“Since God is unlimited, His names also must be unlimited. Therefore we cannot settle on one name. For instance, Krishna is sometimes called Yashoda-nandana, the son of mother Yashoda; or Devaki-nandana, the son of Devaki; or Vasudeva-nandana, the son of Vasudeva; or Nanda-nandana, the son of Nanda. Sometimes He is called Partha-sarathi, indicating that He acted as the charioteer of Arjuna, who is sometimes called Partha, the son of Pritha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1c)Download this episode (right click and save)
Ishvara. This means “great controller.” Parameshvara. This has a similar meaning, but with more emphasis on the “supreme” aspect. There are many ishvaras, especially depending on the context. Parameshvara is the supreme amongst all controllers. Bhagavan. This word means that the Almighty has every opulence in full. He is both the greatest enjoyer and the person possessing the most renunciation. He has the most wealth imaginable, aishvarya. Yet He is also the most detached, vairagya.
These names of Sanskrit origin make sense in being applied to the person most of the world refers to as “God.” Since He is a distinct personality, another name is Purushottama. This means “the topmost person.” What about Partha-sarathi? How could this name ever apply to someone who is the greatest of all fragments of spirit, Parabrahman Himself?
1. He is partial to the sons of Pritha
Svayam-bhagavan is Shri Krishna. He is God Himself. The others are personal expansions of either partial or complete potency. In simpler terms, whether you take God as Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, or Narasimha, know that they are identical. Still, authorized works like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata say that Krishna is the original, the first candle from which the identical candles are lit.
In His earthly pastimes, the Supreme Controller Shri Krishna offers the role of father to a man named Vasudeva. Kunti Devi is Vasudeva’s sister, and she is married to Pandu. Pandu has five sons, who are thus known as the Pandavas. The notable distinction with Kunti Devi is that she is a devotee of Krishna. Her interest is in the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, who is related to her through Vasudeva.
From that devotion she automatically acquires all good qualities, such as humility, kindness, tolerance, and perseverance. Pritha is another name for Kunti Devi, and the name Partha means “son of Pritha.” Partha-sarathi thus references the link of the Pandavas to Kunti, who is very dear to Krishna.
The plight of the Pandavas is the main storyline in the lengthy Vedic text known as the Mahabharata. That story features many great fighters and personalities. As God, Shri Krishna is automatically neutral. Yet at the same time He is still partial to Kunti Devi, who always thinks of Him in a mood of love and devotion. By extension, Krishna is then partial to Kunti’s sons, who are addressed as Partha. In the most common usage, the name refers to the bow-warrior Arjuna, but any of Kunti’s sons can be addressed with the same name.
2. He is the chariot driver on the battlefield
The second term in the name literally refers to a chariot driver. Krishna is the charioteer of Partha, who is Arjuna. The climax of the Mahabharata story is the great war between the two sides, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Krishna never encourages war, as man should be able to settle their disputes peacefully. Still, sometimes the aggressors will not listen to sound logic and reasoning. When Krishna made a last ditch effort at peace, the leader of the Kauravas thought about binding Him as a way to dishearten the Pandavas. The fool, who was named Duryodhana, didn’t realize Krishna’s divine nature, despite everyone around him informing him of the fact. In the ensuing war, Krishna accepted the role of Arjuna’s chariot driver.
3. He gives direction to Arjuna
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada would end his letters with the words, “your ever well-wisher.” As the spiritual master, a representative of Krishna, this was indeed accurate. The role is inherited from the Supreme Lord Himself, who always wishes well for the countless living entities that spring from Him.
In the literal sense, Krishna is the well-wisher to Arjuna through providing direction. Arjuna tells Krishna where to steer the chariot, and Krishna sanctions the decision. But if Arjuna ever becomes hesitant, the Supreme Lord is ready to step in and provide the proper direction. Partha-sarathi means that Krishna, as the well-wishing friend of the devotee Arjuna, never allows the surrendered soul to veer off the path of righteousness.
4. He is like the guru steering in the right direction
Though Krishna drives the chariot, when Arjuna needs instruction the Supreme Lord gladly takes on the role of spiritual master. Krishna is the adi-guru, or the origin of all spiritual teachers. He first instructed the spiritual science to the sun-god, Vivasvan, at the beginning of the creation. Though Arjuna still existed at that time, he could not remember.
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)
Man thinks they are in control of their fortunes. They are purusha at the local level. I make the decision to get up in the morning, and from that decision success happens. What I don’t realize is that I need the sanction of higher authorities for any result to occur. I am not the doer. The ultimate sanctioning authority is the Supreme Lord, who rests within the heart as the Supersoul.
As the charioteer for Arjuna, He sanctions whatever decisions Arjuna makes. Still, as the well-wishing friend, He is ready to provide instruction when asked. This is because Arjuna is a devotee. Arjuna does not challenge Krishna. He does not demand that Krishna prove to Him every truth that is presented in the spiritual science. Rather, Arjuna inquires submissively and renders service through intelligent questions, with Krishna happily obliging.
5. He is controlled by the devotee
Janmady asya yatah. From the Supreme Lord everything has come. This automatically makes Him the most powerful person. Knowledge of this is the cause of the transcendental mellow known as shanta-rasa, which is the mood of neutrality, worshiping in awe and reverence. Basically, if you are a God-fearing person or someone who is taken by God’s amazing opulence, you are in this mellow.
The name Partha-sarathi reveals that there can be more to the relationship with God than just appreciation. He is so kind that He voluntarily accepts a typically subordinate role in order to please His devotee. Indeed, in the highest stages of devotion the Supreme Lord comes under the control of the devotee. Parameshvara happily agrees to whatever the devotee wants. We see this in the relationship with Shrimati Radharani, who is the feminine aspect to the singular Divine. She pokes fun at Krishna, chastises Him, and does anything but treat Him with great respect. And yet Krishna appreciates her service the most. He comes under the control of the devotees, which is another indication of the potency of bhakti-yoga.
Without father, but Pandavas never alone,
Krishna their well-wisher, as Partha-sarathi is known.
Arjuna fighting, chariot Supreme Lord steering,
When doubtful, Partha’s ignorance clearing.
Despite by default neutral to all,
Kunti’s sons as friend to call.
Shanta-rasa, beyond appreciation can go,
Krishna coming under your control even so.