The slaying of Rukmi by Lord Balarama is described in Srimad Bhagavatam, Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana.

This page gives a comparative study of all three texts as to how they differ in the details of the incident.

The basic story is summarised thus: On the occasion of Krsna's grandson Aniruddha's marriage to Rochana, the granddaughter of Rukmi, Rukmi organised a game of dice, and was joined by the King of Kalinga, Ashmaka, Pandya and other kingdoms. Balarama agreed to play with Rukmi, and so placing their wealth as stakes began playing.

Since Balarama was winning most of the time, Rukmi decided to cheat, and so he played deceitfully and boasted to Balarama that he won. Enraged by his deceit, Balarama lifted his mace and killed Rukmi.

The question is this: How does RUkmi's actions (cheating in the dice game) justify Balarama killing him?

There are two more famous dice games in our scriptures:

  • The one between Nala and Pushkara
  • The one between Kauravas and Pandavas

In both the above games too, there is a lot of deceit involved. In the first case, Pushkara cheats in the game and exiles Nala, who after learning the art of dice, returns and wins back his kingdom from Pushkara.

In the second case, Shakuni cheats to a large extent, which causes the enslaving and mistreatment of Draupadi, following which due to Draupadi's virtuosity, the Pandavas are freed, and they return to Indraprastha (after which they come back for the second game).

In both cases, the cheater is not punished with death, but is ousted in some way or the other. So how does Rukmi's deceit not grant him a punishment similar to the above two cases, but instead amounts to his death?

  • 1
    I don't think Balarama killed Rukmi as punishment for cheating or boasting about winning, he killed him because he insulted Balarama and Krishna. Jun 7, 2016 at 13:37
  • 2
    @Keshav That begs another question, just because a lout like Rukmi insulted him by calling him a cowherd, how does that justify killing him?
    – Surya
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:38
  • 1
    I think insulting the supreme lord of all the worlds to his face is a pretty big deal. In any case, the reason Krishna didn't kill Jarasandha is that it was important for Bhima to kill Jarasandha as part of the Rajasuya Yagna. Jun 7, 2016 at 13:50
  • 3
    @Keshav That is unfair.
    – Surya
    Jun 7, 2016 at 14:42
  • 2
    @Keshav Well that is the Dharma I question. You have to explain it in an answer. Just saying it is dharma will not do.
    – Surya
    Jun 7, 2016 at 14:52

2 Answers 2


This is best explained through Manusmriti 2.12

vedaḥ smṛtiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyamātmanaḥ | etaccaturvidhaṃ prāhuḥ sākṣād dharmasya lakṣaṇam || 12 ||

The Veda, the Smṛti, the Practice of cultured Men, and what is agreeable to oneself—these directly constitute the fourfold means of knowing Dharma.—(12)

As mentioned above the fourth source of Dharma is "what is agreeable to oneself"

Now a close reading of the Harivamsa reveals the following

....by way of increasing the anger of the great soul, baladeva (balarAma): Auspicious bala(rAma) has spoken the truth. He (rukmi) is defeated in the right way. Without saying any words, if an action is done, it should be considered as acceptable to the conscience.Hearing this moral spoken in the sky, sa~NkarShaNa (balarAma) then got up. The powerful (balarAma), with the golden heavy (board of dice)......

So as you can see this is inline with Manusmriti 2.12. It does not violate the previous three sources of Dharma.

For further reading on what constitutes "agreeable to oneself", one needs to refer to the commentary of Manusmriti 2.6 and Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.7. The latter replaces "agreeable to oneself" with "self-satisfaction determination based upon right volition", which is the same thing.

