Once Shri Krishna knocked
at Shrimati Maharani's door and the following conversation took place:
Radharani: Who is it?
Krishna: I am Hari.
Since the word Hari in Sanskrit also means a lion,
Radharani: There are no suitable animals of prey here,
so why have you come?
Krishna: I am Madhava don't you know me?
The word Madhava, other than being a name of Krishna
also means the season of spring, so came the reply:
Radharani: This is not the time for spring to come.
Krishna: I am Janardana, surely you know me?
The word Janardana holds within itself many meanings,
two of which are contrary to each other. It means both - one who causes
distress to society and also one who destroys the wicked. Obviously, Shrimati
Radha chose the former meaning:
Radharani: Persons like you should stay in the forest
where there are no other people you can cause distress to.
Krishna: Open the door young lady, I am Madhusudana.
The word Madhusudana means both the 'killer of the
demon named Madhu,' and also means the honeybee, which drinks honey (madhu)
from various flowers. Thus she said:
Radharani: Now I understand, you a dvirepha.
Dvirepha means both a honeybee and also an outcaste.
Thus does Radharani suggest that since Krishna has the habit of fluttering
towards various gopis like the honeybee, he has been banned from her house.
In this light banter Krishna introduced himself with
various names, the meanings of which were taken differently by Radharani
than that intended by him. Many of these names also occur in the sacred
conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, the Bhagavad Gita, in which context
still other meanings are intended.
In the Bhagavad Gita there are forty different names
used by Arjuna to call upon Shri Krishna. Each of these names describes
an attribute or quality of god, reverberating with the potentiality of
an inner, philosophical echo, leading to a realization of the deeper meaning
of the dialogue between the two.
The different epithets used by Arjuna to address Krishna
are not just there for the sake of variety but meaningful to the context.
This is one of the enriching features which make the study of Gita a relishable
exercise rather than it being a mere pursuit of a dry philosophical treatise.
As the major part of the Bhagavad Gita is but a dialogue
between Arjuna and Krishna, with the former calling upon the latter to
relieve his distress, we see a gradual shift in Arjuna's position as Krishna
provides him relief, reflected in the tone and demeanor of his address.
For example, his first call to Krishna in the text is but a command given
by a warrior to his charioteer. Arjuna says:
"O Achyuta, place my chariot in between the two armies."
(Bhagavad Gita 1.21)
Here Arjuna addresses Krishna as "Achyuta," which means
"one who never falls from his position." This implies that Krishna, even
though he is the supreme lord, has out of affection for his devotee Arjuna
reduced himself to the status of a charioteer. However this in no way
compromises his supreme position. This is akin perhaps to the situation
of a Supreme Court judge, who diligently orders out punishments and rewards
in his courtroom; but the same person, when he comes back home, is content
to play around with his grandson and take orders from the child.
Indeed it is the nature of the supremely compassionate
Krishna to take on the slightest job for his devotees. When Arjuna's elder
brother Yudhishtra performed the great sacrifice (yajna) known as Rajasuya,
each member of the family was assigned a different responsibility; and
what did Shri Krishna volunteer to do? The great lord took it upon himself
to wash the feet of each and every guest who came to the yajna. Thus Yudhishtra
says in the Bhagavata Purana:
"Just as the brilliance of the sun is neither enhanced
nor diminished with the ascent or decline of the sun, even so your actions
in no way exalt or detract your glory." (10.74.4)
Obeying Arjuna's command, Krishna drove the chariot
in between the two armies. We all know what happened next. Seeing his
near and dear ones arrayed opposite him, ready to lay down their lives,
Arjuna was awash with a flood of sentimentality, leading to emotional
exhaustion, and he found his heart sinking to never before depths of turmoil.
With his limbs shaking, Arjuna said:
"O Madhusudana, I do not wish to kill these my relatives,
even though they may kill me."(Bhagavad Gita 1.35)
The epithet Madhusudana means the slayer of the demon
named "Madhu." It refers to the annihilation of this villain by the lord
just before the creation of this world. The word "madhu" in its turn means
'honey,' and thus the demon Madhu represents attachment (raag) to this
world, which seems sweet to us. Hereby, Arjuna reminds Krishna that just
as he had killed the demon of attachment before, similarly should he do
so in the present circumstances.
Next Arjuna queries:
"O Madhava, how can we be happy by killing our own
"Ma" means Goddess Lakshmi and "dhav" means husband.
Thus the perplexed Arjuna wants to point out that since Krishna is the
lord of the goddess of fortune, he should point out the way which would
save their (Arjuna's) clan from the impending misfortune.
As the narrative proceeds, Krishna discourses Arjuna
that the only way to gain peace is through equanimity of the mind, prompting
the latter to say:
"The mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very
strong. To subdue it is, O Krishna, more difficult than controlling the
Actually Indian Philosophy is pretty clear on the issue
that it is extremely difficult to control the mind. However, one does
not need to do so, there being a much easier way to salvation. Since the
mind is not independent, but like a prostitute goes to any object which
gains its fancy, the solution lies in wedding it to one divine husband.
Truly, Krishna is the ultimate attraction, and like a magnet drawing iron
files towards it, he too naturally attracts his devotees. Indeed, the
first letter in his name is symbolic of his 'grip' over his devotees,
because of the hook-like shape in its lower half.
Thus Arjuna in this verse, revealing the position of
each of us, acknowledges that he is unable to divert his restless mind
towards the feet of Krishna and instead implores Krishna to do so.
