Why did Krishna give his army to the Kauravas?

Why did Krishna give his army to the Kauravas - Featured Image - Picture of a cow representing the army of Krishna

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: Why did Krishna give his army to the Kauravas?

Krishna gives his army to the Kauravas to prove to Duryodhana that this is not an ordinary war. This is a Dharma Yuddha, in which the forces of good will win against evil no matter how steep the odds are. Krishna wishes to show the world that the side on which he fights will win regardless of the numbers that make up the respective armies.

Read on to discover more about why Krishna gave his army to the Kauravas.

(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Equal Distribution

Throughout Balarama’s reign, Anarta – the kingdom that Balarama and Krishna build after they flee from Mathura – maintains friendly relations with both the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

Krishna goes out of his way to build a deep friendship with Arjuna, which he then uses a conduit to help the rest of the brothers. On the official front, Balarama establishes a strong teacher-disciple relationship with Duryodhana.

Anarta’s primary ambition is to have the kingdom of Kuru as a long-term ally. In order to achieve this, it makes sure that it does not support either of the Pandavas or the Kauravas unconditionally.

Staying true to this ethos, Balarama refuses to take sides in the war. His kingdom remains officially neutral.

However, through Krishna, Anarta makes some contributions to the battle. Satyaki and Kritavarma offer one akshauhini of troops each, and they fight on opposite sides.

(Suggested: Why did Krishna support the Pandavas?)

Krishna’s Narayana Sena

Krishna’s personal army, the Narayana Sena, is said to be a large body of a hundred million cowherds. They are said to fight like seasoned warriors in battle, so they’re not merely cowherds who have picked up on a weapon on the way.

We’re not told exactly where this army originates, and how many cowherd settlements had to be drafted in order to bring the number up to a hundred million. Some commentators speculate that a part of this force is composed of cowherds from Vrindavan.

In reality, though, not much is known of the Narayana Sena except that it is Krishna’s personal army.

While dividing his own personal self between the two sides that are about to fight at Kurukshetra, Krishna puts his entire army into one portion, and himself into another.

But the catch is this: he will not touch a weapon during the war. He will only be available for his strategic inputs.

Possible Reasons

Here are a few possible reasons behind Krishna’s actions in this scene. Some of these are mutually exclusive, and others can exist alongside one another.

  • Krishna thinks that in terms of value, his strategic talents and his army’s fighting ability are about equal.
  • He knows that Arjuna prefers him and that Duryodhana prefers his army, so he makes the division in a way that is amicable to both parties. In short, he knows what each side wants and endeavours to give it to them.
  • He does not mind that the Narayana Sena will perish – as he must know that they will if they fight for Duryodhana.
  • He knows that if he proposes to fight himself, there is a slim chance that Duryodhana might also want him and not his army. In order to make the choice easy for both sides, he chooses not to fight.
  • He knows that his fighting ability is not needed for the Pandavas to win. Arjuna and Bhima are strong enough to win the war on their own – as long as they have the benefit of Krishna’s tactical nous.

In short, this is all an attempt by Krishna to divine his personal fighting resources equally between the Kauravas and Pandavas.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 32: Krishna Becomes Charioteer.)

Do the details matter?

This may also be a tacit admission by Krishna that the details of the war do not matter. For instance:

  • Duryodhana has the larger army when measured by raw numbers.
  • Duryodhana has the stronger army when measured by the number of great warriors that are fighting on his side: Bhishma, Drona, Ashwatthama, Bhurishrava, Bhagadatta, Karna and Shalya to name a few.
  • Duryodhana also has the army of Krishna, and the resources of Kritavarma to count upon.
  • On the other side, the only two warriors comparable to any of the atirathas of the Kaurava army are Bhima and Arjuna – with perhaps Satyaki following closely behind.

By any logical point of view, this should not even be a close match. The Kuru army should win hundred times out of hundred.

By stacking the odds in this manner in favour of ‘evil’, and by positioning himself on the side of the ‘good’, Krishna desires to show the world that this is no normal war. This is the Dharma Yuddha.

And in the Dharma Yuddha, regardless of how overpowered the forces of virtue might look, it will eventually win.

Krishna wishes to give the world this message: that none of the trifling details matter, that the forces of Dharma will win no matter what. And for this, he allows Duryodhana the benefit of his entire army – lest it be said that he favoured the Pandavas unduly.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 0: Why did the Mahabharata Happen?)

What if?

Here, we must ask the question: what if Arjuna, when asked to make a choice between Krishna and his army, had chosen the latter? What if, in other words, Krishna had become consultant and guide for the Kauravas?

What if he had become Duryodhana’s charioteer (or Bhishma’s, or Drona’s) instead of Arjuna’s?

Would the outcome of the war had been any different? No, because Krishna would have guided the Kauravas in such a way that it ensures their downfall. He would have actively sabotaged Duryodhana’s campaign and ensured that the Pandavas won.

Indeed, it might have been easier for Krishna to dismantle the Kuru army from the inside rather than from across the battlefield.

So the fact that Krishna gives the Kauravas his army is largely an irrelevant one. By the time Arjuna makes his choice, the end of the war has already been determined.

And Krishna is the lynchpin; who he believes should win will win. Regardless of which side he fights on, and whether or not he picks up a weapon.

Further Reading

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