yoddhavyaṃ rakṣitavyaṃ ca yaṣṭavyaṃ cānasūyubhiḥ
This dharma of kṣatriyas is perpetually founded, Dhanaṃjaya:
To fight, and to protect, and to sacrifice without envy.
Similarly, after all the fighting is over and in the past, when Yudhiṣṭhira is one day remorseful and grieving for all those who have been destroyed—his sons especially—it is Kṛṣṇa who speaks out to remind him of kṣatriya dharma, of how grief is intrinsic to the life of a warrior. For grief is the one emotion which is instrumental in causing kṣatriyas to be spiritually strong, insofar as much of their work—or culture—concerns death. He says, tyaja śokaṃ mahārāja, ‘put aside grief, O great king’:
For it is certainly appropriate by fame to obtain a kṣatriya heaven.
It is this warrior aspect—and not the supernatural form of Kṛṣṇa as an avatāra of the deity Viṣṇu—which is the subject of the present analysis; divinity is something that comes to the cult of Kṛṣṇa during the early centuries of the common era and by modern times Kṛṣṇa is a great deity and the object of much devotion and ritual in India.  As a divine figure Kṛṣṇa cannot be a staunch friend insofar as friendship is a joint emotion that is utterly human and terrestrial; mortals are not friends with deities.
One must remember that Arjuna is the son of the heroic deity Indra and even receives divine weapons from his father; he is more than human and so less mortal than Kṛṣṇa, in that sense.  In this section we shall look at the variety of experience which portrays the many aspects of their duality; but let us begin by quickly rehearsing some of the facets which enclose the identity of Kṛṣṇa himself.
‘Not so’, said Kṛṣṇa, extinguishing that speech of his.
So the audience hears that Kṛṣṇa can also accomplish things with words, that his language itself possesses great efficacy. 
Both Pārtha and Mādhava rejoiced … having told many Amours and valiant deeds of the past there.
The divine figure of ‘Fire’ suddenly appears in the disguise of a brahmin and begs them for food; a kṣatriya is morally not able to disoblige a brahmin making such a request and the two heroes naturally accept the plea (I.215.4–5). The food that Fire wishes however is the forest itself and he needs the two heroes to protect him whilst he consumes the woods. Divine weapons are supplied for this purpose which Pāvaka, ‘Fire’, instructs Varuṇa to supply: Kṛṣṇa receives his emblematic discus from the deity and he is granted a mace, another of his emblems that have adorned images of the divine Kṛṣṇa even up to today (I.216.21 and 25).  In recompense for the arms Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna perform the great slaughter of animal kind in the Khāṇḍava forest.
Then very splendid Kṛṣṇa, killer of enemies, made A great destruction of crowds of daityas and dānavas.
Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa are conflated during this great battle, tau rathābhyāṃ … sthitau, ‘both stood by the chariot’ (I.217.1). Almost all the Indo-Iranian devas are there, Indra, Yama, Varuṇa, the Aśvins, Dhātar, Aryaman, Mitra, Pūṣan, Aṃśa, Bhaga, Savitar, even Śiva is present with the Rudras, Vasus, and Maruts (I.218.30–36). When these ancient Vedic deities participate in the fight the two heroes are described in the dual as being kṛṣṇau, ‘TWO KṚṢṆAS’ (I.219.3).
Like the divine Aśvins at the opening of a rite, correctly summoned by sacrificers. 
These two heroes are invincible and even the deities cannot quell or subdue them and Indra himself retreats, unable to vanquish the two warriors during this vast universal moment (I.219.20). Yama, Śiva, Varuṇa the Aśvins, Dhātar, Tvaṣṭar, Aṃśa, Aryaman, Pūṣan, Bhaga, Savitar, are all still there in this cosmic contest, as well as the Rudras,Vasus, Maruts, and others from the ancient divine pantheon (I.218.31ff.)  Along with Arjuna, it is said that:
Hari struck those rakṣasas, dānavas, nāgas …
Hari is one of the epithets of Kṛṣṇa, meaning ‘yellowish’ or ‘tawny’.  Indra, the warrior-deity and rain god of the old Indo-Āryan world, has no formal relation with Kṛṣṇa, only with his own son Arjuna; the exception to this model occurs at the end of this Khāṇḍava narrative when Indra, pleased at the heroic accomplishment of the duo offers them a gift. Arjuna of course makes a request for weaponry, whereas Kṛṣṇa asks for prītiṃ pārthena śāśvatīm, ‘perpetual love with Pārtha’, which Indra grants gladly (I.125.13). It is notable that the friendship between the two warriors receives such divine confirmation from the hero-deity for it is this amity which characterises, perhaps more than any other quality, the nature of the kṣatriya and mortal Kṛṣṇa: he is the guiding friend of Arjuna and in Kṛṣṇa’s final decease, Arjuna’s own dissolution is signalled. This is the primary human relation for Kṛṣṇa in his epic life and here it is a relation that is made perpetual by divine authority after a scene of terrific destruction of the living world. The act of annihilation that was performed by these two thus almost possesses a causality in that the narrative juxtaposition of exceeding violence and the divine establishment of eternal friendship makes firm their duality which is founded upon a chariot and the receipt of that chariot. This is so much the case that after his return from Indraprastha, in his herald’s report to the Hāstinapura court, Arjuna is said—by Saṃjaya—to prefer the amity of Kṛṣṇa to the assistance of his father, Indra. Arjuna in this account sings a long hymn of twenty-one verses in praise of his warrior companion. He says:
And in this battle I chose Vāsudeva as friend instead of Indra who holds the vajra in his hand. 
