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Sri Krishna and the Way of Love

by A. N. Dhar

In this short paper, I propose to dwell on the significance of Sri Krishna's pervasive image in our Bhakti literature. Towards the end, I shall focus on Mira's love of Krishna as it finds expression in one of her devotional lyrics in order to illustrate what distinguishes the way of love as an approach to the Divine.

The devout among the Hindus, who are conversant with our sastras, consider Sri Krishna an incarnation of God Vishnu, who assumed the human form as Vasudeva's son to destroy evil and rehabilitate dharma on earth, what He had likewise done in his previous incarnation as Sri Rama. Krishna is also looked upon as a Jagad Guru (world teacher), whose teachings are systematically presented in the Bhagavad Gita, a philosophical poem of note cast into the form of a dialogue that has attained wide recognition in the world as a great classic. Introduced as an episode in the epic titled Maha Bharat, it is at once a scripture of universal relevance and a piece of literature in its own right. Western scholars see it as a characteristically theistic Hindu scripture, valuing it for its richness of thought and systematic exposition of spiritual truths. Considered "the most important product of the Hindu religious spirit. the Gita offers to the reader a fine sysnthesis of the strands of pantheism, monotheism, theism and deism !" It is because of its great popularity that the book has been translated into numerous western and Indian languages. Thus it is known to be the most translated text after the Bible.

In the Maha Bharat Sri Krishna is depicted as the most engaging major character, who overshadows all the other characters and emerges as the central hero through his wisdom and valour, his qualities as a friend of the weak and oppressed, his playful behaviour as Yasoda's darling child, and as the great favourite of the gopies and cowhered boys. It is no less through his human qualities than his astounding feats that his divinity becomes manifest to those who adore him as God. His divine humanity consists in his unbounded love for all, his concern for those in distress and the valour he exhibits in performing superhuman tasks including the destruction of tyrants like Kansa. All through, we perceive Krishna as a supremely remarkable person, an ideal human being invested with divine qualities, veritably the divine having "descended" into the human frame.

Sri Krishna's multiple-image, corresponding to the diverse roles he played (as depicted in the Maha Bharat) has got deeply embedded in the collective psyche of the Hindus. That explains why it is pervasive in our Bhakti literature. It is on this account again that the devotional lyrics or bhajans of the popular Bhakti poets, Surdas and Mira, continue to inspire and delight men of faith among the Hindus. They impress even those non-Hindus who are open-minded and religiously inclined. For the learned Hindus particularly, Jaya Dev's' Gita Govinda, too, has acquired a special significance. It dwells on the theme of spiritual marriage between Radha and Krishna ; the narrative employs images that seem frankly erotic but have symbolic overtones meant to convey the spiritual meaning of nuptial love. There are, besides, innumerable poems composed in our regional languages which too sing of Krishna's glory. Many of them celebrate the love that Radha and the gopies cherished for Krishna Kanaya : a charming lad who became their darling and played pranks on them, who stole and thrilled their hearts with sweet notes from his flute.

History bears out that the valley of Kashmir never, in any significant way, came under the direct influence of the Bhakti movement nor has the Vaishnavite philosophy influenced the Kashmiri Hindus in any remarkable way. In spite of this, several Bhakti poets hailing from the valley, among whom Parmanand stands pre-eminent, have composed lilas and bhajans in Kashmiri devoted to the praise of Krishna. It is however, the Bhagavatam rather than the Maha Bharat strictly, that has been the chief inspiration behind whatever verse has been produced in Sanskrit, Hindi and other regional languages on the Krishna theme. Most Indian dances, including the Bharat Natyam, and raga-based bols of our sastri sangeet are devoted to this theme.

As I have maintained earlier, most Hindus (and a large number of foreign devotees) adore Krishna as God-incarnate, as the Master of Yoga (Yogeshwara) and as an ideal person, considering him an embodiment of the highest human virtues. Though some Hindu thinkers would see him as the best specimen of humanity rather than God, none of them, ordinarily, entertains any doubt about his historical identity. However, we have also to reckon with a different view of his personality, propagated mostly by the western scholars and a few others from the Hindu elite. They consider Krislhla a legendary figure and there are those who characterize the whole story of Mahabharat as a piece of fiction. Some see in it several strands of symbolism as we meet with in literary epics elsewhere that can be variously interpreted. Thus Mahatma Gandhi, who highly valued the Gita as a scripture, sees the Mahabharat essentially as an allegory signifying the righteous war that goes on within ourselves between higher and lower impulses. Judging the epic in this light, Krishna is to be viewed as the imagined godhead and not as a historical person. In this context, it is worth pondering that when we find around us film heroes, sportsmen of repute, charismatic leaders and the like, we are never intrigued as to how they can attract crowds and fire the imagination of their innumerable fans and admirers. When we can have living "legendary" figures about us, I see no sound logic in the scholars alien to our culture disputing the historical identity of Krishna and characterizing his lila as sheer legend.

Even when we set aside the belief that Krishna was God-incamate and don't pay attention to the miracles he is believed to have performed, we have to concede that he is adorable as an outstanding human being : as a Jagad Guru who spoke words of wisdom to Arjuna as his charioteer on the battlefield, who was extra-ordinarily charming with a winsome personality and a sportive nature, who showed through his lila the utmost relevance of love in our social dealings and in matters spiritual. He not only illuminated the threefold path of action, knowledge and love through his teaching in the Gita but institutionalized this path through his own practice. For most Hindus, he is the supreme God of love.

