Thursday, 22 March 2018

Who is the greater hero, Krishna or Rama? Krishna is manipulative and non-emotional, but loved. Rama is emotional, suffers, was loved by his subjects, but perhaps not a leader.

Question Details:
Krishna is manipulative and can trick people to do what is Dharma. Rama suffers for something that wasn't Dharma (Kaikeyi's wishes)! Rama is the ideal man. Krishna is the ideal strategist. Rama was emotional and obeyed his parents. (But yes, Rama did suspect Sita post return-to-the-throne). Krishna was anything but emotional. Rama was loved by his subjects but I am not sure if he was considered a leader. He belonged to the 'great man' category! Krishna was loved by the Pandavas and of course the girls and cows too! But I guess he was more of the charming guy rather than a goody-goody one. What disturbs me most is the talk about the means not being as important as the ends (given that the end aimed for is justified). Or have I been conditioned to believe so?
My Answer:
I think the basis of this question is faulty. I have two objections… First of all, what makes you think that Krishna was not emotional, and secondly, what makes you think Rama was not a leader?
Let us start with the first objection I raised… Krishna’s political self often overshadows his emotional self, just like how it is the opposite for Rama, in popular perception. However, that does not mean that Krishna was not an emotional person. He definitely was, according to the Mahabharatha, however we his emotions running more for his best friend Arjuna, who was like his soulmate, as opposed to for his wives/family/relatives. I had previously written a post on how they were like two bodies, but one soul[1]. In addition to that, here are some quotes from Mahabharatha showing Krishna’s emotional attachment to Arjuna. When Krishna meets Arjuna for the first time, when the latter was exiled, he tells Arjuna, in front of the other Pandavas, Draupadi, the Bhojas, Vrishnis, and Andhakas the following[2]:
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Having addressed Krishna thus, the illustrious Pandava, who was the soul of Krishna, became dumb, when Janardana (in reply addressed that son of Pritha) saying, 'Thou art mine and I am thine, while all that is mine is thine also! He that hateth thee hateth me as well, and he that followeth thee followeth me! O thou irrepressible one, thou art Nara and I am Narayana or Hari! We are the Rishis Nara and Narayana born in the world of men for a special purpose. O Partha, thou art from me and I am from thee! O bull of the Bharata race, no one can understand the difference that is between us!'
Later on in the epic, after Abhimanyu’s death, when Arjuna took his vow of killing Jayadratha the next day, or self-immolating if he failed to do so, Krishna was rightly concerned if Arjuna would be able to kill Jayadratha. He knew that Arjuna was a great warrior. But the Kuru army was vast, and under its protection, it would be a herculean task to even reach Jayadratha, let alone kill him. Hence, Krishna, due to love and concern for Arjuna, had an emotional outpour the evening prior to the day when Arjuna went on rampage, crushed 7 akshouhinis, and eventually, Jayadratha as well[3]:
"My wives, my kinsmen, my relatives, none amongst these is dearer to me than Arjuna. O Daruka, I shall not be able to cast my eyes, even for a single moment, on the earth bereft of Arjuna. I tell thee, the earth shall not be reft to Arjuna. Myself vanquishing them all with their steeds and elephants by putting forth my strength for the sake of Arjuna, I will slay them with Karna and Suyodhana. Let the three worlds tomorrow behold my prowess in great battle, when I put forth my valour, O Daruka, for Dhananjaya's sake. Tomorrow thousands of kings and hundreds of princes, with their steeds and cars and elephants, will, O Daruka, fly away from battle. Thou shalt tomorrow, O Daruka, behold that army of kings overthrown and crushed with my discus, by myself in wrath for the sake of the son of Pandu. Tomorrow the (three) worlds with the gods, the Gandharvas, the Pisachas, the Snakes, and the Rakshasas, will know me as a (true) friend of Savyasachin. He that hateth him, hateth me. He that followeth him, followeth me. Thou hast intelligence. Know that Arjuna is half of myself.
So, Krishna did have emotional attachment in the Mahabharatha. The difference between Krishna and Rama, in this respect, was that the former’s emotional attachment was towards his best friend, Arjuna, whereas the latter’s emotional attachment, was for the most part, undoubtedly, towards his wife, Seetha. Now, moving on to my second objection to this question:
What makes you think Rama was not a leader?