He goes on to say about his friend, that:
Certainly, he would attack all enemies along with divine Indra!
Arjuna continues to sing a minor epic, summarising the heroic deeds of his friend and peer, a small song that is in the genre of a hymn that praises a champion and superhuman figure of the ancient past (V.47.62–83). He says:
Who could wish to conquer by war splendid
Greatly heroic Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva?
Even the deities, says Arjuna, admire Kṛṣṇa:
dṛṣṭvā bhīmaṃ karma rane kṛtaṃ tat
Having seen that terrific deed done in battle
The deities gave to him favours.
These favours are supernatural, for these Vedic deities promise invulnerability to Kṛṣṇa:
Missiles would never approach your limbs. 
Thus the audience perceives that Kṛṣṇa, by virtue of his association with the supernal aspects of Vedic life, derives the tenacity and force of his martial abilities.
Both drunk with the juice of honey, both smeared with sandal, Garlanded, well-dressed, the two — wearing divine ornaments.
Arjuna’s feet are at rest in Kṛṣṇa’s lap and Saṃjaya depicts the scene as intimate and lenient. In the Sanskrit language there is no one term of vocative address to demonstrate this intimate friendship status—tāta is a term of affection for either a junior or senior— and there is nothing in the lexicon to indicate a closely reciprocal emotional standing between men, except perhaps when the poets employ a dual inflection in such a setting. There is no other such portrayal of the two warriors in the epic where they appear quite so capricious and indulgent, and as a picture it is in perfect counterpoint to what occurs later at Kurukṣetra. The poet-dūta describes Kṛṣṇa—drawing his references from the Vedic world—as:
Kṛṣṇa, upright like the banner of Indra, wearing all his jewels,
Equal to Indra in glory, seated, spoke to me.
Saṃjaya then adds that these words of Kṛṣṇa were, again drawing upon the old Indo-Āryan world:
Like the Punisher-of-the-Daitya-Pāka roaring in the monsoon sky. 
Indra is, of course, the father of Arjuna, and so this constant qualification of Kṛṣṇa as being like Indra covertly establishes a metaphorical kinship relation which magnifies the powerful amity that exists between these two heroes. Taking this model one step further, in the Āraṇyaka parvan, Kṛṣṇa actually tells Yudhiṣṭhira of how he fought the Dānavas, who had appeared as mountains, by using the vajra, the weapon of Indra: 
Having raised the thunderbolt I knocked out all those mountains.
There occurs a similar scene in the Book Fourteen—introducing the Anugītā—after the years of exile and then battle when the two companions are said to be wandering prior to becoming installed at Indraprastha, the former Pāṇḍava town:
śaileṣu ramaṇīyeṣu palvaleṣu nadīṣu ca
Like two Indras happily joined in the sky, they disported,
The two of them in lovely woods and on the ridges of mountains,
Among lovely rocks, ponds, and rivers …
They are, aśvināv iva nandane, ‘like the Aśvins in gladness’; and at Indraprastha they are portrayed as being in a sabhāṃ ramyāṃ, ‘a delightful assembly room’. The poets depict their manner of pleasure in that venue:
ṛṣīṇāṃ devatānāṃ ca vaṃśāṃ stāvāhatus tadā
prīyamāṇau mahātmānau purāṇāv ṛṣisattamau
O Pārthiva, both narrated there, in discourse by discourse then,
Beautiful epics and ordeals, and then both happily celebrated the lineages
Of deities and ṛṣis; both great-spirited, ancient great sages.
There are no such scenes elsewhere in the epic that portrays other heroes so at ease among companions; men and women are occasionally shown in various moments of idleness, but it is only with the restful amity of Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa that the poets dwell on such shared manly pleasures of friendship.
Kṛṣṇa, thus a task for you: for a great duty has arisen.
Then Arjuna instructs his good companion to go and conciliate Subhadrā and her snuṣā, ‘daughter-in-law’: sāmnā satyena yuktena vacasāśvāya, ‘soothe with words conjoined with truthful conciliation’ (VII.54.10). This is an intimate and delicate task given the sorrow that has possessed the Pāṇḍava clan, and Kṛṣṇa visits his sister and sings a beautiful monody of fifteen ślokas about the young hero’s death; he begins, mā śokaṃ kuru, ‘do not grieve’ (VII.54.12).  These words, do not grieve, are spoken by Kṛṣṇa on many occasions throughout the course of the epic: to Arjuna, to Yudhiṣṭhira, to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and to various Pāṇḍava and Kaurava women, he even says the same to his own father. As we shall see, Kṛṣṇa’s feelings are apart from such emotions of grief, he never really experiences sorrow himself; he becomes angry twice, and kills—when a wife is insulted he decapitates Śiśupāla—and when his kinsman and companion Sātyaki is slain in the Mausala parvan. Grief is not part of Kṛṣṇa’s life, although he constantly attempts to assuage the grief of others about him in the alliance.
He has acquired by kṣatriya means the end desired by warriors.
Kṛṣṇa sings in a fashion that magnifies kṣatriya life, and as with many laments the song terminates when he curses and avows the death of the leading perpetrator, Jayadratha of Sindh. Kṛṣṇa, of course, will be managing the chariot when that vengeance is fulfilled.
