Category Archives: Krsna

Vrindavan (Vrndavana)

India is a country with a varied and rich mythology. Vrindavan (aka Vrndavana) is located in Northern India around fifteen kilometres from Mathura and is considered to be one of the seven holiest cities for Hindus (Haberman, 272). The city features many sacred land and water features such as the Yamuna River, sacred groves (vanas), ponds (kundas) and ghats (holy steps leading down to a river) (Luthy, 4). It is also referred to as Vrindavan or Vrindivana city. The name Vrindavan is derived from ‘Vrinda’ which is another name for the sacred tulsi (i.e. basil) plant. It is one of the most holy cities within the Hindu tradition and is commonly known as the “The City of Temples” with allegedly five thousand in total.

Major religious routes within the forests of Vrindavan were first established in the sixteenth century based on the Sanksrit text Vraj Bhakti Vilasa written by Narayan Bhatt (Shah, 41). Bhatt is responsible for mapping out a large portion of the religious sites that are worshipped to this day. Bhatt more specifically mapped out the place-names found within the Puranas onto the physical terrain where these sites are found (Ghosh, 193) Pilgrimages are religious and cultural phenomena that are important features the Hindu religion. In the Hindu religion, a pilgrimage is referred to as a tirtha yatra and is a liminal process that establishes participation in the spiritual realm (Singh &Haigh, 783). A pilgrimage has been defined as a journey resulting from religious causes, externally to a holy site, and internally for spiritual purposes and internal understanding (Barber, 1). Today, pilgrimage is defined differently, as a traditional religious or modern secular journey (Collins-Kreiner, 440). For example, the Krsna Balrama Madir Temple, established in 1975 by His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has now become Vrindavan’s most popular temple and has one of the highest standards of deity worship and cleanliness. It has become one of the most popular temples and Hare Krsna devotees can be found here throughout the year (Jacobsen, 143).

Vrindavan is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for devotees of Krsna as the city is well-known as the forested region where the deity Krsna grew up as a humble cowherd (go-pala). The city itself is said to be where Krsna spent his childhood and many say that he still resides within the city itself.  It is located in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. The area of Vrindavan is described in the Puranas as the childhood home of the deity Krsna. This mythologized place was located geographically when the Bengali Saint Caitanya travelled there to rediscover Krsna’s childhood home where he then experienced visions of the deity in the uninhabited forest (jangala) which is now modern day Vrindavan (Ghosh, 194). Caitanya and his followers began to construct temples in the holy city that can still be found today. For example, the Madan Mohan Temple is the oldest temple in Vrndavan today and is closely associated with Caitanya.

Mathura (just outside of Vrindavan) is a little town and a major place of pilgrimage on the banks of the Yamuna River. It attracts about a half of a million pilgrims each year, especially during major festivals such as Krsna Janmastami, Holi, and Radhastami. These journeys are made to sacred places as an act of religious devotion (Nash, 101). Pilgrimage sites are places that people consider sacred and maintain their sanctity by visiting them regularly and relating them into their religious framework (Eck, 8). In India more than one hundred million people visit around two thousand major pilgrimage sites annually (Shinde, 449). During ritualized pilgrimages individuals travel to a sacred place and perform rituals considered necessary to appease the sacred object in that place. These ritual acts of worship acts by pilgrims (individual and collective) of worship and rituals are regarded as part of their normal their religious duties (Shinde, 450). Pilgrimages are crucial in the Hindu religion in order for an individual to engage all of the senses when to experiencing the sacred sites Vrindavan has to offer. The believer “sees” the sacred sights (temples, churches, relics, icons, monuments), he/she “hears” the sacred sounds (church and temple bells, drum beats, chanting, singing, the call to prayer), “touches” the sacred artifacts (icons, deities, texts), “eats” special food (such as consecrated food); and “smells” specific aromas (incense, fresh flowers) (Eck, 9). All of these experiences vary depending on the individual’s participation in the religious culture developed around the pilgrimage site itself (Shinde, 451).

Although there are thousands of temples erected within Vrindavan there are a few that stand out. Since the establishment in the fifteenth century, Vrindavan has continued to be a center for devotional pilgrimages dedicated to the deity Krsna. Vrindavan is a place for pilgrims to visit Krsna temples, participate in worship and rituals, listen to narration of stories from the religious epics of Krsna, and perform poetry, art, dance, song, and drama dedicated to Krsna’s glory (Shinde, 452). For example, these everyday rituals involve dressing the idol in finery and darshan, communal singing of hymns, and food offerings to the deity depending on the temple of worship. Today you can find a live video stream of the Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir which has now become one of the most popular and visited temples in the world.

Vrindavan is also a major site for Vaisnava groups. For example, widows (mostly from Bengal) have been congregating in Vrindavan for years to live out the rest of their lives. In India, social mores inhibit women from remarrying and they are shunned because they are viewed as inauspicious. Nilakantha Braja (The Blue-necked God) written by Assamese writer Indira Goswami highlights the plights of the widows who reside in the sacred city by depicting the despicable and undignified life and death experiences of these women. Known as the Radheyshamis (widows who sing devotional songs in temples for a pittance) these widows sing bhajans (hymns) in order to accumulate money to survive (Bhushan, 138). Whether young or old, widowed women leave behind their colorful saris, jewelry, and even shave their heads if they are part of the more conservative Hindu traditions (Jamadar, Melkeri, & Holkar, 57). Although these women are not forced to die in ritual sati (burning themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) they are still expected to mourn until their own deaths. Therefore, these women find refuge in Vrindavan where they lead miserable lives surviving by begging and singing hymns in praise of Gods (Pande, 209).

Today, the city of Vrindavan has become more of a tourist attraction than a pilgrimage site. Pilgrimages, themselves, are being transformed into mere sightseeing tours and can now be more accurately labeled as ‘religious tourism’ (Shinde, 184). Annually, Vrindavan receives more than six million visitors, who are no longer visiting strictly for religious reasons (Shinde, 448). Places that were once Hindu holy sites may be accessed with a simple search on Google where the best flight deals and top places to visit are a click away. However, some temples remain constant to modern Hindus such as the Banke-Bihari Temple which is considered to be the most popular shrine and is associated with Swami Haridas and Nimbarka. Another is Nidhi Van Temple where Krsna and Radha are said to come out after midnight and indulge in raas-leela (dance found in the Puranas) and then rest in the Rang Mahal Temple which is decorated daily for the two deities.

In conclusion, Vrindavan is gaining popularity due to its numerous temples. Construction and development are ongoing which includes temples, guest houses, and apartments. Simply wandering around Vrindavan allows one to see the vast beauty of the holy city and share vicariously in the myths of Krsna.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Barber, R. (1993) Pilgrimages. London: The Boydell Press.

Bhushan, Ravi. (2014) “Estranged Identity: The Problem of Hindu Widows in Indira Goswami’s Nilakantha Braja.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 5 #2:138-141.

Collins-Kreiner, N. (2010) “Researching pilgrimage: Continuity and transformations.” Annals of tourism research, 37(2): 440-456.

Eck, D. L. (1981) “Darsan: Seeing the divine image in India.” Chambersberg, PA: Anima Books: 8-9.

Ghosh, P. (2002) “Tales, tanks, and temples:the creation of a sacred center in seventeenth-century Bengal,” Asian Folklore, 61 #2:193-222.

Haberman, D. (1994) Journey through the Twelve Forests: An encounter with Krsna. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luthy, T. (2016) “Few people know that Krishna was the first environmentalist”. Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment.

Jacobsen, K. A. (2015) “Book review: Modern Hindu Personalism: The History, Life, and Thought of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, written by Ferdinando Sardella.” Numen, 62(1): 143-146.

Jamadar, C., Melkeri, S. P., & Holkar, A. (2015) “Quality of Life among Widows”. #1: 57-68.

Mostafanezhad, M., Norum, R., Shelton, E. J., & Thompson-Carr, A. (2016) “Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, Power and the Environment”. Routledge: #2.

Pande, Rekha (2015) “Widows Of Vrindavan-Feminisation Of Old Age In India.” Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies Vol. 10: 209-223.

Shah, B. (2006) “The Pilgrimage of the Groves: Reconstructing the Meaning of a Sixteenth-Century Hindu Landscape”. Arnoldia: 39-41.

Shinde, K. A. (2015) “Religious tourism and religious tolerance: insights from pilgrimage sites in India.” Tourism Review, 70(3): 179-196.

Shinde, K. A. (2011) ““This is a religious environment”: Sacred space, environmental discourse, and environmental behavior at a Hindu pilgrimage site in India””. Space and Culture. 14: 448-463.

Shinde, K. A. (2008) “The environment of pilgrimage in the sacred site of Vrindavan, India.” PhD diss., Monash University: 449-451.

Shinde, K. A. (2007) “Case study 6: Visiting sacred sites in India: Religious tourism or pilgrimage.” Religious tourism and pilgrimage festivals management: An international perspective: 184-197.

Singh, R. P., & Haigh, M. J. (2015) “Hindu Pilgrimages: The Contemporary Scene.” The Changing World Religion Map: 783-801

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Banke-Bihari Temple

Bhagauata Purana

bhahjans

Chaintanya

dham

ghats

go-pala

Hare Krsna

Holi

jangala

Janmashtami

kundas

Krsna Balrama Madir Temple

Madan Mohan Temple

Mathura

Nimbarka

Nidhi Van

Nilakantha Braya

raas-leela

Radhahtami

Radheyshamis

Rang Mahal

sati

Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Madir Temple

Swami Haridas

tirtha yatra

tulsi

vaisnava

vanas

Vraj Bhakti Vilasa

Yamuna River

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.vrindavan-dham.com/vrindavana/ (Sri Vrindavan Dham, 2016).

http://daily.bhaskar.com/news/JM-a-secretive-place-in-vrindavan-where-radha-krishna-indulge-in-raas-leela-every-n-4874572-PHO.html?seq=5 (Daily Bhaskar, 2016).

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/mathura.asp (Hindu Website, 2016).

http://www.stephen-knapp.com/vrindavana_the_holy_land_of_lord_krishna.htm (Vrindavana: The Holy Land of Lord Krsna, 2009).

http://www.krishna.com/vrindavan (Krishna.com, 2016).

 

Article written by: Lindsay Tymchyna (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bhagavad Gita (A Comprehensive Study)

The Bhagavad Gita remains, to this day, one of the most influential books of the Hindu religion, estimated to originate as far back as roughly the third or fourth century BC (Davis 6).  The Gita, or Song of the Blessed One or Lord is a long dialogue between Krishna (a Supreme Deity) and a warrior, Arjuna (Edgerton 105).  The event takes place on the battle field of Kurukshetra, during a war between two rival families, finding the warrior-Prince Arjuna steeped in doubt and dejection (Edgerton 105).  Through the dialogue, Krishna teaches and reveals the mysteries of existence to Arjuna, convincing him to perform his sacred duty and fight the impending war (Edgerton 105, Stoler-Miller).  The Bhagavad Gita’s malleability has survived the ages and continues to have a profound effect on those who read it (Davis).  This essay will examine the content of the Gita, in addition to various commentary of both individual chapters, and the work as a whole.  In addition, this paper will supply further context of specific passages, and provide a moderate history of the book to substantiate its existence and importance in regard to Hindu tradition.

To begin, the actual content of The Bhagavad Gita shall be examined chapter by chapter.  In the initial chapter of the Gita, Sanjaya, an overseer, or chorus of sorts, reports the setting to the blind King Dhritarashtra, which is made apparent by listing the warriors assembled on the “Kuru Field” (Edgerton 3).  Near the end, we find Arjuna slumped in his chariot between the two sides, steeped in misery at the thought of going to war against his kinsmen, riddled with a lowness of spirit, physically crippled, in the presence of the imminent war before him.  He foresees in the war “… omens of chaos” (Stoler-Miller 25), finding “…no good in killing [his] kinsmen” (Stoler-Miller 25).  This chapter is known as Arjuna’s Dejection (Stoler-Miller 21) or Discipline of Arjuna’s Despondency (Edgerton 8).

Commentary from the viewpoint of the average Hindu, as provided in this paper by Eknath Easwaran, titles this chapter “The War Within”, and points out the first detail the reader must pick up in order to understand the actual purpose of the text – this is not Krishna’s fight, it is Arjuna’s own internal battle (Easwaran 47).  The author points out some interesting insights here about the significance of the setting of the Gita, that may explain the seeming paradox of the lessons Krishna is trying to deliver in the context of a war.  As the incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, Krishna is sworn to be noncombatant and impartial, and as Arjuna’s charioteer in the middle of a battlefield, this role becomes possible (Easwaran 47).  Easwaran also explains some of the other people mentioned in the opening chapter, giving more context to the non-Hindu reader.  The blind king, Dhritarashtra, is Arjuna’s uncle, and has been blind since birth (48).  He was never actually supposed to rule, but ended up assuming power when his brother, Pandu, whom he co-ruled with, died (Easwaran 48).  Dhritarashtra tried to eventually install Duryodhana, his own son, as King.  However, the grown up son of Pandu, Yudhishthira, is the rightful heir, thus leading to the war and its imminency (Easwaran 48-49).  Other people worth mentioning according to Easwaran are Drona, a brahmin-turned warrior specialist, who taught all the warriors including Arjuna, who was his prized student (Easwaran 49).  Bhisma, “the grandsire”, a respected elder statesman, is also Dhritarashtra’s advisor, and worth mentioning according to the translator (Easwaran 49).  Easwaran also discusses the two main viewpoints about the setting of war as a backdrop for the Gita.  Firstly, there is the orthodox Hindu view that “…condones war for the warrior” (Easwaran 50), claiming war for a warrior is simply dharma playing out.  War is tragic and honorable at the same time, and is an evil that simply cannot be avoided.  War is in accordance with divine will to the orthodox viewpoint (Easwaran 50).  The second view of this setting is the mystic standpoint, which claims an allegory of cosmic struggle between good and evil (Easwaran 50).  Gandhi famously said by placing too much stock in the setting of the Gita “…gives importance only to its opening – its preface – ignoring the scripture itself” (Easwaran 50).  Chapter one of the Bhagavad Gita “…bridges a rather perilous bridge between the warrior’s world,…and the really important part of the Gita – Sri Krishna’s revelations of spiritual truth” (Easwaran 51).

The second chapter, known as Philosophy and Spiritual Discipline (Stoler-Miller 29) or Discipline of Reason Method (Edgerton 17), lets the colloquial discourse of Krishna begin.  Arjuna is so beside himself, his “…eyes [are] blurred by tears” (Stoler-Miller 29).  Krishna urges Arjuna to rise to the occasion of his sacred duty, even though to Arjuna  is clearly torn between “…conflicting sacred duties” (Stoler-Miller 30).  Which is better?  To not fight and be silent?  Or to go into battle, and surely have to slay kinsmen?  In this moment of the dialogue, Arjuna has settled on stepping aside from the fight that confronts him.  Krishna begins with telling him that you “…[cannot] grieve for those beyond grief” and that “learned men do not grieve for the dead or the living” (Stoler-Miller 31).  The deity is speaking of rebirth and reincarnation of spirit, beyond the realm of the human body.  Krishna also reminds Arjuna that the senses are fleeting, the human body is impermanent, and that the embodied self is indestructible and immeasurable, and when one finds the infinite spirit within, one is freed from delusion (Stoler-Miller 34-39).   The analogy used is of changing of clothing and the body, in that the cycle of life is inevitable. Arjuna questions what defines a man deep in contemplation and Krishna informs him that he has to give up desires, and be content with oneself.  One must also free himself from attachment and desire.  This chapter lays the foundation for further understanding of Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna, confirming he has no cause to grieve, since through self control and discipline, one finds serenity (Stoler-Miller 32-39).

According to Easwaran’s commentary, “The Illumined Man” is the title of the following chapter, chapter two of the Gita.  Krishna’s task as Arjuna’s spiritual teacher is set out, to raise him out of despair and put him on his way to salvation (57).  He points out that Arjuna has always been a man of action, and has not given much thought to spirituality at this point of his life, but as Krishna points out, active life alone is not enough (Easwaran 57-59).  Thus Arjuna asks the perennial questions to give the Gita its purpose and mandate – Is there a soul?, What happens to the soul after death?, and Is there a deeper reality? (Easwaran 57-60).  Interestingly, as the author points out, Krishna begins with an “ultimate premise”  of the atman to answer his students principal questions (Easwaran 58), rather than leading Arjuna stage by stage. The main point is that the immortal soul is more important than the passing world (Easwaran 57-60).  Out of his comprehension, Arjuna knows he needs Krishna as his Guru (in Hindu thought, one needs an experienced teacher to seek spiritual enlightenment) (Easwaran 57-60).  This chapter also introduces the concept of samsara, and seeing past the dualities that exist in life (Easwaran 57-60).  Also touched upon in this overview chapter are the different types of yoga and their importance for spirituality (Easwaran 57-60).  One of the Gita’s most cited and famous quotes is found in this portion when Krishna answers Arjuna’s question about what difference spiritual wisdom makes in everyday life (Easwaran 59).  The warning of sense objects, yet shying from austerity is also introduced (Easwaran 57-60).

