Mahabharata - Yudhishthira and Krishna - Indra & Vishnu on One Chariot

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Yudhishthira: The Indra on Battlefield

Many would not agree Yudhishthira  was a great warrior, so how can he be Indra? But is
that so?

Yudhsihthira’s  warrior-dharma is different from others. Like Lao Tsu he believes-
  ‘There is a saying among  soldiers:
  I dare not make the first move  but
  would rather play the guest;
  I dare not advance and inch but  would
  rather  withdraw a foot. (1.69)’

Dhritarashtra  fears Yudhishthira’s wrath and tells Vidura, ‘King Yudhishthira who is like a  flame of fire, has been deceived by me. He will surely exterminate in battle  all my wicked sons. Everything, therefore, seems to me to be fraught with  danger, and my mind is full of anxiety (Udyoga.36)’

That  Yudhishthira could be fierce in battle like embodiment of death, we may take  some illustrations from Bhisma Parva –

     ‘Beholding his standard overthrown, king  Srutayush then, O monarch, pierced the son of Pandu with seven sharp shafts.  Thereupon Yudhishthira, the son of Dharma, blazed up with wrath-  tatah.krodhaat.prajajvaala, like the fire that blazeth forth at the end of the  Yuga for consuming creatures-  yathaa.yuga.ante.bhuutaani.dhakSyann.iva.huta.azanah. Beholding the son of  Pandu excited with rage, the gods, the Gandharvas, and the Rakshasas, trembled,  O king, and the universe became agitated. And even this was the thought that  arose in the minds of all creatures, viz., that that king, excited with rage, would  that day consume the three worlds-  triiml.lokaan.adya.samkruddho.nRpo.ayam.dhakSyati.iti.vai. Indeed, when the son  of Pandu was thus excited with wrath, the Rishis and the celestials prayed for  the peace of the world. Filled with wrath and frequently licking the corners of  his mouth- krodha.samaaviSTah.sRkkiNii.parilelihan, Yudhishthira assumed a  terrible expression - dadhaara.aatma.vapur.ghoram.-looking like the sun that  riseth at the end of the Yuga - yuga.anta.aaditya.samnibham. Then all thy warriors,  O king, became hopeless of their lives, O Bharata. Checking, however, that  wrath with patience, that great bowman endued with high renown then cut off  Srutayush's bow at the grasp. And then, in the very sight of all the troops,  the king in that battle pierced Srutayush whose bow had been cut off, with a  long arrow in the centre of the chest. And the mighty Yudhishthira then, O  king, speedily slew with his arrows the steeds of Srutayush and then, without  losing a moment, his charioteer. Beholding the prowess of the king, Srutayush  leaving that car whose steeds had been slain, quickly fled away from battle.  After that great bowman had been vanquished in combat by the son of Dharma, all  the troops of Duryodhana, O king, turned their faces. Having, O monarch,  achieved this feat, Yudhishthira, the son of Dharma, began to slay thy troops  like Death himself with wide-open mouth –
  etat.kRtvaa.mahaa.raaja.dharma.putro.yudhiSThirah./
  vyaatta.aanano.yathaa.kaalas.tava.sainyam.jaghaana.ha.//  (Bhisma.85/CE-6.80.7-19).

Like  any other warrior, Yudhishthira feared to die. Once, when Bhishma, cut off  Yudhishthira’s bow and the variegated standard, he was overwhelmed with fear -  bhaya.abhibhuutam (Bhisma.86/CE-6.81.29).

For the  practicality of war, Yudhishthira could order joint attack against one – ‘Then  Yudhishthira, O king, urged his friends and the rulers (on his side),  saying,--'Slay Bhishma the son of Santanu, uniting together.' Then all those  rulers, ‘hearing these words of Pritha's son, surrounded the grandsire with a  large number of cars (Bhisma.87)’, foreshadowing Abhimayu’s fall by same means  and Yudhishthira’s consequent sense of guilt.