I strongly disagree with your statement that Rama was not a leader. In fact, I think that despite his various flaws, he was a much greater, and a much more successful leader than Krishna was. Krishna was not really much of a leader. I would call him a political opportunist, who sided with the mighty Pandavas in order to eliminate his political rivals and have more political influence over the landmass we now know as Northern-Central India. Krishna was badly defeated by Jarasandha, and forced to flee due to fear, when Jarasandha attacked him. He himself tells this to Yuddhistira[4]:
Then the widow of Hansa and the daughter of Jarasandha, that handsome woman with eyes like lotus-petals, grieved at the death of her lord, went unto her father, and repeatedly urged, O Monarch, the king of Magadha, saying,--O slayer of all foes, kill thou the slayer of my husband.--Then, O great king, remembering the conclusion to which we had come of old we became exceedingly cheerless and fled from Mathura. Dividing our large wealth into small portions so as to make each portion easily portable, we fled from fear of Jarasandha, with our cousins and relatives. Reflecting upon everything, we fled towards the west. There is a delightful town towards the west called Kusasthali, adorned by the mountains of Raivata. In that city, O monarch, we took up our abode. We rebuilt its fort and made it so strong that it has become impregnable even to the Gods. And from within it even the women might fight the foe, what to speak of the Yadava heroes without fear of any kind? O slayer of all foes, we are now living in that city. And, O tiger of the Kuru race, considering the inaccessibility of that first of mountains and regarding themselves as having already crossed the fear of Jarasandha, the descendants of Madhu have become exceedingly glad.
We also, O king, from fear of Jarasandha, at one time had to leave Mathura and fly to the city of Dwaravati. If, O great king, thou desirest to perform this sacrifice, strive to release the kings confined by Jarasandha, as also to compass his death. O son of the Kuru race, otherwise this undertaking of thine can never be completed.
He was only able to later eliminate this rival of his, Jarasandha, by hanging the bait of Rajsuya Yajna in front of Yuddhistira, and thereby convincing Yuddhistira to send Bhima to eliminate Jarasandha. The outcome of this, was that he used Bhima to eliminate his political rival Jarasandha, all the while, aligning with the Pandavas and entering their good books, thereby making himself an important political figure in the empire of the Pandavas. He later used his closeness to the Pandavas to eliminate his other political rival, Shishupala, in a very shrewd, calculative, albeit unethical manner, in the Rajsuya Sabha of the Pandavas. Hence, it would be a stretch to call Krishna a leader. He was more like a political adviser, with the leaders being people like Bhima, Arjuna, and Yuddhistira.
Rama was undoubtedly a very great politician. His political self is described at the beginning of Ayodhya Kanda (Ayodhya Kanda Sections 1–2[5][6]):
निभृत स्संवृताकारो गुप्तमन्त्र स्सहायवान्।
अमोघक्रोधहर्षश्च त्यागसंयमकालवित्।।2.1.23।।
He (Rama) was modest and did not reveal his inner feelings. He counselled in secrecy and had good friends. Never was his anger or pleasure in vain. He knew the occasion when to sacrifice and when to exercise restraint.
दृढभक्ति स्स्थिरप्रज्ञो नासद्ग्राही न दुर्वचाः।
निस्तन्द्रिरप्रमत्तश्च स्वदोषपरदोषवित्।।2.1.24।।
He was firm in his devotion and steady in intellect. He accepted nothing ignoble nor used bad words. He was not swayed by emotions or prone to idleness. He knew his faults as well as of others.
सङ्ग्रामात्पुनरागम्य कुञ्जरेण रथेन वा।2.2.37।।
पौरान् स्वजनवन्नित्यं कुशलं परिपृच्छति।।
पुत्रेष्वग्निषु दारेषु प्रेष्यशिष्यगणेषु च।2.2.38।।
निखिलेनानुपूर्व्याच्च पितापुत्रानिवौरसान्।।
While returning from the battlefield, either on a chariot or an elephant Rama stops and enquires in detail and in order, the welfare of the citizens as he would do for his kith and kin. He enquires about the welfare of their children, sacred rituals, wives, their servants and disciples as a father would enquire of his sons.
व्यसनेषु मनुष्याणां भृशं भवति दुःखितः।।2.2.40।।
उत्सवेषु च सर्वेषु पितेव परितुष्यति।
He grieves profoundly whenever people are afflicted by misfortunes (and) rejoices like a father on festive occasions.
