by Swami Krishnananda
In the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, the Eighth Skandha is devoted to the detailing of Gajendra Moksha, Amrita Manthana, and Sri Vamana avatara of Bhagavan Sri Vishnu, and in the Ninth Skandha we have the long history of the Solar and Lunar dynasties—Rama being a descendant of the Solar dynasty, and Krishna of the Lunar dynasty.
The most important theme, surpassing all other descriptions that we have in the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, is the principle objective of the whole text—namely, the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna himself. In a wonderfully touching prayer, Kunti glorifies the great Master, as we have it recorded in the First Skandha of the Bhagavata: namasye puruṣaṁ tvādyam īśvaraṁ prakṛteḥ param, alakṣyaṁ sarva-bhūtānām antar bahir avasthitam; māyā-javanikācchannam ajñādhokṣajam avyayam, na lakṣyase mūḍha-dṛśā naṭo nāṭyadharo yathā (S.B. 1.8.18-19); śrī-kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa-sakha vṛṣṇy-rṣabhāvani-dhrug-rājanya-vaṁśa-dahanānapavarga-vīrya, govinda go-dvija surārti-harāvatāra yogeśvarākhila-guro bhagavan namaste (S.B. 1.8.43).
The play of God in the theatre of this world is the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. He behaved in the same way as God would behave in His creation. The avatara of Rama is regarded as a maryada that he kept in terms of the rules and regulations of human society. Bhagavan Sri Krishna is known not as Maryada Purushottama, but as Lila Purushottama. The demonstration of the perfection of human nature is the subject of the Ramayana, the life of Sri Ramachandra; and the demonstration of the perfection of God as He would operate Himself, independently, free from all accessories, is the theme of the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Srimad Bhagavata. Everything that Krishna did was the opposite of the world, while everything that Rama did was in consonance with the world.
The evolutionary process that is seen in the various avataras of Vishnu—such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, etc.—reaches a culmination in Rama and Krishna. From the lower levels of life through which God incarnates, as demonstrated in the earlier avataras, human perfection is reached in Rama’s avatara. But that is not enough. God has to descend into the world in the full force and power of His Completeness. Ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (S.B. 1.3.28). As the entire energy of the sun may be concentrated on a lens through which this energy passes, and it has the capacity to work as the sun would work, so is the way in which we have to understand the nature of an incarnation, especially of the type of superman such as Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The universal forces congeal and concentrate themselves in one personality when it becomes purna avatara. It is as if the force of the ocean rushes through a single conduit pipe, and we can imagine the energy that is conducted through this pipe when the entire ocean is passing through it.
The Bhagavata also describes God as a threefold manifestation: Brahma, Paramatman and Bhagavan. Brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate (S.B. 1.2.11). He is the transcendent Supreme Being, the Absolute, which is Brahman; He is the creative operative power, which is Paramatman; He is also the incarnation, which is Bhagavan. Three stages of the operation of God are here portrayed in the description of God being Brahman, Paramatman and Bhagavan.
The lilas, or the plays of God in the form of Sri Krishna, have been inscrutable right from the beginning. The very purpose of the play of God is to manifest those realities which are beyond human comprehension—to stultify human thought, paralyse all human action, stun the individual ego, and transform human nature into divine nature. Everything is a miracle right from the beginning of Sri Krishna’s life—his birth in a prison, the prison doors opening automatically, the crossing of the Yamuna River, and the various fantastic scenes that are associated with him in the Vrindavana Lila. Boisterous, naughty and uncontrollable is the nature that Sri Krishna demonstrated right from childhood. He was not a simple, obedient, calm and quiet child. He was disobedient, boisterous, rebellious, independent in every way, and if anybody interfered with his independence, he would react with consternation, a wonder which surpasses human understanding.
He would break pots, steal things, and damage all things, which is not the usual behaviour of a child. He would take away everything that one possesses, and make one feel grieved that valuable things have been lost; but at the same time, he would see to it that he endeared himself to everyone. With all the pranks that he played which were contrary to human expectation, he managed to see to it that he became the most beloved of all the children. Nobody could dislike him, irrespective of his funny behaviour, which was not expected from a little child. So, there was a double behaviour: naughtiness and unpleasantness inflicted upon people and, at the same time, becoming the most beautiful darling of humanity.
