By Nithin Sridhar
Translation: I worship Lord Kṛiṣhṇa, the son of Vasudeva, who killed the great demons Kamsa and Chaṇura, who is a source of great joy to his mother, Devaki, and who is indeed a world teacher and spiritual master of the universe. (Sri Krishna-Ashtakam)
Today is Krishna Janmashtami, the day when Krishna was born in Dwapara, the previous Yuga. Krishna is not only one of the most important deities in Hinduism, but is also one of the most important incarnations of God.
In fact, of all the incarnations of God, Krishna alone is considered as a “Poorna Avatara” or a “Complete Incarnation”; that is, he was completely aware of his God-hood, the purpose of his incarnation, and also had complete control over the Universe (Prakriti) right from his childhood.
It is for this reason that the life of Krishna was filled with many miracles and many extraordinary accomplishments, as can be learned from Bhagavata Purana.
Keeping the debate on his historicity aside, for a Hindu and a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma, Krishna was indeed present in flesh and blood in the Mahabharata war and guided the Pandavas to victory. There is no doubt for a practitioner that Krishna was a complete incarnation of God. Further, God and his manifestations being eternal, Krishna can be worshiped and realized even today, even though the flesh and blood earthly incarnation has ended long ago.
It is in this context that the celebration of Krishna Janmashtami gains significance. It is not just a remembrance of Krishna’s birth in some hoary past or a symbolic acknowledgment of Krishna, the God incarnate who was present in Dwapara. Instead, Janmashtami is the celebration of the eternal reality of God, whose presence in this particular aspect of Krishna, especially in his baby form, can be most intimately felt and realized on this day.
The Krishna Tattva, or the essence of Krishna is most strongly present on this day. Hence, a worship of Krishna will be most fulfilling and satisfying if performed today. In fact, with genuine love and surrender, one may even attain some spiritual experience. Even if one is not able to attain any such experience, one can still learn many life lessons from Krishna’s incarnation and try to adopt them in daily life to attain spiritual progress.
The life of Krishna, on the one hand, is filled with fun, frolic, love and celebration; on the other hand, it is filled with war, politics, philosophy and spirituality. In every stage of his life and through every action, Krishna comes out as the greatest teacher, the mankind ever had. It is for this reason that the Krishna-Ashtakam calls Krishna “Jagadguru” or World-Teacher.
Let us look at a few teachings that Krishna imparts about Bhakti or Devotion through his incarnation.
Krishna and Yashoda
Though Devaki was the biological mother of Krishna, it was Yashoda who brought him up. It is Yashoda, more than Devaki, who was eulogized as the mother of Krishna.
In Narada Bhakti Sutras, sage Narada speaks about eleven kinds of practicing Bhakti (devotion). One among them is “Vatsalya Bhakti” which refers to parental love. The relationship between Yashoda and Krishna exemplifies this Vatsalya Bhakti. Krishna taught his mother to develop this kind of Bhakti through his love and actions which include pestering his mother or causing trouble around the village. In a sense, Krishna helped Yashoda attain ideal motherhood.
An incident mentioned in the Puranas states that when someone had complained to Yashoda about Krishna having eaten mud, she ordered him to open his mouth. However, when Krishna did so, she saw the entire universe including herself inside his mouth. She could not comprehend what had happened and became fearful and confused. At this reaction, Krishna made her forget her vision and she returned back to her normal state.
Yashoda was able to see Krishna’s universal form because her love for him was pure and deep. Yet, her love was incomplete at that stage, as a result of which she became afraid on seeing his universal form. Further, if Krishna had not made her forget the vision, Yashoda would not have been able to look at Krishna as her son. In other words, Yashoda was not yet ready to attain the highest realization. Therefore, to help Yashoda further perfect her motherly devotion, Krishna made her forget the vision. Hence, through this play with Yashoda, Krishna imparts important lessons about ideals of motherhood and how to practice Vatsalya Bhakti.
Krishna and Gopis
The Raas-Lila of gopis and the incident of Krishna stealing away their clothes is very famous. However, what is not clearly known is why Krishna stole those clothes and what he teaches through his interaction with the gopis.
The gopis had practiced austerities with a vow to have Krishna as their husband. They practiced what Narada calls “Kantya Bhakti” or spousal devotion. The gopis who had prayed to get Krishna as their husband had inadvertently broken their vow when they had bathed naked in the water.Hence, Krishna helped them rectify it by making them come out naked from the water and surrendering themselves. Shame does not exist between a husband and a wife. As long as it exists, conjugal love cannot be complete. Since the gopis worshiped Krishna as their husband, it was vital for them to become free of shame in front of him. The whole incident was aimed at helping them accomplish this and subsequently fulfilling their vows. The subsequent Raas-Lila with dance and merriment were all an extension of this Kantya Bhakti.
Thus, through his interaction with the gopis, Krishna shows how devotion to God in a spousal or conjugal manner must be practiced in life.
Later, when Krishna leaves Vrindavan forever and never returns back to visit Yashoda or the gopis, he teaches them how to perfect a higher stage of Bhakti that Narada calls “Parama-Viraha Bhakti” or the devotion of supreme pain due to separation.” This can be assessed by Krishna’s discussion with Uddava, whom he sends to deliver a message to Yashoda and the gopis.
Krishna and Draupadi
Draupadi was very close to Krishna and shared a sibling relationship. Their bond depicts the sibling-like affection in the devotion to God. This kind of love is an aspect of Vatsalya Bhakti. When Draupadi was being disrobed after the Pandavas were defeated in a game of dice, it was Krishna who saved her honor. Draupadi first appealed to her husbands, and then to the elders present in the Kaurava court. But, when none came to help her and she did not know what to do, she finally surrendered herself to Lord Krishna and left hold of her robe. In doing so, her devotion and surrender became complete and Krishna came and saved her. The event teaches one how to practice devotion. As long as we hold onto our pride and ego, it is not possible to realize God first hand. However, when one surrenders one’s actions completely to God, He is bound to safeguard the person.
Krishna and Pandavas
The Pandavas exemplify devotion through friendship. Narada calls such devotion “SakyaBhakti”. The Pandavas had many faults, but their one virtue was of an unquestioning surrender to Krishna. It was this surrender that helped Yudhishtira to understand why he had committed Adharma by playing the game of dice. It was this surrender that helped Arjuna fight in the Kurukshetra war with the conviction that he was doing Dharma. This surrender made Arjuna a fit candidate to receive Gita-Upadesha or the teachings of Gita from Krishna. Krishna always taught the Pandavas about the future course of actions to be taken, about what was right and wrong. Krishna, through his advice and assistance, taught the Pandavas the Sakya Bhakti.
These are some of the lessons on Bhakti and its practice taught by Krishna through his incarnation. He had taught that one can worship God in any form –as a son, father, brother, friend or lover. He also showed how God never abandons his devotees and whenever a devotee is in distress, God would definitely help out him or her. The only key to this is that the devotee must be genuine; his devotion must be sincere, and he must surrender completely. On this Janmashtami, people ought to ponder over some of these teachings and try to implement them in their lives.