The third teaching in the Gita expands on the notion of discipline regarding action.  It is known as Discipline of Action (Stoler-Miller 41) or Discipline of Knowledge (Egderton 27).  This chapter focuses on disciplined knowledge of the discipline of men themselves when in action.  Arjuna questions whether understanding is more powerful than action and queries his mentor to”…speak one certain truth” (Stoler-Miller 41).  His mentor replies by first explaining that one cannot escape the force of action, neither by abstaining by it or acting for fruits (Stoler-Miller 41-45).  Krishna reaffirms that performing necessary action is far more powerful than inaction, and that actions must be performed without attachment, uttering words spoken by Prajapati (Stoler-Miller 42).  Prajapati said “By sacrifice will you procreate!  Let it be your wish-granting cow!” (Stoler-Miller 42).  Perhaps the most important point in this section is when Krishna declares that “Your own action  done imperfectly is better than doing someone else’s duty perfectly” (Stoler-Miller 46).

The third section of the scripture is called “Selfless Service” according to Easwaran.  He explains the meaning of “karma yoga”, which translates in Sanskrit as “the way of action”, and this takes a sharp turn away from the previous chapter (Easwaran 71).  While Krishna begins to try and teach his student, Arjuna can only find himself concerned with his immediate predicament (Easwaran 71).  Krishna explains: we must all act selflessly and out of a sense of duty, doing our part in the grand scheme of things, which cannot be avoided (Easwaran 71-72).  Here, the Doctrine of Karma comes to the forefront as Krishna tries to convince Arjuna to fight his battle, which is one of the most basic Hindu teachings (Easwaran 71-72).  Put quite simply by Krishna, actions determine destiny, reminding him not to avoid work, but to perform them without selfish attachment (Easwaran 72).  Arjuna’s next question deals with what binds us to our selfish ways, and his teacher answers that is the qualities of anger and selfish desire (Easwaran 73).  The Gita refers to the Sankhya philosophy of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas, warning of the pitfalls of the latter two (Easwaran 72-73).  An example of a noble king by the name of Janaka is given as an example of how to conduct oneself to Arjuna (Easwaran 73).

Knowledge (Stoler-Miller 49) or Discipline of Renunciation of Actions (Edgerton 31) are the titles of the fourth teaching.  Perhaps in this part of the Gita Arjuna better understands his sacred duty of action as a result of how Krishna clarifies true knowledge.  The deity explains that when sacred duty decays and chaos prevails, he must then re-create himself to restore order, much the way sacrifice in the world of man (ie: Arjuna’s sacred duty to fight) is equivalent to action, even though action can easily be obscured (ie: wrong action, inaction) (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  In other words, existence must keep going, and we must do our duty, even when it may not be desirable or ideal (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  When one has true knowledge, which is the mastery of oneself, the totality of all action emanates in it, and if one recognizes this, one can never descend into delusion (Stoler-Miller 52-52).  “The fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes (Stoler-Miller 54).

Chapter four, in reference to Easwaran’s treatise of the Gita is referred to as “Wisdom in Action”.  Arjuna is informed he will be privy to “secret teachings” (Easwaran 81).  The process of re-birth is again raised, and Krishna’s greatness is implied when he informs Arjuna he can recall his past lives unlike mortal men (Easwaran 81).  Roots of the Sanskrit words avatar (avatara=descent) and krish (“to draw a plow”, “to draw to oneself”) are also explained by this author (Easwaran 82-83), which gives some insight into the Hindu thought about God.  The latter part of this chapter turns back again to Arjuna’s problem, and Krishna makes a new point in the final verses, in that wisdom is the end of selfless action, knowing is the fruit of doing (Easwaran 83).

Chapter five is called Renunciation of Action (Stoler-Miller 57) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 37), and focuses on which is superior: renunciation of action or discipline.  Krishna teaches discipline in action is better, and that by mastery of one correctly, one will find the fruit of both, and that renunciation is impossible without discipline (Stoler-Miller 57).  He further explains that undisciplined men are in bondage, attached to the fruit of desire (Stoler-Miller 58).  Through “…exist[ing] in the infinite spirit, [men will find] flawless equilibrium” (Stoler-Miller 59).

The fifth chapter, according to lay Hindus, is titled “Renounce and Rejoice”, and contrasts complete renunciation (sannyasa) and detachment in the working world (Easwaran 91).  Siddhartha Gautama’s quest, for example, is a prime illustration of trying to maintain balance yet avoiding austerity through a middle way (Easwaran 91).  The translator points out that the word “yoga” presents difficulties in the Gita, as it means different things at different times (Easwaran 92).  Generally speaking, it is fair to say that yoga=practice and sankhya=theory (Easwaran 92).  The Gita could indeed be the first Hindu scripture to combine karma yoga and the pursuit of self knowledge together (Easwaran 92).  The true goal of action is knowledge of the self, and in that the example of the lotus flower is given – it spends its life floating in water, yet is waterproof (Easwaran 92).  Krishna’s point is that a life of work cannot be fulfilling without self knowledge, also known as the knowledge of Brahman (Easwaran 93).  The last three verses, as the author points out, deal with Samadhi, and how once established, can come and go, yet always be resilient (Easwaran 93-94).

The Man of Discipline (Stoler-Miller 63) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 41), the name of the sixth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, outlines what proper discipline in living is.  Declaring that discipline is renunciation, only one who is mature in this has tranquility as a means (Stoler-Miller 63).  For Krishna, discipline is equal to renouncing and detaching from all intentions, sense objects and actions being renounced and detached from (Stoler-Miller 63-69).  Men need to “elevate not degrade oneself” (Stoler-Miller 63).  The self is both ones best friend and worst foe, and a man without self-mastery is in internal war (Stoler-Miller 64) and by controlling the mind, diet, breath, demeanor, senses, sleepfulness, desires and cravings, the disciplined man is “…unmoved, even by deep suffering” (Stoler-Miller 66).  The man who’s self is in God and who “…acts with honor, cannot go the wrong way” (Stoler-Miller 68).

The sixth chapter, according to Easwaran, is called “The Practice of Meditation”, and is one of the most interesting chapters of the Gita according to this author.  Krishna delivers a detailed explanation of meditation for the layperson very simply (Easwaran 99).  Easwaran points out how the western notion of a yogi is inconsistent, in that what a true yogi is is a person who does his or her job without attachment to rewards (100).  Great depth is gone into by Krishna in his explanation of the practice of meditation, and he uses a mountain top analogy to explain to Arjuna that his spiritual path will not be easy, but a constant struggle right to the top (Easwaran 100-101).  A famous verse in this chapter has Krishna comparing the mind to a flame, while Arjuna says his mind is more like the wind (Easwaran 101).  The teacher reinforces to the student that through practice, the mind can be trained, in the proper mindfulness, in the proper way physically (Easwaran 101-103).  Arjuna questions what happens to a person who is spiritual but does not pursue this goal.  Krishna reaffirms that any practice will not got to waste, and that spiritual enlightenment can take as many lives as it needs to (Easwaran  102-103).

The seventh teaching in the Gita is entitled Knowledge and Judgment (Stoler-Miller 71) or Discipline of the Theoretical and Practical Knowledge (Edgerton 45).  Arjuna’s teacher tells him that by practicing discipline in God’s protection, one can know God without doubt (Stoler-Miller 72).  God teaches the totality of knowledge and judgment, and that nothing else needs to be known (Stoler-Miller 71-72).  In both versions, Krishna clearly states God’s lower and higher natures.  The lower  natures are eight-fold and include earth, water, fire, wind, space, mind, understanding, and individuality, and the higher nature of God is the “…life force that sustains the universe” (Stoler-Miller 72).  Nature’s triad of qualities, spoken further of in the fourteenth teaching, lucidity, passion and dark inertia also come from God (Stoler-Miller 72), and in turn produce four types of virtuous men devoted to God: the tormented, the seeker of wisdom, the suppliant and the sage (Stoler-Miller 73).  Krishna reminds Arjuna that “unwaivering faith [maybe granted] to any devoted man to worship in any form”  (Stoler-Miller 73).  The overwhelming tone of this teaching is devotion to God and the love one will endure in return.

Easwaran explains, in the seventh chapter, the problems with the translations of certain words from Sanskrit, such as jnana (wisdom, roughly) and vijnana (realization, roughly) (Easwaran 111).  These words can be left up to interpretation, and can mean many different things.  This chapter follows several trails, sometimes losing a unifying theme – which as Easwaran points out is knowledge of the supreme reality underlying nature (111).  Two natures, important to the Sankhya school of Hindu philosophy, are discussed in this section, which are prakriti (mind and matter) and purusha (pure spirit) (Easwaran 112).  The word “maya” (from the Rig Veda) also appears here as the three gunas are brought forth, swirling within maya, hiding Krishna’s true nature (113-114).  Moha (delusions) are contrasted with jnana and vijnana (113-114).

The eighth teaching, perhaps one of the most difficult chapters in the Gita to decipher, is entitled The Infinite Spirit (Stoler-Miller 77) or Discipline of the Imperishable Brahman (Edgerton 45), begins with a question from Arjuna concerning what the infinite spirit is, what its inner self is, what its inner being is, and what its inner divinity is (Stoler-Miller 77).  Krishna answers respectively with that the inner spirit is eternal and supreme, its action or creative force is the inherent being, and its divinity is man’s spirit (Stoler-Miller 77).  There is an overall focus on God and how man will always be one with him.

“The Eternal Godhead” is the title of the eighth chapter by Easwaran, and alludes to several important concepts presented more fully in the Upanishads (119).  The very ancient ideas discussed and taught by Krishna in chapter eight explain the soul’s journey after death, and how to die (Easwaran 12-13, 119).  Arjuna questions how God can be known at the hour of death.  Krishna replies that anyone who remembers God will, since the mind directs the soul (Easwaran 119-120).  First, consciousness is withdrawn from the senses, and then the mind is placed (locked up) in the heart (chakra), at which time the mind can go north (released from karma) or south (not, and reborn) (Easwaran 120-122).  This chapter also alludes to the “days and nights of Brahma”, which is strikingly similar to modern expand and collapse theories of the universe, yet Hindu thought believes in a higher state of being (Vishnu), or avyakta (the unmanifest) (Easwaran 124).

The Sublime Mystery (Stoler-Miller 83) or Discipline of Royal Knowledge and Royal Mystery (Edgerton 49) is the title of the ninth chapter.  Krishna divulges to Arjuna “…the deepest mystery” “…since he finds no fault and will realize it with knowledge and judgment” (Stoler-Miller 83).  The deep mystery is that God is everything, yet does not exist within men, and that any man devoted is not lost (Stoler-Miller 84-85).  If men act in resolve through sacred duty, they are one with God, regardless of what they do. (Stoler-Miller 86).

Chapter nine of the Gita is called “The Royal Path”, in average viewpoints, and praises Krishna as the supreme being, while exalted nature is stressed, and warning is given to those who think God is limited or to be underestimated (Easwaran 129).  This would definitely speak to the average follower about the importance of loyalty to God.  A lot of this chapter is dedicated to bhakti, or real love and devotion to God, reassuring God’s impartiality toward all living things (Easwaran 129-131

The tenth teaching, called Fragments of Divine Power (Stoler-Miller 89) or Discipline of Supernal Manifestations (Edgerton 54), has Krishna trying to explain that regardless of diverse attitudes about God among men, God is the source of everything, and everything proceeds from God (Stoler-Miller 89-90).  Arjuna asks him to recount his divine powers.  The deity explains that he is the beginning, middle and end, a number of Gods including Vishnu, Indra, and Shiva, he is the great mountain of Gods, Meru, he is OM, the great Himalayas, the sacred fig tree, chief of divine sages, the immortal stallion, the king, etc., sustaining the world with a fragment of his being (Stoler-Miller 90-95).  The purpose of this teaching is a segway of demonstration of Krishna’s greatness into the next chapter that includes the actual vision of Arjuna.

“Divine Splendor” is the title of chapter ten according to Easwaran’s explanation, and goes deeper into revelation of the divine being of Krishna, the source from which all comes, encompassing all dualities, and incomprehensible beyond thought (Easwaran 137-138).  The author points out that this can be a difficult chapter for non-Hindu reader, for there are many unfamiliar names.

The vision teaching, or eleventh chapter titled The Vision of Krishna’s Totality (Stoler-Miller 97) or Discipline of the Vision of the Universal Form (Edgerton 61), is perhaps the climax of the Gita itself, and it is explained by the outside voice of Sanjaya.  After Arjuna asks Krishna to “…reveal himself…”(Stoler-Miller 97), the great vision of God’s totality begins, intense and foreign.  Arjuna is so affected by this that he has a clearly written physical reaction to the intensity of his experience.

“The Cosmic Vision” in Easwaran’s version is claimed to be the most exalted chapter of the Gita.  Arjuna sees the divine vision of Krishna as his full nature as God himself (Easwaran 147).  Some critics have questioned why the vision is granted to Arjuna, and the reasoning probably is because in the Mahabarata, the two have been companions for many years.  The rest of the chapter describes Arjuna’s Samadhi, a word used by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (Easwaran 147-148).  For Arjuna, there are two forms of Samadhi experienced during his vision, savikalpa (God in human form), and nirvikalpa (all forms disappearing into God, supernatural fire consuming the entire phenomenal world) (Easwaran 148).  It is here, and has been described by many mystics as “a thousand suns” (Easwaran 148).    There is definite entertainment value for the lay follower in this chapter.

The twelfth section of the Gita is called Devotion (Stoler-Miller 111) or Discipline of Devotion (Edgerton 64).  Arjuna questions who best knows discipline.  Krishna answers that men who worship, with true faith, the imperishable, the ineffable and the un-manifest.  He explains that men are bound by bodies, and therefore the un-manifest becomes hard to comprehend (Stoler-Miller 111).  Therefore, meditating with singular discipline, and attaining knowledge gives one faith in devotion (Stoler-Miller 111-113).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as “The Way of Love” (159).  It is brief and focuses on the supreme importance of devotion and faith in spiritual development (Easwaran 159).  As the author points out, all world religions would probably agree with the Gita at this point, as it stresses a way of devotion, and stresses the efficacy of devotion (Easwaran 159).  The approach found in this text is one of incomprehensibility of everything, and faith from love, as love is a sure path to God, and can be cultivated through practice (Easwaran 159-160).

Knowing the Field (Stoler-Miller 115) or Discipline of Distinction of Field and Field Knower (Edgerton 68) names the thirteenth teaching.  Krishna first explains what “The Field” is, being the great elements: individuality, understanding, un-manifest nature, the eleven senses, and five sense realms (Stoler-Miller 115).  He continues by clarifying that dispassion toward sense objects, an absence of individuality, and seeing the defects in birth, death, old age and suffering will help a man attain the infinite spirit (Stoler-Miller 116).  The self is not an actor, and everything is born from the field and its knower (Stoler-Miller 117-118).  “Just as the sun illuminates the world, so too does the master illuminate the entire field” (Stoler-Miller 119).

“The Field and the Knower”, according to Easwaran, is the title of chapter thirteen, and gives the reader two sweeping categories: the field (the body and mind, all components of prakriti – mass, time, energy, space and strata of mind) and the knower (the Self that resides within) (Easwaran 165).  This section focuses in on the dualities (prakriti and purusha) of all things (Sankhya philosophy), and how the “field of karma” defines the whole of existence.  The interesting comparison of akasha (space itself as an element) is used as an analogy (Easwaran 168).

The fourteenth teaching in the Gita is entitled The Triad of Nature’s Qualities (Stoler-Miller 121) or Discipline of Distinction of the Three Strands (Edgerton 72).  Krishna tells Arjuna he will teach him “…the farthest knowledge one can know” (Stoler-Miller 121).  The triad of nature’s qualities are lucidity, passion and dark inertia, which all bind the self in the body (Stoler-Miller 121).  Lucidity binds one to joy, passion to craving and attachment, and dark inertia to ignorance and delusion (Stoler-Miller 122).  Arjuna proceeds to have Krishna explain these aspects and how they work for and against men.  Arjuna questions what distinguishes a transcendent man from others, and Krishna explains that no desire, disinterest, knowing qualities of nature, being self-reliant, impartial and resolute serves God faithfully and becomes the basis for perfect joy (Stoler-Miller 124-125).

Easwaran titles chapter fourteen “The Forces of Evolution”, and contends it deals greatly with the nature of prakriti, the basis of the world of mind and matter in which we exist (175).  The gunas, do not translate perfectly from Sanskrit, but are likely to be present, and constantly shifting, in all people, as they are thought of as the “mix that colors our experience” (Easwaran 175-176).  Krishna tells Arjuna that all three must be transcended for the soul to attain peace.

Chapter fifteen, or The True Spirit of Man (Stoler-Miller 127) or Discipline of the Highest Spirit (Edgerton 75), gives an analogy of the tree of life: unchanging, nourished by nature’s qualities, budding with sense objects, we must take an ax, sharp like attachment, and free man to return to the original spirit (Stoler-Miller 127-128).  The seer of truth though knowledge will see God and in turn conquer self-mastery (Stoler-Miller 128-131).