All the worlds will recognise me — the friend of Savyasācina!
He orders that Dāruka prepare his own chariot with its martial ‘paraphernalia’, upakarāṇi, so that he might enter the conflict himself. These are made up of the banner and its pole, the chattra or ceremonial and ranking ‘umbrella’, the conch-horn, and weapons:
The divine Kaumodaki club, missile, discus, bow, arrows.
The verbal directive during all this instruction to his driver is: iti saṃkalpyatām, ‘so let it be prepared’.  Having run through all these avowals, promises, and threats, Kṛṣṇa ends his speech by saying, in the form of a speech act:
Whilst the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra are watching he will kill Jayadratha.
This is a spirited song of a warrior about to embark upon combat, preparing both himself and his driver with great verbal display and swagger; the speech possesses a certain formal progression and is well-measured and arranged, and as such, it is a small work of art.
For those two glorious invincible ones could destroy that army by mind alone.
This conjunction of amity and heroism makes for a powerful if not invincible ‘mind’ and it is a duality which dominates much of the Pāṇḍava narrative in the epic and, as we shall soon see, this dual capacity or ability is something which Kṛṣṇa will also partially share with the dharmarāja Yudhiṣṭhira in matters of sovereignty. One should recall that Arjuna is emotionally closer to Kṛṣṇa than is anyone else in the poem, for as Kṛṣṇa himself says:
Neither wife nor friends nor kinsmen – None are more dear to me than Arjuna the son of Kuntī.
Certainly, the Mahābhārata excludes his elder brother, Rāma, from this situation, and Kṛṣṇa’s wives and lovers—who are sung of so much by the poets in other traditions—are not admitted into this heroic narrative. The epic extols this dualistic friendship of two warriors who stand together and fight together on a single chariot and who are closely involved in each other’s lives by virtue of an affiliated kinship. It is an emotional model that dominates much of the poetry, where even sisters, wives, and nephews, combine to unite them in a manner that is more than fraternal.  The many qualities of grief—borne of warfare—sometimes joins them even further in their sorrowing: although it is Arjuna who actually grieves whilst Kṛṣṇa offers the consolation.
‘Kill Saubha with prowess and whatever enemies are there.’ 
Among the ancient deities it is only Mitra in the epic, a divine figure of amity and loyalty who—like Kṛṣṇa—bears a razor-like cakra. In the fight at Khāṇḍava when the Vedic deities descend to attack Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna the poets say of Mitra that:
And Mitra having taken a sharp-edged cakra remained firm.
The word mitra in the Ṛg Veda denotes ‘friend’.  It is telling that Varuṇa, the deity who donated to Arjuna his Gāṇḍīva bow and quivers is typically twinned in the dual with this figure of Mitra: mitrāvaruṇau.  This duality is at times—in the ancient literature or hymns—connected with day and night or sun and moon, which by metonymy fits neatly with the terms arjuna, ‘bright’, and kṛṣṇa, ‘dark’.  We have seen how only Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, the two FRIENDS in the epic, receive a dual title, ‘the two kṛṣṇas’, dvau kṛṣṇau, and thus this duality which exists between the two heroes draws upon extremely primordial models and mythemes, charging this phrase with its epic valence. Such a subtext to these two supplies them with a unique and uncommon bipartite presence in the poem, and in epic Mahābhārata this duality stands as a perfection of the ideal of friendship and is unequalled elsewhere in the poem.
kṛcchreṇaiva ca tāṃ pārtho govinde viniveṣitām saṃjahāra tadā dṛṣṭiṃ kṛṣṇaś cāpy aparājitaḥ
Again and again Phalguna embraced Vārṣṇeya, And he looked repeatedly at him, and away from the object of his eye;
And with difficulty Pārtha took his sight which had been fixed on Govinda,
And the unsurpassed Kṛṣṇa then also withdrew his vision.
There is a terrific poignance in these lines, where an intense political allegiance and a profound and intimate friendship, both founded on kinship and affinity, all find conclusion. The poets do mention latter instants where the two heroes are simultaneously present but there exists no further emotional nor practical community between them. Nowhere else in the poem do the poets depict such a parting of friends—for nowhere else has there existed such an instancing of devoted friendship—and never again in the epic are these two companions—charioteer and warrior—described as being so together.
A banner, possessing the sign of an ape with horrific mouth and lion-tail. 
The warrior is called specifically a ratheśa, ‘a chariot lord’, and when Bhīṣma is about to enter into a dvairatha, ‘a chariot duel’, with his guru Rāma Jāmadagnya—as he recounts the event long after it occurred—he describes his driver as being: kulīnena vīreṇa hayaśāstravidā … sūtena śiṣṭena bahuśo dṛṣṭakarmaṇā, ‘one whose accomplishments had been much noticed, a trained driver, competent in equine-lore, and from a warrior clan’ (V.179.111–12). Just as the leading heroes were of high status, so too were their drivers.  Similarly it is said of a charioteer before a battle that he was:
Appointed in the office of chariots: well-born, knowledgeable as to the breeds of horses,
This particular charioteer after a day of combat is portrayed as:
O lord of the land, the charioteer—esteemed for his skill—extracted the darts
From me, from the horses, and from himself.
