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Why did Krishna not stop the Mahabharata?

Why did Krishna not stop the Mahabharata - Featured Image - Picture of a pot of butter representing 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 not stop the Mahabharata?

There are two reasons why Krishna does not stop the Mahabharata: (1) he is unable to, because he is as human as any other character and cannot see the future; or (2) he is able to but chooses not to, because he wishes events to unfold in that particular manner so that evil can be wiped off the face of the earth.

Read on to discover more about why Krishna did not stop the Mahabharata.

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

How powerful is Krishna?

At the end of the Kuruskhetra war, Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, accuses Krishna of being powerful enough to stop the war but choosing not to do so. For this wilful negligence, she curses him that the Yadavas will die in a similar way to the Kurus.

In response, Krishna does not react in any meaningful way. He accepts Gandhari’s words and makes preparations for them to come true.

This scene cuts to the bone of an important question in the Mahabharata: just how powerful is Krishna, really?

On the one end of the spectrum, we might assume that he is no different to any other man. He has no magical powers. All the stories that are told about his superhuman feats are mere stories.

He is a skilful propagandist, his public relations strategy is top notch, he is masterful at creating and maintaining illusions – but he is no god.

On the other end, we have Krishna the incarnation of Vishnu, the all-knowing, the ever-present, the creator of creators, the Prime Mover of all things – who has complete knowledge of past, present and future.

Where does the ‘true’ Krishna sit on this scale between man and god?

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 34: The Vishwaroopa.)

Krishna the Man

First, let’s position ourselves at the ‘human’ side of the debate, and believe that Krishna is no more than a man.

If this is true, then Krishna is simply not powerful enough to stop the Mahabharata war from happening. Despite being the wisest, cleverest, and most conniving of all men that populate the story, he is not omniscient.

The world is too complex a beast even for Krishna to tame. He adapts well to changing circumstances, he makes his plans so that his kingdom and his people do not get disadvantaged no matter who wins the Pandava-Kaurava war.

He tries his best to prevent it from happening, too: he visits Hastinapur as the Pandavas’ messenger of peace and asks for just five villages to resolve the quarrel. Duryodhana refuses.

In this frame of reference, therefore, we conclude that the Kurukshetra war happens despite Krishna’s best efforts to prevent it.

Did Krishna want to prevent it?

While we’re still speaking of Krishna the man, we must also ask if Krishna indeed wished to prevent the war at all, or if his peacemaking effort is a half-hearted one.

Could it be that the strategist and diplomat in Krishna reasoned that a ‘world war’ is not a bad thing as long as Anarta did not participate in it? The conflict would cripple all the main kingdoms, and leave Anarta as the sole survivor in the rubble.

A diplomatic solution to bring Anarta to the top of the pyramid would have taken years – perhaps decades – but with a war like this, by the mere act of staying neutral and minding their own business, the Vrishnis can become the de facto rulers of the world.

Krishna also has personal stakes in the Pandava-Kaurava feud. The Pandavas are relatives to him. Arjuna is his sister’s husband. The Kauravas – Duryodhana in particular – represent instability for everyone.

And the only way to replace Duryodhana with Yudhishthir at Kuru is to topple the former with violence.

Even without the benefit of hindsight, war between Kuru and Panchala – with all the kingdoms of the world participating – is a profitable affair for Anarta. Therefore, we must allow for the slim chance that Krishna wished for the Kurukshetra war to happen.

In this frame of reference, it all happened more or less exactly as Krishna wished. The question of why he did not stop it does not arise.

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

Krishna the God

Now, let’s flip the switch and jump over to the other side of the fence. Here, Krishna is Narayana incarnate. He is Brahman himself. All the supernatural actions that he has performed in his life are facts, and they prove his divinity.

This gives rise to two possibilities:

  1. Because Krishna is all-powerful, it follows that he is powerful enough to change the course of events such that the Kurukshetra war does not need to happen.
  2. Because Krishna is all-seeing, it follows that he already has seen how it will come to pass. The past, the present and the future are the same to him. He is powerless, in other words, when faced with the irrefutability of destiny.

So an all-powerful Krishna is not consistent with an all-seeing Krishna, because when you can see it all, you are no longer powerful enough to change it.

Krishna the Omnipotent

For this section, let us assume that Krishna is omnipotent but not omniscient. This means that though he is powerful enough to do anything within the spatial realm, his powers do not extend to knowing the future and the past.

Here, we may ask the question: what are the limits to Krishna’s powers? Does he have the power to click his finger and cause all of the ‘bad people’ in the world to turn ‘good’?

Does he have the power to utter a single chant and drive away all evil?

It does not appear that he does, because he says in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Whenever evil begins to triumph against good, I will take birth in the world of men and restore the balance.’

This sentence implies that as potent as he is, he is not powerful enough to drive away evil with a mere glance or a word. Nor is he powerful enough to stop evil from being created in the first place.

His modus operandi seems to be, therefore, to take birth in the world of men, and use men’s machinations to wage war against the forces of evil – and hope to win.

In this frame, Krishna is an all-powerful god, but since he does not know the future, he is still besotted by uncertainty about the consequences of his actions.

He does not stop the Mahabharata because he believes that the war is necessary for evil to be defeated in the age of Dwapara.

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

Krishna the Omniscient

Now let us remove the ‘omnipotent’ tag from Krishna and give him the gift of omniscience.

Note that this is not just spatial omniscience – meaning he sees everything that is happening anywhere – but it is also temporal omniscience – meaning he sees everything that has happened and will happen.

Basically, he knows everything that has happened everywhere – at every time.

This gift completely takes away from him the power to change anything. He knows every word that is spoken by every character – including himself – and how every action and decision plays its role in creating the chain of events.

For Krishna, everything – even the future – is immutable. It has happened. It cannot be changed.

In this frame, as powerful as Krishna is, he must bow to the intractability of destiny. He has no free will. Neither do the rest of us, but we at least have the illusion of it. Thanks to his omniscience, Krishna does not have that either.

This Krishna, therefore, is powerless to change the course of events of the Mahabharata.

Conclusion

Krishna does not stop the Mahabharata war for any of the possible four reasons:

  • He is powerless to do so – because he is human. The war happens despite his best efforts to prevent it.
  • He is powerless to do so – because he is an omniscient part of Brahman, which means he is subservient to the immutability of destiny. An omniscient man has neither free will nor the illusion of it. He has seen it all.
  • He is powerful enough to do so but chooses not to because a war between Kuru and Panchala has potential for deep political profits for Anarta.
  • He cannot defeat the forces of evil on his own. He needs to take the help energies in the human world in order to wage a war on Evil. The war, therefore, is the only way in which Krishna can restore Dharma to its place.

Which of the above is the ‘true’ reason? Nothing of the sort exists. You’re allowed to pick one that appeals the most to you.

Further Reading

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Enjoy!