mamakah pandavas caiva
kim akurvata sanjaya
Dhritarashtra said: O Sanjaya, after my sons and the sons of Pandu assembled in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukshetra, desiring to fight, what did they do?
Bhagavad-gita is the widely read theistic science summarized in the Gita-mahatmya (Glorification of the Gita). There it says that one should read Bhagavad-gita very scrutinizingly with the help of a person who is a devotee of Sri Krishna and try to understand it without personally motivated interpretations. The example of clear understanding is there in the Bhagavad-gita itself, in the way the teaching is understood by Arjuna, who heard the Gita directly from the Lord. If someone is fortunate enough to understand Bhagavad-gita in that line of disciplic succession, without motivated interpretation, then he surpasses all studies of Vedic wisdom, and all scriptures of the world. One will find in the Bhagavad-gita all that is contained in other scriptures, but the reader will also find things which are not to be found elsewhere. That is the specific standard of the Gita. It is the perfect theistic science because it is directly spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna.
The topics discussed by Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya, as described in the Mahabharata, form the basic principle for this great philosophy. It is understood that this philosophy evolved on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, which is a sacred place of pilgrimage from the immemorial time of the Vedic age. It was spoken by the Lord when He was present personally on this planet for the guidance of mankind.
The word dharma-kshetra (a place where religious rituals are performed) is significant because, on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead was present on the side of Arjuna. Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kurus, was highly doubtful about the possibility of his sons’ ultimate victory. In his doubt, he inquired from his secretary Sanjaya, “What did they do?” He was confident that both his sons and the sons of his younger brother Pandu were assembled in that Field of Kurukshetra for a determined engagement of the war. Still, his inquiry is significant. He did not want a compromise between the cousins and brothers, and he wanted to be sure of the fate of his sons on the battlefield. Because the battle was arranged to be fought at Kurukshetra, which is mentioned elsewhere in the Vedas as a place of worship – even for the denizens of heaven – Dhritarashtra became very fearful about the influence of the holy place on the outcome of the battle. He knew very well that this would influence Arjuna and the sons of Pandu favorably, because by nature they were all virtuous. Sanjaya was a student of Vyasa, and therefore, by the mercy of Vyasa, Sanjaya was able to envision the Battlefield of Kurukshetra even while he was in the room of Dhritarashtra. And so, Dhritarashtra asked him about the situation on the battlefield.
Both the Pandavas and the sons of Dhritarashtra belong to the same family, but Dhritarashtra’s mind is disclosed herein. He deliberately claimed only his sons as Kurus, and he separated the sons of Pandu from the family heritage. One can thus understand the specific position of Dhritarashtra in his relationship with his nephews, the sons of Pandu. As in the paddy field the unnecessary plants are taken out, so it is expected from the very beginning of these topics that in the religious field of Kurukshetra, where the father of religion, Sri Krishna, was present, the unwanted plants like Dhritarashtra’s son Duryodhana and others would be wiped out and the thoroughly religious persons, headed by Yudhishthira, would be established by the Lord. This is the significance of the words dharma-kshetre and kuru-kshetre, apart from their historical and Vedic importance.
How did Arjuna become bewildered and fall into ignorance? The speaker of the Mahabharata, Vaisampayana, started explaining the topic to Janmejaya in the Bhisma Parva, with the following words.
Dhritarashtra said, “Please tell me what my sons, headed by Duryodhana, and the sons of Pandu, headed by Yudhisthra were doing, having gathered together for fighting at Kuruksetra?”
“But you yourself have said that they were desirous of fighting, so why are you asking what they did?”
This place is a holy place (dharma ksetra). Sruti says:
Kuruksetra is a place for worshipping the Lord. Satapatha Brahmana, Madhyandinlya 18.104.22.168
“It is famous as a place which produces dharma. Due to association with this great place, the evil Duryodhana and company could give up their anger and take to the path of dharma. The Pandavas are naturally following dharma. Then both sides would have intelligence to see that they should not kill their own relatives and friends, and would negotiate peace.”
Externally, he desired to show Sanjaya that he would be relieved if this were so. Internally, however, he found it hard to restrain his depression, for if there was conciliation, then, it would be difficult for his sons to claim the kingdom. “As Bhisma, who is on our side cannot be defeated by Arjuna, it is better that we fight. Let that happen!” It was not suitable however to show such desires externally.
There is a hidden meaning in the word ksetra (field) in the phrase dharma-ksetra. The field was a place for growing the grains of dharma, in the form of pious Yudhisthira along with his group, who was the very incarnation of dharma.1 The field, a place for exerting oneself in the work of cultivating, was the place in which Krishna, the nourisher of dharma, would encourage Yudhisthira. The field, a place for many projects like blocking irrigation dykes and watering, was the place where Krishna would assist Yudhisthira in many ways to establish the grains of dharma. The same field is also a place for weeds to grow. The weeds, enemies of the grains, in the form of Duryodhana and others, also grew there, but would be destroyed by Krishna.