The charioteer is at this point acting also as physician to his hero and their steeds and one realises how super-competent such sūtas must have been; of necessarily high social standing, they were connected to a warrior’s life at many differing levels.  In this same duel just referred to, when the mighty Rāma is knocked out whilst fighting with Bhīṣma, the poets say of his sūta, Akṛtavraṇa, who is a Brahmin ascetic, that: enaṃ pariśvajya sakhā vipro … śubhair vākyair āśvāsayad anekadhā, ‘the ascetic FRIEND having embraced him consoled him with fair words repeatedly’ (V.185.14).
Look, restrained and overcome by Bhīma and Sātvata …
He describes individual duels and aspects of combat as it concerns the enemy Karṇa and then turns his verbal-gaze towards Bhīma. This adhyāya is almost completely in the voice of Saṃjaya, the central Mahābhārata poet, and it is as if Kṛṣṇa himself is speaking as a sūta who sings of the scenery of battle, speaking to his warrior as they stand together in a chariot, indicating the various tactical situations on the field and the heroes involved. This adhyāya of seventy-eight verses is a microcosm of the epic itself, that is, a situation where the sūta sings—to his hero—of the visual and dramatic aspects of battle, verbally indicating then portraying what he sees. In a way, this is actually what one can consider the hypothetical proto-epic to be like, where the poet, the sūta announces to his patron, in this case not a king but a hero, how the battle and its participants proceed.  In the Śalya parvan Arjuna is actually said to be kṛṣṇanetro, ‘one whose eyes are Kṛṣṇa’ (IX.3.17).
Bound with charms, girths bound, bound with banners and standards.
Charioteers were an important social component in the culture and life of a hero and Kṛṣṇa’s own charioteer, Dāruka, has a son Dāruki, who drives for Kṛṣṇa’s own son Pradyumna.  Chariots also have two warriors who are charged with guarding their wheels, these are the cakrarakṣau, that is, one man on either side of the vehicle.  The deity Indra himself has a famed charioteer called Mātali, a paradigm for such kṣatriya mounted warfare; insofar as Arjuna is the son of Indra and frequently likened to his father by the poets, Kṛṣṇa is thus by inference like Mātali.  Kṛṣṇa, along with his two horses, is described as:
Best of charioteers with a chariot yoked with Sainya and Sugrīva.
During the Rāmopakhyāna which commences at III.258, there is no mention of chariots nor of significant charioteering; this vehicle is not part of that narrative, at least not during the Mahābhārata rendition of the song, except for one brief reference where Mātali comes to the field of battle and is said to drive Indra’s chariot for the hero (III.274.13). There is something intrinsic to the Mahābhārata about Kṛṣṇa as charioteer and the corollary of his friendship with Arjuna that stamps this epic with a fundamental quality; one could aver, quite fully, that the Bhārata epic is a Charioteer Song. Vālmīki, of course, the poet of the Rāmāyaṇa, is not a sūta.
avidhyat puṇḍarīkākṣaḥ śalyaṃ nayanasāyakaiḥ sa cāpi puṇḍarīkākṣaṃ tathaivābhisamaikṣata
tatrājayad vāsudevaḥ śalyaṃ nayanasāyakaiḥ
Both standards make a battle, horses neighed at horses.
The lotos-eyed one pierced Śalya with eye-darts [glances],
And he then glanced at the lotos-eyed one:
Vāsudeva there vanquished Śalya with his eye-darts.
Nowhere else in the epic does a charioteer receive such dramatically adumbrated and non-formulaic images of martial reality.
O Bharata-bull, I went to Saubha, city of Śālva … 
The town of Dvāraka goes under siege and Pradyumna, one of Kṛṣṇa’s sons, ventures to attack Śālva. Kṛṣṇa sings the verses which portray the battle, describing the city and the offense and relates how his son set off towards the enemy and is soon felled as he fights from his chariot. The driver immediately retreats from the fray:
Then the skilful charioteer, Dāruki, having seen him unconscious,
With swift horses quickly drew him from the battle. 
Pradyumna, the hero soon returns to consciousness and angrily questions his driver as to why he retreated, addressing him as saute, ‘son of a sūta’, he says:
This is not said to be the dharma of Vṛṣṇi heroes in battle!
He accuses the charioteer of behaving incorrectly and not according to how a good driver should conduct himself and vehicle in battle. The sūta responds formally, telling exactly how a charioteer should act in such circumstances:
A chariot-hero unconscious in battle is to be protected by the charioteer.
He adds that: rakṣitavyo rathī nityam, ‘a chariot-fighter is always to be protected’. Pradyumna only berates him further for his impropriety, for a hero should never retreat; how would his father, Kṛṣṇa, consider his son, if he fled from battle, he says? This long edifying address of hero to driver continues for twenty-two ślokas:
O son of a charioteer, never make a retreat again!
A kṣatriya cannot be observed to turn his back on the fight, that is warrior dharma, and the driver is also responsible for maintaining that manner of martial conduct, he adds. Nivartaya rathaṃ, ‘turn the chariot’, instructs Pradyumna. What the audience is hearing is a reversal of the usual roles, where the driver is the one to instruct the warrior as to right conduct, to encourage and to admonish; here, it is the hero who enjoins right conduct upon the charioteer. One should recall that it is Kṛṣṇa, the most glorious and super-competent of charioteers in the Mahābhārata, who is singing this episode, and in the song it is as if he were there, for he possesses the mystical insight of a poet-sūta. Pradyumna closes with the command: yāhi … raṇam, ‘join the battle!’ (III.19.33).
sarvārtheṣu rathī rakṣyas tvaṃ cāpi bhṛśapīḍitaḥ
Your honour, it is a specified traditional lore in the conduct of charioteers:
On all occasions a chariot-fighter is to be protected — and you were greatly oppressed!
