Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday of May in the USA, commemorates all the soldiers who died while in military service.
Wars and battles have been a part of the world since time immemorial. Through the ages, in every part of the world, millions of brave soldiers have given up their lives while fighting for a cause—their homeland, their king, a leader’s ideal. Soldiers often die without obtaining any apparent personal benefit from sacrificing their very life for the cause of greater good. They (or their family) don’t make tons of money, they don’t always attain great fame, they are not always completely happy or contented.
But in truth, the very fact that they sacrificed their life for dharma (righteousness), or followed their dharma (duty) even if they were forced to fight for, say, a wicked king, will definitely result in them accruing immense punya (merits) that will take them to a higher realm after their death on the battlefield; for the Lord is compassionate and He recognizes their sacrifice, even if to the world they are just an insignificant news item.
However, there is a set of soldiers who fought in a particular war who were the most fortunate among all the soldiers who had ever fought a war or would ever fight in the future! The great Mahabharata War, a battle of immense proportions and undoubtedly a “World War”, in today’s terms, was fought about 5000 years ago in the Kurukshetra field in northern India. The total number of soldiers who fought in that war numbered over 4 million as both the armies together comprised of 18 akshauhinis. (An akshauhini is an ancient war metric that comprises of 109,350 foot-soldiers, 65,610 horse-mounted warriors, 21,870 chariots and 21,870 elephants.)
The greatness of this war, however, does not lie in the fact that it was of immense proportions or that its leaders were the world’s best and most skilled warriors, or even because it was a war to establish righteousness in the world. The real reason this was a great war is that one of those 4 million people on the battlefield was one whose heart was so full of compassion that he did not even fight the war; he wanted to spend every second of his time saving the other 3.99 million.
Lord Krishna was on the side of the righteous Pandavas, sure. But the heart of the Lord constantly oozes with compassion for all of His children. So as the combatants on both sides displayed their bravado and slaughtered each other, the Lord, in the guise of a charioteer guiding the fortunes of the Pandavas, was actually bestowing nothing less than His own Abode on the dying warriors, irrespective of the side they fought on.
The great Bhishmacharya, in his beautiful stuti (song of praise) of the Lord performed in his death-bed, sings:
vijayarathakuTumba AttatOtre dhRutahayarashmini tacchriyEkshaNIye
bhagavati ratirastu me mumUrshor yamiha nirIkshya hatA gatA: sarUpam
“May there be liking in me, who is now desirous of quitting this body, towards that Lord, who protects the chariot of Arjuna as he would His family; Who holds the whip in one hand and the horse’s reins in the other; and Who looks most attractive in that charming role, having witnessed whom in this battle-field, those who fell dead here attained a form similar to His.”
The Mahabharata itself says, in the Drona Parva, “Those who died [in the war] appreciating the wonderful deeds of Lord Krishna attained Vaikunta. Those who saw, at the last moment of their lives, Lord Krishna with a whip in His right hand and the reins in His left, moving swiftly across the battlefield, never returned to this material world. Those who meditated on the beautiful lotus-like face of Lord Krishna with His black curling hair and dazzling jeweled crown bedecked with a peacock feather, never returned again to inhabit a mortal frame.”
Can there then be soldiers more fortunate than those who died in the Mahabharata war? They not only feasted their eyes on the beautiful form of the Lord, but were granted the highest reward simply for giving up their lives in His presence, no matter who they fought for!
This is only one more instance of the indefinable, unimaginable compassion of the Lord who constantly aims only to bring all of us unto Him. This Memorial Day, let us pray for the souls of all the soldiers of the world—who so willingly sacrificed (and continue to sacrifice) their lives for someone else’s sake—to find its ultimate rest at the feet of the Lord.
– Nisha Giri, Houston, TX