Three Add Carabao songs based on the Hindu legend of Arjuna consider issues of War and Peace

Interestingly, Add Carabao, despite being Buddhist like most Thais, has written three songs (that I know of) about the mythical archer Arjuna from the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita. I have filed translations of all three songs at this website under my “War/Peace/Terrorism” category in “Lyrics by Theme.” Seventeen of the 300 Carabao and Add Carabao songs I have translated fall into this category. If we add to that the 3 songs about “Ancient Kings and Legendary Battles,” we have 20 of 300 Carabao and Add Carabao songs (6.6 percent) offering various perspectives on War, Peace, and Terrorism. The three Arjuna songs shed light on this whole category of Add Carabao’s work.

The three Arjuna songs are:

ภควัทคีตา Pukawatketa (Bhagavad Gita) (1990) (On the Add Carabao solo album No Problem, also included on the Add Carabao 2019 compilation album Poem)

ศรอรชุน Son Arachun (The Arrow(s) of Arjuna) (1991) (On the Add Carabao solo album World Folk Zen)

น้ำตาอรชุน Nam Dtaa Arachun (The Tears of Arjuna) (2022) (From the 40th Anniversary Album)

The Bhagavad Gita (which can be translated “Song of God”) is a key Hindu religious text. From what I have gathered from Wikipedia and a skimming of the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism shares a lot in common with Buddhism except that Hinduism, and emphatically NOT Buddhism, includes the idea of a soul or substantial self and a Supreme Being creator god in whom one must have faith.

The set-up of The Bhagavad Gita story is a very particular and grounded dilemma that is supposed to represent the Human Dilemma (and does a great job of representing that dilemma). The great archer Arjuna comes to the battlefield to fight (in a just war whose background is not described in The Bhagavad Gita but can be found in introductions to the text.) Surveying the battlefield, Arjuna becomes distressed and starts to cry, and at first refuses to fight when he sees that the people on the two sides, who will be soon be killed in the battle, are friends and close relatives of each other. They are the armies of two brothers. Krishna, who is an avatar of the god Vishnu, then sings the verses that contain the Hindu wisdom that explain to Arjuna how and why he should do his duty nevertheless. In the story, Arjuna is convinced to fight. But the “wisdom” in the verses Krishna sings is meant to apply more generally to all of life.

The three songs written by Add Carabao seem to span all sides of the question of whether Arjuna should fight. The first, “Bhagavad Gita,” focuses on Krishna’s arguments, drawn from The Bhagavad Gita, and Arjuna’s inner turmoil. Arjuna is not yet convinced by the arguments. Meanwhile, the driving beat of the song leaves the impression that one probably should “fight” (for or against something not spelled out in the song itself). The fact that the song is featured on the compilation album “Poem” might be an indication that Add considers it especially poetic–which it is in the sense that it vividly captures Arjuna’s dilemma.

“The Arrow(s) of Arjuna,” which came out a year later on the album World Folk Zen, is by far my favorite of the three Arjuna songs. The message of the song is unequivocally “Go fight injustice!!!” This message can be clearly understood without knowing anything about the story of Arjuna, and almost from the music alone. The song is addictive and, as I have said elsewhere, will inspire you go fight injustice, or at the very least, get up and clean the house! (lol). With regard to Arjuna’s actual dilemma, though, the song hedges a bit by specifying that “We fight with our hearts/minds, not with a sword.” That is, the story of Arjuna is treated as a compelling myth from which we can selectively draw some inspiration. The question of whether people today, you and me, should go to actual war to fight injustice is sidestepped. It is odd that this excellent song is hard, but not impossible, to find online. Is it problematic or controversial in some way of which I am unaware?

Finally, we have the song “The Tears of Arjuna,” which is the most pacifist of the three songs. It explicitly says, “Who is right and who is wrong has no meaning at all . . . in war.” The lyrics and tone of the song present Krishna/Vishnu (who is supposed to be divine) as driving Arjuna, against his better judgement, into a bad decision. But before progressives automatically cheer the antiwar opinion in the song, note the last line: “October 14.” It seems this cautionary message is meant to apply as well to the popular uprising of October 14, 1973, where students managed to drive out the dictators leading to 3 years of democracy at the cost of at least 77 official deaths and many more injuries when the government tried unsuccessfully to suppress the uprising.

Going back to the first verse of the song, it does seem Add Carabao is addressing his “be careful” message firstly to the protesters:

The wars that I experienced in the past
There are communist partisans who are friends/comrades
Young people rise up to demand their rights
Who is right and who is wrong has no meaning at all
ในสงคราม… สงคราม
In war . . . war. In war . . . war.

At some point, I will put together my own analysis of Add’s changing political positions over the years, but to me they are not that surprising given that was once an active communist sympathizer, and has had many formative experiences since. He has devoted songs and even albums to some of the wars, conflicts, and massacres happening in the Southeast Asian region. I believe that some portion of Add Carabao’s relative conservatism in later years derives from a sincere fear of a civil war breaking out in Thailand, as explicitly stated in some of the songs.*

Many of Add Carabao’s songs about war and peace, even though they are grounded in a particular conflict in Thailand or Southeast Asia–and even if you dislike the advice in that particular context!–can be plucked from that context and applied to a conflict across the globe because of their universal elements.* Which is analogous to Add Carabao’s using The Bhagavad Gita to consider the dilemmas around him in Thailand.

*For instance, เพื่อประเทศไทย (Peua Prathet Thai) For Thailand with Sek Loso, Khan Thaitanium and other artists.
** (I am thinking of อยากได้ยิน Yaak Daiyin (Want to Hear), which might as well be addressed to Democrats and Republicans in the United States, and วางดาบ Wang Dap (Set Down the Sword), about being prepared to strategically back down from a fight.)