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.


A vast majority of the problems the world is facing today are results of the failure of our soft skills: relationship skills, communication skills, persuasion skills, conflict management skills, assertiveness skills and so on. The Mahabharata, which is the story of how the Bharatas failed in managing a conflict among themselves, leading to an all-destroying war, gives us several beautiful lessons in these skills.

Benefits of Networking – in todays connected world, networking means facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, twitter, blog etc. There are many benefits of such networking activities if used properly and carefully. There are also stories where youngsters got trapped into undesirable relationships and activities with disastrous impact on their mental and emotional well being.  How did the Pandavas manage to assemble a large army of 7 divisions, even though they were not in power for 13 years and were also living in exile in the forest for 12 years and incognito for a year? Through networking, though not by the modern ways but through building relationships through marriages, friendships and by identifying themselves as proponents of Dharma and aligning with such persons are morally good!. Alliances were formed through the marriages of all the five Pandavas and their children that included the kingdoms of Madra, Magadh, Chedi, Kasi, Kekaya, Matsya, Nagas, Rakshasas and many more. Kingdoms from the Southern part of Bharat such as Chera, Chola, Kerala, etc joined as they felt that the Pandavas are more righteous and Dharma abiding compared to the Kauravas. At the same time, the Kauravas collected unlimited wealth by invading kingdoms across the country but created powerful enemies. This teaches us the lesson that to be successful, either in business or politics, build powerful allies or never create enemies.

Active networking is vital to career growth. Networking is actually about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return. Your network includes everyone from friends and family to work colleagues and members of groups to which you belong. Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your role. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking. Regularly attending professional and social events will help you expand your contacts and open doors to new opportunities for business, career advancement, personal growth, or simply new knowledge. A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information.

Logistics and organizational challenges of the war – Have you ever thought of the challenges faced by the Manager of a circus company in the movement of all the artists, animals, tents, etc from place to place? Have you ever involved in the management of a large company meeting, with people participating from different locations and travelling by different means? Then you will understand the challenges involved in organizing and conducting such an event. With plenty of travel agents and event managers, modern communication and transportation systems, hotels and other facilities, managing such an event where even a thousand persons are participating is a huge challenge. Then think of making arrangements for bringing together 20 lakh soldiers, 20 lakh support personals, 4 lakh chariots, 4 lakh elephants and 12 lakh horses from across the world, starting from Greece to Cambodia. The map given below gives an indication of the kings and kingdoms that participated in the war along with their troupes. Think of the number of tents needed to accommodate every one of them in one location, with specially built tents for kings, generals, princes, their wives, etc. Think of the food arrangements for the soldiers and support staff along with water, fodder and grass requirement for all the animals. Think of the medical support systems and repair arrangements for the chariots and other weapon systems. The challenge is unimaginable. Even today, wars are won or lost not due to military superiority but because of their logistical ability in transporting men and material to the required place at the required time. The defeat of the British in the American War of Independence and the defeat of the Axis in the African theatre of World War II are attributed to logistical failure. The management skills and dexterity displayed by the war managers 5000 years ago, when there were no roads, no trains, no flights, no ERP systems and no modern communication systems and yet assembled the men and material needed to win the war, is truly envious. Even today, modern military follows the basic principles laid down by the war managers of Mahabharata war.

The word logistics has its origin in the French verb loger to lodge or to quarter. Its original use was to describe the science of movement, supplying & maintenance of military forces in the field. Later on it was used to describe the management of materials flow through an organization, from raw materials through to finished goods.

Logistics as a business concept evolved in the 1950s due to the increasing complexity of supplying businesses with materials and shipping out products in an increasingly globalized supply chain, leading to a call for experts called supply chain logisticians. Business logistics can be defined as “having the right item in the right quantity at the right time at the right place for the right price in the right condition to the right customer”.


Venu Payyanur

We can learn many important lessons on motivation and commitment from the Mahabharata war stories that can easily be applied in our day to day professional life.

Motivation is the driving force which causes us to achieve goals. According to various theories, motivation may be rooted in a basic need to minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure, or it may include specific needs such as eating and resting, or a desired object, goal, state of being, ideal, or it may be attributed to less-apparent reasons such as altruism, selfishness, morality, or avoiding mortality. There are many modern theories and authors on motivation and some of the most popular theories and their authors are as follows.

