Why did Krishna choose Arjuna over Bhishma, Drona & Karna?

KuruThe Mahabharata is arguably the greatest work of literature in the world. No other work brings out the complexity of human problems in such a profound and entertaining way. It shows us the application of philosophy when it comes to deciding between the right and wrong in such cases where the answer is not straightforward.

Four of the most striking characters in the Mahabharata are Arjuna, Karna, Drona and Bhishma . These men were perhaps the four greatest warriors of the era and were also well learned and had firm principles by which they lived. They lived their life by different values and their lives came to very different ends. The Mahabharata shows that all four men were great in their own way, but three of them failed in doing what is truly right and therefore came to futile ends, their lives not serving the greater good.

Out of the four characters, Arjuna is the character who stands out as the hero who future generations of Hindus admire the most. The other three are remembered as tragic heroes. Their names are not associated with the same awe and respect as that of Arjuna. They all met sad deaths on the battlefield, fighting on the side of evil despite knowing in their hearts that they were doing wrong.

There is a fundamental difference in the outlook and character of these four great men that was responsible for their different outcomes.


Karna was a great warrior, considered an equal of Arjuna. And in sticking to one’s principles, Karna appeared more steadfast compared with Arjuna. But in Karna’s life there was one fatal flaw. He made his friendship and loyalty to Duryodhan higher than anything else, even higher than right and wrong, and even higher than God. While loyalty is a great value, in such cases when it overrides one’s sense of dharma and even the direct calling of the Divine in the form of Shri Krishna, such loyalty leads one to a tragic end.

Karna used all his strength to serve his friend Duryodhan, without even one selfish thought for himself. However, his loyalty was so blind that he would even follow his friend when he was doing something totally wrong, selfish and harmful to others. This shows that loyalty to another person can lead even a great man to a tragic end. Dharma, and the call of God, must always be greater than loyalty to another person. Karna knew what he was doing was wrong and paid the price for it.

Karna put loyalty to Duryodhan as his highest principle. His tragic story warns us to choose loyalties wisely. Only Krishna deserves such unflinching loyalty.


Bhishma was another person who never performed a selfish action in his whole life. He was mighty, learned and respected. But he too ended up fighting on the side of adharma, and came to a tragic end. He was actually an impediment to the establishment of a righteous kingdom. Why? Because he put his personal oath on a pedestal and made it the focus and obsession of his life.

That oath was that he would unquestioningly follow and do the bidding of whoever was the king of Hastinapur (Delhi). This vow, he would never break as long as he lived, even when it involved fighting his own beloved nephews who he knew had done nothing wrong.

Sticking to a vow is important, especially today when people make promises and break them the very next day. But the Mahabharata demonstrates that if attachment to a personal vow becomes an insurmountable impedement that prevents one from doing what is clearly the right, and ends up making a person serve evil, such a vow should be discarded and set aside.

Bhishma put his personal vow above anything else, even when that vow became an instrument of evil. He disregarded Krishna’s advice, which was that to drop the vow for the greater good.


Drona was an employee of the king of Hastinapur, who happened to be Dhitirashtra, the father of Duryodhana. He was employed to teach all the princes of that kingdom in the art of warfare and statecraft, and was considered the very greatest teacher of the era. For his services, he was remunerated handsomely. Before he got this job, he was very poor and therefore was very grateful to the King for employing him.

When Duryodhan was doing wrong, Drona was fully aware of it. On some occasions he even tried to stop Duryodhan, at which Duryodhan would say: “Do not bite the hand that feeds you.”

When the battle finally dawned, Drona fought on Duryodhan’s behalf and was eventually slain in a scheme engineered by Krishna. Drona, despite being an outstanding warrior, and well versed in morality, put his loyalty towards his employer before the more important and fundamental question of dharma. Despite knowing better, he never quite had the guts to just leave and tell the king – “Enough is enough, what you are doing is wrong, I will not support you anymore.” He was too afraid of being called ungrateful.

Drona put his loyalty towards his employer above the bidding of Shri Krishna who tried to tell Drona not to keep supporting the side of evil just because of his loyalty to his employer.


Arjuna was a great man. Yet he had weaknesses that were actually absent in Karna, Bhishma and Drona. He was in some ways foolhardy, saying and doing several stupid things that could have landed his brothers and himself in serious trouble.

For example, at one point, Arjuna had made a vow that he would take the life of anybody who insulted his ‘Gandiva bow’, which he was exceedingly proud of. During the Mahabharata war, it happened to be Arjuna’s eldest brother and leader, Yuddhistir, who dealt the fatal insult.

