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Bhagavata Purana’s Eternal Krishna

KRISHNA Dvaipayan Vyas was the great scholar and saint who had compiled the Vedic hymns, recorded the aphorisms on philosophy and metaphysics known as Vedanta Sutra, and finished the great epic of victory called the Mahabharata.

One day, the wandering sage Narad happened to meet Vyas and was not happy to see him looking forlorn. He asked, ‘‘Why are you looking so lost, even after your great achievements?’’

‘‘A great achievement — that is precisely what I am looking for’’, replied Vyas, ‘‘I am not satisfied yet’’. Narad advised him to sing the stories of Krishna, and Vyas began writing the Bhagavata Purana. In the Vishnu Purana, the Harivamsa Purana, and above all, the Mahabharata, the stories of Krishna had been sung by Vyas in considerable detail. Why, then, was Vyas dissatisfied? The answer lies in the Bhagavata Purana itself, where the essential Krishna is the one who dwells eternally in Vraja, the land of the cowherds around Mathura. The Mahabharata is concerned with Krishna outside Vraja, but Krishna as the embodiment of bliss manifests essentially in the lilas, plays and pastimes of Vraja.

Krishna’s literary manifestation, rooted in Vyas’s work, gives us his innumerable manifestations: In rituals and dramas, in paintings and songs, in frescoes and dances, and many other media.

The Bhagavata Purana and other works tell us stories of how the divine is always trying to break away from its divine fetters. When you are pervasive and omnipresent, how can you have the freedom to play? Being omnipresent, you are constantly watched by those who adore you, worship you and serve you. You need a disguise. The Lord tried several disguises in different animal forms, but those forms restricted his play, his lila, because with them it was not possible to relate to the other important partner of the game, humanity. He tried the trick of disguising himself as the half-animal and half-human Narasimha, but instead of getting the best of both worlds he got the worst: The animal kingdom and human reality were both alienated. Then it came to him; ‘‘If I wish to play fully with my creation, and humanity is in the centre of that creation, I have to relate to it as human’’. He tried various human incarnations, but in each of them he assumed the form of some special person: King, ascetic, or scholar. In these forms, a complete relationship with common humanity was not possible.

Krishna realised this and resolved that if he wanted to play, and to play fully, he needed a good playground and good playmates. In the best game, the players lose any other identity, and act only as players in the game. Playing can be of two kinds, one within the rules and one without. When you start playing you have to follow the rules and the format, but when you grow as a player you play spontaneously, and the rules evolve as you play along. Krishna, when he came on a ‘playing vacation’ to Vraja, played both ways. The game of the Lord in the recreational weekend of this incarnation was to keep order in the arena called creation. Krishna came to Vraja, which was not a formal playground but a perfectly wild setting for an unwatched, carefree vacation. But since Krishna is also the supreme Godhead, he could not shirk his responsibilities. As he told his friend Arjun, he had to look after the welfare of his beloved devotees, and remove all the troubles and obstacles that get in the way of a good life for humanity. Even while vacationing in Vraja, he had to keep up his job of house-keeping. So Krishna as supreme Godhead took care of all the ‘worldly’ difficulties, the ones that create the problems in the world, and he did it playfully.

Krishna selected his playground and playmates very carefully. He was born in the royal family of Mathura, because he had promised Vasudev and Devaki that he would become their son, but as soon as this promise was fulfilled he acted on his priorities. He had not come down to be a king once again, so within moments of his appearance he started working on his agenda. The gods and the devotees — his parents Vasudev and Devaki — spoiled his vacation by worshipping him as God. So he moved from the formal world of grandeur and worship to the informal setting of play and love. When Vasudev carried Krishna through a storm, out of the palace and across the river to the home of the cowherd Nandababa, whatever speck of the dust of grandeur Krishna carried on his feet was washed away by the overflowing stream of love called Yamuna.

He had taken a vow that in this incarnation his only activities would be to love and play — activities where grandeur is a barrier



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