Krishna gradually builds up his discourse, starting
off with bold exhortations and then gradually going on to more abstract
formulations. However, the accent always is on a partnership between man
and deity. Thus Krishna says:
"Those who attempt to liberate themselves from old
age and death by taking refuge in me, they realize the Supreme Reality
Arjuna then questions:
"Purshottama, what is the Supreme Reality?" (8.1)
Purshottama means the "Supreme Person," obviously he
is the only one who can grant the knowledge of the Supreme Reality.
The lord then instructs Arjuna that the Supreme Reality
is none other than himself, who pervades each and every aspect of the
manifested existence. This prompts Arjuna to say:
"O Keshava, I totally believe whatever you have told
me as true. Neither the gods, nor the demons, O Bhagvan, can understand
Here there are two modes of addressing Krishna: Keshava
and Bhagvan, both of which are loaded with spiritual and contextual relevance.
According to Shri Shankaracharya's commentary on the Vishnu Sahasranama,
the word Keshava is made up of the following:
1). "K" meaning Lord Brahma.
2). "A" meaning Lord Vishnu.
3). "Ish" meaning Lord Shiva
4). "Va" meaning form (vapu in Sanskrit).
Therefore, by calling upon god as Keshava, Arjuna communicates
his realization of the fact that it is the 'One Supreme Reality' which
takes form as these three principal gods, and thus by implication of the
The epithet Bhagvan too signifies Krishna's supremely
abundant status, since "Bhagvan" is a technical term indicating 'One who
possesses the six kinds of splendors (shad-aishvarya)', namely:
a). Complete Prosperity
c). Yasha (fame)
d). Shri (fortune)
e). Jnana (Knowledge)
f). Vairagya (Detachment)
In the next verse, Arjuna refers to Krishna with no
less than five names, expressing his wonder and reverence:
"O Supreme Person (Purushottama), Origin of all beings
(Bhuta-bhavan), Lord of all beings (Bhutesh), God of all gods (Deva-deva)
and Ruler of the world (Jagatpati)." (10.15)
However, Arjuna is not satisfied with the lord's abstract
formulation, and asks Krishna to expand his discourse with easily understandable
"O Janardana, my thirst for your nectar-like speech
is not quenched. Therefore, kindly describe again your attributes in detail."
The name Janardana is composed of two parts - 'jana'
meaning the veil of ignorance (avidya) and 'ardana' meaning the one who
Krishna then proceeds to explain in detail, with examples
taken from the physical world, that the whole manifested existence is
but his manifestation. This forms the majority of the eleventh chapter
of the Bhagavad Gita.
In the next chapter, Arjuna requests Krishna to show
him this Universal Form encompassing the entire world (Vishva Rupa), after
seeing which Arjuna says:
"O Lord of the universe (Vishveshvara), O Universal
Form (Vishva Rupa), I see in you no beginning, middle or end." (11.16)
Then very aptly does he call Krishna by the name Vishnu,
"O all-reaching Vishnu, with your gaping mouths and
glowing eyes you touch the skies." (11.24)
The sky represents the highest point the human eyes
can reach, and with his senses thus stretched to the limit, Arjuna becomes
terrified and asks Krishna to come back to his usual soothing form. Now
at last, having understood the true nature of Krishna does Arjuna acknowledge
him as 'Hrishikesha', meaning 'master of the senses.'
"O Master of the senses, the world delights upon hearing
your glory." (11.36)
Krishna as Hrishikesha is the "director" of the senses,
who now controls the reins of Arjuna's senses, unlike the first instance
above when Arjuna "orders" Krishna to take his chariot between the two
Arjuna now apologizes for having addressed Krishna
as a friend rather than venerating him like the god that he truly was:
"For addressing you familiarly as 'O Krishna", O Yadava,
O Comrade (sakha), and regarding you merely as a friend, unknowing of
this greatness of yours, O Achyuta, O Immeasurable One, I ask for your
Arjuna was very fond of the name 'Krishna.' He has
used this epithet no less than nine times in the Gita, more than any other.
The name 'Yadava' indicates that Krishna belonged to the Yadava clan,
and Krishna and Arjuna were related to each other as first cousins. Thus
Arjuna is reminding Krishna that it was only because they were brothers
that he had taken the liberties to address him as above. However, the
immeasurable (aprameya) greatness of Krishna makes sure that Arjuna's
liberties did not at all affect his exalted status, thus is Krishna (Achyuta),
"one who never falls from his position." This name also suggests that
since god is unchanging in nature, his affection towards Arjuna is not
diminished a bit inspite of any offense committed by the latter (or any
The 'nameless' has a thousand names and it is through
these names that the 'nameless' is to be realized. Just as the forms of
the divine are unlimited, so are its attributes, excellencies, glories
and the names that express them. All things, all persons, all phenomena,
identifiable by their names, are in fact manifestations of the Supreme.
Each name signifies an excellence. The purpose of meditating on the god's
forms, names and lilas is to get rid of our obsession with the name-and-form
world. The world is too much with us. It prevents us from realizing the
truth of the non-dual reality which is its basis. As one thinks of the
divine forms, and utters the sacred names, one's sense faculties get sublimated.
Between name and form, the former is even superior
to and subtler than the latter. While 'form' stands for the physical features
of the world of phenomena, 'name' signifies the psychical characteristics,
a much more potent tool for creative meditation.
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