8 DE­LIGHT­FUL STO­RIES ABOUT LORD KR­ISHNA THAT YOU'VE NEVER HEARD BE­FORE!

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Cover Story - Ex­clu­sive story and il­lus­tra­tions cre­ated for HTBrunch by DEVDUTT PATTANAIK Theme vis­ual by Parth Garg

WHILE THERE ARE MANY COM­MON AND CON­TIN­U­OUS STO­RIES OF KR­ISHNA ACROSS IN­DIA, KR­ISHNA IS DIF­FER­ENT IN DIF­FER­ENT PARTS OF IN­DIA, AND THE WORLD

We’ve all grown up lis­ten­ing to sto­ries of Lord Kr­ishna. He’s a but­ter thief, a mis­chief-maker, an ex­u­ber­ant imp with the lit­eral abil­ity to move moun­tains. He’s also very ro­man­tic and plays the flute with di­vine grace. He’s also a god, you learn as you grow older. So you think you know him – but ac­tu­ally no one does. The story of Kr­ishna from start to fin­ish is a bit of a jig­saw puz­zle, with anec­dotes from here, there and ev­ery­where. In his new book, Shyam, mythol­o­gist Devdutt Pattanaik fi­nally puts to­gether the whole story of Kr­ishna. What you will read be­low is not an ex­cerpt from the book, but eight things that Devdutt him­self learned about one of Hin­duism’s most pop­u­lar gods. 1. STORY IN FRAG­MENTS

Kr­ishna’s story comes to us in frag­ments via San­skrit lit­er­a­ture, first in the Ma­hab­harata (that speaks of Kr­ishna’s adult­hood amongst the Pan­davas), then in the Hari­vamsa (that speaks of his pas­toral foster fam­ily), then in the Vishnu Pu­rana (that refers to him as Vishnu’s avatar), then the now pop­u­lar Shri-

mad Bha­ga­vata Pu­rana (that refers to the dance with milk­maids at night) and the Geet Govind of Jayadeva (that in­tro­duces us elab­o­rately to Radha).

Of course, Kr­ishna’s story may have been trans­mit­ted in its en­tirety orally for thou­sands of years be­fore be­ing put down in writ­ing. That we will never know. What we do know is that the Ma­hab­harata reached its fi­nal tex­tual form about 2,000 years ago, Hari­vamsa around 1,700 years ago, Vishnu Pu­rana around 1,500 years ago, the fi­nal lay­ers of the

Bha­ga­vata Pu­rana came to­gether 1,000 years ago, and the Geet Govind about 800 years ago.

2. PAR­ADISE OF COWS AND HEAVEN

Few retell the story of Kr­ishna from birth to death se­quen­tially, as they do for Ram. Of course, the de­vout will never say Ram, or, Kr­ishna died! They will speak of their de­scent from Vaikun­tha as avatars, and their re­turn to Vaikun­tha.

Ram is dif­fer­ent from Kr­ishna be­cause Ram does not know he is Vishnu, while Kr­ishna does. Ram is the sev­enth avatar and Kr­ishna is the eighth in pop­u­lar tra­di­tions. For Kr­ishna devo­tees, Kr­ishna is the greater avatar of Vishnu. The great­est even: the com­plete avatar of Radha, plays the flute as he stands un­der the ce­les­tial Kadamba tree which, in Goloka, takes the form of Kal­pavrik­sha, the di­vine wish-ful­fill­ing tree.

3. GLOBAL KR­ISHNA IN LO­CAL FORM

While there are many com­mon and con­tin­u­ous sto­ries of Kr­ishna across In­dia, Kr­ishna is dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent parts of In­dia, and the world.

In Ma­ha­rash­tra, peo­ple con­nect with Kr­ishna through the im­age of Vithoba of Pand­harpur. Poet-saints of Ma­ha­rash­tra such as Ek­nath, Tukaram, and Gyanesh­war brought Kr­ishna to the masses. In Ra­jasthan and Gu­jarat, Kr­ishna is ac­cessed through Shri­nathji of Nathd­wara.

Peo­ple from Odisha con­nect with Kr­ishna through the lo­cal im­age of Ja­gan­nath in Puri tem­ple. In As­sam, it is through the many Namghars, which was es­tab­lished over 500 years ago by Shankardev. Here, there are no images of Kr­ishna. He is ac­cessed through chant­ing, singing, danc­ing and per­for­mances.

4. IN­TEL­LEC­TUAL BHA­GAVAD GITA AND EMO­TIONAL Bha­ga­vata Pu­rana

The Ma­hab­harata is tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered in­aus­pi­cious be­cause it deals with blood­shed and the break-up of a fam­ily. This is why peo­ple pre­fer retelling sto­ries of Kr­ishna’s child­hood and youth with his mother Yashoda and his beloved Gopikas from the

Bha­ga­vata Pu­rana. The only aus­pi­cious part of the Ma­hab

harata is the Bha­gavad Gita, a sum­mary of Hindu phi­los­o­phy nar­rated by Kr­ishna to Ar­jun on the bat­tle­field of Ku­ruk­shetra. Had there not been a Bha­gavad Gita, peo­ple would not have given so much value to the lat­ter half of Kr­ishna’s life.

