ALL was ready for the battle. The
warriors on both sides gathered together
and solemnly bound themselves to honor
the traditional rules of war.
The code of conduct in war and methods
of warfare vary from time to time. It is
only if what was in vogue at the time of
the Mahabharata war is kept in mind that
we can understand the epic. Otherwise,
the story would be puzzling in places.
From what follows, the reader may have
some idea of the rules of warfare followed
in the Kurukshetra battle. Each day, the
battle was over at sunset, and the hostiles
mixed freely like friends.
Single combats might only be between
equals and one could not use methods not
in accordance with dharma. Thus those
who left the field or retired would not be
attacked. A horseman could attack only a
horseman, not one on foot.
Likewise, charioteers, elephant troops and
infantrymen could engage themselves in
battle only with their opposite numbers in
the enemy ranks.
Those who sought quarter or surrendered
were safe from slaughter. Nor might one,
for the moment disengaged, direct his
weapons against another who was
engaged in combat.
It was wrong to slay one who had been
disarmed or whose attention was directed
elsewhere or who was retreating or who
had lost his armor. And no shafts were to
be directed against non-combatant
attendants or those engaged in blowing
conchs or beating drums.
These were the rules that the Kauravas
and the Pandavas solemnly declared they
The passage of time has witnessed many
changes in men's ideas of right and wrong.
Nothing is exempt from attack in modern
Not only are munitions made the target of
attack, but dumb animals such as horses,
camels, mules and medical stores, nay,
non-combatants of all ages, are destroyed
Sometimes the established conventions
went overboard even in the Mahabharata
We see clearly in the story that occasional
transgressions took place for one reason
or another. But, on the whole, the
accepted rules of honorable and humane
war were observed by both sides in the
Kurukshetra battle. And the occasional
violations were looked upon as wrong and