Book House

This book uses insights from the Yoga Shastra and the Mahabharata to offer principles and practices to enable behavioural transformation

Author Raghu Ananthanarayanan
  • The book “Five Seats of Power” by Raghu Ananthanarayanan presents each of the five Pandavas – Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva – as an archetype of a particular kind of power: of order and stability, passion and action, and curiosity and knowledge, among others.


  • Drawing on each of these archetypal energies, the author explores the functional and dysfunctional aspects of the use of power. He examines how, in order to mobilize one’s heroic potential, a person must celebrate their desirable qualities, while resolving the dark and compulsive energies within themselves.


  • The book also includes interviews with visionary business leaders, such as N.R. Narayana Murthy and S. Ramadorai, that exemplify the lessons gathered from analysing the heroes from the Mahabharata.


  • Read an excerpt from the book below.


Peter Drucker, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation has said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ But what is ‘culture’ and how do we shape it?

Let’s try understanding culture using the analogy of a petri dish. When we give a blood sample to the lab for testing, a tiny sample is placed in a petri dish to do a culture test. The petri dish has a specific gel that allows only certain bacterial or viral cells to grow and kills the rest. Through this method, the lab can check if there is evidence of the proliferation of the intended organisms.

Every organization’s culture is like a petri dish, and allows only particular behaviours to grow. Observing the culture closely, we can identify which behaviours it energizes and enlivens, and which it dampens.

A key aspect of organizational culture is the kind of heroism it nourishes. Every culture has an implicit and explicit idea of what heroism would mean in their context. Does your organization encourage heroism, or is such risk-taking not seen as a positive? Are employees encouraged to be heroes and bring about change?

As we have seen, the Pandavas are the archetypes of five seats of power that underpin leadership. Each leadership style evokes and empowers a particular psyche and nurtures a particular culture both unconsciously and consciously. Organizations grow and evolve when they learn to deploy appropriate types of power. Though an organization needs all five types of leadership, based on contextual challenges, it may need to emphasize a particular type of leadership.

For example, the power and passion of a Bhima archetype are very important in the start-up phase. As the organization matures, a Yudhishthira is needed to create order and scalability. It is not that a start-up has no structure or system, only that the Bhima spirit of adventure is the key to success at that stage. An organization that does not change its leadership based on its changing context will get thrown into the dustbin of history, no matter how successful they are currently.

The Pandava archetypes can help to understand the psychic energy and heroic potential of an individual. They also help to create an enabling culture in the organization. Although it may not be apparent, the five Pandavas work together as a team. They bring forth different skills and propensities. They argue, disagree and dissent, but ultimately act together for a common cause.

Are the Pandavas examples of perfection? Yes and no. The persona and behaviour of these heroes are not only human but also exemplary. You can see the whole unfolding of each their characters, from the seed to its manifestations: the patterns which get entrenched, the sorrow it creates and how they transform themselves through exile. However, they could overcome their shadow sides and discovered ways to transform themselves, while their counterpoints the Kauravas succumbed to the internal contradictions and vicious processes generated by a psyche ensconced in unexamined and inappropriate mindsets.

There are many stories with Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna as the chief protagonists, where Nakula and Sahadeva are mostly supporting characters. Many folk stories on these two princes try to make up this lacuna. However, being prominently visible is not the only type of heroism that is critical for building organizations and institutions. In my study of human behaviour, I have found that not only do people create their own narratives, but these narratives also often reflect their own dilemmas and inner processes.

Krishna: Our Deepest Intelligence

The most famous episode in the Mahabharata – the Bhagavad Gita – shows Arjuna recounting his dharma sankata – the struggle to choose between alternatives that seem equally valid. Even after having been cheated of his rightful heritage and having suffered exile, Arjuna questions if the war is truly dharmic. Just before the start of the war, he places his chariot between the two armies – which symbolizes the pivot of balance between the two sides of his mind – and has an intense and deep dialogue with Krishna, the Divine Intelligence. It is here that Arjuna asks: ‘In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?’

Krishna helps Arjuna look closely at reality and his personal biases and, in doing so, clears his mind. He decides that he is indeed on the right path. This ability to introspect about the paradoxes of life and deeply examine the polarities, the pulls and the pushes of one’s context, is an essential ability of a great hero.

Here, I consider Lord Krishna as one’s deepest intelligence, which one can access through contemplative conversations and meditative self-reflection. This idea of God has been emphasized in the Upanishads through mahaavakyas (the great sayings). Thus, we are looking at Krishna not as a god but as Intelligence.

Can you access this deep reservoir of intelligence in your consciousness? One’s ability to access this deep consciousness is the most prized capability in Indic thought. This is especially important to consider in a leadership context, where the responsibility for making meaning out of reality and taking decisions falls on the leader.

Excerpted with permission from Five Seats of Power, Raghu Ananthanarayanan, HarperCollins India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.

 

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