In the last few months there have been at least two, if not three, definitive studies on Lord Krishna. Now we have another that not only commands attention but profound devotion. Lyrical in style, comprehensive in its approach, it presents Sri Krishna in all his multi-faceted ways. What shall we call this lad holding up the Govardhan mountain with his little finger? Govardhan Girdhari? Whose mother is Devaki—Devakiputra? Or shall we remember him as Yashodanandan? Is he Meera’s Girdhar Gopal? Tuka’s Vittala? Andal’s Narayana? Or should we start with his childhood with his reputation which he laughingly denies (maiyya mori main nahi makhan khaayo! ) As stealer of butter? Would it be more apt to call him Kaliya mardan or plain Balagopal, or even better still as Surdas’ Kanha or Kanaiya? But then isn’t he Shyam Sundar and Madan Mohan, Radhakrishna, the ultimate divine lover? Ah, Krishna is everything: the child god, the loveable prankster, the daring Protector, the Destroyer of Evil, the Devotees’ Delight, the Redeemer, the Avenger of Wrongs, Caretaker, Life-giver, Saviour, above all, Krishna, Krishna, Krishna!
Aham aatmaa gudakesha
sarva bhuteshu stithata
aham aadis cha madhyam cha
bhutaanaam anta eva cha
(Oh Gudakesha, I am aatman, present in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the end, of all beings, I am the author of origination, sustenance and dissolution of the Universe). Chapter X of the Gita reveals it all. But here is Chandrika retelling the story of Sri Krishna in all its magic details that is as much captivating as it is heart-throbing. She tells in story after story the life history of Krishna from the enthralling beginning to the deadly end. Men and monsters, figures and figurines flash through the pages, like Ugrasen, Vasudeva and Devaki, Putana, the demon Trinavarta, Kaliya the king of serpents, Dvividha the monkey, Kesi the horse, Denukha the donkey, Pralambha the cowherd and then Krishna the bhogi, Krishna the yogi, Krishna the nitya sanyasi and then one after they follow, the Pandavas and Kauravas, Subhadra and Satyabhama, Draupadi, Rukmini and Radha, Kunti and Gandhari, Bhishma and Karna, Samba born to Jhambavati… it is an endless story.
Every time one reads a story the heart beats faster. Chandrika is a master story-teller. In her recounting the life of Krishna – and he lived to be a hundred and twenty five years! – everything comes alive, Vrindavan, the Ras Lila, ah, the Ras Lila! Chandrika describes it in words that shine. Of Ras Lila she writes: “And then, on a night, when the moon is full and spills nectar on the earth, when the laden breezes pour restless longings into hearts, when the Yamuna, engorged by the monsoon’s bounty leaps and plays in delight, as the stars pierce the darkness around and the forests respond with the light of a thousand glow worms, on such a night, Krishna steps out!”. And then come the mellifluous sounds of the fleeting flute! The gopis – swarm around him; beside everyone there is Krishna playing on the flute! It is heaven on earth.
Chandrika has obviously done a lot of reading, as the stories, related one after another, tell. There is Rukmini pining for Krishna. Satyabhama losing her heart to the Blue God. From out of a desert, Vishwakarma creating Indraprastha, a city throbbing with life, with peacocks flirting around, gardens dotting the landscape and temple bells heralding the dawn. There is the role Krishna plays to save Draupadi from ignominy, the role of a maker of peace, the role of a charioteer, the role of the Vishwaroopi and then we have Krishnarjuna samvad, the Bhagavad Gita! Krishna is always re-assuring.
Yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya
(O Bharata, whenever there occurs decline of righteousness and ascendancy of unrighteousness, I manifest myself and appear in the world)
The battle of Kurukshetra is over; Duryodhana is finally killed. Bhishma lies on his bed of arrows. Gandhari is grieving for the death of her hundred sons. Everywhere decapitated bodies, limbs torn asunder are piled in gruesome hillocks. Everywhere victims of the war, animal and man, lie indistinguishable. Death had lost its dignity. It is time for Krishna to return to Dwarika. But before that he has to visit Bhishma Pitamaha who, just a few moments before passing out asks Krishna, hands folded: “Grant me a vision of your Divine Form, Govinda!”. Krishna, as always, obliges. But now he has to fulfil Gandhari’s curse. He has to return to Dwarika. Will Balaram accompany him? Says he: “Kaanha, is it possible for me to desert you, ever? Wherever you go, I will follow”. And he keeps to his word. The fates now take over. The Yadavas should be fighting – to kill each other. That they do. Then Balaram leaves his body. Slowly the avatar’s lilas are coming to an end. Krishna sinks into the very depth of loneliness – bereft, bereaved, with not a single soul to call him own, exactly as Gandhari had prophesised. Then comes the last scene: mistaking the body of Krishna as that of a deer, hunter Jara shoots his arrow. Krishna’s end has come. Forgiving Jara, Krishna, too, leaves the scene, as Kali Yuga dawns as Dwapara ends.
What does all this mean? Is Krishna relevant to today’s world? Yes, He is. And that is what Chandrika has sought to portray in one of the most beautiful texts of our time, illustrated with over four hundred paintings drawn from the 17th century onwards. What is Truth? What is Dharma? What is Devotion? What is Righteousness? Krishna’s life answers each question, clearly, distinctively, positively, yes, even poignantly. There is nothing to grieve over.
jatasya hi dhruvo mrtyur
dhruvam janma mrtasya ca
no tvam sochitumarhasi.
(Death is certain to one who is born and birth for one who dies, therefore you should not grieve over what is unavoidable and inevitable). And there Krishna has the last word.
But what a beautiful book you have here.
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