When the Pandavas return after their exile from the forest after 13 years and try to reclaim what is rightly theirs they are only met with stout denial by Duryodhana. Lord Krishna tries to negotiate a settlement where the Kuaravas would only need to part with 5 villages to Pandavas. But even this meager request results in a refusal by Duryodhana. Finally after much deliberation Yudhisthra as the eldest amongst the Pandavas declares war.
On the day of the war with both armies standing impressively facing each other Arjuna whose chariot is driven by none other Lord Krishna himself suddenly is overcome with mental anguish. Arjuna the great and courageous warrior goes through intense emotional turmoil. He is not able to come to terms with the violence of war where he would have to kill the Kauravas who are his own cousins. Besides the Kaurava army also has in its ranks the venerable Bhishma and Drona who have taught him all the necessary lessons of life along with the skills of warfare. This is an important juncture in the Mahabharata where the epic balances human emotions of compassion against the needs of justice. It is as this point Lord Krishna sings the inimitable and ineffable song of the Gita. Lord Krishna reiterates that man must perform his duty without attachment to the results of his work. He should look at joy and suffering with equanimity. The Gita also expounds that behind the material body is the indestructible soul or the Atman which is eternal in nature.
Arjuna is finally convinced when he witnesses Lord Krishna’s divine form and starts to fight for dharma or justice. The war results in victory for the Pandavas. However, the Pandavas are able to overcome Bhishma, Drona and Karna only through devious means. The Mahabharata brings into its narrative a human element of frailty. It clearly shows that even the virtuous Pandavas are not superhuman. Besides it brings into question again the issues of ends versus means. What is dharma? Does it represent something that should be beyond individual interests? Should one subordinate individual interests to the larger interest of the people?
The war ends with victory for the Pandavas. However, even the Pandavas army is destroyed by the wrath of Aswatthama leaving only the five Pandavas with widows and an empty kingdom.
Yudhisthra rather than rejoicing in his victory is tormented by the Pyrrhic victory which resulted in a lot of bloodshed. Again the Mahabharata does not glorify the victors nor belittles the vanquished. The Mahabharata does make one to reflect deeply on what is right and what is wrong. Given the virtues of truthfulness, compassion, ahimsa, charity what should be the most appropriate course for an individual be?