Startup Advice

Do we need that horse? Competition vs Goal

Guest Author
30th Aug 2013
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In Kalidasa's epic "Raghuvamsa", a great king called Dileepa wants to perform a special ceremony called "Ashwamedha yagna".

This yagna is actually an intelligent combination of keeping gods happy, while making a power statement to fellow kings. It is so difficult to complete, only the very best kings can even dream about doing it. Dileepa wished to perform Ashwamedha Yagna. Not once, but hundred times!

Before we get into the details of what happened to Dileepa's wish, let us understand briefly, what is "Ashwamedha Yagna".


'Ashwa' in Sanskrit means horse. During Ashwamedha Yagna, A special horse will be used to perform certain religious rights, and then it will be let loose. It can go anywhere it pleases. The emperor performing Ashwamedha yagna will send some of his army men, along with an important minister or prince, to protect the horse. It is their duty to make sure the horse visits nearby cities, countries, and comes back safe. As the horse roams around, all those areas will now come under this emperor's power. If you are ruling one of these areas, you need to become a subordinate and accept the emperor's superiority.

What if someone doesn't want to lose or give away his powers like that?

As horse is the symbol of power here, the local king (or anyone else, for that matter) needs to catch this horse. This effectively declares a war with the emperor performing the Ashwamedha Yagna. Once someone captures the yagna horse, royal guards will try to get it back by fighting with the local king's army. In case they are not able to win, they can bring additional forces from their country to make sure the horse is theirs.

This continues in every region the horse visits. Finally, the horse returns to the kingdom where the Ashwamedha yagna was originally performed. This completes the 'circle of power', in other words, the emperor's kingdom is now much wider and he is the ultimate ruler in that region, accepted by everyone.

When King Dileepa started his Ashwamedha yagnas, he did expect some trouble. But, he got lot more than what he originally expected. It is not a petty local king who challenged him. Indra, lord of devas, himself decided to capture his horse.

Why should Indra care about Dileepa's yagna?

Till that time, Indra was the only one to perform hundred Ashwamedha yagnas. So he was called "Shathakruthu". If Dileepa completes his hundredth Ashwamedha yagna, he will also be called "Shathakruthu". Indra didn't want to lose his uniqueness and fame. So, he decided to steal Dileepa's horse.

Royal guards were surprised to find their horse missing all of a sudden. Without horse, their king can't complete the Ashwamedha yagna. Their leader, Dileepa's son, prince Raghu decided to investigate. When he found it is Indra who stole his horse, he became really angry. He immediately went in front of Indra and called him for a fight. Compared to Indra and his supporters, Raghu is a small boy in terms of age, skills and experience. But he didn't want to let the enemies win. He wanted that horse back, at any cost.

First, this made Indra angry. He decided to use all his powers to win Raghu. But, Raghu was not taking failure like that. Irrespective of how many times he fell, he was coming back, with more vigor than ever. So, Indra decided to use his most powerful weapon, Vajrayudha, against Raghu. Even this couldn't affect Raghu.

Slowly, Indra started liking the boy. He told him, 'Young man, you can't win this battle. But I am really impressed with your bravery. I want to grant you a boon. Ask whatever you want, except the horse.'

Raghu didn't even hesitate for a minute. 'Thank you Lord, in that case, I don't want the horse. But, I want my father to get all those benefits of performing hundred Ashwamedha yagnas.'

This is very clever indeed. Raghu decided not to focus on the intermediate result of getting the horse back; he just wanted the ultimate goal.

Now, Indra couldn't do anything. He has given his word, and had to allow Dileepa to get all benefits of doing hundred Ashwamedha Yagnas. Raghu returned to his father's kingdom victoriously. Technically speaking, Raghu lost the battle. But, it doesn't matter. He tried hard, and focused on what he wanted. He was prepared to take failure as an option, as long as his original goal is achieved.

While Raghu's story is a great lesson on attitude and persistence, this also raises some interesting questions about few modern business scenarios.

Let us say you are interacting with a prospect or a customer, the discussion slowly gets into an argument. Now, what do you focus on?

  • Who is right? Who is wrong?
  • If I am right, and the other party is wrong, do I fight for it? Or let the other party win this argument, so that I can focus on the long term goal (getting the order, or signing the contract)
  • If I am wrong, and the other party is right, do I accept my mistake, or failure, again focusing on the long term goal?
  • In the full context of things, Should we really care about who wins an intermediate argument?

Young prince Raghu's focus was on his father completing the yagna. He gave away the trophy (horse). But won the reward. Smart, isn’t it?

About the author:

N. Chokkan is the Co-Founder & Director at CRMIT, Bengaluru. He was previously the director at InFact Infotech before which he was the principle Consultant at BroadVision. He blogs at http://nagachokkanathan.wordpress.com/ (English) and http://nchokkan.wordpress.com/ (Tamil).

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