Yudhishthira  was no weak warrior. He could penetrate Bhisma’s defence – ‘And Yudhishthira  pierced the grandsire in return with twelve shafts. (Bhima.107)

Drona  refers to Yudhishthira’s wrath as – ‘The wrath of Yudhishthira, an encounter  between Bhishma and Arjuna in battle, and an endeavor like this (of the  shooting of weapons) by myself,--these (three) are certainly fraught with great  harm to creatures. (KMG-Bhisma Parva.113)

Yudhishthira  Dharma is the Dharma of peace and non-violence, but once war is inevitable, he  accepts it, though trying till the exhaustion of the last possibility to avoid  it, and once he is in war, he can fight. Thus the man who was hesitant to fight  Bhisma, can shout – ‘And Yudhishthira said, 'Advance! Fight! Vanquish Bhishma  in battle. (Bhisma.116)

Bhisma  advised Duryodhana to make peace following his fall, and he refers to  Yudhishthira’s wrath – ‘As long as Yudhishthira with eyes burning in wrath doth  not consume thy troops in battle, let peace, O sire, be made!’ (Bhisma.123)

The  climactic moment of Yudhishthira-Shalya battle shows Yudhishthira’s skill in  warfare (9.16.42-51) and also his identification with Gods, and through such  identification, his integration with his brothers - ‘(Yudhsihthira) the just,  took up a dart whose handle was adorned with gold and gems and whose effulgence  was as bright as that of gold. Rolling his eyes that were wide open, he cast  his glances on the ruler of the Madras, his heart filled with rage  -krodhena.diipta.jvalana.prakaazam….The illustrious chief of the Kurus then  hurled with great force at the king of the Madras that blazing dart of  beautiful and fierce handle and effulgent with gems and  corals-maNi.hema.daNDaam;jagraaha.zaktim.kanaka.prakaazaam. All the Kauravas  beheld that blazing dart emitting sparks of fire -zaktim.rucira.ugra.daNDaam  -as it coursed through the welkin after having been hurled with great force, even  like a large meteor falling from the skies at the end of the Yuga-  yathaa.yuga.ante.mahatiim.iva.ulkaam. King Yudhishthira the just, in that  battle, carefully hurled that dart which resembled kala-ratri (the Death Night)  -kaala.raatriim.iva.paaza.hastaam -armed with the fatal noose or the  foster-mother of fearful aspect of Yama himself -  yamasya.dhatriim.iva.ca.ugra.ruupaam, and which like the Brahmana's curse, was  incapable of being baffled.’

Yudhishthira’s  ‘dart’ becomes symbolic because it is also ‘daNda’ – signifying both the King’s  Sceptre and punishment and Yama’s daNda; and Yudhishthira is also explicitly  compared to ‘kala-ratri’ signifying Time as well as Goddess of Death (that  again connects him with Draupadi and Kunti), and Yama, confirming Yudhishthira’s  incarnation of Yama-Dharma.

The  Dart is said to have been created by Tvashtri reminding us of Indra’s vajra.
       ‘That weapon seemed to blaze like  Samvartaka-fire - samvartaka.agni.pratimaam.jvalantiim -and was as fierce as a  rite performed according to the Atharvan of Agnirasa.’ Now, ‘samvartakam’ is  the name of the fire which devastates during the annihilation of the universe.

‘Having  carefully inspired it with many fierce mantras, and endued it with terrible  velocity by the exercise of great might and great care, king Yudhishthira  hurled it along the best of tracks for the destruction of the ruler of the  Madras. Saying in a loud voice the words, "Thou art slain, O wretch-  hato.asy.asaav.ity.abhigarjamaano" the king hurled it, even as Rudra had,  in days of yore, shot his shaft for the destruction of the asura Andhaka-  rudro.antakaaya.anta.karam.yathaa.iiSum, stretching forth his strong (right)  arm graced with a beautiful hand, and apparently dancing in wrath -  krodhena.nRtyann.iva.dhaarma.raajah.’

Leaving  aside the sentimental shock that Yudhishthira roars at his ‘maamaa’ (maternal  uncle), we have the important information that roaring was not Bhima’s  copyright (err…Soundright!). We have the more important link of Yudhishthira  and Rudra, explicitly, and also through ‘Samvartaka-fire’, and the most  important link of Yudhsihthira with Rudra, Indra, Vayu, Bhima and Arjuna  thorugh the dancing aspect - krodhena.nRtyann.

In Vana  Parva Yudhishthira prays to Sun thus – ‘When the time of universal dissolution  cometh, the fire Samvartaka born of thy wrath consumeth the three worlds and  existeth alone (Vana.3).’

Markandeya  Muni explains to Yudhishthira about universal dissolution at the end of four  Yugas –
  ‘And  then, O Bharata, the fire called Samvartaka impelled by the winds appeareth on  the earth that hath already been dried to cinders by the seven Suns. And then  that fire, penetrating through the Earth and making its appearance, in the  nether regions also, begetteth great terror in the hearts of the gods, the  Danavas and the Yakshas. And, O lord of the earth, consuming the nether regions  as also everything upon this Earth that fire destroyeth all things in a moment.  And that fire called Samvartaka aided by that inauspicious wind, consumeth this  world extending for hundreds and thousands of yojanas (Vana.187)
       ‘Samvartaka fire’ connects Yudhishtira not  only with Sun, but also with Time and Purusha. The connection is again with  Mahadeva, Time and Clouds that foredoom universal dissolution (Shaanti.285).