An average Hindu would probably call this section “The Supreme Self”, and recognize it is a fairly difficult section of the Gita – essentially, it deals with questions of theology (Easwaran 181).  The nature of God and that which transcends everything including Atman and the world of matter is explained to Arjuna, even though a paradox is found here: Krishna says he is Atman yet transcends it (Easwaran 182).  An upside down Pipal tree is given as an analogy to Arjuna this time (Easwaran 182).  This section also speaks of Krishna’s abode of light: avyayam padam (pada=foot or step), in reference to how Vishnu took three steps to measure out the cosmos (Easwaran 182-183).  Krishna is the prana or breath or vitality, which refers to ancient scripture of the five pranas, the Gita dealing with the two most prominent: breath and digestion of food (Easwaran 182-183).

The sixteenth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, called The Divine and the Demonic Man (Stoler-Miller 133) or Discipline of Distinction between Divine and Demonic Lots (Edgerton 78), lists the different traits of both a divine man and a demonic man.  Demonic traits led to bondage and divine traits lead to freedom put simply (Stoler-Miller 133-135).  While all creatures are one or the other, demonic men cannot comprehend activity and rest, have no clarity, morality or truth residing within them, landing them in the three gates of hell, desire, anger and greed (Stoler-Miller 135).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as the “Two Paths” (187).  It is a most unusual chapter, as it departs from the view of human nature and describes two tendencies among men: the higher or divine and the lower or demonic, and describes in great depth the differenecs between a desirable man and the opposite (Easwaran 187).  This section also mentions the three doors to hell: lust, greed and anger.  Demon and divine are not to be taken too literally, as they more imply the battle between good and evil (Easwaran 189).

The second last chapter of the Gita, before the dialogue concludes, called The Three Aspects of Faith (Stoler-Miller 137) or Discipline of Distinction of Three Kinds of Faith (Edgerton 82), finds Arjuna questioning Krishna about which quality “…men who ignore tradition, but sacrifice in full faith…”(Stoler –Miller 137) have.  The deity explains that a man’s faith depends on lucidity of mind, giving examples to Arjuna, such as food choices of men (Stoler-Miller 138).  He says that one must not violate norms, one must practice bodily, mental and verbal penance, and one must also practice proper acts of charity (Stoler-Miller 138-140).  Krishna also expands on the notion of OM TAT SAT in this section.

Commentary by Easwaran also addresses the question about what happens to those who do not follow orthodoxy.  According to him, Krishna goes into greater detail of the gunas and stresses the importance of shradda (faith, or the sum of all that’s held in the heart) (Easwaran 193).  According to Krishna there are different kinds of faith depending on the gunas present and potency.  Om Tat Sat is also mentioned in this chapter, which means “only the good really exists”, and Krishna explains how evil is transient and therefore does not actually exist (Easwaran 194-195).

The final and concluding chapter of the great discussion between Krishna and Arjuna entitled The Wondrous Dialogue Concludes (Stoler-Miller 143) or Discipline of Renunciation unto Salvation (Edgerton 91), answers the student’s question about the “…real essence of renunciation”(Stoler-Miller 143).  This can be achieved, according to the deity, by giving up actions based on desire and relinquishing all fruits of action, through the three kinds of relinquishment: action in sacrifice, charity, and penance (Stoler-Miller 143-145).  However, he clarifies that renunciation of prescribed action is inappropriate and becomes a way of dark inertia (Stoler-Miller 144).  Krishna further explains five causes for success for all actions, including the material basis, the agent, different instruments, the various behaviors, and fate (Stoler-Miller 145).  The dialogue concludes with a basic over view of Krishna’s lessons, about sacred duties, relinquishment and detachment, the infinite spirit and our own intrinsic being and our bounding to it (Stoler-Miller 146-153).  Krishna enforces with Arjuna, to “…keep his mind on God”(Stoler-Miller 152), and the conversation ends with a small commentary from Sanjaya.

The closing chapter in the text is titled “Freedom and Renunciation” according to Easwaran’s viewpoint, and it roams over many subjects.  The Gita is aimed at those who “live in the world”, yet desire fulfillment, and therefore Krishna recommends the path of tyaga over the path of sannyasa, a middle route to enlightenment (Easwaran 201).  Moksa (liberation) comes from renunciation of the gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna, since in life you can never be sure things will turn out as planned (Easwaran 202).  The Gita offers a more practical application of some of the Sankhya teachings, such as the three kinds of happiness (Easwaran 202).  Krishna explains caste in this conclusion, and points out it is better to do one’s own work imperfectly than to do another’s perfectly (Easwaran 202), but the returns to his favorite topic: devotion and faith in God, to wrap up the diologue, giving the analogy of a toy mounted on a machine (Easwaran 202-203).  Arjuna is asked if he understands and he confirms, attending to his divine duty.

The Gita is problematic to translate perfectly from its initial writing in Sanskrit to other languages, as demonstrated by Easwaran.  This contributes to the subjectivity in interpretations already available in individual passages, chapters, and work as an aggregate.  In order to demonstrate the partisanship that one can interpret from The Bhagavad Gita, a comparison of several versions of the text regarding “…two verses with unmistakable resonance for modern society” could provide further evidence (Davis 172).  In Richard H. Davis’s biography of the Gita, he provides comparison of “…four distinct approaches to the task of translating [it]” (172).  This paper will summarize one of those in comparison with several others from my research.

The two notable and descriptive passages that easily expose the subjectivity of the translations are in the eleventh teaching, during Arjuna’s grand vision, when Krishna describes himself and the greatness of God to the warrior prince (Davis 172).  As Davis recounts, “on July 16, 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer (a brilliant physicist and gifted amateur student of Sanskrit) watched the first human-controlled atomic explosion at Los Alamos, New Mexico…[he] later recalled [this] passage from the Bhagavad Gita…” (172):

If the radiance of a thousand suns

Were to burst at once into the sky,

That would be like the splendor

Of the Mighty One…

I am become Death

The shatterer of worlds. (173).

 

It is not surprising that Oppenheimer compared the intensity and God-like force of an atomic bomb to these passages, and the description Krishna gives as God himself (Davis 173).  Drawing from the two more poetic and easy reading versions I came across during my own research of the Gita, it can be demonstrated how these passages can be delivered more gently, and taken in a completely different context.

In Barbara Stoler-Miller’s translation, the passages read:

 

If the light of a thousand suns

were to rise in the sky at once,

it would be like the light

of that great spirit…

I am time grown old

creating world destruction (pp. 99, 11:12, pp. 103, 11:32).

 

And in Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of the translation, the matching segments announce:

If a thousand suns were to rise

and stand in the noon sky, blazing,

such brilliance would be like the fierce

brilliance of that mighty Self…

I am death, shatterer of worlds

annihilating all things. (pp. 134, 11:12, pp. 138, 11:32).

 

These two translations clearly show, when juxtaposed against Oppenheimer’s version,  the poetics that can be drawn from the text.  It can be made more gentle, with milder words – especially in the latter passage speaking about the inevitable fate of death and destruction in the human world.

Interpretation of the passages according to both a lay/average Hindu viewpoint, and a consecrated Hindu Guru will also greatly expose the variability available in the Gita.  Swami Prabhupada, who “…established a following of Krishna consciousness” (Davis 7), interpreted these passages this way:

 

If hundreds of thousands of suns rose at once into the sky,

they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal               form…

Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.      (pp. 181, 11:12, pp. 183, 11:32)

 

Obviously, from this explanation, one can draw out words such as “effulgence” and “engage”, to see how the passage is being used as an instrument of piety.  In contrast to Swami Prabhupada, an average interpretation of these sections by Eknath Easwaran read:

 

If a thousand suns were to rise in the heavens

at the same time, the blaze of their light

would resemble the splendor of that supreme

spirit…

I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come

To consume the world. (pp. 151, 11:12, pp. 154, 11:32).

 

The lay read of this section is much more toned down and simple, expressing the greatness and incomprehensibility of God, without any distinct push in the direction of piousness whatsoever.  By comparison of several versions of specific passages in the translation of The Bhagavad Gita, it is easy to realize the extreme subjectivity and personal sway that can be placed on the text for individual purposes.

To further demonstrate this, it is advantageous to now turn to The Bhagavad Gita’s biography and historical background, with regard to the work as a whole.  The physical place of the believed setting of The Bhagavad Gita, was in “Kurukshetra,…[which is] both a particular field of battle and perpetual field of dharma, as Dhritarashtra’s opening question suggests” (Davis 4), found near the town of Jyotisar, India (Davis 4).  This being said, most researchers agree that the text was written in northern India, sometime during the classical period between the reign of the Mauryan king Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE) and Gupta dynasty (320-547 CE), as part of a much larger opus, the epic poem Mahabharata (Davis 6).  The Mahabharata, which was originally composed in ancient Sanskrit, tells the legend of a devastating enmity between two clans of the ruling class for control of a kingdom in India (Davis 10).  From an early date, the Gita circulated as an independent piece, and found itself as a “…self standing work of religious philosophy”, giving it a binary identity (Davis 11).  But in order to appreciate its full “…rhetorical power” (Davis 11), the story found within the Gita is better understood in the full context of the larger epic in which it is found, the Mahabharata.  The background of the two rivaling sides of cousins is explained more clearly in the complete epic, and the point at which we find Krishna and Arjuna in the beginning of the Gita seems more fitting, than to a reader who may just be exposed to the Gita alone.

Krishna’s battlefield teachings addressed two of the main causes of philosophical distresses being discussed by religions at the time of the Gita’s composition, moral questions and psychological insight (Davis 15).  Rebirth, or samsara, was a widely accepted premise in classical India (Davis 16).  The Gita took on a more liberal note of practice of religion during its time of emergence as well, in that anyone could engage in yoga while still being active in worldly affairs, which was very attractive and more practical for the everyday masses (Davis 20).  The Gita discusses two important systems of thought, Samkhya (dualist approach) and Vedanta (monistic approach) (Davis 22).  Thus, one of the appeals of the script may be its “…heuristic validity”, with either path seen as correct (Davis 22).  The path of devotion, or bhakti, is new in Sanskrit literature, and makes its debut in the Gita to religious audiences (Davis 22-23).

Krishna’s teachings are widely speculated to provide a convincing justification for Arjuna to fight, and the Mahabharata does not shy away from the calamitous consequences of that choice (Davis 33).  The Gita embraces the message of the greater epic as a whole (Davis 33).  The war, as found in the Mahabharata, is not sensationalized as it is in the Gita, ending with very few survivors of the warrior class, extreme grief and ethical failure (Davis 33-34), better supporting the eschatological belief of “Indian cyclic time, [and great dissolution followed by new creation]” (Davis 35).  “Later Indian tradition uses the Mahabharata as transition from one era to another…[taking us from the Dvapara era to the Kali-yuga era]” (Davis 35).

The belief of the authorship of the Gita is especially fascinating, proclaimed by both a “divine authorship of God” (Davis 36), and Vyasa, the physical author of the work (Davis 36).  Vyasa was a brahmin sage, and appears as a character within the Mahabharata, playing a pivotal role, who was actually a genetic grandfather to the Pandava and Kaurava fraternities (Davis 36).  While it is believed that Vyasa was the author of the Mahabharata, “…few historians accept a single genius as an author”,  and was probably complied over a lot of time (Davis 39).  The great poet Jnanadeva “…composed a lengthy new work that translated and expanded on the Sanskrit Gita in Marathi language” (Davis 44).  During this time, Gitas of other deities were also produced with The Bhagavad Gita as a model in the writing of these,  and while Krishna’s significance was always recognized, rivalry always wanted to oust him, indicating the characteristics of medieval theistic Hinduism (Davis 53).

There were also many commentators of the Gita in classical India, “…seek[ing] to determine the true meaning of [the] difficult text” (Davis 54-55).  Shankara was among them, but not the first or the last, claiming “…[the] concentrated essence of the Veda [within the Gita itself]…”, giving it a permanent and universal meaning (Davis 54, 59).  In contrast, another commentator of the same time period, by the name of Ramanuja, who disagreed with Shankara, demanded “…[the] path of knowledge alone will not suffice for higher ends” (Davis 63).   He also maintained that Krishna came to the battlefield to “…reveal the new path [of devotion]”, bhakti, a new concept found in the Gita (Davis 63-64).   These two views reveal only the tip of the iceberg of commentary in classical India and beyond that the Gita received in its early days.

In 1866, the transatlantic under-sea cable was laid under the Atlantic Ocean, linking the North American and European continents in an unprecedented way, and in 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines joined, forming a transcontinental railway, linking homeland North America in the same fashion, and the French Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean (Davis 72).   With the new and rapid form of communications taking place in their infancy stages to what we know today, inevitably the movement of information suddenly became faster and more efficient across oceans, formerly a huge obstacle to such flow of ideas (Davis 72).  Just before this, the Gita would see its first translation to English  by an British man and employee of the East India Company, by the name of Charles Wilkins, in 1785 (Davis 75-76).  His translation of this,  the first Sanskrit text, fascinated European erudite circles, helping along a demand for a new influx of eastern literature (Davis 76).  This version also saw the Gita’s first notable political use – vis a vis British control in colonial India (Davis 76).  The success that the Gita would find among this new audience would be exponential, especially in the midst of the Romantic movement (Davis 83-84).  From the late eighteenth century onward through the early nineteenth century, those who read or interpreted the Gita “…did so in a political context” (Davis 93).  While certain attitudes and approaches, such as those of Governor General Hastings, “…advocated for [a better] understanding [of Indian] culture, others such as James Mill used the Gita to “…criticize and judge…” the history of India (Davis 96).  Mill used the rhetorical value available to the apt purveyor in the Gita to his full advantage, portraying the Indian civilization as problematically primordial, further calling for radical change (Davis 96-99).  During the latter half of the nineteenth century, new versions of the Gita began to appear, with scholars in Germany wanting to “…get to the bottom of the Indian antiquity…”(Davis 100), with the most popular and perhaps notable by Edwin Arnold called “The Song Celestial” (Davis 104).

Along with the new wave of antiquity texts flowing into Europe and North America, the first Hindu sannyasin, Swami Vivekanada, would also find his way to America in 1893, to speak to the World Parliament in an impromptu manner, that would both introduce Western thought to a living breathing knower of Eastern faith, and fascinate many more (Davis 105-112).  Perhaps the most famous reader and commentator of the Bhagavad Gita was Gandhi, the Mahatma (Davis 136).  First read by the young Gandhi, in London around 1888-1889, he called it a “…spiritual reference book” (Davis 136).  What set his interpretation aside from all others up to this point was that he “…approached the Gita as not specifically Hindu…”, but as universal knowledge and truth for all (Davis 137).  Throughout Gandhi’s career, the text was “…made a constant point of reference” (Davis 137).  Another way in which Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita differed from others before him was that he was indifferent to any historical context, placing more importance in allegory, in that the war in the book represents “…[the] battle within all…”(Davis 139).  He was well educated and able to effectively argue skewed views of the text by both past and contemporary commentators, promoting ahimsa over violence (Davis 141).  The Gita was last in Gandhi’s discussion three days before his death in 1948, killed by an assassin who ironically was also an avid reader of the text (Davis 138-143).  Prayers are still held at Gandhi’s ashram in India daily, with the recitation of the Gita practiced daily (Davis 181-185).

In 1923, Jayadayal Goyandka opened The Gita Press in northern India, publishing “…expansive editions with Hindi translations” (Davis 154), making the Gita widely available.  After the Holy Bible, the Gita is the most frequently translated religious work to this day (Davis 155), and as of 1982, there were 1891 versions of the text circulating in 75 languages around the world, giving context to the importance of the book (Davis 155).  Just as it is believed that the Gita was originally delivered through an oral performance, the text finds itself in contemporary acts as well (Davis 177).  Nowadays, audio incarnations are available through multi-media, a sixties rock group named themselves The Bhagavad Gita respectively, and Jimmy Hendrix’s album cover “Axis” featured a picture of Krishna and Arjuna (Davis 180)     Just as the Gita speaks of existence being nothing more than a mere changing of our clothes as we change bodies during reincarnation, the book itself has undergone much the same process (Davis 156).  The text remains, to this day, one of the most significant books of the Hindu religion, and is repeatedly politically and ideologically contorted to suit.  The Bhagavad Gita’s variability and flexibility has survived the ages and continues to have a profound and philosophical effect on those who read it.

 

Works Cited

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A.C. (1968). Bhagavad Gita as it is. Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Davis, R.H. (2015). The Bhagavad Gita: A biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton  University Press.

Easwaran, E. (1985). The Bhagavad Gita. Tomales, CA: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation/Nilgiri Press.

Edgerton, F. (1972). The Bhagavad Gita. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mitchell, S. (2000). Bhagavad Gita: A new translation. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Stoler-Miller, B. (1986). The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

 

Article written by Laura Gunn (2015), who is solely responsible for it content.

