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 support the Pandavas?
Krishna supports the Pandavas in the Mahabharata for three main reasons: (1) He honestly believes that the Pandavas are on the side of virtue and justice, (2) Victory to Pandavas ensures stability and continued well-being of Anarta, and (3) His close friendship with Arjuna means that his goodwill extends to the other four brothers.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna supported the Pandavas.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
One of the most important reasons why Krishna supports the Pandavas is that they are his first cousins. While this is not a sufficient condition for unconditional support (Shishupala also, after all, is Krishna’s first cousin), we must admit that it lays the groundwork for a long and fruitful relationship.
The Pandavas are the sons of Kunti, who is Krishna’s maternal aunt. While the cousins don’t meet that often during their growing-up years, they do find as adults that their interests align nicely.
Between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, therefore, Krishna and Balarama are more closely related to the former. With the latter they only have distant kinship. But they pursue friendly relations with Kuru as well because of the kingdom’s power.
For the good of Anarta
Krishna and Balarama migrate westward to build the city of Dwaraka in delicate circumstances. They are ousted from Mathura by the marauding Jarasandha, and they are forced to move so far west that the Magadha king leaves them alone.
After that, with some help (presumably) from Shurasena and Kunti, Krishna founds the kingdom of Anarta and establishes its capital at Dwaraka. His wish is for Anarta to be one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world.
As soon as Anarta is founded, therefore, Krishna and Balarama go hunting for allies among the Northern kingdoms, chief among them Kuru and Panchala. Suitably, they attend the groom-choosing ceremony of Draupadi to announce their presence.
Here they see the strength and valour of the Pandavas – of Arjuna and Bhima in particular. Krishna resolves to build a strong friendship with the Pandavas, but also realizes that the official Kuru house should also be Anarta’s friend.
In other words, Anarta cannot afford to take sides in the Pandava-Kaurava conflict.
For Killing Jarasandha
While Krishna makes it appear that he is doing the Pandavas a favour by courting their friendship when they have no allies to speak of, he also has a selfish motive: to use the Pandavas’ strength to topple Jarasandha.
Jarasandha is one of Krishna’s oldest enemies; right from the time he kills Kamsa and liberates Mathura, Jarasandha troubles him until he decides to leave Mathura to the king of Magadha, accept defeat, and move westward.
Now, with the arrival of the Pandavas – especially Arjuna and Bhima – Krishna sees that if he plays his cards right, he can use them as tools to liberate Magadha.
The right opportunity for this arises when Yudhishthir confides in Krishna that he wishes to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice. Krishna counters by saying, ‘In order to perform the Rajasuya, you have to kill Jarasandha.’
And of course, when Yudhishthir asks him how, Krishna comes up with a plan involving Bhima challenging the emperor for a wrestling match and assassinating him at the end of it.
For the triumph of Dharma
Another factor is that Krishna truly believes that the Pandavas have unfairly been tricked out of their kingdoms. He believes that Yudhishthir and his brothers are entitled to have at least half of the kingdom of Kuru.
The other side of this argument is that Pandu was made king only on a technicality (because of Dhritarashtra’s blindness), and that the unfair decision should not punish the next generation of heirs. According to this view, Duryodhana is the rightful king; Yudhishthir is the usurper.
Regardless of that point, though, once the Pandavas have won their kingdom fair and square, the manner in which the Kauravas rob them of it is unethical – according to Krishna.
So while he plays the political game and maintains friendship with Kuru in an official capacity, he is eager to help the Pandavas reclaim their lost glory.
Krishna’s primary motive is to have Anarta become the most powerful of the middle kingdoms, while Kuru becomes the power centre in the north. And he wishes Anarta and Kuru to be friendly with each other.
To this end, he can of course cultivate Duryodhana as his primary ally, but he is farsighted enough to imagine that in the long run, Duryodhana will be a weaker ruler than the Pandavas.
The weaker the ruler at Kuru is, the less stable the empire is along the length of Ganga. A ruler who is not all-powerful will always have to watch out for rebellion, especially toward the farther reaches of his kingdom.
Duryodhana also will not be as universally approved as the Pandavas are, so he will have to stay on the alert for traitors and murderers closer to home.
Finally, Duryodhana – Krishna may have reasoned – will be a less dependable ally than the Pandavas. What if a few years after he wins overlordship of the northern kingdoms, Duryodhana suddenly decides to invade Anarta?
Taking all these factors into account, Krishna might have preferred to have Yudhishthir become the emperor instead of Duryodhana.
Personal versus Official
Despite these numerous reasons, Krishna takes care to keep all of his support for the Pandavas personal. Anarta, in its official capacity, never takes a side between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
During the exile years, Anarta – through Balarama as king – remains friendly with the Kuru kingdom, maintaining trade and diplomacy with Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra. In fact, Balarama goes the extra mile and creates a personal bond with Duryodhana, taking him on as his disciple.
Even at the end of the story, with the war looming, Anarta’s official stance is one of neutrality. To the extent that the Yadavas fight, it is only on the personal behest of Krishna.
Krishna divides his personal resources amicably between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Both Duryodhana and Arjuna are happy with the portions that they receive. The former gets the Narayana Sena. The latter gets Krishna alone and unarmed.
Of the other forces, Yuyudhana and Kritavarma fight on opposite sides, each bringing one Akshauhini of troops each.
Even at this late stage, therefore, Krishna is hedging his bets and covering for the possibility that the Pandavas lose. Even if they do, Anarta will not be destroyed.
Krishna has plenty of reasons to support the Pandavas: they’re his kinsmen, they’re strong and stable leaders, they’re on the wrong side of destiny, and friendship with them is bound to be fruitful for Anarta.
So he offers them all the help he can give. But he also takes care to distance his personal relationship with the Pandavas from Anarta’s official foreign policy.
This ensures that regardless of how the Pandava-Kaurava feud turns out, Anarta – his kingdom – will remain unharmed.
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