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Chapter 59: Balarama

BALARAMA, the illustrious brother of Krishna, visited the Pandavas, in their encampment. As Halayudha (plough bearer), clad in blue silk, entered majestically like a lion. Yudhishthira, Krishna and others gave the broadshouldered warrior a glad welcome.

Bowing to Drupada and Virata, the visitor seated himself beside Dharmaputra.

"I have come to Kurukshetra," said he,

"learning that the descendants of Bharata have let themselves be overwhelmed by greed, anger and hatred and that the peace talks have broken down and that war has been declared."

Overcome by emotion, he paused for a while and then continued: "Dharmaputra, dreadful destruction is ahead. The earth is going to is a bloody morass strewn with mangled bodies! It is an evil destiny that has maddened the kshatriya world to foregather here to meet its doom. Often have I told Krishna, 'Duryodhana is the same to us as the Pandavas. We may not take sides in their foolish quarrels.' He would not listen to me. His great affection for Dhananjaya has misled Krishna and he is with you in this war which I see he has approved. How can Krishna and I be in opposite camps? For Bhima and Duryodhana, both of them my pupils, I have equal regard and love. How then can I support one against the other? Nor can I bear to see the Kauravas destroyed. I will therefore have nothing to do with this war, this conflagration that will consume everything. This tragedy has made me lose all interest in the world and so I shall wander among holy places."

Having thus spoken against the calamitous war, Krishna's brother left the place, his heart laden with sorrow and his mind seeking consolation in God.

This episode of Balarama’s, keeping out of the Mahabharata war is illustrative of the perplexing situations in which good and honest men often find themselves.

Compelled to choose between two equally justifiable, but contrary, courses of action, the unhappy individual is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It is only honest men that find themselves in this predicament.

The dishonest ones of the earth have no such problems, guided as they are solely by their own attachments and desires, that is, by self-interest.

Not so the great men who have renounced all desire. Witness the great trials to which, in the Mahabharata, Bhishma, Vidura, Yudhishthira and Karna were put.

We read in that epic how they solved their several difficulties. Their solutions did not conform to a single moral pattern but reflected their several individualities. The conduct of each was the reaction of his personality and character to the impact of circumstances.

Modern critics and expositors sometimes forget this underlying basic factor and seek to weigh all in the same scales, which is quite wrong. We may profit by the way in which, in the Ramayana, Dasaratha, Kumbhakarna, Maricha, Bharata and Lakshmana reacted to the difficulties with which each of them was faced.

Likewise, Balarama's neutrality in the Mahabharata war has a lesson. Only two princes kept out of that war. One was Balarama and the other was Rukma, the ruler of Bhojakata. The story of Rukma, whose younger sister Rukmini married Krishna, is told in the next chapter.