Of Hunters and Warriors


What’s the difference between “hunting” and “fighting” as a warrior ?

“Hunting” usually involves stealth. 
* The hunter quietly sneaks up his prey and pounces on it, catching it unawares.  (dice game)
* Sometimes the hunter masquerades as something else and lulls the prey into a false sense of security.  (dice game)
* Hunter usually has the advantage of skill, speed, weapon or surprise.  (all the various incidences in Mahabharata)
* Hunter usually picks on the weakest member of the group and hopes to dwindle the numbers one by one.  (Draupadi, twins, Abhimanu)
* When all else fails, the hunter tries to scare the prey into submission by an overwhelming display of aggression.  (11 divisions of Kauravas arrayed against 7 of Pandavas)   

Like terrorist or a thief, a hunter can afford to fail a hundred times and will keep trying new ways to ensnare his prey, evolving and inventing new strategies.  Their prey however, has to be on guard all the time and can’t afford to fail even once.  Any time it lets down its guard, it can expect to be attacked and suffer damage if not death.

Kauravas were like the hunters and they preyed on the Pandavas time and again.

They fed them poison on atleast two occasions.  Tried to burn them to death.  When all covert methods of killing failed, they tried cheating and disguised their greed with a “friendly family game of dice”.  Like skilled hunters, they picked on Drupadi after the dice game because being a woman, they knew she would be unable to retaliate in the same way as the Pandavas.  When 13 years of exile in the forests of India failed to kill off the Pandavas, Kauravas eventually showed their true colours and declared war.  But even in the war, they used Kuru elders as a shield to fend off the Pandavas for the first 15 days, knowing Yudhisthir and Arjun would not use their full force on Bhishma and Drona.  Even during the war, Duryodhan’s plan was to capture Yudhisthir and make him play another game of dice (!) rather than win an outright war.  He was not a warrior but a stealthy hunter all his life.  Even during his death throes, he liked the idea of killing off Pandava army while it slept rather than consider fighting it in broad daylight.  


Underhanded tactics

As hunting usually involves some sort of stealth tactics, some consider it a cowardly way to bring down an enemy.  In ancient times, warriors, Kshatriyas, Samurai, medieval knights would have considered any underhanded methods to be disreputable and beneath their code of ethics.

To them, “fighting” required both parties to be equally matched and any unfair advantage to be eliminated.  A real “warrior” in ancient times would have fought with “honour” and dishonourable conduct would have been censored.  Victory gained by dishonourable means would have been tainted and not glorified or considered “praise worthy”.

So how do we evaluate the Mahabhart in this context ?

We can clearly see that the Kauravas behaved as hunters all their lives and were underhanded in all their endeavours.  But the Pandavas don’t come off too well when we consider the final battle and how they resorted to some dubious methods to eliminate their foe.

So how do we judge the behaviours of "fighters" on both sides ?



On the eve of the battle, Kauravas sent Uluk, Shakuni’s son, to aggravate the Pandavas and remind them of all the bad blood between the cousins – urging them to battle as hard as they can.  At this time, Yudhisthir sends a message to remind Duryodhan that a true warrior fights on his own merit and does not hide behind others or rely on the strength of others to win the victory for him.  Yudhisthir clearly remind him that fighting behind the dhotis of Pitamaha Bhishma and Guru Dronacharya is manifestly underhanded way to keep Pandavas at bay.

Seeing as Kauravas had obtained an entire division of an army by cheating Shalya, they had already began to cheat before the war started.  Duryodhan expected grandsire Bhishma and Guru Drona to win the battle for him as they were their teachers and more experienced than Arjun.  Failing this, he had great faith in his friend Karna, whom he expected to win within a matter of hours.  From the first, he saw Karna as an “ace up his sleeve” and expected him to defeat Arjun with ease.  He reckoned himself to be more than a match for Bhima and discounted the other three Pandavas as worthy warriors.  

Seeing as grandsire Bhishma was being used as a shield to soften Arjun’s resolve, Pandavas resolved to use Shekhandi as their shield.  It took them many days to implement this policy, because Yudhishthira and Arjun saw this as an underhanded way to fight their battle.  But nine days of battering by Bhishma’s arrows reminded them that this was a battle and no mock fight of children vs parents.  Pandavas would not fight Bhishma as he was their grandsire.  Bhishma would not fight Shekhandi as he was transgender (he had a sex-change operation to transform from a woman to a man).  (I am deliberately leaving aside the “previous birth” story as that would only distract from the crux of the issue.  I have discussed “previous birth” in another article as a karmic retribution.)  Using Shekhandi evened the odds for the Pandavas.  They simply followed the same rule as the Kauravas.   

Similar tactic was recently used by the NATO army when they used the Libyan rebels as a shield to fight and their arch enemy Colonel Gaddafi,


Unarmed warrior

After the grandsire’s fall, on the 13th day, under Drona’s leadership, Kauravas wanted to capture Yudhisthir to make him play dice again !  Duryodhan judged the eldest Pandav to be an easy prey.  They couldn’t do this while Arjun was at the forefront of the battle and so got a division of army to draw him away from the centre of the battle.  Using Arjun’s absence, they devised a formation that would confound the rest of the army.  Abhimanu managed to penetrate the formation and proved to be almost as good as Arjun.  Six mighty warriors had to gang up on Abhimanu, disarm him before they could kill him.  Kauravas used Jayadratha as a shield to stop the rest of the Pandava army from coming to the aid of Abhimanu.  Arjun sought to kill those who had perpetrated this shameful tactic and killed Jayadratha and Karna in the same manner as they had killed Abhimanu.

