  3. Krishna siding with Pandavas might be the main reason why they won the battle against the huge army of Kauravas. In terms of brute force, the Pandavas did not stand a chance to win. The deceptive and clever thinking of Krishna has more often than not, aided the Pandavas and removed them from troubled waters. Here are some stories which showcases the importance of Krishna to the Pandavas.
    Click here: God Krishna saves Pandavas

  4. Exactly my thoughts and words and interpretation.

  5. Why yadhistara went to dice 2nd time??


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