Friday, 30 August 2013

Krishna – the Eternal Ideal

Please welcome guest writer* Dr Harsh Chaturvedi, currently at the Department of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune. Harsh holds a Doctorate in Optical Science and Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  His blog post is a far cry from his dissertation which was on “Photon Induced Effects in Molecular Assemblies of Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes”!! Recently honoured with the Ramanujan Fellowship by Department of Science and Technology (DST, India), Harsh is deeply interested in and inspired by Indian Philosophy. One of the most enlightened Hindus I have had the pleasure of interacting with, you can follow him on Twitter  

Philosophy of Upanishads is characterized by a rational temper, a passion for the welfare of the human beings and spirit of harmony which applied to whole world and every human being. Though impersonal abstract, aspects of this philosophy have been personified idealized by galaxy of personalities born in this land, our motherland. Among these Ram and Krishna have been the brightest ones who have influenced the Indian thought life and culture in many profound ways.  Krishna means 'black'. Krishna was also beautiful hence we call him as "Shyamsundara' the 'black-beautiful'. One "beautiful" who has mesmerized us for generations the 'black' has been an enigma too for thousands of years.  This land has produced the greatest of men, the kings, Gyanis, yogis, how many of them we remember today? There has to be something eternal to life of these that withstood the test of time not over just centuries but thousands of years and under dynamically changing society with varied interests. He was as relevant then as he is now.  HE is not burden on history but is breath of our society, living through traditions and times.

Krishna has entered, not only into religion and philosophy, but also into mysticism poetry painting sculpture music dancing and all aspects of Indian folkfore. To say the least he has mesmerized a whole generations. Where else can one seek the reason of this then in his great character and noble life? And yet, it is strange irony that no other person in India's history and culture has been subjected to foul criticism based on either incomplete incorrect understanding of facts available, if not a deliberate distortion of the same to serve an ulterior purpose.

We come across several Krishnas in the scriptures. The Rigveda (1.116.23) mentions one Krishna, the father of Visvakya. The last mandal of same work (10.42-44) attributes two suktas to sage Krishna. We also find mention of Krishna Angirasa in Kausitaki Brahmana (30.9) and a Krishna Harita in Aitareya Aranyaka (3.26). Then there is Krishna Dvaipayana also called Vyasa, the celebrated author of epic Mahabharata. It can safely be assumed none of these Krishnas is the Krishna, as we know him. However, the Chandogya Upanishad (3.17.6) mentions Krishna -Devakiputra as a disciple of Ghora Angiras, by whom Krishna was taught the science of Purusayajna. It is very likely this is same Krishna the son of Vasudeva and Devaki. However, even at the time of epic Mahabharata, Krishna was well known not only as a very great person but even deserving worship as manifestation of the divine. As a matter of fact, Indian scholars D.S Triveda and K.S.Narayanachar conclude the date of Mahabharata to be 3206 B.C and 3067 B.C.

There are four primary source of Krishna 's story - the Mahabharata and its adjunct Harivamsa, the Vishnupurana and Bhagvata. The story is also referred in Brahmapurana, PadmaPurana and Brahmavaivarta-purana. In Mahabharat, Krishna appears for the first time during the marriage of Draupadi with the Pandavas. Though casual references about his earlier life have been mentioned no details are given. To make up for this Harivamsa was added as adjunct, later. It is fairly long work of over 16000 verses and deals with story of Krishna in great detail in section called Vishnuparva. Vishnupurana (300 AD, 6000 verses) is one of earliest puranas and deals with the story of Krishna in fifth section. Bhagvata (600 AD; 18000 verses) seems to be expanded version of the Vishnupurana dealing in much great detail.

Whether Krishna Vasudeva was "Super" Human being or God Incarnate there is no gainsaying in fact that he has been ruling hearts of millions of hindus for over three millennia. If a person can make such a profound impact on the Hindu race affecting its psyche and ethos and all aspects of its life for centuries he is no less than the God. And the Hindus do believe that he was an avtara. An Avtara or incarnation of God is not a product of history but creates it shapes it. The primary purpose of avtara as Krishna himself has stated in Gita (4.7, 8) is to re-establish dharma or righteousness on a firm foundation. Throughout his life, Krishna sole concern was dharma to uphold it, to protect it and to reassert its supremacy and to unravel its mystery whenever it became inscrutable.

