No other single individual or idea has so much influenced the course of India’s religion, philosophy, art and literature as the life and personality of Lord Krishna. As a child he was charming and mischievous; as a youth he was physically perfect and handsome in thought and deed. As an adult he was a fighter without rival, as a statesman most shrewd, as a social thinker very liberal, as a teacher the most eloquent and convincing, as a friend never failing, and as a householder the most ideal. Finally his character gained enormous significance as the intellectual who was the very embodiment of Vedic Scholarship. His teachings in the Gita, embodies the immortal message of desireless action, knowledge and single minded devotion.
Krishna is a grand mystery and everyone has tried to understand him in their own way, according to their spiritual understanding or vision. The Yogis considered him to be the absolute truth, the cow girls, the Gopikas as the highest object of love, the warriors as an ideal hero, his Uncle Kamsa (whose death was foretold at the hands of Krishna) as an object of fear and Sisupala (whose hundred insults Krishna would pardon to keep to his promise given to Sisupala’s mother and then kill him for the final denigration) as an object of hate. The wonder of Krishna is that whether you think of him as an object of love or hate, one attains him.
Lord Krishna, is the flute-wielding charmer, whose Gitopadesam (Bhagavath Gita) is a treatise on Dharma that is immortal. Krishna is also the Yuga Purusha, the Man of the Eon, who assumed many roles as a cowherd, warrior, Statesman, strategist, philosopher and friend.
The beauty of Hinduism is that it presents the divine in different forms. Today and tomorrow, the eight day after the new moon, when the star Rohini shines bright, is celebrated as Krishna Jayanthi/Janmashtami…the birthday of Lord Krishna.
Krishna today appears before us as a baby in the cradle, then he becomes a crawling baby who then stands up unsteadily as a toddler. The human mind immediately is drawn like a magnet to the sweet child who has divine qualities. Gradually we hear of Krishna’s exploits, each with a deeper significance blending nature and man, animal and man and society and man. The good the bad and the ugly play with the divine and remind us that all this is just part of life, creation.
Krishna is more identifiable than the Maryada Purushottam who came to earth as a human being. Swami Dayananda says the way the dancers depict the two avathars (incarnations) is an instant snapshot of their character. Rama stands stiff in the warrior’s pose. Krishna bends and bows, is lithe and supple and sways like the bamboo from which his flute is made. Yet once the bamboo becomes the flute, its suppleness only comes through the music created by the human lips and breath.
Krishna takes on many roles—son (both natural and adoptive), brother, friend, cowherd, nephew, lover, King or ruler, warrior, statesman, king maker, saviour, messenger, uncle and finally the charioteer who becomes Jagathguru. It seems that his life takes on the character of every level of society. Maybe that is why he has a universal appeal that even goes beyond religions and races.
The Bhagavatham relates many amazing tales. Each one has significance to our problems today. King Pruthu and his dilemma are the ecological degradation that is taking place. Dhruva represents the child and his search for a benevolent parent. The deluge is nothing but global warming. The initial avataras represent the synergy between animal and man that is repeated in many stories and then the gradual sophistication of man from pygmy to the complicated character of Krishna and then the self-realised Buddha. The approaching avatar of Kalki is the avenger who will restore Dharma and balance on earth.
The annual celebration of Krishna’s birth is a reaffirmation of every human being’s commitment to Dharma, Karma, Harmony and Peace.
Birth of Krishna
In ancient India, there lived King Ugrasena. He had two children, Prince Kansa and Princess Devaki. Prince Kansa was evil by nature. When Kansa grew up, he imprisoned his own father Ugrasen and made himself king.
Then his sister Devaki was married to King Vasudevaa. Just after the wedding, as Kansa was driving the newly married couple to their home, a divine spoke from the sky. It warned Kansa, “O King! Your sister’s eighth son will grow up to kill you.” After Kansa heard this, he became afraid. Immediately he imprisoned his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudevaa and kept them under continuous watch.
Each time Devaki gave birth to a child in the prison, Kansa arrived personally and killed the child. When Devaki became pregnant for the eighth time, King Vasudeva’s friend’s, Nanda’s wife Yashoda was also pregnant. The eighth child, Lord Krishna, was born to queen Devaki at midnight in the prison. As soon as the child was born, Lord Vishnu appeared in divine form and the prison was filled with a dazzling light. Both Devaki and Vasudeva prayed to Lord Vishnu. At the same time as Lord Krishna was born in the prison, the divine energy of Lord Vishnu was born in Gokul, as a baby girl to queen Yashoda.
Vasudevaa was told, “Take this child across the Yamuna River to Gokul and exchange him with Yashoda’s daughter. You will return to the prison before anyone comes to know about the birth of this child.”
Vasudeva immediately followed the advice. As he carried the child in his arms, miraculously he found that the prison doors opened automatically and the guards were deep asleep. Vasudeva went to the Yamuna River. It was in flood and very turbulent due to fierce winds and heavy rains. He placed the child in a basket and holding it high, he began to cross the river. Again as if an unseen hand was guiding him every step of the way, the river parted and made way for him to carry the divine child. Vasudeva reached the opposite bank of the river safely and found the people of Gokul fast asleep. He entered the palace of Nanda and Yashoda and put the baby Krishna in the cradle. He picked up Yashoda’s baby girl and returned to the prison.
As soon as Vasudeva placed the baby girl by Devaki’s side, the prison doors shut automatically. The guards awakened and heard the cries of the baby girl. The guards ran to Kansa and announced the birth of the eighth child.
Kansa rushed to execute the child in the prison, remembering the divine warning that the eighth child would kill him. Devaki appealed, “O Kansa, this baby is a girl, and not the boy that the divine warning told you about. How can this child harm you?” However, Kansa ignored her, snatched the child from her lap, and hurled the child against the prison wall.
The child did not fall down; instead, she flew up and appeared in the sky as a Goddess with eight arms, each arm carrying a weapon. She said, “O evil king! You will gain nothing by killing me for I am but an illusion, Maya. The one who will destroy you is elsewhere.” Then the Goddess disappeared. Kansa freed Vasudeva and Devaki from prison.
Meanwhile, there was great rejoicing in Gokul, hailing the birth of a son in the household of Nanda. Nanda named the child Krishna. The whole of Gokul wore a festive appearance. The streets were swept clean and all the houses were decorated with flags and flowers. Cows were smeared with turmeric, and adorned with peacock feathers and garlands. All people of Gokul danced in joy and flocked to Nanda’s house to see baby Krishna and to offer gifts.
It took fourteen years more before Krishna was united with his real parents.
Happy Birthday Krishna! Happy Krishna Jayanthi to all of you!