Arguably Krishna is the most complex character from great epic Mahabharat. I was always fascinated by complexity of Krishna’s character since my college days. He is a multidimensional character; one can see all shades of human nature in this single character. There are many characters in Mahabharat which display one or two traits of human nature brilliantly but in Krishna's character one can see everything, all in one, thats why people often think who is he? God, man, hero or villain? In Mahabharat Krishna is present as God himself, he is incarnation of Vishnu, book clearly mentions divinity of his character. But in epic not all his actions match with his character of God. In fact to many his character may seem to have dual personality, one who preaches the highest morality and another which doesn't hesitate to use dirtiest tricks to win the war. His presence was very essential for Pandava’s victory in war. Krishna didn’t fight in war using any weapon but he was brain behind Pnadava’s war strategy and played key role in killing of all commander-in chief’s of Kuru army. Despite all his faults and mistakes almost all characters in epic admire him. His popularity has grown over time even after people know all these contradictions about him. Krishna is one of the most popular Gods in India; maybe he has most number of followers among all Gods in India.
Krishna tried his best to avoid war, he even made very generous offer to Duryodhan on behalf of Yudhishthir (to give him just five villages instead of half of kingdom). He tried very hard to convince Duryodhan that war is not good for both the sides but he failed. Once his all attempts to avoid war failed. Once war was declared, he believed in winning the war at any cost. He believed that Pandava’s cause was right and only thing mattered to him was their victory. It’s not unusual for a hero to win the battle using cunning ways there are many examples in history, but we don’t expect this type of behavior from God. If God is all powerful and all knowledgeable then why can't he fight the war by fair means? That means in epic he is also a human or God is not omnipotent (all powerful). Actually Mahabharat shows us many instances where it challenges the concept of omnipotent God.
During war we see altogether different side of Krishna, his darker side is exposed during crucial moments of war. He wanted Pandavas to win and was ready to pay any price for that. He has to use all his charm, power and intelligence from the first day of war itself. First he has to use his power as a God to convince Arjun to fight war. He has to reveal his divine nature to Arjun to convince him that whatever he is telling is the right thing (Bhagvad Gita was delivered in this process). He is also seen as opportunist who teaches honest man (Yudhisthir) to tell a lie (about the death of Ashwathnama), the only lie he told in his all life. He even advises hesitant Arjun to strike down Karna who was in helpless and defenseless state. Because of these acts as the war progresses and Kuru army’s commanders fall one by one, we somehow begin to sympathize with Kauravas. Even Duryodhan before dying on the battlefield lists Krishna’s many misdeeds during the war and accuses him for not fighting fairly. People might think that end result of his actions justified the means he used, but I don't think he himself thought like that. After winning the war, Krishna who is cheerful throughout the epic becomes serious and gives very sobering message to victorious Pandavas, he says that Kauravas were great warrior and they could not have defeated them in fair fight, that's why he had to use magic and deceit on their behalf. It seems that epic’s morality is subordinate to Krishna, the God.
Many Critics and intellectuals have studied his character in very much detail but these books are not very popular in general public as they put you in very uncomfortable position. Krishna's role in Mahabharat forces us to confront a moral dilemma. It puts us in difficult situation, where it’s difficult to differentiate between good and bad. Both the sides in war engage in good, bad and even ugly deeds and there is greatness on both the sides. Krishna's character is also like that, it contains shades of all characters in epic, he is Karna, Arjun, Yudhisthir, Bhishma, Shakuni, Drona all in one. One must accept all sides of Krishna, no matter how contrast or opposite they are. But people divided his personality in many pieces, took the piece which they like or are comfortable with and totally neglected all other aspects. Some only accepted him as an adorable child, some are happy with his raas leelas, some took his image as a lover, some want only his Bhagvad Gita, some see him as villain and criticize him for his actions during war. Many bhakti movements only accept him in portions and present only one dimensional image of him. They glorify only certain aspects of his personality and keep mum or give some vague explanations about other aspects which they are not comfortable with. As I said, one can find whatever they want in his personality, so all these movements have taken bits and pieces of his personality and used them to propagate their own philosophies. I feel this is the great tragedy that people never tried to accept and understand him totally.
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(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)