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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?

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    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 '16 at 13:37
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    @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 '16 at 13:38
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    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 '16 at 13:50
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    @Keshav That is unfair.
    – Surya
    Jun 7 '16 at 14:42
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    @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 '16 at 14:52
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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.

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  • 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 at 17:22
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    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 at 17:24
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    @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 at 7:11

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