Shiva, Indra, Brahma and the Earth in Form of a Cow Pray to Narayana, Requesting Him to Relieve the Earth's Burden
Once upon a time, as now, mother earth was overburdened with the weight of millions of arrogant kings. Assuming the form of a cow, her face overflowing with tears, she approached Brahma, the god of creation for protection. Realizing her piteous condition, Brahma, accompanied by the earth and all the other gods, went to the ocean of milk, the abode of the Supreme Lord Narayana. There, Brahma venerated the Lord by chanting the Purusha Sukta from the Rigveda.
Birth of Shri Krishna
While he was thus contemplating, Brahma heard a voice in the sky: "God already knows the affliction of the earth. He will manifest Himself as Krishna and reduce the burden of the earth." (Shrimad Bhagavatam 10.1.22)
Krishna Teasing Gopis
Hence, saving the earth from the clutches of evil kings was the part motive for Krishna's birth. Another primary reason was to give blissful joy to the simple cowherds of Vrindavan, their women, and cows. In Vrindavan, Krishna behaved much as a normal child of His age would do. He teased the gopis, respected His elders and also picnicked with His friends.
Tender Lotus-Hands Become Heated Iron Rods or Krishna as Keshava
Between all this, He saved them from various calamities that befell them and in the process provided glimpses of His divinity.
During one such episode, Krishna killed a demon named Aghasura (agha: sin; and asura: demon). This villain had taken the form of a huge serpent and had lain on the ground with his mouth wide open. The children of Vrindavana thought it to be a cave and playfully entered it.
No sooner had Krishna also walked in following His friends, than the serpent closed his mouth. Caught inside, Krishna expanded Himself within the throat of the demon. Soon, the demon was choking and struggling for breath. His prana, restricted within the body, finally burst out through his skull (brahmarandhra), and a bright and strange light illuminating the directions emerged from him, and waited in the sky. As soon as Krishna came out of the serpent's body, the light merged into Him. Now, this is the kind of end only high-class yogis achieve. The Taittriya Upanishad describes this:
'The nerve called Sushumna passes upwards from the heart to the mid-region between the two palates and also through that flesh that hangs like a breast between these two palates. From there it stretches up to the crown of the head where the roots of the hair divide. Those whose prana pass out through this Sushumna nerve, breaking open the skull in the middle, dividing it into two regions, they attain to the Supreme God Brahman.'(1.6.1)
Thus did the compassionate Lord grant the demon Aghasura Moksha, exactly as He does to high-class yogis.
Aghasura was a sworn enemy of the gods. Seeing his annihilation at the hands of Krishna, all of them came out of heaven and danced with joy and delight. Hearing the commotion, Brahma Ji too came out his abode. Brahma, the lord of creation, was shocked to see that Aghasura had been liberated. He thought out: "How can a demon be given the same liberation which is reserved only for the highest yogis? Our Vedas and Puranas have no provision for the liberation of sin. Sin can be liberated only by the Supreme Lord Narayana, who is beyond all duality, and therefore doesn't come under the jurisdiction of rituals and scriptures." Brahma Ji then thought of observing Lord Krishna more closely and came to Vrindavana.
In the meanwhile, Krishna had all but finished with the Aghasura episode and was now picnicking merrily with His friends. The Shrimad Bhagavatam gives a vivid picture of this outdoor lunch:
'The cowherds were seated on the ground and Krishna was at the center. They opened the lunch boxes they had brought from home. All the boys had their faces towards Krishna, who was at the center of the concentric circles. Due to their intense love for Him, all the cowherds boys wanted to face Krishna. He fulfilled their desire by making His face and limbs appear in all the directions at once; i.e. every boy thought that He was face-to-face with Krishna. Thus they were all eating their food and also constantly tasting the bliss of seeing Krishna face to face. Krishna looked like the whorl of a lotus flower and the boys surrounding Him appeared to be its petals.' (Shrimad Bhagavatam 10.13.8)
This is in keeping with the description of Krishna given in the Bhagavad Gita:
'He has hands and feet in all directions. He has eyes, heads, mouths and ears everywhere.' (13.14)
While thus enjoying with His friends, Krishna was Himself picturesque enough to be meditated upon. His flute was pushed within the belt of His silken cloth on the right side, and His bugle and cane were tucked under His left armpit. He was holding a soft morsel of rice mixed with curd and various pickles, which could be seen through His petal-like fingers.
