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The Mahabharata is an Indo-Aryan epic about the dynastic struggle by Pandavas & the Kauravas for the throne of the Kingdom of the Kuru, held by Dhtrarastra, the blind king of the Kauravas.

The Bhagavad Gita, (the Song of Bhagavan - God), appears just before the climatic war between the two parties; and is of central importance in questions of ethics & moksha (liberation).

In it Dhtrarastra, the blind King of Kauravas asks for a report from Sanjaya his chief minister who has the gift of seeing at a distance:

The first couplet of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is:

[Dhtrarastra said]:

In the Kingdom of the Kurus, the land of Dharma War-like stand

My men and the Sons of Pandu; what did they do next, O Sanjaya?

What does Dharma stand for in the context of the Gita? I can discern three major concerns:

  1. Arjuna questioning the consequences of the impending war in the first chapter - The Grief of Arjuna

  2. Krishna counselling Arjuna on his duty as a warrior, and

  3. and on moksha (religion).

The ethical dilemma in the Gita relates to the first two. Thus Dharma as what is right, righteousness; and Dharmas as duty, here as war; thus right vs might and Dharma encapsulates both senses.

At least as I understand it.

Aesthetically, this combination of meanings reminds me of the Sublime which combines the Beautiful/Good with the Terrible/Majesty.

Is this the best way to understand Dharma in this first couplet in the context of the Gita as a whole?

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In the preface to his translation of the Gita, Swami Nikhilananda says "There are many who regard the story behind the Gita not as historical fact but as allegory. To them Arjuna represents the individual soul, and Sri Krishna the Supreme Soul dwelling in every heart. Arjuna's chariot is the body. The blind King Dhirtarashtra is the mind under the spell of ignorance, and his hundred sons are man's numerous evil tendencies. The battle, a perennial one, is ever going on between the power of good and the power of evil. The warrior who listens to the advice of the Lord speaking from within will triumph in this battle and attain the Highest Good."

He further states in the introduction regarding the first couplet: "What he [Arjuna] saw chilled his bones. There on the battlefield were assembled his sons, nephews, elders, teachers, relatives, and intimate friends. To regain the kingdom of the Pandavas, he must wade through their blood. He was no coward, but the immensity of the situation confused his mind. He was caught on the two horns of a dilemma. One the one hand was the call of duty: the chastisement of the wicked, the vindication of truth, law, and order--in short, all that belonged to his kshatriya [king/warrior caste] honour. On the other was commiseration for his friends and relatives, whose destruction was unavoidable in the impending Armageddon. Was he to give the sign for the commencement of this carnage, or should he renounce the field, retire to the forest, and lead the peaceful life of a hermit?Unable to resolve the dilemma, he turned to the Divine Krishna and implored his counsel."

In your translation, Land of Dharma is a loose translation of the first verse. Most translations refer to the plain of Kurukshetra where the battle took place. I think your translator is trying to make the point that where the battle is taking place is where dharma will take place. dharma literally means that which holds together. The inmost constitution of a thing, the law of it's inner being, which hastens its growth and without which it ceases to exist. The dharma of a man is not imposed from the outside, but is acquired by him as a result of his actions in past lives. Thus, every man, in a special sense, has his own dharma, which determines his conduct, his righteousness, and his sense of right and wrong.

  • It was actually my translation: the opening line in Sanskrit is 'dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre' where ksetre has the sense of a field. I've seen dharma-kstetre translated as 'holy land' or 'field of roghteousness; like the other translators I assumed that it was qualifying kuru-ksetre - the 'field' or the land of the kurus; but is better to keep it as kuru-ksetre - is it actually a place name? In which case I'd translate the first line as 'In the land of Dharma, Kuruksetre...' – Mozibur Ullah Sep 3 '14 at 12:31
  • I've also see it translated as the 'field of Dharma'; which could refer to either a Cosmological principle of Dharma which is allegorised as the impending battle; as well as qualifying *kuruksetre' as a land of Dharma. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 3 '14 at 12:34
  • I've never researched the actual historicity of the name. My teachers and readings left me with the impression that it was the actual name of the place. Some very prominent monks have questioned whether the battle actually took place and said that the battle can be taken as an allegory. Taken as an allegory, it makes sense that the battle takes place on the field of dharma........ – Swami Vishwananda Sep 4 '14 at 8:31
  • I think its worth comparing to 'Eng-land' which was 'land of the Angles'; – Mozibur Ullah Sep 4 '14 at 8:39
  • actual place - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurukshetra – Swami Vishwananda Sep 4 '14 at 10:36
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Kurukshetra, the site of the battlefield, was an ancient 'teerth'- pilgrimage spot associated with the common ancestors of the 2 contending parties, who were cousins. As such, it was and is a place where pilgrims perform religious (dharmic) ceremonies so as to overcome bad karma or create good karma. The warriors, deluded by the Lord, had forgotten that they were fighting on a sacred spot. However, this was foreordained because the fallen warriors gained Heaven by fulfilling the Lord's plan.

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