The Bha­gavad Gita in­tro­duces us to bhakti yoga 2,000 years ago. The Bha­ga­vata

Pu­rana elab­o­rates it in fine de­tail nearly 1,000 years ago. The for­mer gave an in­tel­lec­tual foun­da­tion to the lat­ter’s emo­tional ap­proach to God that swept across In­dia as the bhakti move­ment about 500 years ago. In this pe­riod, lo­cal po­ets such as Meera of Ra­jasthan and Sal­abega of Odisha and Narsi Me­hta of Gu­jarat and Vidya­p­ati of Mithila and Tukaram of Ma­ha­rash­tra com­posed songs on Kr­ishna, bring­ing him closer to the masses. In their songs, sto­ries of the Bha­ga­vata Pu­rana blended with the phi­los­o­phy of Bha­gavad Gita.

5. KR­ISHNA OF JAINS AND BUD­DHISTS

Sto­ries of Kr­ishna abound in the Bud­dhist and Jain tra­di­tions. In the Jain Ma­hab­harata, the bat­tle is not be­tween the Kau­ravas and Pan­davas. The bat­tle is be­tween Kr­ishna of Dwaraka and Jarasandha, the em­peror of Ma­gadha, in which the Pan­davas sup­port Kr­ishna and the Kau­ravas sup­port Jarasandha. It is im­por­tant to note that the Jain

Ma­hab­harata runs along the east-west axis of In­dia: Jarasandha is in Ma­gadha, in the east, and Kr­ishna is in Dwaraka, in the west.

The Bud­dhist Jatakas make no di­rect ref­er­ence to Kr­ishna, but a Kr­ishna-like char­ac­ter ap­pears in the Ghata Jatakas, where his qual­ity as a wrestler is high­lighted. When he mourns the death of his son, he is con­soled by Ghata-Pan­dita, who is the Bod­hisattva.

6. HOUSE­HOLDER, HUS­BAND AND FA­THER

Kr­ishna’s life in Dwaraka is some­thing of a mys­tery: few sto­ries of Kr­ishna, the hus­band and house­holder are re­told. Peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with his two most well-known wives, Satyab­hama and Ruk­mini. Many of the Pu­ranas re­fer to his eight

THERE ARE STO­RIES FULL OF HOUSE­HOLD QUAR­RELS; KR­ISHNA MULTIPLIES HIM­SELF TO GIVE AT­TEN­TION TO EACH OF HIS 16,108 WIVES

se­nior queens, and there is also ref­er­ence to over 1,000 ju­nior wives he gave shel­ter to after the con­quest of Naraka­sura.

These sto­ries are full of house­hold quar­rels. Kr­ishna has to be a good hus­band to main­tain do­mes­tic har­mony be­tween com­pet­ing wives. There are sto­ries about how he multiplies him­self to give full at­ten­tion to each of his 16,108 wives. These are, of course, metaphors ex­plain­ing at one level Kr­ishna’s abil­ity to man­age com­plex sit­u­a­tions, and at an­other level es­tab­lish­ing him as di­vin­ity.

7. COM­FORT WITH AN­DROG­YNY

Some folk nar­ra­tives of Kr­ishna draw at­ten­tion to his an­drog­y­nous nature. Look at Kr­ishna’s stat­ues in Odisha: he bends like a dancer, which is not how a mod­ern ma­cho man would stand, and he has a braid and nose rings to con­nect with his mother and to Radha.

In many tem­ples, his im­age is dressed in fe­male at­tire ( Stri

ve­sha) on fes­ti­val days to re­mind us of Kr­ishna’s fem­i­nine form, Mo­hini. In one South In­dian folk story, Kr­ishna and Ar­jun go around the coun­try, dressed as 8. KIND­NESS TO­WARDS VIL­LAINS The Kr­ishna sto­ries are unique for their great com­pas­sion for the vil­lains. Kamsa, Jarasandha and Dury­o­d­hana are the three main vil­lains in Kr­ishna lore. All three are said to have trau­matic child­hoods: Kamsa is a child of rape who is re­jected by his mother at birth. Jarasandha is born mal­formed at birth; his fa­ther’s two queens each give birth to half his body, and the two halves are then fused to­gether by the ogress called Jara. Dury­o­d­hana’s mother is blind­folded in sol­i­dar­ity with his blind fa­ther, so he is un­seen by his par­ents all his life.

This ex­plains that peo­ple per­ceived to be evil of­ten have been wronged, which makes them so in­se­cure that they be­come insen­si­tive and de­hu­man­ised.

Kr­ishna as Ar­jun’s char­i­o­teer

Kr­ishna and Radha en­twined

Kr­ishna in Goloka

Baby Kr­ishna with Yashoda, Nanda and the cows

Kr­ishna, the wrestler

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