Radha Krishna - The Lotus Lovers
Meditating upon this lila of the Lord, sages complain to Him: "You play in the dusty courtyards of these cowherds but are shy of coming to the yagyas (Vedic sacrifices) of pure Brahmins? When the cows moo and burp, You talk to them, but You do not care to speak the mantras of the Vedas. Leaving aside all shame, You walk behind these rustic gopis, but feel shy to come before saints and sages? Oh Lord, now we understand. You are not bound by any laws which govern us. You submit only to love. It is only by love that you are attained."
Lord Brahma, The Creator of the universe
Brahma is the master of intellect. That is why he is shown with a beard, which signifies his experience in worldly matters and wisdom. His four heads represent the four Vedas.
Hence anything which seems even slightly contrary to the scriptures disturbs him to no end. Here he could see the five year old Krishna, merrily playing with his friends. What was more disturbing to him was the fact that Krishna was engaging in informal engagements with His friends, even as much as eating their leftover, or offering them his own, without any consideration for the rules of purity prescribed in the scriptures. Thus arose in Brahma's mind a doubt: "Is this little one truly the Supreme Lord? Or is He just an imposter displaying His yogic powers?"
Brahma's doubt is not surprising. Throughout the Shrimad Bhagavatam we find male members of Krishna's inner circle doubting His divinity. After the great war of Mahabharata, Yudhishtra was inconsolable. When Krishna tried to pacify Him, it was of no avail. However, he was consoled when his great-grandfather Bhishma preached to him. Similarly with Arjuna, who in the Bhagavad Gita doubts: "O' Krishna, the sun was born before you. How is it possible for you to have imparted knowledge to the sun?" (4.4).
It is only the women who due to their immense faith, having surrendered themselves completely to Krishna, could see Him as He truly was. Krishna's aunt Kunti, while venerating Him, did not shy away from recognizing that even though His delightful and playful childish antics could confuse some into not recognizing His divinity, His Supreme and Absolute divinity remained undiminished. She says:
"Angry at your mischief, mother Yashoda took out a rope to bind you. It bewilders me that even though fear itself fears you; you stood in front of your mother like an ordinary child with your head down. Your face was displaying fear, and tears blackened with the kohl in your eyes were rolling down your cheeks." (1.8.31)
The women-folk never had any doubt. What did the women of Hastinapur do when they saw Krishna leaving their city? Desiring to lay their eyes on Him, they climbed on to the ceilings of the buildings, and viewing their beloved Krishna with bashful loving smiles, showered flowers on Him saying:
"Krishna is the Primal Man, who is One without a second. He is the Supreme God. Lucky is Vrindavana, which He has blessed with His childlike activities. Blessed are the ladies who taste the sweet nectar of His lips, the mere memories of which made the young gopis of Vrindavana faint with ecstasy." (Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.10.16, 21, 26, 28)
Throughout we find women easily accepting Krishna as the Supreme Lord because of their faith. Men, because of their 'thinking nature' relying too much on logic and calculation, are often seen holding ambivalent views on Krishna. We have seen above Kunti eulogizing Krishna when He was about to leave their city. What did her son Yudhishtra do when Krishna finally left the city? He asked a large army to accompany Krishna for protection on the way. The Upanishads clearly say that it because of the fear of the Supreme Lord that the sun rises and sets on time. It is because of His fear that fire heats and it is due to His fear that the wind blows. (Katha Upanishad 2.3.3). To this Supreme Ruler of the world did Yudhishtra offer his protection!
The same Krishna who plays joyful childish pranks with His friends is the Supreme God ruling the universe. The great Shankaracharya says in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita:
'Those who think that Krishna is not the Supreme God are fools." (4.4)
Hence it is not surprising that Brahma, gifted with the most efficient brain in the cosmos, began to harbor doubts regarding the divinity of Krishna. He decided to do what one should never do; he decided to test God.
As the cowherd boys, their minds absorbed in Krishna, were enjoying the feast, their calves ventured far off in the search of greener pastures. When the boys saw that the calves had gone out of sight, they were fearful for their safety. Seeing them worried and looking up to Him for help, Krishna said: "Friends don't worry. I will go and get the calves back. You continue with your meals." Thus with His uneaten morsel of rice and yogurt within His fingers, Krishna set out to search for the lost calves.
That was the start of troubles. We see this phenomenon explained throughout the life of Krishna. Trouble comes whenever we shift our attention away from Krishna. Putana too lifted up Krishna when mother Yashoda began to look at her (Putana) rather than the Lord. In another episode when mother Yashoda got engrossed with her household chores a hurricane came and carried away Krishna. The same thing happened here. Where had the calves gone? Brahma Ji had kidnapped them. When Krishna went to look for the calves, Brahma promptly took away Krishna's cowherd friends also to his abode, and held all of them there in suspended animation (yoga nidra).