Arjuna drew his sword and was about to kill his own brother for fulfilling his promise, and was restrained only by Krishna’s presence. To prevent Arjuna from committing this rash act, Krishna suggested that instead of killing Yuddhistir, Arjuna should insult him in public, as this is as bad as death for a warrior. Arjuna did this; but then felt bad for insulting such a virtuous person as Yuddhistir, and said that he would commit suicide as there was no point even being alive after doing something so vile as insulting his own brother in public! Once again, it was only Krishna’s presence which restrained Arjuna. Krishna eventually talked Arjuna out of suicide, but Arjuna was sad that he had not kept his own word,and felt very bad. Krishna gave Arjuna a loophole. According to dharma, praising yourself in public is a sin that is as bad as one’s own death. So Krishna said to Arjuna that just praise yourself in public, and your vow will be fulfilled. And thus were the lives of both Arjuna and Yuddhistir saved!

Yet despite this foolhardy streak in his character, Arjuna is the one who is etched upon the heart of humanity as the ideal to which to aspire.

This story illustrates that while Arjuna was far from perfect, he had one overriding quality which sets him above and apart from the others. To Arjuna, it was Krishna’s words that were absolute. He would follow Krishna’s words even at the expense of other principles or promises that he held dear. Therefore he had the grace and favour of Krishna’s guidance throughout his life.

Therefore, Arjuna’s fate was to be the hero of the era, and the instrument of God in being the restorer of dharma to society, rather than a tragic figure who ended up wasting their huge life potential in fighting on behalf of a fake cause. Arjuna put Krishna as his highest guide and ideal, and despite his faults, stands out as the most successful and glorious of the four.


The comparison between Karna, Drona, Bhishma and Arjuna shows us that while we can admire a person’s loyalty to a friend, loyalty to their employer and dedication to their principles or promises, all of these things must never be allowed to become an obstacle in doing what is truly for the benefit of the greater good. Krishna, the divine guide, will always shower his grace on people who will put Him first, and thus we remember Arjuna as the true hero above any of his contemporaries.

Other similar Mahabharata related articles on this site:

Lord Krishna’s war ethics

The growth of the Mahabharata from perhaps as few as 8,800 verses to nearly 100,000 verses

The Bhagavad Gita, Oppenheimer and Nuclear weapons

A Search for the historical Krishna – N S Rajaram

Arjuna, Bhima and the disrobing of Draupadi


  1. Still one thing crops up in my mind after going through this…is bhakti path more powerful than gyan path…Arjuna followed “blind” faith in Krishna but it was Krishna only who taught him the virtues of Nishkama karma…really history and scriptures are full of contradictions ..

    • There is no conradiction karma path is for those under the influence of avidya (ignorance) and gyaan path is for those under the influence of vidya , as per unpnishads Those to choose karma yog are going into darkness and those who choose gyan yog alone will go into the greater darkness as we need both for moksha …. the key is in perfection which is the combination of the two…

  2. Namaste Niraj, thanks for your comment. It is always good to hear questions & counter arguments. I will try & reply to each of your points (although I don’t fully understand some of what you are trying to say):

    “is bhakti path more powerful than gyan path”

    I don’t really see the contradiction between bhakti & gyan, they are different approached for different temperaments. Sometimes they can be integrated. Sri Aurobindo interpreted an integral yoga based on a synthesis of bhakti, gyan and karma.
    “Arjuna followed “blind” faith in Krishna but it was Krishna only who taught him the virtues of Nishkama karma”

    I don’t think it is correct to say that Arjuna displayed blind faith in Krishna – he only accepted Krishna’s advice after a lengthy philosophical discourse!

    “really history and scriptures are full of contradictions”

    Contradictions are apparent when we look at the world around us (as well as in history and scriptures). A deeper vision allows us to see the unity between seemingly opposed philosophies, Realities and truths. For example to someone who has grasped the true spirit, there is no contradiction between Krishna saying “Ahimsa is the highest dharma” and his exhortation to Krishna to fight, because ahmisa and himsa arise from the spirit and state of mind. SImilarly there is no contradiction in the statement “He who sees action in inaction and inaction in action truly sees”.

    Anyway, if you have any more questions or counter points I will try my best to reply.


