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The Krishna Legend

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 9:53 PM
The Divine Pair
In the Hindu Trinity, Vishnu is the Preserver, the guardian of life.

When sins multiply, Vishnu reincarnates himself to rid the earth of its calamities. Krishna is regarded as the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, and the legends relating to him are found in the Bhagavata Purana and its Hindi version, the Prom Sagara.

There are many distinct elements in the Krishna legend which indicate that it is of composite origin. Thus, there is Krishna, the cowherd, the boy-god of Mathura-Vrindavana, also known as Gopala-Krishna. Possibly, he is a deity of vegetation, and tribal god of Ahiras, Gujaras and Jats. His brother Balarama is the bearer of the plough, a symbol of agriculture. The view that Krishna was the god of mountains and vegetation finds support in the well-known legend of the worship of the mountain Govardhan.

There is also perhaps a Dravidian element in the Krishna legend, for we find an ancient reference to Krishna-Gopala in the early Tamil anthologies, where Mayon (the Dark One) plays his flute and sports with milkmaidens.

Again, there is a mention of Krishna-Devakiputra in the Chhandogya Upanishad. Keith in his Sanskrit Literature says that there was a tradition about Krishna as a risk (from the time of Rigvedic hymns.

Then there is Krishna who plays an important part in the epic of the Mahabharata. He was undoubtedly a Kshatriya warrior of the Yadava clan. The Bhagavad-Gita, which is always associated with Krishna, expounds the doctrine of action and non-attachment which Krishna preached on the battlefield of Kurukshetra when he revealed his real self to Arjuna:

Endowed with countless mouths and countless eyes,
It was as if the firmament were filled,
All in an instant, with a thousand suns.

Lastly, there is Krishna, the king of Dwaraka, who fought numerous demons, married Rukmini, daughter of the king of Vidarbha, and led a princely life in the company of his many wives. There came a time when the Yadava chiefs slew one another in a drunken brawl. Krishna's son was killed, and his brother Balarama, sick at heart, departed from the earth. Overwhelmed by the loss of his son, brother and kinsmen, Krishna went to a forest and lay under a tree. There, a hunter mistaking him for a deer, shot an arrow which pierced his heel, the only vulnerable part of his body, and thus he died. Soon after, the doomed city of Dwaraka was engulfed by the sea.

Driving the Flock
The emergence of Krishna as the supreme God is indicated by many legends in which we can sense the conflict between the Krishna cult and the worship of the Vedic deities. For instance, there is the story of how Krishna humbles Brahma when he abducts Krishna's cowherd companions and their cows and confines them in a cave. Brahma is thus made to realize the greatness of Krishna and supplicates him as he Creator or all. Again, in the Giri Govardhan episode Krishna seduces the inhabitants of Vraja from the worship of the rain-end. Indra, and converts them to the worship or the worship of the mountain Govardhan. Indra finally acknowledges Krishna's superiority. The doctrine of bhakti, as set forth in the Bhagavad-Gita was evolved long before the birth of Christ. Even In the 2nd century B.C. Krishna, in the form known as Krishna-Vasudeva, had become the supreme God. Later on, poet-philosophers Such as Nimbarka, Jayadeva, Vidyapati and Chandi das, emphasized the identification of Gopala-Krishna, the cowherd of our legend, with the older Krishna-Vasudeva of the bhakti cult.

Krishna belonged to the Yadava tribe, a pastoral people who lived in Vrindavana and Gokul, on both sides of the river Yamuna. His parents, Devaki and Vasudeva, were imprisoned by Kansa, the ruler of Mathura, for it had been prophesied that their child would destroy him. Six of their children had already been killed by this evil king, and the seventh, Balarama, was miraculously transferred to the womb of Rohini, Vasudeva's second wife. The eighth child of Devaki was Krishna, who was also saved by his father by exchanging him with a daughter born to Yashoda, wife of Nanda, who lived in Gokul, across the Yamuna. It was with Nanda that Rohini and Balarama had already taken shelter.

The birth of Krishna ushered in an era of prosperity for Vraja, but Kansa had strange forebodings, and felt no peace. Demons were dispatched by him to kill the Divine Child, but all to no avail.

Krishna's Magik FluteKrishna was a naughty child and his pranks were at once the despair and delight of his mother and the neighbors. He would steal the butter and break the churning vessel, and all his mother's attempts to punish him came to naught. One day, Krishna, like most children in the village, was found eating earth. When Yashoda reprimanded him, he denied having done so. On this she asked him to open his mouth. When he did so she saw numberless suns and moons, planets and stars, oceans and continents, mountains and rivers, and in fact the entire Universe. Unable to bear the revelation, Yashoda closed her eyes, and bowed her head before his feet, realizing that her son was none other than Vishnu himself. The gods, however, drew over her sight the veil of illusion, and she again felt that the child in front of her was only her own son.

Harassed by the demons sent by Kansa, Nanda and his cowherd kinsmen decided to move from Gokul to Vrindavana across the river. Their children enjoyed swimming in the river during the heat of the summer, while the cows sat in groups chewing the cud contentedly. Krishna, his brother Balarama, the cowherds and the gopis roamed the woods of Vrindavana with their graceful trees covered with blossoms. Here Krishna and his companions played "hide-and-seek", or sang and danced to music.

Early in the morning the ropes of the cows are loosened by Krishna, Balarama and their companions. Krishna borrows a stick from Yashoda while Balarama collects laddus from a young lady who stands with a thali full of them and wraps them in cloth. The cows have a special attachment for Krishna, and when they see him, milk flows freely from their udders, and they low with joy.