When Krishna realized that neither the calves nor His friends were to be found, He understood what had happened: "So this is Brahma's doing. He wants to see my lila." But which lila should Krishna show Brahma Ji? There is no use displaying one's mathematical skills in front of a grammarian. It is proper to display one's skills in the field of the other's specialty. What is Brahma's special talent? He is skilled at creating the world. However, here we must remember that Brahma doesn't create the five basic elements making up the material world. These five elements are the sky (akasha), air, fire, water and earth. When Brahma sets out to create the physical world, he not only has at his disposal these five elements provided by God, but also the residue of the karma performed by the beings during their previous births. His job is to merely assemble the parts to create bodies based on the previous karma.
However, Krishna's ability is wonderful He is the Ultimate Source of everything. The Brahma Sutras clearly establish that just as the making of a pot requires an efficient cause (the potter) and a material cause (the clay); in the case of the manifested world, the Supreme Lord is both the efficient and material cause. So in order to display His lila, Krishna decided to create a new world of His own. Without any matter to mould or foundation to build upon, without any pen, canvas or color He created a picture. He created out of Himself as many boys and calves as Brahma had stolen. Each of these had different facial features, bodies, clothes and ornaments. Each had different tastes, activities and behavior. Krishna became all that had been stolen by Brahma in all its diversity. Indeed, as the Bhagavad Gita says: 'Everything is Krishna (Vasudev sarvam 7.19)'.
The Chandogya Upanishad says: 'He becomes one, He becomes two, two, three, five, seven, eleven, He becomes manifold.' (7.26.2) This episode in the life of Krishna is an awesome illustration of the Vedic fact that 'everything is a form of Krishna' So did the Lord create, merely by deciding to do so.
Cow - Hinduism's Most Sacred Animal Licks Off the Dirt from Her Calf
The residents of Vrindavan meanwhile had no knowledge of what had happened. When this group of calves and cowherds, which were not different from Krishna, reached back, the mothers of the boys heard the sweet melodies of flute and rushed out to embrace their respective children. Overflowing with maternal affection, milk oozed out of their breasts, and they immediately set out to feed them this milk. Similarly the cows, their udders overflowing with milk, licked their calves with their tongues and fed them their milk.
This practice continued for one year. The cows' affections for their calves and the gopis affection for their children increased day by day. Earlier on, before this episode had taken place, the cows and women had greater affection for Krishna than they had for their own offspring. Now however, they harbored for their children the same amount of affection they had for Krishna.
One day, as Krishna and Balarama were tending to the calves, they saw some cows grazing at the top of Govardhana hill. Suddenly on sighting the calves, the cows began to run towards them. They leaped downhill so swiftly that it seemed that front and rear legs had been joined together. Overflowing with affection the cows approached the calves with their udders so full of milk that they were almost touching the ground. Now what was surprising was that the calves these cows so lovingly wanted to feed their milk were not their own offspring. Even then they felt towards them the same affection they had for their own. What's more, many of them had outgrown the age for their mother's milk and were now content eating grass. Yet, the cows generously, and out of immense affection, granted them their own milk; and the calves too eagerly began to suck milk from their udders. Here is another lofty Upanishad philosophy rendered into earthly terms by the Shrimad Bhagavatam. The Brihadaranayaka Upanishad puts it as follows:
'A husband is not loved because of love for him. A wife is not loved because of love for her. A son is not loved because of love for the son. Everything in this world which we love is not for the sake of that thing, but rather because they are pleasurable to our own self, which is what we love most in this world' (2.4.5); and Krishna is none other than our very own self. Thus it is not at all surprising that the gopis and cows of Vrindavana felt this surge of supreme emotion towards their children, who as Krishna the Supreme Soul were none other than their own selves.
After one year was over, Brahma thought of going back to Vrindavan and checking out what had happened all this while. There he was astonished to see all the cowherds and calves playing with Krishna as if nothing had happened. Brahma began to think: "All the boys and calves taken away by me are still sleeping under the spell of magical powers in my palace. Who then are these playing with Krishna?"
Four-armed Standing Vishnu
No sooner had he started meditating thus than he saw each of the cowherds and calves transformed into exact Vishnu figures, each with four arms, holding a conch, discus, mace and lotus.
He saw that each figure was wearing a garland of Tulsi leaves, and several other Brahmas like him, and all the other creatures in the world, were singing, dancing and venerating these Vishnu forms. Brahma realized that the transformation of the cowherds and calves to these Vishnu forms was not the result of the mystic powers of some yogi, but were actually the Supreme Lord Himself. Brahma was dazzled by this spiritual effulgence of the Lord and closed his eyes. Seeing the helplessness of Brahma, the compassionate Lord then removed the curtain of His Maya, and Brahma, on opening his eyes, saw spread before him the divine land of Vrindavana.