Dharma becomes just an ethereal concept unless it lives in the minds and hearts of human beings expressed through actions. Krishna’s life shows his concern for everybody around with no discrimination. The care he bestowed on cowherds of Vrindavan , curing Kubja,  protecting honour of Draupadi or his bestowal of wealth on the poor Kucela, washing sudama's feet and so many more incidences, all reveal his grace. Krishna though possessing heart "softer than a flower" could exercise terrific valour in defence of dharma. In fact he was the strongest man and the greatest warrior of his times. He knew no fear nor tasted defeat at any time in his life. He killed demons even as a toddler, he was the one requested not to take up arms himself from either side in Great War of Mahabharata.

All the same he was not the war-monger. He was a master statesman, skilled in the art of peace too. He was interested in peace, but not the cost of dharma. There is a common belief that brain and brawn cannot go together. But Krishna was extraordinary exception. His scholarship in the Vedic lore secular sciences, politics arts was renowned. His three Gitas the BhagvadGita, the Anugita and the Uddhavagita are standing monuments to his learning and wisdom. Intelligence and learning do not necessarily lead to culture and refinement. Arrogance is a more common result. But Krishna was a perfect gentleman. When he killed Kansa or got Jarasandha eliminated, he put Ugrasena and Sahadeva on thrones. He was the first to honour elders, brahmans and sages. Even in the face of grave provocation he could be calm; the remarkable tolerance he exhibited towards the cantankerous Sisupala or Duryodhana is a case to the point.

Krishna was not only a philosopher but an accomplished Yogi or mystic as well; hence the epithet 'Yogesvara'. The Bhagvata narrates several incidents where in he has displayed yogic powers. Mysticism and activism rarely go together; but in Krishna, they did. From cradle to grave, his life was one continuum of dynamic activity; but always for the good of others and never for himself. He was very personification of selflessness, he lived ever for others.   Krishna as a rule followed old customs and time honoured traditions but if in his judgement any custom needs to be altered he would unhesitatingly do so.  He stopped worship of Indra by cow herds and substituted with worshipping cows and Govardhan hill which were backbone of their agrarian society.

Above all, Krishna was intensely human. He responded to every human emotion in an appropriate way. His parents Devaki Vasudeva, his foster parents Yasoda and Nanda his mates at Gokula and Vrindavan the Gopis, his wives like Rukmini and Satyabhama, the Pandavas the elders of Hastinapur, even cows, horses in fact everyone that came in touch with him was never left untouched by his magic. It is but natural he was called 'Purusottama' the best of human beings.

Does Krishna who staked his life to defend and protect weak defenceless ones, himself need

defence? It appears so, on the face of it, if only we look at the spate of criticism and abuses heaped upon him by the aliens to Indian culture or de-cultured Indians themselves, who are aliens in their own society. At the outset, one thing has to be made clear. The criticisms levelled against Krishna are based on the story as depicted in the Mahabharata and the Bhagvata. These two works have declared not just the greatness the divinity of Krishna in no uncertain terms calling him as the supreme lord Himself. If the detractors of Krishna accept as true only those parts of these works that come in handy for their criticism and conveniently ignore the rest , they are no wiser than the guy who wanted to cut an egg into two halves , keep one half for hatching chicken and use the other for eating !

The criticisms fall under two broad categories: those pertaining to his relationship with the gopis of Vrindavan and those related to the various stratagems he adopted to get victory for the Pandavas. The former is related to well- known incidents as given in Bhagvata: gopivastrapaharana (snatching away clothes of Gopis) and Rasalila. Neither the Vishnupurana nor Harivamsa refers to first episode. Second is dealt with in all three works.

