The exhortation to develop love and affection for the divine is a universal call in all spiritual traditions. However, what is the nature of this affection? How do we go about acquiring it? How do we sustain it? All these questions often remain unanswered. Stuck deep in our attachment to objects which appeal directly to our sensory perceptions, we are, more often than not, unable to fathom the means of achieving this goal. It is the great goddess Lakshmi who in one of her particular incarnations on this earth sets out to show us the way.
In her way, words like desire, longing, attraction, love, marriage etc. leave their physical connotations, leading to a transformation of these mundane emotions, by transferring their attention to the transcendental personality of Lord Krishna. Indeed, like a loving mother, she guides us to the supreme and purest form of love.
This is most lucidly narrated in one of the most vivid texts of Hinduism, namely
the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana, which chronicles the life of Krishna in immense
detail, unparalleled in any other text. After Krishna’s delightful adventures
in the town of Vrindavana, the Bhagavata Purana speaks of the time when Krishna
established the city of Dwarka (in modern Gujarat).
Now we know that Goddess Lakshmi is the eternal companion of Lord Krishna. Whenever Krishna takes Avatara, the goddess is there with him too. It is at this particular moment in the narrative that goddess Lakshmi makes her appearance, in the form of princess Rukmini. The only sister of five brothers, she was obviously much loved and the center of attraction at home. From visitors at her father’s house, she would often hear about Lord Krishna’s unparalleled beauty, valor, his excellent virtues and affluence. Attracted to his divine personality, she decided that she would only have Krishna and none other for her husband, as he was the only spouse worth having. All her family too wanted Krishna as her husband; all except her eldest brother, who wanted to give away her hand to a powerful king named Shishupala.
When the beautiful princess Rukmini realized that her brother would not allow her marriage to Krishna, she was deeply agitated. She pondered over the problem and came to a firm decision. She would send a message to Krishna, professing her single-minded affection for him. Rukmini then immediately send for a trusted Brahmin, and asked him to carry her message to Krishna.
When the Brahmin reached Krishna’s doors, he was escorted to the inner chambers. There Krishna welcomed the Brahmin with the appropriate rituals of washing his hands and feet. After the latter was seated on a high seat, Krishna politely enquired him the purpose of his visit which had prompted him to come so far to see him. It was then that the mature Brahmin revealed Rukmini’s message to Krishna. It was but a love letter from an anguished soul exclusively in love with the supreme soul. It began thus:
‘Oh Most Beautiful Person in the Whole World!, I have heard from people about your good looks, beauty, sweetness, high character and noble nature. When a person hears about your qualities, these virtues enter the heart through our ears, and all our physical agitations are quietened. I know that to anyone who has eyes, the very sight of your charming form bestows all the four aims of life: namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. A glimpse of you is sufficient to fulfill all our aspirations. Hence my mind shamelessly enters into you.’
Rukmini addresses Krishna as the ‘Most Beautiful’, the word
used in Sanskrit being ‘Bhuvan-Sundara’. This is a compound word which not only
means the most beautiful (sundara) in the world (bhuvan), but also means the
‘one from whom all beauty in this world is derived.’
Already, by merely hearing about him, Rukmini Devi had started understanding the true essence of Lord Krishna. Indeed, the scriptures clearly state that ‘Shravana’, or hearing is the first step in spirituality. Having once heard of Lord Krishna, one starts losing his heart to him. What do we hanker for? Beauty? Krishna is the most beautiful person in the world. What do you worship? Power? Money? He is the most powerful and affluent. Not only this, all beauty, power, wealth etc. are acquired by his grace only. Knowing this the Jiva or individual soul is not ready to be wedded to anybody else other than Krishna.
Rukmini Ji further says:
‘O Mukunda, O Lion Amongst Men (Nara-Simha), which wise girl from a noble family would not seek you out as her husband, considering the fact that you are unparalleled in family lineage, character, personal charm, knowledge, youth and affluence (All qualities which a girl seeks in her husband).’
By referring to Krishna as ‘Mukunda’, Rukmini Ji is referring to his physical charm, meaning one whose face (mukha) beams like a jasmine flower (kunda). The second epithet of Narasimha is however not as soft, preparing him in advance to the challenge she next inspires him with:
‘I have therefore chosen you as my husband. Oh Lotus-Eyed Dear Lord!, I have submitted myself unto you. Please do take accept me as your wife. Let not Shishupala pollute me with his touch, much like a jackal would pollute a share which actually belongs to a lion, the king of all animals.’
By calling him out as ‘Lotus-Eyed’, Rukmini is signifying that even though she is tormented by the fire of separation, it is by meditating on his lotus-eyes that she cools her agitation. Next, proceeding psychologically, Rukmini Devi first informs Krishna that her surrender at his feet is total, and then spurs him into action outlining her fear that if Shishupala managed to marry her, it would lead to a loss of Krishna’s prestige, just like when a jackal makes away with the lion’s share. If so happened this would be in clear violation of the promise made by God himself in the Ramayana:
“It is my vow to grant protection to those who come to me saying: "I am yours" (Valmiki Ramayana 6.18.33).