Thus even though Krishna is the Highest Deity, He played the part of a child born in a 'low' family of cowherds. Even though He is the One and Only One, He has many friends. Though He is endless, even then He wanders here and there. He is Knowledge Incarnate, even then He searches around for His friends and calves. And lo! Brahma saw that same old Krishna he had left behind one year back, holding a morsel of food in His hands, searching around for His friends! Ecstatic beyond words, Brahma jumped down from his royal chariot and rolled in the dust of Vrindavana, touching each of his four Vedic crowns one by one at Krishna's feet. He then prostrated before Krishna like a stick lying horizontal on the ground and said:
Shri Krishna Stuti by Lord Brahma (from Shrimad Bhagavata Purana)
"Lord, I don't know whether God is Nirguna (formless) or Saguna (with form). What I do know is that my all-in-all is in front me with a handful of curd and rice in His hands, and a flute tucked into His waistband. Except the blue-colored son of the cowherd Nanda, I know nothing about the Supreme God. O'Lord I desire only your grace. Fulfil my wish, make me some trifle object in Vrindavan."
Krishna: "Why become a trifling here? Let me make you a Brahma again."
Brahma: No Sir. I don't wish to be Brahma again and commit the same mistake. Make me anything in Vrindavana over which will fall the dust of the feet of its residents. Blessed are these inhabitants of Vrindavan. While elaborate Vedic Sacrifices have failed to satisfy you since the dawn of creation, it is with relish that you drink the milk of the gopis and their cows; and they in the process taste transcendental bliss. You, who are here to destroy the evil demons plaguing this earth, are venerable even for the sun and the moon. My wish is keep saluting your glory throughout my life."
During the time Brahma was offering this hymn of praise, and even after it, Krishna did not utter a single word to him. Finally Brahma circumambulated Krishna three times, and went back to his abode. The silence of the Lord speaks louder than His words. When Indra had tried to bother Krishna by bringing torrential rains to Vrindavan, Krishna had to lift Mount Govardhana to save the village. When Indra realized his mistake and sang a hymn in praise of Krishna, Krishna blessed him with good wishes. This was because that even though inadvertently, Indra had brought Krishna together with all his loved ones under the single umbrella of Govardhana. In the case of Brahma though, Krishna had to bear separation from His beloved friends and calves for one whole year. How could the Supreme Lord, who loves His devotes even more than He loves Himself, bear this? Thus His silence in spite of Brahma's highly eloquent hymn of praise.
When the young gopis and cows of Vrindavan used to see mother Yashoda feeding Krishna her breast, or when the older women saw Him dancing and playing pranks in her courtyard, they too wanted to the taste the bliss of this kind of direct engagement with Krishna that Yashoda was being blessed with. Krishna, the fulfiller of all wishes of His devotees, then set out to display this lila, which not only revealed the supreme Upanishadic truths in a vivid manner, but also ensured that all in Vrindavan got a taste of the transcendental bliss which till now had only been mother Yashoda's exclusive privilege.
References and Further Reading:
- Chinmayananda, Swami. The Holy Geeta: Mumbai, 2002.
- Dogre, Shri Ramachandra Keshav. Shrimad Bhagavat Rahasya (Collection of Discourses): Delhi.
- Gupta Som Raj. Upanisads with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Five Volumes. Delhi.
- Jacob, G.A. A Concordance to the Principal Upanisads and Bhagavadgita. Delhi, 1999.
- Prabhupad, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Krsna The Supreme Personality of Godhead: Mumbai, 1999.
- Saraswati, Acharya Bhagavatananda. Shrimad Bhagavat Parijat: Varanasi, 2002.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhagawatamrit (The Elixir of the Bhagwat). Mumbai, 2005.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhagavata Darshan (Collection of Discourses in Two Volumes): Mumbai, 2003.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.
- Swami, Shridhar. Commentary on the Shrimad Bhagavatam: Delhi, 2003.
- G. P. Bhatt & J. L. Shastri (tr). The Bhagavata Purana (5 Volumes (Annotated)).Delhi, 2002.
- Tejomayananda, Swami. Shrimad Bhagavata Pravachan (Discourses on The Shrimad Bhagavata Purana): Mumbai, 2006
- Thakura, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Sarartha Darsini (Commentary on the Tenth Canto of the Bhagavata
- Goyandka, Shri Harikrishnadas. Translation of Shankracharya's Commentary of the Bhagavad Gita (Hindi): Gorakhpur, 2006.