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Why did Krishna’s army fight against their own king in the Mahabharata war?

The Xennial
·3-min read
Wall art of Krishna tell Bhagavad gita to Arjuna in Mahabharata war as in Hindu epic Mahabharat in Ramkrishna math on March 19,2017 in Hyderabad,India.Mahabharata or Mahabharat is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India.

When it was clear that they would have to go to war for the throne of Hastinapur, the Kauravas and the Pandavas began seeking allegiances from different kings from across the land. However, both knew that the strongest and the most fearful army was at the command of one person – Krishna.

Krishna’s army, also called Narayani Sena, was said to have over 10 lakh well-trained soldiers ready to go to battle at the signal of their king. Victory was virtually guaranteed to whoever that had this army on their side.

And so both the sides decided to approach Krishna at his palace. As it turned out Arjuna, who represented the Pandavas, and Duryodhana, who represented the Kauravas arrived at Krishna’s palace on the same day. However Duryodhana beat Arjuna to the chambers. As it happened, Krishna was asleep so he lingered around. Arjuna entered soon after.

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As they looked for a place to sit, Arjuna sat at Krishna’s feet whereas Duryodhana made himself comfortable next to Krishna’s head as he thought it would have been beneath him to sit at someone’s feet.

When Krishna woke up, he saw Arjuna first and asked him the reason for his visit. Duryodhana, who had been sitting by Krishna’s bedside, piped up and pointed out that he was in the chambers first and by that rule, he should have been asked first.

RELATED READ: Why does Duryodhana have a temple dedicated to him?

The ever intelligent Krishna pointed out that since he had laid eyes on Arjuna first, he would get to say his piece first.

On learning the reason for their visit, Krishna said they could have just one of the two – his army or himself. He also made it clear that he wouldn’t wield a weapon in the war. Much to Duryodhana’s displeasure, Arjuna got to pick first (as Krishna pointed out it was he who he saw first).

But the Kaurava prince had nothing to worry as Arjuna promptly requested for Krishna to be by his side. He valued his counsel more than anything else in the world and no army could match that, he argued. Duryodhana, who landed the Narayani Sena, left the palace happy too.

This is a relatively known story. But the part that is not as well-known is what followed.

Narayani Sena had 14 chieftains. These were called atirathis and maharathis (seven of each). Each of these chieftains had a set number of battalions that reported to them. Even though all of them came together to form this indomitable army, each of the battalions seemed to be fairly independent. And all the chieftains seemed to have a mind of their own.

RELATED READ: Who are the two characters that are common between Ramayana and Mahabharata?

Which is why, despite his king’s promise, Satyaki broke ranks and joined the Pandavas in battle and fought beside Krishna. Another chieftain, Kritavarma, however followed his king’s orders and fought valiantly on the side of the Kauravas, against his own king. In fact, he followed the orders to the letter even slaying his king’s nephew, Abhimanyu, who was also his student!

Interestingly, even though Krishna had offered his entire army to Duryodhana, in the end only one of his 14 battalions fought on Kaurava’s side – Kritavarma’s batallion. While Satyaki fought on the side of the Pandavas, it is said that the remaining 14 battalions sat out the war, mostly on the orders of Krishna and Balarama.

Balarama, as we know, refused to fight too and his only role in the battle was as a referee to the mace duel between Duryodhana, who was his student and friend, and Bhima.

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