Queen Kuntī has been given the boon of a night visit in successive years by six gods of her choice. By them she has six sons who are thus half-brothers. Five of them are adopted by her husband King Pāu, and thus called Pāavas. The eldest, Yudhihira, is to inherit the kingdom. The next two are the fierce Bhīma, and Arjuna who becomes a master archer, and later the disciple in the Gītā. The last two Pāavas play no part in the Gītā. The other infant, who will be the heroic Kara, is abandoned, but found and adopted by a charioteer. This is an important point.

The cousins of the Pāavas, headed by the cruel Duryodhana, trap Yudhihira into a gambling match against a dice sharper; he loses the kingdom to Duryodhana. The Pāavas are exiled, pursued by the new king’s murderous hate. The noble Bhīma the commander-in-chief, and Droa a great general, who had trained the young Pāavas, now hold themselves bound by their oath of loyalty to the monarch, though they recognize that the present one is a tyrant.

Another relative of both sides is Ka, a warrior chief who is an incarnation of God, though largely undeclared. He makes attempts to mediate as allies come to support the Pāavas, but war becomes inevitable. As the armies face each other, Arjuna’s will to fight collapses. He suddenly realizes how they will have to kill revered figures like Bhīma if they are to win. He appeals to Ka to tell him what to do. Ka makes a few attempts to rally his courage with talk of honour and glory: when Arjuna does not respond, the Gītā teachings begin on an entirely different level.

The teachings begin. But for a long time, as the Gītā will show, Arjuna has his doubts about them. If he had had no doubts, the Gītā would have ended with Chapter III.

© Trevor Leggett


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