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