 In Anushashana Parva, the link is again very  explicit –
  ‘The  fire born of his energy resembled in effulgence the lightening that flashes  amid clouds. Verily, it seemed as if a thousand suns rose there, filling every  side with a dazzling splendour -sahasram.iva.suuryaaNaam.sarvam.aavRtya.tiSThati.  The energy of the Supreme Lord looked like the Samvartaka fire which destroys  all creatures at the end of the Yuga……. That Rudra, who sprang from thee  destroyed the Creation with all its mobile and immobile beings, assuming the  form of Kala of great energy, of the cloud Samvartaka (charged with water which  myriads of oceans are not capacious enough to bear), and of the all consuming  fire. Verily, when the period comes for the dissolution of the universe that Rudra  stands, ready to swallow up the universe. (Anushashana.14).’

 The epithet ‘sahasram.iva.suuryaaNaam’ is a  reminder of Krishna’s Visvaruupa in Gita thereby connecting Yudhishthira with Krishna’s Visvaruupa, a connection which eludes even  Arjuna –
  divi  suuryasahasrasya bhavedyugapadutthitaa .
  yadi  bhaaH sadR^ishii saa syaadbhaasastasya mahaatmanaH .. 11\.12..
  If the  splendor of thousands of suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, even  that would not resemble the splendor of that exalted being.         (11.12)

Any  modern reader would be reminded that Physicist Robert Oppenheimer, supervising  Scientist Manhattan Project, quoted these lines in the Jornada del Muerto  desert near the Trinity site in the White   Sands Missile   Range on 16 July 1945 at  0529 HRS, witnessing first atomic detonation by mankind.
       ‘Samvartaka’ is also the name of a cloud  (Karna.34), suggesting Yudhishthira’s connection with Parjanya.
       ‘Samvartaka’ fire is not a frequently used  word or comparison in Mahabharata. The word occurs only 25 times in the whole  of Mahabharata (Bhandarkar’s Critical Edition), mostly relating to Mahadeva and  Purusha. Only thrice it is mentioned as the name of Naga, and four times as a  cloud foredooming universal dissolution.

 It is interesting to note that the only  character other than Yudhishthira compared with ‘Samvartaka’ is Asvatthama -
  ‘Whilst  consuming that Rakshasa force, Drona's son in that battle shone resplendent  like the Samvartaka fire, while burning all creatures at the end of the Yuga  (Drona.155).’

That  should be so, because Asvatthama ‘was born on earth, of the united portions of  Mahadeva, Yama, Kama, and Krodha (Adi.67) – another link with Yudhishthira  through Yama in particular!

When  Asvatthama, ‘let off that weapon (Brahmashira) for stupefying all the worlds,’  a fire then was born in that blade of grass, ‘which seemed capable of consuming  the three worlds like the all-destroying Yama at the end of the yuga-  pradhakSyann.iva.lokaams.triin.kaala.antaka.yama.upamah (10.13.20).’
       Asvatthama is compared to Yama, furthering  his connection with Yudhishthira.
       Then Arjuna, at Krishna’s  behest, let off his Brahmashira to neutralize it, and it ‘blazed up with fierce  flames like the all-destroying fire that appears at the end of the yuga.  Similarly, the weapon that had been shot by Drona's son of fierce energy blazed  up with terrible flames within a huge sphere of fire-  prajajvaala.mahaa.arciSmad.yuga.anta.anala.samnibham. Numerous peals of thunder  were heard; thousands of meteors fell; and all living creatures became inspired  with great dread. The entire welkin seemed to be filled with noise and assumed  a terrible aspect with those flames of fire. The whole earth with her mountains  and waters and trees trembled (CE.10.14.7-10).’ Arjuna’s ‘yuga.anta.anala.samnibham’  Brahmashira refers to Samvartaka fire. However, Arjuna’s use of the weapon is  for a benign purpose, that of neutralizing Asvatthama’s weapon -  astram.astreNa.zaamyataam (CE.10.14.6).

The  Rudra and Time aspect of Yudhishthira, a much overlooked matter, is thus more  prominent than any of his brothers and other characters save Asvatthama in its  destructive aspect.

In  Srimad Bhagavatam, when Arjuna and Asvatthaamaa hurled Brahmashashtras towards  each other, ‘All the population of the three worlds was scorched by the  combined heat of the weapons. Everyone was reminded of the samvartaka fire  which takes place at the time of annihilation (SB 1.7.31).’

