Mahabharata and Management – Character Analysis – Part 1

Posted by Venu Payyanur     Category: Mahabharata and Management

Venu Payyanur

There are great similarities between important characters in Mahabharata and managers of a typical organization. Let us look at some of the important characters starting with the Pandavas.

Yudhishthira – Yudhishthira is also known as Dharmaputra (Dharmaputra means, the son of “Dharma” or the one who made “Dharma” as his son) and Ajatashatru (One without Enemies). Yudhisthira’s true prowess was shown in his unflinching adherence to Satya (truth) and dharma (duty, responsibility and righteousness), which were more precious to him than any royal ambitions, material pursuits and family relations. According to Draupadi, Yudhishthira possessed a “complexion like that of pure gold, and was just, had a correct sense of morality, and was merciful to surrendering foes”. Due to his piety, Yudhishthira’s feet and his chariot do not touch the ground, to symbolize his purity. He was a philosopher but also addicted to gambling. The first and most prominent quality required of a leader is MORALITY, i.e. ethics and right conduct.

However there were occasions when he forgot his “Dharma” for his sense of correct morality and never was a man of action. Pandavas lost the kingdom only to the gambling addiction of Yudhishthira not once but twice. Even in the war front his instinct of gambling overtook his Dharma when he promised Duryodhana that he can choose any one of the Pandavas for the mace fight and if he wins the kingdom is his. Krishna admonished Yudhishthira for this as even Bhima will find it difficult to defeat Duryodhana, leave alone Nakula and Sahadeva.

As the Chief Executive of the Pandava kingdom, Yudhishthira had many great qualities, however would you like to have a CEO for your company who is morally and ethically very strong, but not action oriented and is a gambler? We also find managers in many organizations, who can always give good advice but when it comes to “execution” takes a back seat and depends on others for the same.

Bhima – means someone who can do “great jobs” and represents “Strength”, mental, physical, emotional and intellectual strength. He is described as a person with the strength of ten thousand elephants and was tall and long-armed. The master of the mace, his superhuman feats had earned him great name. “They that offend him are never suffered to live. He never forgets a foe. On some pretext or other he wreaks his vengeance”. He is the “aggressor” among the Pandavas and ready for action at any time of the day. He was always willing to do anything for Draupadi, and there were occasions where Bhima has taken great many risks for the sake of Draupadi, even though Draupadi herself loved Arjuna more than anyone else. During the war, he singlehandedly eliminated more than half of the 11 divisions of the Kaurava army and killed all the sons of Dhritarashtra.  He is action oriented, aggressive, strong and willing to take risks to achieve whatever task is assigned to him. An ideal person to lead any organization or department.

Have you heard managers in your company talking about “killing the competition” and blacklisting your “customers” Have you seen men “taken for a ride” by beautiful ladies? They are all Bhima.

Arjuna – means the person who always “walks the straight path”. He represents “concentration” and “focus”, essential for anyone to be successful in life. He is the greatest of archers, intelligent, second to none “with senses under complete control.” Neither lust nor fear nor anger could make him forsake virtue. Though capable of withstanding any foe, he would never commit an act of cruelty. Today we have “Bhagavad Gita” because of Arjuna. Being the undisputed champion of archery, with none in the world including his Guru Drona who can defeat him, the side where Arjuna is there always wins. Charismatic, capable, righteous and always a winner, the right person to lead any organization in the world today.

However Arjuna will never accept defeat and have to be the winner all the time. He managed his Guru to ensure that there are no enemies capable of defeating him and also got special trainings and weapons from him. Before the war, both Duryodhana and Arjuna approaches Krishna for his support. Krishna offered his entire army to one and himself to other with a condition that he will not take up arms during the war. While Duryodhana triumphantly accepted the army, Arjuna chose the non fighting Krishna. When Krishna asked why you chose me, Arjuna’s answer clearly depicts his desire to be the winner all the time. Arjuna says “The whole world says that you are the best and greatest warrior in this earth. After this war, I want to be known thus and not possible if you are fighting”. We also have many managers in organizations who are certainly very competent and capable but also wants to be the “winner” all the time and manipulates his superiors to ensure his continued success and growth in the organization.