God’s ways are always a combination of opposites. It is not a stereotyped action, as we think. God can create the world, and He can also destroy the world. He can create human beings, and then flood them with heavy rains which damage crops and wash away villages. Even after having created the Earth as an abode for people, He can cause earthquakes, pestilence, disease, and He can also provide the greatest cures. When Sri Krishna was naughty, his mother, out of exhaustion, tied him to a huge pestle, and he used the pestle to which he was tied to uproot a tree—an unthinkable action. People attributed this kind of event to the operation of a devil, and they poured auspicious mantra-purified water on him to free him from the effects of any kind of adverse forces that they thought were the reason for such catastrophic events such as the falling of a tree for no reason whatsoever, as nobody could imagine that a child could pull out a tree by its roots. He could kick up a row and create a dust storm, and do whatever he liked with his comrades, and yet they loved him immensely.
The contrary nature that is so remarkably seen in Bhagavan Sri Krishna cannot be seen in anyone else. Whatever he did, and whatever he said, had this characteristic of a blending of contrary features which are not easily reconcilable. Even the Bhagavadgita that he taught is of such a nature: it is a winding argument which leads nowhere, if it is read carelessly. Throughout his life, he played this role of wonderful activity which was justifiable from his point of view, but nobody could understand what he was up to.
The first part of the Tenth Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata occupies itself with these pranks of the child Krishna, and while every action of his was superhuman, he made it still worse by engaging himself in a dramatic performance called the Rasa Lila, which cannot be seen in the life of any other person in the world. Here again we have a mystery that transcends human reason because there are no men and women before God. The prejudices of the duality of the sexes, and the additional prejudice of attachment to human predilections and rules and regulations, have to be broken down in the Divinity that manifests finally.
Human laws and regulations cannot take us to God. These rules of man can take us only to a human realm, because the constitution of God’s government is not a human constitution. It is an inclusiveness to which human nature is not accustomed. All our laws and regulations are partial in their nature and are valid for certain given conditions, but they are not valid for all times. This is the defect in man-made laws: they are good for some times, but they are not good for other times. But the law of God is good for all times. Once the enactment is made, it does not require any amendment. In human parliaments, circumstances change, and therefore, we change the laws; but God has no such circumstances where He has to change the laws. In the Isavasya Upanishad it is said: yāthātathyato’rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ (Isa 8). An ordinance was enacted in the parliament of God and it is valid for all time to come, till the end of creation, because it was so perfectly visualised, taking into consideration every eventuality or possibility in the history of creation.
In a similar manner, the deportment of Sri Krishna multiplying himself into many in this Rasa Dance makes him a person not human in his nature, because no human being can become manifold. Therefore, our judgment of Sri Krishna cannot be based upon human values, as a human being cannot multiply himself. A human being cannot lift a mountain or swallow forest fire—all of which he did, to the consternation of his associates. The superhuman nature of this child, which is seen right from the beginning, frees him from the human association of any kind of limited interpretation of his activities.
The Rasa Lila has many a meaning, as commentators would tell us—namely, it is the dance of the whole cosmos around the central pivot of the Absolute. The whole cosmic dance is demonstrated there. The feminine nature of the Gopis, which is the nature of the components of creation, is comparable to its counterpart, the centrality which is the Absolute. The Absolute Supreme Being does not evolve. It does not dance; it acts as a central nucleus of the entire creation, which dances in all its particulars. To mention again, Sri Krishna was born to demonstrate cosmic perfection, and not to reiterate man-made laws and regulations.
There are no human ethics for God. Though God has His own ethics, they are not comparable to human understanding. God is very just, it is perfectly true, but His justice is different from the nature of justice that we can think in our mind. God can dissolve the whole cosmos. Where is the justice in it? But it is justice. God has a rule and law of His own. God has a parliament of His own, we can say, but He can dissolve the parliament for some purpose. For instance, Sri Krishna broke his promise that he would not take part in the Mahabharata war; he dissolved this parliament and took up weapons himself when it became necessary.
When love of God reaches its heights, God can break all His laws and endear Himself to the devotee. In the highest reaches of devotion, laws do not operate. Devotion to God is above all laws and regulations, because we cannot love God while tied up by human laws, as that love would be a mortal combination of fettered understanding. That is why the nature of the bhakta, or the devotee, cannot be easily understood.
The Rasa Dance that is described in five chapters in incomparable beautiful majesty of lyrical poetry—which otherwise looks like a seductive presentation of human emotions—is considered by Suka Maharishi as a cure for the feelings of sexual passion. That which appears to be a demonstration of that particular emotion is the remedy which causes the cessation of that same emotion. It acts as a catharsis for feelings of any kind which human nature may abhor and yet hug.
