The Gita begins with the words ‘Dharmaksetre Kuruksetre’. The literal translation is ‘On the hallowed field of Kuruksetra’. The reason Kuruksetra is called the hallowed field is because untold religious sacrifices were performed at Kuruksetra and it is situated between two sacred rivers – the Yamuna and the Saraswati in the northern part of India.
The first chapter has a special significance of its own. It deals with Arjuna’s sorrow, his inner conflict. Arjuna was torn with grief between two equally formidable ideas: he must go to war or he must not.
Arjuna exclaimed, “Pray, place my chariot, O Krishna, between the two battle formations so that I can see those who thirst for war (1.21-22).” He surveyed the battle scene. Alas, he saw among the deadly opponents grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons, as also companions, those very human souls whom he had always held dear and near. Overwhelmed with tenebrous grief, Arjuna, for the first time in his life gave expression to faint-heartedness. “My body shivers, my mouth goes dry, my body shakes and my hair stands on end. My bow slips from my hand and my skin is burning all over. It is hard for me even to stand. My mind is reeling. I do not foresee any good come out of slaying my own people in the fight. I see evil omens. Krishna, victory over them, my present foes, I seek not. They were my own. Still they are. Neither kingdom nor ease I seek. Let them attack; they want to and they shall. But I shall not hurl my weapon upon them, not even for the supreme sovereignty of the three worlds, let alone the earth!”(1.29-35)
Arjuna was determined to discard his war weapons for good. He explains to Krishna the moral grounds for him not to fight. “How can we be happy by killing our own people? Is it not a sin to kill them? Killing them would only lead to the destruction of the family. When a family is ruined, its ancient laws are destroyed: and when the laws perish, there is lawlessness. When lawlessness prevails, the women of the family become corrupt, and when women are corrupted, caste-confusion comes into existence. And we have heard, O Krishna, that the men of the families whose laws are destroyed needs must live in hell. Alas, what a great sin have we resolved to commit in striving to slay our own people through our greed for the pleasures of the kingdom!” (1.36-45)
Having spoken thus on the battle field, Arjuna, overwhelmed by sorrow, sank down on the seat of his chariot, casting away his bow and arrow.
(The following English translation is taken from ‘A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy’ Edited by S. Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. 1957 Princeton University Press)
CHAPTER 1. The Hesitation and Despondency of Arjuna
1. In the field of righteousness, the field of the Kurus*, when my people and the sons of Pandu had gathered together, eager for battle, what did they do, 0 Samjaya?**
2. Then, Duryodhana the prince, having seen the army of the Pandavas drawn up in battle order, approached his teacher and spoke this word:
3. Behold, 0 Teacher, this mighty army of the sons of Pandu organized by thy wise pupil, the son of Drupada.
4. Here are heroes, great bowmen equal in battle to Bhima*** and Arjuna****-Yuyudhana, Virata, and Drupada, a mighty warrior;
5. Dhrstaketu, Cekitana and the valiant King of Kasi, also Purujit, Kuntibhoja and Saibya, the foremost of men;
6. Yudhamanyu, the strong and Uttamauja, the brave; and also the son of Subhadra and sons of Draupadi, all of them great warriors.
7. Know also, 0 best of the twiceborn+, the leaders of my army, those who are most distinguished among us. I will name them now for thine information:
8. Thyself and Bhisma and Karna and Krpa, ever victorious in battle; Asvatthaman, Vikarna, and also the son of Somadatta;
9. And many other heroes who have risked their lives for my sake. They are armed with many kinds of weapons and are all well skilled in war.
10. Unlimited is this army of ours which is guarded by Bhisma, while that army of theirs, which is guarded by Bhima, is limited.
11. Therefore do ye all support Bhisma, standing firm in all the fronts, in your respective ranks.
12. In order to cheer him up, the aged Kuru, his valiant grandsire, roared aloud like a lion and blew his conch.
13. Then conches and kettledrums, tabors and drums and horns suddenly blared forth and the noise was tumultuous.
14. When stationed in their great, chariot yoked to white horses, Krsna and Arjuna blew their celestial conches.
15. Krsna blew his Pancajanya and Arjuna his Devadatta and Bhirna of terrific deeds blew his mighty conch, Paundra.
16. Prince Yudhisthira, the son of Kunti, blew his Anantavijaya and Nakula and Sahadeva blew their Sughosa and Manipuspaka.
17. And the king of Kasi, the Chief of archers, Sikhandin, the great warrior, Dhrstadyumna and Virata and the invincible Satyaki;
18, Drupada and the sons of Draupadi, 0 Lord of earth, and the strong-armed son of Subhadra, on all sides blew their respective conches.
19. The tumultuous uproar resounding through earth and sky rent the hearts of Dhrtarastra’s sons.
20. Then Arjuna, whose banner bore the crest of Hanuman, looked at the sons of Dhrtarastra drawn up in battle order; and as the flight of missiles [almost] started, he took up his bow.
2 1. And, 0 Lord of earth, he spoke this word to Hrsikesa (Krsna):
Draw up my chariot, 0 Acyuta (Krsna)++, between the two armies.
22. So that I may observe these men standing, eager for battle, with whom I have to contend in this strife of war.
23. 1 wish to look at those who are assembled here, ready to fight and eager to achieve in battle what is dear to the evil-minded son of Dhrtarastra.
