Lord Ranchodrai epitomises the old saying ‘Discretion is better part of valour’. Ranchod-rai is the strange title of Shri Krishna in Dakor, Gujarat. Usually, calling someone Ranchod is a derogatory remark, as the word ‘ranchod’ means ‘he who has fled from the battlefield.’ Yet here, the title is used as the signature of the great God who knows when to fight and when to flee. Even his flight from the battlefield was a strategic move and one designed to defeat his enemy. By taking flight, Shri Krushna made sure he ready for battle another day – a day of his own choosing.
To understand the reason for this title of Ranchod and it’s history, let us have a look at the Bhagvat Puran where it’s history originated. (10th Canto, chapters 50, 51 and 52)
In ancient times, Mathura was ruled in part as monarchy and partly as a republic with a ruling council of elders. Kansa had usurped the power of the council and imprisoned his own father, along with various prominent clan members, to gain control over Mathura as a whole. Shri Krushna and Balarama killed Kansa and returned the power to the council of Mathura’s elders.
On hearing that Krushna had killed his son-in-law Kansa, Emperor Jarasandh of Magadh attacked Mathura with 23 akshohini (divisions of chariots, elephants, calvary and infantry - 23 x 2.6 lakh men). Shri Krushna and Balarama defeated the Emperor with ease. Shri Krushna was magnanimous in victory and let Jarasandh go without any pre-conditions on his good behaviour. Livid with rage, Jarasandh attacked Mathura 16 times, each time bringing a large army of mercenaries and warriors to fight his cause. Shri Krushna wanted to relieve the earth of its burdensome warriors and these battles were a great way to achieve his aim with minimum effort on his part! Jarasandh found the evil people and brought them to Shri Krushna to dispatch! It is important to remember, when God kills, those souls obtain moksha – so even fighting with God has spiritual value!
However, as warfare became continuous, the ruling council of Mathura decided these battles were bad for business. Mathura’s economy was suffering and this was causing tensions between the various clans that lived there. As the cause of war was the death of the Vrishni prince Kansa by his own nephew Krushna, his clan decided to emigrate from Mathura. With the departure of Krushna’s clan, Jarasandh would have no cause to attack Mathura, leaving the Bhojas and other Yadav clans in peace.
Yadav clans of Abhir, Vrishni, Andhaka and Satvatas followed Shri Krushna and decided to move to Dwarak. Balarama was married to princess Revti from the region and they found a warm welcome in the kingdom of Anarta in Saurashtra. A new city was built on an island in the sea. This was easy to defend and perfect for trading with maritime cities. While Yadavas were emigrating, Jarasandh came to attack Mathura for the 17th time. This time he had coordinated his attack with another enemy of the Yadavas – KalYavan.
Discretion is the better part of valour. With Yadavas caravan already strung out along the route to Anarta, Shri Krushna thought it best to distract the enemy and lead them away from the main migration route. Balarama and Krushna walked out of the main gate, unarmed and without their chariots or soldiers. They walked past the enemy encampment and ran into the hills. Kalyavan followed them in hot pursuit and was killed in a cave by king Muchkunda. King Muchkund had been sleeping in the cave for an aeon and through the blessings of Indra, his wrath at being woken up burned KalYvan to ashes. Jarasandh tried to burn Balarama and Krushna by setting fire to the entire hill, but the brothers escaped and joined their Yadava clansmen in Dwarka. By the time Jarasandh realised what had happened, it was too late.
However, from that day, he kept telling all those that would listen that Shri Krushna had fled from the battlefield and was hence a Ranchod. Shri Krushna didn’t mind even this title! His valour was proved many times over in various battles and so even this derogatory term – Ranchod – became a signatory title for Shri Krushna!
Even after emigrating to Dwarka, animosity between Krushna and Jarasandh remained an open wound. This was not helped by the fact that Shri Krushna eloped with the Vidarbha princess Rukshmani under the very noses of Jarasandha’s army.
After founding the kingdom of Indraprastha, Yudhishthir nursed imperial ambitions to recreate the glory days of his father Pandu. However, he knew Jarasandhs also claimed the title and had imprisoned over 90 kings to ensure compliance from many more. Shri Krushna advised Yudhishthira to defeat Jarasandha not in an open battle, but in a one-to-one contest. He volunteered to take Arjun and Bhima with him and challenge him to a dual. Disguised as brahmins, they came and sought combat as their ‘dana’ from Jarasandha. Ever the boastful brute, Jarasandh refused to fight Shri Krushna / Ranchod as he felt he had already fled the battlefield from him – regardless of the fact that Shri Krushna had forgiven him 16 times! Jarasandha considered Arjun to be too skinny for him to enjoy fighting.
The two wrestled for several days before Bhima managed to kill Jarasandha by ‘splitting him up’. Apparently when Jarasandha was born, he was cleaved in two. A woman named Jara from the Rakshasha clan had sewn up the baby and nursed it back to good health. In her honour, the prince of Mgadha was called JaraSandha, ‘he who is sewn up by Jara’. But Bhima, Bhima was his equal! Though Shri Krushna had 16 opportunities to kill Jarasandh, he didn't because Jarasandh and Bhim had a karmic debt to settle. If Bhima did not kill Jarasandh, they would have to be born again to replay their roles. As a cosmic catalyst, Shri Krushna helped bring the karmas of the two souls together and resolve them for all time.
After Jarasandh’s death, his son was crowned king and he endorsed Yudhishthira as the next emperor. He also released the 90+ kings as a gesture of peace and reconciliation. Yudhishthira carried out the Rajasu-Yagna and was crowned Emperor of India. Shri Krushna was honoured as the king-maker of the epoch, leading to more fights and death of Jarasandh’s supporters including Shishupal and Dantavakra. Shri Krushna continued to influence the political, social and spiritual transformation of India long after this period and continues to do so even now.
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