Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.
He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Arjuna choose Krishna?
Arjuna chooses Krishna over the Narayana Sena because he (rightly) reasons that Krishna’s strategic nous is much more valuable to the Pandava cause than the numerical contribution of his army. Also, Arjuna and Krishna are good friends and close relatives – it would have been unimaginable for Arjuna to face Krishna in battle.
Read on to discover more about why Arjuna chooses Krishna in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Scuffle for Krishna’s Support
During the Udyoga Parva, as the Kauravas and Pandavas are sending peace messengers back and forth, they also begin to amass an army each in case the negotiations fail.
One of the most powerful kingdoms of the time is Anarta, ruled by Balarama with the help of Krishna. Both Duryodhana and Arjuna set out to speak with Krishna about possible support, and reach the fabled city on the same day.
Duryodhana is shown into Krishna’s room slightly before Arjuna arrives. The son of Dhritarashtra sits by the head of Krishna’s bed. A little while later, Arjuna comes and stands at the Krishna’s feet.
Krishna happens to be sleeping when the two warriors arrive – or maybe he is pretending to be. He wakes up a short while later and sees (or pretends to see) Arjuna first. He speaks with Arjuna for a few moments before realizing that Duryodhana is behind him.
(Suggested: 12 Mahabharata Stories From the Udyoga Parva.)
‘I have come first’
‘I have come to seek your help in the impending war, O Madhusudana,’ says Duryodhana. ‘And today I came to you first; indeed, it was I who entered this chamber before Arjuna did. So it behoves you to first attend to my request.’
Krishna smiles. ‘You may have come first, Duryodhana, but I saw Arjuna first. It has also been said that if two people equally dear to you approach you for help, you attend to the needs of the younger one first.
‘So Arjuna, I am afraid, is entitled to first choice. But do not fear; I will help you both, and perhaps both of you will leave here getting what you wish.’
Krishna divides his supportive power into two seemingly unequal portions:
- In the first portion is his entire Narayana Sena, an army of cowherds whose numbers exceed hundred million. (Probably an exaggeration.) They all fight like seasoned warriors in the thick of battle.
- In the second portion is he himself, but with the caveat that he will not touch a weapon throughout the war. He will be available only as a guide and a friend.
Krishna says that the Pandavas and Kauravas will each have one of those portions. He offers the choice of making the first pick to Arjuna.
A Test for Arjuna
Krishna’s ostensible reason for giving Arjuna first choice in the matter is that Arjuna is the younger of the two, and that Krishna had seen him first that day.
But in reality, this is a test for Arjuna. Krishna wants to see if Arjuna has grasped the ethical significance of this war, and if he has understood the depth of their friendship.
If Arjuna chooses the Narayana Sena, Krishna will know that the Pandavas are not as worthy as he has thought them to be. He will then partner with Duryodhana and bring about the end of the age anyway.
But if Arjuna chooses him over the Narayana Sena, Krishna will know that Arjuna knows the true stakes over which the battle is going to be fought.
In any case, all of this becomes irrelevant because Arjuna chooses an unarmed Krishna – as his charioteer – over the significant benefits offered by the Narayana Sena.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 32: Krishna Becomes Charioteer.)
In case we feel that Duryodhana is deprived of the opportunity to choose Krishna, the story reminds us that Duryodhana is gleeful about the choice that Arjuna makes.
When Krishna offers first choice to Arjuna, Duryodhana secretly seethes, imagining that Arjuna will of course pick the Narayana Sena, leaving the Kauravas to be saddled with an unarmed Krishna.
But when Arjuna chooses Krishna, Duryodhana inwardly exults, and ridicules Arjuna in his mind for being a sentimental idiot. He happily accepts the Narayana Sena and walks away, certain that he has had the better deal.
In other words, even if Duryodhana had been offered first pick, he would have chosen Krishna’s army in a heartbeat.
Anarta Remains Neutral
Duryodhana then goes to Balarama and asks him for support as well. But Balarama tells him that Anarta is going to remain neutral in this war.
‘Both Krishna and I have decided,’ he says, ‘that we will not take sides in this war, O Prince. If you are to fight, I hope that you do so in accordance with all the rules that have been laid out by generations of kings.’
Duryodhana accepts Balarama’s blessings, and on the way back, meets Kritavarma as well, who gives the Kaurava prince a whole Akshauhini of troops. Duryodhana heads back to Hastinapur at the head of this force, delighted at the way his trip to Dwaraka panned out.
The only Yadava resources to participate in the war are Kritavarma (on the side of the Kauravas), Yuyudhana (on the side of the Pandavas), Krishna’s Narayana Sena (on the side of the Kauravas), and Krishna himself (on the side of the Pandavas).
Anarta, therefore, to the extent that it participates in the war, divides her support equally.
Later, Krishna asks Arjuna why he chose him instead of his army.
‘I have no doubt that I am capable of vanquishing an army of any size, Vasudeva,’ replies Arjuna. ‘But you are the most illustrious of all men, known and loved all over Aryavarta.
‘Anyone fighting you will only gain disrepute, whereas one who has you by his side will earn a portion of your fame. My brothers and I want wealth, Krishna, but not at the expense of renown.’
‘You have chosen well, my friend,’ says Krishna, ‘as I knew you would. Duryodhana, I think, would have chosen the army even if I had given him first pick. I dare say both of you got what you deserved. Now tell me – I am at your command. In what capacity shall I serve you on the battlefield?’
‘It has been my long-cherished desire, O Madhava,’ says Arjuna, ‘that you guide me through the battle by becoming my charioteer.’
‘So be it,’ says Krishna.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 39: The Bhagavad Gita.)
Because we do not live in a single-factor world, there may have been other reasons behind Arjuna’s choosing of Krishna. These are admittedly speculative in nature. But here they are:
- Arjuna has known Krishna for a long time now, as friend, relative and devotee. He has seen the extent of Krishna’s soft power. He knows that as powerful a warrior Krishna is, he is even more powerful in the mind.
- Brute strength in numbers is no longer a consideration for Arjuna, who is now so powerful that he can wipe out an entire army with one weapon. Instead, he values Krishna’s guidance and help as his charioteer.
- Arjuna cannot bring himself to imagine shooting an arrow at Krishna, which he no doubt will need to do if Krishna fights on the other side. He is already troubled by the prospect of fighting Bhishma and Drona. Adding Krishna to that list would have been too much.
Krishna thus becomes Arjuna’s charioteer and guides him to victory in the Kurukshetra war.
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