On a dark stormy night in Mathura, when Krishna was born, little did the world know they would celebrate the day for many millennia!
Janamashtami celebrates not only the advent of the dark-hued Vishnu incarnation on earth but also his childhood as a cowherd, his mischievous ways with the gopikas and finally, his singing of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna, during the epic battle of Mahabharata.
Krishna was friend philosopher and guide to Draupadi, wily political advisor to the Pandavas and the just, peace-loving ruler of Dwarka. He famously adopted the form that his lovers or devotees needed. But it is as Bal-Gopal (boy Krishna with the peacock feather adorning his crown) and the flute-playing lover of gopikas that delights his devotees, no doubt reflecting our need for love in all its forms.
Krishna’s ras leela (dance of love) with the gopikas tugs gently at the heartstrings of the rasik (the epicure) and the sadhak (the devotee) – teasing, suggesting, enticing. Above all, it is all about celebrating, not just love and sexuality, but universality – a merging of an individual into heaven. He married an astounding 16000 women, often to protect the kingdoms of their fathers and brothers. But the two names that are inseparable from Krishna’s are those of Radha and Meera.
Radha was married and far older than the teenager Krishna. Yet she chose to love him in the form of a lover. Our modern mind would wonder at her husband’s broadmindedness; also that of the society they lived in then. She adored him as a woman would her husband or lover, yet she knew that he could never belong wholly to her. His purpose on earth was to belong to everyone. She understood this just as Yashoda, Krishna’s foster mother, did. Yashoda had been dumb-struck to see the universe revealed in her naughty little son’s open mouth.
The tales of a slightly older Krishna hiding the gopikas’ clothes, asking them to come out of the river as they were, is not mere sexual foreplay.
It is an omniscient, caring God, asking his devotees to reveal themselves to him, as they are, no holds barred and he would accept them. He is asking them to surrender, as one does during the act of love.
Radha loved Krishna in the only way she knew, and she loved him the way he was. She was his soul mate.
Meera, on the other hand, had accepted him as her husband when she was eight. She was told by her grandmother, that Krishna was her husband, and the earnest child believed that to be true for the rest of her life. She cared for his idol, sang and danced before him and composed devotional poetry for him, as we all know. Imagine her shock when, at marriageable age, she was wedded to Bhojraj, the eldest son of the ruler of Mewar. A brave warrior and a just heir apparent, Bhojraj was hugely disappointed in his wife’s sole occupation – the adoration of Krishna. The members of his family even attempted to kill her, but with Krishna’s grace, a bed of thorns transformed into soft, fragrant rose petals, poison turned into nectar the minute she drank it. Cajoling, anger and threats eventually gave way to sorrow and then resignation, as Bhojraj allowed his wife to do as she pleased. Meera spent most of her married life in temples singing and dancing with the other familiar devotees of Krishna. As an older adult, she cried out to Krishna to come and take her. And one day, he did. Legend has it that Meera simply disappeared in the middle of one of her religious discourses.
I often wonder about Bhojraj, the generous man who braved societal scorn to let this wife follow her passion. Why did this pious, passionate woman not realize that Krishna embodies everyone? Why did she not recognize the Krishna in Bhojraj?
Why don’t we?