In the epic, Mahabharata, before the battle, Shri Krishna puts a proposal to both Duryodhana and Arjuna, who have come to seek his help. Krishna says, one can choose Krishna’s army and the other can choose Krishna himself. Duryodhana chooses the army of Krishna and Arjuna takes Krishna on his side in spite of his pledge that he would remain weaponless. Krishna becomes the chariot driver(sarathi) of Arjuna. Arjuna is the rathi or the owner of the chariot. The fighting has to be done by the rathi(Arjuna) while the sarathi(Krishna) drives the chariot. The skill and expertise with which the sarathi manoeuvres the chariot through the enemy ranks enables the rathi to exercise his prowess. A good rathi but a poor sarathi invariably spells defeat or disaster or death for the rathi.
The Pandavas were more than happy to have Krishna on their side, for they knew that Sri Krishna was not a mortal being and hence not a normal sarathi with human limitations.The climax of the Rath saga comes at the end of the battle, after countless warriors on both sides have been slaughtered on the battlefield. The Pandavas make their way to the eerie silence of the enemy ranks in Arjuna’s chariot to pay respects to the dead. One by one they step of the Chariot.
Final Sri Krishna says Arjuna, ” You step off first and I will follow”. This seemed a little strange since during the battle days, Arjuna and Sri Krishna had stepped off from the chariot without sequence. So why does Sri Krishna specifically instruct Arjuna to step down first? Seeing Arjuna’s questioning look, Sri Krishna assures him, ” Its for your benefit”. Arjuna instantly obeys Krishna and steps down. Shri Krishna follows him and the whole chariot then bursts into flames. The Pandavas just look dumbfounded.”What has happened?” they question. “How is it that the great chariot, which had led them to victory, without any rhyme or reason has turned into a fireball?” Krishna explains, “Drona, Ashwattama and other warriors among the Kauravas had shot their devastating weapons like the Brahmastra, at the chariot. But because of me the chariot had stayed intact all the while. Today, with our task accomplished, I have abandoned it for good and hence you see it consumed by flames.
Similarly, God protects us, but as soon as HE abandons us our life’s chariot burns into cinders, ie; our life becomes meaningless. When the atma leaves the material body-the chariot- the body becomes lifeless. It becomes useless. Glory be to the soul who lives a noble, charitable life. A life in tune with God’s injunctions. It’s worthy for such a soul’s lifeless chariot(body) to be burnt on a funeral pyre.
Any man, according to Sri Rama, lives a noble life, with courage and tenacity, powered by the spirit of truth, discrimination, self-control, and blessed with a generous heart abounding in forgiveness, charity and devotion to God, can fare undefeated through the stormy straights of life.
Sri Rama adds further, “O friend ! Whoever possesses such a chariot can never be defeated. With this chariot he can not only subdue minor temptations but transcend the trappings of this material world.