Demons defeated by Krsna

The myths pertaining to Krsna’s destruction of demons begin before he was born. It all started with a prophesy that was foretold at his mother’s wedding, while his mother and father were being driven by King Kamsa, his mother’s brother. As they were driving a voice was heard in the sky calling Kamsa a fool because he is driving the chariot of his sister; whose eighth son will kill him ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 1). These events led Kamsa to be fearful of the offspring of his sister which caused him to imprison his sister’s family, and murder her children as they are born. One of the main reasons that Kamsa was so afraid of his sister’s future child is because a sage, Nanda, informed Kamsa of his old life. He told him that in a past life Kamsa was a demon, named Kalanemi, who was defeated by Visnu. Then Kamsa learns that his sister’s child will be the God Visnu who had already killed him before (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 1).

Because he had been murdering his own sister’s children, Visnu ensured that when he incarnated as Krsna, Kamsa would be powerless to kill him. Visnu appeared to his parents upon Krsna’s birth, and had his father switch Krsna with a female infant, to escape the grasps of Kamsa  (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 3, Bryant p.240). But Kamsa was not content with letting the child live, so he gathered his Demon ministers who advise him to kill all the children that were recently born. Kamsa approved of this plan which led to Krsna’s first encounter with a demon (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 4).

One of the demons dispatched by Kamsa’s kill order was Putana. Putana had the abilities to fly and shapeshift; with these powers she roamed the lands, devouring infants. While searching for more infants to slaughter, Putana happened upon the house where Krsna resided. Krsna closed his eyes to avoid Putana’s wickedness as Putana approached him and placed him on her lap.  Putana then gave Krsna her breast which was covered in poison in an attempt to kill the infant.  Krsna accepted the milk, but also sucked away Putana’s life breath. Losing her life breath caused Putana to collapse and lose control of her powers as she was dying. While Putana lost control of her power she transformed back into her original, grotesque form extending over miles; her transformation destroyed everything in it’s path.  As Putana collapses there is a loud noise and everyone nearby is astonished by the sudden appearance of this defeated demon. While everyone is in disbelief, the Gopis see Krsna playing on Putana’s lap, they then quickly came and picked him up ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 6, Bryant 120-121).

The second Demon defeated by Krsna was Trnavarta, a servant of Kamsa’s, who was sent to devour Krsna. Trnavarta appeared before Krsna in the form of a whirlwind, to create a dust storm in order to hide himself while kidnapping Krsna. But as Trnavarta was flying away with Krsna, baby Krsna assumes a huge weight so that Trnavarta could fly no further. Burdened by this weight Trnavarta crashed to the ground and immediately died under the weight of Krsna. Again the Gopis saw Krsna playing on top of this dead demon’s body ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 7).

As Krsna grew up, he assumed duties to help his father, such as watching the calves. One morning Krsna was playing with his brother, Balarama, by the river while they were watching the calves. Eventually a demon by the name of Vatsasura arrived taking the shape of a cow in an attempt to hide from Krsna’s sight. However, Krsna noticed the imposter and followed him with his brother until Krsna saw his chance to defeat Vatsasura; Krsna took the demon from behind and threw him into a tree, immediately ending his life (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 11).

On another occasion, while Krsna was watching the calves with some of the other boys they noticed a giant duck-like creature or the embankment. This creature was the demon Bakasura, a friend of Kamsa’s. As soon as Bakasura saw Krsna, he attacked him and attempted to swallow him whole, but eventually fails and threw him up. After Bakasura failed to devour Krsna, he tried to crush him between his beak. Krsna fearing for his life, grabs the beaks of Bakasura and breaks his mouth into two. This is how Krsna killed his fourth demon (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 11, Bryant 240).

Early one morning, Krsna, accompanied by his cowherd friends went into the forest (Bryant 125-126). While in the forest, they came upon the Demon Aghasura, who was the brother of Putana and Bakasura that Krsna has already killed, so he wanted revenge for his brother and sister. Aghasura was a giant serpent, and he wanted to devour Krsna, his friends, and all of their calves. To reach his ends, Aghasura opened his mouth extending it from the land to the sky; eventually, all of the calves and all of the children, enter his mouth. Krsna entered last and as Aghasura was closing his mouth to devour the children, Krsna expanded his body, causing Aghasura to choke and eventually suffocate to death (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 12). A Sourcebook recognizes the trip into the forest and repeatedly acknowledges that Krsna has defeated Aghasura, but does not talk about the specific fight (Bryant 117, 170, 424, 557).

Krsna’s friends approached him telling him about the demon named Dhenukasura and his friends, and how they kept people and animals from the fruit in an area of the forest. While talking about this area, Krsna’s friends asked him to slay the demon, so that they may have access to that area. Krsna, wanting to please his friends, went to the forest with his brother and his friends; as they arrived in the forest, Balarama pushed the trees, causing the fruit to fall which alerted Dhenukasura of their arrival. Dhenukasura is in the form of an ass and runs at the boys, arriving at Balarama first; upon his arrival he kicked Balarama in the chest, and on the second time that he tried to kick him, Balarama grabbed the demon’s hind legs, swirls around and threw him into the treetop, killing him. This causes Dhenukasura’s demon friends to attack Krsna and Balarama, but they are defeated in the same manner as Dhenukasura (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 15). Sourcebook again references Krsna’s the defeat of Dhenuka (Bryant 170, 333). Earlier in the story Bhaktivedanta made the claim that Balarama was the incarnate of Anata Sesanaga, a god with great strength, that carries a mountain giving him a great weight, this is what allowed Balarama to fight demons next to Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 12).

In the river Yamuna, housed a giant black serpent named Kaliya, the hundred and one headed snake, who was poisoning the river. For this reason, Krsna decided that he would defeat Kaliya. Krsna jumped into the Yamuna river and made a very loud noise; he was successfully in getting Kaliya to approach and when Kaliya arrived he grabbed Krsna in his coils. At the same time, the Gopis had been searching for Krsna and found him in this same instant. When they saw Krsna in the coils of the snake, it made all of the Gopis distraught, to such an extent that Krsna’s parents attempted to enter the lake to help him, but were stopped by Balarama. Krsna noticed how distraught his community was becoming by thinking he was in peril, so he rose up from Kaliya’s grasp; this angered the snake and allowed Krsna to circle behind Kaliya head. Krsna then bent the snake’s neck, climbed on his head and started dancing. Kaliya tried to lift his other heads, but every time he did, Krsna kicked that head back down while dancing, slowly killing Kaliya (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 16, Bryant 126-127). Kaliya’s wives, known as Nagapatnis, saw their husband getting defeated by Krsna, so they decided to pray to Krsna and offer things to him in an attempt to free their husband from his impending death. They started begging Krsna for Kaliya’s mercy and eventually Krsna granted this mercy and demanded that Kaliya and his family leave the river and go to the sea, so that they could no longer harm people (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 16).

The eighth demon defeated by Krsna was Pralambasura, who disguised himself as a cowherd boy, with the intent of kidnapping Krsna and his brother while they were playing with the other boys.  Krsna saw Pralambasura as the demon he was and tricked Pralambasura into joining them for game. The boys split into two teams, Krsna was one leader and Balarama the other. The game eventually ended with Balarama’s team winning. The losers had to carry the winners on their backs, which ended up with Pralambasura carrying Balarama on his back. Pralambasura took this chance to kidnap and devour Balarama, but he was unaware that Balarama was the incarnation of Anata Sesanaga, giving him a great weight which prevented the asura from easily taking him. In an attempt to escape with Balarama on his back Pralambasura transformed into his normal body which was monstrously big, and gave him more strength to carry Balarama. At first Balarama was scared, but then he realized that this was a demon trying to kill him, so Balarama used his great strength and struck him on the back of his head, killing him (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 18).

One evening, Krsna and Balarama entered the forests near Vrndavana, with many beautiful women accompanying them. While they are enjoying each other’s company, the demon Sankhasura appeared. Sankha meaning white conch, this demon was called Sankhasura because of a marvelous gem on his head that resembled a conch shell. This demon was driven by greed; he saw the beautiful woman surrounding Krsna and Balarama and became jealous. Sankhasura saw himself to be wealthier than these two boys, so he saw himself as deserving of the company of these woman. With this thought, he came before Krsna, Balarama, and the women and he started to lead all of the women away, almost as if he were their husband. While he leads the women away, they call for help so Krsna and Balarama chase down the demons. Fearing for his life, Sankhasura releases the damsels and ran from Krsna and Balarama. While Balarama stays to take care of the women, Krsna continued to chase Sankhasura with the desire of defeating him and taking the sankha from his head. Eventually, Krsna caught up to Sankhasura and hit him in the head, killing him; Krsna then took the sankha and presented it to Balarama (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 33).

One day, a demon in the form of a giant bull, Aristasura, came to Vrndavana and as he entered the city, he started to make a terrifying amount of noise (Bryant 426). This led the animals to run in fear, and the inhabitants to call Krsna for aid. Krsna confronted this giant demon trying to pacify the situation, but this only angered Aristasura. The demon charged towards Krsna, but Krsna simply grabbed him by his horns and tossed him to the side. Aristasura became injured, but was so enraged that he mustered enough strength to stand again and again he attempted to charge Krsna, but Krsna again tossed him aside. Krsna, then, approached the demon that he knocked down and kicked him until he perished (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35).

The sage, Nanda, wanted to rush the prophesy along; he noticed Kamsa’s plan of killing the children born around the time of Krsna to be ineffective, so he told him of the location of Krsna. This led Kamsa to order the Kesi demon to kill Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35). So Kesi went to Vrndavana in the form of a horse, and when he arrived there, he stormed around the town to challenge Krsna to a battle. Once Krsna arrived Kesi charged at him with the intent of stomping on him; Krsna used his strength to grab hold of the demon’s legs and, spinning around the horse, Krsna throws Kesi. This stuns Kesi for a moment, but when he regains his senses, he attempted to run at Krsna again. This time Krsna shoved his arm down Kesi’s throat, while using his powers to make his arm expand, suffocating Kesi. After a few moments of this Kesi perished (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 36).

Later that same day, Vyomasura appeared. He was a demon with the ability to fly through the sky, as Vyomasura passed over, he saw the boys playing a game. The demon desired to kidnap and devour these children so he hid himself among the boys and slowly took many of the boys that were playing with Krsna, and hid them in the hills for later. Krsna noticed what was happening and caught Vyomasura as he was trying to take another child; Vyomasura began to fear for his life and expand himself, Krsna then threw him to the ground with such force that he died immediately. Then, Krsna went and freed his friends (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 36).

Kamsa decided on a new plan; he organized a wrestling match, telling his servants that this will be their chance to kill Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35). Krsna and Balarama decided to go to the wrestling match and when they arrive, Kamsa set a Giant elephant to try to kill Krsna. In a heroic feat of strength Krsna overpowered the elephant, killing him and his handler (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 42). Now that Krsna has displayed his strength, the wrestlers had an opportunity to challenge Krsna; this led to two simultaneous fights, Canura fighting Krsna and Balarama fighting Muskita. After the matches began, the people in the audience started doubting the boy’s strength due to their size and boyish beauty, which caused Krsna and Balarama to no longer wish to wrestle and they decided to kill their opponents. In Krsna’s fight, he quickly struck Canura, briefly stunning him, Canura began fearing for his life and started punching Krsna in the chest with both his hands. Krsna was not disturbed by these attacks and simply grabbed Canura’s arms and swung him, throwing him and killing him instantly. In Balarama’s fight, it began with Balarama getting struck, but then returned the blow with tremendous force causing Muskita to die (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 43).

While the crowd cheered for Krsna’s victory, Kamsa became angry, and ordered that Krsna and Balarama be driven from the land, and everyone who came with them should be robbed. Kamsa also orders for the people whom he sees as related to Krsna to be killed, namely Krsna’s father, the sage Nanda, and Krsna’s grandfather (Kamsa’s father). Hearing these atrocious commands, Krsna became angered with Kamsa and attacked him; Krsna threw Kamsa to the ground, got on top of Kamsa’s chest and repeatedly struck his face until he dies. This ends the prophesy of Krsna killing Kamsa (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 43). Later Krsna is referred to as the slayer of Kamsa during later expeditions (Bryant 186).

 

Bibliography

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Los Angeles: ISKCON.

Bryant, E. F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Nectars of Devotion. Los Angeles: ISKCON.

 

Related Research Topics

Anarthas

Visnu

Gopi

Nagas

Hare Krsna

Balarama

 

Related Websites

http://www.iohu.org/demons-killed-by-krsna-and-the-anarthas-they-represent-p-8.html (list of demons defeated by Krsna and the anarthas they represent)

http://www.krsnabook.com/ (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead)

http://vedicilluminations.com/downloads/Academic%20General/Bryant%20Edwin%20F/Bryant_Edwin_F._(editor)_-_Krishna__A_Sourcebook.pdf

 

Article written by Jeffrey Freedman (April 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.

Krsna and Kamsa

Amongst the many manifestations of the god Visnu, Krsna is one of the most celebrated and popular of them all. He is revered by his followers for being the eighth incarnation of Visnu, and is considered to be a part of him as well, making him a divine character. Despite his massive following and devotion in Hinduism, Krsna is considered to be a relatively new god figure when compared to the other deities. He is not mentioned in the Vedas, but is first heard of in the Chhandogya Upanisad when they reveal that he is the son of Devaki, who is also the daughter of the king, Ugrasena (Crooke 2). Kamsa, the second half of this topic, is known to be Krsna’s uncle (or sometimes his cousin, based on the interpretation found in one book), who overthrew his father, King Ugrasena (Crooke 7). He was later defeated and killed by Krsna in battle.

Kamsa, after securing the throne, heard of a prophecy about the one that would usurp and kill him. It was said that his killer would be born as the eighth son of Devaki, who happened to be Krsna’s biological mother, Kamsa’s sister, and Ugrasena’s niece. Narada, a sage that appears frequently in the Puranic texts, is the one to tell Kamsa about how Devaki’s child would be a child of the earth and a part of Visnu himself (Sheth 43). [A more detailed description of Narada can be found in Sheth (1984)]. Kamsa then summoned his sister Devaki and her husband, Vasudeva, to Mathura in order to keep an eye on them and their growing family.

Every time Devaki gave birth, Kamsa would kill the child soon after. However, with Devaki’s seventh pregnancy her baby was transferred to the womb of Vasudeva’s second wife, Rohini. Because of this, Krsna was considered to be Devaki’s seventh son instead of her eighth. When Krsna is born, his parents (in the Visnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana) seen him in his “divine form” (Sheth 44) but forbid him to display his divinity for fear of him being killed by Kamsa. In other versions, Krsna is sent down the Yamuna River, where he is rescued by a couple of cowherds, who swapped him with their baby girl in order to ward off Kamsa’s bloodthirsty pursuit of him (Rodrigues 313). It turned out that the girl was none other than the goddess Devi, who tells Kamsa that Krsna was still alive. Kamsa tried to annihilate Krsna by killing all of the young boys within the kingdom, but was about to get his intended target in the process.

Many ordeals and adventures unfolded as Krsna grew up. He defeated the demoness Putana by draining her of her life force, and revealed the entirety of the cosmos to his adoptive mother, Yasoda, in his mouth. When he was older, Krsna ventured into the forest called Vrndavana, where he defeated the snake Kaliya and stopped it from poisoning the water any further. When the thunder god Indra tried to flood the town that Krsna grew up in, Krsna used Mount Govardhana as a dry haven for his people by holding it up with a single finger while they hid underneath it (Rodrigues 314). At the same time, he stopped Indra from receiving any further sacrifices from the villagers (Crooke 16).

Later on in his life and after overcoming trials of his own, Krsna finally confronts Kamsa after returning to Mathura when he was invited to participate in a wrestling match. Using all of his divine powers and strength, he destroys Kamsa with the weight of the universe (Sheth 59). In this tale, Krsna is the hero, the destined child that slays his evil uncle and restores the throne to Ugrasena.

In the Bhagavata Purana, Krsna is also known as Hari, Visnu, and the Higher Self (Sheth 52). The title of Hari is also seen within the Visnu Purana (it tends to complement its information with the Bhagavata Purana quite a bit). In the Mahabharata he comes to Draupadi’s aid when she asks for his help by allowing her clothes to continuously cover her even as they are being stripped off by the Kauravas when they try to humiliate her (Rodrigues 231-232). Krsna was also a godly advisor to the epic’s hero, Arjuna (the son of the thunder god Indra), and soon became a family friend to both him and his brothers, the Pandavas. Technically, they became brother-in-laws as well, as Arjuna had a child with Krsna’s sister, Subhadra (Rodrigues 138, 232).

In the Harivamsa (a segment of the Mahabharata) the tradition of showing Krsna as a hero continues. He is considered to be more heroic than a divine being, because he possesses the qualities of a traditional hero. These qualifications include a unique birth and childhood, where the growing hero displays powers beyond what an ordinary person would possess. Child-heroes are also known to be exiled, only to return at a later date to prove their worth. They also compete in any contest in order to prove their worth, and relish in fighting and defending their honour. These qualities of proving themselves are further implied within the Visnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana (Sheth 3-4). The nature of Krsna is also described within the Harivamsa, calling him a Brahman, self-born, eternal, the Ancient One, and many other words (Sheth 77). Several stories about Krsna appear in the Harivamsa, such as his battle with the demon called Fever and how he is affiliated with playing the flute (Sheth 102).