Drona, though conversant in all the laws, rules and ethics of war, did this shameful deed without flinching.  Drona was also responsible for the night war on the 14th day – once again unlawful.  Drona also used celestial weapons on ordinary soldiers, which was against the rules of war.  Dhristadhyuman took vengeance on Drona for having killed his own father Drupad.  Just as Drona had attacked Abhimanu when he was battle weary and unarmed, Dhristadhyuman did the same to Drona.  What was so unfair in that ?

Karna had attacked Abhimanu from behind and broken his bow.  He had helped to disarm the teenager and continued his attack along with five other mighty Maharathis till Abhimanu was dead.  Arjun’s attack on Karna on the 17th day was simply a repeat of that except that this was a dual between just two warriors and Arjun did not seek the help of any other warrior to kill Karna.


Shameless wretch

Dushashan was proud of having humiliated and insulted his own elder sister-in-law in public.  Bhima only served the punishment that should be meted out to every rapist.  

Similarly, Duryodhan was guilty of having asked Drupadi to sit on his naked thigh in public.  What should a warrior husband like Bhima have done ?  If an empress can not be avenged for such a sexual assault on her dignity, what hope was there for the ordinary woman ?  At no point was Duryodhan even a little ashamed of his actions or remorseful for the carnage he had initiated out of spite and selfishness.


Judging the Judge

Having heard all the evidence, if a judge orders the execution of a murderer, is the judge also considered guilty of murder or is he praised for having served the greater good of society ?  All those on Kaurav side had committed terrible crimes on humanity and had shown no remorse.  What else could the Pandavas do but to eliminate them from this earth to usher in a new dawn of humane government ?


United we stand
Pandavas were played like “prey” by the Kauravas from the beginning.  
Kauravas could afford to toy around with them as they were the sons of the incumbent king.  Though careful and weary, they had some pretty near misses.  Kauravas first tried to take out the strongest person from the group – Bhima.  Having failed multiple times, they tried to kill all of them !  When that failed, they tried to work on more crafty methods to deprive Pandavas of their power, wealth and inheritance.  The twins and Draupadi were seen as the weak link in Pandavas unity.  Kauravas tried to exploit this on several occasions and particularly during the aftermath of the first dice game.  The twins refused to abandon their elder brothers.  Draupadi, being female, was seen as the easy target and was humiliated in a way that would leave most woman permanently traumatised.  Jayadratha’s shameful abduction of his sister-in-law was once again done with a purpose to humiliate Pandavas through Draupadi.

If the “prey” sticks together as a group, it can defeat the hunter (birds flying off with the net or fish shoaling to confuse their enemy or starlings flying in formation to avoid the hawk.  Pandavas stuck together at all times.  Even when marriage to a beautiful princess could have split them up, they found a way to consolidate their unity and present an even more united front than before.  Humiliation at the dice game severely tested Pandava’s unity.  For a princes and princess to be wagered like a necklace, taunted as a “slave” and told to undress in front of others would be utterly unthinkable.  Four princes of the Kuru clan were forced to bear this humiliation for the folly of their brother.  Yet, they kept their cool and stayed together as one.  Whatever their differences may have been in private, whatever bitterness and bile they spewed in the depth of their forest retreat, they never voiced those concerns in public.  Drupadi joined her husbands in the exile.  While all the other wives and all their children went to spend the exile in the palaces of their friends and family, Draupadi stayed with the Pandavas through thick and thin.  As a united family, Pandavas weathered the storm of Kaurava’s hate.  



True warriors challenge their enemies to their face and make war openly and officially.
True Warriors fight on their own merits and do not rely on others to fight on their behalf.
True Warriors fight fair and with those that are their equal.

* Pitamaha Bhishma was a true warrior as he always fought fair.  Even when he was ancient and beyond the age of most men, he fought bravely and fearlessly.
* Jarasandha was a true warrior.  He fought and lost to Bhima knowing him to be his equal in strength.
* Arjun was a true warrior, taking on all challengers on his own merit. 
* Drona was a great warrior – but an unfair one.  He initiated several illegal manoeuvres and tactics to try and win.  For him, the end often justified the means.
* As a warrior, Karna was a failure.  Headvised Duryodhan to fight openly with the Pandavas rather than use gambling or other ruses to defeat the Pandavas.  But unlike a warrior, he took out his impotent anger on Draupadi rather than Arjun.  He also fled from battle on a number of occasions and ganged up on Abhimanu with five other warriors to disarm him.
* Duryodhan was a bully and not a warrior at all.  He used emotional blackmail, whining, threats of self-harm and taunts to get his way with his family and friends.  Though a strong man, throughout the battle he was seen flying from one general to another rather than take up the weapons himself.  On rare occasions he does take up arms, he does to assist his friends in some underhanded ways.
* Ashwashthama was the meanest kind of fighter in that battlefield.  He behaved well enough while his father was still in charge, but as soon as he was released from that control, his inner monster came out.  He attacked and killed countless men as they slept and when cornered, he released a weapon he had no right to do so.  Worse still, given the chance to retract it, he refused and instead directed his killer weapon at an unborn baby !


To be Continued….


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