The Tradition of Kshaatra in India – Awareness of Kshaatra in the Itihasas

The maxims that can be gleaned from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are predominantly destruction of the wicked and protection of the righteous. Investigating into what is the predominant rasa of the Itihasas, the great aesthetician and scholar Anandavardhana says that the karuna rasa dominates in the Ramayana while the dominant rasa in the Mahabharata is shanta rasa. To this, we may add another rasa, that of ‘dharmavira’ – it would not be incorrect to do so. It is a predominant rasa in our epics.

[contextly_sidebar id="NyF6WdpwWVcC3RPpeCnY09v7nVnSkNq1"]In his commentary on the Natyashastra – Abhinavabharati – in the sixth chapter Abhinavagupta discusses about rasa in detail; he shows how the four purusharthas are seen in rasa. The purusharthas – धर्म, अर्थ, काम, and मोक्ष – form the very foundation of our tradition. The universal order is established due to the purusharthas. Here, the trivarga (dharma, artha, and kama) is dependent on kshaatra. Dharma is a system. If it has to be stable, we need someone to govern. And through that dharma, artha and kama are established. Further, it is only through dharma do they get value. If not for dharma, artha and kama will destroy each other; that will lead to devastation of the world. Without dharma, artha will degenerate into greed (one of the six fundamental enemies) while kama falls from the lofty heights as mentioned in the Gita (Krishna says, “In all beings, I am the kama that doesn’t violate dharma.” BG 7.11) into the inferno of lust. [The six fundamental enemies (अरिषड्वर्ग) are काम (lust), क्रोध (anger), लोभ (greed), मोह (infatuation, obsession), मद (insolence, intoxication), and मात्सर्य (jealousy).]

The vira and shringara rasas give rise to these three purusharthas – dharma, artha, and kama. Vira has the strength to represent dharma and artha; in other words, it adheres to dharma. The Mahabharata [Karnaparva 49.50; also see Shantiparva 11.11] famously defines dharma as follows –

धारणात् धर्म इत्याहुः धर्मो धारयति प्रजाः

Here, ‘धारण’ [to support, to sustain] is one of the qualities of dharma. In saying ‘धारणाद्धर्मः’ (dharma comes from the root word धृ-धारणे) we find the origin of the root word ‘क्षि.’ Dharma is related to refuge, adherence, and protection. Artha is, obviously, related to wealth and prosperity. Thus for both dharma and artha, the kshatriya becomes inevitable. Kama is found in everyone, by nature. Which living being is without desires? Desires need to find fulfillment. To attain fulfillment, we need a certain system, a certain order. After all, who doesn’t feel hunger? But that said, does everyone get food? Is there a system that ensures food for all? When we question thus, we find that hunger has no obligations; it is always there. But a system that ensures food for all does have obligations and difficulties. If these three – dharma, artha, and kama – are on the right track, that leads naturally to moksha.

Translated from Kannada by Hari Ravikumar
(Translator’s notes in square brackets.)



Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.


Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.