He closes his response with a deictic form often used by charioteers, he says: paśya me hayasaṃyāne śikśāṃ, ‘look at my skill in the management of horses!’ (III.20.5). Paśya is an imperative term that is employed by sūtas when they wish to direct the attention of their companion or company to an object.  The two then return to the melée and Kṛṣṇa continues the framing narrative, shifting from an account of his son’s valour to a portrayal of his own heroism in destroying the attack of Śālva.
labdhālokaś ca rājendra punaḥ śatrum ayodhayam
Then there was that tumultuous horripilating fight.
O king, I, dazzled, fought the enemy again.
Then occurs a thematic formulation which is not uncommon in the poem, when a hero as he advances into battle experiences disbelief and doubt and sudden anguish. This expression of a warrior’s stupefying terror at the spectacle of violence is how the Gītā commences and it is a trope often employed to depict a warrior’s anxiety and shame at the prospect of combat. In this instance, in this Kṛṣṇa song, he says about himself, being both hero and poet simultaneously:
mohāt sannaś ca kaunteya rathopastha upāviśam
Then the best of composite bows was fallen from my hand,
And, son of Kuntī, I — exhausted from confusion, sat down in the chariot-hold.
This is just as at the opening of the Gītā when Kṛṣṇa is charioteer to the hero Arjuna and the latter is suddenly horrified by his foresight of battle and similarly exclaims:
vepathuś ca śarīre me romaharṣaś ca jāyate
My limbs collapse, my mouth is dried,
And a trembling in my body arises, my hair is erect. 
Likewise, when the braggadocio son of king Virāṭa—who is being driven to battle against a raiding party of Kauravas by his driver Arjuna—sees the magnitude of the enemy force, his audacity fails and he tells his sūta:
I am unable to fight with the Kurus. Look at me — thrilled by fear!
He instructs Arjuna to turn the chariot and retreat: so’ham eko … pratiyoddhuṃ na śakṣyāmi nivartasva, ‘I am alone, I am unable to fight: turn [the chariot] (IV.36.16). 
sādhu saṃpaśya vārṣṇeya śālvaṃ saubhapatiṃ sthitam
Then, O king, the charioteer, hands folded, bowing, said to me:
‘Vārṣṇeya, look carefully at Śālva stationed, the Saubha king.’
The driver specifically advises his warrior now on how to act: jahi, he says, ‘strike’, encouraging and instructing him as to the moment’s timing (III.23.21–25). Again, this is exactly how Kṛṣṇa will speak to Arjuna when the occasions for Bhīṣma’s and Karṇa’s deaths arise. Kṛṣṇa concludes this part of the scene by commenting on how he reacts to Dāruka’s admonition:
Having realised that truth, I put my mind to battle.
In the same vein of charioteer-lore, when Kṛṣṇa delivers Arjuna to combat with Aśvatthāman the poets use Vedic terms to give this likeness: ‘Kṛṣṇa drew Arjuna like Vāyu drew Indra in the sacrifice’, avahat pārthaṃ kṛṣṇo … vāyur indram ivādhvare (VIII.12.22). Then as the duel proceeds and Arjuna is not achieving victory, his driver urges him further: pramādyase kiṃ jahi yodham etam, ‘why are you neglectful — strike that fighter!’ It is the task of the charioteer to direct and stimulate not only the horses drawing the vehicle but also to charge his companion-warrior with alacrity and heroic vigour. Some time after this moment, Kṛṣṇa repeats his urgence, saying mordantly: kiṃ krīḍase, ‘why are you playing?’ (VIII.14.22).
na ca śaknomy avasthātuṃ bhramatīva ca me manaḥ
It is as if my skin is burned and Gāṇḍiva falls from my hand,
And I am unable to stand; my mind—as it were—whirls.
Arjuna even makes the un-kṣatriya claim that: na kāṅkṣe vijayaṃ, ‘I do not desire victory’. He is lapsing in martial tenor because he is expected to kill his kin and also his teachers; he drops his bow and quiver and collapses on the floor of the vehicle where he is said to be, śokasaṃvignamānasaḥ, ‘one whose mind is agitated with grief’ (VI.23.37).  Then the immortal song of this particular sūta is performed on the chariot which is halted between the two contending armies, a momentary pause that is stylised as timeless.  Uttiṣṭha, ‘stand up!’ says Kṛṣṇa in response to the collapse of his hero, a word that is often spoken to a kṣatriya in order to provoke them to fight; kutas tvā kaśmalam, ‘whence is your dejection’, klaibyaṃ mā sma gamaḥ, ‘do not be unmanly’ (VI.24.2–3).  Arjuna responds in a fashion that is also a formulaic expression for a hero: na yotsye, I shall not fight!’ (VI.24.9). 
Weapons do not cut him, nor does fire burn him.
sukhinaḥ kṣatriyāḥ pārtha labhante yuddham īdṛśam
Pārtha, happy kṣatriyas secure such a fight.