  • Need theory – Abraham Maslow
  • Two Factor Theory – Frederick Herzberg
  • ERG Theory – Alderfer
  • Incentive Theory – BF Skinner
  • Cognitive Dissonance Theory – Leon Festinger
  • Self Determination Theory – Edward Deci and Richard Ryan
  • And many more.

Though there are many stories that give ample evidence to prove and disapprove all the existing modern management theories on motivation, we will only analyse few of them.

When approached by Duryodhana to become the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army, Bhishma put down certain conditions to accept the offer. Bhishma said, ‘O Bharata, as thou sayest. But the Pandavas are as dear to me as ye yourselves. Therefore, O king, I should certainly seek their good as well, although I shall certainly fight for thee, having given thee a pledge (before) to that effect. With the power of my weapons, I can, in a trice, destroy this universe consisting of gods, Asuras, Rakshasas, and human beings. The sons of Pandu, however, O king, are incapable of being exterminated by me. I shall, therefore, slay every day ten thousand warriors. If, indeed, they do not slay me in battle first, I will continue to slaughter their forces thus. There is another understanding on which I may willingly become the commander of thy forces. It behoveth thee to listen to that. O lord of earth, either Karna should fight first, or I will fight first. The Suta’s son always boasts of his prowess in battle, comparing it with mine.’

Duryodhana had no choice but to accept these terms and appoint Bhishma as the Commander in Chief. However in one stroke Bhishma ensured that he does not have to kill the Pandavas and also ensured that the only person among the Kauravas who had the ability and willingness to do the same is kept out of the war!! A war is won only when the king is killed or captured. What Bhishma ensured that the Kauravas will not win the war as long as he is the Commander in Chief!!!

Would you like to appoint a Sales Manager for your company, however good he may be, who says that he will not help close orders as long as the company that he was working currently is in competition. And there are only two companies in that marketing space competing with each other!

But the problem is as long as Bhishma is in the battlefield carrying his weapon; none can defeat him, including his own Guru Parasuram. This essentially means that the war will continue indefinitely with great costs to man and materials. So the Pandavas took the unthinkable step in solving the problem, ask the grandsire itself as to how to kill him! As per the plan the Pandavas went to the tent where the grandsire is resting after a day of fierce battle along with Krishna and asked the question as to how we may be able to kill him.

To this Bhishma said, “When with weapons and my large bow in hand I contend carefully in battle, I am incapable of being defeated by the very gods and the Asuras with Indra at their head. If, however, I lay aside my weapons, even these car-warriors can slay me. Hear also, O king, about my resolve formed before. Beholding any inauspicious omen I would never fight that mighty warrior, who is known by the name of Sikhandin, who is wrathful in battle, brave, and ever victorious, was a female before but subsequently obtained manhood. When that inauspicious omen will be there, especially in the form of one that was a female before, I will never seek, though armed with bow and arrow, to strike him. Obtaining that opportunity, let Dhananjaya the son of Pandu quickly pierce me on every side with his shafts.”

This is like selling the company trade secrets to your competition! If you are Pepsi, how much are you willing to pay for the secret Coke formula?? Here you are getting it free!

After the fall of Bhishma, Duryodhana appointed Guru Dronacharya as the new Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army in consultation with Karna. Drona loved Arjuna more than anyone else in this world, except may be his own son Ashvatthama. He also loved the Pandavas more than the Kauravas, but have to side with them due to his extreme loyalty towards the crown that provided him with power, money and comforts. Having known this truth, Duryodhana requested Drona to capture Yudhishthira rather than kill him. Guru Drona was extremely rejoiced with this request and even commented that who would like to kill “Ajathashatru” “the one who has no born enemies”. However he accepted this with one condition that if Arjuna is around, he can never capture Yudhishthira and therefore it is Duryodhana’s responsibility to ensure that Arjuna is distracted away from the battle zone when Drona is fighting with Yudhishthira. On the day, when Arjuna killed lakhs and lakhs of soldiers and finally Jayadratha, Duryodhana becomes extremely angry and disappointed and accuses Drona of insincerity and dishonesty. He said to Drona “O thou of mighty arms, thy now regard the Pandavas to be preferable to ourselves. You, of sure aim, have ordained our extermination in battle, for thou treat Arjuna leniently, since he is thy disciple. It is for this that all those have been slain who had endeavoured to secure victory to us. It seems that only Karna now wishes us victory”. Duryodhana even expressed his desire to commit suicide at this juncture. Having heard such insulting words, Guru Drona immediately set out for fighting, against the war conventions, at night itself.