He was described as being modest, controlling his emotions, never using bad language, nor revealing his internal feelings. He also used to counsel in utmost secrecy. Despite never revealing his internal feelings, he would always take part (and openly grieve) in the misfortunes of his subjects, and regularly take time out of his busy schedule to inquire about the welfare of his subjects’ families, as if he wanted to spread the message to his masses that “Hey… no need to worry, I am here to take care of your needs”. Such behavior is very politician-like… As a head of state, one is also a politician, and a politician always needs to let his masses know that he is concerned for them, even if he needs to overexaggerate his care for them, as Rama did. In addition to that, a politician needs to conceal his true emotions as he can not afford to allow the masses to understand what is going on inside his head. This is evidently seen in the manner Rama was known to control his emotions and to never reveal his inner feelings…
Just like Yuddhistira, Rama also exemplified his political self throughout his life. For example, despite internally being abhorred by the decision his father made of exiling him, Rama showed absolutely no emotion at all (Ayodhya Kanda Section 16, Critical Edition, translation by Bibek Debroy):
On hearing Rama’s words, his father was struck with extreme grief. In a voice that choked with tears, he wept loudly. Rama worshipped at the feet of his unconscious father. The immensely radiant one also fell down at the feet of the ignoble Kaikeyee. Rama circumambulated his father and Kaikeyee. He emerged from the inner quarters and saw the well-wishers. Lakshmana, the extender of Sumitra’s delight, was extremely angry. With eyes full of tears, he followed at the rear. Rama circumambulated the vessel meant for the consecration. Glancing here and there, but without being disturbed, he slowly left. The destruction of the kingdom did not affect his great prosperity, like the onset of the night cannot touch the one with the cool rays. He was pleasant and was loved by the people. Having cast aside the earth, he wished to leave for the forest. He was beyond worldly pursuits and no mental disturbance could be discerned. He controlled his senses and subdued the sorrow in his mind. To inform his mother about the disagreeable tidings, he entered his own house. He entered the house, which was filled with great joy. On seeing them, he did not tell them about the calamity that had struck. Suspecting the misery of his well-wishers, Rama did not exhibit the least bit of disturbance.
It was only after Rama departed from Kosala, crossed the Ganges and the Yamuna, that he broke down in front of Lakshmana and told him that the reason that he did not revolt against Dasharatha was because he was worried about what people would say (Ayodhya Kanda Section 47, Critical Edition, translation by Pollock):
In my rage, Lakshmana, all by myself I could overpower Ayodhya or the whole world with my arrows. But truly force is useless. I fear the danger of unrighteousness, blameless Lakshmana, and I fear what other people might say. That is why I do not have myself consecrated at once.
Had Rama revolted against his father, would his subjects have loved him the same as they did after he decided to sacrifice his throne for the wishes of his father? It seems quite doubtful… In the eyes of the masses, revolting against Dasharatha would make Rama no different from Dasharatha, who, in a very tyrannous manner, robbed Rama of his rights… By silently going to exile, Rama upheld his image of a dutiful, dharmic son among the masses and became a hero in their eyes. Yet, at the same time, his behavior indirectly made the masses vent their frustration and anger on Dasharatha and Kayekai… and by extension, their son Bharatha. With such a godly image of Rama in the eyes of the masses, whom would the masses want as king 14 years later? Rama or Bharatha? Whose offspring would rule Kosala for subsequent generations? Rama’s offspring or Bharatha’s offspring?
Poor Bharatha… His political career was over before it even began, due to political shrewdness of Rama. Unfortunately, Rama is remembered today for all the wrong reasons. His political self, which is so important for a successful ruler, is almost forgotten today. In addition to the political aspect of Rama, I think he is great because of his leadership skills, with regards to war. His leadership skills are also described at the beginning of Ayodhya Kanda (Ayodhya Kanda Section 2)[7]:
अनुजातो हि मां सर्वैर्गुणैर्ज्येष्ठो ममात्मजः।
पुरन्दरसमो वीर्ये रामः परपुरञ्जयः।।2.2.11।।
My eldest son Rama, inheriting every virtue of mine, is a conqueror of enemy cities and is equal to Indra in prowess.
द्विजैरभिविनीतश्च श्रेष्ठैर्धर्मार्थनैपुणैः।
यदा व्रजति सङ्ग्रामं ग्रामार्थे नगरस्य वा।।2.2.36।।
गत्वा सौमित्रिसहितो नाऽविजित्य निवर्तते।
Whenever he, wellinstructed in all matters by the best of brahmins wellversed in dharma and artha proceeds along with Lakshmana to wage a war for the sake of a village or a town, he never returns without conquering the enemy.
