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Does Bhagavad Gita advocate war?

Bhagavad Gita and Warmongering


The timeless transcendental knowledge of Bhagavad-Gita has been the beacon light for humanity for ages. The most successful human civilizations lived by the principles of Bhagavad-Gita and other Vedic scriptures as taught by the qualified learned sages. As things degrade with the passage of time, so has the understanding of the divine message of Bhagavad-Gita. Of late, it has become fashionable to impose one’s own prejudices on Bhagavad-Gita. Mundane scholars and academicians both from India and the west have projected a wrong picture of Bhagavad-Gita through their misinterpreted commentaries, writings, public speeches etc.

Misconceptions about Bhagavad-Gita

The general pattern mundane scholars and academicians have followed in understanding the Bhagavad-gita has been to brush aside the person Krishna to make room for their own concepts and philosophies. The history of the Mahabharata is taken as quaint mythology, and Krishna becomes a poetic device for presenting the ideas of some anonymous genius, or at best He becomes a minor historical personage. But the person Krishna is both the goal and the substance of Bhagavad-gita, so far as the Gita speaks of itself.

The Bhagavad-gita should be seen from the pespective of the speaker, Lord Krishna, not one’s prejudices just as the theme of a book is heard from the author. The Bhagavad-gita then becomes wholly consistent and comprehensible.

War Mongering

Ironically, we also hear from the west a diametrically opposite criticism voiced at the Gita: no longer of passivity or apathy, but of warmongering! Much to our shock and anguish, Wendy Doniger, Indologist and professor of History of religion at the University of Chicago recently said ”The Bhagavad-Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think. Throughout the Mahabharata Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war. I am a pacifist (someone who believes that violence is wrong and refuses to fight in wars). I don’t believe in good wars” [1].

The above statement by the Indologist and professor of Religious studies only exhibits the ignorance of the professor regarding the confidential message of Bhagavad-Gita. This is just one instance. There are many, including some so-called scholars who have misunderstood the Bhagavad-Gita to varying degrees and are promoting their misconceptions to the innocent public. Of course, many western thinkers, from Emerson to Aldous Huxley have shown a better understanding of the Lord’s song. But let us face the professor’s statement and examine its validity. Apart from its despairing tone all too common with the western indologists accustomed to judging Indian civilization according to their own standards, it does not raise a valid problem. And indeed certain Jain scriptures, for instance, have criticized Sri Krishna on much the same ground. Not too far are some Indian counterparts trained in western education.

Is war and killing always bad? Then well, if it is, it is not India that ought to be condemned but the west with its blood-stained record of Crusades and genocides of countless Pagan people, its endless history of wars and conquests, its two world wars and recent bombing campaigns. Indeed where has pacifism been practiced in the post Christian west? By contrast, we have no record of any military conquest by India of other civilizations, no Indian genocides of other people to impose a religion or a political domination. So why lay this unjust blame on the innocent rather than on the guilty?

Need for the War

Dhritirastra and Pandu were brothers born in the Kuru dynasty, descending from King Bharata, a former ruler of the earth, from whom the name Mahabharata derives. Because Dhritirastra , the elder brother, was born blind, the throne that otherwise would have been his was passed down to the younger brother, Pandu.
When Pandu died at an early age, his five children came under the care of Dhritirastra, who in effect became, for the time being, the king. Thus the sons of Dhritirastra and those of Pandu grew up in the same royal household. Both were trained in the military arts by the expert Drona and counseled by the revered “grandfather” of the clan, Bhishma. Yet the sons of Dhritirastra , especially the eldest, Duryodhana, hated and envied the Pandavas. And the blind and weak-minded Dhritirastra wanted his own sons, not those of Pandu, to inherit the kingdom.
Thus Duryodhana, with Dhritirastra ’s consent, plotted to kill the young sons of Pandu, and it was only by the careful protection of their uncle Vidura and their cousin Lord Krishna that the Pandavas escaped the many attempts against their lives.
Now, Lord Krishna was not an ordinary man but the Supreme Godhead Himself, who had descended to earth and was playing the role of a prince in a contemporary dynasty. So both as a relative and as the eternal upholder of religion, Krishna favored the righteous sons of Pandu and protected them.
Ultimately, however, the clever Duryodhana challenged the Pandavas to a gambling match. In the course of that fateful tournament, Duryodhana and his brothers took possession of Draupadi, the chaste and devoted wife of the Pandavas, and insultingly tried to strip her naked before the entire assembly of princes and kings. Krishna’s divine intervention saved her, but the gambling, which was rigged, cheated the Pandavas of their kingdom and forced them into thirteen years of exile.
Upon returning from exile, the Pandavas rightfully requested their kingdom from Duryodhana, who bluntly refused to yield it. Duty bound as princes to serve in public administration, the five Pandavas reduced their request to a mere five villages. But Duryodhana arrogantly replied that he wouldn’t spare them enough land into which to drive a pin. Throughout all this, the Pandavas had been consistently tolerant and forbearing. But now war seemed inevitable.
Nonetheless, as the princes of the world divided, some siding with the sons of Dhritirastra, others with the Pandavas , Krishna Himself took the role of messenger for the sons of Pandu and went to the court of Pandavas to plead for peace. When His pleas were refused, war was now certain.

Therefore, Bhagavad-Gita is not a book of political diplomacy encouraging warmongering. When the Bhagavad-Gita was spoken by Lord Krishna to Arjuna about 5000 years ago, battle was accidentally a context in which this knowledge had to be given. In fact, if we study the Bhagavad-Gita thoroughly, we will not find any war strategy. If professor Doniger is accusing Bhagavad-Gita of warmongering, it is obvious that the professor has not gone through the contents of the Gita thoroughly.

The proper way to approach Bhagavad-Gita

As any subject matter has a way to approach it, so has the Bhagavad-Gita. One can never understand the mystery of Bhagavad-Gita by a mere academic and challenging approach. The right way to approach Bhagavad-Gita is mentioned by Lord Krishna, the speaker thus
tad viddhi pranipatena pariprashnena sevaya
upadekshyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darshinah
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” [ Bhagavad-gita 4.34]

So, to understand Bhagavad-Gita as it is, we must approach a bonafide spiritual master coming in disciplic succession, serve him and inquire from him. Those who try to study the Gita on their own without surrendering to a qualified preceptor will never be able to enter into the mystery of Bhagavad-Gita even by studying it for centuries.

Because the modern day scholars and academicians try to understand the Gita on their own without approaching a spiritual master, they see the Bhagavad-Gita from their own perspectives and prejudices and spread the same concocted misunderstanding around. Therefore, those who want to understand Bhagavad-Gita should approach a bonafide spiritual master and study it under his guidance.

The teachings of Bhagavad-Gita

The Bhagavad-Gita was spoken by Sri Krishna to Arjuna in response to Arjuna’s request to Lord Krishna to enlighten him about his dharma (religious principles and duty) when he was in a state of confusion whether to fight his cousins on the battlefield of Kurukshetra [ BG-2.7]. Arjuna argued that it is irreligious and unnecessary violence against innocent warriors to engage in the scheduled ghastly war. But the speaker of Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna simply dismisses all the apparently religious and genuine arguments of Arjuna as mere weakness of heart and nothing to do with real dharma.

Vedic Observer

In conclusion, we invite the misguided professors to give up their academic approach to Bhagavad-Gita and learn the transcendental knowledge of Bhagavad-Gita from the devotees of Lord Krishna.


  1. Philadelphia Inquirer

Compiled by Madhur Gauranga Das


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