24. Thus addressed by Gudakesa (Arjuna), Hrsikesa (Krsna) drew up that best of chariots, 0 Bharata (Dhrtarastra), between the two armies.
25. In front of Bhisma, Drona, and all the chiefs he said: ” Behold, 0 Partha (Arjuna), these Kurus assembled here.”
26. There saw Arjuna standing fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons, as also companions;
27. And also fathers-in-law and friends in both the armies. When the son of Kunti (Arjuna) saw all these kinsmen thus standing arrayed,
28. He was overcome with great compassion and uttered this in sadness:
The Distress of Arjuna
When I see my own people arrayed and eager for fight, 0 Krsna,
29. My limbs quail, my mouth goes dry, my body shakes and my hair stands on end.
30. The bow Gandiva slips from my hand, and my skin too is burning all over. I am not able to stand steady. My mind is reeling.
31. And I see evil omens, 0 Kesava (Krsna), nor do I foresee any good by slaying my own people in the fight.
32. 1 do not long for victory, 0 Krsna, nor kingdom nor pleasures. Of what use is kingdom to us, 0 Krsna, or enjoyment or even life?
33. Those for whose sake we desire kingdom, enjoyments and pleasures-they stand here in battle, renouncing their lives and riches:
34. Teachers, fathers, sons, and also grandfathers; uncles and fathers-in-law, grandsons and brothers-in-law, and other kinsmen.
35. These I would not consent to kill, though killed myself, 0 Madhusudana (Krsna), even for the kingdom of the three worlds; how much less for the sake of the earth?
36. What pleasure can be ours, 0 Krsna, after we have slain the sons of Dhrtarastra? Only sin will accrue to us if we kill these criminals.
37. So it is not right that we slay our kinsmen, the sons of Dhrtarastra. Indeed, how can we be happy, 0 Madhava (Krsna), if we kill our own people?
38. Even if these whose minds are overpowered by greed see no wrong in the destruction of the family and no crime in treachery to friends;
39. Why should we not have the wisdom to turn away from this sin, 0 Janardana (Krsna), we who see the wrong in the destruction of the family?
40. In the ruin of a family, its ancient laws are destroyed: and when the laws perish, the whole family yields to lawlessness.
41. And when lawlessness prevails, 0 Varsneya (Krsna), the women of the family become corrupted, and when women are corrupted, confusion of castes arises.
42. And to hell does this confusion bring the family itself as well as those who have destroyed it. For the spirits of their ancestors fall, deprived of their offerings of rice and water.
43. By the misdeeds of those who destroy a family and create confusion of varnas [castes], the immemorial laws of the race and the family are destroyed.
44. And we have heard it said, 0 Janardana (Krsna), that the men of the families whose laws are destroyed needs must live in hell.
45. Alas, what a great sin have we resolved to commit in striving to slay our own people through our greed for the pleasures of the kingdom!
46. Far better would it be for me if the sons of Dhrtarastra, with weapons in hand, should slay me in the battle, while I remain unresisting and unarmed.
47. Having spoken thus on the field of battle, Arjuna sank down on the seat of his chariot, casting away his bow and arrow, his spirit overwhelmed by sorrow.
In the Upanisad of the Bhagavad-gita, the science of the Absolute, the scripture of yoga, and the dialogue between Sri Krsna and Arjuna, this is the first chapter, entitled “The Depression of Arjuna. ” I
[* Kuruksetra is the land of the Kurus, a leading clan of the period. It is a vast field near Hastinapura in the neighborhood of modern Delhi. When Dhrtarastra, the blind king of the Kurus, decided to give his throne to Yudhisthira, who is also known as Dharmaraja, the embodiment of virtue, in preference to his own eldest son, Duryodhana, the latter, by tricks and treachery, secured the throne for himself and attempted to destroy Yudhisthira and his four brothers. Krsna, the head of the Yadava clan, sought to bring about a reconciliation between the cousins. When all attempts failed, a fratricidal war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas became inevitable. Krsna proposed that he and his vassals would join the two sides and left the choice to the parties. The vassals were selected by Duryodhana, and Krsna himself joined the Pandavas as the charioteer of Arjuna.
** Samjaya is the charioteer of the blind king, Dhrtarastra, who reports to him the events of the war. (Many of the other names used in the text are without philosophical significance and no attempt will be made to explain them.)
*** Bh1ma is Yudhisthira’s Commander-in-Chief, though nominally Dhrstadyumna holds that office.
**** Arjuna is the friend of Krsna and the great hero of the PAndavas. Other names used for Arjuna are Bhdrata (descended of BhArata), Dhanadijaya (winner of wealth), Gudak6a (having the hair in a ball), Pdrtha (son of Prthd), Paraditapa (oppressor of the enemy).
+ One who is twice-born is one who is invested with the sacred thread, the symbol of initiation into the life of spirit, which is the aim of education.
++ Acyuta (immovable) is another name for Krsna. Other names used for Krsna are Madhusudana (slayer of the demon Madhu), Arisudana (slayer of enemies), Govinda (herdsman or giver of enlightenment), Vasudeva (son of Vasudeva), Yadava (descendent of Yadu), Kesava (having fine hair), Madhava (the husband of Laksmi), Hrsikesa (lord of the senses, hrsika, isa), Janardana (the liberator of men).]