The admonition to the kṣatriya warrior to engage selflessly in the fight, even to a point of personal extinction, is merged with the teaching of selflessness in human consciousness and a desire for or pursuit of spiritual truth: heroic action is fused with philosophy. A warrior should act according to his dharma regardless of consequences, of phalam, ‘the fruit’ (VI.24.51). Yujyasva … karmasu, ‘be yoked in actions’, says Kṛṣṇa, again drawing upon common expressions taken from warrior vocabulary. Similarly, Kuntī in her speech to Kṛṣṇa at V.131–133, summarises much of the dynamism of a kṣatriya code of martial conduct without the support of a technically resolved philosophical system. 
I am the intelligence of the intelligent, I — the energy of the dynamic!
Tejas, the ‘honourific energy’ that a hero must possess if he is to succeed is thus combined with the buddhi, ‘intelligence’ by which the philosopher is able to approach the ‘absolute’ of nirvāṇa. The editor-poets thus weave two strands of thinking or culture together in this great chariot song, and, referring to himself in the third person, Kṛṣṇa comments: vāsudevaḥ sarvaṃ iti, ‘Vāsudeva is everything!’ (VI.29.19).  For the śūra, the hero, there is no return from death, except in the words of epic poetry where his actions are reformed and repeated and so memorialised, or in the rites of cult where his disembodied psyche or ātman is invoked and activated. For the yogī, says Kṛṣṇa, there is a similar condition that is also irreversible:
yaṃ prāpya na nivartante …
They say that ultimate aim is the unmanifest-incomparable, 
Having obtained which — they do not return.
This understanding, he says, is rājavidyā rājaguhyaṃ, ‘kingly knowledge, kingly mystery’ (VI.31.2), and, he adds: paśya me yogam aiśvaram, ‘see — my royal yoga!’ The charioteer is initiating his hero into a system of mystery, for as he has just claimed: idaṃ tu te guhyatamaṃ pravakṣyāmy … jñānaṃ, ‘I shall announce to you this most hidden knowledge’ (VI.31.1). Kṛṣṇa’s language as he relates this visionary wisdom—as he inducts his companion into this learning—partakes of kṣatriya phraseology and the verbal repertoire of kingship.  At one point Kṛṣṇa even glosses this absolute as, puṇyam … surendralokam, ‘the sacred heaven of Indra’ (VI.31.20). Concerning the devās, ‘deities’, he adds that, devānām asmi vāsavaḥ, ‘of the deities I am Vāsava’ or Indra (VI.32.22).
Look — the Ādityas, Vasus, Rudras, the Aśvins, also the Maruts!
In order that Arjuna might witness these revelations Kṛṣṇa supplies his companion with supersensory perception:
I give you divine vision: see — my royal yoga!
Then the vision of this rūpaṃ paraṃ, ‘ultimate form’, is described and sung by Arjuna himself in seventeen verses.  This cosmic view is, of course, only apparent to Arjuna, and not to any of the many thousands of warriors and kings who are surrounding the chariot on either side as the two armies are assembled on the field at Kurukṣetra.  The most fundamental aspect of this initiation is that Kṛṣṇa makes the vision identical with his own person, he himself is the epiphany, for it is a theophany and Arjuna refers to what he is experiencing as tvā, ‘You!’ In the vision Kṛṣṇa is consuming or eating all the Dhārtarāṣṭras in his mouth, that is their extirpation as they enter his jaws, yathā nadīnāṃ, ‘like rivers’ (VI.33.25–30). This nadī in epic Mahābhārata, particularly during the battle books, is the primary governing metaphor of combat and death for heroes. 
I am firm, gone is my dubiety. I shall accomplish your speech.
So closes the saṃvāda, ‘the dialogue’ on the chariot between Keśava and Arjuna, the two Kṛṣṇas. Kṛṣṇa has initiated his friend who thus, brahmanirvāṇam ṛcchati, ‘obtains the bliss of brahma’, a consciousness whose mastery now allows him to participate in battle once again (VI.24.72). 
one who is not a friend does not deserve to know the ultimate mystery.
That is, initiation or transmission of cosmic truth requires the necessary condition of friendship, or, the essential mediation of the personal and mutual emotions of amity and its affect.
Where are you, Pārtha, I do not see you? Are you living, enemy-killer?
Later, this situation recurs and neither Arjuna nor Kṛṣṇa can be seen, such is the profusion of missiles: na hayā na ratho … dṛśyante, ‘neither horses nor chariot were observed’, say the poets. Kṛṣṇa is described as moham anuprāptaḥ, ‘one who is bewildered’, and again, he is said to be sasvedas, ‘sweating’ (VII.26.19–20).
Mātali informed the Indra-of-deities all my deeds without pause.
The audience does not hear this micro-epic directly because Arjuna—through the voice of Vaiśaṃpāyana—has been telling Yudhiṣṭhira of these heroic exploits himself. 
Janārdana made a quick left with the chariot.
Then, during the same duel, Kṛṣṇa does something atypical, although this is perhaps common for charioteers or for close warrior-friends. A missile has been discharged towards Arjuna, who is duelling furiously with Bhagadatta:
Keśava took [the missile] on his breast, having covered Pārtha.