Krsna is infamous for having a sensual reputation for enticing cowgirls (gopis) with his flute, bringing them out to the forest where he bides his time. His musical instrument of choice is known to have a seductive trait, which is further seen in the Vrndavana (Kinsley 41). Here the young deity and the gopis engage in blissful passions, such as singing, dancing, and the art of lovemaking. His relationship with the gopis and the cowherds of Mathura are considered an “important theme” in the eyes of bhakti with the keywords being “union” and “separation” (Hardy 52).

There are several times where Krsna is separated from the gopis, either due to him having to leave or getting into a fight with one of them. The final time that the “separation” theme is seen with Krsna in relation with the gopis is when he leaves them all in order to go to Mathura (Hardy 53). In Hindu mythology, the gopis are either seen as a collective group in one myth or having one represented in the limelight of Krsna’s adoration, such as Radha. With her and the rest of the gopis, Krsna shows the possibly of relationships between the gods and the humans (Kinsley 41). Since he is a young god, he is notorious for being a prankster as well (Kinsley 9). He is the “eternal child” of Hindu faith, and acts in every way that a child would behave, hence the spontaneous activities and pranks (Kinsley 12-13).

Krsna’s physical appearance is also famous for having a blue pigmentation in his skin and an incredibly youthful body. His image is usually accompanied by his infamous flute, but there are times where the flute is absent, and instead Krsna would pantomime that the flute is always in his hands, and would instead be called Gopalakrsna during this state. [More is said about Gopalakrsna in Chary & Smith (1991)]. Despite all this, the flute remains pivotal to his image and connection as the Divine One (Chary & Smith 97). In other versions, Krsna can be viewed with a multitude of extra arms holding a variety of objects, such a padma, an iksu, and other similar items. Sometimes he is accompanied by his wives.

In some academic circles there are scholars that attempt to understand Krsna in a historical sense, because he displays many human characteristics as opposed to his divine ones. They try to understand and discover Krsna as an actual person that lived within Earth’s historical timeline. Scholars use evidence toward their theory of him being a human, such as his appearance in the Mahabharata (Hardy 18-19). Krsna is also the most well-known Hindu god outside of India, because of his prominent role in the Bhagavad Gita, which has been translated a great deal into other languages (Chary & Smith 99). [A full explanation of the Bhagavad Gita is shown in Fowler (2012].

Also, Krsna is one of the few gods that has gone through the stages of life: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (Chary & Smith 100), which would make people unfamiliar with his life story believe that he might have been a real-life figure in Indian history. In the Indian epics (i.e. the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) the heroes grow up and go on episodic adventures, but do not see the gods participate in a familiar, humanistic way. Krsna gets a full explanation of his life compared to the other gods and goddesses. To scholars, it is also known that Krsna married at some point in his adult life to his two wives, Rukmini and Satyabhama, and was equally affectionate and attentive to each of them (Chary & Smith 103). [To learn more about Rukmini and Satyabhama and their significance as Krsna’s wives, see Chary & Smith (1991)].

Krsna is a fascinating god within Hindu mythology and its respective religion. His role in battling and defeating Kamsa (the original “evil uncle,” long before Claudius from Hamlet) dictates him as a famous protagonist that takes on many of the qualities seen within a traditional hero. His unusual birth and journey through childhood and adulthood is what makes him memorable and compelling as a heroic character, even outside of Indian culture. The ability to view Krsna both as a godly figure and as a man with human qualities adds another layer of depth to his persona. Seeing a god indulge himself with sensual and romantic needs make him appealing as a character study, and also to scholars who want to discover if he qualifies to be a historical man of India as well.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Chary, M. Narasimha & Smith, H. Daniel (1991) Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses, and Saints. Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan.

Couture, Andre & Schmid, Charlotte (2001) “The Harivamsa, the Goddess Ekanamsa, and the Icongraphy of the Vrsni Triads.” Journal of the American Oriental Society; Apr-Jun2001, Vol. 121 Issue 2, p173, 20p, 1

Crooke, W. (1900) “The Legends of Krishna.” Folklore Vol. 11, No. 1 (Mar., 1900) (pp. 1-42)

Fowler, Jeaneane D. (2012) The Bhagavad Gita: A text and Commentary for Students. Brighton; Portland: Sussex Academic Press.

Hardy, Friedhelm (1983) Viraha-Bhakti: The Early History of Kṛṣṇa Devotion in South India. Delhi: Oxford.

Keith, A. Berriedale (1908) “The Child Krsna.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (Jan., 1908), pp.169-175

Kinsley, David R. (1975) The Sword and the Flute: Kālī and Kṛṣṇa, Dark Visions of the Terrible and the Sublime in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism—the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sheth, Noel (1984) The Divinity of Krishna. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Arjuna

Avatara

Bhagavad Gita

Chhandogya Upanisad

Devaki

Gopalakrsna

Gopi

Harivamsa

Kali

Kaliya

Lila

Mahabharata

Narada

Putana

Radha

Rukmini

Satyabhama

Subhadra

Ugrasena

Vasudeva

Visnu

Vrndavana

Yasoda

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bharatadesam.com/spiritual/upanishads/chandogya_upanishad.php

http://www.harekrsna.com/philosophy/associates/demons/mathura/kamsa.hm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/lordkrishna/p/krishna_birth.htm

http://www.india-crafts.com/sculpture/hindu-statues.html

http://www.krishna.com/

http://www.krishnabalarama.com/

http://www.krsnabook.com/ch44.html

http://www.purebhakti.com/teachers/bhakti-discourses-mainmenu-61/19-discourses-2000/202-krishna-kills-kamsa.html

 

Article written by Melissa Wall (March-April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Krsna and Yasoda

The Hindu deity Krsna is a highly regarded and popular god in Hinduism, known to hold the title of svayam bhagavam (The Supreme Personality of Godhead). The myths of Krsna are displayed in several Hindu texts, primarily in the Bhagavad-Gita, where he epitomizes the ideals of both karma and dharma. The myths depicting Krsna and his adoptive mother Yasoda elaborate on these karmic and dharmic ideals by showing Krsna as the quintessential son and Yasoda in the image of the perfect mother. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krsna “performs actions without attachment, and so persons should do the same. [He] also cautions against indecisiveness and inaction, which is a form of ‘doing’ and carries with it karmic consequences” (Rodrigues 251). The immense popularity of Krsna’s image in Hinduism has been attributed to his accessibility, compared to other gods who are typically depicted as isolated and inaccessible (Rodrigues 314). Through his many myths, Krsna is seen as an ideal infant, child, and adolescent, one who gains much devotion from those who encounter him.

Krsna as a relatable and accessible character is emphasized through most myths and tales that he is depicted in. Hillary Rodrigues supports this, noting that Krsna’s popularity is due to Krsna being “the apple of every mother’s eye, a lively young boy, on whom one can shower maternal love. Devotees may imagine themselves as loving parents, envisioning God as their child. As a teenager, Krsna is the ideal friend, protecting his companions from danger. As a young man, he is the irresistibly attractive lover. When older, he is spiritual advisor and political strategist, friend and ally” (Rodrigues 314). By showing Krsna at many stages of a normal human life, those hearing the myths of Krsna are able to envision actually knowing him and connecting with him, which makes the ideals he espouses much more relatable and attractive to follow.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krsna acts as a guru to Arjuna and describes the duties and necessity of dharma in the world. In one scene, Arjuna hesitates joining a battle, an action which Krsna claims as “unmanliness, weakness, pity, and emotional attachment”; he also elaborates on how to actually perform the actions in a dutiful manner, claiming action as karmic, good, and inevitable (Bryant 79).

The myths describing Krsna’s birth vary in different sources; however, there remains a general consistency to the main themes and episodes of the tale. It begins with an angry king, who is forewarned of a male to be born in his kingdom that will end his reign and, ultimately, his life. He is the king of Mathura, mostly known as Kamsa. [Hawley refers to the king of Mathura as Kan; however, most sources name him Kamsa (Hawley 53)]. The prophecy informs Kamsa that his death will be at the hands of his sister and brother-in-law (Devaki and Vasudeva)’s eighth son. Kamsa is described as being a “man of pride”, “inwardly insecure” and “patently cruel, repugnant of tradition” (Hawley 53). When he hears the prophecy, he immediately attempts to kill Devaki, but Vasudeva is able to calm him when he promises to bring any sons they have to the king. Kamsa imprisons both Devaki and Vasudeva, where the couple gives birth to six children; Kamsa kills each child.

When Devaki is impregnated with her seventh child, a miracle occurs. Hawley writes “the Great God … removes one white hair from the head of the great snake that symbolizes his primordial energy, and one black one from his own. The latter he holds in readiness: it will become Krsna whose very name means ‘black’. With the former, he penetrates the womb of Devaki, heralding a miraculous if not altogether virgin birth: the white Balaram” (Hawley 54). Following this, the fetus was transferred to the womb of another of Vasudeva’s wives, Rohini, who was safe across the river. To those still in the jail, it seemed that Devaki simply had a miscarriage (Bhaktivedanta 11). However, Rohini safely birthed Devaki and Vasudeva’s seventh child, Balarama.

Following this pregnancy, Krsna decides to descend. At this point, there are a few variations in the myth. The version Bhaktivedanta elaborates in his text follows that Brahma, Siva, along with demigods and sages, visited the prison. The great deities all professed that Krsna was “true to His vow” (Bhaktivedanta 11). In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krsna promised to “protect the pious and destroy the impious. … The demigods were very glad that the Lord was appearing to fulfill his mission, and they addressed Him as … the Supreme Absolute Truth” (Bhaktivedanta 14). Some sources claim at this point that a “divine sleep” falls upon the area, to which Krsna’s birth can safely take place (Hawley 55).

When Krsna is born, he takes his true form; he was four-armed, decorated with all the accouterments associated with Krsna, including a conch-shell, lotus flower, jewelry, a helmet, and more (Hawley 24). The myth varies here as well, some claiming Vasudeva urges Krsna to take the form of a normal infant, while some say it was Devaki. Regardless, the parents beg him to look like a mere baby for the sake of Krsna’s own safety. Vasudeva escapes the holds of the prison to deliver Krsna to a place of safekeeping: to his friends’ Nanda and Yasoda’s house in the near town of Gokul, who had just given birth to a daughter of their own. Bhaktivedanta’s version of the myth here states that Nanda and Yasoda’s newborn baby was the “internal potency” of Krsna: Yogamaya (Bhaktivedanta 30). [Krsna is said to have “multipotencies”, of which Yogamaya is the chief of all potencies. This is further explained in many sources, especially in Bhaktivedanta’s work.] With the help of the deity in his arms, Vasudeva is able to see clearly through the darkness of the night on his way to Gokul, and fords heavily flowing rivers with ease. The myth again diverges here, according to which sources are addressed. Because of the divine sleep in some sources, Vasudeva is able to exchange Krsna with Yasoda and Nanda’s baby girl, and Yasoda “has no inkling that the son is not her own” (Hawley 55). In other sources, Yasoda is simply sleep-deprived from the labor of childbirth and “does not remember whether she had given birth to a male or female child” (31). Regardless, the infants are swapped, and Krsna is safe under the protective care of Nanda and Yasoda, and Vasudeva brings back a baby girl rather than the eighth son that Kamsa fears.

Krsna lives his life under the pretense that he is Yasoda’s son; Yasoda is an extremely loving and devoted mother to Krsna for life. Her love of Krsna is elaborated in almost every myth involving the two of them. By hearing these myths, followers of Hinduism gain knowledge of the proper dharmic actions to follow as a mother/son unit.

One of the most well known myths of Yasoda and Krsna is The Vision of the Universal Form, told in the Mahabharata. The tale goes that Krsna, as a child, is playing with his brother Balarama one day, when one of the gopis told Yasoda that Krsna has been secretly eating mud and dirt. Yasoda, fearful for Krsna’s health, runs to him and begins to scold him, to which Krsna claims these are false accusations. Yasoda tells him to open his mouth to prove his innocence. Krsna opens his mouth, and Yasoda sees “the universe of moving and nonmoving things; space; the cardinal directions; the sphere of the earth with its oceans, islands and mountains; air and fire; the moon and the stars. She saw the circle of constellations, water, light, the wind, the sky, the evolved senses, the mind, the elements, and the three guna qualities” (Bryant 123). This understandably shocks Yasoda, who realizes Krsna is no ordinary child, and begins to worship him immediately. Krsna relieves his adoptive mother of this stress and speculation, erasing her memory of this incident. Bhaktivedanta sees this incident as assurance that Krsna is, and always will be, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, despite the form he takes (Bhaktivedanta 62).

Another myth depicting the relationship of Krsna and Yasoda involves a naughty Krsna being punished as a normal child by his mother. Yasoda was churning butter one day, and Krsna “felt hungry, and out of love for His mother, wanted her to stop churning. He indicated that her first business was to let Him suck her breast and then churn butter later” (Bhaktivedanta 64). Yasoda allows him to climb on her lap and suckle; however, when her milk on the fire boils over, she sets Krsna down to attend to matters. Krsna is highly displeased as this, as he feels his hunger is of most importance, so he breaks a butter pot and runs into hiding. Yasoda searches for Krsna to scold him for breaking a pot, simply seeing him as her son who was naughty and misbehaving. She finds him and threatens him with a stick, but when she sees her poor boy’s face stricken with fear and laden with tears, she decides to simply bind him with rope as punishment for his misdeeds (Bhaktivedanta 64). This is an example of Yasoda’s love and devotion for her child, being able to see the emotion in his face, empathizing, and restraining herself from invoking more fear in her beloved son.

When Yasoda attempts to bind Krsna, she discovers that the rope she is using is slightly too short for its purposes, so she lengthens it by adding more rope to the original piece. However, this turns out to be just slightly too short to bind him as well. This occurs a few times, with Yasoda adding more and more rope, each time with it being short enough that Krsna cannot be bound. The myth tells that this because he is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and it is impossible to bind or subdue (Bhaktivedanta 65). However, Krsna sees how exhausted and frustrated Yasoda becomes, and “appreciated the hard labor of his mother, and being compassionate upon her, He agreed to be bound up by the ropes. Krsna, playing as a human child in the mouth of mother Yasoda, was performing his own selected pastimes. … The Lord feels transcendental pleasure by submitting himself to the protection of the devotee. This was exemplified by Krsna’s surrender unto His mother” (Bhaktivedanta 66).

Yasoda’s love and devotion to Krsna is elaborated in almost every myth they are depicted in together, even when she is a fairly minor character to the story. Bhaktivedanta notes Krsna and Balarama beginning to crawl and teethe as infants, which “intensified their feelings of joy. … To see [their] fun, Yasoda and Rohini would call their neighboring friends, the gopis. Upon seeing these childhood pastimes of Lord Krsna, the gopis would be merged in transcendental bliss. In their enjoyment they would laugh very loudly” (Bhaktivedanta 59). Even when the boys would get into trouble, breaking pots and tormenting animals and babies in the community for fun, the gopis would complain but “when mother Yasoda thought to chastise her boy … she saw his pitiable face, and smiling, she did not chastise Him” (Bhaktivedanta 61). These tales emphasize Yasoda’s willingness to allow Krsna to have fun as a child, scolding him only when his safety is in question.

Bryant states “it has not been Krsna’s influential teachings … or his statesmanship … that have produced the most popular and beloved stories of this deity. Rather, it has been his childhood lilas – play, pastimes, or frolics – during his infancy, childhood and adolescence … that have been especially relished all over the Indian subcontinent over the centuries” (Bryant 111). These lilas show the interaction between Krsna and Yasoda, depicting the epitome of mother/son love and devotion to each other, allowing those following these myths to learn the dharmic ideals of the relationship. There is no question of the love between this mother and son, which seems even stronger since they are not biologically related. Yasoda is the ideal mother, showing restraint, endless love, and joy in watching her son grow. Krsna is the ideal son, able to frolic surrounded by love, who ultimately obeys his mother’s wishes despite the fact that he is a Supreme Godhead. Mothers and sons of the Hindu religion can look to these myths for advice to enhance their love and devotion to each other.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 Bhaktivedanta Swami, A.C. (1970) Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead; Volume One.    Boston: Iskcon Press.

Bryant, Edwin F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawley, John Stratton (1992) At Play with Krishna: Pilgrimage dramas from Brindavan. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Preciado-Solis, Benjamin (1984) The Krsna Cycle in the Puranas. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

  

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Dharma

Karma

Visnu

The Bhagavata Purana

The Bhagavad Gita

Mahabharata

Kamsa

Kauravas

Pandavas

The bhakti movement

International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Gopis

Putana

Kaliya

Arjuna

Rukmini

Kurukshetra War

Vaishnavism

Lila

Yadu dynasty

Yogamaya

Balarama

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduism.enacademic.com/922/Yashoda

http://gosai.com/krishna-talk

http://ompage.net/ChristKrishna/krishna.htm

http://www.harekrsna.de/yasoda-e.htm

http://www.harekrsna.de/artikel/krishnas-mouth.htm

http://swami.org/pages/swami/articles.php

http://beta.photobucket.com/images/yashoda+krishna/

Article written by Mandy McCullough (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Relationship of Arjuna and Krsna

Arjuna and Krsna have what is described as a perfect warrior-friend relationship

(Katz 82). There are also many hints of the relationship being described as representing a great friendship between a man and god, as Krsna is Visnu, a god incarnate and Arjuna is a man. It is represented in many different stories throughout the Mahabharata. This relationship starts out as one of family members (cousins), both princes from neighbouring lands. It continues throughout the massive epic to grow and change as the two men grow and learn how to deal with life’s lessons and how to be dharmic in every scenario. Learning from one another as much as learning with one another. This is shown particularly in the stories of The Burning of the Khandava Forest, as well as the Great War of Kurukshetra. It is also well represented within the smaller appearances of Krsna in the lives of the Pandavas and Arjunas throughout the Mahabharata. The relationship of the two men grows through the devotion and loyalty shown by Arjuna and it is ultimately the saviour of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war (Katz 239-248).