Man is basically hypocritical; he disagrees with that which he loves very much. For instance, this particular emotion that is mentioned here is present in every person, and nobody can say it is not. Not only is it present in every human being, it is endearingly hugged by all people as most important in their life. Yet, it is treated as if it is the most abominable thing in the world. The contradictory nature of human laws, and the hypocrisy behind man-made religion and his laws and regulations, can especially be seen in this particular instance. The very thing that we abhor becomes the most desirable thing for us in other contexts. We secretly love a thing, but publicly abhor it. This is how human beings behave. We are one thing in our bedroom, and another thing in parliament. Can we consider this aspect of human nature to be justifiable finally? Can God pardon us for this behaviour? Can we be real devotees of God if we behave in this manner?
If God wishes us to love Him alone finally, and no one else can come to our rescue, we must love Him as He is required to be loved. Unless we are attuned to His nature, our love is tarnished by human considerations. We carry the dirt of human thought even in our devotion to God, and therefore, it will not materialise. The same attachments of wealth, sex and family are hidden in a potential form even in our love for God. We keep these secrets of our attachments hidden under our armpit or in our bag, and then prostrate ourselves before God. God wants to break this down once and for all, for the welfare of His true devotees. This is also the secret behind the cheera-harana, or taking away the Gopis’ clothes, making them feel consternated and shamefaced, which is impossible to believe. When our prejudices are broken, we are unable to know what is happening to us, and it looks as though the Earth itself is breaking apart.
The whole life of a human being is prejudice and contortion, and an abominable justification of what cannot be finally justified. Therefore, man as man, woman as woman, cannot reach God. Man has to cease to be a man, and woman has to cease to be a woman, and they must attain the perfection of the unity of spirits—which is actually the dance of Rasa. It is spirit dancing with spirit. The particular souls of the jivas dance around the cosmic Universal Soul; and here, the comparison with human characteristics is completely anomalous. Therefore, no unpurified mind should read the Tenth Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata. Only a purified mind should read it.
Otherwise, how would we appreciate the answer of Suka Maharishi to Parikshit’s question, that this is a cure for desire? A thing that would otherwise rouse desire is considered to be a cure for it. This is how God acts. He slaps us from both sides, and we do not know what the intention behind it is. Sri Krishna behaved recklessly with his mother and his comrades, and yet always saved them in their hour of need. He did fantastic things such as eating mud, and then behaved abominably with children; but when he was threatened, he showed the Cosmic Form in his open mouth. But he would not allow his mother to remember this vision that he had shown her, and immediately veiled it from her consciousness. Again she hugged the little child, as if nothing had happened. Look at this contradiction in his behaviour. He showed the Cosmic Form, but would not allow her to keep that consciousness. Then why did he show it to her at all? This is how God acts. He will tantalise us, and yet save us.
This is the intention behind the Rasa Dance. Otherwise, the contradictory nature that is behind this performance is inexplicable to human nature. This is how God works. Are we able to comprehend God’s ways, how He can create and then destroy things? God can create floods and wash away villages. Is it justifiable action? He can break the Earth to its very bowels, and cause kingdoms and all humanity to fall into it. Does God create people in order that He may destroy them? Is He playing a joke? Yes, says the Brahmasutra. Lokavattu lilakaivalyam (B.S. 2.1.33). The only reason for God’s creation is to play jokes with Himself, as a child plays with his reflection. Reme rameśo vraja-sundarībhir yathārbhakaḥ sva-pratibimba vibhramaḥ (S.B. 10.33.16). Sri Krishna did not play with little children, he did not play with women; he played with his own reflections, as a child dances in ecstasy by seeing its own image in mirrors kept everywhere. His Gopis were only mirrors through which he himself was reflected and, therefore, they got transformed into a spirit which was not human—not man, not woman.
Krishna was not a man, and the Gopis were not women; they were something transcendent. Therefore, the description of the Rasa Lila is a cure for the maladies of human nature, says Suka Maharishi. Normally this meaning cannot be understood, and it is simply bypassed. We do parayana—we read the Bhagavata in seven days—but we do not grasp its meaning. We do not know what we have read. It seems to be all contradiction and trouble. Somehow we finish the reading, a havan is performed and the matter is over, but we have gained nothing by the Bhagavata-saptaha. This is what happens.
Here again we are hypocrites. Our religion is a bundle of contradictions and meaningless performances which cannot take us anywhere, finally. We must be honest to our own selves if we are really lovers of God. Who can love God? It is impossible. We can love only man, woman, children, wealth, egoism and power. What else can we love? Have we ever conceived the possibility of thinking of such a Perfection, which is the very meaning of the demonstrations of Bhagavan Sri Krishna?