The major accomplishment of Rama, in my opinion, were his conquests that he made in South India, which paved inroads into the South for subsequent intrusions by the Vedic Aryans. As I have shown in a previous blog post[8], South India, during the Ramayana era, was not as civilized as the North, and instead was densely filled with forests, lakes, and mountain caves, collectively termed the Dandaka Forest. Although several tribes lived in the Dandaka Forest (such as Gandharvas, Kinnaras, etc…), it was mainly dominated by the powerful Vanara tribes, which occupied its mountain caves. Ravana had united all these Vanaras and had ruled the Dandaka Forest, quite effectively, making it a very hard place to conquer. As a matter of fact, when Ravana finds out from Shurpanakha that Rama had conquered the Dandaka Forest, he shows a feeling of surprise that it was conquered, due to the sheer difficulty of conquering the Dandaka Forest (Aranya Kanda Section 32, Critical Edition, translated by Bibek Debroy):
In the midst of the advisers, Ravana spoke these harsh words to the angry one. Enraged, Ravana asked her. ‘Who is Rama? What is his valour like? What is his appearance? How brave is he? Dandakaranya is extremely difficult to penetrate. Why has he come here? What are the weapons Rama used to slay the rakshasas and kill Khara, Dushana and Trishira in the battle?’
Rama took a very long period of time (the first 13 years of his exile) to wipe out the Rakshasa hold from the Dandaka Forest, thereby giving us some insight on how strong of a hold the Rakshasas had on it… But Rama eventually managed to conquer it. That is a great accomplishment in itself. But Rama did not stop there. After the Dandaka Forest was conquered by Rama, the Vanaras that were formerly united by Ravana, assumed independence and operated… Rama then formed an alliance with these Vanaras. It was only after this alliance, and with the support of the Vanaras, that Rama was able to deplete Ravana’s treasury and make Ravana’s allies abandon him, thereby politically isolating Ravana in Lanka. For example, Kumbhakarna says in Yuddha Kanda Section 65[9]:
राजशेषा कृता लङ्का क्षीणः कोशो बलम् हतम् |
राजानमिममासाद्य सुहृच्चिह्नममित्रकम् || ६-६५-७
"Having access to this king, who has friends merely for a name-sake as also behaving unfriendly, the treasury got depleted, the army destroyed and sovereignty alone is left in Lanka."
Even with all these benefits (including infiltration of Rama’s spy network by Vibhishana), Ravana had nearly snatched victory away from Rama’s hands when he entered the battlefield on the last day of the war. He had smashed Rama’s confidence as a warrior left, right and centre, and if it was not for the trickery that Rama was able to employ in his final fight with Ravana, Rama would have been slain by Ravana. Overall, the point I am making is that despite being such a great warrior, Rama was like an infant in front of Ravana when it came to matters like martial prowess. Without the help of the Vanaras to weaken Ravana’s kingdom before the war actually began, it would have been virtually impossible to kill Ravana.
Hence, Rama’s greatness lies in his diplomacy and ability to form alliances with the barbaric and animal-like tribe of the Vanaras. I am not interested in showing racism here by addressing them as such, but rather the point I am making is that they were a very aggressive lot. For example, below is a conversation between Ravana and his spy Shardula, who went to spy on Ravana and was captured by the Vanaras… take note of how aggressively they behaved with him (Yuddha Kanda Section 21, Critical Edition, translated by Bibek Debroy) :
The spies informed the lord of Lanka that an army that could not be agitated was camped near Mount Suvela. They also told him about Raghava. Ravana heard from the spies that the immensely strong Rama had arrived. Somewhat anxious, he addressed Shardula in these words. ‘O one who roams around in the night! Your complexion is distressed and not what it should be. I hope you did not come under the subjugation of the wrathful enemy.’ Thus asked, Shardula became senseless with fear. He softly addressed the tiger among rakshasas. ‘O king! I was incapable of spying on those bulls among apes. They are valiant and strong and are protected by Raghava. I was incapable of conversing with them or questioning them. The apes, resembling mountains, protected the path in every direction. In disguise, no sooner had I penetrated that army, than I was forcibly captured by many and they oppressed me in diverse ways. I was severely struck with thighs, fists, teeth and palms. Those powerful and intolerant apes paraded me around. Conveyed all over the place, I was taken to Rama’s presence. All my limbs were covered in blood. I was distracted and my senses were in a whirl. When the apes sought to kill me, I joined my hands in salutation and beseeched them. Raghava saved me and gave me scope to live as I chose.