  • 1
    But would that mean that, if suppose Balarama was questioned, and he answered, "I killed him because my conscience felt so", that would be acceptable as a reason?
    – Surya
    Jun 6, 2021 at 17:22
  • 2
    Asking because then Balarama's shishya could say, "My conscience said I must burn the Pandavas in a wax palace." So to what extent is following one's conscience justifiable? Yajnavalkya's alternate definition too falls under a similar gamut I feel.
    – Surya
    Jun 6, 2021 at 17:24
  • 1
    @Surya - There can be plenty of what if scenarios. The scriptures in here have made it clear that conscience comes in as last resort. In this case Vedas, Smriti and Practice of Culture Men have not talked about cheatingin gambling, because gambling itself is not a sanctioned activity as per them. So Balarama was right in his action Jun 16, 2021 at 7:11

Short Answer:

I think, in this case, the answer is very simple: Rukmī's (goddess Rukmiṇī's brother), murder at the hands of Lord Balarāma wasn't justified, at least not from vyāvahārika level perspectives.


First, let's re-visit the incident. All story remain same as cited (from the Śrila Prabhupada's version of Bhāgvatam) in the question itself.

However, in the 'dvaitavada' acharya Vijay-dhvaja's (VJ) commentary version (called 'Pada-Ratnāvalī') of Bhāgvatam, there's another verse added to verse ŚB 10.61.32 as an addendum as follows:

  1. Agitated with anger like the swelling ocean under the full moon, the glorious Balarama whose eyes were naturally reddish, became fiery with extreme rage and he staked a wager of ten crores (of gold coins).

  2. As per rules of that game, Balarama rightly won that bet. But Rukmi resorted to false pretext and said, "I have won the bet. Let the umpires declare their decision".

32-A. VJ's Text : “So be it” said Dantavakra of Kalinga showing his teeth (grinning) at Balarāma. Balarāma boiled with rage but (controlled himself and) observed silence.

Taken from Motilal Banarsidass's rendtion of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam

  • As we see, by verse 31, Balarāma is already at anger-maxima. Add to that in 32.a - the so called "judge - Dantavakra" also indulge in thuggery and mockery, and by ŚB 10.61.36 , Rukmī had crossed 'the line', even neglecting the words of ākāshvāṇī much before in ŚB 10.61.33.

  • Now, it's well-known that anger (krodha) is one of the ṣaḍaripu (षडरिपु), and as such is very difficult to control, for the demigods too, and sometimes even for the gods also, even if done as a past-time (līlā). Like: god Śiva beheading Vināyaka

  • Further, Balarāma, is none other than a manifestation of Ādi Śeṣa / Sāṅkarṣaṇa - the vyuha of Vishnu in the mode of tamas and thus anger (pralaya kālāgni being the source of it) comes naturally to Balarāma.

  • And being born as a Human, in Kshatirya varṇa, Rajo-guna (action) will naturally find abundance in him (Manusmṛiti 12.46), and that when coupled with anger (tamas), will sometimes manifest in 'action (Rajas) - brawl' and thus 'an apparently adharmika action' - like unduly killing someone (Tamas).


Whatever Balarāma did was out of pure rage and anger against the thuggery happening at the dice game. Notwithstanding that, perhaps it wasn't so much dhārmika on Balarām's part to kill/hurt Rukmī and his demon-pals.

Even Bhagvān Śrī Kṛṣṇa kept his silence on this [ŚB 10.61.39], lest he should invite rebuke either from his spouse - Rukmiṇī', who has just lost her brother over a petulant brawl, or from Lord Balarāma, who felt right in his decision to murder the dice game's opponent on account of unfair play.

In any case, the silence from svayam Bhagvān himself, says he neither favored the act of murder nor opposed it unequivocally. Thus, Rukmī's killing by Balarama cannot be adjudicated as 'unequivocally justified'.

On a side note, one can also argue that since the 'judge of the game' was also involved in thuggery, and everyone conveniently ignored the celestial admittance of Balarāma's victory - creating ample amount of adharma, thus, Balarāma was right in bringing everyone to justice, as BG 4.7 & 4.8 holds good, and he himself being an 'avatāra', thus, killing was justified.

But, more importantly - I'd say, what is there to justify or not, if - How do we solve the contradiction of Rukmi being alive during the war, though Balarama had killed him before? this is true?!

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