Actually the word Shishupala means ‘one who rears (pala) children (shishu)’, implying the entire worldly cycle of marrying, earning, begetting children etc. Hearing of Krishna’s qualities and having lost his heart to him, the Jiva is not prepared to be wedded to a ‘Shishupala’ husband, wanting nothing less than Krishna himself. However, complete surrender (Sharanagati) is a fundamental requirement before such a union can take place.
Next Rukmini clearly says that the ultimate goal of any religious activity (Dharma) is not material gain, but union with Lord Krishna:
"If in this birth and also previous ones, I have properly worshipped the Almighty Lord Krishna through my Puja, Vedic sacrifices, acts of charity, observances of religious vows and penances, services to Brahmins and Gurus, may Krishna come forward to marry me, so that no ‘Shishupala’ can claim my hand. "
With this verse, Goddess Lakshmi in her form as Devi Rukmini, makes it clear that the goal of any Dharmic activity is to generate loving Bhakti for the highest God Krishna. The Bhagavata Purana says at another place:
‘The result of all Dharma, when correctly performed, is to generate interest in the adventures of Lord Krishna. If this does not happen, then such a Dharma would count as futile labor only.’ (1.2.8)
How do we know that we are following our Dharma properly? By its results. If it inspires us to hear and know more about the Lilas of Lord Krishna, which eventually will give rise to an immense and constant surge of affection for him, then we can safely say that we have been correctly performing our Dharma.
Thus Dharma generates love for Krishna, which is then amply reciprocated by him. Rukmini Ji further says:
‘O! Ajita, tomorrow when my marriage celebrations are about to begin, come secretly with your army, and defeating the armies of Shishupala, marry me, winning me over with your valor.’
The epithet Rukmini uses for Krishna here is ‘Ajita’, meaning one who is invincible (A-Jita). Even though as Lakshmi she is obviously aware that Krishna does not require the support of his army to defeat anyone; however, since he is in his Lila-Avatara, he has to conform to the role he is playing. Thus also the statement about winning her ‘by paying the price of his valor’. As a king, Krishna is expected to be valorous, and winning over a maiden by display of force was an accepted norm for the ruling-classes.
Significantly, the word used here for ‘defeating’ the armies
is ‘Nirmathya’, which also means churning. In this manner does Rukmini remind
him that he is as much Maha-Vishnu as she is Lakshmi, and he should achieve
her once again as he had by churning the ocean (Exotic India Article of the
Month November 2008).
She then proceeds to ask him a question, answering it herself:
‘You may be wondering how you can carry me, who lives deep inside the security of the inner chambers of her palace, without first killing my relatives? The solution to this is as follows: According to our family custom, a day before the wedding, the bride-to-be goes to a temple outside the city for worshipping goddess Parvati.’
Rukmini Ji leaves it that, implying that it would be convenient for Krishna to carry her away from there. Finally, she lays bare the intensity of her desire for the Supreme Lord:
‘O Krishna, if I am unable to bathe myself in the dust of your lotus feet, I shall give up my life by performing severe austerities, and continue to perform them in all my future births until I am able to obtain your grace.’
On the fateful day, Krishna came and carried her away with him. It was a fitting culmination of her Sadhana.
Through her open love letter to God, Rukmini has but expressed what every seeker has in his heart. Who in this world can be beautiful as Krishna? Therefore, for one wanting anything in this world, who or what can be more desirable than Krishna, the source of everything in this world? If we are totally honest to ourselves, we can see that it is only God who can be the ultimate object of our wishes. No true fulfillment can come from desiring anybody else. From experience we know that longing for anyone except Krishna leads eventually to pain (Dukha) only.
Often, even though we have desire for the Supreme, we are situated in circumstances from which we are unable to extricate ourselves on our own. However, Krishna can rescue us from such a situation. That is why Rukmini says: "Please come and take me from here. I am unable to do so on my own." Therefore, the seeker will always say this to Krishna: "It is you who has to uplift me."
Not only this, what should his or her mind be like? He should be of the firm decision that he does not want anything other than God. In the Katha Upanishad, when the young boy Nachiketa goes up to the door of Yama the god of death, the latter first tempts him with the boon of material luxury and comfort; however, Nachiketa said: "The only boon worth choosing is the Supreme Soul, and that is what I choose (Varana)."
Come to think of it, why don’t we achieve to the Supreme Soul Krishna? Because even though we hear of him (Shravana), we do not choose (Varana) him over everything else. Actually, we do not have to bring Krishna into our hearts as much as we have to take the world out of it. This is the true union with the one who is already there.
The Rukmini episode occurs in detail in the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, 10.52-54.
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