Even prior to this, Ravana had sent Shuka to Sugriva, to request the latter to leave Rama’s side, along with his army of Vanaras. Again we get to see their barbaric reply to the speech of Ravana’s ambassador, Shuka[10]:
शार्दूलस्य वचः श्रुत्वा रावणो राक्षसेश्वरः |
उवाच सहसा व्यग्रः सम्प्रधार्यार्थमात्मनः || ६-२०-८
शुकम् नाम तदा रक्षो वाक्यमर्थविदाम् वरम् |
Hearing Shardula's words Ravana the lord of demons was perturbed and immediately determined his cause of action. Then he spoke the following words to a demon by name, Shuka the foremost among those who know their duty.
सुग्रीवम् ब्रूहि गत्वाशु राजानम् वचनान्मनु || ६-२०-९
यथासंदेशमक्लीबम् शल्क्स्णया परया गिरा |
"Going quickly, speak fearlessly to king Sugriva on my behalf, according to my command, in an excellent and gentle voice, as follows:"
त्वम् वै महारज कुलप्रसूतो |
महाबलश्चर्क्षरजःसुतश्च |
न कश्चनार्थस्तव वास्त्यनर्थ |
स्तथापि मे भ्रातृसमो हरीश || ६-२०-१०
O, great king! You are indeed born in a noble family, possessor of a great strength and are a son of Riksharaja. No gain whatsoever or any harm will accrue to you (from this battle) .O, lord of monkeys! Nevertheless, you are like a brother to me."
अहम् यद्यहरम् भार्याम् राजपुत्रस्य धीमतः |
किम् तत्र तव सुग्रीव किश्किन्धाम् प्रति गम्यताम् || ६-२०-११
"What does it matter to you, if I have embezzled the wife of a wise prince? (Therefore) return to Kishkindha"
न हीयम् हरिभिर्लङ्का प्राप्तुम् शक्या कथम् चन |
देवैरपि सगन्धर्वैः किम् पुनर्नरवानरैः || ६-२०-१२
"This Lanka cannot be reached by monkeys in any way. It cannot be acquired even by celestials and Gandharvas (celestial musicians), why to talk about men and monkeys?"
स तदा राक्षसेन्द्रेण संदिष्टो रजनीचरः |
शुको विहम्गमो भूत्वा तूर्णमाप्लुत्य चाम्बरम् || ६-२०-१३
Then Shuka the demon heralded by Ravana turned himself into the form of a bird and quickly flew into the sky.
स गत्वा दूरमध्वानमुपर्युपरि सागरम् |
संस्थितो ह्यम्बरे वाक्यम् सुग्रीव मदिमब्रवीत् || ६-२०-१४
Proceeding in the sky for a distance continuously over the ocean, Shuka then stood up in the sky itself and spoke these words to Sugriva:
सर्वमुक्तम् यथादिष्टम् रावणेन दुरात्मना |
तत्प्रपयन्तम् वचनम् तूर्णमाप्लुत्य वानराः || ६-२०-१५
प्रापद्यन्त तदा क्षिप्रम् लोप्तुम् हन्तुम् च मुष्टिभिः |
Shuka repeated all the words the wicked Ravana had told him to say to Sugriva. As he was still speaking, the monkeys bounded into the air to reach him at that moment quickly to tear off his wings and to smite him by their fists.
सर्वैः प्लवण्गैः प्रसभम् निगृहीतो निशाचरह् || ६-२०-१६
गगनाद्भूतले चाशु प्रतिगृह्यावतारितः |
The demon thus attacked was forcibly seized by all the monkeys and immediately brought down to the ground from the sky.
The speech of Shuka was polite, yet the Vanaras got so enraged and aggressive, and as a result, leaped into the air and grabbed Shuka, who was in the form of a bird in the sky… and brought him to the ground and gave him a sound thrashing… Forming an alliance with such an aggressive lot would be no easy task. Yet, Rama was able to do so, and therein lies his greatness as a leader. He was described as always being sweet speeched, and that aided in the formation of such alliances.
So, as far as leadership goes, Rama was miles ahead of Krishna. Rama was able to make inroads into the South for subsequent invasions, and unite the entire Southern region, including the hyper-aggressive Vanaras, under the banner of the Kosalan empire… and this was no easy task. Krishna on the other hand, did no such thing. Rather, he relied on the Pandavas’ prowess to achieve his own political goals. As much as I find Krishna’s overall personality much more appealing than that of Rama’s, I have to concede that Rama was a much better leader than Krishna was…
[Image Source: Rama - Wikipedia]

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