The  description of the Pandava palace in Indraprashtha in Adi Parva- ‘In a  delightful and auspicious part of the city rose the palace of the Pandavas …and  it looked like a mass of clouds charged with lightning -  megha.vindam.iva.aakaaze.vRddham.vidyut.samaavRtam (Adi.209/CE.1.199.35)’ – is  provocative to make one think, how Vyasa hints the annihilation of the Kurus  for the cause of Indraprashtha by the use of epithets – ‘like a mass of clouds  charged with lightning’ – which reminds not only of Indra by Vajra connection,  but also connection with ‘Samvartaka fire’.
       ‘Shalya, however, roared aloud and  endeavoured to catch that excellent dart of irresistible energy hurled by  Yudhishthira with all his might, even as a fire leaps forth for catching a jet  of clarified butter poured over it. Piercing through his very vitals and his  fair and broad chest, that dart entered the Earth as easily as it would enter  any water without the slightest resistance and bearing away (with it) the  world-wide fame of the king (of the Madras).  Covered with the blood that issued from his nostrils and eyes and ears and  mouth, and that which flowed from his wound, he then looked like the Krauncha  mountain of gigantic size when it was pierced by Skanda.’
  Yudhishtira  is again identified with Skanda.
  ‘His  armour having been cut off by that descendant of Kuru's race, the illustrious  Shalya, strong as Indra's elephant, stretching his arms, fell down on the  Earth, like a mountain summit riven by thunder-  vajra.aahatam.zRngam.iva.acalasya.’
       Yudhishthira’s Indra-aspect is again  emphasized.
  To  conclude this section, Yudhishthira’s Kshatra-Warrior Dharma brings out in  particular his Rudra and Agni dimension.

As we  have seen just now, Hiltebeitel’s contention that ‘Arjuna is inescapably the foremost representative of Siva’ (Śiva,  the Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadi Author(s): Alf Hiltebeitel Source:  History of Religions, Vol. 20, No. 1/2, Twentieth Anniversary Issue (Aug. -  Nov., 1980), pp. 147-174 Published by: The University of Chicago Press) is not  tenable.

Yudhishthira’s  Rudra-Siva aspect is also understandable with respect to ‘vaac’-Draupadi.
       In Rig Veda 10.125.1, Goddess Vaak says,  ‘I travel with the Rudras’, and so does Draupadi; and in 10.125.6, She declares, ‘I bend the  bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion. I rouse  and order battle for the people.’    
       Draupadi indeed bends the bows of her  husbands – the Rudras, and in powerful speeches ‘rouse’ them to action.

It is my contention that much of Mahabharata  dealing with Rudraic aspect of Yudhishthira has been edited out by post-Ashokan  redactors in their spree of Dharma-Ashokaization of Yudhishthira!

In his  Agni aspect, Yudhishthira is the Brahmana of the Pandava-Purusha, representing  the power of ‘tapaH’ and asceticism. The consummation of Khandavaranya by Agni  with the two Krishnas help, is actually  Yudhsihthira’s consummation of Khandavaranya in his rule; so, he is Agni. In  his Rudra aspect, Yudhishthira transcends this Agni aspect, and becomes the Pandava-Purusha  himself, not only because Rudra-Siva is a greater ascetic than Agni (Agni is  one aspect of Rudra), but also because Rudra-Siva is the ultimate Purusha in  whom multiple Purushas dissolve, just like it happens during Svargarohana,  where Yudhishthira ‘eats’ his brothers and Draupadi and thus absorbs them in  himself. Draupadi and the Pandavas merge in him because they too are Agni and  Rudra.

A point  may be raised here. Why does not Yudhsihthira show much prowess in Kuru war?  Why is his only feat the killing of Shalya?

The  answer is however not to be searched far. What would we expect of a king? To  get involved in the thick of war and get killed or to fight on fronts where his  security is more ensured? Had Yudhisthira died in the battle, the matter of  succession would have been settled at that moment. It is to be kept in mind  that in their next generation, Duryodhana’s son Lakshmana was the eldest.

Hiltebeitel’s  contention that the disguises which the Pandava poets adopt in Virata Parva  show the epic poets as true symbol-masters, ‘concealing and revealing the  "deepest" identities of their heroes and much of the  purpose-primarily theological-of the roles they play in the epic narrative as a  whole’ (Śiva, the Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadi)’, does not hold  ground, because such symbols ‘revealing the "deepest" identities of  their heroes’ are to be found scattered throughout the Mahabharata, as in case  of Yudhishthira.

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