Sri Krishna had a reason to behave in the way that is described in the first part of the Tenth Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata, and he behaved in a different way altogether in the Uttarardha, or the second part of the Tenth Skandha. Bala Lila is the predominant theme of the first part of the Tenth Skandha. The maturity of a world-wise householder is depicted in his Dvarka Lila. Sri Krishna’s whole life can be classified into three parts: the Vrindavana Lila, which is also called the Mathura Lila, the Dvarka Lila, and the Kurukshetra Lila.
In the Vrindavana Lila, Sri Krishna was a child, though he may be naughty, beautiful, enchanting, incomparably gracious, the sweetest, and the dearest of all. But in his Dvarka Lila, he became a mature gentleman of the world, and a statesman to some extent. After Krishna killed Kamsa, Kamsa’s two queens, Asti and Prapti, repaired to their father’s house in grief, and complained to him of the cause of their widowhood. Jarasandha, their father, was enraged, and attacked Mathura seventeen times, all of which were repelled by the forces of the Yadus. But it was too much for the residents of Mathura, and Sri Krishna thought it better to leave that place. He did not want to end Jarasandha, because he had many things to do through him. Balarama would have caught him and killed him on the spot, but Sri Krishna prevented him. He said, “Let him bring more forces. We will see to it later on.” So, Jarasandha was allowed to live, and he was not destroyed.
Then Krishna and Balarama scaled the mountain Gir, as it is known today, and crossed over it to Dvarka on the shore of the ocean and, through Visvakarma, built a fort that was so great it was humanly inconceivable. It is said that Sri Krishna’s palace was practically ninety miles long, consisting of many, many palaces for everyone—every one of his queens and his relatives. It extended ninety miles along the coast, right from Dvarka to Prabhas and Somnath. That entire area—you can imagine the length—was covered by Sri Krishna’s palace. Sri Krishna lived wonderfully in all the palaces. He received guests, meticulously following the rules and regulations laid down for a Grihastha. He would get up in the early morning, offer prayers to the sun, take a bath, touch the cow, give charity, feed people, and then receive people as a majestic well-wisher of all.
Sri Krishna had innumerable associations, and we are told that he had multiple queens. Again, the divinity in him manifested itself, which contradicted his having many wives—namely, his being present with many people simultaneously. He had so many consorts, and he was as many forms. When Narada went to see how Sri Krishna could manage having so many queens, he went to one palace and found Sri Krishna was taking bath, and his queen was there.
“Oh, Narada! How are you? How did you come?” Krishna asked.
“My Lord! I am just grateful to you. I came for your darshan,” replied Narada.
Narada was inquisitive as to what was happening with the other queens, and went to their palaces. Sri Krishna was there as well. In one palace he was taking his meal, in another he was receiving guests, in another he was performing a havan, and so on. Narada could not understand how Sri Krishna had appeared at all these places. Sri Krishna was present everywhere. How can this behaviour be explained? Is it human behaviour? Did Sri Krishna have queens, really speaking? Was he a man? Was he a human being? Can we consider him to be a person? Again the same sloka comes to our memory: yathārbhakaḥ sva-pratibimba vibhramaḥ. He saw himself in all his consorts. Otherwise, he could not become so many.
Janaka, the king, invited Sri Krishna for lunch one day, and it so happened that, at the same time, another respectable person, a Brahmana, also invited him. How is it possible to accept two invitations and be in two different places at the same time? Sri Krishna accepted both invitations, and had lunch at both places simultaneously. Each host thought that he was entertaining Sri Krishna, and did not know that he was present in the other place also.
It is impossible to recount the many lilas in the Uttarardha in a few minutes. When the Kamsa Vadham was over, Sri Krishna sent Akrura to Dhritarashtra to enquire about the welfare of the Pandavas. He had not forgotten them. Sri Krishna had not seen either the Pandava brothers or the Kurus even once until the idea came to him to enquire about their fate, because he heard that they were about to be burnt in the lakshagraha.
So Akrura went there, and he advised Dhritarashtra, “Your Highness! You must be very impartial to the sons of Pandu also.”
Dhritarashtra pleaded his inability. “I am glad that Krishna has sent a message. Whatever you have said is perfectly right, I agree. But my sons are dear to me, and they are pressurising me to behave like this. I cannot follow Krishna’s advice because of love for my children.”
Hearing all this, Akrura felt it was useless to talk to Dhritarashtra. He left, and conveyed the news to Bhagavan Sri Krishna.
If we read every verse of this Tenth Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata with an impartial eye, we will find everything is superhuman, and no human element can be found anywhere. Towards the end of the Dvarka Lila, there is Rukmini-harana. Sri Krishna marries Rukmini, and there also he played a lila, as recorded in the Bhagavata.