Nakula – means the one who does not belong to any “Kula” or group. He is extremely attractive, (“devastatingly handsome”), supreme in intelligence, and full of love. An accomplished master swordsman, he was also “versed in every question of morality and profit” and “endued with high wisdom.” He was unflinchingly devoted to his brothers, who in turn regarded him as more valuable than their own lives. Nakula represents Charisma, pleasing personality, essential to be successful as a leader.

Most organizations have politics and groups, with people attached or associated with certain senior manager based on their function, geographical location, state they belong to etc. But there are also people who are unattached and focus on their jobs only. They are Nakulas. In politics groupism is common, and at times, the “Nakula” gets selected to lead the ministry or group because they are unattached.

Sahadeva – means the one who lives with Devas (Gods). Sahadeva was the youngest of the brothers, and like the others formidable in war and observant of morality. Master of the swords “Heroic, intelligent, wise and ever wrathful, there is not another man equal unto him in intelligence or in eloquence amid assemblies of the wise.” Sahadeva was a great astrologer and was supposed to have known the events of the Mahabharata war beforehand but had a curse earlier from Rishis that if ever he speaks or discloses knowledge without being asked; his head would split in pieces. Hence, he was relatively silent throughout the story compared to other brothers.

Do we have managers in organizations who are usually silent in meetings even though they are extremely knowledgeable? They do not speak either because lack of interest or for fear of reprimand from others. What is their knowledge worth if it is not used in the right way, at the right place and right time?

As you have seen, all the Pandava brothers excel in many attributes but have also contrasting characters. But what unites them is their respect for authority, never questions the decisions made by Yudhishthira, and unity of purpose. 

Krishna – Krishna was a great leader because he was a problem solver, pragmatic, good judge of men, led by example, delegated to qualified people, let people make mistakes so that they could learn from their mistakes and always kept the big picture in mind. When Arjuna was numbed by the challenges just before the war and confused about his role, Krishna advised him and motivated him to do the right thing befitting his role as the Kshatriya and a General and that is known as Bhagavad Gita. The teachings of Gita is relevant even today as youngsters and managers involved in today’s corporate war and cut throat competition can gain immense knowledge and confidence by practising it. HR Managers can use it effectively as Gita teaches the fundamentals about the development of individuals mind, concentration, self control, development of the character, knowledge, virtues, duty, work, action and devotion leading to liberation or success. Krishna as the Advisor and consultant to the Pandava management team was instrumental in defeating all the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army, though at times by dubious means. And without Krishna’s support, even though he was not actively participating in the war with weapons, it would not have been possible for the Pandavas to win the war. Dhritarashtra was extremely concerned about the presence of Krishna in the war front as supporter of Pandavas, as he knew Krishna was the God. But satisfied himself by thinking that having tried to stop the war as envoy of the Pandavas, Krishna could not achieve it, therefore, it is also not possible for him to win the war for the Pandavas. Here lies the question? What is the true objective of Krishna in participating in the war? Was there any secret agenda behind that?

In the Gita, Chapter 4, text 8, Krishna declares that

“paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge”. Means “In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re-establish the principles of religion, I advent myself millennium after millennium”.

The Mahabharata war was part of the divine plan to restore dharma and order upon earth through a very drastic measure. Its happening was necessary to bring together all the evil powers of the earth into one place, so that they could be destroyed summarily and relieve the earth from their oppression. Krishna achieved that by aligning with the Dharmic forces but without doing it himself. There are many in our corporate world who has joined a particular company with certain motives, other than serving the company. It could be very personal or for a larger cause, but we must identify the same and take corrective action if the intentions are less than noble.

3 Responses to “Mahabharata and Management – Character Analysis – Part 1”

  1. Shiva Says:

    A very opt one and we draw many learning from the Great Epic; It applies to all professionals irrespective of geography etc. We had seen many Bhimas – Well known IT Industry Country Manager – has lost job; Arjuna – Again a well known IT Industry CFO; Nakula – Dr Manmohan Sing; Sahadeva – To me many Indian President – talk many things in their autobiography … A very good posting.

  2. Satish Says:

    I think you should have also included Karna in this list. Personally I think he was the greatest of the lot.But he was not “practical”, in the sense that he stood for what he thought was right,even when he knew he could lose. And this is not a quality nuch appreciated today.

  3. raj Says:

    Karna. Today’s LK Advani? An upright and correct man but, in the wrong party/company…?

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