By M.V. Kamath
Search for the Historical Krishna by N.S. Rajaram; Prism Books Pvt Ltd, Bangalore; 210 pp, Rs 165.00
KRISHNA, a Yadava prince of the house of Vrishni, has a special place in the hearts and minds of the Hindus. He is worshipped as an avatar?an incarnation?of God, just as is Sri Rama.
According to Western academi-cians whose scholarship for a long time remained unchallenged, Krishna was a myth, like the rest of the ten avatars, not to be taken seriously. The first challenge to this concept came nearly a century ago when Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote his classic Sri Krishna Charita which sought to prove that Krishna was, in all probability, a historical figure who came towards the end of the Vedic Age.
N.S. Rajaram takes off from there, assisted by a wealth of new data from archaeology, ancient astronomy, pre-historic mathematics and presently available computer software, not to speak of inscriptional data from deciphered seals of the Harappan civilisation, that Krishna is indeed a historical figure and that what we call the kali yuga started with the passing away of Krishna, some thirty-six years after the end of the Mahabharata war.
This is written by a scholar and is one of the most thought-provoking books of our times. It is one of those unputdownable books.
This is a remarkable bit of research based on earlier work done by such distinguished scholars like K.D. Sethna, S.R. Rao, David Frawley, A. Seidenberg, Bhagwan Singh, Shrikant Talageri and more recently by Natwar Jha who deciphered the difficult Indus script. From this, Rajaram concludes that Krishna indeed is a Vedic figure, a younger contemporary of Krishna-dvaipayana?or ?Krishna, the island-born??better known as Veda Vyasa, and that the Harappan civilisation came at the end of the Vedic Age.
This conclusion is nothing new?it has been discussed in some recent publications?but what Rajaram has done is to bring alive a subject often dismissed as too academic and make it exciting. The conclusion is that there is a high probability that Krishna must have lived within a century of 3100 b.c., i.e. sometime between 3200 and 3000 b.c. Rajaram is not concerned with proving or disproving Krishna'sdivinity. What he has done is to try to understand Krishna, the historical figure, in the context of his time.
Krishna lived in an age of political and religious change, when the Yajur Vedic tradition was split into the eastern and western schools represented in the Vajasaneyi Samhita and the Taittirya Samhita. Says Rajaram: ?It is possible that Krishna'sreform?a movement away from the ritual to the rational philosophy of the Gita?was seen as a dangerous development by the more orthodox.? Certainly, the image one gets from ancient sources is that of Krishna as an austere and studious man, whose main concerns were political stability and ethical and religious reforms. That is not the picture most Hindus have of Krishna.
Rajaram further asserts that Radha, usually taken as the divine consort of Krishna, cannot be a historical figure, considering that she is not mentioned in any of the early sources. In fact, not only the Mahabharata, but the Harivamsha, Bhagavata and Vishnu Purana are all silent about Radha.
Krishna apparently had a stern education both in military craft and in Vedic studies and was something of a child prodigy. One of his greatest strengths as a stateman was his freedom from personal ambition. Rajaram has some sensible explanations to give for the killing of Kansa and for restoring the legitimate ruler, Ugrasena, to his former position. And for leading the exodus of his people from Mathura in the Gangetic Plain to Dwarka on the west coast of India.
What Rajaram has done?and done somewhat success-fully?is to strip myths of their mystery and to present history as it is. Krishna'srescuing of Draupadi when she is publicly being unclothed by Dushasana, avers Rajaram, ?a fantastic modern interpolation?. Again, he notes, that a critical reading of the Mahabharata, especially of the Striparva would suggest that Bhishma actually died on the tenth day of the war or the next, but was kept alive by later poets so that he could be used as the source of a good deal of didactic material, especially in the Shanti Parva and the Anushasana Parva. But perhaps just as well. Though the Shanti Parva is seldom included in contemporary Mahabharata texts, it is a brilliant exposition on the art of ruling which adds lustre to the story.
Incidentally Rajaram also points out that on the Pandava side, Yudhisthira wanted to avoid war, and to everyone'ssurprise not only Arjuna, but even Bhima favoured a peaceful solution. Apparently among the Pandavas only Sahadeva was for war?and, of course, Draupadi. Draupadi wanted revenge because of the sari-stripping incident. But if that is so, surely there may be some truth in Krishna'smagic powers which he used to maintain Draupadi'shonour? When the question of naming the commander of the Pandava forces came up, Krishna is supposed to have said: ?This, after all, is Draupadi'swar. Victory or defeat?let the credit go to her brother.?
Rajaram does not give much credit to Drona as a warrior. As he puts it: ?The real problem was that none of the Pandavas had the stomach to kill their old teacher, Drona.? Rajaram says that Drona was a great teacher ?but a man of ambivalent morals?. And what about all those astras (arrows, weapons) that were highly destructive? Rajaram dismisses them as ?only poetic creations? though even then he admits that ?it is not entirely easy to dismiss the possibility of nuclear or some other highly destructive agents? in the possession of Arjuna, except that ?extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs?.
One last guess. Legend has it that Krishna was killed by a hunter, Jara, who mistood the sleeping Krishna for a deer. But says Rajaram: ?Jara in Sanskrit means old age. Krishna was quite advanced in years at the time, probably about 80 years or so. Could it be that the hunter Jara who killed him was just old age? That Krishna, in reality, was felled by age, the fell hunter?? Who knows and who can tell?
What is clear is that this is written by a scholar who has produced one of the most thought-provoking books of our times. It is one of those unputdownable books.
Krishna is presented not as an avatar but as one of the grandest personalities of the Vedic Age, indeed, of all times. Towards the end of the Mahabharata war, Krishna is quoted as saying: ?We are now entering into the age of Kali. Injustices like what we saw in this war will be commonplace in the Kali Age.? And how accurately has his prophecy come true! Whether Krishna is an avatar or not, there have been other ?Krishnas? since his time, born to help save worlds tottering on self-destruction.