Sri Krishna completed one phase of his life entirely before he entered another phase. He entirely finished all the lilas of childhood before he entered into the householder life of Dvarka. The majestic good man and gentleman who was the ruler of Dvarka was altogether different from the little child in Vrindavana. But he had something else to do. His work was not over merely with the Vrindavana Lila and Dvarka Lila, where he lived a calm and quiet life of a householder, meeting people, blessing them, and helping them in any manner whatsoever. In this connection we are reminded of the blessing that he bestowed upon one of his old schoolmates, called Sudama.
The story of Sudama is touching indeed. He was utterly poor to the core, and was in rags. On the insistence of his wife, he trudged from Avanti, near Indore, through the deserts of Rajasthan to Sri Krishna’s palace in Dvarka. The gatekeepers would not allow him in because of his ragged appearance, but when Sudama insisted that he was a classmate of Sri Krishna, they went and told Sri Krishna, “Somebody is standing at the gate like a beggar, and he says he is your classmate.”
“Oh, I see!” said Sri Krishna. He ran and hugged Sudama and, to the horror of all, brought him into the palace and washed his feet.
“Ah! What have you brought me?” asked Sri Krishna.
Sudama, poor man, had brought nothing. He was ashamed to say anything. His wife had nothing to give him to offer when he went to have darshan of Sri Krishna, so she begged for a little beaten rice—chura—from neighbours, and tied it in a dirty old cloth, which he kept under his armpit. But he would not show it to Sri Krishna because he was dazzled by the glory of the palace and the wonderment of the entire atmosphere, so he hugged it tightly and said, “I have nothing.”
“No, you must have brought something,” said Sri Krishna.
He pulled out the small bundle, and it fell on a large plate. The little handful of beaten rice became a large heap that overflowed from the plate. Sri Krishna took one morsel, then a second, and was about to take a third when Rukmini held his hand, saying “With one morsel you have given him the glory of this whole world, with the second morsel you have given him heaven. Now you are about to take a third morsel. Do you want me to go as a servant of this man?”
Then there was a beautiful conversation between Sri Krishna and Sudama.
Sri Krishna enquired, “How are you? I am seeing you after a long time. Is everything going on well with you?”
“Ah! Yes. Everything is well,” replied Sudama.
He would not say why he had come. He was ashamed. He thought that Sri Krishna would know that it was due to his poverty. But Sri Krishna did not say anything about it. He did not ask, “Why you have come? Do you want anything? Can I give you something, or do anything for you?” He would not utter one word. Sudama was in a state of chagrin. “How is it that he doesn’t utter one word? I cannot ask. I am ashamed. I am so wretched in the presence of this great man.” After giving Sudama a cosy bed to sleep in, Sri Krishna bid him farewell, giving nothing to him, not even a little gift as a memento, a token. Nothing was given.
Barehanded, helpless, the poor man had to walk back. Mentally he was cursing himself. “Why did I come here? He never asked me anything. I am not able to understand. Now what shall I tell my wife when I return? I am ashamed that I have come at all. He could have at least asked me what I want. Even that he did not ask.” But then he reconciled himself. “I understand very well why he did not talk to me on this matter. It is because he knows what the true welfare is for a person. Wealth is very bad. It binds a person, and he will get attached to it, and will never attain salvation. He knows that it is good for me not to have anything. Oh! He has blessed me. I should not complain. Very good. I am very glad that he is so wise that he has understood what my welfare is. Money is not my welfare. Wealth is a cause of attachment. He has done a very wise thing. He has made me free from all attachment. Blessed be Sri Krishna! I am going as I came.”
When Sudama returned home, he could not find his hut. In its place there was a huge palace, lustrous like the sun, and a queen dressed in shining robes was standing in front. He did not understand. He thought he had missed his way and had entered the palace of some king.
“Mother!” he addressed that lady, “Do you know where that hut of Sudama lies, in what direction?”
She immediately said, “Oh, my dear! You don’t recognise me? I am your own wife. In one night, the whole thing transformed itself into this gorgeous palatial empyrean that you are seeing now. It is all the Lord’s greatness.”
Can we imagine a person building a palace in one night, by thought itself? Do we call it a superhuman feat, a divine feat, or a human action? Who, which human being, can do that? Can we consider Sri Krishna as a man at all? Was he a human being? No—it was the purna avatara, the Full Perfection that was manifest.
The story of Krishna is not complete without recounting his deeds in the Kurukshetra Lila—what the Kurukshetra Lila is, how Sri Krishna became a statesman who saved the country, and what wondrous message he gave us in the role that he played in the Mahabharata war. We shall take this up next.