Arjuna objects to this as it might diminish his own heroism, much as the sūta Dāruki had been spoken to in the story which Kṛṣṇa had related earlier about charioteering in Book Three. He reminds Kṛṣṇa of his verbal commitment when he had promised ayudhyamānas turagān saṃyantāsmi, ‘non-combatant, I shall guide the horses’: that was all that he had engaged to do. Arjuna says:
If I would become unfortunate or unable to hinder [missiles] …
Only then, he says, can the charioteer act according to his discretion, otherwise the sūta must remain thoroughly subordinate to the hero in fighting. This is exactly what Kṛṣṇa had said earlier in the poem.  Kṛṣṇa then resumes his role as driver to Arjuna and tells his friend: jahi … bhagadattam, ‘kill Bhagadatta’, which is quickly accomplished. This is an exceptional duel for the epic, for it had been between unequal elements: a chariot and an elephant-warrior, and such encounters are uncommon in the poem.
Charioteer, who is this Droṇa, or such a kṣatriya force?
Abhimanyu, tāṃ vācaṃ kadarthīkṛtya, ‘having disregarded that speech’, commands his sūta to proceed, and the man is said to be: nātihṛṣṭamanāḥ, ‘not overjoyed’, but yet he obeys his youthful charge, as a sūta should do.
prayāntam arjunaṃ sūtā māghadhāś caiva tuṣṭuvuḥ
Then with fine praise and with the auspicious sound of instruments,
Poets with eulogists praised the departing Arjuna.
Before they actually pursue Jayadratha, Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna are met by Droṇa in his chariot on the field of battle. Arjuna, kṛṣṇasyānumate, ‘with the consent of Kṛṣṇa’, and with formally joined hands addresses Droṇa, who had once been his martial guru, someone who now requires deliberate respect on the part of his former student. The two then duel until, like a good charioteer, Kṛṣṇa reminds his warrior that they need to pursue Jayadratha as the day was passing; for Arjuna had vowed to end his own life if he failed to destroy Jayadratha that day.  Hence the anxiety of his companion Kṛṣṇa that his friend might not succeed in his commitment:
Pārtha, Strong-arm! May our time not exceed us!
Arjuna, as he should, attends to the advice of his driver and ceases to attack Droṇa and they set off in pursuit of Jayadratha. Encountering Kṛtavarman, Arjuna fights with him, and again, his driver Kṛṣṇa urges him: kṛtavarmāṇi mā dāyam … pramathyainaṃ viśātaya, ‘be not compassionate to Kṛtavarman, grind him, destroy!’ (VII.67.25). Soon, when Arjuna is so struck by arrows that he faints, the poets say:
He lost consciousness, causing Keśava to be deluded in battle.
The two are so closely identified in the chariot on the field of battle—just as they are in pacific life—that their physical state becomes simultaneously conjoint; Kṛṣṇa becomes bhṛśasaṃtapto, grievously ‘scorched’, on seeing his companion comatose and he speaks to Arjuna softly, trying to restore him. This is the ideal of charioteer-warrior and their practical kinship and co-operation: an intimacy of effort involving violence, death, grief, ritual, daily companionship, the familiarity of martial confidence, and even the parenting of a son. This martial fellowship is nicely portrayed by the line:
cakāra tatra panthānaṃ yayau yena janārdanaḥ
Kaunteya made there a chariot-wide way with sharpened arrows,
By which Janārdana proceeded …
The warrior prepares a way by shooting his arrows at the enemy and thence the charioteer is able to drive their vehicle onwards further into the battle. Then, rathaśikṣāṃ tu dāśārho darśayāmāsa, ‘Dāsārha displayed his chariot skill’, say the poets, speaking of Kṛṣṇa, as he puts the vehicle through the evolution of circling.
Mādhava, loose the horses easily; make them arrowless.
Kṛṣṇa simply responds by saying that he agrees, and does as advised. The problem is that the conflict continues to surround them and this resting must be accomplished whilst Arjuna, with his bow, protects driver and horses. Kṛṣṇa tells his companion that the animals need to drink and that they need fresh water for their thirst ‘not bathing water’, he adds: peyaṃ na … avagāhanam. Arjuna shoots an arrow into the earth: cakre vājipānaṃ saraḥ śubham, and ‘he made a lovely pool of horse-water’ (VII.74.56).
Then, having laughed, Govinda said: ‘good, good!’
He dismounts and begins to remove the arrows from the horses, rubbing them with his hands and making them drink; then the animals, once more refreshed, are yoked back into the chariot. This is certainly, kṛṣṇaḥ kuśalo hyaśvakarmaṇi, ‘Kṛṣṇa, skilled in horse-lore’ (VII.75.14).  Blowing his war-conch, the Pañcajanya, Kṛṣṇa drives the vehicle so fast now that arrows shot ahead by Arjuna actually fall behind the chariot, such is the intense celerity of the two heroes (VII.75.31–32). 
And so like my life — by good fortune I see you both!
Then, much later, when Arjuna has accomplished his greatest duel and killed his main opponent Karṇa, thus essentially winning the war, king Yudhiṣṭhira makes the comment to Kṛṣṇa:
With you as driver, Pārtha could today achieve such manliness!
After the battle is over and when they finally arrive back at camp Kṛṣṇa directs Arjuna to stand down from the chariot, taking with him his Gāṇḍīva bow and its akṣayyau maheśudhī, ‘two great inexhaustible quivers’, saying that only then would he himself dismount. Dropping the reins he stands down and in that moment the ape-banner, the dvaja, vanishes, and then: atha dīpto’gninā hyāśu prajajvāla, the chariot itself ‘blazed by fire quickly burned’. The vehicle disappears instantly:
bhasmibhūto’patad bhūmau ratho gāṇḍīvadhanvanaḥ
The chariot of the Gāṇḍīva-bearer fell onto the earth,
Become ashes, along with curved yoke, horse, reins, and quiver.