The relationship starts out in the beginning of the Mahabharata with the birth of Arjuna, the son of the god Indra. Spoken by a figureless voice, comparisons between Arjuna to the god Visnu are made (Katz 29). The bodiless voice states that in one way or another Arjuna will bring as much joy to his mother as Visnu brought to his (Katz 29). This early comparison of the god and the man already foreshadows some of the experiences to be had by Arjuna and Krsna later on in the epic. It brings forth the idea that the two men really complete one another and are destined to be brought together in life. The symbolism of the ying and the yang is sometimes used to represent the friendship between these two men (Katz 83). Not that one is either the ying or the yang but that they both complete each other and make full contributions to the relationship (Katz 83). They are even referred to as the two Krsnas in some versions of the Mahabharata, the common meaning being that the two are so completely in sync with one another they are simply one and the same mind but two beings (Bryant 25).

The two men’s bond grows even stronger when Arjuna takes Krsna’s sister, Subhadra, as his wife. He first asks Krsna what his thoughts are on this idea of marriage to his sister and

Krsna approves right away exclaiming that Arjuna is the perfect match for his sister (Katz 63). Arjuna then sneaks into the kingdom where the princess lives and he causes her to fall in love with him. He then abducts the princess causing anger and an uproar within Krsna’s family. Krsna then speaks to his family in favour of the union between Arjuna and Subhadra and convinced his family that his sister’s marriage to Arjuna is not only a good thing but that Arjuna is the most suitable match for Subhadra (Katz 63). This shows a preference for Krsna’s friendship with Arjuna over that of his family’s wishes. It shows a strong commitment to a friendship in choosing Arjuna over his family. After this union of families Krsna and Arjuna are now brothers-in-law. This only strengthens their friendship as they are even closer relatives now; it also draws a parallel to them being actual brothers and therefore causing them to share an incredibly tight bond. They celebrate their new found brotherhood by going out to play in the water of a river, and so begins the story of The burning of the Khandava Forest.

In this story the two men show the reciprocity of their respect for one another and the equality of their relationship by teaming up and defeating gods and animals. This story starts out with the two, now brothers, running into the fire god Agni, who is hungry and asks to be fed. The two men comply with his requests and decide to burn down the entire forest and all the creatures within it (Rajagoplachari 41). According to C. Rajagoplachari editor of Mahabharata 6th ed. this story can be thought of as a connection of the two men’s souls as the growth of their friendship causes them to act as one/two people with one mind. It is about two men who are about to prove themselves to their fathers, themselves and their worlds (Rajagoplachari 79). This defeat of gods and father gives the description of the two men being outside of society’s judgments, as they are going against most of the lessons taught throughout the Mahabharata and killing the entire forest, alive with animals and plants (Rajagoplachari 79). This new opposing lesson causes reader/listeners to draw out the idea that these men must both have a deeper understanding of dharma and how to uphold it (Katz 79). Another similarity taken from this story would be that the two men know how to complement one another and by doing so how to fight off other warriors sufficiently. In the end of the story the men are granted a favour from the god Indra, who has now been defeated by Arjuna, a proven man to his father (the god Indra). Krsna chooses to remain close companions with Arjuna for all his life as his wish (Katz 82). This is an incredible request that lets us see the true companionship that Krsna feels with Arjuna and not just the devotion that is normally shown of Arjuna toward Krsna.

Part of the closeness between Arjuna and Krsna can be seen in its opposing relationship, between Krsna and Duryodhana. At one point Krsna goes to Duryodhana and shows him a truth. Much the same as when he shows Arjuna his true identity as the god Visnu in the story of the Bhagavad Gita. When Krsna does this Duryodhana, unlike Arjuna, denies Krsna’s truth and even threatens him (Katz 234). This little side story to the Mahabharata only accents the commitment and devotion that Arjuna holds for Krsna (Katz 234). The devotion that is shown by Arjuna for Krsna is a model throughout the Mahabharata. It shows up in many of Arjuna’s actions and words. For example when Arjuna stands at the foot of Krsna’s bed instead of the head, where Duryodhana stands, this shows Arjuna to be a humble man who is attached to the idea of Krsna as a great alliance rather than simply a strong weapon.

There are also references to the relationship between the gods, Indra and Visnu. Indra who is Arjuna’s father and Visnu, who is Krsna, represent fathers to both the men. The two gods have a friendship themselves and the friendship between Arjuna and Krsna hints at the same friendship as the one shared between the two father gods (Katz 83). This is an interesting side note as it leads to the idea of a strong eternal friendship between two equals.

Right after the Pandavas are exiled for thirteen years by Duryodhana they begin their journey into the forest. Krsna, hearing of their exile, rushes out to say goodbye to them and to see them off. He finds the Pandavas and appears to them in the forest. He comforts them, especially Draupadi, who is upset over her disrobing scene. He then assures vengeance on the Kauravas, then says goodbye and is on his way. This may represent the idea that god is always with you/always finds you (Mahabharata 54).

Before the great war of Kurukshetra, Arjuna and his cousin Duryodhana race to Krsnas kingdom in efforts of recruiting him for either side of the war. Krsna then gives Arjuna the choice of either using Krsna’s army for the war or Krsna himself as an advisor. Arjuna chooses Krsna as his advisor and chariot driver. In choosing Krsna as his advisor, Arjuna shows his loyalty and support in his friendship with Krsna.

At some points it is said that Arjuna is Krsna’s companion and in others it is said that Krsna is Arjunas companion (Katz 82). This friendship grows out of its equality, stability and emotional support on both sides. It is Krsna’s duty to guide Arjuna through life and keep him on the path of his dharmic duties (Bryant 8). Sometimes Krsna is needed to show Arjuna the path of dharma and this is what he does through some of the stories in the Mahabharata (Katz 83).
This way of the dharmic path Krsna shows to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita when he tells Arjuna what to do in the war in many different scenarios that make the dharmic path confusing even for such a man as Arjuna, son of a god, with such intensity, that of a true warrior (Rosen 12). This need for a teacher as well as another warrior that Arjuna possesses is a common theme throughout this history of literature as well as human life. It shows up in almost all aspects of his life, when he needs someone to help him convince people of things, or when he needs another set of hands to defeat enemies. He also needed a teacher to help him with his duties in his life as a warrior. The theme of the warrior friendship seems to hold common place among many stories throughout history [e.g., Patroklos and Achilles (Katz 82)]. Most often the friendships have a bit of a hero complex, meaning that one man is greater than the other, or is seen as more important than the other (Katz 82). It represents a relationship with god himself and how humans should treat god and be treated by god. It is seen as the perfect friendship with complete trust, enlightenment, teaching and support (Katz 82). The devotion of Arjuna to Krsna is spoken about in Arjuna and the Mahabharata by Katz. She writes about how Arjunas’ devotion to Krsna is what makes him the best of all his brothers (Katz 233). It is the extra characteristic he holds that completes him as a perfect being. As well as this unconditional devotion to Krsna shows him to be representing of the warrior class and their specific dharma (Katz 235).

The idea to take away from Arjuna and Krsna’s relationship in this myth would be that god is one’s true companion in whom rests a perfect relationship (Katz 83). The Mahabharata is a story told that portrays a friendship between two men. One who represents the great hero who is a perfect student and is in search of the truth (Katz 15); the other who portrays an advisor, seen as god or a more aware/enlightened version of the first man (Katz 15). When put together these two men makeup a great team, which seems to represent god and man working together as one. Together the two of them are unbeatable and working as equals who are supportive and respectful of one another, it is the perfect relationship between two people-god and man.

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bryant, Edwin F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. Oxford University Press.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1990) The ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahabharata. State University of New York Press.

Katz, Ruth Cecily (198) Arjuna in the Mahabharata: Where Krishna is, there is Victory. University of South Carolina Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Rajagopalachari, C. (1950) Mahabharata 6th ed. New Delhi: Hindustan Times.

Rosen, Steven (2007) Krishna’s Song: A New Look at the Bhagavad Gita. London: Praegers Publishers.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Duryodana and Krsna’s relationship

The meaning of Krsna’s instructions

The Dharma of Krsna

Krsna as a trickster

 

Noteworthy websites

 

http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/why-did-krishna-choose-arjuna-instead-of-karna-drona-o-bhishma/

http://krishna.org/arjuna-is-krishnas-friend-eternally/

http://www.krishna.com/dharma-bhagavad-gita

 

 

Article written by Jolene Anderson (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

Krsna and Radha


Krsna and Radha are known to be the two legendary lovers; their story is believed to be the epitome of true love for devotees. Krsna is depicted as the charismatic and irresistible deity who enchants the gopis (cowherd girls) with his flute playing. Radha is the gopi whom he finds himself most fascinated by (Seth 59). This mutual fascination of each other turns in to a mythic love story which is infamous in Hinduism. Many influential texts have been written to explain this complex relationship. The content differs depending on the author and their interpretation of the Bhagavata Purana [Hindu Puranic text focusing on Krsna]. The most influential text is the poem, Gitagovinda by Jayadeva which focuses on Radha’s jealousy of the other gopis (Majumdar 193). Candidasa is another poet who has written many poems on Krsna and Radha, but his focus is on the obstacles faced by the two lovers (Majumdar 197). Krsna Kirtana, by Ananta Badu Candidasa, is known for its malign and atypical accounts of Krsna (Majumdar 201). It depicts a very distinctive story in which Krsna is depicted as being malevolent. Rupa Gosvamin’s Vidagdhamadhava is a powerful play which enacts the tale of how these two lovers secretly meet while overcoming hurdles (Wulff 45). Krsna and Radha’s relationship also has devotional components generally those between God and devotee.  Radha’s affiliation with Krsna gives her more prominence from worshippers (Hawley & Wulff 70).

Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda

Gitagovinda deals with the bond between the two beloveds over a period of approximately twenty four hours (Majumdar 195).The poem starts with Radha being distressed by her separation from Krsna. She goes on an anxious search for him during a spring night. When she finally finds him, she sees him mingling with the other gopis. Krsna acknowledges Radha and her beauty by giving her recognition over the others. Although he pays her attention, she still feels neglected and insignificant. Radha leaves the setting discontented but not angry. Radha’s love for Krsna is portrayed as being so strong that although his actions were unjust, she cannot be angry at him. In a state full of sorrow, she confides in a friend and asks to find a plan that would allow her to unite with her beau. On the other end of the line, Krsna finds himself feeling remorseful over what he has done. He starts to imagine Radha moving in front of him and begs her for forgiveness, promising never to neglect her again (Majumdar 193-194).

Radha’s friend notifies Krsna of her condition and Krsna tells her to console Radha and to tell her that he is also feeling the pain of separation. This message is delivered to Radha and she waits impatiently for him to come meet her. As time passes, and Krsna does not show up, Radha begins to suspect that he might have forgotten about her and gone to another mate (Majumdar 194). “She, therefore, prays that her life may be taken away by the five arrows of Cupid”; the night passes with these thoughts running through Radha’s mind (Majumdar 194). At the crack of dawn, Krsna finally appears and falls at her feet but she does not accept his apology, thinking he has been unfaithful. She tells him to go back to the lady whom he spent the night with. When Krsna leaves, Radha regrets her actions. Krsna and Radha’s mutual friend plays matchmaker again and advise her to accept Krsna (Majumdar 194). Krsna comes to meet Radha again and he assures her that “she is his ornament, and she is his very life” (Majumdar 194). “He assures her that no other woman has got any place in his heart. He goes so far as to suggest that Radha should place her feet on his head and thus alleviate the pain he is suffering from” (Majumdar 194). A reunion of the pair ends the renowned poem.

Candidasa’s Poems

The various works of Candidasa depict Radha having blind love for Krsna, to the extent that his affiliation with the other gopis do not affect her to the degree that they did to Jayadeva’s Radha.  Although she is married, she does not care if her acts are ethical or unethical :

“Dearest! Thou art my life. To Thee have I surrendered my body and mind, my life and my honour. Immersing my limbs and my thoughts in thy love have I consecrated at thy feet. Thou are my lord. Thour are my destiny. Nothing else appeals to me. People call me fallen, I do not grieve at it. To put on for thee the necklace of bad name is my greatest happiness. Loyal or disloyal, thou knowest all. I know not good or evil. At thy feet, says Candidasa, sin and virtue are both the same think” (Majumdar 197)

In one of his poems, Candidaser Padavali, Radha’s unconditional love for her mate is illustrated through the morning union of the two. Krsna arrives to meet Radha “with marks of teeth and nails of the lady with whom he spent the night” (Majumdar 197).Radha does not scold him in any way; rather, she shows him compassion and offers to look after him. This selfless act puts Krsna to humiliation and he is mesmerized by her (Majumdar 197).

Multiple poems by Candidasa are dedicated to the various disguises taken by Krsna while trying to meet Radha in secrecy. Krsna takes on the disguise of “a magician, a peddler woman, a female barber, a nun, a garlandmaker and a physician to a hoodwink the inmates of the family of Radha’s husband” (Majumdar 197).The latter disguise is so successful that even Radha fails to unfold it.

In Candidasa’s work, the pain Krsna feels from the distance between Radha and himself is also exemplified. At one point, he is so upset that he declares to Radha’s grandmother that he would welcome death if it would end his torment. He goes as far as to asking her to cremate his dead body near the route which Radha takes while drawing water in the morning and afternoon (Majumdar 198).

Ananta Badu Candidasa’s Krsna-Kirtana

This text is regarded as being one of the most controversial poems recounting the chronicles of the duo. “Nowhere else in the whole range on Indian literature has Krsna been vilified so much as in this poem” (Majumdar 201). Radha is revealed to be around the age of eleven in this poem while Krsna who is her senior by two or three years is portrayed as a young boy around the age of fourteen (Majumdar 202).

Krsna hears about Radha’s beauty from her aunt and orders her “to play the part of a procuress” (Majumdar 202). When Radha is approached with the fiendish proposal, she slaps her aunt. This news is brought back to Krsna and they both devise a plan to take vengeance. The poem describes this plan in detail, which involves Krsna enacting a role of a toll officer under a tree. He intends to seize Radha’s milk products, jewellery, and all her other belongings. He plans to charm her so she falls in love with him and then snub her off as if he has nothing do with her. This scheme is carried out and Krsna succeeds in his exploits (Majumdar 203).

After this incident, Radha refuses to go out to sell milk again but her aunt convinces her to do so by taking another path. While on her way, she sees Krsna on a boat and is forced to accept Krsna’s offer to float to her destination. Halfway, the boat starts to leak and Krsna advises “her to throw off all her milk and even her apparels so that the burden on the boat might become light” (Majumdar 203). Taking full advantage of the situation, he also demands that Radha kiss him so he gets the strength to carry on. Considering the circumstances, Radha obeys his wicked commands, causing further distress upon Radha. Krsna drowns the boat and starts to take advantage of her in the water. Not allowing him to take further advantage from her, Radha orders him to return her ornaments and he agrees. Realizing that she has a bit of control over him, she asks him to “carry her goods on his shoulders” (Majumdar 203). This is seen as being a demeaning work for Krsna and Radha’s purpose to put Krsna to shame is accomplished. However, Krsna agrees to all her commands “on condition of getting physical enjoyment” (Majumdar 204).

Ananta Badu Candidasa’s interpretation of Krsna and his intimate relationship is very different from those of other poets. Krsna “has been depicted throughout the book as a gross sensualist, spiteful in nature and boastful of his prowess” (Majumdar 205). The events in Krsna Kirtana are more based on the vision of the author rather than being in compliance with the events from the Bhagavata Purana (Majumdar 201).

Rupa Gosvamin’s Vidagdhamadhava

In this play, Gosvamin brings to life the “love of Radha and Krsna from its first awakening to the first meeting of the couple” (Majumdar 212). Radha is married to Abhimanyu who spends most of his time out of town. Radha is left at home with his blind mother, Jatila. This allows the two lovers, Krsna and Radha, to meet. Abhimanyu’s mother is suspicious of Radha’s relationship with Krsna who she refers to as the “snake toward young women” (Wulff 45).