In the first incidence, the gopis were kumarikas (10.22.1) undergoing Katayanivrata (10.22.4) and Krishna was just seven years old (vide 10.26.3) Hope that gives perspective to perverted minds. Having seen for themselves all the super-human acts of Krishna from babyhood, it was gopis who were convinced of his greatness and divinity. This attitude of soul towards divine is well known as kantabhava or madhurbhava in the works on devotion and mysticism.  It is very much present in Christianity and Sufism too.  One who wants to approach God should eschew astapasas or eight infirmities that bind a soul like ghrina (hatred)  sanka (doubts) bhaya (fear) lajja ( shame) and so on. What is depicted here is just symbolic of this of total surrender of jivas or souls to God by giving up all bonds of life; and hence should be studied in the proper perspective.  The five chapters 29 to 33 of the tenth skandha of the Bhagvata are called Rasapancadhyayi and deals exclusively with Krishna’s play with the Gopis.  And summary of the concluding part of section is stricken with remorse the gopis wail and wander pine for and pray for HIM.  After chastising them thus Krishna reappears in their midst to their great delight and dances the Rasa, multiplying himself so that each gopi has her own Krishna at same time. All the while, the people at the home of gopis have not missed them at all ! They continue to exist physically there too. Was it a play of ordinary mortal paramour or divine sport between Jiva and Shiva?  Many a mystic both of the East and the West, have cultivated this type of love towards the divine.  Andal,  Akka Mahadevi and Mira of India, St. Teresa of Avila of Spain and Rabiya of Basra , Iraq are well known mystics who prove this point.

All this is from the subjective standpoint of Krishna and the blessed gopis. From the objective standpoint did not Krishna transgress dharma? If yes, has he not set a bad example to the world for centuries?  This is exactly the question that the king Pariksit put to sage Suka, the narrator of the Bhagvata (vide 10.33.27-29) Suka in reply classifies men into three groups: the Isvaras (Lords, Incarnations), the jivanmuktas (the liberated ones) and the ordinary people.

Those who realize God in this very life are called jivanmuktas. According to the Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads, they have transcended even dharma and hence are not bound by the dos and don’ts of this world.  (Kausitaki Upanishad 3.1). These jivanmuktas get that power by meditating on the lotus feet of God. Then, what to speak of Krishna the Lord Himself! The acts of such Isvaras cannot be should not be emulated by ordinary beings. If someone can do all that Krishna did, then and only then, he like Krishna can take liberties to define the dharma!

Krishna is true to his words: “In whichever way people approach me, in the same way do I respond” If we approach him as ‘problem-Krishna’ he will create more problems. On other hand, if we approach him as the divine incarnate in human form, ever gracious he will solve all our problems, cut our karmic bondages, bestows grace and answers our prayers. The innumerable mystics and devotees of Krishna over the centuries are the standing proof of this. The one who inspired so many ideal lives can he be just an ordinary womaniser, a failed human? How can we mortals comprehend the divine Sun, when likes of Swami Vivekananda are just moon reflecting HIS divine wisdom and grace dispelling darkness of gloom and ignorance. Words can’t suffice to describe the one, whose birth itself was divinity in action. “Under the divine spell, the gates of the prison opened up, the guards slept and Yamuna ji made way for the transportation of the divine infant.”

- Janmashtami. 2013.

[The article is in spirit inspired, edited, borrowed from Swami Harshanandaji ‘s book “All about KRSNA” RK Math, Bangalore. Indebted to him. All credits to him, any fallacies or misrepresentation will be due to my limitations for which I humbly, take the responsibility.]

* I may or may not agree with the views of guest writers, but I respect their right to be heard


Unknown said...

Beautifully expressed...thanks Harshji.Need for the ignorant elite to read and understand our rich heritage.Yes,as you say Lord Krishna takes it on himself to protect the Dharmee so that Dharma gets protected.We can feel his presence every moment in our lives...JaiShriKrishna

Dr Satya Saraswat said...

Excellent post. Loved every word of it. A glimpse in the life and works of Shri Krishna.

शैलेश said...

Having known Harsh and shared many "learning" experiences with him, I am really happy that he started blogging. He has experienced things that only a few could and those who share them are lucky ...

A great article and a right way to ANSWER BACK :)

Keep it up !!

Y K C said...

Its a delightful scholarly scripted reading. ignite the appetite to read more.