It is very clear from the above incidents that The C in C has to be frequently admonished and insulted to bring energy and ferocity to the war. Because Guru Drona had no direct interest in the results of the war and was never keen to kill the Pandavas.

The next Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army was Karna, who time and again displayed his unquestionable loyalty towards Duryodhana and was also his confident and trusted advisor. One would expect Karna to be aggressive and fearsome in war and would target particularly the Pandavas. However the truth is far from it. There were many occasions, where he could have captured or killed Yudhishthira, the war would have been won by the Kauravas by the very act, but Karna choose to let him go unharmed. Karna could also have killed all the other brothers of Arjuna including Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, yet he chooses not to do so. Because he gave a word to his mother that he will only kill Arjuna and none else in the war. What happened to Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhana? In fact Karna had only one objective, to prove at least once in his life time that he is better than Arjuna. That was an insult that Karna suffered from the first day of his interaction with Kauravas and Pandavas till his death.

The next person to be appointed as Commander in Chief of Kaurava army was King Salya. Being the uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, Salya was tricked by Duryodhana to join his force to fight against the Pandavas. However before joining the enemy force, the King went and met Yudhishthira and made a commitment as explained below. “Yudhishthira, the son of Kunti, spoke to the king of the Madras the following words, ‘There is no doubt that thou wilt act as the charioteer of Karna. Thou must damp the spirits of Karna then by recounting the praises of Arjuna. “Salya said, ‘Let it be so. I shall do just as thou tellest me. And I shall do for thee anything else that I may be able to do.’ During the war, that is exactly what Salya did which dispirited and disturbed Karna so much that he was finally killed by Arjuna.

From the above stories, one thing is very clear. Your devotion to your organization and your motivation to be successful is not based on your age, title, length of service, qualification, salary, etc. There would highly motivated youngsters who joined very recently and highly de-motivated and dispirited General Managers and Vice Presidents in any organization. However motivation and inter personal relationship, ethics and values have some connection.


Mahabharata war lasted 18 days and had 18 divisions of army to start with. Kauravas had 11 Akshouhini (divisions) and 7 with the Pandavas. One Akshouhini consists of 21870 chariots, 21870 Elephants, 65610 horses and 109350 soldiers. That means the Kauravas had 240570 chariots, 240570 Elephants, 721710 horses and 1202850 soldiers against 153090 chariots, 153090 Elephants, 459270 horses and 765450 soldiers of Pandavas. You add the number of support staff needed to take care of all these animals and soldiers in terms of food, medicine, housekeeping, etc, the total number of persons who participated in the war is close to sixty lakh. Kings with their armies, horses, chariots and elephants had come from far away kingdoms of Greece in the West and Cambodia in the East. At the end of 18 days only 10 survived. Kripa, Kritavarma and Ashvatthama from the Kaurava side and the five Pandavas, Krishna and Satyaki from the Pandava side. However Pandavas won the war and captured their lost kingdom.

There are many lessons one can learn from this most devastating war. Here is some of the questions one need to answer to get a better understanding.

1.  Krishna was the GOD and had the power to stop the war and also made a last minute attempt in this regard. Yet he could not stop the war. Why?

2.  Kauravas had bigger, almost 50% more, army and other resources, yet they lost the war. Why?

3.  Kaurava generals, such as Bhishma, Drona, Duryodhana, Karna, Salya, etc were unbeatable in the war, yet they all died. How and why?

4.  Pandavas were not in power and that too living in exile for 13 years prior to the war. Yet they managed to organize a very large army in a very short time. How?

5.  There were more than 20 lakh soldiers with 40 lakh support staff along with 12 lakh horses, 4 lakh elephants and 4 lakh chariots participating in the war coming from faraway places like Greece and Cambodia. All assembled in one place on time to start the war. Considering the fact that this war took place almost 5000 years ago with no modern communication and transportation facilities, can anybody guess how such a humongous task was achieved by the then war managers?

