Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Did Krishna cheat in the Mahabharata?
Krishna cheats on multiple occasions in the Mahabharata – chiefly during the war to oversee the killing of Bhishma, Drona, Bhurishrava, Jayadratha, Karna and Duryodhana. Before the war, he gains entrance into the palace of Jarasandha, and then uses Bhima as a tool to kill him – thus removing Yudhishthir’s main rival for the Rajasuya.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Krishna cheated in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
In the Mahabharata, Krishna builds for himself a reputation as someone who relies primarily on non-traditional methods to contrive favourable outcomes from any given situation.
When Yudhishthir announces his intention to perform the Rajasuya, Krishna tells him that as long as Jarasandha is alive, another king cannot legitimately lay claim to the title of emperor.
He then offers to kill Jarasandha using subterfuge instead of all-out war.
Interestingly, Krishna has some history with Jarasandha: the Magadha king has driven Krishna and Balarama out of Mathura toward the western ocean shortly after the killing of Kamsa.
Jarasandha is therefore not only a rival to Yudhishthir for the Rajasuya, but also Krishna’s personal nemesis. It is instructive that Krishna uses the strength of Bhimasena as a tool to kill Jarasandha.
While this does not necessarily count as ‘cheating’, it can be described as ‘underhanded’.
(Suggested: Why did Krishna not kill Jarasandha?)
On the tenth day of the war, Krishna forces Yudhishthir’s hand and informs him that if Bhishma continues to fight for much longer, the Pandavas will be left without an army.
He then accompanies the five brothers over to Bhishma’s tent, where the old man gives them a hint as to his weakness. ‘If I am faced on the battlefield with a woman or a man who has once been a woman, I will not fight him.’
On their return, Krishna masterminds a solution whereby Arjuna fights Bhishma from behind Shikhandi so that the grandsire can be sidelined for the rest of the battle.
The fall of Bhishma serves as the first pivotal moment of the war, after which the general tone of battle becomes more aggressive and ruthless.
(Suggested: How did Arjuna kill Bhishma?)
The fourteenth day is most action-packed of the entire Mahabharata war. This is the day on which Arjuna takes a vow to kill Jayadratha ‘before sunset’.
In response, Drona creates an impossibly complex array with the sole intention of thwarting Arjuna’s advance toward Jayadratha. The Sindhu king is stationed right in the rear of the formation, guarded by six atirathas.
Krishna guides Arjuna through this maze of soldiers and animals. They succeed in finding Jayadratha as sundown approaches. But as the fight with the six atirathas draws on interminably, Krishna decides that it is time for some magic.
He causes some dark clouds to gather over the western horizon, obscuring the sun. There is a sudden illusion of sunset and darkness, at which the Kaurava soldiers rejoice. Amid the cheers and jubilation, a relieved Jayadratha stops fighting and looks up toward the west.
Arjuna pounces on this moment and shoots an arrow at the craned neck of Jayadratha – and fulfils his oath.
Bhurishrava is the son of Somadatta, who is himself the son of Bahlika. Bahlika is the elder brother of Shantanu. Bhurishrava, therefore, is an uncle of the Pandavas.
During the fourteenth day, with Arjuna closing in on the heels of Jayadratha, it so happens that Satyaki and Bhurishrava enter into a duel. The latter gains an upper hand in this challenge, and is battering the Yadava to the ground.
Arjuna watches this and says to Krishna, ‘Here I am doing my utmost to kill the murderer of my son – and Satyaki is forcing me to abandon my quest to protect him.’
Krishna replies that Arjuna has no other choice but to rescue Satyaki. At that precise moment, Bhurishrava has wrestled his opponent to the ground and is about to slice his neck with a dagger.
Krishna commands Arjuna to shoot at Bhurishrava from the back. Arjuna does so, severing the Kuru elder’s arm near the elbow.
Bhurishrava is stunned at this show of callousness from Arjuna, and relinquishes his weapons in despair. Satyaki then advances on his meditating enemy and chops off his head.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 47: Satyaki Kills Bhurishrava.)
