On Janmashtami, Utkarsh Patel brings you two episodes from the life of Lord Krishna that make him the ultimate enigma – shrouded in mystery but sparkling in divine redemption
Innocent, impish and cherubic are the three words that spring to mind when we look upon the smiling face of Lord Krishna staring up at us from his lavishly adorned crib during feisty Janmashtami celebrations (on August 25 this year). While it is well-known that Krishna was the eighth child of Devaki and Vasudeva, and Kansa had killed the couple’s other children, not many know that the Lord had brought back to life his brothers for a brief reunion!
But then there are several such episodes about Krishna and his avatars: the adorable prankster stealing butter from homes, the sublime lover that tugs at every woman’s heartstrings and the perfect diplomat and strategist on the battlefield.
So who is He? Is He the fountainhead of knowledge or the political mastermind? Or is He an enigma – a dichotomy that has never been resolved? Take, for example, an interesting episode from the Sarala Mahabharata of Odisha. During the exile of the Pandavas, Krishna decided to test Arjuna as he was performing penance in the hills of Manibhadra. Krishna assumed the form of the Navagunjara, an animal with the head of a rooster and three feet – of an elephant, a tiger and a deer. The fourth limb was a raised human arm carrying a lotus. The creature had the neck of a peacock, the hump of a camel, the waist of a lion and the tail of a serpent.
When the Navagunjara presented itself in front of Arjuna, he was both terrified and baffled. He picked up his bow and arrow to shoot the creature, but paused for a moment trying to understand it. How could such a creature exist? It was then that he understood this must be none other than Krishna himself. He immediately bowed and sought his blessings.
One wonders what this could be all about. The Navagunjara is seen as the unfathomable possibility of nature but it also implies that not all aspects of god can be understood, no matter how knowledgeable one is. While Arjuna was amazed at his own inability to explain the existence of such a creature, his picking up of the bow without giving it a thought is an example of human reaction when there is no prior knowledge of a situation.
Talking of imagery, one cannot think of Krishna and not be reminded of his love for Radha. Once, when Krishna was with his wife Rukmini, Naradamuniwalked in and related his experience at Vrindavan,
where he had met Radha. Even after learning that Narada was en route from Mathura, Radha had no questions about Krishna. On asking why, Radha said she didn’t need to know about the one who was always with her. Rukmini, of course, was upset and announced that Radha was Krishna’s past and that, she, his wife, was his present and future. There could be no love for the Lord greater than hers, Rukmini added.
Sometime later, Krishna fell sick and no medicines could treat him. Soon, a celestial vaidya, who was none other than Narada in disguise, came down to help. Needless to say, this was all part of an act put together by Narada at the behest of Krishna!
He told Rukmini that Krishna was suffering from a debilitating disease that could be cured only if he consumed the water that had washed the feet of someone who truly loved and adored him. When this was suggested to Rukmini, she was taken aback. She did love him, but making her husband drink the water that had touched her feet would make her a sinner. Krishna’s other wives, including Satyabhama, also declined.
The vaidya then went to Radha, who didn’t hesitate a moment, despite being reminded by Narada about the sin. But Radha only smiled and replied, “No sin can be greater than not saving the life of the Lord.” When Rukmini learnt about this, she was ashamed and accepted that no one loved and adored the Lord more than Radha.
This story brings into focus the other dichotomy associated with Lord Krishna – the love of Rukmini and Radha, love within an established relationship and that outside of it, and love that is unconditional – almost divine. Do we need more reason to explain why Krishna is considered the eternal enigma?