At one point of the play, Abhimanyu starts to suspect Radha to the point that he decides to take his wife and mother with him. Finding this unbearable, “Krsna dressed himself as the goddess Gauri and placed himself in her temple, where Radha came to meet him” (Majumdar 212). During the couple’s union in the temple, Abhimanyu and his mother, Jatila suddenly appear. Abhimanyu and Jatila are told by the other individuals present at the temple that Gauri was so impressed by Radha’s devotion that she appeared in human form while she was asking for a “boon” (Majumdar 212). This makes Abhimanyu curious as to what exactly Radha was asking for. Krsna then appears as Durga and says that “Radha was praying for the aversion of a terrible calamity which was going to overtake her husband” (Majumdar 212). Krsna elaborates stating that Abhimanyu’s boss has plans to kill him. This leaves the mother and son awfully concerned; Krsna then offers them a solution which involves Radha staying at their hometown and worshipping Durga. Fearing Abhimanyu’s life, Jatila and her son agree to the condition (Majumdar 212). This incident is one of the many cunning ways Krsna keeps Radha close to himself.

Devotional Aspects of Krsna and Radha

Krsna is depicted as the god figure while Radha is portrayed as being the soul (Seth 59). Through Radha’s devotion to Krsna, “she becomes the mediator of his grace (prasada) and compassion (krpa)” (Hawley & Wulff 69). Krsna sends his love to his devotees through Radha and thus she is also worshipped alongside Krsna. In the Brahmavaivarta [One of the eighteen major Puranas], Krsna states that he will not grant moksa ( liberation) to anyone who does not honor Radha because her worship is more satisfying to him than his own (Hawley & Wulff 69).  Radha is also depicted as being an ideal devotee. The intensity of her undying love is seen as a model for followers. In many poems by various poets, including those mentioned above, Radha declares that she would choose death over separation from Krsna (Hawley & Wulff 29). Radha (devotee) is completely dedicated and attached to Krsna (God)


References and Further Recommended Reading

Hawley, John Stratton & Gosvami, Shrivatsa (1992) At Play with Krishna. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass.

Hawley, John Stratton & Wulff, Donna Marie (1982) The Divine Consort:Radha and Goddesses of India. California: Graduate Theological Union.

Keyt, George (1940) Sri Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda: The Loves of Krsna & Radha.Bombay: Kutub-Popular Pvt. Ltd.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player (A Study of Krsna Lila).Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass.

Klaiman, M.H. (1984)Baru Candidasa Singing the Glory of Lord Krishna. California: Scholars Press and the American Academy of Religion.

Majumdar, Bimanbehari (1969) Krsna in History and Legend. Calcutta, India: Calcutta University Press.

Mukhopadhyay, Durgadas (1990) In Praise of Krishna: Translation of Gitagovinda of Jayadeva. Delhi, India: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Redington, James D. (1983) Vallabhacarya on The Love Games of Krsna. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass.

Sanford, A. Whitney (1961) Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramanand’s Poetry. New York: State University of New York Press.

Seth, Kailash Nath (2002) Gods and Goddesses of India. New Delhi, India: Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd.

Wilkins, W.J. (1975) Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Puranic. New Delhi, India: Rupa & Co.

Wulff, Donna M. (1984) Drama as a Mode of Religious Realization: The Vidagdhamadhava of Rupa Gosvami. Chico, California: Scholars Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bhagavata Purana

Gaudiya Vaisnavism

Gopis

Hare Krsna

Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda

Krsna Janmashtami

Krsnaism

Mathura

Radhastami

Ras Lila

Rupa Gosvamin

Vidagdhamadhava

Vishnu

Vrindavan

Yamuna

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduism.about.com/od/scripturesepics/a/lovelegends.htm

http://www.holifestival.org/legend-radha-krishna.html

http://www.iloveindia.com/spirituality/goddesses/radha/legends.html

Article written by: Maria Rana (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Jayadeva and the Gitagovinda


Among the myriad of Indian epic poets, Jayadeva, the twelfth century composer of the unparalleled Gitagovinda (Song of the Cowherd), stands alone as a poet of paramount prominence. As a fervent devotee of Krsna, there is a strong undercurrent of Vaisnava faith (the worship of Visnu or his associated avatars, principally as Rama and Krsna, as the original and supreme God) and bhakti (loving devotion) in his articulation as he sings of the mystical amours between Krsna and Radha. As Jayadeva elaborates the love of this cosmic duo, he creates an aesthetic atmosphere of sringararasa or erotic-mystical mood that is bliss for the devotees of Krsna. Indeed, the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva, divinely adorned and devotionally oriented, is a source of religious inspiration in both medieval and contemporary Vaisnavism [for a detailed analysis of Vaisnavism, see Dimock (1966)].

The widely renowned lyrical composition and religious eroticism of the Gitagovinda earned sainthood for Jayadeva, and has been a powerful influence on several genres of creative and performing arts in various parts of India. It is the incredibly vivid imagery of this devotional text finds itself as an ideal subject for India’s visual and performing arts (Kaminsky 2). It is Jayadeva’s intent, not only to rouse the devotional depths of the bhakta (those engaged in devotional worship or bhakti), but to transport one literally into the heart of the love scene. The sensory imagery of Jayadeva’s poetry allows the reader or devotee to be a honey bee on a lotus blossom: seeing, touching, smelling the flora and fauna of the enchanting Indian forest. One gets close enough to “taste the sweat glistening on the upper lip of the young maiden [Radha]”(Kaminsky 2), experiencing the beatific delights of sporting with her lover. The jingling of the bells draping Radha’s waist titillates and tantalizes the soul’s inner ear as the reader sways with the melodious motion of their lovemaking. For the bhakta, it is in the union of this woman and the deity in the form of a man that the soul can find a path to oneness with the cosmic essence of the divine [on the depiction of tangible and intangible elements in Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, see Mahapatra (2008)].

The birth and life of Jayadeva are masked in the various legends and regional paeans of the provinces of West Bengal and Orissa, each province claiming him to be their own (Kaminsky 24). Indeed, after completing the Gitagovinda, such was Jayadeva’s fame and eminence, that numerous local versions of this legend grew into disagreeing traditions about Jayadeva’s origin and poetic activity. Contemporary scholars of Bengal, Orissa, and Mithila have published claims locating the hamlet of his birthplace in their respective regions. Indeed, two strong traditions say that “Kindubilva” mentioned in the Gitagovinda is either a village near Puri in Orissa or a village in the modern Birbhum district of Bengal. A third tradition recognizes the village of Kenduli near Jenjharpur in Mithila as Jayadeva’s place of birth (Miller 3-5). Sources are ambiguous on whether or not he wrote the Gitagovinda while he was the court poet of Laksmanasena Kam, the last Hindu king of Bengal (1179-1209) (Siegel 209-210), but it is generally accepted that after the completion of the Gitagovinda, Jayadeva and his wife went on a pilgrimage to Vrndavana.  For now, it is relatively safe to say that Jayadeva resided and wrote in eastern India during the latter half of the twelfth century (Miller 4).

Despite the difference in opinion of Jayadeva’s origin, all accounts that sanctify Jayadeva’s life reveal that he was born into a Brahman family and that he became a gifted student of Sanskrit and a skilled poet. In spite of this, he abandoned scholarship at a young age and assumed an ascetic life, devoting himself entirely to God. As a wandering poet and mendicant, he would not rest underneath the same tree for more than a night for fear that attachment to the place would breach his vow of asceticism (Miller 3).

His life of renunciation and denial came to an end when a Brahman in Puri (in Orissa along the eastern coast of India) claimed that the god Jagannatha, “Lord of the World” [Jagannatha is considered to be a form of Visnu, although some scholars maintain that Jagannatha was Buddha (also considered by Hindus to be the 9th avatara or incarnation of Visnu). Others assert that he is really Krsna, the 8th of Visnu’s avataras. For a more detailed analysis of Jagannatha see, Raya (1998)] himself had ordained the marriage of Jayadeva to the Brahman’s daughter. The Brahman’s daughter was Padmavati, a young girl who was dedicated as a devadasi (religious dancing girl who gave praise to the gods and shared the tales of their greatness through dance for devotees) in the temple. Jayadeva agreed to the marriage. Padmavati served her husband and he shared her devotion to Jagannatha. As Jayadeva composed, Padmavati would dance — whence came the inspiration for the Gitagovinda (Kaminsky 25).

While composing the Gitagovinda, Jayadeva envisioned the climax of Krsna’s supplication to Radha as a command for Radha to place her foot on Krsna’s head in a symbolic gesture of victory. But the poet was reluctant to complete the couplet, in respect to Krsna, which would place Radha in a position superior to that of Krsna, as well as commit an ancient taboo of touching anyone with the foot –a symbol of spiritual pollution (juta). Leaving the poem incomplete, Jayadeva went to bathe in a river and, as the story goes, in his absence Krsna appeared in his guise to complete the couplet; Krsna then ate the food Padmavati had prepared for Jayadeva and left. When Jayadeva returned, he realized that he had received divine affirmation in exalting Krsna’s loving relation to Radha.

The Gitagovinda, deceptively simple in its exterior beauty, that is, in its exotic and sensual crust, has an abundance of meaning embedded in structurally complex forms. It is expressed as a sequence of songs interspersed with recitative portions in cadenced forms of classical kavya verses (classi­cal Sanskrit verse) (Miller 7). There are twelve main parts which can be referred to as cantos, divisions of a long poem. The Sanskrit term for this is sargah and will be used from this point on. Within each sargah are short narratives and songs, and each song has a particular tala and raga associated with it. Talas are rhythmic cycles which lie beneath the structure of an Indian musical piece and a raga is a melodic form that evokes a particular mood, most of which are selected for specific times of day, year, weather conditions, emotional states. These states of emotion are known as rasa (Kaminsky 46-47).

Several types of Indian dance and vocal music tell the legends of Radha and Krsna through these musical modes and rhythmic cycles. As it has been generally acknowledged that Jayadeva was inspired by the religious dancing of his wife, this is a likely explanation for the melodic structure of the Gitagovinda (Kaminsky 47).

While dramatizing the amours of Krsna and Radha on the surface, the Gitagovinda simultaneously conveys the deep ethos of devotion of the individual soul, its yearning for God realization and finally achieving the consummation in service of God. Or again: outwardly it describes the love, separation, longing and union of Radha and Krsna, the cosmic duo, in the mystical forest, Vrindavan, along the bank of river Yamuna. But metaphysically it expresses the pining of the individual soul (jivatma) for the mystical union with the divine soul (paramatma). Indeed, in the words of one scholar: “through the thrilling love episode of Radha and Krsna, the poet Jayadeva takes us stage by stage to the highest pitch of God consciousness and God realization” (Tripathy 5).

Indeed, while the poem’s subject is the estrangement of Radha and Krsna caused by Krsna’s dalliances with the other gopies (cowherd girl), Radha’s anguish at Krsna’s abandonment, and the rapture which attends their final reunion, the poem reverts repeatedly to devotion of Krsna as God:

If in recalling Krsna to mind there is flavour

Or if there is interest in loves art

Then to this necklace of words–sweetness, tenderness,

Brightness–

The words of Jayadeva, listen ( Miller 69).

In fact, Jayadeva’s objective is inducing “recollection of Krsna in the minds of the good” (Archer 65) and inserts a vivid description of the Indian forest in springtime exclusively, he says, in order once again to stir up remembrance Krsna. When, at last, the poem has come elatedly to a close, Jayadeva again insists the reader to adore and venerate Krsna and “place him forever in their hearts, Krsna the source of all merit” (Archer 65).

The story of the Gitagovinda may be briefly told. The poem opens with a description of the occasion when Radha and Krsna first join in love together:

“Clouds thicken the sky.

Tamala trees darken the forest.

The night frightens him.

Radha, you take him home!”

They leave at Nanda’s order,

Passing trees in thickets on the way,

Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava [the epithet of Krsna which also means “honey like” and “vernal”]

Triumph on the Jumna riverbank (Miller 69).

In this way the love of Radha and Krsna arises — the love which is to govern their hearts with ever growing fervour. Next, the reader, or the devotee, is captivated by Krsna and Radha’s surroundings: the trees are lush and thick with leaves, and flowering creepers are intertwined within their branches–symbolic of the lovers’ embrace. Spring is fully aroused, the birds are lively, love is ripe in the air. The couple are dressed in splendid colours of gold, red, and yellow and they are draped in gold and pearls.

Krsna is the eighth avatara (incarnation) of Visnu, and the first sargah continues with the heart touching, vivid and melodious account of the ten incarnations based on the evolutionary process of the creation and development of the animal world, each of which “came to the rescue” in various ways. According to the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, when virtue subsides and vice prevails, God manifests himself to establish righteousness [It is on this that the theory of incarnations of God is based, see Tripathy 5-9].

The poem then leaps a period of time and when the drama opens, a crises has occurred. Radha, after long enjoying Krsna’s passionate embraces, finds herself abruptly abandoned. Radha‘s friend, sakhi, tells her of Krsna’s amorous play with the other gopies, his feet stroked by one of them, his head cushioned on the bosom of another whose “heaving breasts are tenderly outspread to pillow it” (Miller 76). One beautiful damsel murmurs sweet words of praise into his ear, others care for him tenderly. He himself embraces one of them, kisses another and fondles a third (Archer 93).

As Radha broods on his behaviour, she is filled with bitter sadness; Radha’s yearning and lamenting in a faltering voice choked by heavy tears made even the water birds weep sorrowfully (Miller 1975: 659-665). Yet her love for Krsna is so strong she cannot bring herself to blame him. Radha’s pain of separation (viraha) from Krsna draws her interest away from worldly concerns and leads to meditation on Krsna which is the essence of bhakti that leads to the attainment of spiritual union with Krsna who is the quintessence of divinity (Siegel 66). It is Radha’s intuitive, unfaltering, all-inclusive dedication to union with Krsna which serves as a paradigm for many followers of bhakti. In this sense, one scholar has commented: “the pain of separation from the divine is in itself a source for joy as it encourages, or forces, one to meditate on the qualities with which one longs to unite” (Kaminsky 27).

As Radha sits longing for him in misery, Krsna suddenly repents, is filled with remorse and abruptly goes in quest of her. He does not know, however, where to find her and as he wanders he expresses his grief. The third Sargah reveals Krsna as he searches for Radha and laments:

She saw me surrounded in the crowd of women

And went away

I was too ashamed,

Too afraid to stop her.

Damn me! My wanton ways

Made her leave in anger (Miller 82).

Seated alone in his arbor of love, Krsna dwells on the thought of his devotee, Radha, and presently Sakhi comes to him to assure him of her passionate love for him. Without him she cannot bear to live, for every moment is filled with suffering and misery. Surely he, the source of love, will respond to her need.

It is well into the evening, the crescent moon in the sky. It looks as if Krsna will spend the night alone in misery. It is said that because of her ego, the Lord, Krsna was kept away. Due to Radha’s jealousy, or impure thoughts, Krsna, as the divine, is unable to reach her (Greenlees xvi). The idea here is that without ego, one is released to accept god’s grace.

Then, well into the darkness of the night, Sakhi finally convinces Radha to overcome her jealousy and pride which have been keeping her apart from her beloved. The scene is exceedingly dark, but the rushing Yamuna river coming from between the feminine curves of the undulating hills can be seen. Sakhi coaxes Radha to enter the bower of Krsna who sits in anticipation. In this way, Sakhi is like the guru who is responsible for uniting the human soul with the Divine (Kuppuswamy 41):

Loosen your clothes, until your belt, open your loins!

Radha, your gift of delight is like treasure in a bed of vines.

In woods on the wind-swept Jumna bank,

Krsna waits in wildflower garlands (Miller 93).

Krsna is splendid in his brilliance. His gold and pearl jewellery, white floral garland, and the white of his eyes brighten the darkness and provoke Radha to come to him. Now, Radha becoming less timid raises her eyes to meet those of Krsna. One can get a sense of an impending passionate unite.

The subsequent stanzas of the poem then reveal a reversal of devotion. Krsna asks Radha to place her feet on his head and declares his devotion to her. God is expressing his dedication to the human soul. Or as later Vaisnava texts have revealed, Radha is actually a goddess sprung from Krsna’s divineness (Kaminsky 49).

To the delight of the reader, or devotee, the lonely night ends with the ecstatic reunion (samyoga) of the lovers. The entire twelfth sargah offers the reader the full flavour of the ecstatic reunion of Radha and Krsna:

When her friend had gone

Smiles spread on Radha’s lips

While love’s deep fantasies

Struggled with her modesty

Seeing the mood in Radha’s heart,

Hari spoke to his love;

Her eyes were fixed

On his bed of buds and tender shoots (Miller 122).

Jayadeva continues:

[Radha’s] beautiful loins are a deep cavern to take the thrusts of love–

Cover them with jewelled girdles, clothes, and ornaments, Krsna! (Miller 124).

Finally Radha, the individual soul (jivatma), has achieved union with Krsna, the divine soul (paramatma).  Then with a final remembrance of Krsna as God and celebration of the song itself — its words “sweeter than sugar, like loves own glorious flavour” — the poem ends.