In the evening the cows are driven home by Krishna and the cowherds, and the dust which they raise shines like gold, illumined by the slanting rays of the setting sun. The hour of "Cow-dust" is a favorite subject with the Kangra painters.

Another subject popular with the Kangra painters is the magic of Krishna's flute. Krishna, cowherd, with a black of Yamuna thrown over his shoulder, plays the flute on the banks of the Yamuna. A pair of mints cranes is on the bank of the river. The forest trees entwined by creepers are covered with blossoms, and birds with bright plumage perch on their branches. Hearing the music of the flute, the cows, white, grey, black and brown, run to its source with tails uplifted. Their necks are decorated with tiny brass bells, and to the poet their beauty is "as if clouds of many hues had been gathered together from every quarter". The cows gaze at Krishna spellbound, their faces uplifted, and their eyes bright with joy. "The sound of Krishna's flute is the voice of Eternity heard by the dwellers in Time. When Krishna plays thereon, it rains delight, resounding like a cloud." The audience, whether of men, birds or beasts, stands fascinated, still like a painted image. The river itself leaves its bed and bends out in a curve to listen to the music.

Feast in the Forest
Another fine painting shows a feast in the forest. Krishna and his companions are feasting happily in the shade of a giant tree. The group is seated in a circle and is eating out of plates made from palasa and plantain leaf.

Other notable incidents of Krishna's life, popular with Kangra painters, are the subduing of the serpent king Kaliya, the lifting of Mount Govardhan, the stealing of the gopis' clothes (Chira-harana-lila) and the taking of the toll (dana-lila). The many-headed Kaliya poisoned the waters of a lake near the Yamuna but was conquered by Krishna who danced in triumph upon his hoods. Indra, the king of the heavenly deities, felt jealous of his diminishing power over the inhabitants. In anger, he sent down torrential rains but they took shelter under Mount Govardhan which Krishna lifted on his little finger. The maids of Vraja had their clothes stolen by him as they bathed nude in the river and only got them back after many prayers and entreaties. They were also stopped by him as they crossed the ferry, and he would steal curds and butter from them pretending that they were his due as legal toll.

Krishna plays his flute on a perfumed moonlit night of autumn on the bank of the Yamuna, and on hearing it the girls of Vraja abandon their families, forget their shyness and start for the river. But when they arrive he tells them to go back to their husbands. "Love for me is born more through hearing, singing, seeing and contemplation," he says, "than by mere physical proximity”. The milk-maids protest saying that they have renounced all material objects and conventional ties of family life to come to him. Krishna smiles, recognizes their love, and invites them to a dance. Being thus honored the gopis are full of pride and consider themselves superior to other women in the world. Seeing their pride, Krishna disappears, abandoning them.

Taking only Radha with him, Krishna roams the forest, listening to the song of birds, the humming of bees, and the harping of the forest winds. When they are tired, they sit together on the dark stem of a Bauhinia tree, in the shade of a mango tree and a clump of plantains, looking at each other like a pair of love-birds.

Radha is very happy, and thinks that Krishna is now fully under her charm. Proud in this belief, she asks Krishna to carry her on his shoulders, but as she attempts to climb up, he disappears. Radha wanders in the beautiful forest of Vrindavana in search of him. She laments his disappearance and asks the trees of his whereabouts but there is no answer.

Krishna Braiding Radha's Hair
In his Gita Govinda, Jayadeva narrates the story of the separation and reconciliation of Radha in the form of a pastoral drama. The actors are Krishna, Radha, the gopis and the dutika, the lovers' messenger. The scene is laid in the forest of Vrindavana. Radha sits under a tree, and Krishna dances with the gopis at a distance on the bank of the Yamuna. The air is heavy with the fragrance of flowers. The beautiful Radha, whose limbs are like flowers of the madhavi creeper, looks for Krishna in the trackless forest. A damsel brings news of Krishna's whereabouts in the blossoming Spring:

0 Radha! It is Spring that thrills with love divine even the hearts of those who have controlled all their passions.

It has come laden with flowers; it has come as the unbidden, uncontrolled rapture of youth!

Look yonder! Where even the sleeping mango tree, clasped by the delicate creeper, grows conscious with love and quivers with joy, bursts out in those tender purple shoots! The Spring wakens life.

0 Radha! Yonder there on the bank of the river Yamuna, in the groves watered by its blue limpid waves, Sri Krishna is playing with the brides of Vrindavana!

There is He, the sky-coloured figure anointed with sandal and enrobed in gold, wearing a garland made of wild flowers and forest leaves!

And see how the curls of His tresses fall on His temples, as He sports hand in hand with a hundred brides.

The worldly pleasures are personified by the milkmaids, and Krishna, forgetting Radha's devotion, revels with them.

Radha is the human soul in search of God and ultimately her love and devotion attract Krishna, who leaves the gopis to search for Radha. A dutika approaches him, and describes the love pangs of pining Radha. The messenger then goes to Radha to tell her that Krishna waits for her eagerly in a bower.

Radha prepares to meet Krishna, adorning herself with necklaces of pearls, gold bracelets and a pearl nose-ring. She meets Krishna in a bower of tamala trees festooned with atimukta creepers laden with blossoms. Krishna has spread his dark blanket on the ground, and the Divine Lovers rest on it. A chakora pair appears in the foreground, where there is a lake full of lotus flowers and leaves. Peacocks are in the foreground and on the tree and dark clouds can be seen in the sky. Krishna wears a white garland and a crown decorated with peacock feathers. He is braiding Radha's hair, while she looks at him as does the thirsty chataka at the rain clouds.
 Writer Name: M.S. Randhawa
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