So concludes the great co-operation and enterprise of two incomparable warriors as their transport vanishes in spontaneous fire. There still remains much amity and congruent activity for these two consummate kṣatriyas but their time of battle together has reached its terminus with the sudden annihilation of the chariot. Kṛṣṇa’s life as a sūta—as a driver, poet, and messenger—has also reached conclusion; he remains a close friend of Arjuna and as an important Kuru ally he manages to sustain the Pāṇḍava lineage, but his active place in the poem as a charioteer is completed. The devastation of the chariot signifies the atrophy of their powerful consilience, for that great amity was thoroughly founded upon the existence and movement of the vehicle. The warrior song of this extraordinary friendship as well as the song of the chariot is finished and what follows is almost of another genre of speech.
Without Kṛṣṇa I do not wish to live in the world. 
Then Arjuna, in what is almost a reviewing of how the Gītā commences, recounts to his nominal grand-father how his martial prowess deserted him forever as he was escorting his deceased friend’s women-folk to their new domicile. The poets draw upon the usual verbal patterns for this scene which evoke other similar moments, saying, mano me dīryate, ‘my mind was pierced’:
yathā purā ca me vīryaṃ bhujayor na tathābhavat
There, having taken a bow, I was not capable in its stringing;
As was once the virility of my arms, now it was not so.
His arrows, previously inexhaustible are soon depleted and he tells Vyāsa of how he had been attacked and was unable to defend the Vṛṣṇi women, his martial vigour having deserted him. He became parinirviṇṇacetās, ‘despondent’, just as he did at the opening of the Kurukṣetra war. He continues: viṣīdāmi ghūrṇāmīva, ‘I am despairing like one who is dizzy’. Formerly he had Kṛṣṇa, his double, to restore valour and confidence, but now there was no one like that sparkling charioteer, one who was able to revitalise a kṣatriya’ s energy, his tejas; and thus Arjuna himself is soon to perish. He says that he is, śūnyasya paridhāvataḥ, ‘one who is escaping the void’, and this is because:
Without the glorious Janārdana I am unable to live.
It is as if their duality, once severed, is only able to reform beyond death; and in a sense that location is the poetry of epic Mahābhārata itself, the truest of heroic vehicles, conducted by a sūta.
sarveṣāṃ caiva divyānām astrāṇām aprasannatām
He saw the defeat of Gāṇḍīva as a dreadful disaster
And the disfavour of all his divine weaponry.
Kingship of the former Pāṇḍava stronghold of Indraprastha is quickly handed over to Vajra where the Yādava lineage will continue, for the Pāṇḍava brothers are soon to find their own imminent demise and Parīkṣit—who had been saved at birth by Kṛṣṇa—will sustain the dynasty at Hāstinapura.
The destroyer of heroic enemies gave kingship at Indraprastha to Vajra.
Thus the old coalition of Pāṇḍava-Yādava is sustained into the future and into the kali yuga, with the Pāṇḍavas in one Kuru stronghold and the Yādavas established at the other former citadel.
gītavāditraśabdena vyakrīḍanta yaśasvinaḥ
All the glorious, whose success had been accomplished, sported,
Praised by poets with the sound of instruments and song.
This presumably is an occasion for the singing of favourite epic poetry or even a moment when epic song would find its origins, in the praise and congratulation of accomplished warriors who return from battle: victorious, perhaps wounded, and probably with jubilant emotions compounded with remorse for fallen companions. The song of Kṛṣṇa that I have endeavoured to capture in these pages, taken from what must have been at one point in time a much longer Kṛṣṇa Cycle of epic poetry, would have been performed on similar occasions among members of his clan; as a SONG OF A CHARIOTEER, the friend and moral philosopher, an initiate into cosmic mysteries, and one whose accomplishment in battle and in assemblies was achieved not through the use of arms but with a refined mental acuity and the language and skills of brilliant verbal improvisation.
And it was lovely — so perfect, a fiery weapon.
This trace or durable affinity which Kṛṣṇa bears with Mitra extends—as we have repeatedly seen—into the practice of a dual sovereignty with the dharmarāja Yudhiṣṭhira, particularly when Kṛṣṇa as dūta is in active pursuit of agreement or treaty.
Victory is always in Arjuna, and in Kṛṣṇa imperishable fame.
That is, victory exists in the domain of the hero but in Kṛṣṇa’s ability lies the song itself, the immanence of kīrti or ‘renown’. This is the task of the competent sūta, the charioteer- poet, to develop and direct that vehicle of song, the ratha of heroic conduct and values.  The account of heroic Kṛṣṇa in epic Mahābhārata demonstrates—as I hope the reader will have seen—that speech is the most powerful of actions leading towards real accomplishment, and that friendship is the most verbally effective and profoundly extensive of emotions.  Thus the charioteer is perhaps the best of all epic metaphors insofar as he conveys or encodes so many versions of the kṣatriya message as well as being its primary medium. Earlier, in the Ṛg Veda, the ‘chariot’ was often a central metaphor of the hymn itself, as at V.73.10: bráhmāṇi … yā tákṣāma ráthāṃ iva, ‘sacred songs which we built like chariots’, and both hymns and chariots are often sú taṣṭam, ‘well-fashioned’ (II.35.2).