The dramaturgy and the poetics in the Gitagovinda have been skilfully crafted to touch the innermost core of the disciple and inspire the noblest of emotions. For this reason it is a literary legacy of India. Its spiritual essence, mystical imports, erotic undertones, sensory imagery and lyrical fluidity have perplexed critics, bewildered scholars, mystified saints, enthralled lovers, enlightened devotees and engaged people at large emotionally and sentimentally. Jayadeva, through his mystical love songs, has brought to light the strong desire of individuals for communion with divinity, and this mysticism has created extensive philosophical and metaphysical connotations that have had a profound influence on the religious outlook and spiritual psyche of devotees.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Archer, W.G (1957) The Loves of Krsna in Indian Painting and Poetry. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Dimock. E. C (1966) The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava- sahajiya Cult of Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Greenlees, Duncan (1979) The song of divine love: Gita-Govinda of Sri Jayadeva. Madras: Kalakshetra Publications.

Kaminsky, Alison M (1988) Radha: The Blossoming of Indias Flower in art and Literature. PhD diss., Long Beach: California State University.

Kuppuswamy, Gowri and Muthuswamy Hariharan (1980) Jayadeva and Gītagōvinda: a study. Michigan: College Book House.

Mahapatra, Gadadhar (2008) “Depiction of Tangible and Intangible Elements of Nature in Gita Govinda Kavyam.” Orissa Review 14.10, pp. 22-27.

Miller, Barbara Stoler (1975) “Radha: Consort of Krsna’s Vernal Passion.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 95.4.

Miller, Barbara Stoler (1977) The Gitagovinda of Jayadeva: Love Song of the Dark Lord. New York: Columbia University Press.

Raya, Bidyutlata (1998) Jagannātha cult: origin, rituals, festivals, religion, and philosophy. Michigan: Kant Publications.

Siegel, Lee (1978) Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Avatara

Bhakti

Brahman

Devadasis

Gopi

Guru

Jagannatha

Jagannatha temple

Jivatma

Juta

Kavya

Krsna

Laksmanasena Kam

Orissa

Parematma

Radha

Raga

Rasa

Srimad Bhagavad Gita

Tala

Vasnavism

Visnu

Yamuna river

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.geetagovinda.org/Jayadev.html

http://www.goloka.com/docs/gita_govinda/index.html

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/J/Jayadeva/index.htm

http://vodpod.com/watch/84037-kelucharan-mohapatra-orissi-dance-gita-govinda

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BNcIjWTwBo&feature=PlayList&p=2CEA33B0D977D011&index=2

Article written by: Stephenie Madany (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Krsna


As a manifestation of Visnu, Krsna is the creator of his creatures, while also the loving god to his devotees (Sheth 77). Krsna has been called Brahman, the most supreme, the highest self, and the highest bliss, among others (Sheth 80). He has been referred to as a manifestation, or avatara also of Narayana, “Lord of the Universe”. Narayana is another name for Visnu or the original man, purusa. Krsna is one of the two more famous avatars of Visnu, Rama being the other. Krsna is probably more popular than Rama, however, as he fulfills almost every human need. As the divine child, he satisfies the maternal instincts of womanhood. As the divine lover, he gives romantic fulfillment and freedom of sexual expression. He can even save the sinner from evil rebirths (Schweig 16). Although considered by some to be an incarnation of Visnu, Krsna stands alone due to his unusual adoration (Bhandarkar 59).

Krsna’s life spanned from around 3228 BCE to 3102 BCE, according to scriptural documentation (Rosen 124). The earliest mention of Krsna is found in the Chandogya-upanisad (Majumdar 2). He appeared in Mathura, India and spent his youth as a cowherd or gopa in the nearby Northern village of Gokula. He lived with his ‘father’, Nanda, the ruler of the village, along with his ‘mother’ Yasoda and his brother Balarama (Hudson 5). This is where Krsna’s first mischievous yet endearing thieveries took place (Rosen 130). Krsna is also portrayed in texts such as the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Visnu-purana and the Bhagavata-purana. The Harivamsa portrays Krsna as a hero while the Visnu-purana and the Bhagavata-purana portray him as divine (Sheth 43). Some view Krsna as a deity while others view him as a prince who was deified. Some believe he is a real historical person (Majumdar 279) and others as an Indian form of Christ (Couture 38).

Vaisnavism is said to be the most strictly theistic among traditions within the Hindu complex as it claims devotion, or bhakti as both a means and an end. Vaisnavism is the term used for all the devotional traditions dedicated to the worship of Visnu and his avatars (Schweig 15). Vaisnavism was first called Ekantika Dharma, the religion of a single-minded love and devotion to one. It appeared as a religious reform based on theistic principles (Bhandarkar 142). More and more elements have been added to Vaisnavism over time such as the worship of the cowherd boy, Krsna, because of his marvelous deeds and amorous frolicking with the cowherdesses, or gopis. He then came to be regarded as a god and another element was added: the worship of Krsna along with his mistress Radha (Bhandarkar 143). Some Vaisnava groups view Krsna as the source of Visnu and not as a manifestation (Rosen 124).

Someone in full Krsna consciousness uses everything for Krsna’s service and is always liberated from false egoism (Prabhupada 93). The devotee desires nothing for himself but can seek prosperity for others as this is what the Lord wants. (Hudson 25). Schweig calls the devotion to Krsna “theistic intimacy” as Krsna is a god that presents his closest or innermost relationships of love (14). It is significant that what Krsna devotees desire is not moksa (liberation), not freedom from entanglement in samsara, the cycle of repeated births, but continuous “entanglement” in Krsna. They want nothing more than to serve him intimately forever, even if such intimate service may depend upon their own continuous rebirth with him rather than upon release (Hudson 9). Even when the gopis do not purify themselves through ritual bathing or proper actions before rushing to offer themselves to him, Krsna still receives them because it is their intense longing for him that causes their behavior. Receiving the gopis turns all their past and future faults to cotton that will burn up and leave no trace behind (Hudson 26). All devotees seek to emulate the gopis’ pure and consummate devotion to Krsna (Rosen 122).

Krsna is frequently depicted with his female counterpart, Goddess Radha (Schweig 15). Radha has been called the supreme goddess. She embodies all the gopis and all other goddesses. Although Krsna has intimate relationships with all the gopis, Radha is a special gopi; she is Krsna’s supreme gopi (Schweig 19). Many devotees of Krsna worship Radha with him. Their relationship is said to be light, playful, and amusing, leaving out work, worry and anger (Kinsley 84).

If there is one god that is more playful than the others, it is Krsna. Krsna is often called a ‘playful lover’ and he is often engaged in playful actions. Krsna’s actions are called play, or lila, because he is completely fulfilled. His actions are not purposeful; they come from an overflowing abundance (Kinsley 1). Sheth attempts to give evidence to Krsna’s divinity by stating that because his actions are pure, purposeless play, Krsna is unlike a finite being (82). He is commonly worshipped in the form of a baby or child, whose very nature is to play (Kinsley 61). As a child, he is known for his mischief, but his misbehavior is unique in that it purifies and heals all who take part in them rather than evoking concern (Rosen 132). Even when wrestling with enemies, Krsna appears as if he is playing (Sheth 84).

Krsna’s maya, which can be defined as the power to change form or an illusion, is used as a veil when in human form so that during encounters with people, they will not treat him like a god but as another human. For example, when Krsna’s parents realized his divinity, he spread maya on them so that they would continue their parental affection for him (Sheth 89). Another power of Krsna’s is that he can destroy, or heal simply with his touch. He can kill enemies or turn someone beautiful just by touching them (Sheth 91). In his Visnu form, Krsna carries four weapons. In two hands, he carries a lotus flower and a conch shell. These are to assure his devotees that they cannot be vanquished. In the other two hands, he carries a club and a disc. These weapons are meant for the non-devotees to bring them to their senses and remind them that there is the Supreme Lord above them (Prabhupada 21). More distinguishing of Krsna, is a bamboo flute held up to his mouth with both arms. He also carries a herding stick and a buffalo horn. Schweig shows the importance of Krsna’s flute by quoting from a Sanskrit poetic verse, the Krishna Karnamrita, that people would wait to hear Krsna play his flute so that om might sound (24).

Krsna is noted to be strikingly beautiful and youthful, and that he is beauty himself. His speech and his odor are equally as beautiful and it is said that one may find Krsna by his irresistible smell (Kinsley 75). In almost every Vaisnave-Krsna work, Krsna’s physical appearance is revered (Kinsley 77). He usually wears a silk, yellow garment, an ornament with a peacock feather on his head, and a garland made of fresh flowers and leaves. He is a deep blue color, frequently compared to a dark raincloud (Schweig 23). Krsna is so beautiful that even though he wears ornaments, it is his body that enhances the ornaments he wears (Rosen 122). Krsna’s charm and beauty are not purposeless however; they are to allure humanity back to the transcendental realm (Rosen 157).

No other figure in the history of Indian culture has given rise to as much controversy as Krsna (Majumdar 1). He is an extremely powerful, playful, and loving god. Krsna is the true friend of all souls because, when he kills, he not only protects his devotees but, he liberates those that he kills (Schweig 23). Krsna gives salvation not only to his devotees, but also to those who hate him (Sheth 77). Krsna is also multi-faceted as seen in texts such as the Mahabharata, where he exhibits qualities of a philosopher, warrior, friend, lord, husband, charioteer, and guru (Rosen 122). In essence, loving Krsna is synonymous with loving God. In Hinduism, even though there is a hierarchy of sorts, the absolute nature of a god and his name are one (Rosen 220). Krsna eventually returned to the spiritual realm after ridding the world of its worst demons and establishing dharma, or righteousness (Rosen 136). His appearance in this world is claimed to be for the benefit of humankind, to remind us of our real life in the spiritual realm (Rosen 125).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhandarkar, Ramkrishna Gopal (1995) Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor Religious Systems. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Couture, Andre (2002) Krsna’s initiation at Sāndīpani’s hermitage. Numen, 49(1), 37-60. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials database.

Hudson, Dennis (1980) Bathing in Krishna : a study in Vaisnava Hindu theology. Harvard Theological Review, 73(3-4), 539-566. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials database.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna Lila. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Majumdar, Bimanbehari (1969) Krsna in History and Legend. Calcutta: Calcutta University Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online

Books, Ltd.

Rosen, Steven J. (2006) Essential Hinduism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Schweig, Graham M. (2004) “Krishna, the Intimate Deity.” The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. Ed. Edwin F. Bryant & Maria L. Ekstrand. New York: Columbia University Press, 13-30.

Sheth, Noel S.J. (1984) The Divinity of Krishna. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Avatara

Bhagavata Purana

Chandogya Upanisad

Gopa

Gopis

Govinda

Hare Krnsa Movement

Harivamsa

Lila

Mahabharata

Maya

Narayana

Purusa

Radha

Rama

Vaisnavism

Visnu

Visnu Purana

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITED RELATED TO THE TOPIC

www.krishna.com

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/k/krishna.html

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/krishna.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krishna

http://krishna.org/

Article written by: Annie Siegrist (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Lord Krsna

Krsna is possibly one of the most recognizable gods of the Hindu pantheon. He is the playful child, divine lover, and the wise friend, the ever-present beauty in the world. In most common images of him he is depicted with blue skin as a reference to his divine nature and his association with Visnu. Poets and devotees have sung praises of Krsna’s otherworldly grace and beauty. There is nothing that is unworthy of praise as his beauty is all encompassing; it is even said that he was accompanied with a scent so fragrant it was to be irresistible, and that his companions could locate him by it (Kinsley 1975: 24-25). Such is the beauty of Krsna that the goal of devotees is to see him in a vision, or gain a place in his heavenly realm of Vrndavana in their afterlife (Kinsley 1975: 25).

Vrndavana, became the highest heavenly realm of Krsna, but was first his childhood home where the Bhagavata-purana tells how he spent his days in blissful mischief, such as his notorious butter thievery (Kinsley 1975: 14). The shenanigans of Krsna’s childhood reveal the concept of lila. As a child Krsna is compelled to pursue pleasure for pleasure’s sake; it is the innocent pursuit of play for the sake of amusement in itself. He is unrestrained by the perceptions and social boundaries that permeate adulthood, and is therefore able to revel in every desire and impulse to which he feels inclined (Kinsley 1975: 15). Krsna is accepted as a prince, although he was forced into exile for his own security, for fear of his uncle Kamsa (Majumdar 1969: 2). Kamsa was the king of the city of Mathura, and his sister’s name was Devaki. When Devaki was married to a man named Vasudeva, it brought to Kamsa’s mind an old prophecy which spoke of the destruction of his lineage by the eighth child of Devaki. Kamsa became resolved to kill any children born of Devaki, and he had her and her husband locked away. It was then that the fetus of Devaki’s seventh son, was transferred by Visnu into the womb of Vasudeva’s other wife, and it was this son who grew to be Krsna’s brother Balarama. Devaki’s eighth son was smuggled to safety and switched with the daughter of Yasoda and Nanda, two humble cowherds. When Kamsa came to see Devaki’s child, the daughter of Yasoda and Nanda revealed herself as the Goddess, or Devi, and told Kamsa that the eighth child, Krsna, was indeed beyond his reach and would eventually be his undoing (Rodrigues, 313).

Large bas-relief depicting the god Krsna holding aloft Mount Govardhana to protect his fellow cowherds from Indra's thunderstorm; Mahabalipuram, India
Large bas-relief depicting the god Krsna holding aloft Mount Govardhana to protect his fellow cowherds from Indra’s thunderstorm; Mahabalipuram, India

Kamsa sent many demons to destroy Krsna, however many of them became nothing more than new sources of amusement for the young god. In the Bhagavata-purana there is the story of the demoness Putana who comes to Krsna in the guise of a beautiful young woman. She begs the favor of Krsna’s mother Yasoda, in allowing her to suckle the young baby Krsna, which Yasoda grants her. Krsna, however, sees through the façade, and when the demoness takes him to her poison covered breasts, he is untouched by the poison and instead drains out her life (Kinsley 1975, 20). The Bhagavata-purana was written circa 10th century C.E., and discusses the first eleven years of Krsna’s life at Vraja, which he spent living amongst the cowherds (Krsna in History and Legend, 56).

An extremely popular myth cycle concerns the compelling relationships between Krsna and the cowherd woman, the gopis. As an overwhelmingly attractive young man, Krsna seems to enjoy a large part of his youth as a rampant womanizer; however, his fondness for these women and the dynamics of his relations with the gopis, are of a greater substance than that. The gopis exist as representations of those who would aspire to intimacy with the divine; they are that which all devotees of Krsna should aspire to be (Kinsley 1979: 77). The gopis mentioned in the earlier Vaisnava Puranas are not the more polished entertainers they become in such later texts, such as the Brahma-vaivarta-purana and the Govinda-lilamrta. First depicted as more pastoral, they eventually become the inspiring adornments of his heavenly realm of Vrndavana. It is the relationship between Krsna and one particular gopi, Radha, that has gained more modern notority. David Kinsley states that Krsna’s lovemaking should be examined in its relations to the gopis as a group, or to a particular gopi such as Radha (Kinsley 1979: 78). This is because these relations with the gopis are symbolic to the personal relationships between the divine and its devotees.

The Bhagavadgita reveals Krsna as the teacher and as the divine. In it Krsna is a charioteer for his friend Arjuna, and counsels him before a coming battle. He reveals himself as the 8th avatar of Visnu and teaches Arjuna the path of bhakti-yoga (Kinsley 1975: 57). Bhakti means devotion, and is offered by Krsna as the ultimate means of salvation. It becomes a central concept to those who follow Krsna, as calling on his divinity will bring that individual salvation (Kinsley 1975: 57). Krsna could be viewed as the embodiment of Hindu devotionalism, and the history of his worship displays many periods in which the concept of bhakti has been expressed in differing ways. In the 7th to 10th centuries in southern India, bhakti was seen as ardent love, which gave way to bhakti cults (Kinsley 1975: 59-60). Krsna is capable of inspiring such passion because of his relatable nature, and his differing aspects; he can be approached as a son, a teacher, a friend, a lover, a confidant, and a god. As Krsna changed, so too did the concept of bhakti. The gopis become the true symbol of what it means to be a devotee of Krsna, for even in the strict social confines of Hindu society they ignore these social boundaries in order to bring themselves closer to the pure state of being that is Krsna (Kinsley 1975: 65). Ever enigmatic, Krsna allows one to explore his nature and through the sheer delight of discovering him, uncover one’s own true self.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Kinsley, David R. The Sword and the Flute: Kali and Krsna, Dark visions of the

Terrible and Sublime in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975.

Kinsley, David R. The Divine Player (A study of Krsna Līlā). Delhi: Motilal

Banarsidass, 1979.

Majumdar, Bimanbehari. Krsna in History and Legend. Centre of Advanced Study in

Ancient Indian History and Culture: University of Calcutta, Lectures and Seminars No. III-A. India: University of Calcutta Press, 1969.

Rodrigues, Hillary. Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online

Books, Ltd, 2006.

Related Topics

Visnu

Ananda

Kali

Lila

Radha diacritic

Devi

Bhagavadgita

Rama

Sita

Mahabharata

Ramayana

Noteworthy Websites about Krsna

www.krishna.com

www.vedabase.net/sb/

www.dlshq.org/religions/esoteric_avatara.htm

www.exoticindiaart.com/article/krishnaimage

Article written by: Stephanie McNiven (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.