Some detractors of Krishna, as he is depicted in our literature, take exception to what they see as sensual and "promiscuous" in his prema-lila. They fail to perceive that he was 'Purshotama', a superman who through his Yoga-maya educated and elevated, spiritually, his playmates: the cowherd boys of Braj and the gopies, who were drawn to him by deep love. There was nothing 'camal' about this love ; at once human and divine, it was pure devotion of the highest intensity. Conveyed as it is through the vocabulary of sensuous love in the Bhagavatam and the later literary works including the Gita Govinda and the Sursagar it could be mistaken for merely the erotic it seems and its suggestive quality missed by the unimaginative reader. The true import of the story of Radha and Krishna or that of Krishna and the gopies, is to be understood in terms of the symbolism underlying the rasa-lila mentioned in the Bhagavat Purana. Herein Krishna is depicated as God of love, supremely beautiful. Radha and the gopies are shown as helplessly drawn to Him as they hear the notes of his flute. For the Vaighnava devotees, who best understood the nature of the relationship between Krishna and his female adherents, there is nothing "profane" about it. To them the meaning of the in-built symbolism of the Krishna romance is not lost. They look upon humanity "as the Bride of God" and on Krishna "as the only supremely Male in the Universe"'. This ties up with the Christian concept of the human soul as the bride of Christ, a concept matched (and also contrasted) by the Sufi view of the soul as the Active Lover (Ashiq) and the Divinity as the Great Sweetheart'.

It is now appropriate to come to Mira and her love of Krishna. Here we are on familiar ground, though there may be some variation in the accounts given of how she met her end (including the belief that she physically disappeared and got absorbed into the image of Krishna). One may not accept the view that she actually "consumed" the poison mixed with the drink sent to her by her brother-in-law. No one can, however, dispute the fact that all her life she was "wedded" to the Krishna whose image remained deeply impressed on her mind from her early childhood. In fact she virtually never lost hold of the physical image of Krishna until she breathed her last, practising throughout nine-fold Bhakti to the letter (as prescribed in the Bhagavatam).

It is Mira's bhajans or devotional lyrics through which she conveys her intense love or Krishna, that have immortalized her story as his "bride", which also lends credibility to Radha's love for the historical Krishna. Mira'g songs are inimitable, as sober and sincere expressions ot deep love that is thoroghly spiritual in character. The songs are a class by themselves and will remain our prized possession. The vocabulary of human love used in them is simple ' and familiar, drawn from human situations that we come across in our day-to-day life, mostly connected with the 'affairs of the heart'. And yet they strongly appeal to us, especially to those who are themselves devout and have got a good ear for music. Most songs pierce to the heart and convince us of Mira's supreme devotion to Krishna. They unmistakably convey to us that she knows her lord, for sure, to be the indwelling Master and the only object of her worship, not the mere image she is fondly attached to.

To illustrate what I have said, let us turn to the song titled Main main to liyo hai sanvariya mol (translation mine)

Mother dear, I have bought my love

For the price he deserved ;

Some cry "too heavy", some "too light",

But I weighed to the last grain, paying in full

Taunting me, some say I paid more, some less,

Surely, however, I purchased the Priceless one ;

Some call him "thin-built", some "stout of frame";

I know I got what I bargained for;

Proclaiming it by beat of drum;

Some, jeering I , call him 'black' and some 'white'

I made no mistake in seeing (my eyes opened to the full)

What he's worth;

True to my past life's resolve

I'm wedded to Girdhar Nagar.

Mira knows that her detractors are not aware of the greatness of Krishna and of the intensity of her devotion to him. The metaphors used to convey the divinity of Krishna and the depth of her love for him are carefully chosen by the poet as appropriate communicative tools : 'purchasing' the Beloved suggests wheat sacrifice higher love demands and weighing a thing accurately with a balance tells us in clear terms that Mira knows precisely she has staked her all for the priceless Divine, Referring to the detractor's jibes painting 'Krishna as 'black' or 'white' she wants to convey that her perception of the Divine is clear, which means that she has recognized the Master she seeks. The words 'sogo' (cheap) and 'mahango' (costly) suggestively paint the pursuit of love as something comparable to a business transaction in which the 'customer' should have all his wits about him or her : this conveys that Mira knows what the stakes involved in the 'transaction' of love are, that no 'price' is too big for union with God, the Precious One. Well set on the spiritual path, she is aware of her goal, knows fully well what true sadhana involves and seeks nothing short of union with the Lord.

In conculsion, I wish to emphasize that Sri Krishna's premalila as described in the Bhagavat Puran and in various versions of it in the works of Jayadev, Surdas and other Indian poets, points to the fact that the Way of Love, as an approach to the Divine, is in tune with man's psychological make-up inasmuch as he is a loving creature who hungers for his spiritual fulfilment in love, the noblest of all human emotions. This Way (of love) at once complements the Way of Knowledge and has a decided superiority over it. Mira's love-lyrics devoted to Krishna, a class by themselves as I maintained, testify to this fact.

Notes and References:

1. See Lin Yutang, ed. Wisdom of India, Jaico Publishing House, Bombay: 1956, p. 49.
2. Sunil Kumar Chatterji, Jaya Deva, Sahitya Akademi : 1973, rpt. 1981, p. 52.
3. Ibid., p. 53.
[The author was former Prof and Head, Department of English, University of Kashmir. He is based in Jammu].
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