Dharma Yuddha (धर्मयुद्धम्)

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Dharma-yuddha is a Sanskrit word made up of two roots: dharma meaning righteousness, and yuddha meaning warfare. In the ancient Bharat's texts, dharma-yuddha refers to a war that is fought while following several rules that make the war fair.[1]

For instance, in a righteous war, equals fight equals. Chariot warriors are not supposed to attack cavalry and infantry, those on elephants are not supposed to attack infantry, and so on. The rules also forbid the usage of celestial weapons (divine weapons bestowed by the gods) on ordinary soldiers (as opposed to soldiers of noble birth). The build-up of weapons and armies is done with the full knowledge of the opposing side and no surprise attacks are made.

The rules of engagement also set out how warriors were to deal with noncombatants. No one should attack an enemy who has temporarily lost or dropped their weapon. The lives of women, prisoners of war, and farmers were also sacred. Pillaging the land was forbidden.

Dharma-yuddha also signifies that the war is not fought for gain or selfish reasons. A dharma-yuddha is waged to uphold the principles of righteousness.

Dharma-yuddha in the Mahabharata

In the Mahabharata epic, which describes the Kurukshetra war, the two sides agree on the following rules:

  • Fighting must begin no earlier than sunrise and, should end by exact sunset. (Broken on the 14th day, after Jayadratha was slain).
  • Multiple warriors must not attack a single warrior. (Broken several times, most notably in the 13th day, when Abhimanyu was slain).
  • Two warriors may duel, or engage in prolonged personal combat, only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same mount (no mount, a horse, an elephant, or a chariot). (Broken several times).
  • No warrior may kill or injure a warrior who has surrendered. (Violated when Satyaki slew an unarmed Burishravas).
  • One who surrenders becomes a prisoner of war and will then be subject to the protections of a prisoner of war. (There were no prisoners of war taken, in the Kurukshetra War).
  • No warrior may kill or injure an unarmed warrior. (Arjuna slew Karna when the latter was helpless).
  • No warrior may kill or injure an unconscious warrior. (Broken when Abhimanyu was slain).
  • No warrior may kill or injure a person or animal not taking part in the war. (Broken several times when warriors slew horses of their enemies).
  • No warrior may kill or injure a warrior whose back is turned away. (Shakuni broke that rule).
  • No warrior may strike an animal not considered a direct threat.
  • The rules specific to each weapon must be followed. For example, it is prohibited to strike below the waist in mace warfare.
  • Warriors must not engage in any 'unfair' warfare whatsoever.
  • The lives of women, prisoners of war, and farmers are sacred.
  • Land should not be pillaged.

Other texts

Beyond the Mahabharata, the principles of dharma-yuddha are referred to in many other ancient Bharat's texts, including the Ramayana and the Dharmashastras or law texts.


  1. Kaushik Roy. Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge University. p. 28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>