  3. Congrats for a beautiful article.

    I find a significant difference between Ram and Krishna. Krishna always gives you a way out (not loopholes) to come out of a difficult situation. Ram strictly follows his ethics and do everything that should be followed. Krishna himself does not do anything, but he gives you the path and encourages you to do everything yourself. Ram acts as father/elder and Krishna acts as a friend.
    So in my personal openion, Ram avtaar is a god loved as a human and Krishna avtaar is a human loved as god.

  4. Indeed, there is a significant difference between the ethics and approach of Krishna and Rama, which could perhaps be the subject of a very interesting article or even book! I was discussing it with someone the other day; Rama on one hand followed social conventions and followed what people said to the extent of renouncing his wife who he clearly loved a lot (he never re-married nor did he contemplate it). Krishna on the other hand gave home to women kidnapped by the Assam based king Narakasur so that they should not be insulted and dishonoured by society. It is debatable to what extent any of these episodes themselves are exact history – but what is clear is that these are very different personalities. My friend added to this discussion that there is a close link between everything about Krishna and Rama – for example Rama hunted and killed a deer, and conversely Krishna was killed by a stray arrow from a hunter.

    According to Aurobindo, the purpose of the avatar is to mold humanity in a certain direction when another tendency in humanity is going out of control, for the purposes of evolution. Interpreted like this, Rama was the Saatvic, controlled, calm man, who moderated humanity’s animalistic tendencies through his example. However by the time of Krishna many social conventions and examples needed to be broken – due to obsessive and dogmatic adherence not serving the greater good.

    I’ve always heard that Krishna was a “poorna” or complete avatar, while Rama was an almost complete Avatar. The reason for this was that Rama had doubt and was troubled and perplexed by the dilemmas facing him, while Krishna was always effortless. Hence Rama was man showing glimpses of divinity through effort while Krishna was divinity fully aware of his divinity and effortless and unstressed in his action.

    Kind regards

  5. Neeraj Bhandari says:

    Rajesh ji
    I can only say
    Har yug mein ek aisa insaan hota hai jo kuch alag karya karne ke liye janam leta hai aur bhagwan osko choontay hai.

    Baaki sab karmo par nirbhar karta hai,

    Karm hi jaat karam hi shaan hai,
    karam hi jeewan hai aur karam hi maran hai.

    Jai Shri Krishna

  6. satish a v says:

    i fallow Hindu tradition and values. because i am an hindu

  7. jai shree krishna says:

    very nice read…thanks

  8. everyone of them were following their dharma, karna was following his dharma that is to be loyal to friend, bhishma to his kingdom and drona to the people who had given him shelter. if these people gave up and went to the side of krishna, that would be more adharma.

    if karna could not do his mitra dharma then he would never be able to do dharma to krishna if he sides with krishna, because his inherent samskaras will make him to do the same thing what he has done to duryodhana, that is leaving him, when he took a vow to stand by him.

    karna was also a great astrologer, he knew also the outcome of the battle and his life. he could have also declared himself to be pandu putra and being the eldest one, he would have got the kingdom and in that way, he could have given it to duryodhana and could have stopped the war… but he did not, he very well knew his maryada,

    bhishma also followed his dharma, in fact, there are 12 bhagawatas who completely know the nature of lord and bhishma counts among them.

    similarly with drona too.

    arjuna and krishna were always one in heart, who are the eternal nara narayana rishis.

  9. Very good article indeed. Lesson for a common man? We fall prey for protector, friend, our own owe etc., and side with wrong people. We do not protest their wrongs nor walk out on them. Whats the point of a friend if we can not argue & oppose, question & reason? Whats the point of our owe if it undermines human dignity? Who is a protector when god has given limbs & brain & beautiful earth to live our way with peace with others? Like Arjuna we must find our loyalty to our inner conscience by arguing, questioning, finding suitable answer & quenching the thirst for righteousness. Like Krishna we must break the mold, practices, sampradaya for the human dignity, love & humanity.

  10. Aniket777 says:



  11. F.B.M. Vander stappen says:

    I really liked this analysis, it’s very much to the point, I think. But I would also like to point to Vidura as a true hero of the story. Unfaltering in his adherence to Dharma, not being dependent on (the perceived help) of others – criticising the disrobing of Draupadi where others are (to their shame) silent, patiently bearing countless insults by Duryodhana (and iimplicitly by Dritarashtra). His loyalty was to Hastinapurs glory alone – and to Dharma. He even went against his own brother to uphold Dharma. To me he is – after Krishna – the guide to prosperity, wisdom and righteousness.


  1. […] Why did Krishna choose Arjuna over Bhishma, Drona & Karna? […]

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