On Day 15, Krishna initiates a discussion on how to kill Drona, and advises the Pandavas to pretend that Ashwatthama has been killed so that Drona can be persuaded to give up his weapons.
Arjuna does not like the proposal, but Krishna employs the services of first Bhimasena – who kills an elephant named Ashwatthama; or he first names an elephant Ashwatthama and then kills it – and then Yudhishthir – who carries the news to Drona.
Bhima first taunts Drona that a Brahmin of his stature should not fight when his son is dead. Drona does not believe Bhima’s words, so he seeks out Yudhishthir because he knows the eldest Pandava does not lie.
‘Yes, Ashwatthama is dead!’ says Yudhishthir, under Krishna’s command. ‘Ashwatthama the elephant.’
But the first sentence is enough for Drona to throw away his weapons and adopt a yogic pose on the terrace of his chariot. Seizing the moment, Dhrishtadyumna chops off the preceptor’s head and fulfils his destiny.
During the battle between Karna and Arjuna on the seventeenth day, the former’s chariot wheel gets stuck in the mud. Karna leaps off the vehicle and requests Arjuna for some time in which to repair his wheel.
The rules of battle state that it is improper for a warrior to shoot at his enemy when he is deprived of a chariot. Arjuna considers giving Karna the time he needs to recover.
But Krishna swoops in and reminds Arjuna of all the times in the past that Karna and Duryodhana have flouted the rules of Dharma. The disrobing of Draupadi. The killing of Abhimanyu. The dice game. The exile. And so on.
Krishna orders Arjuna to give Karna no chance at all. ‘Draw your deadliest arrow, Partha,’ he says, ‘and aim it at that man’s neck.’
Arjuna does as he is told, and kills Karna.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 51: Arjuna Kills Karna.)
On Day 18, with the mace fight between Bhima and Duryodhana in full flow, Krishna tells Arjuna that Bhima has to resort to underhanded methods in order to win.
Krishna reasons that while Bhima and Duryodhana are more or less equal in skill, the latter has honed his mace fighting to a fine art over the years, in anticipation that he will one day face Bhima.
Bhima, on the other hand, has had other things to occupy his mind – like staying alive in the forest, taking care of his family, killing Rakshasas and so on. Bhima’s skills on the battlefield are divided between archery, wrestling, sword combat and mace fighting.
Hearing this, Arjuna taps meaningfully at his thigh. Bhima sees this, takes the hint, and hits Duryodhana below the waist to break his thighs.
Just before his own death, Duryodhana accuses Krishna of having secured victory by deceitful means. Krishna does not seek to defend himself. He merely says, ‘When faced against a foe that is far superior, one must do whatever one can in order to win.’
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 53: Bhima Defeats Duryodhana.)
Krishna cheats on multiple occasions in the Mahabharata. For instance:
- In killing Jarasandha, he assassinates a ruling king by challenging him deceitfully to a single combat – while disguised as a Brahmin.
- In killing Bhishma, he uses Shikhandi as a shield for Arjuna, knowing that Bhishma will not shoot back. This is akin to fighting from behind a woman, an act that is considered shameful for Kshatriyas.
- In killing Jayadratha, he uses magic to create an illusion that the day has ended, thus turning a crucial moment in Arjuna’s favour.
- In killing Bhurishrava, he orders Arjuna to shoot at an otherwise-engaged warrior from behind, without first challenging him or warning him. According to the rules of battle, this is blasphemous behaviour.
- With Drona, he lies to cause the grandsire to relinquish his weapons, and does not stop Dhrishtadyumna. Three sins are committed here: the lie, the killing of an unarmed, surrendered enemy, and the killing of a Brahmin.
- With Karna, he encourages Arjuna to shoot at his opponent when the latter is forced to fight from the ground.
- With Duryodhana, he tells Bhima to break the cardinal rule of hitting his opponent with the mace below the waist.
Using all of these acts as precedents, Ashwatthama takes matters into his own hands at the end and commits the ultimate sin of all: that of massacring his enemies when they’re asleep in their own beds.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story