6.  War is a very serious game, either you win or die! The final beneficiaries of the war were only the Kauravas or the Pandavas. Yet there were many kings and their generals along with their army participated in this war. How could the war managers keep them motivated, even when they see people are dying around them every moment?

Details of the Organization.

Managing such a large army with Infantry, Cavalry, Elephants and Chariots is not an easy task. Imagine the problems we had couple of years back during one Kumbh mela wherein many hundreds of people died due to stampede. It was close to one million persons who assembled at that time. During Kurukshetra war, there were more than sixty lakh persons including twenty lakh Infantry, four lakh chariots and four lakh elephants along with close to twelve lakh horses all assembled into one place and restless to engage in war. If not managed properly, half the participants will die of stampede arising out of chaos and confusion. Here comes the great organizational technique employed by the generals almost 5000 years ago, which is followed even today by all the countries.   Each soldier had a clear reporting structure and the entire army was organized in such a way that every one of them knew exactly what to do and whose orders to follow.

Pandavas – Pandavas had 7 Akshouhini and Yudhishthira duly appointed the following persons in command of his seven divisions. They were Drupada, Virata, Dhrishtadyumna, the king Dhrishtaketu, the prince Shikhandi, Chekitana and Bhima. And Dhrishtadyumna who had sprung from the blazing (sacrificial) fire for the destruction of Drona was appointed as the Commander in Chief. And Dhananjaya was made the leader of all those high-souled leaders. And Krishna endued with great intelligence was chosen as the guide of Arjuna and the driver of his Chariot.’

Kauravas – Kauravas had 11 divisions and the following were the Generals for each of the divisions. Kripa, Drona, Salya, Jayadratha, Sudakshina, Kritavarman, Aswatthaman, Karna, Bhurisravas, Sakuni, and the mighty Vahlika. Duryodhana appointed the Grandsire Bhishma as the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army.

There were many Rathi, Athirathi and Maharathi in both the armies. A Maharathi is a warrior capable of fighting 60,000 warriors simultaneously; circumspect in his mastery of all forms of weapons and combat skills. And an Atirathi is a warrior capable of contending with 10,000 warriors simultaneously. In the Kaurava army the following were Athirathis and Maharathis. Shalya, Somadatta, Bhurishravas, Bhagadatta, Jayadratha, Kritavarma were Athirathis and  Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashvatthama, Shrutyudha, Duryodhana were Maharathis. Among the Pandavas Ghatotkatcha, Satyaki and Yuyutsu were Athirathis and Arjuna, Bhima, Abhimanyu, Nakul, Sahadev, Yudhistra, Dristadyumna, Dhrupad and Viraata were all Maharathis.

Sometimes, the details of number of soldiers and generals participated in the war looks highly exaggerated and exclamatory. Even today the total strength of Indian army is about eleven lakhs, when our country population is more than 100 crores. It is very difficult to believe that 5000 years ago, one can organize such a large army, even though there were participants from as far as Greece and Cambodia. It is estimated that the world population during 3000 BC is approximately 14 millions, that includes approximately 50% women and if not more 20% of the persons below 20 years of age. This essentially means that all eligible male population from across the world, irrespective of their profession, participated in the war!!

It is very interesting to analyze the organizational structure from the current day perspective. For the Pandavas, Yudhishthira was the CEO ably supported by a Board of Directors consisting of all his brothers. Each one of them was masters in one specific area. Krishna is like Non Executive Chairman, who does not participate in the day to day activities of the company but acts like an Advisor. Dhristadyumna was the COO who had many Generals reporting to him. 

Where as in the Kaurava side, Duryodhana was the CEO and Dhritarashtra the Chairman with no executive powers. (His orders were frequently disobeyed by the CEO).  His COO or Commander in Chief was Bhishma and he too had outstanding Generals reporting to him. Duryodhana did not constitute a Board of Directors but had a Coterie advising him consisting of Sakuni, Karna and Dussasana.

Even today we know that if the organization is not managed by an efficient Board of Directors who had clear sense of purpose and direction, is bound to failure. That exactly has happened to the Kaurava army and kingdom. In spite of having great Generals and larger army, they lost the war. Why? That is subject for another article.