Chapter 1 of the Bhagavad Gita is titled “The Sorrow of Arjuna”. The chapter is set in the middle of a battlefield where the Kauravas and Pandavas are fighting for the kingdom. Dhritarashtra, the blind king, asks his advisor Sanjaya for news from the battlefield. The chapter introduces the root cause of all sorrow and suffering in this world, which is our inability to deal with conflict.
Blind King Dhritarashtra asks the poet Sanjaya to tell him the story of his family, the Kurus, clashing with the Pandavas in battle. Sanjaya retells how King Dhritarashtra’s son, Prince Duryodhana, asks his teacher, Drona, to look out at the assembled forces. Duryodhana points to the strong and formidable members of the Pandava army that includes both Krishna and Arjuna. He then turns to the powerful people in his own army, mentioning great warriors among them. Duryodhana proudly proclaims the Kuru army is limitless, whereas the Pandavas are much smaller. Both armies blow conch shells that echo “throughout heaven and earth,” calling the warriors to battle.
Arjuna tells Krishna to drive the chariot carrying them so they can stand between the two armies. He wants “to look at the men gathered … to do battle service for Dhritarashtra’s evil-minded son.” Krishna directs Arjuna’s attention to all the Kurus ready to battle one another.
Arjuna is overwhelmed with dread as he looks out at the opposing armies made up of his kinsmen. Not wanting to fight his family even if they are foes, he tells Krishna that he sees “evil omens … from killing my kinsmen in battle.” Arjuna tells Krishna it would be better to let himself be killed in the battle without resistance than to fight this terrible battle 1.
The opening chapter of Gita introduces the two opposing armies and their principal members. Looking out at his army, Prince Duryodhana feels invincible despite the strength of the Pandava fighters. Duryodhana’s description of the scene introduces the reader to the principal figures in each army. Prince Duryodhana’s family members are referred to as the Kurus because they are descendants of King Kuru. However, through much of Mahabharata these descendants are called Kauravas. The Pandavas are also descendants of Kuru clan but as “sons of Pandu” they are known as Pandavas.
Arjuna’s reluctance and despair at thought of killing his kinsmen forms basis of subsequent conversation with his charioteer, god Krishna.