“When we say Krishna, the essence of who he is, he is an irrepressible child, a terrible prankster, an enchanting flute player, a graceful dancer, an irresistible lover, a truly valiant warrior, a ruthless vanquisher of his foes, a man who left a broken heart in every home, an astute statesman and kingmaker, a thorough gentleman, a yogi of the highest order, and the most colourful incarnation.”
– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev(1)
The life of Krishna can be explored on many levels. Historically, I can tell you that he is believed to have been born in Mathura around 3200 BCE on the eighth day (ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Bhadra or Bhadrapada, which typically falls between August and September. He was famously involved in the great Mahabharata war and so on. But those are mere facts.
In the context of the Hindu Dharma, he was the eight avatar of Vishnu and took human birth in Dwapar Yuga (the third of the four yugas or ages), to establish dharma. He gave us the Bhagavad Gita, an outpouring of wisdom about the nature of life and world to his friend Arjuna, on the battlefield of the Mahabharata war.
But as Sadhguru JV puts it, the Gita was his exhalation. It was given when all other means had failed, a time of crisis was near and the situation was desperate: a dejected Arjuna refused to fight the war that he ruefully observed would involve killing many people he knew and loved. The Gita is a profound text that contains all the knowledge one needs to attain the peak of possibility available to a human being. But if we really want to know Krishna in his essence, we must become his inhalation.
We must realise him in how he lived, how he loved, how he played and fought. The celebration of life that was the fragrance of how he lived every moment. His total, indiscriminate involvement in life. His ras leela. The path of the playful. The world has always been described as leela or divine play by the sages and rishis in India. The way Krishna lived his life demonstrated this more than any teaching he gave.
As a child, Krishna was a renowned prankster – so renowned that even today, we sing about and enact his mischievous butter-stealing escapades that riled up his mother, Yashodha. As a youth, he was a devastatingly attractive cowherd (Govinda/ Gopala) who charmed the whole town (especially the cowherd girls) with the magical tones of his flute. His ras leelas of ecstatic dancing were to show the people that life was a celebration and that the Divine could be reached in this way as much as through physical austerities.
As a warrior, Krishna was ruthless in vanquishing his foes and saving the people from demon forces. As a friend, he was the epitome of selfless generosity and love, washing the feet of his long-lost schoolmate Sudama, offering him his throne for a seat and accepting with immense excitement and relish, the few plain morsels of rice Sudama brought him as a gift.
As a lover, he was the Divine itself, immortalising his playmate and lover Radha whose love for Krishna we still hold as the highest expression of the emotion. As a statesman, he was a shrewd politician and planner, doing what needed to be done with the detachment of a yogi of the highest order.
Krishna showed with every breath, how life should be lived. Simply from the peacock feather he always wore in his hair (whether it be a ras leela or war), we learn how we should bring our best selves to the world, live with equanimity in all situations and that life musn’t be taken too serious.
Those who couldn’t perceive Krishna’s essence, missed an encounter with the Divine. According to Duryodhana (the leader of the Kauravas who fought against the Pandavas in the Mahabharata), he was a “similing rogue…who can gossip with old women…who says he is God?”(1) He was different things to different people, each one finding in him their own reflection.
As a Yogavatar, Krishna’s words and actions expounded all the four paths of yoga (Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Kriya) and we still today significantly derive our knowledge about life and yoga, through the Bhagavad Gita. But to miss Krishna in Bhakti (devotion) is to miss him completely for perhaps no other form that walked this earth ever inspired in so many beings, the attraction of the soul for the Divine.
The ‘blue-bodied one’ (Shyam) represents the infinity of Being that cannot be understood with the intellect but only through complete abandon and surrender. That is why perhaps the essence of Krishna is best understood by the human mind through the Bhakti of Radha or Meera (16th century mystic poet).
In the words of Radha, “Krishna is with me. He is always with me wherever he is. Whoever he is with, he is still with me.”(1)
Krishna is the smiling one in all hearts that enjoys the play of life. Ever the witness, ever the friend, ever the Beloved and ever the arms we can fall into for a loving embrace or if we are fortunate, for complete dissolution.
Verse by Meera Bai (16th century CE):
Nothing is really mine except Krishna.
O my parents, I have searched the world
And found nothing worthy of love.
Hence I am a stranger amidst my kinfolk
And an exile from their company,
Since I seek the companionship of holy men;
There alone do I feel happy,
In the world I only weep.
I planted the creeper of love
And silently watered it with my tears;
Now it has grown and overspread my dwelling.
You offered me a cup of poison
Which I drank with joy.
Mira is absorbed in contemplation of Krishna,
She is with God and all is well!
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